Aletta couldn't decide if the pain in her belly was the baby or her stomach pitching a fit. Inside, she felt a humble brew made up of equal parts shame that he might not want her anymore, revulsion that she cared, and fear that he'd really stay gone forever. A voice in her head told her clearas clear as the ringing of the Jesus Is Lord church bells at noon every daythat she couldn't make it all alone.
As always, Jimmy stood out from the other men. His six- foot-two frame was topped off with black hair and sideburns that made his handsome face look rugged, but it was his smile that made people watch him that extra second. He kept his back to her until the float passed their house, then turned for just a moment, flashed her that smile, and waved. She raised her hand, but instead of waving, she pushed her shoulder-length strawberry blond hair behind one ear and then sat frozen in her chair until he finally turned away. How could he smile like that? As if there wasn't a train wreck lying between them, twisted and smoldering.
From his perch down the street, the PA announcer called out, "And now we have our athletes. Y'all are sure to recognize Okay's only all-state basketball player, Jimmy Honor." Across the street, Aletta saw Ruby and her little brother, Randy, watching their daddy with mouths hanging open. They seemed unsure what to do until the people watching the parade cheered for Jimmy, and then they started running alongside the float. Aletta wanted to yell at them to stop. Instead, she put her hand to her mouth as their daddy tossed them little plastic basketballs. They finally stopped running and waved good-bye as he tossed more of the orange balls out to scrambling children in the crowd.
"I'll take a lemonade if you're still sellin'."
The powerful scent of her daddy almost pitched her from her chair as Aletta turned toward the stranger. The weather-beaten cowboy held the reins of a beautiful quarter horse. He smelled like milk and hay and farm animals.
The impression of her father remained after the cowboy took his lemonade and went to join the rodeo contingent. Aletta closed her eyes. "Oh, Daddy, what should I do?" she whispered.
"You're one smart girl makin' some money with this location," Joy called from her driveway, "and I for one am in desperate need of a kolache." Joy lived next door with her husband Earl behind her beauty salon, Joy's Femme Coiffures. This month she happened to have red hair, flaming and high, and her Merle Norman pancake makeup hid any hint of a pore. She hated the natural look that was "in" these days and made it very clear to her customers that she intended to keep the "femme" in all their coiffures.
"Come on over," Aletta called back.
Joy sashayed across the lawn wearing tight-fitting Capri pants, a sequined American flag blouse, and gold-strapped high-heeled sandals.
"I couldn't make a kolache to save my life," Aletta said, opening a metal folding chair for Joy.
"I'm sorry, hon. When Randy told me you were tryin', I have to admit I said a little prayer," Joy said.
Just as she situated herself on the metal chair and put a cigarette to her lips, a tiny red Corvette raced by, passing the parade on the other side of the street. Joy's husband, Earl, held onto his tasseled hat with one hand as he sped along, an impossibly serious look on his face.
In an instant, Joy was running after him. "He musta missed the start," she shouted.
Aletta laughed as she watched Joy zigzag around a line of people waiting to buy brisket and beer, then hop off the curb and race between the Okay Marching Band and last year's homecoming queen waving from a yellow Thunderbird convertible. She chased after Earl, her gold two-strap shoes somehow staying on as she ran, until Aletta could no longer see her.
Excerpted from The Saints and Sinners of Okay County by Dayna Dunbar Copyright© 2003 by Dayna Dunbar. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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