"Julie, guess what?" He was breathless.
"Well, let me think for a minute. Is it something exciting?" Jason nodded his head vigorously. "Land-a-livin'! I think I know! Bananas are growing out of the old stump out by the wood-pile."
"Ah, Julie, you're so silly sometimes." Jason stood as tall as his slight frame allowed. His muddy shoes were firmly planted on the clean kitchen floor.
"Ju-lie! Look at his shoes!" Jill sneered with sisterly disgust.
"Shut up." Jason turned on his sister. "Open your trap again and I won't tell ya!"
"What's your news, Jason?" Julie poured water from the teakettle over the dishes in the pan.
"Joe... said that we're havin' a baseball game tonight. The Birches, the Humphreys, and Roy and Thad Taylor... Justine.
Maybe the Jacobses and Evan Johnson. He helped at the Humphreys' today, though he ain't expecting no payback."
"Who cares about him?" Jill snorted.
Jason knew he would get the full attention of his younger sister when he mentioned the Taylors. Jill had been eyeing both Roy and Thad Taylor even though Thad was Joe's age.
"Joe told me to get out the bags we use for bases. I hope mice ain't chewed 'em up."
"Haven't," Julie corrected. "When was it decided to have a ball game?" She stopped working on the greasy skillet to give her full attention to her brother, who was inching toward the door, eager to be away.
"I dunno. They'll be done hayin' by midafternoon. Pa said to tell ya they'd noon at the Humphreys'."
"Then I'll go to town this afternoon. We'll have a light supper."
"Can I go?"
"No. You can help Jill watch Joy."
"That's . . . girl work!" Jason snorted.
"Just right for a sissy-britches," Jill said snippily and took a handful of forks from the rinse pan.
"Shut up, Jus-tine!" Jason drew out the hated name because he knew that it would irritate his sister. "You're so dumb, you stink. I gotta go."
Julie grabbed a towel to dry her hands and went to the door to see Jason hurrying across the yard.
"Jason," she called. "Where's Joy?"
"Find her, please. She may have wandered off."
"Ah, Sis, I wanta go back."
"Honey, it's a good mile to the Humphreys'."
"I don't care," he shouted. "I told Joe I'd come back after I told ya. Jumpin' catfish! Here comes Joy. She's been in the mud.
I ain't touchin' 'er."
Julie went out onto the back porch and looked at the small girl. The blond curls that she had dampened and brushed around her finger to form fat curls not two hours ago were speckled with mud, as was Joy's face. Mud covered her feet and legs up to the cuffs of her drawers, which came to just below her knees.
"Ah, Joy. You're a mess. You can't come in the house like that. Go to the pump. I'll come wash you off."
"I didn't mean to, Julie." The child's impish grin told her sister that she was not a bit sorry.
"I'll do it." Jill leaped down the back steps. "Come on, stinkpot."
"I ain't no stinkpot, Jus-tine." Joy's hero was Jason. She had learned from him a way to irritate Jill. "Jus-tine, Jus-tine, Just-tine," she said again and again, then stuck her tongue out and wriggled it.
Julie went back into the kitchen. At times her heart ached for Jason. He never complained about his foot, but she knew that he wished he could run like the other boys. Tonight at the ball game, he would bat and one of his older brothers would run the bases for him. She also wished that Jill would be kinder to him. The two were always hissing and snapping at each other like a dog and a cat.
Copyright © 2001 by Dorothy Garlock
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