Thursday, August 25, 2011
Alex’s father worked for the man that owned the farm they were driving towards one late morning. It had rained the night before and the mist was still heavy in the air, foggy enough for her mother to drive about twenty miles an hour. She was reading Anna Karenina. Anna had just had an affair and was reliving how it had made her feel. Alex wished she was in Russia. She wished could speak Russian and knew a Leon. She wished she was anywhere but in the back seat of a beaten and rusty red van heading towards a farm in Indiana.
They passed the driveway and had to turn around to enter the gravel entrance towards the farm. Several dogs ran in front of the van causing her mother to slam on her brakes skidding through the wet grass until they came to a sudden stop.
“Aw, sorry ‘bout that. They know better than to get under the wheels. They’ll get real near ‘em but they’re smart enough to keep their distance.”
He came jogging up towards the van and opened the door for her mother. He offered his hand and helped her out of the car.
“Oh, I’m fine. Thank you. I’m Kelly, Troy’s wife. These are my two daughters, Cory and Alex. Sorry, I mean Alexandra.” She corrected herself as the girls came around the front of the van. Alex was glaring as she used her nickname. Ever since she started working at the café, she introduced herself using her full name. She wanted to be Alexandra, not Alex. She thought it sounded older, more sophisticated, less boy-ish.
Cory, her younger sister had already taken off, running towards the horses penned a few yards away.
“Hey, they don’t like when you rush up on ‘em, you might want to slow down! They get a bit skittish with strangers. I’m Dean. My father had some unexpected work thing come up, he told me to welcome ya’ll in. Would you like to talk a walk around? See the farm?”
“Sure, sounds great!” Her mother let out a tinkling giggle that she had never heard before. She sounded so much younger and so unlike a mother.
Dean was what Alex’s young mind had imagined a real cowboy would look like. He even had a southern accent and the way he drew out his vowels and the “aw, shucks” quality of his gait attracted me instantly. Who needed to travel to Russia to meet a Leon when someone such as Dean existed a few miles down the road? He was tall and slim, his faded Levi’s hanging off of his hips meeting the thin, work-worn white shirt barely concealing the smooth muscle beneath. His denim shirt was left opened and the sleeves pushed up past his elbows. Naturally, he was wearing a once white ten-gallon. His hair needed to be cut but Alex mused that she wouldn’t dare wish those dark, curly locks to be changed in any way. His skin was olive, tanned from being out in the sun every day. His eyes were green and the lashes that rimmed them were so thick and full that they were the only indication that this was not the manliest of men – but close. He couldn’t have been more than seventeen but made them all believe they were in the presence of a much older man.
He led the woman and girls around for nearly an hour, showing them the barns and livestock, recounting the names of the tire hungry dogs they had met on their way in. He told them that soon the corn would be ready to be picked and sold to local farmers markets. It was their chief income.
“This here though, this is my favorite part of the place. I usually walk up and down these rows a couple of times a day. Sometimes I just sit under one of these trees and just sit and think for hours.” They made a sudden turn and came upon rows and rows of cherry trees. Their leaves were so thick and the trees grew so close together that you could only see down one row but were blinded to what lay to your left and right. “I suppose this is what ya’ll came here for wasn’t it? Sorry, I just love this place so much I show it off any chance I get.”
“Oh, I don’t think we minded at all, the girls grew up on a farm years ago, nothing like this but they like the outdoors don’t you girls?” their mother asked without looking at them. She too seemed to be drawn in by this cowboy’s love the cherry trees.
Alex and Cory grabbed the bright yellow pails and began picking cherries from the trees. Their mother wanted to make some pies and jam for the holidays and their father wanted them to make a good impression on the man he was working for.
The morning had remained overcast. The clouds did not allow the sun to dry the moisture that caused Alex’s shoes and pants to be soaked. She could see her sister a couple hundred feet ahead in the same row, easy to spot in her bright pink rain coat. The white ribbon tied around her dishwater hair was slipping and Alex knew at any moment it would fall and the delicate, thin blonde strands would hang loose around her cherub face. She was feverishly picking every cherry she laid her eyes on zigzagging from tree to tree.
“Cory! You’ve got to pick the biggest ones! The other ones will be too sour to eat!” Cory flashed her blue eyes up at her sister. She smiled and the rosy glow of her exertion truly did make her look angelic. She turned quickly, whipping her hair behind her. The ribbon dropped and fell on the dewy grass. She started running towards the bed of the truck ahead holding the cherries they had already collected. Alex slowly began walking towards the ribbon to collect what her sister had left.
“Alex is thirteen, Cory eleven. Alex is so smart, we had her tested and she is far past the level of the other children her age. Of course, Cory got the looks in the family, blonde hair, blue eyes. No idea where those came from!” Alex heard her mother giggle again. Alex stopped walking realizing Dean and her mother were just a row over. She wanted to remain invisible for this conversation. They couldn’t see her and she couldn’t see them. But she could hear.
“Aw, well they’re both pretty. You should be proud. My mother always hoped for a girl. She wasn’t so lucky and got me, I guess.”
“Oh, I think you’re just fine.” Their voices began to fade. Alex began walking towards the truck wondering if that’s really how her mother felt.
“Look! I got four pails!” Cory displayed her hard work and Dean tipped his hat to her.
“Well done, lil’ lady. Now let’s see if you can find the feed in the barn for the horses. I’m bettin’ their mighty hungry right about now.” And with that Cory was off like a dart, cherry stains covering her sleeves and her tiny perfect teeth glinting as she smiled running towards the barn.
“Cory! Remember what he said! Don’t run at the horses!” Their mother ran off after Cory, probably worried she would be trampled or attempt to feed the horses herself.
“How many pails did you get?” Alex jumped. She had begun to walk towards the barn as well and didn’t expect him to address her. She was so used to being intelligent but invisible.
“Um…one. I guess I didn’t do as well, huh?”
“Nah, I think you did just fine. Look at these rubies, I bet you cleaned us out of the best cherries we had in the whole farm.”
“I’m sorry! You can keep the pail, I’m sure we have more than enough to make Mom’s pies. Really, I didn’t mean to take all of them!”
“Darlin’, calm down! We’ll never be able to eat all these cherries! You did us a favor. Just means you’re choosy, that’s all. Hey, can you drive?”
“No, I’m only 13.”
“Heck, I started driving at 10. Wanna learn? My feet sure are tired from all that walkin’ today. Come on, we’ll meet ‘em on the other side of the barn.”
“Um, I guess that will be ok. Where are the dogs? I really don’t want me first time driving to involve canine murder.”
He laughed so hard he had to hold onto the open door of his beaten white Chevy. “Whew! You are somethin’! Come on, get in!”
The cab was enormous but warmer than it had been outside. Alex didn’t realize that she was shivering until she sat down on the worn leather seat. “You cold?” He asked and before waiting for an answer he pulled a heavy, thick Carhart from the back of the cab and set it around her shoulders.
“Th-th-thanks.” She wasn’t entirely sure it was the cold that was making her shiver. “Ok, what now?”
“Well, first, you have to put the key in the ignition. When you do, push down on the far left peddle and the middle one. That’s the clutch and the one in the middle is the brake.”
“Wait, this is a stick shift? Oh, I don’t know if this is such a good idea, maybe we should have just walked, it isn’t that far.”
“Now don’t you worry your pretty little head, this’ll be fun! Now turn the ignition.”
She did as she was told. It made a roar and rumble beneath her like nothing she had ever felt before. It was like an animal was growling beneath the hood. She couldn’t remember when she had been more nervous. This was His truck. She did not want to wreck His truck.
“Ok, now what?” she asked quickly and in a pitch higher than her normal tone. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him. She needed to stay focused. Her knuckles were beginning to turn white from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.
“Well….first you need to relax. Fun, remember? Ok, very slowly I need to you put some pressure on the far right peddle and slowly release the left peddle. Kind of at the same time, do you think you can do that?”
“I think so,” and with those simple instructions her right foot slowly went down but her left jerked up suddenly causing the car to lurch forward and come to an instant stop. She inhaled quickly and he scooted, or rather was thrown closer to her and grabbed the wheel. They had come dangerously close to one of the cherry trees and luckily had missed it by inches.
“Ok, good. Not a bad start.” Her heart was pounding and his encouragement only made her feel more like a failure. That is not how trucks are supposed to drive. “Now, this time take it a little bit slower and turn the wheel to the right. We’re gonna circle these trees here to give you a little bit more practice.”
“What?! I thought you said we were going to go to the barn? I think you should drive, thank you for this but I don’t think I can do it.”
“I don’t think so, this is your ride, and you’re gettin’ us to that barn.”
The next ten minutes were spent equally lurching forward and coming to a screeching halt but eventually, they had made it around the entire cherry orchard. Her leg was beginning to cramp because she thought at one point she heard him say to not take her foot entirely off the clutch so she spent the entire time driving with her foot pressing the clutch an inch in.
“Ok, that was great, thanks so much, we should probably get to the barn, ok?” Alex mumbled quickly as she leapt out of the car barely remember to turn the truck off.
“You did great, lil’ lady, really great.”
Alex turned quickly and met his eyes long enough that she shot him a smile. He gave her a small smile in return and touched the brim of his hat. She was so grateful that “the one with the brains” was chosen to take that ride. She’ll always remember wanting to reach out and grab his hand even with her terror at letting go of the shifter. The regret would always be with her. She knew it was probably all in her head and that had she touched the tanned and calloused hand he would have been kind but straightened her out and let her know he wasn’t interested in her “like that”. But he did choose her. He asked her. And every time Alexandra eats fresh cherries, she thinks of that ride and the day that she wasn’t only the smart one in the family, but the one who was chosen. The one who was given a chance first.