Chapter Forty-four

With the rest of us standing nearby, Slim opened the trunk of her car. Then she just stood there as if staring in.

“What’re you waiting for?” Rusty asked.

Slim shook her head. “I’d better leave this stuff here,” she said. “We might need to blend in with the crowd. Can’t exactly do that if I’m armed like Robin Hood.” Leaving her archery equipment inside the trunk, she shut the lid.

We started back toward the dirt road, staying in among the bushes and trees in case of traffic on Route 3.

“Nobody said we’d have to walk,” Bitsy complained.

“You’re the one that wanted to come,” Rusty reminded her.

“But I got sandals on.”

“So wait in the car.”

“Nobody’s going to wait in the car,” Slim said.

“My feet are getting all scratched.”

“Tough toenails,” Rusty said, and chuckled.

“Ha ha. That’s so funny I forgot to…”

“Let’s hold up here a second,” I said. We halted, and I pulled off one of my shoes. As I peeled the sock off, I said, “You can wear my socks, Bitsy.”

“Really?” She sounded surprised and pleased.

“Sure.” I handed her the sock I’d already removed. Still balancing on one leg, I put my sneaker back on. Then I shifted legs and took off the other shoe and sock. I gave the second sock to her.

“Thank you very much,” she said.

As I put my shoe on again, Bitsy sat on the ground. She brought her knees up and spread them wide apart like a little kid. But she wasn’t a little kid and she was wearing a dress.

There must’ve been a break in the clouds. Some moonlight made its way into the forest and she’d found a patch of it.

Almost as if she wanted me to watch.

I looked away and glimpsed Rusty staring down at her. He didn’t say anything, just watched.

Being her brother, maybe he was used to seeing that sort of thing. I didn’t have a sister, so I wouldn’t know. But it seemed funny that he would stare like that.

It made me wonder about Rusty.

About Bitsy, too, for that matter. She had to know her brother was watching, but it didn’t seem to faze her.

Bitsy was turning out to be more strange than I had ever imagined.

Slim, keeping watch as if afraid someone might sneak up on us, didn’t seem to notice Bitsy’s secret show—or audience.

After putting my socks on, Bitsy struggled into her sandals and stood up. She brushed off the seat of her dress. “Thanks,” she said again.

“You’re welcome.”

“Ready?” Slim asked.

“Yeah,” Bitsy said.

So we started off again, Slim in the lead, Rusty next. Instead of moving out behind her brother, Bitsy came over to my side and took my hand. “I wanta stay by you,” she said.

“Sure.”

She kept hold of my hand. Side by side, we made our way through the dark woods.

“The socks sure help,” she said.

“Good.”

“They’re kinda sweaty, but I don’t mind. I kinda like it.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Car!” Slim warned.

Off to the right and ahead of us through the trees, pale beams lit the night. A car was coming our way on Route 3. Slim stepped behind a tree trunk. Rusty crouched behind a bush. Pulling Bitsy by the hand, I gasped, “Come on,” and rushed over to a waist-high boulder. We ducked behind it, Bitsy clutching my hand and gasping for breath.

Huddled together, we heard the car come closer. It sounded like a strong wind rushing through the trees. I felt one of Bitsy’s breasts pushing against the side of my arm. It moved slightly, rubbing me, as if she wanted to make sure I noticed. I noticed, all right. And it made me wish I was somewhere else: hiding behind the tree with Slim, for instance.

Soon, but not nearly soon enough, the sound of the car faded like a sigh. We stood up. Slim waved when she saw us. Rusty shook his head. I tried to break contact with Bitsy. Though I got free of her breast, she kept her grip on my hand.

Slim and Rusty waited for us. When we were all together, Slim took the lead again. Rusty trudged after her. Bitsy squeezed my hand and looked up at me. We weren’t in moonlight, so I couldn’t see the look on her face. Just as well.

A couple of minutes later, we came to the dirt road.

Slim waited until we were all there. Then she said in a quiet voice, “Let’s just stay on this and stick together. A lot easier than traipsing through the woods.”

“What if a car comes?” Bitsy asked.

“We’ll duck out of sight same as last time,” Slim said.

Clustered together, we began walking up the dirt road toward Janks Field.

Soon, a car came along from behind us. We heard it and saw the glow of its headlights in plenty of time to hide. It no sooner passed us than another was on the way. When both had gone, we returned to the dirt road.

“Early birds,” Slim said.

“After the best seats,” Rusty suggested.

“Or the best parking places,” I said.

“We’ve got the best parking place,” Slim said. “A good safe distance from the action.”

“You still got the tickets?” Rusty asked her.

“Yep.” She patted the seat of her cut-offs.

To Bitsy, he said, “You sure you got plenty of money?”

Nodding, she patted her purse. She had let go of me while we’d been waiting for the cars to pass. Now she was over to the side and slightly ahead of me. The white purse, hanging from her shoulder, seemed to be floating by her hip.

“You better have enough for a ticket,” Rusty warned, “or the deal’s off.”

“I’ve got plenty.”

We heard another car coming, so we ran for cover.

Our way was blocked by a fallen tree. All four of us scurried over its trunk and ducked behind it.

As we waited for the car to pass, I suddenly wondered why we were hiding and why we’d bothered to conceal Slim’s Pontiac. If we hoped to buy a ticket for Bitsy, use our tickets to enter the grandstands, then sit among the other paying customers, we were sure to be seen and recognized. We would probably be surrounded by people from Grandville.

We started to rise, but then another car came along. It went by. As we began to climb over the trunk, another glow of headlights appeared so we dropped out of sight again.

“I’m not sure why we’re hiding,” I said.

Slim, crouched close to my left side, nudged me with her elbow and muttered, “So they don’t see us, Mr. Brain.”

“A few minutes, we’ll be in the middle of them.”

Was I the only one who’d thought of that?

Slim turned her face toward me. I couldn’t see her expression, and she didn’t speak.

“What’ll we do?” asked Bitsy. She was crouched on my right.

“Should’ve brought disguises,” Rusty whispered.

“It’ll be all right,” Slim said.

“I don’t…” My voice stopped and I listened to the approaching engine. It had a powerful sound.

Hands on the rough, moist bark, I eased myself upward and peered toward the dirt road. A pickup truck was speeding along the dirt road, shaking and bouncing.

Its headlights ruined my night vision.

There seemed to be only one occupant, the driver. But I couldn’t make out who it was—not even whether it was a man or woman.

As the pickup sped away, however, I was able to see its color in the glow of its tail lights.

Red.

A red pickup truck, the same as Lee’s.

“Was that her?” Rusty asked.

We were all gazing over the top of the fallen trunk.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Sure looked like her truck,” Slim said.

“I bet it was her,” Bitsy said.

“Did you see her?” I asked.

“No, but I bet it was.”

“I hope so,” I muttered. “Thing is, it’s not like she’s got the only red pickup in town.”

“Did anyone see the driver?” Slim asked.

“Nope.”

“Huh-uh.”

“I wish.”

“Might’ve been her,” Rusty said.

“She’s supposed to come,” I added.

“Well,” said Slim, “we’ll find out soon enough, I guess.”

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