Author's note: Summer has a way of bringing changes, doesn't it?
I'm Going to Knott CountyI had just hopped off of that clunk of junk that takes all of us students up Coal Branch to school that adults call a school bus. It was the last day of school, and the bus was pretty wild that afternoon, with the people who actually attended that day, anyway. I held my little sister Sydney Lakey's hand and helped her out of the pile of metal we were riding in. Sydney's six, and if you have ever been on a bus, you would realize the terror in Momma's eyes each time the innocent child got on the thing. So I am basicallly babysitting her from the time the bus leaves the school to the time she steps off the bus. Her springy brown piggytails bounced as her smiling face, dimples and all, jumped off the bus. To her, it was officially summer. It was just May 28, but it was still summer. As I grabbed laughing Sydney into my farmer's tanned arms, I looked to our little rinky-dink trailer, run down, but clean, and expected to smell Momma with supper on, grinning, saying, "Well, kids, how was your last day of school?" But, instead, I saw a grim Momma standing barefoot in the front yard, arms crossed, on the virge of bursting out into waterworks.
"Seth, I need to speak to you in the backyard," she choked. Her long, brown hair came to waist, and her light blue eyes were misty. I swallowed. This didn't look good.
"Sydney, can you take Bubby's books in the house?" I asked, handing her my tablet, not to be used again until August.
"Sure, Bubby!" giggled Sydney, who appeared not to sense something terrible was going on, to my relief. She skipped inside the house. I turned back to Momma. She hadn't looked this upset since the day Dad died... the day Sydney was born. He wrecked on his way to the hospital, never getting to see his beautiful, only daughter.
"I got fired today," she choked. I caressed her back, trying to soothe her. To her I was probably a giant, since she only measured to five foot 3. I even felt awkward sometimes, since I was 6 foot 5, tall for 16.
"Why, Momma?" I whispered, trying to hide the stressed look behind my eyes.
"Because I was too short to brush the new horse's hair," she bursted out into a bitter cry. Momma worked on a farm up Cow Creek grooming horses. She didn't get paid much, but enough to help support us. Momma worked hard at what she did, and she was good with the horses. But the ornery old man she worked for didn't care. He was downright mean to Momma sometimes. She wanted to quit, but where else could a girl with nothing but a 10th grade education find work?
"Momma, I can try to find work.... who wouldn't want a strong teenage boy to help around a farm or a shop or something?" I said, trying to comfort Momma. "Or the Wal-Mart in Paintsville, they hire workers without a high school diploma."
"I'll go with Milly tommorrow to see if they can," Momma sniffed. Milly Gaines was our grumpy next door neighbor. She worked at Wal Mart. As I said, she is always grumpy, but would do anything to help out a friend. Sydney came bursting out of the house.
"Momma, I saw you were crying, I thought this might cheer you up." She gave Momma a drawing of her, me, Momma, and, hand in hand with Momma.... Dad. Momma smiled as a tear rolled down her cheek and she scooped up Sydney and whispered softly, "I love my children."
Sydney was basically Momma's mini- me except for the fact she had a bit of freckles here and there. She stood to Momma's thighs, kinda short I guess you could say. Milly, our neighbor, had sandy hair with chocolate eyes. She was about 5 foot 10, kind of tall. (Well, I towered above her, but you know what I mean.) My feet hung out over the full bed Sydney and I shared. Momma was saving up for Sydney her own bed, and told her she would get one at age 7. She could hardly wait. I turned with what little room I had in our bed at the thought of Momma losing her job. This was it, I had to get a job. I could find someone to watch Sydney. I don't know who, but I knew for sure I had to figure out something. What if Wal Mart wouldn't hire Momma? A chill went up my spine. Seth, no, you have to have hope. Stop thinking like that.
Tommorrow Milly would take Momma to Wal Mart, it's official, Momma talked to her this afternoon, while she was shouting at some dogs (grumpy old Milly.) As I lie there thinking these things, I thought for sure I wouldn't be able to sleep until the sunshine shone through the window beside my bed. But, somehow, I drifted off into a dreamless sleep into the cold, bitter night.
The morning sun shone through my window like a ray of hope the next morining. I jumped out of bed and ran to the shower. Momma wasn't up yet, so I decided to go to the kitchen and make breakfast myself. I had just got dressed and went to the kitchen when Jason Gaines came bursting through the door. I should have expected this. Jason Gaines is Milly's husband's nephew who spends half of his summer at Milly's. I would say poor Jason..... but he is a headache, too. He's 14. Annoyingly. 14.
"HI, SETH!" Jason giggled. I rolled my eyes.
"Jason, you're going to wake up the dead, be quiet, Momma and Syd are still asleep."
"Actually, Seth, for your information, that is why I was sent over here. To tell Ms. Lakey to get ready. Aunt Millie has to be over there at 9:00, and it is already 8:00," Jason rolled his eyes in the same manner I had. Sometimes Jason and I were like brothers.... fights included. I sighed, and went to Mom's bedroom. I crept over to her bed and shook her gently.
"Momma, Milly wants you to get ready for Wal Mart, I'm making breakfast," I whispered. Immediately Momma sprung to life and practically did a cartwheel out of bed and into the bathroom. I retired to the kitchen where Jason was there to accompany me with the world's most annoying game... 20 questions. All. About. My. School. Year. This kid is killer.
"Jason, do you want to stay for breakfast?" Momma walked in the kitchen. She had worn her best skirt and formal top (her only decent top and untattered skirt) and makeup, rare for momma, on. Her brown hair was neatly pulled back into a loose bun. Momma was ready for the big Wal Mart.
"If you don't mind, ma'am," Jason smiled at Momma. He was always curtious to adults and women, I have to give the kid credit.
"Of course not," smiled Momma. "Seth, why don't you wake up Sydney and I'll set the table?" It was more of an order than a question, for Momma whisked the food off of the stove.
"I will," I mumbled, going back into my bedroom to wake Sydney up. The door was cracked, and I could hear Jason talking to Momma.
"My aunt in Knott County needs someone to tend for her farm, she's getting well up in years," he began, "and would pay room, board, meals, and a little salary for extra work for a farmhand. I mentioned something about Seth, and she said that she would love to have him." It was perfect! One less mouth for Momma to feed, and I could send Momma and Sydney the extra money home! An abousloutely flawless plan. I was sure Momma would take up the offer.
"I couldn't ask Seth to do that," she replied,"And who would watch Sydney? I can't afford a babysitter, even with the Wal Mart job." My hopes sank. Momma was too afraid to ask me.
"Ms. Lakey, I'm 14, and wouldn't mind to watch her anytime for nothing if you wish," Jason pleaded. He must really love this aunt. Or really want me to get this job.
"I'll ponder it," Momma sighed doubtfully. I stopped eavesdropping and went over to Syd.
"Come, on, little Syd, time for breakfast," I whispered. Sydney drearily opened her eyes, a light sleeper. She yawned. Her nostrils flared when she smelt the delicious food in the kitchen. She wearily drug her arms up toward me.
"Carry me," seemed to be the mumble out of her mouth. I laughed and scooped her up and packed her into the kitchen.
"Oh, there you are Seth," Momma inquired, not taking her eyes off her table-setting work, "I was starting to think you tripped over the bedpost again," she added, for Sydney's laughing benefit. I had tripped over the bedpost when I was 14 and broke my leg. The only clumsy moment in my life, and no one would let me live it down. Of course, Momma's remark made Jason giggle. I just decided to ignore it, and we all (some, unconsciously, like Sydney, laughs) sat down to a hearty morning meal. Momma had just got done eating when Milly walked through the door and laughed at Jason, his mouth full of biscuits and gravy.
"Jason, I see Lora has abducted you to her breakfast table," laughed Milly, and Momma laughed too. (By the way, if you didn't know, Momma's name is Lora.)
"Well, Mills, you ready to hit the road?" asked Momma, a spark in her blue eyes.
"Let's roll," smiled Milly. "Kids, be good!" they both yelled, then laughed when they realized they had said it at the same time, disappearing down the road in Milly's old car.
A while later, Sydney, Jason, and I had somehow managed to end up outside in the front yard, teaching Sydney how to ride Jason's bike. Then Momma and Jason's conversation from this morning popped up in my mind.
"Jason, I overheard you and Momma talking about your aunt in Knott County," I casually mentioned.
"Yeah, and I thought it was awful nice of you to suggest babysitting Syd," I added, trying to brown nose him.
"Yeah, she really wants a really strong man, but, I'm 14 and wimpy, and you're 16 and....let's just say, not wimpy," he chuckled to himself. I will take that as a complement.... I think.
"You think I can talk Momma into letting me go work for her?" I asked.
"I hope so," Jason almost whispered.
As we watched Milly's old car joloppy down the road, all of our eyes watched in anticipation. Had Momma gotten the job? Mr. Gaines, Milly's husband, came rushing over to the house.
"I hope your Momma got that job," he choked, feeling the same anxiety as I had.
"Me, too," was all I could manage to struggle out of my mouth. As Momma stepped out of the car, my eyes darted to the ground, scared to death of her expression. I knew I had to face my fears. So, slowly, I looked up and studied Momma's expression--and knew not to ask anything. She was wearily dragging herself into the house, dragging her feet, head bowed. Everyone said nothing. Not even Jason or Sydney. Milly bowed her head also and a look of frustration shown. I decided not to ask. I just looked at Momma, and said,
"I'm going to Knott County."