"People might think I'm contagious," Abby said, solemnly.
She shook her head no.
Jamie shrugged. "So who cares what they think?"
"I can't go in the waves alone," Abby said, more hopeful.
"I'll carry you in," he said. "Let's go, get your suit on."
Abby turned and nearly danced down the hallway to her room.
"Thank you," Yvette said to Jamie. "I can't tell you -- "
"No biggie," he said, opening the refrigerator. "That class was a drag anyway."
"Was it? I'm sorry."
"It's pretty much your fault," he said, but she could tell he was joking.
"You can take another class later."
"Sure." He closed the refrigerator.
"I'll go shopping."
"Looks good, Ma," he said. "I was just checking. Here she is, let's go."
He lifted Abby in her blue swimsuit onto his hip, as if she weighed nothing, and carried her out to the red Escort that used to be Teddy's.
Yvette followed with a twenty from her pocketbook. "After the beach, you can bring back ice cream for dessert."
Jamie snapped the bill for Abby. "Score!" he said.
Two hours later they came back, Abby sandy from the beach, with a tub of Dairy Queen ice cream and some Dilly bars that they rushed to the freezer. Abby chatted happily all through dinner, and it seemed to Yvette as if her cheerfulness were a wheel that Jamie had gotten spinning. Now he just needed to give it a push every so often, to keep it going.
"Thank you, Jamie," Yvette said, when she got her son alone. She couldn't remember when she had last thanked him for anything but Christmas presents, and now she couldn't stop.
Jamie moved into his old room and took Abby to the beach every morning. In the afternoons, he taught her five-card stud, sitting at the kitchen table with piles of unshelled peanuts.
"No eating your chips," he told her, "or we won't know who wins."
"You'll win," she said.
"I might not," he said. "I think you have a real talent for the bluff."
"No, I don't."
"You do!" he said. "Or you will when I get through with you. We can go on the road and win big -- you'll be the perfect hustler."
Abby laughed. Anything Jamie said was funny; anything he did was fun. He played guitar for her, making up songs with her name in them, and he made chords and let her strum. He listened to records in his room, and Abby sat on the floor, her dark head bent over the album covers.
One afternoon, Yvette was collecting laundry from Jamie's room, and his new Bob Dylan record was playing. Abby was studying the cover. Jamie lay on the bed, reading his old paperback copy of Dune. Bob Dylan sang:
You may be living in another country, under another name
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
"Why would you have another name?" Abby asked. Yvette took a towel off a
"I guess if you did something wrong," Jamie said.
Copyright © 2006 by Maile Meloy
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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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