It was so hot that his ice cream was melting faster than he could lick it. Trey slurped the sweetness from his fingers, then shook his hand, showering drops onto the sidewalk. Dave had become awfully generous since turning fourteen, after he started earning more than a nickel allowance helping Dad after school. He’d bought Trey a cone with two scoops for only the promise that the kid would stay on the bench until he got back.
Trey hoped Dave came soon. His good fortune was turning into a mess.
“That’s a big cone for such a little boy.”
Trey turned his head, wiping his sticky mouth on his sleeve as a girl paused on the step. He knew her name was Martha, even though he hadn’t ever talked to her, because she was new to town and always wore the same dress.
“I’m not little!” he said.
Martha blinked in surprise, shifting a brown package into her left arm and leaning against the pole of the porch. “I’m sorry. I meant young, not little.”
“I’m six,” Trey said.
“Six? Why you are getting big, aren’t you?” At his emphatic nod, a smile played around her mouth as she raised one eyebrow. “Practically a man. Are you going to be able to eat all that?”
Trey eyed the cone, before extending it to her. “Want some? I’ll share!”
She ducked forward like her grin pulled the rest of her body with it, but something in her dress snapped. She straightened, checking her tight bodice.
“No, thank you. But it’s nice of you to offer.”
Her vowels oozed like syrup. Mama said it was because her folks came from Georgia, and they talked a different kind of Southern than people from Texas.
“Didn’t you come for ice cream?” Trey asked.
“No.” Her smile froze on her face, but her shoulders drooped. “I came for a prescription.”
“Why do you need a prescription?” Trey asked, before he ran his tongue around the base of the cone to keep the fountain in check. “Are you sick?”
“My Mama is.”
“Oh.” Trey frowned. “Well, maybe my mama can bring her some soup to make her better.”
“Maybe.” Martha’s face scrunched, erasing the smile with a grimace. Her eyes got shiny before she looked through the window of the drugstore. “Are you with your Mama?”
“She’s at the grocers.” Trey pointed across the street to the building. “I’m with Dave.”
The girl swayed away from the doorway. “Is Dave… inside?”
“Nah. He went someplace. He’ll be back soon.”
“Oh. Okay.” She patted her braid, though sections of her hair hung free. “Well, I better get along. I’ll see you later. You enjoy that ice cream, kay?”
“Kay.” Trey sighed as she went inside, and the ice cream swelled into a glassy blob.
He gave another valiant attack, then leaned forward to peer around the corner where Dave had disappeared. Where was he?
He wiggled to the tip of the bench, but he still couldn’t see down the road. Slipping forward, he kept the seat of his pants touching, before, in desperation, he planted one finger on the wood as he inched closer to the end of the porch. He peeked around the corner. If Dave came, he’d run back and sit down before anybody saw him.
But the alley between the drug store and the hardware store was empty, and the breeze swept the dust in a low circle like the set for a cowboy movie. Trey stepped into the alley, brandishing the cone like a pistol. What if Dave was kidnapped by outlaws? He slunk along the side of the building, squatting when a truck passed on the road ahead. Maybe they were running away after leaving Dave tied up on train tracks somewhere.
Trey ran to the sidewalk to get a glimpse of the outlaws, but it was only Mr. and Mrs. Barrie in their old red work truck. His shoulders fell, but as the truck passed, he glimpsed Dave’s slacks and blue shirt behind the bushes at Lucy’s house. Trey darted across the street, glimpsing Dave’s back as he tiptoed to peek through the windows of a car parked at the curb.
Lucy stood pressed up against the picket fence. She glanced at the wooden triangles, then at Dave’s face, biting a pink lip. Her pin curls shook as she giggled at something Dave said.
Trey lowered the ice cream cone as he peeked over the hood just to be sure the glass windows weren’t fooling him. There was Dave and Dave’s arm, but his hand barely showed by the fence. Trey squinted before he realized he could see better if he widened his eyes.
And there were both of Dave’s hands holding both of Lucy’s hands.
Trey’s whole body sagged.
Lucy giggled again, then glanced toward her house. She leaned closer to Dave like he was telling her a secret. Then she turned her face and kissed him, right on the cheek.
She started to run like she’d infected him, but Dave leaned over the fence and caught her hand. Well, good. Now he’d give her the “what-for.”
But she didn’t look scared, and he didn’t look mad. Dave didn’t even glance around before he tugged her toward him and put his lips right smack on hers.
Trey’s ice cream slid from the cone and plopped onto the sidewalk.
He blinked, wondering if he saw what he thought he saw. Lucy ran toward the house with a giddy smile, and Dave backed up with his hands in his pockets.
Betrayal burned as Trey turned and ran back down the alley, panting by the time he reached the bench again. The dust must have gotten into his eyes, because now he felt like crying. He knuckled his eyelid until it was so sticky it was hard to blink.
Dave rounded the corner, whistling like he was covering up his double-crossing, no good…
He stopped, eyeing Trace. “You got off that bench, didn’t you?”
Little shivers ran down Trey’s back as he said, “No!”
“Where’s your ice cream?”
“Uh….” Trey thought before he remembered it was melting somewhere near Lucy’s father’s tire. He hoped the whole car got sticky. “I ate it.”
“Every bite, huh?”
Dave eyed him, and for a moment his blue eyes held the skeptical searching expression their father so often wore. He looked more like Dad each day, getting tall and even showing the slightest signs of bulk in his arms. He planted one foot on the porch. “You saw, didn’t you?”
“No.” Trey’s face heated.
“Yeah, you did.”
Trey’s chin quivered, and Dave’s head fell back as he groaned.
“Aww, Trey. You’re not gonna go blabbing, are you?”
“Go wash your face and don’t say one word till you get back out here, kay?”
Trey rubbed his mouth again.
“No. Wash it. If you don’t, the bees are going to chase you.”
Trey sniffed. “We’re still gonna play catch, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Dave answered, like nothing in the world had changed.
Trey stomped to the door, yanking the handle with both hands and plowing into Martha’s flowered dress.
Martha dropped her package but managed to catch the prescription bottle.
“Trey!” Dave swung onto the porch as Martha’s package spun toward him.
She knelt bare-kneed on the rough planks, but she kept her back straight. He sleeves pressed into her arms as she tried to retrieve her things.
Dave caught the package before it skidded into the street. He stepped over, offering it to Martha. “Sorry about that. He’s just a kid.”
Martha stared past the parcel hovering near her nose.
Her face drained, and she wobbled until Dave held out his free hand. She caught it, balancing on the toes of her pinched shoes until she stood. Her knees were indented with the lines of the wood, and her skin twitched like her legs might give out. She took the package, murmuring, “Thanks… Dave.”
He flashed a smile, then waved Trey to his side. “Come on, kid. Let’s go.”
She stared after them as Trey trailed him like a puppy.
How could Dave just…
Trey ran five steps to catch up to his brother.
“You… You…” he sputtered.
“I what?” Dave asked.
Betrayal swelled until the truth burst from his lips in an accusing whisper, “She’s a girl!”
Dave glanced down. “She sure is.”
“You kissed a girl!” Trey hissed.
Dave’s mouth twitched. “I sure did.” He dropped his voice to the low, confidential note that Trey usually liked to hear. “Don’t tell anybody. I got my reputation to protect.”
“Nothing’s gonna change, okay?”
Trey stuck his hands into his pocket, kicking a stone from the road. “Okay. I won’t tell nobody.”
“Anybody. Who taught you English?”
“I won’t tell anybody,” Trey repeated.
“Good boy. Next time I’ll get you a candy bar, kay?”
Trey gnawed his lip, wondering when they’d be in town next. His mother held two bags of groceries, one in each arm as she backed out of the grocery store. Trey sighed. It would be a while.
He pressed his lips together, rethinking his promise. He didn’t want to be a tattletale, but secrets were so hard to keep.
The moment Mrs. Cunningham smiled at him, his classified knowledge swelled up inside until he felt like a balloon. He was going to say something, so before she could even ask, he blurted, “I didn’t see nothing!”
Mrs. Cunningham’s head cocked, glancing first at him, then Dave as she stepped onto the street.
“You didn’t? That’s funny. I didn’t see anything either.” She passed off one package to Dave, then crouched toward Trey, lowering her voice like they formed some sort of conspiracy. “What is it that you suppose we didn’t see?”
“Uh…” Trey squirmed. The worst place in the world was between brother and mother.
“Well… there was this bird…. and it um… um…”
“Oh?” Mrs. Cunningham’s eyes went to Dave. “Do you know what he didn’t see?”
“You know it’s funny.” Dave stepped close to relieve his mother of the second bag. He grinned with a shrug. “I didn’t see the exact same thing he didn’t.”
“Well, that is quite a coincidence.”
A familiar rumble sent a thrill of hope through Trey. He spun, searching the road for the blue Chevrolet.
The man’s arm draped across the car as he slowed the car, leaning out and winking toward Mrs. Cunningham.
“Hey, beautiful. Want a ride?”
“Dad!” Trey jerked the handle, scrambling into the back seat.
Mr. Cunningham glanced into the rear-view mirror and laughed.
“Well, I suppose you can have a ride, too.”
Dave eyed Trey as he set the grocery bags between them. He frowned, but his lips twitched before he rolled his eyes and snorted half a laugh.
Trey glanced out the window, spying Martha ducking her head toward the sidewalk as she passed.
“That poor girl needs a new dress,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “She’s looks like she might burst some seams. What’s her name, Dave?”
Dave didn’t answer. He stared in the opposite direction with a goofy grin.
“Dave?” Mrs. Cunningham asked again.
“Huh?” Dave’s head snapped forward.
“The new girl in your class. What’s her name?”
“Yes, that’s it. She seems like a nice girl.”
But Dave gave no reply, too busy peeking through the back window as Mr. Cunningham pulled from the curb.
Trey twisted around until he spotted gold curls and red cheeks as Lucy peeked around the corner of the drugstore.
Trey closed his eyes. He couldn’t tell nobody.
He nibbled his lip and glanced toward his parents, but Mrs. Cunningham turned away when she saw him look. Her mouth twitched as she glanced toward her husband. Trey couldn’t see his face, but he thought he heard the man give a breathy laugh. His parents eyed each other, and he waited for them to say something. Mrs. Cunningham only smiled and reached for her husband’s hand.