By: Catherine Olaso
“Lucy May, you stop teasin’ that dog, you’ll turn it mean!”
“Racer’s part Pit bull mama, he’s supposed to be mean, that’s why Pa got him.” Lucy pulled the nipping puppy’s ear harder, forcing his wet nose to stop burrowing inside her armpit.
The woman hanging laundry paused, a wet shirt dripping onto the hem of her skirt as her hands settled onto her hips, her cheeks flushed with heat and frustration. “Girl, you been in a foul mood since you got out of bed today. You go on an’ git off my porch and take your sass with you.” She raised a brow that Lucy recognized as her signal to scoot.
Racer broke free and ducked beside the laundry basket, licking mama’s leg. Lucy scowled. No need to ask her twice, she’d just as soon hide out in the woods anyway.
Humidity dampened Lucy’s neck, coiling the fine wisps of hair that had escaped her ponytail into threads of blonde curls. A squirrel scurried up the trunk of a dead tree, as quick and nimble as the yellow warblers flitting from branch to vine and back again. Lucy’s annoyance flared when the Cypress leaves rustled above her head. Her blue eyes narrowed, but didn’t glance upward.
“If you bushwhack me Johnny Roy I’ll wallop you good.” Lucy’s warning leveled into a growl. Part of her wished he’d jump … give her an excuse to tussle and burn off some of her temper. She hiked up her shorts, muscles ready.
“Okay, okay. Don’t have a conniption.” Johnny Roy dropped from the tree, his T-shirt faded and wrinkled, an easy smile plastered across his tanned face. “What’cha doing in the woods anyway?” As soon as he asked it, he regretted it. His brows pulled together and down. “Oh … you didn’t get invited to Whitney’s party.”
Lucy hid her pain behind denial. “Who wants to go to a stupid party and hang out with a bunch of uppity snobs.”
“You do.” Johnny cast her a sidelong look. “And don’t say you don’t, cause then you’ll be a hypocrite like them.”
“All week, that’s all anyone’s fussed about. I’m sick of it.” Lucy kicked a pinecone and tried to grab a dragonfly. “Whitney this – and Whitney that. I don’t see what makes those girls so special.”
Johnny laughed, surprising her. “They all fill out their bras and you don’t.”
Blood rushed to Lucy’s cheeks, staining them pink as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Hush up, Johnny Roy. What do you know about girls anyway?”
“Enough to know Whitney’s like some professional model, and you’re stuck with nothin’ bigger than ‘skeeter bites.”
The pink in Lucy’s cheeks flushed into a deep red. “Keep grinnin’, Johnny Roy – right around your fat lip.” Lucy threw a punch at him, but he dodged it, pushing her fist away, his loyalty returning.
“Those girls might be pretty, but they’re shallower than a mud puddle.” Respect gleamed in his blue eyes. “You’re not fake, Lucy May.”
Lucy nodded, accepting the candid apology. After all, if she stormed off again, who else would she hang out with?
“Wanna swim?” she asked.
“Nah, I’m scoutin’. I promised Gram another coon skin.”
“Ugh.” Lucy rolled her eyes. “What does she do with all of them?”
Johnny shrugged. “Trades ‘em mostly.” He knelt to tie his sneaker. “You can come if you want, but I’m not sharin’ the money.”
“I don’t want no coon money.”
“Sure. Just like you don’t want to go to no party.”
This time Lucy’s punch connected with Johnny’s shoulder. “Ow!” He rubbed the ache out. “How am I supposed to trap a coon with a sore arm?”
“Quit dronin’,” Lucy smiled at him, “sounds like a hive of bees around here.”
They hiked through the lush undergrowth, the forest floor a maze of ferns, spiderwort and milkweed; their pubescent bodies side by side, aware of a lot more than the afternoon shade.
“See the full moon last night?” Lucy stepped over a log. “Did you know it takes twenty-nine days before that’ll happen again?”
“Hmmm,” Johnny said, half listening. His eyes searched the tree line.
“Sometimes a full moon can happen twice in a month. Pa says that’s called a blue moon, you know, like that sayin’, “once in a blue moon.”
“Speakin’ of dronin’,” Johnny whispered, “you ever stop talkin’?”
“Yes.” Lucy’s voice bordered a hiss.
“I mean, besides when you’re sleepin’?” he asked, crouching down with a grin. “Why are you so fascinated with space stuff anyway? Not like you’re ever gonna see an extraterrestrial or nothin’.”
Lucy crouched beside him, eyeing the coon he pointed at. It clung to a branch high in the Spruce ten feet away. “You don’t know that, Johnny Roy! Aliens could come tomorrow … maybe even eat your brains, as sour as they are.”
“Don’t get ornery, Lucy. And don’t go wishin’ me dead yet, either. Some of that space stuff is interestin’.”
“You’re just sayin’ that so I won’t scare your coon away.”
Johnny stood, his budding emotions turning into agitation. Why, when he wanted to talk to her seriously was she so combative? “Lucy, you’re the most dang stubborn girl in Tennessee!”
“No more stubborn than you, Johnny Roy!” Fire flashed in Lucy’s eyes. “So we’re even!”
The raccoon chittered in alarm before scrambling into another tree and out of sight.
“You made me lose my coon,” Johnny accused, flustered.
He sputtered and threw his hands up. “Oh, Aliens did?”
Cloaked beyond the earth’s atmosphere, a spaceship hovered – eavesdropping on the quarrel. “Don’t eat Johnny Roy’s brains tomorrow,” the leader said, zooming the observation lens onto Jonny’s mussed hair and shuddering. “They’re sour.”