Friday, July 6, 2007

Entry: Short Story July 2 - July 13

The Last First One
by Chandra Lynn Smith

“Sorry I’m late, the dog wouldn’t stop fetching the snake.” She plopped into the only empty chair, across from me. Nice view.

I’d been sitting with my cousin and her friends for ten minutes—ten boring minutes—until she walked up.

She eyed me, “Do I know you?”

“Stacy, this is my cousin, Travis Wolfe,” Jane answered.

Reaching across the table, she shook my hand. “Hi Travis.” A glance from me to Jane and a nod, “I do see a resemblance.” She draped her jacket on the back of her chair then wagged her finger. “Oh yeah – Travis-- the BB gun episode?” A knowing grin framed her face. “I’ve heard all about you.”

How could Jane tell that to anyone? “Ja-ane?”

“Hey, we grew up together. They know all about our summers in the Ozarks.”

One of them laughed. “My life was boring, I lived vicariously through your escapades. The BB gun doesn’t sound familiar though.”

Jane winked at me, “See, I do keep some of the family secrets.”

I hated the warmth on my cheeks. “Not anymore.” Across the table, Stacy smiled at me. Nice. “Welcome to the ‘lunch bunch.’”

“Lunch bunch?”

“We’ve been together since lunches in High School. Each week those of us available meet for lunch. You’re welcome as long as you leave the BB gun at home.” Her nose crinkled with her crooked grin.

One of the women sighed. “Alright already, who’s going to tell us about that BB gun?”

“No one. Today’s snake story day. BB guns will have to wait for another day.”

Phew. Don’t want to get into that today.

Stacy waved towards the counter, “Hey Joanie, can I get some coffee here?”

“Hold yer horses or dogs, I’m comin’. And don’t be tellin’ about that snake till I get back.”

I loved their easy banter. Maybe moving here was a good idea after all.

“I better wait to tell my story till she gets back. Travis, what brings you to our little town?” She twined her hands together and rested her chin on them. The interest in her eyes was sincere.

“I came for a visit, but think I might stay.”

“This is a big change from the city life.”

“Bo Mason offered me a job. I know it sounds strange, but I kinda like the idea of running a small airport whose runway also serves as Main Street. And I’m worn out from job stress and city hustle. I think the best times I ever had were the summers in the Ozarks.” I took a bite if sandwich and shrugged. “Well, except for rattlesnakes and BB guns.”

She brushed some loose hair out of her face. How could a simple action could stop my breath?

“Well Travis, this is a great place to settle down.” She smiled again. Wow, green eyes, freckles, long red hair, bet the curls drive her crazy, they were me.

The waitress, Joanie, came back to the table with more coffee and a plate of sandwiches. She pulled up a chair, joining us, I guess. “Travis, I’m Joanie. This bunch has been coming so long we don’t even bother with orders. I just bring them a plate of sandwiches. I suggest you grab, cuz Jane’s hubby takes the best ones fast!”

“Hey, I take offense to that remark,” Mike replied.

“No you don’t, you know it’s true.” Jane nudged him. “Eat up everybody. And Stacy, the floor is yours.” She mock bowed to Stacy.

“I took the dogs, Jake and Jasper, out one more time before coming. Big mistake. There was a cute little black snake on my sidewalk. I told it I didn’t want it so close to my house—“

I shuddered. “A cute snake? You talked to it?”

“Well, yeah.” I got the feeling she didn’t see anything unusual about that. She flipped that curl out of her face. “Anyway, I picked it up and tossed it out to the field.”

A chill crept up my spine, palms sweating. Touch a snake? Not since that rattler cornered me in that shower stall. I could see it coiled up in the doorway. The rattles shaking loud warnings at me. A wave of nausea overpowered me.

Her brow wrinkled. “You okay Travis?”

“Umm, yeah sorry. I don’t do snakes.” I cleared my throat. “Go ahead.”

“After I tossed it into the field, Jasper took off after it and brought it back to me. He laid it on the sidewalk at my feet. Three times I tossed that snake and each time he retrieved it. It was a grand game. Poor snake, probably wondered what was going on.”

I squirmed. “Poor snake? This is beyond my comprehension.”

She finished a bite of sandwich and brushed that curl from her face, stopping my breath again. “It was only a little black snake, totally harmless. Jasper didn’t even care when his ‘stick’ moved in his mouth! I finally made him stay at the house while I carried the snake out to the field and let it go. When I released Jasper, he spent at least twenty minutes searching for it. Finally, he sighed and picked up a real stick and brought it to me.”

After a while curiosity got the better of me. “Umm, Stacy, I just gotta ask this. Why would you go to all that trouble with the snake? Why not just kill it?”

She put her fork down and stared at me, my throat froze shut as if it had been punched. She giggled.

Joanie laughed first, then everyone joined. “Boy, you are new here. Stacy kill a snake? She can’t even kill a fly!”

“She’s right, I’m a softie. I used to bring home every creepy- crawly thing I found. Mama made me empty my pockets as I walked in the door.”

Joanie interrupted. “Yeah, Aunt Mel learned the hard way to do that.”

“What do you mean?” I took the bait, anything to keep her talking and smiling at me.

“I brought things in and wanted to keep them all for pets. I had jars with all sorts of creatures in my room.” A crooked grin crossed her face. “And they frequently escaped.”

“Yeah, I remember that little ring-necked snake. You didn’t speak to your Ma for days after that.” Joanie said.

Stacy pouted. “Well, she killed it. All it was doing was looking for shelter.” She picked up her sandwich. “So what if it was under that stack of towels.”

I jumped. “Another snake? Under a stack of towels? Oh, I would have died.”

She laughed out loud, a happy sound. “My Ma nearly did. She freaked out and grabbed the first thing she could find- a comet can- and whacked it. She decapitated the poor thing. I was furious.”

“I think me and your Ma would have gotten along great.” My turn to wink at her.

She frowned. “After the funeral I didn’t speak to her for days.”

I shook my head. “Funeral?”

She giggled. “Yeah, I made her have a funeral for the snake she murdered.”

She had to be the most unique woman I ever met.

“After that, Ma made me empty my pockets before coming inside.”

“Wise woman,” I said.

“Oh what a fuddy-duddy.” She took a bite of sandwich and a swallow of milk. The milk mustache it left was endearing. She licked her lips.

Oh my.

She finished the last bite. “It was just a snake.”

Just a snake? I swallowed my tea before spewing it across the table. “Yeah, like today’s was a ‘cute’ black snake.”

“Well it was. Besides, black snakes keep the rodent population down at my farm.”

“Wouldn’t cats do that ? And they are much more pleasant to have around.”

“Got them too. You’ll have to come out sometime.”

Jane’s elbow nudged my ribs. “Why not today?” Forever the matchmaker.

“Well -- uh -- I -- I guess I could. If it wouldn’t be a bother?”

“I’d love it.” Wow, she was gorgeous. “It’s not far, my place is on the edge of town.”

“Okay. What about sn--” Ouch. I scowled at Jane. “Never mind.”

We strolled through town. She pointed out the landmarks. At the school, she stopped. “I love to watch children. Pure honesty before the world teaches them to hide.” She pointed to a group of girls. “See them? At that age boys are either pals or tormentors. Mine was Mike, Jane’s hubby, I spent my days either playing in the creek with him or figuring out what to do to him before he pulled my braids.”

I’d like to pull her braids.

“See those older girls over there?” She pointed towards another group. “They’re probably talking about boys. Who likes who. They wonder about pretty much one thing. When will they get the first kiss? Who will it be? What will it be like? The first kiss is important.” She paused and looked up at me. “Girls are silly that way.” She shrugged and turned away. We resumed the stroll.

“So, who was your first kiss? And what was it like?” Had I just asked that? Too late, it was out there now.

“Mike, of course.”

“Is that awkward? I mean, he married your best friend.”

“Well, guess not, Jane’s still my best friend. I tease them and say one kiss from me and he ran to her.” She looked up at me. “What about yours?”

“My what?”

She knuckle-punched my shoulder and did that nose wrinkle thing again. “Turnabout’s fair play. Your first kiss.”

“Sally Noble. She was year older than me. We were pals, like you and Mike. One day she told me she wondered what a kiss would be like.” I kicked at the dirt road. “We liked it.”

Silence. What was she thinking about? She stopped at the end of a long lane. “Here we are.” She pointed to the sign ‘Best Friends.’

“Your place?” A long tree-lined lane stretched before us. The spent cherry blossoms were lightly falling to the ground like a shower of petals. The gravel was coated with pink and white.

She ran her hand along the fence as we walked. “I grew up here. After college, I started my business here and took care of my parents.” She picked up a fallen flower. “They’re both gone now. It’s just me and the animals.” Her hand reached for mine. “I’ll give you the tour.”

There were dogs, horses, goats and cats everywhere. The old wooden farmhouse looked well cared for and the yard was dotted with flowers beds. Each bed was in full bloom. How could she keep up with all of it?

Watching her with the animals was a treat. Her gentleness with the dogs, strength with the horses and the way they all came to her as she called them by name impressed me.

The way she lingered over a field of daisies intrigued me. I watched her repeatedly brush the loose curls from her face. When she stood close to me I caught a flowery scent. Being with her felt like a summer day, like home.

Hours passed like seconds. It was time for me to go. I liked the way the air felt around her. Her laughter, her smile, the depth of her eyes, the animals everywhere all drew me, called me to linger. Her childlike joy brought to mind the children on the playground.

Call it impulsive, or stupid, but as we stood at the end of her lane in the waning sunlight, I said, “Stacy? You never told me what women wonder about?”

She looked at the ground, then back at me. Her eyes darkened, she almost breathed the answer, “That’s easy. They wonder when they will get their last first kiss.”

I cupped her face in my hands, tilted her chin up and kissed her. Our lips met. Our hearts connected. I pulled back, looked in her eyes and said, “That was it.”

Submitted by
Chandra Lynn Smith

No comments: