|Publisher:||Top Hat Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.43(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.88(d)|
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A Farmhouse in the Rain
By Joe Kilgore
John Hunt Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 Joe Kilgore
All rights reserved.
Pilot Hill, Texas, January 1943
Thump. Thump. Thump. Each time the round ball hit the red dirt, a wisp of dust would dart from beneath it, then dissipate while wafting to earth. The constant pounding had worn away the green grass, leaving a pockmarked and dimpled surface serviceable only when the weather was dry. But it was often dry enough to repeatedly conjure visions of packed arenas, riotous fans, and that last second shot to beat the buzzer and claim the championship. Glory is ever present when young men dream.
From her kitchen window, Riley's mother watched him spinning, jumping, and shooting over and over again. Maybe luck was on his side, she thought. Maybe he'd grow tall enough and work hard enough and be good enough to escape what he was born into. Perhaps that round, leather basketball was the ticket that would take him away from the life around him. An oil field life of hard labor, forgotten hopes, compromised aspirations, and eventually acceptance. Acceptance of the shallow canals, wooden derricks, and gravel roads that surrounded them like prison walls. Regret is inevitable, she thought to herself. The lint in the pocket of every life. But maybe it wouldn't have to be in his.
He had just sailed a silent twenty-footer through the netless rim on the battered backboard his father had set up for him behind the clothesline in the tiny backyard. A shot that set off the high school senior's imagined victory celebration, until his mother's voice cut short the jubilation.
"Riley ... time for supper. Come on in." She never had to yell twice.
They sat at the booth his father had built in one corner of the kitchen. It negated the need for a table and chairs; there was little room for them anyway. The kitchen was small like the rest of the clapboard house. There were two bedrooms, a shared bath, a small area that could be called a living room, though very little living went on in it. Most nights were passed with Riley reading in his room. His mother and father sitting on the front porch until it was time to retire. People in Pilot Hill went to bed early and got up even earlier.
There was no meat this evening. But a meal of eggs and potatoes, with diced onions seasoned to please, did more than assuage the trio's hunger; it delighted their taste buds as well. So much so that when Glenn Miller's band on the ever-present radio cranked up "Chattanooga Choo Choo," Riley's father rose, extended his hand, swept his slightly hesitant wife to her feet, and began to twirl her around the kitchen. The big oil field roughneck who was used to lifting massive pipe and dragging heavy chain was surprisingly light on his feet and gentle with his touch. It warmed Riley's heart to see his parents forgetting for the moment that bills hadn't been paid and repairs hadn't been made, and simply enjoying the music and the movement and each other. It was one of those snapshots the mind involuntarily takes and stores to be recalled sometime in the future. Most often when there's a pressing need for happiness.
Later that evening, Riley drove the family Ford past a long line of vehicles to the far side of a big, tented roller rink. Winter had little meaning in Southeast Texas. Temperatures never fell very far. So young people enjoyed the outdoors as much in winter as they did in spring. Especially when something out of the ordinary set up shop for a while. The rink was usually a fixture for a few weeks only in summer. But with the exceedingly mild weather, the owner had decided to have another go at the oil field community.
Beneath a giant canvas the portable wooden floor had been assembled. Racks of rental skates stood row upon row just inside the entrance. A red picket fence rimmed the floor to keep clumsy skaters from going over the side. The loud speakers continuously blared "A String of Pearls," "Moonlight Cocktail," "Tangerine," and other big band hits. Men, women, boys, and girls stepped, stumbled, and skated round and round as music filled their ears and a myriad of thoughts filled their minds. The older set nostalgically wondered where their youth had gone. Children and adolescents imagined their futures in fast cars they'd never own or at fancy balls they'd never attend. Teenagers fantasized about the topic of most young people's reveries, the opposite sex. It was a night for reflection, contemplation, dreaming. Such nights were now few and far between. Thirteen months earlier the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
Riley could have parked closer, behind automobiles that had arrived earlier, but he wanted a front row seat to watch the skaters from the privacy of his car. He never really liked being in the middle of crowds. Sure, he put up with it when he was on the gym floor in the middle of a game and everyone else was in the grandstands. But he wasn't one for mixing, mingling, being part of the throng. He liked being somewhat apart. There but not there. Participating his way. On his own terms.
The night was clear, cool, and much more comfortable than winter had any right to be. Riley watched the skaters as they circled. The tentative ones, who walked more than they rolled. The speedsters who annoyingly zipped in and out of the crowd, grabbing the middle tent pole to whip themselves around the corners even faster. The cruisers, content to take it slow and steady. Among the latter, one in particular caught his eye. And the eyes of virtually every other young man in attendance. She was wearing a sleeveless black tunic and short white shorts that hugged her in all the right places. Hers was a figure men ogled and women envied. Slim, smooth legs, thin waist, tight tummy, and curves that were pinup promises of heaven to every male beyond puberty. Her golden hair was short by the standards of the day. It bobbed about the tops of her shoulders dancing this way and that in time with the music. Her nose was small, her lips full, and under dark brows her coffee colored eyes glowed like gemstones. Literally sparkled like Tiger's eye, particularly when she smiled.
Riley knew who she was. Her name was Gwen. She was the daughter of Sam Taylor, the tool pusher who worked for the same company as his father. The same company virtually everyone in Pilot Hill worked for. She was a year behind him in school. He had seen her there, but he had never quite seen her as he did this night. There was something magical about the way she glided round the rink. He couldn't take his eyes off her. And the more he gazed, the more he wondered why he had never thought about her this way before. Getting out of the car, he walked slowly beside the fence toward the entrance. Still watching. Still wondering.
Stepping inside the entrance, Riley casually leaned against the counter. As he debated with himself on what he might say, fate made him hurry his decision. The two girls Gwen had been skating with became tangled, tilted precariously, and were about to fall right in front of him. He caught one by the arm. Gwen reached out and grabbed the other's elbow to keep them upright. She giggled as she said, "Hey, you two, leave the fancy stuff to the experts."
It was out of his mouth before he had time to take it back, which upon reflection he would have. "Now, we don't need any more of your lip, Miss Taylor. At least not that way."
The two girls giggled this time. But Gwen didn't. She caught his clumsy flirtation exactly the way it was intended. It made her smile and she responded, "Well, if it isn't Riley Cross, the basketball star. Why don't you put on a pair of skates and show us how it's done?"
"Don't think my coach would want me to take a chance on turning my ankle just now. Still got a few games to play, you know."
"I know. I watch you at all the home games," Gwen answered.
"Come on, Gwen," one of her friends chided.
"Yeah," the other said, "let's keep skating."
"Think I'll rest for a minute. You two go ahead."
The girls looked at Gwen, then Riley, then giggled as they took off on their own.
"Say," Riley stammered, "I ... I didn't mean what I said before. I mean, I didn't quite mean it the way it came out. I was just kidding, you know."
"I know a kidder when I see one. I thought it was a pretty cute thing to say."
"Guys don't like to be called cute."
"Well, I don't know why not. You certainly are. Though I guess you'd prefer to be called handsome, wouldn't you?"
"Think I'd prefer to be called Riley."
Hers was an appropriate description. Riley Cross was an above average example of the male species. Six feet, one inch tall. A hundred and seventy pounds of trim physique, the result of running up and down gymnasium floors thousands of times. His full head of brown hair was trimmed neatly and parted on one side in the style of the times. His long, straight nose, green eyes, and thin lips set off an appealing face that didn't have that lived-in look it would eventually take on.
"You skate well," Riley said. "You look good out there."
Gwen replied, "Now, are you talking about my skating, or are you talking about me?"
"I was talking about your skating. But I have a sneaky suspicion you know exactly how good you look."
"My, my, Mr. Cross. Are you flirting with me?"
"Actually, I thought it was the other way around."
By the time her friends came around a third time, Gwen already had her skates off. She stopped them and said, "Don't wait for me, okay; I'm going to catch a ride with Riley."
"Are you sure?" one asked. The other said, "Go ahead. Go out and come back, if you like. We can meet you here when the rink closes."
"No, it's okay. He's already said he'd give me a ride home. I'll be fine," Gwen added.
The girls looked at each other and shook their heads but skated off dutifully.
Driving away from the rink, Riley surveyed the night sky as Gwen sipped on the bottle of Coke he had bought her. He looked at the stars and full moon mainly as an excuse to keep from staring at her.
"What do you think you're going to find up there? Enemy planes?"
"I doubt that they'd be in the skies over Texas. Just looking at the moon. It's so bright, I bet we could drive without the lights."
"Turn them off and let's see," Gwen dared him.
There were no cars behind or in front of him at the moment, so he took her challenge and turned them off. The change was abrupt, but the moonlight was so encompassing that they were able to easily navigate without headlamps.
"Oh, wow," Gwen laughed, "this is so weird." Then sliding across the front seat and wrapping her arm around his, she said, "Let's see how far we can go without turning them back on."
Riley was immediately aware of her touch and the scent of her. He didn't know what kind of perfume she had on, but he knew he liked it. Almost as much as the feel of her body next to his.
"Wouldn't it be great to just go on like this forever," she said. More a statement than a question. "Just riding through the moonlight to wherever the road might take us."
"This road will take us to the processing plant," Riley responded drily.
"Oh, that's not what I meant, silly. I meant, wouldn't you like to just start driving and never stop until you were someplace totally different, totally wonderful."
"Is there some place that's totally wonderful?"
"There must be," she said. "I know there has to be."
"Where do you think we might find it?" Riley asked.
"Anyplace away from here," Gwen responded. "Anyplace with mountains and oceans and maybe even palm trees."
"You're a funny one," Riley said.
"Funny how? Funny ha-ha? Or funny in the head?"
"I can't tell yet."
"Oh, come on, Riley Cross. You can't tell me you haven't thought about getting away from here to some place with city lights and music and excitement."
"I guess I have," Riley agreed. "I know my mom talks about it from time to time. She says if I'm able to get a college scholarship playing basketball, then I'll be able to learn a lot more and see a lot more of the world."
"Is that what you want to do, Riley? See the world? Me too. I guess most people from small towns want to see what they're missing, huh?"
"I don't know," he responded. "Some people like small towns. Like my dad. I don't think he'd have any problem living here the rest of his life."
"Not me," Gwen countered. "I want to go places and see things and do things I've never done before."
"Maybe we ought to turn the headlights back on," Riley said. "My folks would kill me if we had an accident."
"Not just yet, okay," she asked, squeezing his arm. "Let's get off this main road so we won't have to worry about it."
There was a side road thirty yards ahead of them on their right. A dirt trail that wound its way through derricks and rocking horse wells and eventually made its way to a shed where cement, pipe, and other drilling equipment was kept. Riley maneuvered his way down the trail and pulled the car to a stop behind the shed.
"This is nice," Gwen said. Then sliding over to the passenger side of the car, she added, "Come on, let's roll the windows down and get some fresh air."
"I bet you take girls out here to park all the time, don't you?"
"No. I just pulled onto this trail because you said you wanted to get off the main road."
"Well, you seemed to have chosen a pretty secluded spot. I bet you've been out here before. With older girls, right?"
"Or maybe," Riley began, "you knew exactly where we were when you asked me to pull over. Maybe you're the one who's been out here."
"Absolutely not. What kind of girl do you think I am?"
"A very pretty one."
"Well, that's very nice of you to say. Why haven't you ever told me that before?"
"Gee, I don't know. I guess I've been so involved with my studies and the team, I haven't paid a lot of attention to other things."
"Like girls, you mean?"
"Like you, I mean. You are pretty, Gwen. Really pretty."
"Am I the prettiest girl in school?"
"You're the prettiest girl in this car."
"Well, that's no compliment. Am I the prettiest girl you've ever had in this car?"
He could have lied or joked some more but he didn't. "Yes. Yes, you are."
She noted the sincerity in his voice. And, for a moment, changed the subject. "Gosh, it's so quiet out here," she said. "All you can hear is the pumping of the wells and the croak of the cicadas."
"Yeah," Riley ventured. "Unfortunately, they're pumping for somebody else."
"It's a shame, isn't it? A shame we don't have our very own oil well, pumping out money for us day and night."
"Yeah, it is. Guess we can't all be rich though."
"It would be fun to be rich. Wouldn't it? Fun to have all the money we wanted ... to do whatever we pleased."
"I kinda think you do what you please now."
"Well, I'm not sure that's a nice thing to say."
"I didn't mean anything bad by it. I like girls who are independent. Girls who don't need to have guys waiting on them hand and foot. You know, like rich girls seem to do in the movies and all."
"Well, I'm glad you think I'm independent, Riley, because I am. And I'm really glad you think I'm pretty. Because I think you're about the most handsome boy in town. But ... I still bet you that rich people have a lot more fun than we do."
"I might take that bet. Watching you skate tonight ... you seemed to be having a lot of fun."
"It was fun," Gwen said, slowly sliding back to Riley's side of the car. "It was fun skating, and even more fun having you watch me. You're fun to talk to, Riley. You really are. I don't know why we haven't done it before. And you know, maybe you're right. Maybe there are some things people can do to have fun whether they have a lot of money or not."
"And just what might that be?" Riley questioned, hoping he knew the answer already.
"Oh, I don't know," Gwen purred. "Maybe something like this." She bent over, titled her head, and pressed her lips against his.
It was a kiss both held, then paused to look in each other's eyes, and kissed again. Even harder this time. More passionately. They kept kissing for what seemed like a long time. Kissing lips, ears, necks, and lips again.
"You can touch me if you want to," Gwen whispered. "I've never let anyone touch me before. But I'll let you. If you want to." At that moment, there was nothing in the world Riley wanted more. He explored her body with his hands, caressing her gently, then firmly, as his passion rose. She answered in kind, bending her body to his touch, then she unfastened her bra and pulled the tunic over her head and let it drop to the floor of the car. He kissed her again and again. Then she reached for him, smiling as she said, "Is that you, or the Coke bottle?"
"It's me," Riley said. "God, you're so beautiful." Then he watched her smile turn to hunger as he bent to kiss her again.
For the next two weeks, they were inseparable. At school they had lunch together. She would wait for him after his games. On weekends they would return to their off-road hideaway. Between them, there was no talk of the future. They were too immersed in the moment. But moments, like everything else in life, have a beginning and an end.
Riley came home from school on a Wednesday afternoon and entered the house through the back door as he always did. When he stepped into the kitchen he immediately knew something was wrong. His mother was sitting at the booth. He could see she had been crying. There was an envelope on the table in front of her. It was unopened.
Excerpted from A Farmhouse in the Rain by Joe Kilgore. Copyright © 2015 Joe Kilgore. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd.
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