She reached across me to turn on the lights. When she smiled, I didn't have the heart to tell her that her red lipstick was smudged. I was lying there with my right arm raised and my hand between my head and my pillow. She gently laid her head upon my chest.
"What are you thinking about, Billy John?" she whispered.
"Aw, nothing really. I was just trying not to think and to just enjoy this here moment."
She looked up at me, and I took the opportunity to wipe the lipstick off of her chin. She smiled and snuggled up against me.
"Really? I never do know if you are joshing me or not. Makes me talk slower than I usually do."
"I noticed that. I'm being serious though. I feel so good at this moment, and I'm just trying to make the good feeling last.
"Well, why shouldn't it last?"
"Nothing good ever lasts. You haven't noticed that?'
Jeannie didn't answer at first, but I could tell her hackles were raised, and she was thinking about saying something defensive. Right when she started to speak, I placed my finger to her lips and said, "I don't mean nuthin by it, Jeannie. It's just that whenever something good has happened in my life, it's always been followed by something bad."
Her eyes grew sad, and she said, "It don't always got to be like that. It could be you just had a run of bad luck."
"Could be, I reckon."
At that point, we both heard the loud fireworks and laughter coming from the party signaling the end of the night's festivities. Jeannie panicked and immediately jumped out of bed and started looking around on the floor for her clothes.
When I asked her why she was rushing around like a chicken with its head cut off, she just said, "I have to go tell Mr. and Mrs. Baker and Sammie where I am."
"Still ain't no reason to panic. They probably already know that you ain't there."
"No they don't. I didn't tell anybody why I left."
"You settle down now, and let me go do it. I'll tell them that I'll take you home later." That got her settled down, and she got back into bed and pulled the covers up to her neck. I picked up my pants out of the chair where I had placed them, and put them on and then grabbed my dark blue shirt hanging from the back of the chair. Then I ran outside, jumped in my car and started it up.
There was a little roadway that led out of the camp and past the back of the store and fed out onto the main road between the Anderson's house and another house. I drove slowly along until I spotted the Bakers strolling along hand in hand. I pulled up along side of them and rolled down the window.
"Howdy, folks! I just wanted to tell you that Jeannie's with me, and that I'll take her home later."
They both ambled over to the rolled down window. Susie did the talking, "Hey, Billy John, we'd figured as much. Robert and Martha came back to the party and told us what had happened. I saw Jeannie leave with them. Has Thurman caught up to those fools yet?"
"Don't rightly know. He ain't come back yet. Burney called the house though and said that she'd found all the money and loot; so that's good anyways. Hey, if you guys see Sammie, tell him Jeannie's with me."
"Hell, you ain't got no worry about him. He took off with Linda Sue about an hour ago."
I pulled out onto the main road and flipped around and headed back to the house. In my headlights, I could see all the party goers walking my way. It had turned into a bigger affair then we first thought. I guess when all the neighbors heard the music start up, they all came out to dance. They all were laughing and smiling, so I guess it was safe to say that a good time was had by all.
When I pulled back up in front of the house, I saw Mr. Jenks holding his front door open for Martha as she walked in. I got out of the car and yelled across the path, "Damn it, Jenksie, you suppose to be carrying her across that threshold!"
He raised his chin and laughed, "Not in this lifetime, I ain't. I'm doing good carrying myself." Then he waved and closed the door behind him, and I saw the lights go out in his front room and turn on in the back bedroom. Then, I walked into the house and saw Jeannie fully dressed and sitting in a table chair crying.
"Why on earth you crying?" I asked her gently.
"I don't know. I'm just feeling sad about a few things, I guess."
"Come on, Girl, you the prettiest girl in Concord. You ain't got nothing to feel sad about."
"You don't know nothing bout nothing about my mama. She makes my life terrible hard sometimes."
"Well, we got something in common then. My daddy wasn't an easy man to live with either. You do what you can do to get by and eventually they ain't there no more."
"She's crazy. I hate her. She's done ruined my sisters too, and now she's starting in on me."
"Don't go saying you hate your mama, Jeannie. That ain't a Christian thing to do. There got to be reasons, she acts like she do. I had to keep telling myself that Daddy didn't just suddenly turn mean and nasty overnight. He probably had it a lot harder than me and Thurman.
His daddy was a Mississippi snake handler who talked in tongues on top of that. They said he acted like he was talking to the snakes. He made my daddy handle them snakes too. Mama told me once that Grandpa Wilson whipped my daddy bloody raw because daddy wouldn't pretend he could understand what them snakes were saying."
Jeannie, suddenly curious, quit crying, "Well, I know that my grandma Tuttle was purely evil too. My Grandmama said that mama had poisoned her last husband, my daddy, to get at his insurance money." Then after a short pause, she kept on, "I guess none of us know our folks as well we think we do."
"Yeah. Even when we think we do, we really don't. All we ever seem to see is the outside of things and not the small and bitter tragedies that cause them."
She looked me in the eyes and mischievously said, "You say for me not to hate, but don't you hate you hate Sammie Ames."
Her trick made me laugh a little, "Naw, I wouldn't say I hated him. I just don't think that fool is good enough for you."
"And you think you are?"
"I don't know that for sure. I do know that I'll try hard to prove it to you."
That made her start laughing and lit a little bit of a fire behind her green eyes, "And how you plan on going bout that, Billy John Wilson?"
I walked over to her, bent down, and picked her up and started carrying her back into the bedroom, "Hows about I just start working on it right about now?" Jeannie giggled like a little girl when I set her down on the bed.
Later, I took her home for the very first time. She was apprehensive as we pulled into her driveway. I didn't know if it was because of how rundown and shabby looking her Mama's house was, or if it was the fact that her mama was still waiting up and sitting on the porch smoking a pipe. Maybe, it was both. Anyways, I walked Jeannie up to the door, kissed her, and she scooted inside before her mama could say a thing.
Then I turned and faced her mama, "Good Evening, Mrs. Lazarus. As you can see I brought your daughter home safe and sound."
She nodded at me with the slitted eyes of a mountain cat. "I can see that, Boy. But don't call me Lazarus. I go by Tuttle. Jeannie's daddy was a no account piece of shit far as I'm concerned. You ain't the feller that took her off?"
"No, I'm not. It appears that he ran off on her."
She laughed and her whole body rolled in waves like the ocean. I didn't think that three fully growed men could have joined hands and reached around her. I was starting to wonder it she had her own gravitational pull. And to top it off, she was ugly as sin. Her long white hair hung down loose and dirty onto her shoulders. She had a big pointed nose with a wart on it like a witch and was also missing two of her front teeth.
She took the pipe out of her mouth and spat out on the ground. Then she used her shoulder to point toward the door and said, "That 'un," meaning Jeannie, "is a wild one. You do understand that she's going to scratch out your eyes at some point if you keep on seeing her."
"I ain't going to lie to you, Miss Tuttle. I have heard a time or two that Jeannie is used to getting her own way. But I believe that compromise is always possible if you find out something that both parties want."
She laughed again, "Well, you go on and try and compromise, as you call it, with her, but I'll bet you a dollar to a dime, that she's still unbroken after you run away with your tail between your legs with a broken arm or two, a leg, an eyepatch, or maybe even a broken heart if you still got one after she gets through with you."
"Well, if it wasn't so ungentlemanly of me to do so, I might just take you on a bet like that. And maybe she don't need to be broken like a wild horse, maybe just gentled up a little."
And damned if that didn't make her laugh even louder. I thought she was going to choke on it. "Boy, she don't need broke alright. That's funny. You get a better ride out of the ones that buck anyway, but you probably already know that, don't you?"
I left things at that. Miss Tuttle had a point. If I was able to keep my heart out of things, maybe Jeannie's impulsiveness and wildness could prove kind of fun to be around. Something told me though, that I'd have to cut loose of her right away to manage something like that.
When I walked back into our house later, Thurman was sitting in the same chair that Jeannie had been crying in only moments before. He looked bruised and battered and had some dried blood on the front of his white shirt. I asked him what had happened, but he showed no signs of wanting to answer the question. Minutes later, he finally mumbled, "Burney found all the money and stuff. She also found this."
He fished around in his pant pockets and pulled out a golden chain and a gold cross. It had belonged to Mama, and she'd given it to me for my sixteenth birthday. He reached out and handed it to me. I took it and placed it in my shirt pocket. Then I asked him, "How about the pistol? Did you recover that too?"
He didn't answer again, and this time, his eyes kind of went sideways like he had gotten hit in the head with a skillet. I figured he'd tell me what had happened in his own good time, so I changed the subject so he wouldn't have to think on whatever it was that was bothering him. "Thurm, you remember what old man Jenks told us about them mythological heroes?"
"What about them?" I could see my ploy was actually working as curiosity entered into his eyes.
"Well, Mr. Anderson said something about we need some of them kind of heroes around to fix society for us, but Mr. Jenks got all mad and said something like them kind of heroes ain't for fixing society, they about teaching us all about the need to fix our own damned selves."
The memory of the conversation kind of relaxed him, or at least took his mind off what had happened. He softened up some and said, "Mr. Jenks said that them myths are like maps that show us how to reach the place where we supposed to end up, and that by fixing our self, we will make society better, not the other way around. Why you bring that up for now?"
"Sammy Ames told Jeannie something to the effect that she was like that Greek gal Medusa who turned men to stone. Said her beauty made men so they couldn't make up their minds on how to act around her. She told me it was like a curse that her Mama had laid on her, and all she could get out of life was little boys who didn't know nothing about how to act like a man."
He stood up and went and poured himself a cup of coffee and then sat back down before he answered, "Sounds like she was testing you out. What did you tell her back?"
"I told her myths don't work like that. You don't get to say that just because you're pretty that you are like Medusa. Medusa was so ugly she paralyzed men with fear not desire. That makes me think that she represents the ugly fact that we all are mortal beings trying to make do knowing that all life is doing is leading us to a lonely grave somewheres at the edge of town."
Thurman sat down the coffee cup and rubbed the stubble on his cheeks. He was thinking on it, and then he answered, "I think you're onto something there, Junior. Myth creatures are like rocks in a muddy river bed. Everything else is the sediments. They are like sign posts, and you can't have people just picking them up and setting them down wherever they want, or else everybody would get lost and never find their way home. You better tell that crazy little girl that she don't look nothing like Medusa, and Sammie Ames is a fucking idiot for saying that she did."
"That's pretty much what I told her down to the fact that Sammie Ames is just making shit up to impress her. How he could put that face together with the story of Medusa is well beyond me."
Thurman had a little hint of a smile when he nodded in agreement.
I then started to walk toward my room, but stopped at the door and told Thurman, "But her damn mama is the fucking spitting image of Medusa. It was dark, so I couldn't tell, but I'm pretty sure there's men turned to rock all over that front yard."
Thurman stood up and walked over to the counter where he picked up the tin lid from the coffee can he had just opened. He laughed and tossed it in my direction, "You better shine this fucker up then, and aim it at her eyes!"