By Liz Cross
A friend of mine sent me this story a long time ago, but I kept it. I don’t think she’d mind if I shared it with you.
What was he trying to do? We’d laughed all the way to Family Dollar Store and now he was trying on hats— bucket hats.
“That’s what they call these?” His was tan. Mine was blue. The tag hung in my face. I couldn’t see my eyes, but Zed looked quite naughty with the ends turned up like a rap star.
“Let’s pose,” he said looking into the hat mirror. The hat covered his short sun-licked hair, but his freckles shown on his lean nose.
I crossed my arms and he leaned his back against me. We giggled.
“You’re just so not a Jonas brother.” I laughed a hearty laugh. I felt alive, not numb anymore.
His smile was genuine and it made me laugh, again. His smile always did.
“God, these are so cheap!” I noticed the price, hardly three bucks.
“Why do you think we came here, Lisa?” He made me think I was a doofus. “We don’t have our parents to spend money on us.”
I frowned. Why did he have to bring that up?
As it was, I doubted there was even an APB out on us. We’d been here for weeks. We could spend the whole summer stranded in the heartland.
No one lived in my Great Aunt Nola’s farm house. So it was like a vacation, the two of us. It wasn’t really running away. We really weren’t running away from anything. But I didn’t know what to say. I put the hat back and went to look at shirts.
Naturally, I went straight to the WHAT WOULD JESUS DO stuff.
“Not another one, please,” he begged. “How much of this stuff do you own?”
“I don’t have that much.” I didn’t think about my collection, but the rainbow bracelets made me happy. I felt better when I had one even if I didn’t wear them anymore. It gave Mom the creeps when she saw me with one. Like she did something wrong, or maybe there was just something silly about me. We weren’t religious at home.
“What about that WWJD T-shirt you sleep in, huh?” He gave me the look. The look as in when are you going to give it up? You can’t be a virgin forever. “It’s a real turn-off.”
“It is?” I stared at him wondering if he really meant it. I picked up a tie-dye shirt with the logo on it and held it for a moment thinking everything might be beautiful with the world in baby blue and neon yellow.
“I’m sorry.” He sighed. “You don’t really need that, you know.”
I shook my head. I knew. He was working hard for the corn detassling money, up before dawn, and dead tired in a dusty tan when he came home. The company hadn’t even paid him. We barely had enough to go out on from my pay at the truckstop. I put it back.
“But we can get the hats. The hats will come in handy.”
“Oh yeah, you think so?” I edged a smile.
“Yeah, bucket hats are so cool.” He took them to the counter and paid for them.
I waited outside staring at the pay phone.
“Why don’t you call?” He found me tempting to grab the phone. “You know you want too.”
“Not yet.” The feeling had to be right. It just wasn’t yet. What was I going to say? My head was empty. Besides, I’d come all this way to meet someone I’d never known, and I couldn’t do that either.
We walked across the parking lot and waited at the busy intersection. Strangely, there was no fear crossing the highway with Zed. I felt safe even if trucks zoomed by. I never felt like that at home.
“Your father’s Jewish, isn’t he?” We walked a ways down the dirt road into the shade of the cottonwoods before he said anything.
“That’s why you have this fascination with Jesus, isn’t it?” He grinned. His teeth were so perfect. Sometimes that perfection bothered me, like he had everything figured out. He was the one going to college not me. Not me. No, I was the girl who dropped out my last semester. He still hadn’t asked me why I did that.
“What does Jesus being Jewish have to do with anything?”
“I don’t know, you tell me?” He leaned in closer and I stepped back not wanting him near.
“I just want to understand it, that’s all. What’s with you? You don’t even go to church.”
“So you don’t have to go to church, you know.”
“Well, maybe, if you’re in some third- world country, but they even have places to go to worship. They might be a bit run down, no running water or anything, but at least they have a place to go.”
“So what are you saying, I need to go somewhere to be close to God?”
“I don’t want to talk about this. It makes you cranky.” He shrugged.
“Well, you brought it up.”
“You’re the one who’s the Jesus freak, not me.”
“I don’t know why this upsets you.”
“It doesn’t, not really. It’s just are you or aren’t you?” He walked ahead. I watched his footsteps in the soft dirt.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I ran to catch up.
“What does it mean when you wear your WWJD T-shirt to sleep in?”
“It doesn’t mean anything. I just like it, that’s all.”
“No, no there’s got to be something. There’s just got to be. You just want to make me feel guilty, don’t you?” His face soured, but he messed with the bucket hat, and was silly once more, dancing in a jerky hop.
“Zed, it’s just a shirt, okay.” I crossed my arms and watched. He was so harmless, really. But this stunk. And he thought I was moody.
“Forget it, okay. I just asked. You know, maybe it means nothing to you. Just forget it.” He did a strut, wiggled his shoulders. God, I hoped he wasn’t planing a drama major in college. He might do okay as a comedian. He might. It just sank into me that I was going to have to let him go. I had too. He had places to go. Places to go without me.
We were finishing the last of the mushroom soup. The house was practically scraped. It might have been nice if we could have made the place comfortable. As it was, it barely gave us shelter from the rain and the heat. We wouldn’t be here much longer. It would be the end of July soon and corn detassling would be over.
“I was thinking about what you said,” I attempted to give him my lame theory. It would sound totally bogus, but it was something I wanted to believe even if he couldn’t understand. “I used to think my dad looked like that guy in Serpico.”
“You mean Al Pacino?”
“Yeah, my mom used to have this poster of him. I loved that poster. For some reason I just thought if Jesus was around he’d be a real cool Serpico.”
“Did you ever watch the movie?” He sighed.
“You should have, it’d blown your whole theory. Serpico is definitely not Jesus.”
“Oh,” I swallowed my soup and watched the drop that slipped back into the soup.
“You wish Jesus was your dad?”
“God, that sounds so sacrilegious. I don’t know what I want.”
“You could go back to school.”
“What does that have to do with Jesus?”
“It’s not your fault your step-dad can’t keep a job. But you don’t want to know your real father, either, do you?”
“Maybe he doesn’t want to know me.” I felt cold suddenly and felt bad about dragging Zed on this cross- country trip. Here I was thinking something was going to change. When really nothing had changed. Zed was going to the University of Texas in the fall.
“Well, you won’t know if you don’t call, if you don’t show up.” He took the bowls away and rinsed them out to let them dry.
I just felt numb. It didn’t have to be this way. But it did. Some things, I couldn’t change. But how was I going to act when I got home? Would they ever trust me again?
He brushed my hair. Each stroke was with care. Not too hard but strong enough to straighten the frizzy ends of my heavy hair.
“You really think you could live like this everyday?” I stared into the shadows and imagined a life once here. Now there was just gray fraying wood and chipped floors.
“Sure I could.”
I knew he couldn’t.
“I can’t believe you actually went in those corn fields just to detassle,” I said. “I couldn’t even last a day. You’re going to have so much to look forward too, you know, when you go to college.”
“Come with me.”
I shook my head, no.
He began to braid my hair.
“I can’t, not just yet.” I shivered wondering what was I really afraid of.
I must have thought I was brave, but I wasn’t. Just chicken shit, really. I bet I would have turned around at the bus station if Zed hadn’t met me. His crazy ideas for the summer. We should have gone to the beach, but I had it in my head I was going to be a detective or something. I found his phone number and his address on the Internet. This was the summer I was going to meet my father. But I knew I couldn’t do it in the end. It would be wrong. He was supposed to be looking for me. Not the other way around. Not like this.
But even now I could barely sense where I came from or even what I wanted. I was only going on for Zed. If. If I were here. Alone. Maybe I’d just try to plant some roots right here in this old house, or maybe I’d die here on a blade of glass and fade into midnight. Even the stars were too bright in the dark.
The bedroll resettled. Zed’s breath changed. He was awake, barefooted and frail in his cotton briefs.
“I thought-” He yawned. “I thought you might be gone.”
He hugged me from behind as I stared up to the stars in the broken roof.
“Not yet, but maybe I will, you know, soon.”
He breathed in my ear.
“What would Jesus do, huh?” He kissed me.
“What would Jesus do in a bucket hat?” I sighed, wanting to sleep with his arms around me.
“Jesus is not a taker, you know. He frowns pretty much on prejudice. You get the picture.” I shook my head. “So that leaves just one thing.”
“One thing?” I nodded. He kissed my chin then. He was definitely making it hard to think.
“Have you given anybody, anything lately?” His warm mouth nuzzled near my ear again.
I turned to him.
“You’re too much, you know that.” I gave him a playful shove. Was there only one thing on his mind? I don’t think it had anything to do with Jesus.
“No, no, that’s not what I’m talking about.” His fingers intertwined with mine. His skin was blue and he looked splendid in the moonlight. “I’m saying, the more you give the better you’re going to feel. It’s got nothing to do with me.”
He held me close again. I couldn’t say a word. It was like that when he was right.