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Books

Hush Puppy

Hush Puppy

Excerpt

The weeds had deep roots. They kept breaking off in my hands as I yanked on them, cursing under my breath. Sweat dripped off my nose, making wet spots on the red soil. The beans were in flower and it seemed like every insect in town was humming around them. I was so busy trying to avoid the bees with my hoe, I didn't notice the shaggy-haired boy walk up behind me.

"Kind of hot for yard work, ain't it?"

I snapped up and spun around too fast, the blood rushing out of my head. I steadied myself on the hoe as stars blurred my vision. As my sight cleared, I saw Jamie's face, a halo of glittering lights around him.

"Hey, Hush Puppy!" he said. "Those were good."

"I'm Corrine." Still blinking, I wiped my sweaty forehead with the back of my dirty glove.

"I'm Jamie." For a minute, he just stood there holding a red spiral notebook in one hand. Not knowing what else to do, I tried to make conversation.

"Going to summer school?"

"What?" He seemed confused.

"You look like you just got off the bus," I said, pointing to his notebook.

"Oh, this?" He glanced at his notebook. "I just write stuff sometimes."

"What kind of stuff?"

"I...the kind of stuff my old man don't like, I guess." Jamie smiled like he thought that was funny. I threw the hoe down in the wilted weeds.

"I need a drink. Want some tea?" I offered.

"Sure," he said, following me to the house.

I got the tea from the fridge and found two glasses while Jamie sat at the table, setting his notebook on the red and white vinyl tablecloth in front of him. The kitchen was stuffy so I cranked on the window air conditioner until it blew frosty gusts at us. Jamie watched quietly while I cracked a tray of ice cubes and tossed a few in each glass before pouring the tea. We both took a long drink.

"You're not like most boys around here."

"Oh yeah?"

"I can't think of one who would actually admit to writing something that wasn't for school."

Jamie smirked and chugged some more tea.

"So what's in it?" I asked.

"In what?"

"Your notebook. What do you write?"

"Um..." Jamie's thumb fingered the corner of the pages. "Stories, essays mostly." His eyes traveled over the plastic tablecloth between us, not daring to look up.

"Can I see?" I reached for the notebook, but Jamie quickly slid it away from me.

"Naw. You wouldn't like it."

"How do you know?" The questions sounded ruder than I meant and I tried to make up for it. "I like a lot of stuff."

"It's just that it's not that good." He pulled it off the table onto his lap where I couldn't see it. I felt myself frowning.

"Fine. Be like that."

The crunching sound of a car on gravel grabbed my attention. Memaw wasn't due home for hours. I jumped up to check out the tiny kitchen window, but there was no one there. When I turned around, Jamie was gone, his empty glass on the table. I walked into the living room and saw him down the short hallway, standing in my room.

"What are you doing?" I asked, hoping I hadn't left my underwear on the floor that morning. It was dark in my room because we kept the windows covered during the day to keep it cool. I walked up behind Jamie, who was gazing up at the world map on my bedroom wall. I caught our reflection in my mirror and realized just how different we were next to each other. My dark skin, the color of rich, black coffee, made his skin look that much lighter. My kinky hair, poking out of the braids that were coming undone, made his hair seem that much straighter. But Jamie didn't notice any of that.

"Cool map," said Jamie. "What are the pins for?" He fingered the blue push pin I had stuck in the map at Munich.

"Places I want to see one day."

"You sure got a lot of traveling to do."

"That's the plan. Red is for must-see, blue is for nice to see."

"There's a lot of red. These your books?" Jamie asked, looking over my shelf.

"Yeah."

Jamie paused a minute and then sighed. "I should probably go. My dad would freak if he knew I was here." He turned to walk down the hall toward the front door. I should have been relieved to get him out of my room, but some part of me was disappointed to see him go. I followed him outside and across the yard toward the driveway. He glanced back at me once or twice, as if he thought I was going home with him.

"I gotta finish weeding," I explained.

"Oh."

"Thanks for stopping by," I said. It was something Memaw would have said.

"Yeah, thanks for the tea." He kicked a grubby sneaker toe into the fresh garden dirt I'd just cleared of weeds. The notebook dangled from his fingertips. He stared at me like he had something more to say, but he never got the chance. Harley's truck, held together with duct tape and wire, rattled down the road, stopped suddenly and backed up. Harley drove his truck into our driveway and hung his head out the window.

"What the hell are you doing over here?" he shouted at Jamie, who didn't answer. Instead, Jamie looked at me and offered me the notebook he had been so reluctant to share before.

"I've been looking everywhere for you!" Harley kept ranting.

"I think you dropped this," Jamie said to me, somehow ignoring Harley.

"What?" I couldn't understand what was happening.

"Damn it, Jamie! Get in the truck!"

"Isn't it yours?" Jamie's eyes pleaded with me to play along. "Take it." I finally did what he said and he joined Harley in the truck.

"When I call you, I expect you to answer, boy!" I heard Harley shouting as they drove away. I didn't understand how or why, but suddenly the mysterious red notebook was mine.


© Lisa T. Cresswell

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