A day and a half had passed. Hawkeye still hadn’t left. By midday Rydell thought her mother might call a pound. But, somehow Hawkeye, the lovable pooch that he was, had managed to weasel his way into her good graces. Now all three of them sat on the porch, baking in the noonday sun. Each was propped up against a pillar, feet dangling from the porch edge into the tall grass.
Hawkeye draped his paw across Rydell’s knobby knees, panting heavily as the young girl threaded her fingers through his shaggy fir. Rydell lifted her glass of lemonade to her forehead and swiped its condensation across her brow. Hawkeye let out a mournful yip. Rydell smiled and pressed the bottom of her glass onto his nose. The dog closed his eyes and moaned a deep throaty sort of growl.
In the middle of a hearty giggle at the dog’s overly expressive nature, Hawkeye’s ears suddenly shot up. His body went ridged with attentive tension. He had obviously heard something. Rydell craned her neck. She saw nothing. She strained her ears. She heard nothing.
In a single bound Hawkeye had leapt from her lap and off the porch, tail wagging furiously. Then she finally heard it. In the distance there was a faint high-pitched whistle. It followed a pattern, three short blasts and then one long note that went up at the end.
At this point Hawkeye had run down the drive, rounded the corner by the mailbox and was already a yard up the road. Rydell chased after him. About half a mile down the road was a shadowy figure.
Crouched over, a boy was patting his legs just above the knee. He called out, “There ya are boy! Com’on, com’on!” Placing two fingers in his mouth the whistle pattern sounded once more.
Hawkeye was in a dead run, his hair flying out behind him. The boy held out his arms, waist high in a cradling position. Rydell stopped in the road and watched the scene unfold. Hawkeye was nearly three feet away when he pressed off the ground and went flying toward the boy.
The dog had so much momentum that he sent the boy tumbling to the ground. He didn’t seem to mind as he laughed hysterically while Hawkeye stood on his chest and happily bathed his face in wet dog kisses.
The boy was obviously out matched by the over exuberant k-9. Rydell chuckled as she watched the boy struggle to escape. When he heard her voice Hawkeye paused and barked in her direction. It was just enough time for the boy to wriggle out and look up in search of the laughs owner.
“Oh’a. Well, hello Miss. Recon I didn’t see ya there.” shouted the boy.
Rydell walked a bit closer. “Hi. I take it Hawkeye belongs to you?”
“Well, I brought him home when he was a pup. But since he dug his first hole under the fence and snuck out he’s really belonged to nearly every person in town at one time or ‘nother. I take it he’s persuaded you to take him in for a spell?”
Rydell recognized the boy’s phrase, ‘for a spell’ her father said it all the time. Strangely just hearing it from this boy’s mouth made him seem like an old friend. “Yeah, for about a day and a half. He’s kind of hard to resist.”
The boy chuckled and knelt down to scratch the underside of his dogs chin. “Yup. That’s our ol’ Hawkeye! He could charm a hen out’a the roost and into the fryin’ pan. By the way,” he stretched back up into his full height and looked her square in the eye. “the names Elam.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Rydell Firr. We just moved into 2040 German Road.”
“Where’d ya move?” Elam looked utterly lost.
“2040 German Road. That house just around the corner.” She pointed toward what she’d affectionately and internally named “the shed.”
Elam looked in the direction of her finger, “Oh! The ol’ parsonage! Well, I’m glad to hear someone’s finally getting some use outa’ it. Perfectly good house to be abandon like it has for so long.”
“What’s a parsonage?” Rydell assumed it was some word only used in the country.
“Why, it’s a house that is usually kept up by a church for their minister. Ain’t ya never heard of a parsonage before?”
“I don’t think so. If it’s meant for a preacher, why isn’t one living there now?”
“Ah, well ya see, the old country church here joined with the one in town. (Seein’ as it’s real hard to get out to it if’n there’s the least bit a bad weather.) But the town church still uses the buildin’ out here for shindigs and the like.”
They stood there and stared though each other for a moment. Elam nodded his head as though he were a country bumpkin bobble head then finally added, “Now, I don’t believe I’ve seen ya in school, but maybe were not in the same buildin’. What grade are ya in?”
“Eighth, but I haven’t enrolled yet. We came into town just as the school got out for Spring Break. What grade are you in?”
“Well, sorry to say but I guess your gonna have to get used to seein’ my sorry mug a lot more often.” He tried to force his face into a look as forlorn as possible. Finally a wide pearly grin broke free, “ ‘cus I’m in eighth grade too and there’s only one eighth grade teacher in all a ol’ Sanctuary Missouri.”
Rydell set back on her heals for a moment. First of all, how in the world was there only ONE teacher for all of the eighth graders in the town? Her last school had more than a few hundred eighth graders. Just how small was this town? Secondly, there was Elam. He looked like he could be on a professional football team, wide sholders rounded into a berraled chest which eventually tapered off a a stocky waist. All of which supported by tall (enough so that the knee of which nearly met her waist) thick (enough so they were probably as thick around as her waist itself), legs. On first impression Elam didn’t look like any eight grader she’d ever met.
“Really? You look older than 13.”
Elam grinned. “Yes’m, I’m 13 alright. Actually, one of the youngest in the class, didn’t flunk out’a any grades if’n that’s what your wonderin’. I’m pretty big for my age, so I’m told. Mr. Noonan, that’s my… well now, OUR teacher, says it must be somethin’ in the well water round here. Cus my whole family’s that’a way, always outgrown’ our desks faster than most others.”
There was something about him, some indiscernible quality that put Rydell at ease. Maybe it was the slow rhythm of his speech that seemed to mimic the sway of corn stalks in the late night winds. Or perhaps it was that grin that relaxed her just like a deep breath of the honeysuckle that hung in the humid air. Whatever it was something about Elam gave credence to the Bibles explanation that God created man from the dust of the earth. Maybe this boy wasn’t born of man at all, but rather sprung up from the Missouri foothills, pure and free like a solitary wildflower in the middle of a pasture.
“You alright, miss?”
Rydell realized she had been staring and her eyes shot down to the dirt road beneath her feet. Her cheeks flared with heat and her head suddenly felt light. “Ha! Um, yeah. I’m fine. I just zoned out for a while. Sorry about that.”
“No need to be sorry. Ya prolly got a whole heap of things weighin’ on your mind, havin’ just moved out to the middle of nowhere and all.” Elam paused for a moment. Shoving his hands in his pockets as he rocked from heal to toe in his boots. “Hey ya’ll should come on over for dinner. This weekend my family’s havin’ a fish fry. There’ll be croquet, hillbilly golf, a watermelon seed spit, even a firefly catchin’ contest at the end of the night. I recon there ain’t no better way to get introduced to the community, seein’ that most my family is married into just about every other family in the area.” He laughed, what seemed a little self consciously at that.
Honestly, Rydell understood very little of what Elam had just described. What was a fish fry? What was hillbilly golf or a watermelon seed spit? How exactly does anyone participate in a firefly catching contest? Should she be concerned at the claim that his family was married into nearly every other family in the area?
Despite all the things she didn’t understand there were three things she did. One, her family had been invited to a gathering. Two, there would be food (presumably some kind of fish). Three, Elam would be there.
“Yeah, sure. That would be cool. My parents and I could use a night out of the house not worrying about unpacking. I don’t think we had anything else planned. You should probably come with me to ask, though. If mom says yes she’ll have a ton of questions that I’ll have no answer to.” She cleared her throat, “That is, if you don’t mind.” Rydell looked over her shoulder at her house as she felt another blush start to rise up again.
Elam’s wide pearly grin broke free, now bigger than ever. “Well, yes’m. I’d be happy to oblige.”
Hawkeye, who had wandered off, apparently bored with their conversation, was now neck deep in the small cattle pond of a nearby field. Elam sounded his trademark whistle and called out for him to come. The dog paddled out of the water and sprinted toward his owner.”
Together the three of them made their way back down the road toward “the shed”. As they rounded the corner there stood Mrs. Firr, arms crossed and foot tapping on the porch.