By Christy <Attalanta@aol.com>
Submitted May 2000
Summary: In part 2 of the author's series, twenty-something Martha returns to Smallville to catch up with her childhood friend, Jonathan.
This is the second part of a three-part story about the pre-Lois & Clark life of Martha. When we last saw Martha (in The Martha Chronicles 1: The Martha Bums) she was leaving Smallville after a summer visit with cousins, during which she met Jonathan Kent.
Much thanks to everyone who read portions of this Martha story while I was writing it, and after I thought I'd finished <g> Special thanks to Debby and Margaret, who helped me get the story straight. (And I apologize for not thanking them in The Martha Bums, but I was under the obviously false impression that I'd finish the series quickly and have one long thank you at the end. Guess not.)
All comments are appreciated, especially since the story has been changed significantly since it was last read by anyone other than me. ***
Afoot and light hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading to wherever I
My Chrysler died on I-70, just after passing a green sign that read "Smallville: 4 miles." It was probably over-heated or in need of some essential fluid like oil or gas; I didn't know. Luckily the sign was referring to "downtown" Smallville and, from what I could remember, there was a garage a few miles outside the center of town. So I hiked into town, found Morris's Garage right where I had left it ten years ago, and used the pay phone to call Jonathan.
I stood outside the garage and enjoyed the warm autumn sun as I waited, reveling in the chance to stretch my legs after hours — weeks — of driving. When the heat became unbearable I gulped a cold, sweaty bottle of Coke I bought from a machine inside Morris's "office."
After what seemed like forever, a red pick-up truck pulled up in front of the garage and made a sudden, lurching stop. The driver's door opened and out hopped Jonathan. Without a thought, I ran to him and we hugged, Jonathan lifting me easily off my feet and spinning me once around.
Jonathan looked a lot different than I remembered, even different from the last photo he'd sent me, his senior year class picture. He was wearing glasses now, a round, wire-framed pair. His dark hair was shaggy and he was taller and more sturdily built than I remembered. The hard physical labor of farming had done wonders for his body; gone was the skinny boy I'd kissed ten years ago.
I blushed when I saw Jonathan was studying me too. I'd changed a lot since he last saw me. Now my red hair was long, with a once- expensive, now over-grown cut, straggly from infrequent shampoos. I was wearing a long, flowing skirt — comfortable for driving — and a white cotton blouse. My worn leather sandals were dirty after the walk from my car to Morris's Garage, and I had a brown leather purse slung over my shoulder.
"I was hoping to surprise you, you know, just turn up on your doorstep," I told Jonathan.
"You *did* surprise me. I get a postcard every few weeks saying where you were when you sent it but probably aren't anymore. So I know you're not getting *my* letters."
"No, I wasn't," I admitted before heading into the garage to tell Morris where he could reach me after he got a chance to look at the car. I grabbed a backpack from the back seat of the car, then climbed into the pick-up after Jonathan.
The ride to the farm was noisy: Jonathan and I were both trying to bring each other up to date on our lives. Jonathan's parents were living with him on the farm and his sister Josie, who attended Kansas State, had an off-campus apartment, so she was now officially out of the house.
"Good," I said when I heard about his parents. "I like your parents, especially your mother. I was pretty bratty back then, and she was one of the only people who could find it in her heart to be nice to me."
Jonathan's friend Wayne, whom we had fished with during my previous visit, was still living on the farm next door with his parents, and now his new bride. Henry was still in Smallville too, but he had become the manager of Harley's Feed Store and was planning on taking over after childless Mr. Harley retired.
I marveled over how settled everyone in Smallville was, a stark contrast from my friends, many of whom were now in graduate or professional schools of some type, or testing out their new- found independence with trips overseas. Some of my Beacon Hill neighbors had "married well," according to my grandmother, which was, I knew, where her hopes for me lay.
I watched the Smallville scenery whiz by as we headed towards the Kents' farm, surprised that most of the landscape was exactly the same as it had been a decade ago. I wondered whether it was only the buildings that were the same, or if the people hadn't changed either. ***
Except for a fresh coat of white paint and a young peony bush blooming near the garage, the Kent farmhouse was not different. The kitchen had the same sturdy decor, and smelled of roasting chicken. I inhaled slowly and smiled at the welcome, familiar scent. In fact, the only thing that I could tell had changed was the woman standing with her back to us, intent on setting silverware and glasses on blue place mats around the table.
Mrs. Kent looked as though she'd aged much more than ten years. Her once-brown hair was now fully gray and she had put weight on her large frame. She turned around when she heard the screen door bang behind us, revealing a wrinkly smile. The pair of glasses perched on the end of her nose bumped into the side of my face when she hugged me.
"It's so nice to see you again, Martha," she told me, and I felt secure in her sincerity as I hugged her back.
"It's nice to see you, too, Mrs. Kent," I told her sincerely. I saw that Jonathan's mother had set four places at the table and grinned, setting my bag down at my feet.
"Let me show you where you can put your things," Jonathan offered.
"Oh, no. I don't want to impose," I insisted, though imposition was one thing my road trip had often relied upon. "Just direct me to the nearest hotel."
"Don't be silly, Martha," Mrs. Kent insisted, patting my hand. "You'll stay here, with us." I opened my mouth to argue, but Mrs. Kent intercepted my objection. "Besides, you've managed to pick the busiest weekend of the year to visit; it's the annual Corn Festival. All the hotel and motel rooms in Lowell County have been booked for months!"
"Corn Festival?" I asked cautiously.
"We'll tell you all about it at dinner," Jonathan answered, leading me upstairs and reacquainting me with the house. He reminded me where Josie's old room was; I could stay there.
I headed downstairs for dinner, marveling at how oddly things had turned out; I had now chosen to be in Smallville, the town I'd been quick to scorn years ago. It was strange that I would feel comfortable here, I realized as I arrived back in the kitchen. The last time I'd been here I was such a spoiled brat. Sure, I had some reason to be upset at being sent away for the summer, but nothing excused the way I had acted.
And how had Jonathan changed, I wondered. For a minute I felt uncertain, worried that he was now completely different from the Jonathan who had rescued me from a disastrous church picnic. But then I reminded myself that Jonathan and I had kept in touch; I would have known if he'd changed much. We could pick things up right where we'd left them: we were friends.
When I got to the kitchen I saw Mr. Kent sitting at the table, napkin tucked into his denim shirt. Like his wife, he was built thick, with a sizable paunch hanging over his silver-buckled belt. His feet were crammed into white, too-small bunny rabbit slippers. "Hello, Mr. Kent," I said with a grin as I sat down at the table. "I like your slippers."
"Eh," he grunted, looking down. "They're Josie's. Mine've worn out."
Okay, I thought, so Mr. Kent wasn't as friendly as his wife was. Maybe he remembered me from my last visit. I turned from him and smiled at Jonathan as he sat down across from me.
Mrs. Kent had made chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans, and I caught a whiff of something apple-smelling for dessert. I ate heartily, welcoming the home-cooked meal after weeks of feasting on greasy food in sketchy roadside diners.
"So, tell me about this Corn Festival," I began as I spooned homemade gravy over my potatoes.
"Oh, it's the biggest weekend of the year, Martha," Mrs. Kent told me as she passed the plate of chicken to her husband. "The harvest is over and it's time to celebrate. We put on a Corn Festival every year at this time, spare no expense."
"What *is* a Corn Festival, exactly?" I asked, looking at Jonathan, who was cutting away a pat of butter to spread on his green beans. "What do you do there?"
"You do everything," he said, as if that explained anything. "There's a Corn Queen Pageant, Husk-Off, Corn-O-Rama. There's popcorn, creamed corn, corn on the cob…" His voice trailed off, and I wondered if I had stumbled into some sort of psycho small-town crop worship ritual.
I must have had a strange expression on my face, because Mrs. Kent laughed when she looked over at me. "I know; it sounds a little bizarre, doesn't it?" I nodded. "Don't worry. It's actually part carnival, part craft fair, and only part harvest celebration."
I grinned, and took a bite of chicken. "So, when does this Corn Festival start?"
"It officially opens tomorrow night with a speech by the mayor," Jonathan said. "But the town's been gearing up ever since harvest ended. Mom's on the organizational committee, and she'll be baking pies all tomorrow morning and afternoon to get ready."
"Do you need any help?" I offered Mrs. Kent.
She seemed surprised at my eagerness, but agreed she could use another body in the kitchen. "Besides," she added, "Jonathan'll be helping his dad fix a fence in the back tomorrow morning. Then they'll set up the bandstand with a few of the other men — Mr. Irig, Wayne, Henry, and Pete Ross — in the afternoon."
Wow, a band, I thought. Hopefully the music'll be something with a beat, something to dance to. As long as it wasn't all square- dancing…
Jonathan's father, slightly more wary of me than his wife was, changed the subject, gruffly asking me where I was headed and what I was planning to do once I got there. I explained that I wasn't sure yet, and was met with a well-disguised scowl.
Mrs. Kent promptly changed the subject, asking me about my college years. Before I could respond, Mr. Kent took the opportunity to brag about how well Josie was doing at Kansas State, and to share her plans to "find a good match there." Mrs. Kent laughed and Jonathan added that, while Josie wanted to be a nurse, their father still held out hope that she'd find a husband and "settle down." I was familiar with that line of thought, that was for sure.
I cheered Josie's independent streak, which I could tell didn't sit well with Mr. Kent, but it was time to drag him into the 20th century; women were liberated now. At least they were in Boston, and I hoped the same was true in Kansas.
I wondered what Jonathan thought about all this: his mother seemed to support Josie's career plans, but it was obvious his father did not. Perhaps Mr. Kent's old-world political viewpoints extended into the personal realm. After all, an independent, single girl could be a threat to his son, the only child left at home to run the farm. Maybe he thought I'd corrupt him, maybe encourage him to use some of the family farmland to grow marijuana, I mused.
After dinner was finished the four of us helped wash and dry the dishes, and store the left-overs in the fridge. Mr. Kent had to rise even earlier than usual to help Mr. Irig and Mr. Harris the next morning, but Jonathan, his mother, and I settled in the living room with coffee.
"So how long will you be staying?" Jonathan's mother asked, adding generous portions of cream and sugar to her coffee.
I shrugged. "It'll depend on how long it takes Morris to fix the car. Is he good?"
"The best in Smallville," Mrs. Kent said with a grin. I hoped he wasn't also the only auto mechanic in Smallville.
I asked about how Josie was doing at Kansas State, hoping to get a more accurate picture than had been given during dinner. Mrs. Kent beamed with pride when I mentioned her daughter, then proceeded to tell me about her courses, the clubs she had joined, and her friends. Josie was taking classes in communications, besides her nursing major, and I could tell that it was from her mother that she'd gotten her gift of gab, not her father, who'd seemed to have passed his silent, almost foreboding presence down to Jonathan.
I was glad Mrs. Kent was so proud of Josie, since Jonathan's letters seemed to indicate that she'd been devastated by the deaths of her two eldest sons. Richard and Jerome had died in Korea, just after I left Smallville that summer. Jonathan had called to tell me and I wanted to turn right around and head back there, but of course my grandmother wouldn't let me.
I knew Mrs. Kent had had big plans for Jerome. He had been interested in boats, and the Navy, with its rules and regulations, had been a natural choice. I wasn't sure about Richard. In many ways a typical middle brother, according to Jonathan, Richard had been competitive, aggressive, and rebellious. Whereas Jerome was ambitious, analytical, and serious, Richard liked to fight; whether it be a battle of fists or wits, he was quick with both. He had bounced around a lot, never really being interested in one thing or another, but trying everything: football, music, and, finally, the Navy. Before Jerome left for the navy Jonathan had been sure their father would force his middle son to take over the farm, giving the boy some much-needed responsibility. Jonathan seemed to have a good handle on the interplay between his two older brothers, but I wondered where he fit into the picture.
Jonathan appeared to be the calming influence of the Kent clan, quiet and undemanding, a perfect third child. He worried about everything from his own family to world problems, often taking the problems upon himself to fix, as he had when his brothers joined the Navy and later when word came that they had been killed.
"Sorry," I apologized after Mrs. Kent's gentle voice brought me back from my thoughts. "What was it you said?"
"I was just saying that Josie took an art history course at Kansas State last semester and really enjoyed it. That was your major, wasn't it, dear?" I nodded and Mrs. Kent chuckled. "When she calls home she's always telling me about her classes, and they're so technical I have to ask her to explain everything twice. But then she explains it, and I understand. Well, most of the time. I tell her she should major in education, the way she explains things to me, but she wants to go to nursing school, and eventually get a job as one of those medical reporters on TV. And she'll be a good one, too," Mrs. Kent assured me. "She's a real beauty, that girl. Have I shown you her picture?"
I shook my head and Mrs. Kent disappeared for a minute, then came back carrying a glossy, 8" x 10" photograph in a heavy wooden frame. She sat back down beside me and laid the picture gently on her lap, turning it towards me. The photograph, probably taken during Josie's senior year of high school, showed a pretty girl with long, dark hair spilling onto her shoulders. Her head was tilted in that fake, photographer-posed way, but her smile was sincere.
"She's very pretty," I told Mrs. Kent. "She really could be on TV." Except for the dark hair, Josie didn't look much like Jonathan, that was for sure. Hidden behind his glasses, Jonathan's eyes were bluish gray, but Josie's were large and brown, and, unlike her older brother, her smile was playful, almost defiant. From the memory of my first visit to Smallville, she looked more like Richard and Mrs. Kent, while Jonathan resembled his father and oldest brother.
Cradling the framed photograph in her arms, Jonathan's mother excused herself, explaining that she, too, had to wake up early to finish her household chores before the Corn Fest committee meeting. When she left, Jonathan and I looked at each other expectantly, then both started talking. We laughed nervously and I gestured that he should go first. He said, "So, you really don't know where you're headed after Smallville?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "Wherever the car takes me," I joked. "Seriously, Jonathan, I don't know. What I do know is that I don't want to be in Boston. I don't want to live in that stuffy prison with my grandmother as warden. I'm not a child anymore; I'm discovering life for myself now," I said with a confidence I wish I felt.
Sure, I liked traveling and seeing new things and meeting new people, but every once in a while I had the distinct feeling what I was really doing was putting off my acceptance of adulthood. Lots of people my age were married, had jobs and families. Sometimes a part of me, a small but still-there part, wished I was one of those people. When that happened, though, I reminded myself that I did have a family, like them or not, back in Boston, and that was usually when I pulled off at a truck stop to find a pay phone. Besides just missing Jonathan as a friend, another bout of loneliness had been what had steered me back to Smallville; Jonathan's family was peaceful, it was loving, it was… not mine.
Jonathan nodded, as though he understood, though he couldn't. He'd known for his whole life what he wanted to do: stay in Smallville and farm. I never had that kind of confidence, not about the direction my life was headed, at least. Most of the time it felt like I was living on a ship that was being blown in one way or another by my grandmother, and, boy, was she full of wind.
The conversation hit a lull, and I peeked at Jonathan when I didn't think he was looking. He wasn't; he was staring at the cloudless sky off in the distance. I remembered how, one night ten years ago, Jonathan and I had taken a walk to the Smallville High football field to star-gaze. The field had been built next to the high school, in one of the few valleys punctuating the mostly-flat landscape. Consequently, on summer nights when the school's lights weren't burning, the surrounding hills and trees blocked what little brightness the "night life" of Smallville afforded. We brought a blanket that night, laid it down on the forty yard line, and spent hours consulting an astronomy book by flashlight, pointing out constellations.
The clear sky of Smallville had impressed me back then; I was used to Boston, where so many lights colored the skyline it was impossible to pick out even the Big Dipper or Orion. The Boston sky wasn't black, really, but dark brown, and I couldn't remember ever having seen stars as clearly as I had that night in Smallville. Why was it that everything seemed clearer out here?
I stared up at the sky, trying to remember the constellations we had picked out during my last visit, and, surprisingly enough, I found that I could. My neck was still craned to the sky when Jonathan touched my arm gently.
"Martha, I'm sorry but I'm awful tired and I've got to get up early tomorrow. I'm gonna head inside. You can stay out here if you like—"
"No, I'm kinda tired too actually." So I followed Jonathan into the house and upstairs. He stopped in the doorway to Josie's bedroom and, before I knew it, had kissed me on the cheek.
"Goodnight, Martha," he said quietly before ducking his head and continuing on to his bedroom. ***
"So, dear, tell me about what you've been up to. I didn't ask last night because I know you and Jonathan have kept in touch, and he's heard all your stories before," Mrs. Kent said as she spread a thin layer of dough over a glass pie plate.
She was right; Jonathan and I had been writing back and forth for the past ten years. He knew all about my adventures at Bryn Mawr College, as well as how I got there in the first place.
"Well, my junior high and high school years were tough. My mother spent all her time taking care of my father, who was getting sicker and sicker. Grandmother and Grandfather were busy with their charity functions and dinner parties, and trying to run my life," I tried to joke. But Mrs. Kent just smiled and nodded that I should continue.
"So I kind of immersed myself in school and books; I guess it was easier to forget my troubles when I read about someone else's. Jonathan and I sometimes traded book recommendations in our letters. My father finally died — he gave up, really — during the fall of my junior year. It wasn't really a surprise, but that didn't make it any easier. I miss him, but his death has been the toughest on my mother. She was always kind of reserved and quiet, but she became apathetic, almost non- communicative. She wasn't eating or sleeping, and she stayed inside all the time, hardly even leaving her bedroom. My grandmother had scads of doctors check her out, and that spring they diagnosed her with depression. They prescribed her tons of medications, none of which helped. One even made her worse, and she was in the hospital for a while so they could get the doses right."
"Oh, dear, how's she doing now?" Mrs. Kent asked.
"Better, I guess. Sometimes certain events or seasons make her worse, but the last time I phoned, Grandmother said my mother was trying out some new medication. It's working well, she said, and without some of the side effects she had before."
Mrs. Kent got up to set two pies in the oven and I remembered complaining, years ago, that taking care of my father took up all of my mother's time, and that she never played with me, a sign, I was sure, that she loved my father more than me, or, worse yet, didn't love me at all. But now I'd trade anything for those times, not only because my father, though sick, was alive, but because my mother was too.
Jonathan's mother sat back down in a floury cloud. "And how have your grandparents coped with all this?" she asked.
"Well, Grandmother was embarrassed when my mother was admitted to the hospital. I think she thought her illness reflected poorly on our family. For some reason — maybe because it was psychological — depression wasn't a *real* disease to my grandmother. And my grandfather wasn't any help; he's like my mother, more quiet and reserved. I think he's used to letting Grandmother make all the decisions."
I paused for a drink from the coffee cup on the table in front of me. I remembered trying to explain everything that was going on with my family to Jonathan on the phone. He tried to be understanding, but he was too far away to offer much comfort. I had wondered whether it was because his family was so different from mine, or because we were growing apart.
"So that was high school. Then, during my senior year, I begged to be allowed to choose where I went to school. See, my grandmother had gone to Wellesley and my mother had gone to Wellesley, so guess where I was headed. But I applied to a bunch of other schools too, all single-sex and all in New England, which was what Grandmother agreed to pay the application fees for. I got accepted to most of them, and that was when the fighting started.
"I wanted more than anything to go somewhere else, anywhere else. My first choice was Bryn Mawr, in Philadelphia. We fought about it for months, then, all of a sudden and quite unlike her, Grandmother gave in. I think the only reason she said yes was that it's a lot like Wellesley. Grandmother never said what changed her mind and I didn't ask; I was afraid she'd change it back."
"Just a minute, Martha," Mrs. Kent interrupted. "I told Jonathan I'd check on one of his calves; she hurt her leg last week and got back from the vet's yesterday."
"Okay," I said, and continued cutting up apples from the burlap sack on the floor.
I remembered calling Jonathan the night Grandmother changed her mind. He was sincerely excited, but after I hung up I couldn't help thinking that, if I were him, I'd be jealous. Here I was, going to this great college while Jonathan was working at his family's farm. I was overjoyed because I had received permission to attend a school whose yearly tuition was probably more than Jonathan's parents' income. I had felt suddenly ashamed for even having phoned Jonathan.
I had been afraid college would create a chasm between us. Keeping up our friendship was hard enough when we were just separated by a few states; how tough was it going to be when I was at Bryn Mawr and Jonathan was still at home? I could only hope we would survive.
And, somehow, we did. I really don't think college changed me much; I made some close friends but graduated with the uncertainty about my future that had been expected in my freshman year, but soon became frustrating and trite. I didn't want to get married; many of my Boston friends and a few of my Bryn Mawr ones had recently become engaged. I didn't really have any marketable skills; I had graduated with an art history major and astronomy minor, for Pete's sake. And I didn't want to go home.
"Okay, dear, you were at Bryn Mawr—"
"Right, well, there wasn't really anything special about college. Last year I shared an apartment with three other girls. Jane was a Spanish-education double major. She had a steady boyfriend all four years but ended up ditching him to travel to the Phillipines to teach English.
"Amita was my roommate for all four years, and she's in grad school at Columbia; she was a physics major but she's a big history buff. She was born in India and her family had some tough times there before she came to school here. Some of them are still over there but they've got papers in for a move to the U.S.
"Our other roommate, Emily, is in San Francisco studying psychology. Her sister just started college at a school out West and Emily wanted to be near her. I think Em mostly chose to go to graduate school because she didn't know what else to do."
I glanced over at Mrs. Kent, who nodded. But I wondered if she was afraid her darling dreamer Josie was going to come back to school with the same plague of uncertainty which was plaguing most college kids. "So then you bought your car?" Mrs. Kent asked.
"Actually, first I went back to Boston for a little while." That was going to be tough to explain; even though I felt sophisticated and self-sufficient being away from my family, I had always gone back home for breaks. I felt guilty about leaving my mother alone with my grandparents.
"I wanted to spend some time with my mom first, you know? After the summer, though, I still didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn't want to stay in Boston. So I used some money that my father had put in a trust fund for me to buy a car. I had some friends who were going to Europe before settling down, and I liked that idea, so I had my own tour of the U.S."
"Why not Europe with your friends?" Mrs. Kent asked. I wondered what she thought about what I was saying. I was talking about friends going to Europe; I wondered if she or Mr. Kent had even been on a plane. I wondered how they were funding Josie's schooling.
"Well, I had lots of high school and college friends scattered around the U.S. I thought I could visit them, and maybe find a job and somewhere to live along the way.
"It was tough getting my family to 'let' me. Legally I was an adult, but when are you ever an adult in your mother's eyes?" I asked and out of the corner of my eye saw Mrs. Kent smile. "I mean, my mom's health was bad enough; I didn't want to risk her going over the brink."
Because, I thought, even though I carped and complained, I loved my family. Just because they were controlling and none too eager to accept the fact that I was a grown-up didn't mean I felt good about disobeying them. And, as predicted, Grandmother, Grandfather, and Mother balked at my plan, but I had been away from the comfortable cocoon of our house in Beacon Hill too long to lapse back into unquestioning obedience. Guided by Kerouac and Ginsberg, I was soon on the road. I wasn't sure where I'd end up, but I *did* know it wouldn't be Boston.
"Where did you go?"
"Well, first I visited Amita in New York City. We haven't been very good at keeping in touch since school ended and I wanted to see her again. I liked some of the museums and concerts there, but New York just isn't the place for me, too big and dirty."
Mrs. Kent nodded emphatically, perhaps comparing New York to Kansas City or Wichita. It wasn't really the city that bothered me, I remembered. Amita had been living in a commune with a bunch of other students. They were kind of wild and I got tired of the too-sweet smell of marijuana and calls from the Fifth Precinct for bail money.
"After that I decided that I missed my college friends and bought a plain ticket to California, to see Emily. I spent a few weeks there; the sun was nice after a chilly East coast fall. Emily, her sister, and her mother, who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia when she was a girl, taught me some great recipes.
"Then I went back to Boston and started my road trip for good. I drove down the coast, to Washington, DC for a while. Then I started driving again, and was mostly lonely. I got tired of sleeping in the back of my car and eating meals in dirty highway grease pits. So I decided to go to Miami. It was nice there, and I decided to get a job in a bookstore. I got a room at this broken-down boarding house. But then it got to be spring and it got to hot for me. So I left and went to Atlanta, then Cincinnati, Detroit, St. Louis."
"That sounds exciting," Mrs. Kent marveled.
"Actually, I got tired of it. So I decided to visit a friend, and Jonathan was the closest one to St. Louis, so here I am." What I needed was a good friend to temper my loneliness before I continued on to Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I promised myself that I'd be back on the road soon, after a quick stop-off at Smallville to see Jonathan.
I actually wasn't sure whether the Kents, or any of Smallville, would welcome me back; I had been awfully snooty during my first visit. But after spending months passing through inner city neighborhoods, greasy gas stations, and lonely country roads, I had changed my outlook on life.
"Well, that's quite a story, something to tell your grandchildren someday, though probably by that time, traveling may not be as big a deal as it is now. They'll probably invent all sorts of crazy things: flying cars, robots to clean your house, maybe even a machine that you can tell to cook dinner for you."
"No more homemade apple pies?" I asked. "I sure hope *that* machine is never invented!" ***
"So what kind of food do they have at Corn Festivals? Just corn?" I asked Jonathan as he pulled the Kents' new red pick-up out of their driveway and headed towards downtown Smallville. After spending the day helping Jonathan's mother bake for the festival, I knew there was a variety of desserts, but I hoped every main dish wouldn't be corn-based.
Confident he wouldn't hit any cows, horses, or pigs — since no pedestrians in their right mind would be walking down the old dirt road into town on a Friday evening — Jonathan turned towards me and smiled. "Yup, everything's corn-based; the hamburgers are really corn-burgers, the hot dogs, well, those are corn dogs, of course, and you know the stuff you baked with my mom tonight?" I nodded. "Well, *it's* corn-based, too. You only *thought* you were making pound cake; it's really *corn* cake," he said with a wink.
"Ha." I stuck my tongue out at him before he turned his attention back on the road.
"No, not everything has corn in it. Actually, most things don't. Farmers around here do grow other things too, you know: wheat, sorghum, barley, oats. But when the Corn Festival started, the family that paid most of the expenses owned a corn farm, so…"
I nodded and turned my attention out the window. It was just getting dark, and I could see far into the distance, where the flat landscape was decorated by the remnants of harvested crops. I wondered whose fields we were passing, and whether I would meet them tonight. Jonathan and I had plans to spend the night with his friends Henry and Wayne, and Wayne's wife and Henry's girlfriend, but I'd been told all of Smallville would be there. Apparently nighttime entertainment was so unusual that when it did happen, the whole town emerged from their cocoons for a glimpse.
Probably the kids who'd teased me on my first visit would be there, too, and the Websters. But they wouldn't be kids anymore, I reminded myself, they'd be the same age as me. Hopefully they wouldn't still be so mean…
Stop it, Martha, I told myself. You've changed in ten years, and probably they have too. They might not even remember me, that was so long ago. Things'll work out this time, I assured myself; I'm not the same self-centered brat I used to be. Maybe they'll see that and we'll get along, I hoped.
This time, though still nervous, I was happier about being in Smallville. I had actually *chosen* to come to Kansas, and, after being here only a few days, I was already much more relaxed than I had been on the road. I had escaped the crowded, impersonal cities of New York and Boston. It must have something to do with the fresh air and the clear, starry skies, but for the first time in a long time I didn't feel anxious about my future. I hadn't made any decisions, but I felt more relaxed in my state of limbo. I knew I could always go to graduate school, or get a job in an art museum in any of the cities I'd visited. Or I could do both. Or neither. Or change my mind after starting one. I didn't have to plan out my entire life right then, I decided. I could just take it as it came.
I smiled, reveling in my new, mellow attitude. Maybe this was the way to live: relaxed and calm. I refocused on the view out the truck window and noticed that we had reached downtown Smallville. It was exactly how Mrs. Kent had described it to me: "part carnival, part craft fair, and only part harvest celebration."
Lining the streets and sidewalks were booths manned by gangly teenagers, advertising various Smallville merchants. There was a barbecue pit emitting tantalizing smells, and the gazebo in the center of town was decorated with streamers and balloons. There were carnival games, craft booths, and picnic tables covered in red-checked tablecloths. After driving slowly down the street, Jonathan spotted a rare open parking space down on a side street, quickly headed over, and pulled in. We got out of the truck, Jonathan dropped a couple of coins in the meter, and we headed back towards the festival.
We were a little early so we took our time walking to the picnic tables where we were to meet Jonathan's friends, passing booths sponsored by familiar local merchants. On our left, the Harley's Feed Store booth sold candied apples, funnel cakes, and frozen lemonade beneath a striped awning. On our right, the booth advertising Morris's Garage drew crowds of festival-goers tossing various small metal pieces — I assumed car parts — into a worn rubber tire. Further down sat a table sponsored by St. Luke's Episcopal Church, selling freshly-baked goods available both for consumption at the festival and whole pies and breads to take home. (Among them I recognized the desserts Mrs. Kent and I had baked earlier that day.) Next to the St. Luke's booth were fold-out card tables guarded by middle-aged women proudly displaying handmade crafts: sweaters, quilts, embroidery, jewelry.
At the end of the line of booths was an open area, a large bandstand at one end. Couples and families sitting at picnic tables and on folding chairs littered the lawn, enjoying the musical sensations of the Smallville High School Marching Band, heavy on the flutes. The conductor was a balding middle-aged man wearing a bright red suit coat and black pants decorated by a gold braid down each leg. Jonathan and I found an empty table to the left and far from the band, and listened to a brassy rendition of a Brahms Hungarian Dance as we waited for Henry and Wayne.
"Jonathan! Martha! Jonathan!" I heard a masculine voice call out only a few minutes later, and soon felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see two men and two women standing behind us, and Jonathan and I stood to greet them. I recognized the man whose hand was on my shoulder as Henry Miller; tall and lanky, he had the same white-blond hair he'd had a decade ago, now with the beginnings of a beard poking through his freckled skin.
Jonathan introduced me to Lauren, who, like her boyfriend, was tall and lean, with a dark, curly braid trailing halfway down her back. Then Wayne, whose dark hair was cut in a boyish buzz, introduced me to his wife, Betsy, a short woman with thick glasses and chin-length mousy brown hair. Both women greeted me warmly and I couldn't help but smile back.
After setting jackets and sweaters on the picnic table to reserve it, we headed towards the food booths, Henry and Lauren leading the way and Jonathan and I trailing slightly behind them, followed by Wayne and Betsy.
"So how do you like Smallville so far?" a quiet voice asked me, and I turned to see Betsy taking several short steps to catch up with me.
"It's nice," I told her honestly. "I've been doing so much traveling that the peace and quiet is relaxing."
"Oh?" Betsy asked as we reached the end of the line that began at the barbecue, and gathered plates, silverware, and napkins. "Where have you traveled?"
I grinned at her. "Where *haven't* I traveled?" I laughed. "I'm originally from Boston, went to college in Philadelphia, and I've been driving around the country since graduation: New York, then back to Boston and California for a while, Washington, D.C., Miami, Atlanta, and lots of other towns in between."
"Wow," Betsy marveled, and, overhearing my itinerary, Lauren dropped back in the line to join our conversation.
"You're lucky to have traveled so much," Betsy told me. "Wayne and I married the week after I graduated from high school, and the only place we've ever been is Kansas City for our honeymoon!"
Lauren laughed. "That's why *I'm* not accepting any man's proposal until he assures me we're spending our honeymoon out of state," she insisted.
Henry heard his girlfriend's thinly veiled threat and poked his head between her and me. "Why do you think you haven't had any proposals?" he joked back.
She smiled and gently pushed him back to his place in the line. "So, Martha," she refocused her attentions on me, "where was your favorite place so far?" And, grinning mischievously and raising her voice just enough so Henry could hear her, she added, "so that I'll know which exotic locale I want to visit on *my* honeymoon."
"Probably California," I told her, taking a few steps as the line progressed. "I didn't get to spend much time there, but I really liked it, especially the weather. And it's much more open out there, with cool ocean breezes and warm beaches. It isn't uptight either, like it is in New England. I think I'll probably end up living somewhere out west," I told them, "and definitely not Boston or New York. I like big cities, but New York's just too much, and I've spent enough time in Boston."
"Have you been to Metropolis?" Betsy asked.
"No," I told them. "I'd planned on stopping there, but I got sick of the dirty, over-crowded, crime-ridden cities back east, so I decided I'd save it for another time." By now we'd reached the grill, and I stuck my plate out to accept the hamburger one of the aproned chefs was offering. Betsy and Lauren each took a hot dog, then we moved past the barbecue and stopped at a small condiments table before continuing down the line for corn on the cob, potato salad, baked beans, and creamed corn.
We three women headed back to our table, juggling our plates plus the men's, so they could pick up drinks for the group. We slid the over-loaded plates on the picnic table, then sat down ourselves.
"So how long are you planning on staying in Smallville?" Lauren asked as I laid a napkin on my lap.
"I'm not really sure. Right now my car's dead, so I'm not going anywhere."
"You should stay 'til Halloween," Betsy suggested as she buttered and salted her corn on the cob. "The Smallville branch of the Future Farmers of America sponsors an all-city dance in the high school cafeteria. There's a costume party, bobbing for apples, and a carnival for the little kids. I usually run a caramel apple booth, and this year Lauren's gonna help me make them. You could help, too," Betsy offered.
At that point the men returned with large cups of lemonade, so we stopped our conversation to concentrate on our heaping plates and the SHS Marching Band, who had started a badly-arranged medley of melodies from The Music Man.
We were stuffed after dinner, so we decided to walk around for a while. We revisited the St. Luke's booths, where I bought a quilt to send home to my mother and a hand-knit wool sweater for myself. When we passed the booth for Morris's Garage, Jonathan, Wayne, and Henry insisted on trying to win each of us a prize. They each handed an orange ticket to Morris, who was working the booth, and received three tries at tossing heavy metal pieces into the tire.
Neither Henry nor Wayne got their pieces in the tire in their three tries, so when Jonathan stepped forward to take his turn, I cheered him enthusiastically. "Come on, Jonathan! You can do it!"
Jonathan turned back to look at me and grin, then proceeded to miss his first two tosses. "Oh, boo!" Henry shouted. "Boo! Hiss! I bet your girlfriend can throw better than that!"
"She's not my—" Ears reddening in embarrassment, Jonathan started to correct Henry, then stopped. Then, with a quick glance at me, "No, she couldn't." He turned back to the tire and tossed his last metal piece, missing by nearly a yard.
"Ha!" Henry called out again.
"Just what are you ha-ing about?" retorted Jonathan. "You didn't get any in, either."
Jonathan and Wayne continued to kid each other until Henry added, "I bet your girlfriend *could* throw better than you."
Well, that was about all I was going to take. I was willing to put up with their macho posturing because it seemed to be how they teased each other, but I had played intramural softball for a few seasons while in college, and if I was going to get dragged into this…
Wayne and Jonathan were still going at it, so no one noticed when I took a ticket from my own pocket and traded it for three metal pieces. "Hey, you all had better not spend all your money here," Morris warned me with a grin, "cuz you've still gotta pay me when your car's finished."
By that time, and because they heard Morris, everyone had refocused their attention from Jonathan and Henry to me. I took one of the metal pieces and, after chanting a short Buddhist prayer I'd learned from Amita, I tossed the piece towards the tire.
It missed by nearly a mile, causing Henry to laugh once again. "Okay, so your girlfriend *can't* out-throw you! Her arm's even worse than yours!"
I resisted making a face at Henry before my second toss. Instead I took a deep breath, decided to hell with Buddhist prayers, and concentrated on tossing the metal piece, which sailed in a neat arc from my hand to the center of the tire. I turned and smiled triumphantly at Henry and Jonathan, at which point Henry intensified his teasing of Jonathan, who, once again, turned red.
"Well, Miss Clark, you've got your pick." Morris pointed to the back wall of the booth, where an assortment of stuffed animals sat on a shelf.
I smiled and motioned for Jonathan to pick one. His entire face now the color of a tomato, he pointed blindly to a prize, and Morris unhooked it and handed it to him. Jonathan wordlessly accepted the stuffed animal, a large green frog, and the six of us turned and headed away from the booth.
But Henry couldn't stop laughing. "I can't believe it! Your *girlfriend* won you a prize!" he howled. "It's supposed to work the other way around, Kent."
"Shut up, Henry," Lauren interrupted. "I think it's sweet. And it's nice of Jonathan to accept the prize without any stupid, macho remarks." She paused and patted Jonathan reassuringly on the shoulder. "What does it matter that she's a girl? It doesn't take testosterone to throw a piece of metal!"
"Besides, you two didn't win anything for Lauren and me," Betsy added. "Are you… jealous? Should we go back to the booth so us girls can try to win you boys something?" Betsy grinned at Lauren, and they turned back towards the booth.
Taking a few quick steps, Henry caught up with them. "No, no, that's okay. Jonathan knows I was only kidding, don't you, Jon?"
Jonathan, still seemingly stuck at the point in the conversation when Lauren called accepting the prize "sweet," simply nodded at his friend.
"No harm done," Henry insisted, slapping Jonathan's back companionably. So Lauren gave up, and we continued our tour of the festival. After a few minutes I noticed a booth sponsored by Ransom's New and Used Books.
"Oh, you have a bookstore?!" I exclaimed to no one in particular.
"Of course," Wayne answered, looking at me as if I'd just arrived via the latest space ship from Mars. "Why shouldn't we?"
"Sorry. I didn't mean that you *shouldn't.* In fact, I'm really glad you do," I explained. "It's just that I've been traveling down all these freeways and back roads lately, and there aren't many signs saying, 'Next Bookstore, 5 miles.' I've really missed bookstores," I sighed longingly.
Lauren smiled at me. "We'll have to go later this week. You, me, and Betsy can spend a day together on the town," she promised. "But unless it's over the weekend, we might have to go at night since I have work."
"Where do you work?" I asked Lauren as the six of us browsed through Ransom's small selection of books. They didn't have many, but, I reminded myself, they would surely have more in the real store. This was just a booth in a carnival, and I should be glad a bookstore would even *have* a carnival booth.
"I'm a teacher."
"That's great," I exclaimed, turning to Lauren. "What grade?"
"Second." I'd half-expected her to say that she taught the entire school, that Smallville had a one-room schoolhouse, though from the band we'd heard earlier I knew they at least had a separate high school. I had been pleasantly surprised by a few things since I'd arrived: the bookstore (that was mostly relief, but I did have doubts whether such a small town would have a bookstore), Lauren working (I hadn't expected many Smallville women my age to have actual jobs, just stay home and help out on the farms). I had to remind myself that Smallville wasn't really a backwards hick town; that was my old mistake, and this time I was determined to look beyond the surface.
We wandered away from the bookstore booth and back towards the picnic table area, when Henry spotted a "Test Your Strength" carnival game where you could swing a hammer and try to ring the bell at the top of a column. "Oh, yes! We've gotta try this." He didn't say, but we all knew he was still thinking about me winning Jonathan that stuffed frog. Lauren rolled her eyes as Henry handed his last orange ticket to the barker.
"You know, you don't have to win anything for me, Henry," she said with a sigh.
"I don't *have* to, but I'm gonna," he insisted as he picked up the hammer and took a couple of practice swings. "Nothin' to it." With a grunt, he swung the hammer high over his head and slammed the target, sending the ball about halfway up the column, topping off at "better luck next time."
Lauren tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smile as she slid her arm around Henry's waist. "Well, look at it this way, honey, you got above halfway, so you're closer to 'top dog' than 'wimp,'" she told him, indicating the top and bottom labels.
But Henry was not to be comforted. "Hey, Irig, you got another ticket?"
"You can't have it, Henry," Wayne told him.
"I don't want it," he assured him. "It's your turn to take a crack. See if you can win *your* girl a prize." Wayne shook his head reluctantly, but Henry insisted. Finally Wayne plunked down his ticket and gathered up the hammer.
Wayne's strength surprised me, and he hit the ball at the top of the column, ringing the bell. He laughed, and was rewarded with a hug from Betsy and reluctant congratulations from Henry. After Betsy picked out her prize, a small, square batik, we headed back to the picnic table area, where a "real" band was setting up.
The majority of the tables had been pushed back to the perimeter of a large square dance floor. By that time we'd walked off our post-dinner fullness, so Henry, Wayne, and Jonathan went up to another booth to fetch drinks while Lauren, Betsy, and I secured a table. Minutes later they were back, armed with pitchers of beer and a stack of cups. I noticed, though, that Wayne handed Betsy a separate cup, filled with soda. I wondered whether she wasn't of age, or if for some reason she didn't drink. She didn't seem that young, I thought, and then was distracted by a loud crash as the band began their music, mostly relatively recent rock hits, sprinkled with a square dance.
After draining the pitchers of beer, the six of us joined the growing crowd on the dance floor. The band began a Chubby Checker tune, and dancers began the twist. I was pleasantly surprised to see that, like the rest of the group, Jonathan knew the dance, and he seemed comfortable dancing. We twisted and spun through hits by Little Richard, Chuck Berrie, and Bill Haley and His Comets until the mosquitoes started biting and we started slowing down.
Finally we gave up trying to keep up with the quick dance steps and abandoned the floor for a picnic table. It was late by then, and most of the festival-goers left were around our age. I guessed that anyone younger was at home asleep, and anyone older had had to put those younger ones to sleep. After Betsy took a seat then started to nod off, we all decided that we should really be going. I said good-bye to my new friends, and Lauren promised that either she or Betsy would call me sometime to set up a date at Ransom's book store. ***
"You awake?" Jonathan asked after pulling onto the sleepy nighttime streets of Smallville.
"Yup." Though I had been dangerously close to nodding off; Jonathan's voice had brought me out of the half-asleep-half- awake state I'd been in after settling into the pick-up's cushy seats.
"I wanted to say I'm sorry about the festival," he began.
"Sorry about what?"
"I'm sorry I said you couldn't throw well enough to get it in the tire. I didn't mean it; I just got flustered when Wayne called you my girlfriend and I didn't know whether to correct him or not because I don't know if you *are* or not, or if you'd want me to *say* that you are… I just don't want you to be mad."
"I'm not mad," I assured Jonathan. "I mean, when you guys started acting so macho, well, I thought that was silly, and then I didn't like anyone saying that I couldn't throw because I'm a girl, so I just had to show off," I admitted.
"I didn't mean that you couldn't throw," he explained. "Honest. And thanks for winning me the frog," he added.
"You're welcome." I grinned in the dark interior of the pick-up, then watched out the window as harvested fields and glimmering constellations whizzed by.
"What you said about the girlfriend thing…"
I laid my left hand on his right, which was resting on the stick shift between us. "That was okay, too." ***
We pulled into the driveway of the Kents' farmhouse, the truck's tires grinding against the gravel. We got out of the truck and quietly made our way inside, not wanting to wake Jonathan's parents. They had planned to go to the Corn Festival that night, too, but it was late and they were probably asleep upstairs.
Instead Jonathan and I saw a soft yellow light illuminating the large porch. Music flitted towards us, through the damp night air. I looked at Jonathan, but he just shrugged. Hand in hand, we approached the porch and saw Jonathan's parents, huddled close, dancing to the slow music.
When we reached the porch steps they saw us, too, and broke apart like teenagers caught by a police officer, groping in the back seat of a car.
Jonathan's father was considerably more embarrassed than his wife. "Oh, uh, hello, you two. We were just, uh…"
"The music at the festival was too lively for us," Mrs. Kent explained calmly. "There's a nice radio station out of Kansas City that plays romantic numbers on Thursday nights. Care to join us?"
"Uh, I don't know," Jonathan began, sounding just like his father.
"Sure. Mind if I turn this up just a bit?"
Mrs. Kent motioned for me to go ahead, so I did, then sat down on the porch steps for a minute and unbuckled and removed my sandals.
"Why are you taking your shoes off?" Jonathan asked.
I just smiled at him and tugged on his arm until he sat down beside me on the steps. I bent down and undid his shoelaces, then, under his nervous, watchful gaze, removed his worn white tennis shoes and socks. I set them next to my own sandals, then pulled him to his feet and led him off the porch.
Jonathan smiled as the cool dewy grass wet our feet, and I settled into his arms. We listened for the rhythm of the song, then began swaying gently. I watched lightning bugs flicker on and off as they buzzed around us, upset by our intrusion into their private night flights. The floor boards of the porch creaked as Mr. and Mrs. Kent resumed their dancing positions, and we swayed together until the song ended.
A disc jockey's practiced velvety voice carried out into the starry sky. "This next song's a personal favorite of mine. It's a few years old, but it's perfect for all you lovebirds out there."
I recognized the soft piano chords of the song before the words started, and I laid my head on Jonathan's broad chest. I wanted to rest it on his shoulder, but I was so short I would've needed a milk crate to reach it.
Someday when I'm awfully low, When the world is cold, I will feel a glow, Just thinking of you, And the way you look tonight.
I smiled and sighed, then closed my eyes and lost myself in the feel of Jonathan's arms around me, the feel of my own arms reaching up to rest behind his neck. Crickets — or some other undoubtedly-large country insect — chirped in counterpoint, and I could feel the cool wetness of the autumn air on my bare legs. Even though we were in a wonderfully romantic situation, I didn't feel nervous or apprehensive like I had at dances or on dates in high school and college. I just let the music wash over me.
Oh, but you're lovely,
With your smile so warm,
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
Just the way you look tonight.
With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart,
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
Touches my foolish heart.
I longed to sneak a peek at Jonathan's parents dancing on the porch, but I reminded myself that we had intruded on them; this was their dance. But, through the soft strains of the radio, I thought I could hear what sounded like a kiss, so I took their lead, opened my eyes, and craned my neck. Jonathan took my hint and kissed me gently, once, and then I set my head back onto his chest.
Never, never change,
Keep that breathless charm,
Won't you please arrange it 'cause I, I love you,
Just the way you look tonight,
Just the way you look tonight.
I sighed as the music faded out and the same smooth voice broke in to introduce the next song. Smiling up at Jonathan, I took his hands and lead him back to the porch to grab our shoes.
"I think I'm gonna head upstairs," I told the Kents. "I'm a little tired from all the dancing at the festival. Good night."
Mr. and Mrs. Kent wished me a good night in return, and I headed inside, followed closely by Jonathan. The screen door of the porch slammed behind us and I smiled for the Kents, happy at the romance still alive in their marriage. ***
For the second morning in a row, I awoke in a bed. A real bed. Not the back of my car, not a fold-out couch in the living room/dining room/kitchen of a generous-yet-broke friend, not even the cardboard mattress of a cheap hotel room. A real, honest-to-goodness bed.
I smiled through my hazy sleep-state and stretched out — back arched, arms over my head — in a fair imitation of one of the Kents' house cats. I snuggled back under the warm quilt and flannel sheets, and basked in the comfort of the bed, drifting out of sleep and wakefulness.
I heard a noise from downstairs and thought of Jonathan. There had always been other boys; Grandmother felt it her place to set me up with the best connected young men in Boston, boys whose fathers were successful lawyers, doctors, or businessmen. But each time one of them kissed me good night at the end of the date, I couldn't help think of Jonathan and the kiss — my first — we had shared on my last day in Smallville so many summers ago.
Rolling my head to the side, I forced myself to look at the round little alarm clock beside the bed. 9:25. I closed my eyes and rolled back over. Wait a minute… 9:25?! Nine o'clock on a farm was like noon at home. How could I have slept so late?
I got out of bed and pulled a robe on before heading downstairs. I made my way into the kitchen, my bare feet padding on the cool linoleum floor. On the kitchen table, next to a place setting sans plate, sat a folded note, my name neatly printed on the outside. The note, from Mrs. Kent, said that she had gone early to the Corn Festival; she would be helping to judge the Corn-O- Rama. (I didn't even want to *guess* what that was.)
Mrs. Kent had left a breakfast plate warming in the oven for me. I opened the oven to see a dish with an inverted pie plate over it. Using a pair of cow-shaped pot holders, I removed it and placed it on the table, then proceeded to devour the pancakes, eggs, and bacon.
As I ate I looked around the kitchen, relaxing in its homeliness. It was nice, I decided, living somewhere that felt like a home. For so long I had been on the road and, even when I briefly lived in my own apartment, it didn't feel like home. It wasn't practical to furnish an apartment, I'd discovered after trying to fit a chair in my car while packing to leave Washington, DC.
And it was nice just having people around who knew me; I'd grown tired of being surrounded by strangers everywhere I went, having to introduce myself and find new friends. Sure, Jonathan's parents didn't know me very well, but they made up for it in their thoughtfulness, leaving me a breakfast plate in the oven, asking whether I wanted green or yellow beans for dinner: little things you missed when you lived mostly on your own for a year.
And I enjoyed hearing the noises that accompanied living with other people: innocuous chit-chat, laughter, even the occasional raised voice. The boarding houses and apartments I'd stayed in were echoingly quiet. Sure, it was peaceful and sometimes relaxing, but you get tired of all that silence. I reread the note Anna had left for me and smiled as one of the Kents' cats brushed its tail along my leg, begging for the leftover piece of bacon I had saved for her. ***
"Jonathan, what do you think happens when we die?"
We had been sitting in silence so far that night, staring off the porch and into the darkening landscape. I had been pointing out the constellations to Jonathan as soon as they were clear in the twilight sky. See, Grandmother, I wanted to say; my astronomy minor *was* good for something!
We had spent the whole day at the Corn Festival, watching the Corn Queen Pageant, the Husk-Off (Wayne took second place), eating dinner accompanied by one of Smallville's three barbershop quartets, then dancing until the novelty of the polka band wore off.
Jonathan didn't answer me right away, and I blushed under the soft yellow lights of the porch. What a stupid question; probably Jonathan just believed in heaven and hell like every other church-going Christian and he was just disappointed that dumb old heathen Martha didn't believe in them either.
"I think," he began slowly, in a little more than a whisper. I scooted closer to him and watched the emotions playing across his face. He had thought about this, I realized, maybe as much as I had; I could tell by the way he was talking, the way he seemed to be feeling each word, testing it out on himself first and relishing it, before releasing it into the twilight.
"I think we go somewhere, not heaven or hell, just someplace different. And while we're there we feel every feeling we ever made anyone feel. So if you did something nice for someone, you'd feel the good you made them feel. And if you did something bad, you'd feel that, too."
"No," he was quick to correct. "Not revenge. A sort of… understanding. So that you realize what impact you had on other people, how you made them feel. That way you learn how important you were on this Earth and how much you changed other people's lives."
"And you do that forever?" I didn't want to offer up the alternative; the ideas of never and forever boggled my mind. I couldn't imagine ending, ceasing to be, fading into darkness or being zapped into oblivion; how can you imagine the end of yourself? Even thinking about it made me want to cry, since that would mean that my father had stopped being, that I would never see him again…
But I couldn't imagine forever either, living day after day, for the rest of time, *never* having the relief of an end. The very idea exhausted me. Every time the opposing concepts were brought up I was sent into a tailspin, not able to rectify them but not able to get them out of my head either.
"Pretty much. I think feeling all those feelings has got to take a long time. Like if you murdered someone you'd have to feel all the pain that you caused that person, and not only that person, but every member of their family. You would have destroyed another person's universe, a whole piece of the future, and I think you'd have to feel all the pain that goes along with that. And you'd never stop feeling it because the world's pain over losing that unique universe would never end. Or if you saved someone else's life, then you'd feel the joy of being alive that they felt, all through their life, and that same joy for their children, their grandchildren, and so on. It would never end."
"But what if you killed someone else accidentally, or in self- defense, or you killed someone evil… What if you killed a Hitler?"
Jonathan smiled ruefully. "I don't know. I didn't say my theory was perfect; it's just an idea."
"Okay, so what about an ordinary person? I mean, I haven't saved anyone's life; what's going to happen to me?"
"We're still young, Martha. Who knows what'll happen to us? But you're right: most people *don't* save someone else's life. Or kill someone. Not physically, at least, but maybe they do emotionally. Maybe if you're so mean to someone — your spouse, say, or your parents — that you destroy them, you destroy their confidence and their happiness. Then you'd have to feel that loss, and the way that loss effects everyone who ever knew them and everyone who ever knew *them.* And if you're so kind to someone that you change them for the better — open doors and create new worlds for them — then you'd get to feel every joy you helped them feel, and every joy that they helped others feel because of the joy *you* helped *them* feel. You can see why it'd take forever."
I smiled. "But how does that balance out?" I asked. "I mean, even murderers do kind things and even the most saintly person hurts people. Does that mean that you spend your life alternating feeling joy and pain?"
"I don't know," he repeated. "It's just what I've been thinking. Maybe you feel the smaller emotion first and then you're left free to feel the bigger emotion. Like if you're the saint, first you'd feel the pain you caused, because it'd be so little in comparison to the good, that it would only take a little while and then you'd be done with it. And then you could feel good for the rest of forever. Sort of like purgatory before going to heaven.
"And if you're the murderer, well, you'd better enjoy the good feelings while you've got them, because, for you, forever'll be filled with doom and gloom," Jonathan kidded. "But seriously, I think this way would be better than just straight heaven or hell, because people aren't purely innocent and good, or purely selfish and evil. But I think that mostly they're good, though; most people *do* want to do good, but maybe they get side- tracked, or maybe so many bad things happen to them they can't see the good in themselves anymore."
I smiled, closed my eyes, and quoted to Jonathan: "'It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever- approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again.'"
"That's beautiful. It sounds familiar, but I can't quite… Where's it from?"
"The Diary of Anne Frank," I told Jonathan. "It's one of my favorite quotes."
"Well, I think that's the way it is, that people are mostly good, and that peace and tranquillity will predominate in the end."
"You've thought a lot about this, haven't you?"
He nodded. "After Jerome and Richard died I was really confused. I tried to pretend everything was okay, but it wasn't. You could probably tell from my letters. My mom kept saying that they were in heaven and I know it's strange, but all I could think about was all the bad things they did: how Richard fought with my father, how he told my mother to go to hell when she asked him to consider going to college. Jerome didn't do as many mean things, but he used to pick on me and Josie when we were little and wouldn't let us play with him and Richard.
"So I couldn't understand how they could go to heaven. They weren't bad people, but they'd done bad things, like everyone. So I started wondering how many bad things you had to do to go to hell. Was there someone — God, maybe — watching everything and keeping score? 'Jonathan Kent was just mean to his sister,'" Jonathan mimicked a booming voice. "'That's one mark against him; he's only got ninety-nine left if he wants to get into heaven.' Or did it matter what your intentions were, like if you hurt someone but you weren't trying to, maybe it was just a mistake and you get a freebie.
"My brothers weren't saints: they died fighting a war, after all. They were sent overseas to kill people. I wanted to believe they were in heaven, but I couldn't forget the bad things they'd done."
"But they were only kids, Jonathan." I was surprised he'd doubt that his brothers were in heaven; I'd always believed my father was in heaven, and he'd died an adult, much less innocent than Richard and Jerome. "You said yourself the first time I was in Smallville that they went to Korea not knowing what was going on there or why they'd been sent there. Do you think they wanted to kill anyone?"
"I don't know," Jonathan admitted, his voice gruff. "I didn't know what to think then, and I still don't. I mean, if you join the Navy, shouldn't you realize that you might have to kill someone? How could they sign up without knowing that?"
"Jonathan, they were just kids; they wanted excitement and adventure. They wanted to find something to do with their lives, maybe a way to get out of Kansas, travel, see the world. And they were serving their country, too. What could be better?" I put my arm around Jonathan's shoulder. "They didn't know what they were doing. They were just trying to be good kids."
"But they should've known!" Jonathan exclaimed, choking back a sob. "Their leaving home destroyed my parents. Mom glued herself to news programs, then fell apart when the war became official. Dad and Josie tried to pretend everything was okay, but they were worried too. I mean, a third of our family was suddenly gone, fighting in a war! They should've known what that would do to us!"
"They *didn't know,* Jonathan." At that point I realized Jonathan hadn't completely mourned for his brothers yet, if such a thing was even possible. It had been years since they were killed, but he had spent that time being the comforter, the calm one, the person to go to when you were upset. He had taken up that burden and he had done well with it, but it was long since time for Jonathan to grieve for himself.
Then I remembered something Emily had said to me one Friday night junior year. Jane was home for the weekend to help celebrate her parents' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Amita was at the library studying for an organic chemistry exam, and Emily and I were in her room talking. Oddly enough, Jane's parents' anniversary struck a chord with me, and I was upset that my parents would never have the chance to celebrate *their* twenty-fifth. I was angry as well as sad, and the anger made me feel guilty.
Thankfully, Emily understood, and explained that it was okay for me to be angry. Her own father had died when she was a child, and her family had been angry for a long time. And they all felt guilty about being angry too, until one of her mother's friends said that what they were feeling was normal. It wouldn't hurt my father, Emily told me, but the guilt on top of the anger would eat away at me, making me feel even worse. She said that if I just let myself feel angry, I could stop being a victim and start trying to live despite my father's death.
"You know, Jonathan, it's okay to be angry at what happened to your brothers. It was horrible and unfair. Their deaths hurt your family and none of you will never be the same."
"Gee, thanks, Martha. You know just what to say to make someone feel better," Jonathan said sarcastically.
"Let me finish," I told him. "What happened to your brothers was very bad, and it's okay to feel angry. It's okay to cry and be hurt and yell about it. But feeling guilty *because* you're angry isn't going to help anything. There's nothing wrong with being upset. You *need* to be upset at what happened. If you weren't, you wouldn't be human." I faced Jonathan and wiped his cheek dry.
"It's okay," I repeated, and as his tears came full-force, I gave him what I hoped was a comforting hug. ***
"Okay, so here are our choices: we can go to Ransom's, then get lunch; or we can get lunch first; or we can grab lunch at the Corn—"
"I think Martha's seen enough of the Corn Fest to last her a lifetime. Let's go to Ransom's first, then play it by *ear,*" Lauren suggested with a wicked grin.
"Ha, ha," Betsy said as she pulled the green Chevy pick-up out of the Kents' driveway and headed to the center of town, shifting a bit in her seat. I noticed she was sitting on a large folded-over pillow, making her tall enough to see over the dashboard and steering wheel. The three of us fit rather loosely in the cab of Betsy and Wayne's truck.
"So, Bets, what's Wayne doing since you took the truck for the day?" Lauren asked, reaching over me, and cranked the window open, letting the warm autumn breeze in.
"Don't know," Betsy said as we sped down the deserted country road, passing a house every half-mile or so. "He knew I was taking the truck, but he was outside when I left." Lauren nodded, leaning back in the faux leather seat, resting her arms on the seat backs, behind Betsy's and my backs.
"Oh, Martha," Betsy warned as we neared town. "Don't expect too much of our little bookstore. I'm sure you're used to much nicer stores in Boston."
"Right now all I need is one bookshelf, and I'll be happy," I told her. "I brought all my favorites with me — they're in my car still — and every time I see a bookstore I stop and buy new ones, but it's been a while since I've been in a bookstore. It's been a long time since I've passed anything besides fields and cows and the occasional tree."
"Did you have a favorite bookstore at home?" Betsy asked.
"Yeah, Everard's, in Phillie. The owner was the wife of one of my professors and she used to save new releases by my favorite authors for me. College campuses have the best bookstores," I told them. "Better than Boston, even."
"So you liked Philadelphia?" Lauren asked. "I mean, would you like to live there sometime?"
"I don't know. I really liked California when I visited it. But I made some great friends at school."
"Roommates?" Lauren asked.
"Yeah, most of them were my roommates. My senior year I lived in an apartment with my three best friends: Amita, Emily, and Jane."
"Amita — that's a pretty name," Betsy said.
"She's from India originally. They moved to the U.S. when Amita was twelve, I think. India had abolished the caste system in 1948, but her family was still looked down on; they were Harijans, Untouchables. Everyone hated them. There were rules for everything: who they could talk to, what jobs they could have, who they could marry. So Amita, her parents, and her older brother left India and moved here. Actually, they were lucky they had enough money to come here at all; they were really poor, but they had a few relatives here already, and they helped out."
I took my wallet from my purse and flipped it open to a picture of the four of us at graduation. There, next to me, was Amita, her long black hair spilled over her shoulders, and the tiny gold stud in her nose glinted in the California sun. Lauren took the wallet from me and studied the pictures, and Betsy managed a glance when we stopped at a stoplight.
"Who's this?" Lauren pointed to Jane, who stood next to me. She was the only one of us who stuck with the trendy too-short hair cuts we'd given each other freshman year; it made her limp brown hair appear thick and healthy. Her brown eyes were squeezed shut in a smile.
"Jane. She's from Oregon. She was pretty much a typical American teenager: Peter-Pan-collar blouses, penny loafers and white bobby-sox, her boyfriend's high school ring on a chain. Jane's boyfriend wanted her to marry him right after high school, but Jane wanted to be a teacher. I think she's changed her mind, though; now she's in the Phillipines teaching English," I said.
"Wow," Betsy marveled.
We were nearing the center of town, I could tell. I could hear, faintly, the twang of a country singer accompanied by squeaky stringed instruments.
"And who's this?" Lauren asked, pointing to Emily. She had forgotten to take off her glasses, like she usually did when her picture was taken. Instead, the small round lenses shone in the sun. Her dark wavy hair was frizzy in the summer heat.
"That's Emily, my other roommate. She's from Prague originally; my freshman year I lived in a special-housing dorm, for international students. When Prague was taken over by Hungarian Nazis, Emily and her family thought they could stay even though they're Jewish; her father was a well-known doctor. But he was taken to a work camp in the Ukraine, and Emily, her sister, and her mom escaped to Switzerland."
"Wow, what a story," Betsy said. "Meeting all those different people is sure an experience you couldn't get in Smallville."
"I know; I'm lucky. Getting to know Amita and Emily showed me that. Before I used to complain a lot; my father died when I was in high school, and he was sick for a long time before that. And we lived with my grandparents, and I don't really get along with them. But there are worse things than losing a parent; I know that now."
"Your mom's parents or your dad's?" Betsy asked as she looked for a parking space. The square was still crowded from the Corn Festival, but there were more parking spaces to be had than that first night.
"My mom's. We've lived with them as far back as I can remember: me, my parents, and my grandparents."
"My grandparents used to live with us, too," Lauren said.
I realized that until that point, I'd been monopolizing the conversation, talking about my friends, my family. Don't be so selfish, I scolded myself. Everyone has stories to tell, not just you.
Lauren continued, "I loved it, though. My one grandmother still lives here with us, but she hasn't been well, so I've been taking care of her. My other grandparents live in Minnesota, and my brothers and sisters and I would take turns spending school vacations with them."
Betsy found a space and parked the truck, and the three of us hopped out. Led by Lauren, we headed to the bookstore. Ransom's was an old red brick house with large windows, one displaying a small square "Help Wanted, Please" sign. We pushed our way through the screen door and a bell rang.
Ransom's looked like lots of bookstores in Boston: dark and musty, but comfortable, smelling like the inside of a new book: all clean and fresh and a little intoxicating. The walls were lined with shelves, and oversized velvety chairs, and antique- looking tables decorated with teetering piles of books. To my left, in a separate room, I could see the children's section, where chairs, shelves, and books were scaled down a size.
"Lauren, Betsy! Hi!" a voice called from behind the cashier's counter next to the door. The boy behind the counter looked to be about fifteen. He was tall and skinny, needing to grow into his body like a child growing into hand-me-downs. He had wavy brown hair, braces on his teeth, and a pencil stuck behind his ear.
"Bobby, how are you?" Betsy answered.
"Great. So, are you just browsing, or can I help you with something in particular?"
"Actually," Lauren said, "we're just showing around a new friend." A new friend. I was their friend. I grinned proudly.
"Martha, this is Bobby Webster. Martha—"
"Bobby *Webster*? Frances and Skip Webster's son?"
"Yeah," he said, a quizzical look on his face. He had been five years old, a little boy, during my last visit to Smallville, so it wasn't surprising that my distant cousin didn't remember me. I surely hadn't recognized him, and I know I had changed a lot as well.
"I'm Martha Clark," I explained. "My mother and yours are cousins: Elizabeth Clark, er, Williams; her maiden name was Williams."
A look of dawning appeared on his face, but Betsy and Lauren were still confused. "I stayed with the Websters during my first visit to Smallville, when I was thirteen," I told them, then wondered if Lauren and Betsy could possibly remember me. Maybe they were in the group who made fun of me at church that first Sunday. Oh, no…
"Did you two live here ten years ago?"
"Yup, both Smallvillers, born and raised," Betsy said, then, seeing what was probably a look of dread appear on my face, added, "And, yeah, I do remember you visiting that summer, but I'm a few years younger than Wayne, and I wasn't friends with him and Jonathan and Henry back then. But Wayne told me about that summer when Jonathan said you'd come back."
I turned to Lauren. "And I was in Minnesota, with my grandparents most of that summer."
I gave a sigh of relief; I couldn't help it. It was better if they didn't remember the brat I'd been that summer. There would be enough people who did. Wayne and Henry, for two, but they weren't acting strange about it. That sure made life easier.
I turned to Bobby. "How's your family? Everyone still living at home?"
"Skip is; he's fixing to take over the farm. When Pa admits he's too old for all that manual labor, that is. Ruth just got married and she's living in Kansas City with her husband. And Adie's actually been away from home the longest. She won a scholarship to a boarding school in Chicago, and now she's a freshman at Northwestern. Kenny and I are still at home."
"That's nice —" I started to say, but I was interrupted by the ring of the bell on the door, signaling the arrival of two middle-aged women. They stopped at the cashier's counter to chat with Bobby, and Lauren, Betsy, and I began browsing the stacks. I went immediately to the fiction section, checking to see if my favorite authors had any new releases.
They didn't. At least, they didn't *here.* The last time I spoke to her on the phone, Emily mentioned that Madeleine L'Engle, whose writing we both enjoyed, had a new book out, a children's book. I checked the bookstore's small, brightly-painted children's room, but there was nothing new. I had been a L'Engle faithful ever since reading her first book, The Small Rain.
Emily told me it was overwhelmingly autobiographical. Yeah, I'd said, *my* autobiography. The protagonist of the book, a young pianist named Katherine Forrester, is a lonely only child of self-absorbed parents who shove her off to boarding school to get rid of her. Katherine's mother dies during the course of the book, but, Emily told me, in real life it was L'Engle's father who died when she was young. I could definitely relate.
I wandered back over to the bookstore's main room and found a small travel section. I paged through an illustrated United States atlas, pondering my next stop on the road. After flipping through Alabama (been there) and Alaska (too far), I stopped for a minute at Arizona, studying awe-inspiring pictures of the Grand Canyon. Maybe I'd go there next, I thought. I'd never been, and it would be an improvement in scenery over flat old Kansas. Maybe I'd—
"—back in Smallville? Remember that spoiled red-haired little girl who visited with the Websters back some summers ago?" a high-pitched voice asked from somewhere behind me.
Oh, God. Not again, I thought. Things had been going so well…
"She's back?" another voice said. "Why would she be back *here?* She visiting the Websters again?"
"I do believe she's staying with the Kents," the first voice put in. "And I hear she's become quite the strange bird. Went to some fancy girls' college out East and she's been driving cross- country. Believe it or not, her car *broke down* here in Smallville. How convenient," the woman said icily.
"Why would she even *want* to come back?"
"From what Louise said, she's fixed her sights on Jonathan Kent."
"That's what Louise said." Who was this Louise, I wanted to know? And why in the hell would she know — or make up — anything about me? I felt like growling, but kept quiet, wanting to hear what else the women were going to say.
"She's probably looking for some kind of stable family situation. You know the reason she was sent here that summer is because her parents were traipsing around in Europe, even though the father was sickly."
Not true! I wanted to yell. They were not *traipsing!* They were looking for better medical care. There were experimental treatments! I stood very still; I couldn't see them, but I didn't know whether or not the women could see me. Should I turn around? I wondered. Was I hidden from behind. My red hair would be a dead give-away if the two women did notice me.
"Hey, you okay?"
This voice came from my left, and I turned toward it: Betsy. "I'm fine," I told her. She looked unconvinced. "Really."
"Okay," she said slowly before Lauren approached us.
"You guys finished?" she asked.
Betsy looked at me. "Yeah," I said. "I just need to pay for this book." I held up the atlas and headed towards the cashier counter. I gave the book to Bobby, who rang it up while I ever- so-slowly turned around, looking for the two women back near the travel section.
"Martha?" Bobby asked, and I turned back around. Grrr. Why'd he have to use my name? I hadn't heard the two women use my name, but surely they'd recognize it if they heard it.
"Martha?" he asked again, louder this time. To quiet him down, I unclasped my purse, removed a few crumpled dollars from my wallet, and handed them to him. I was turned completely around, looking for the two gossiping women when I heard the friendly tinkle of the door bell behind me. I whirled around, but they were already gone. Craning my neck, I tried to look out the window, trying to see who these women were and if they were looking at me, if they'd spotted me.
The jingle of change in Bobby's hand caught my attention, and I abandoned trying to see out the window. I held out my hand and accepted the coins, dropping them in my purse, then rejoined Betsy and Lauren, who had been browsing as they waited, and left Ransom's. ***
That afternoon Jonathan and I drove to Morris's, to get the rest of my stuff out of the back of my car. When we got back to the Kents' we sorted through the boxes, stacking some of them along one wall of Josie's room, and unpacking others. There were so many boxes and bags and crates stacked in the back of the car that I'd forgotten I had even brought them.
One box was filled with cooking supplies. Not utensils — those were available anywhere I stayed and actually considered cooking — but nonperishables: spices, herbs, and powders from Emily's mother, Amita and her friends, and random other places I'd visited.
I had spent the previous night baking and talking with Mrs. Kent, who'd asked me to call her Anna. I'd shared my raisin scones recipe, which I'd inherited from my mother, and she contributed a recipe for creme de menthe brownies, as well as blackberry pie and oatmeal raisin cookies.
But our collaborations weren't all successes. The previous night's attempt at combining our particular strengths — mine being exotic spices and hers, traditional dishes — had resulted in disaster; mixing cottage cheese, cayenne pepper, and several varieties of beans, we'd learned, wasn't a good idea. Jonathan had been a good sport and tasted the concoction, but his father merely poked at it with his fork, wordlessly removed a stack of hamburgers from the freezer, and headed outside to grill them.
So, the night Jonathan and I rescued my cooking supplies from Morris, we set them on the kitchen counter and tried to decide what they wanted to become. Mrs. Kent — Anna — came downstairs and sat with us, finally hinting that we might want to try fried chicken; combining my herbs and hers could make an "interesting" batter, she said.
"I think I'll stick around tonight," Jonathan said as he washed the chicken. "We don't need a rerun of yesterday's fiasco."
"Ha, ha," Anna said, reading the labels of the various jars and shakers we'd removed from my box. She separated the vials into ones we would use, and began placing the rest of them in the box.
"Wait," Jonathan said as he washed his hands. "Let me see those." He dried his hands and combed through the box, exchanging a few of the vials his mother had decided to scrap, ending up with a handful of Korean spices.
"Those are pretty spicy, Jonathan," I warned him. "Are you—?"
At that point, Mr. Kent stuck his head in the kitchen, cautiously eyeing the makings of dinner. "Am I gonna need an extra glass of water again tonight? Or will I be barbecuing again?"
"No barbecuing, but you might need some extra water," I said, glancing over at Jonathan's pile of seasonings. "And Jonathan's helping out so you've got someone else to blame if it doesn't taste good."
"Here," I said as Jonathan's father laughed and left the kitchen. "Why don't we add these spices to whatever you usually put in fried chicken batter?" I suggested. "We can let Jonathan play chef and decide how much to put in."
"*Play* chef?" Jonathan asked with a tug on the tie of my apron.
"Yeah, play," I said with a grin.
"So, Martha," Jonathan's mother began conversationally, "did you find anything at the bookstore with Lauren and Betsy?"
Yeah, I thought, gossipy people. "I bought an illustrated atlas; maybe it'll give me some idea where else I want to visit," I said, going to the refrigerator and searching through the stocked shelves until I found a drawer of fresh vegetables. I took them from their bowls, washed them, then got out a cutting board.
We chopped and mixed and basted in silence for a while, Jonathan in charge of the batter for the fried chicken; Anna, rice and gravy; and me, the salad. I was mixing oil, vinegar, and herbs for the salad dressing when Anna said, "Oh, Martha, I wanted to let you know: George and Jonathan and I go to 10 am church services tomorrow morning. You're welcome to join us, but don't feel obligated."
"Thanks," I said with a grin. God and I hadn't exactly been best of friends lately, but partly that was because I didn't like going to church alone. I thought church should be more of a social activity, a family activity… ***
Our dinner that night was delicious. Jonathan's chicken batter was… interesting: spicy from the Korean flavorings, but in need of refinement. After dinner, as Jonathan and I sat on the porch, the conversation turned to one of my least favorite topics: the future…
"And you don't ever want to leave this farm?" I asked Jonathan in frustration. "You've lived here your whole life; you've never even left Kansas! Don't you want to travel? There's a whole big, beautiful world out there to see!"
That was Jonathan's cue to smile and nod. "I know, but I'm not much for traveling; I like it here in Smallville. I suppose if I had a reason to go — someone to visit or something special to do — I might change my mind. But I like it here. I know everyone and I like most of them. There aren't the drugs, or crime, or poverty like in the rest of that 'big, beautiful world' of yours."
"You're right; Smallville doesn't have a lot of the same problems big cities have, but what *does* Smallville have? Where do you go if you want to visit a museum, or hear a concert… or see a *body of water*? I mean, it's a nice place to visit, but I don't know if I would want to *live* here."
Jonathan smiled again, which really frustrated me. He was always so calm and I always got so frazzled. How could he be so sure of himself?
"I want to live here," he said simply. "It's where I belong; everyone needs to find a place to belong, don't they? I mean, you knew you didn't belong in Boston, so you left, and now you're looking for somewhere to belong. Well I don't have to look. I already know: I belong here. Some people are born to farming and some people just sort of fall into it. I was born a farmer."
"But how do you know you won't belong *more* someplace else?" I asked, but we were interrupted by the ring of the telephone. Jonathan went inside to answer it, leaving me on the porch to plan my rebuttal. But when he came out he had a forlorn look on his face. I asked him what was wrong.
"Oh, no, nothing's wrong," he assured me, resuming his seat on the two person rocking chair next to me. "It was Morris, from the Garage. He wanted to let you know that your car's all fixed. He knew it was late to call, but he thought you might want to get going as soon as possible. He opens the garage at nine o'clock Monday morning."
Jonathan's voice was sad, almost wounded, and I wondered if maybe he didn't want me to leave. I studied his face for a few minutes, the stubborn look in his worried blue-gray eyes, his lips set into a hard line, the anxious crease above his eyebrows. I took a deep breath, then took a chance.
"Come with me, Jonathan," I blurted out. "There's so much to see; we'd have such fun exploring it together." I stared into his eyes, which showed his surprise and, I was sorry to see, regret.
"Martha," he sighed, and scooted next to me until his hip and thigh were pressed against mine. I held my breath waiting for the answer, even though, deep inside, I knew what it would be.
Instead, he cupped my chin in both of his hands and kissed me. When he pulled back I blinked in surprise; maybe I *didn't* know what his reaction would be. I certainly wasn't expecting that. Even though it felt nice. *Really* nice. I blinked again and he took my hand and looked me in the eye.
"Martha, I'd like to go with you; it wouldn't really matter where; I'd go just to be with you. But I can't," he announced. "You're probably the best friend I've ever had; it feels like I've known you forever, and I almost have. It doesn't matter that most of the time we've just been pen pals; I can talk to you so easily. And kissing you. I… I… well, I could do it for the rest of my life," he blushed, "but I can't leave the farm," he concluded reluctantly.
"Yeah, Jonathan, fine," I said, trying unsuccessfully to keep the bitterness out of my voice. I pulled my hand out of his and stormed up the stairs.
But it wasn't fine. Why was he doing this? If he wanted to come with me, then why couldn't he? I left home; why couldn't he? We would have such fun together, discovering Seattle, Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon… And he could always come back. There had to be *some* vacation time running a farm, maybe winter. We could take off then and come back before spring planting time arrived. Why not?
Maybe he was afraid. Why else would he want to stay in Smallville? Maybe I should just take off Monday morning. There's nothing keeping me here. I could just leave. And I did want to go; I just wanted to take Jonathan with me!
I refrained from slamming my bedroom door shut and, in the dark, went over to close the curtains and lower the shade before changing into my nightgown. From my window, I could see Jonathan, now walking slowly in the grass. Finally he sat on the edge of the porch, his head in his hands, his glasses resting on one knee. He ran a hand through his shaggy hair, pushing it off his face. He looked so sad, almost pathetic. How could I leave him?
I remembered what he'd said: he would've followed me just to be with me. Why can't you, then? I thought. He could kiss me for the rest of his life.
"All you have to do is say the word," I whispered, "and we could leave together." I slowly drew the shade, stripped, and slipped into my nightgown. How could he not want to get away from here? Just for a little vacation. He had to agree to that. He just *had* to. And that kiss; he'd felt it just as much as I had. I know he did. I adjusted the top sheet and blanket around myself and found a comfortable position. I could get really used to that kiss… ***
Things were a lot clearer in the morning. I awoke early, and stayed in bed for a while, giving myself time to think. There was no way I could *force* Jonathan to come with me, I realized. What was I supposed to do: kidnap him? Don't be ridiculous, I told myself. If you want to be with him, you're gonna have to stay in Smallville. At least for now, until he agrees to come with you.
Boy, things would be a hell of a lot easier if he would've just agreed to leave with me. We could be free spirits together. Sure, I'd probably have to teach him how to relax; he was used to the structured schedule of farm life, waking up at the crack of dawn and working all day. But he would've enjoyed it.
I got out of bed and, after a stop in the bathroom, headed downstairs. I reached the kitchen the same time as Jonathan's mother, who was stumbling through the screen door.
"Good morning, Martha," she said, dropping on the table what had been bundled in her apron. Shiny red apples tumbled off the table and onto the floor.
"'Morning, Mrs.— er, Anna, sorry," I said. I was still getting used to using Mrs. Kent's first name. I should call Jonathan's father George, Anna had assured me, but I hadn't even attempted that one yet.
"Where is everyone?" I asked her as we retrieved the runaway apples and replaced them on the table.
"Out back checking on some of the animals. There was a thunderstorm late last night and they're agitated. It wake you?"
I shook my head.
"Jonathan tells me Morris fixed your car."
I sat down across from her, then looked down at the apples spread out on the table, picked one up, and twirled its stem between my middle finger and thumb. "Uh huh."
"Does that mean you're leaving us?" she asked.
I looked up at her and saw that she was watching my face for any foreshadowing of my answer. I shrugged my shoulders and returned my attention to the apple, twirling the stem counterclockwise now.
"Jonathan also told me you asked him to leave with you."
Shocked, I looked up. I felt betrayed and defensive, and had trouble choosing between the two. I went with the latter. "I wasn't trying to… I mean… I'm really sorry, Mrs. Kent. I mean, Jonathan isn't going to leave the farm so you don't have to worry," I blurted out.
"That's not what I'm worried about, dear," she said gently, laying a hand on mine, stopping its frantic twirling of the apple stem. "You know you're welcome to stay here as long as you'd like. Just because your car is fixed, you don't have to leave us until you're ready."
Patting my hand, Anna rose from the table, found a bowl, filled it with the apples, and left it on the table before leaving the kitchen. I looked back down at my apple, then sank my teeth into its ripe flesh, trying to catch the juices on my tongue before they dripped onto the tablecloth. But I wasn't successful, and they formed rivulets on the table, and I had to get a sponge from the sink to clean up my mess.
Anna was right: I was enjoying myself and I didn't need to leave Smallville yet. Even when I went "into town," no one was as openly hostile to me as they were during my last visit.
I could find a job here, probably, and stop living off the Kents. Maybe I could work at Maisie's and make raisin scones. Even though I hadn't heard any complaints and I'd been helping with the chores and offered money for room and board — which they'd refused — I was surely a financial drain on the Kent household.
But do I really want to make arrangements to stay here? And if so, how long? If I got a job, there'd be expectations: a certain degree of longevity, then a two weeks' notice when I did decide to leave.
I finished the apple and tossed the core in the trash. Where else would I go? If I wanted to continue my trip and Jonathan wouldn't come with me — and deep down inside I knew he wouldn't say yes — I'd have to go at it alone. I might as well stay here, I decided for the second time that day. At least until I could say for certain that I wanted to leave. ***
That night we went to a baseball game, bringing back memories of my first Smallville visit. But my previous baseball fiasco had been witnessed only by the Webster clan, so I pretended to know what Henry and Lauren, the baseball gurus of our group, meant when they discussed the merits of professional designated hitters and the risks involved in trading for pitchers.
Even though all of Jonathan's friends were nice, as usual, the situation was strangely pressured since the other two pairs really were *couples,* while Jonathan and I were just friends. Good friends, but I sure didn't feel like we had a *relationship.*
But Henry and Wayne kidded Jonathan, laughing that he had a girl, "and a good-looking one, too, if I do say so myself," staying right there in his own home, for Pete's sake, and the opportunity was going to *waste.*
The rest of the group laughed good-naturedly, but I noticed Jonathan's chuckle was nervous. So what did that mean? Did Jonathan want more out of our friendship? Did I? Even if I did, should I risk our friendship?
Jonathan and I rode home with Wayne and Betsy. When we reached the Kents' farm, Jonathan invited them in for a bite to eat, so Wayne parked the truck and the couple joined us for our now- traditional nightly porch time.
But our evening didn't last long. Wayne commented that Jonathan, who was being rather quiet, was just trying to get Betsy and him out of the way so that he and his "girlfriend" could spend some time together, *alone.* Jonathan and I didn't laugh, though, so Wayne told us we were acting like an "old married couple."
"You live together, don't *do* anything, and then sit around on the porch every night," he clarified, as if we didn't already know what he was talking about. "My parents, heck, my *grandparents,* have a more *active* relationship than the two of you!"
Neither Jonathan nor I responded, and Wayne must have realized that his observations weren't exactly welcome because the four of us sat there in silence for a few minutes. Wayne then made a show of checking his watch, saying that he and Betsy had to get home. Jonathan and I wished them a good night, then looked at each other expectantly.
"We don't act like an old married couple," Jonathan stated. But then his resolution wavered. "Do we?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "My grandparents are the oldest married couple *I* know, and I sure as hell don't act like my grandmother," I said angrily. What did that "old married couple" crack mean, anyway?
"So what kind of couple are we then?" Jonathan asked tentatively.
So he thought of us as a couple. I'd never really been part of a real *couple* before. I'd dated a little in high school and college, but I always felt more like a decoration on someone's arm or a thorn in someone's side.
I realized Jonathan was waiting for an answer, so I turned to look at him. I couldn't tell what he was expecting. "Well, we're…" my voice trailed off. "We're friends." I played with the hem of my skirt, making sure I was too busy to look at Jonathan.
"I know we're friends," he repeated, handing the conversation back to me.
"Close friends," I offered quietly. He nodded.
"But how close?" he asked, suddenly louder and more forceful.
I looked over at him and saw that he wanted an actual answer this time.
"This close?" he asked, quiet once again, before placing his hands on my shoulders and kissing me.
My eyes closed involuntarily as we kissed, Jonathan guiding things a little farther than they'd previously gone. I sighed when our lips finally parted, then opened my eyes and saw Jonathan looking at me nervously, waiting for a response, so I decided to give him one.
I put my hands on his shoulders, copying his gesture, and ran them down his arms to catch his hands in mine before returning his kiss in full force. We sat there, each of us taking turns initiating and reciprocating his kiss, losing ourselves, being found, then losing ourselves again…
Until we heard a loud noise from the kitchen. Jonathan got up and went inside to check on it and I followed, my hand resting on his back as we sneaked into the house.
Jonathan flipped on the light, only to reveal one of the Kents' house cats standing guiltily on the table next to an overturned bowl of apples. We both breathed a sigh of relief and the cat jumped from the table and fled into the darkness of the living room.
"You know, I'm really tired," I began, easing my hand off Jonathan's back and inching towards the cat's escape route. "I think I better be getting upstairs to bed."
Jonathan nodded mutely, then watched as I made my way through the dark house, just avoiding stepping on the cat, who had, by that time, taken refuge on the bottom step of the staircase. I was taking the chicken's way out and I knew it. But I had learned how Jonathan felt about me. Maybe now I could figure out what I felt about him… ***
The next morning I awoke shivering. I opened my eyes to see that during the night I had kicked the sheets and blanket onto the floor. I grabbed the coverings then went over to the window to adjust the curtains, which were aiming a stream of nascent sunlight square in my eyes. Fixing the curtains, I took a glimpse outside.
To my surprise, the flat, rolling landscape was covered in a beautiful white blanket of snow which glistened as the rays of the sun reflected off of it. Clean white lines traced the skeletons of the branches of the oak tree growing just outside my window.
They sure had strange weather in Kansas, I thought as I made my way downstairs. Only last night Jonathan and I had been talking outside, wearing just thin jackets to guard against the late fall chill, and here it was, the next morning, and there was thick snow covering the ground! Maybe that old adage I'd heard about New England so many times was also applicable to Kansas: if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes.
In the kitchen I was surprised to find only Jonathan's mother sitting at the breakfast table, sipping from a mug of steaming coffee and paging through the morning paper. I checked the clock on the wall; I had gotten up early enough to catch Jonathan at breakfast. So where was he?
"Good morning, Martha," Mrs. Kent greeted me with a sleepy but cheery smile. "Did you see the snow?"
I nodded. "'Morning, Anna." I got a mug out of the cupboard, poured myself a cup of coffee, and took the seat next to Jonathan's mother. "So where're Jonathan and Mr. Kent?"
"Oh, Jonathan didn't tell you? They went to Danbury, about an hour's drive, for a forum on the new agricultural laws the governor's proposing. They'll probably be back just before dinner." I nodded. "And about dinner," Mrs. Kent began slowly after taking a sip from her mug. "Do you think you could handle it alone tonight?"
"Sure," I told her. "Are you headed over to Danbury, too?"
"No, I've got some errands to run in town this afternoon; nothing exciting: just some shopping, visiting one of the women from church who's in the hospital. She's elderly, her husband died a few years back, and a couple of us thought we'd stop by and see her."
I nodded. "Okay. I'll probably go for a walk, read for a while, get dinner ready," I told her, then got up to make myself breakfast.
Jonathan's mother laughed. "Sounds like a nice, relaxing day," she said before getting up to rinse out her cup and heading upstairs to get ready for the day.
After I finished breakfast I went back upstairs and took a long, hot shower, wondering what I'd do with a day to myself. Back in Boston I'd spent practically every day alone, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what I'd done with all that time. Since returning to Smallville I'd spent much more time — and more *enjoyable* time — with others: Jonathan, his parents (although his father was still pretty distant, he *had* warmed up to me a little), Jonathan's friends, even the farm animals.
So what would I do today? I wondered. There was something I'd just recently decided to do, and I concluded that today was the perfect day. Jonathan and his parents weren't around, and it was important that they not be here — especially Jonathan — so it would be a surprise. I smiled conspiratorially at my reflection in the bathroom mirror.
First I called Betsy and asked if she could give me a ride to the Garage to pick up my car. We decided on a time and, after hanging up, I stared at the circle of numbers on the phone for a minute.
I felt a small, nervous thrill; this was a big move I was contemplating. This is what you want, isn't it? I asked myself. Yes, I finally decided, and dialed the number. I toyed with the spiral phone cord for a minute, biting my lip nervously as I waited an answer on the other end of the phone. ***
That night Jonathan and his father came home from the forum angry about the governor's ideas for the new laws. Amid grumbling — mainly Mr. Kent's — the four of us ate the dinner I'd made and, after the dishes were done, Jonathan's parents settled down to watch television before going to bed, while Jonathan and I braved the cold for our nearly-nightly time on the porch. We sat in silence for a while, Jonathan posed stiffly, careful not to touch me. Probably he thought this would be one of our last nights on the porch together. I decided not to keep him in suspense any longer.
"I got a job today," I blurted out without thinking, more to fill the quiet than to start a conversation. I immediately berated myself for telling him so quickly; I had planned to wait a while, get comfortable with the idea myself first, but there it was, flying out of my big mouth and into the charged but still-quiet air between us.
"You what?" he managed to choke out despite his obvious shock.
"I got a job," I said matter-of-factly. "At Ransom's. Remember when I visited there with Lauren and Betsy?" Jonathan nodded numbly. "Well, there was this Job Opening sign in the window and I thought, well, that would be a good place to work, at least temporarily. It's too bad Smallville doesn't have an art gallery or print shop, cuz then I could work there. I'm not complaining, but, well, maybe there are other people interested in art and we could start our own, fill it with local artists' work…"
I was changing the subject and I knew it, but I couldn't shut myself up. I was waiting for Jonathan to say something, to interrupt me, to give some indication about how he felt. But he just sat there, staring into the snow-covered front yard and letting hypothermia set in.
I stared out at the snow too, watching it tumble calmly to the earth, heedless of my situation. Silently I cursed myself first for getting the job and then for telling Jonathan about it. His silence was disconcerting, so I kept talking even though I had no idea what was coming out of my mouth.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my leg and looked down. There was Jonathan, posed on one knee. He took one of my hands in both of his and, after a noticeably loud, nervous inhale, looked me in the eye.
I was confused — he wasn't sitting next to me anymore — what was he doing? And why was he doing it on his knees? I felt one of his thumbs stroke my hand and forced myself to focus on his face, on what was happening, instead of my doubts about selling the car.
"Marry me, Martha," he said gently, and suddenly I understood what was going on. He was proposing. To me. But why? What would make him think…? Oh, getting a job; it made my stay in Smallville seem permanent. I tried to concentrate on what Jonathan was saying. "…love you, Martha. You know that, don't you?"
I must have managed to nod, or something, since he continued. "I wanted to ask you earlier, but I thought you wanted to leave. Then you said you wanted me to leave with you, so I thought you might have feelings for me too. And you were still here, but I wasn't sure if you really wanted to stay or if you couldn't leave because your car wasn't working. And you stayed after it was fixed, but that could mean that you didn't want to leave or that you were waiting for me to come with you. But now that you got a job, you *must* want to stay." He paused and looked at me expectantly.
I stared at him for a few long moments before realizing that he wanted an answer. I blinked, trying to refocus: Jonathan was asking me to marry him, to stay here in Smallville, here with him, forever. Was that what I wanted?
I watched Jonathan's face fall while I took time to think. He must think I don't love him… "I *do* love you, Jonathan," I began cautiously, and took his hand.
He allowed himself to smile, but I don't think I reciprocated. "And this is, this is really flattering…"
His face fell. Oh, God, he was probably regretting having proposed now. But I couldn't say yes if I didn't mean it, just to make him feel better. He was waiting for the 'but'; I gave it to him. "But I can't marry you, Jonathan, not yet at least."
As soon as I spoke I regretted what I had said; Jonathan's face, previously unsure but allowing himself to be cautiously optimistic, fell to somewhere between hopeless and despair. Could I have said that better, I wondered?
"It's not that I don't love you. I do, a lot," I tried to clean up the mess I'd made of this whole potentially beautiful situation. "It's just that everything's changing so fast. Just today I just made the decision to stay in Smallville for a while. And now you're proposing. It's just too much, Jonathan."
"Fine. I understand." Jonathan quickly got up and went inside. He took the stairs two at a time on his way to his bedroom, and I leaned back in the cold wooden seat in despair.
It had hurt me to hurt him, but I didn't know what else to do. His proposal *did* happen too fast. I had just made one big decision, now he was asking me to make another? How unfair! I *did* love him; I just didn't know whether what I felt could really last *forever.* How different were my feelings for him from my feelings towards the few boyfriends I'd had in high school and college? I was only twenty-three; how could I know whether I'd love Jonathan for the rest of my life?
I stayed on the porch, shivering from the cold, until my feet were so numb that I doubted they could still carry me inside. But I got up and left the porch, navigating the icy steps and thick snow, which gave a guttural purr as my steps flattened it. I walked around the house, near the barn, and then further out, into an empty field. Flinging my arms over my head and closing my eyes, I let out a scream. Boy, did that feel good. Hoping I wouldn't wake anyone, I decided to try it again, then fell backwards, letting the soft snow cushion me.
I opened my eyes and stared in awe at the stars, so bright against the dark, unspoiled Kansas night sky. Stars sure didn't look like this in Boston, I remembered. What was it that made Kansas so different? I rolled over, by now thoroughly soaking myself with the wet snow and stared back at the dark windows of the house; was it that house, that family, that man, that made everything here special? ***
The next morning I got up early; I had hardly gotten any sleep the night before and, after waking up nearly every hour on the hour, I decided to give up and get out of bed. Wearily, I made my way downstairs to find Jonathan's mother making breakfast in the kitchen. It smelled delicious, and I told her so after greeting her with a "Good morning."
She nodded at my compliment and wished me a civil "Good morning" as well, but something seemed strange, or perhaps strained. "Anna, is there something wrong?"
She sat down next to me and looked at me, long and hard, for a few minutes. I had a hard time reading her face, so I let her begin. "Have you seen Jonathan at all this morning?" I shook my head. No.
"Go look," she said, gesturing towards the window. I got up and peered out the window, not knowing what to expect. What I saw was surprising, and funnier than I was ready for. I laughed, and Anna soon joined me; Jonathan was outside, dressed in his warmest bad-weather clothing, plowing a field through the snow.
"*What* is he doing?" I asked her between guffaws. She simply shook her head before joining me at the window to get a good look at her son.
"He was up early — before George, I think — and he's been out plowing ever since."
"Now I'm kinda new to this farming stuff, but this isn't normally the time of year you plow the fields, is it?" I asked, just to make sure I was finding the correct part of the situation funny.
"No, dear," she assured me before reclaiming her seat at the table and taking a long sip of hot coffee. "Did something happen between the two of you last night?" she probed.
I sat down too. "He didn't tell you?" I was surprised; Jonathan had a good relationship with his mother and I know he had gone to her for advice several times. I was expecting her to recite an already-prepared speech chock full of words of wisdom that would help me solve my problem. Our problem.
Anna shook her head. He really hadn't told her; I must've really hurt him. Oh, Jonathan, I'm sorry. "I got a job at Ransom's yesterday," I began, but Anna interrupted me.
"Martha," she exclaimed. "Wow, I'm, well, I'm *really surprised.* What does that mean?" she asked, and I realized that that was the question that Jonathan should've asked last night. Instead of assuming he knew what I wanted, he should've asked what my getting a job meant. For all he knew, it could've meant I was low on cash.
"Well, it means I want to stay in Smallville. I was pretty sure that's what it meant; that is, until I told Jonathan about it last night."
"He doesn't want you to stay?" she asked incredulously.
I smiled and shook my head. "Oh, he wants me to stay all right," I assured her, and she let out a relieved sigh in response. "In fact, he wants me to stay so much that he proposed," I finished.
Anna fell silent and her eyes widened. I grimaced — what did this reaction mean? Did she not *want* me to marry her son? This whole time I'd thought that she liked me, and last night I thought that she probably would've been pleased if she'd have known about Jonathan's proposition. She'd certainly been supportive of our relationship, however undefined it was, so far, encouraging us to talk to each other instead of bottling things up and driving everyone crazy.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, trying to cover up the discomfort that had suddenly filled the room. "Maybe I shouldn't have told you," I worried.
"Oh, no, dear, no," Anna assured me, patting my hand. "I'm not disappointed or upset, just surprised. And I'm not surprised that he asked you," she clarified," just surprised he did it so suddenly. Jonathan's not usually so… spontaneous."
"I know. I was surprised, too," I admitted.
"I take it, from his reaction," she gestured out the window, "that you said no." I nodded. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked gently.
I slumped down in the hard wooden chair. I did want to talk about it, but did I want to talk about it with Jonathan's mother? What the heck. "It's not that I don't want to marry him *ever,*" I told her. "And it's not that I don't love him, because I really do. I just don't know if I love him *enough.* I mean, we're gonna have to be together our whole lives; that's practically forever."
Anna grinned. "Well, Martha, it's not a prison sentence, you know."
"I know, it's just a long time. I mean, I'm only twenty-three. I just got out of school. I don't know what I want to do with my life, or where I want to do it. And I love Jonathan and everything, but I'm sorry; marrying a farmer in Smallville kind of limits my options. I love him, but I've just made a really huge decision, and now he's asking me to make another one."
"Martha, there's no rule that you have to accept a man's proposal the first time around," she said simply. "Did you tell him that you love him?"
"Well, then, he knows how you feel, and you *certainly* know how he feels. Everything else will fall into place, believe me," she said, rising from the table to rinse her cup out in the sink.
"And the love you feel for Jonathan right now doesn't have to be enough to last the two of you forever. It will grow over time. You just have to trust that, and trust him, and don't make any decisions till you're ready."
Anna smiled at me before heading through the living room and upstairs. I fixed myself a breakfast plate from the food warming in the oven. I had just sat down to eat when Jonathan, wet and ruddy-faced from the cold air, came inside.
I watched him peel off his boots and a few layers of clothing, waiting for him to speak first. He didn't. "Good morning," I offered.
"Your mother and I were wondering what you were doing out there," I began, trying fairly successfully to suppress a laugh.
"I like plowing," he explained, fixing himself breakfast from the leftover food. "It calms me." I decided to leave it at that, and instead played with the scrambled eggs still on my plate. Jonathan got up and found a glass jug of buttermilk in the refrigerator, and then poured himself a large glass. I sighed; usually when he drank buttermilk it meant something was bothering him. This was definitely not a good sign.
I decided to try again. "I'm sorry about last night," I began. "I didn't mean…"
"Didn't mean to say 'no'?" he asked hopefully. "So, then, you will marry me? I know you said that you could say yes 'tomorrow,'" he said, quoting back to me what I'd said last night with an excited grin, "but I didn't realize you meant it literally."
"I didn't," I quickly clarified before he got his hopes up any further. Again, he wasn't listening to what I had to say, or how I felt, before he rushed ahead and said things he couldn't take back.
"I was *going* to say that I didn't mean to hurt you, not that I didn't mean to say no," I explained softly. He looked at me through narrowed eyes. Ashamed, I turned my attention back to my breakfast. Jonathan quickly finished his breakfast and re- dressed himself for the arctic freeze we were experiencing outside. Wordlessly, he went back out, slamming the door behind himself. I watched through the window as he went back to plowing the snow. ***
After lunch and without a word to me, Jonathan and his father headed over to the Irigs' farm, to let the neighbors know what they had learned at the farmer's forum in Danbury. The Smallville constituency, from what Jonathan's father said after returning from the forum, wasn't going to be happy, and had a lot of mobilizing to do.
I was helping Anna can vegetables when the phone rang, and Anna went to answer it. After a puzzled look she handed the phone over to me, saying, "She's right here."
I took the phone, wondering who it could be: Jonathan? Lauren or Betsy? A friend from home or college? Who knew I was here? The voice on the phone surprised me, and I listened wordlessly, in shock, only managing to nod or whisper "uh huh" in response.
The line went dead and I passed the phone back to Anna, who hung it on the receiver. "Well?" she asked.
"It was my grandmother," I said softly. "I have to go home. My mother's in the hospital; she took too many sleeping pills."
To be continued (and maybe finished) in part 3.
Note: The song Jonathan's parents and he and Martha dance to is "The Way You Look Tonight," by Tony Bennett, from the soundtrack of My Best nd's Wedding (originally from the album Long Ago and Far Away, released in 1958).