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HomeGeneral StoriesDancing to Ray Charles: Ch 10, Moonlight and Revelations

Dancing to Ray Charles: Ch 10, Moonlight and Revelations

This could be her last chance to, well, to do something to get Mark’s mind off Bebe.

 The phone wouldn't stop ringing. Amy, sitting at the table on the other side of the kitchen, eating a bologna-on-white-with-mayonnaise sandwich and heading into what she sensed would be one of the   steamier parts of,"The Carpetbaggers," tried to ignore the noise, though she couldn’t help wondering what had happened to her sister who always tried to beat everyone else to the phone. Jan was sure to get it before long, she told herself. If not, maybe whoever it was would give up. But neither happened.

Unable to read for the shrill, monotonous noise, Amy put her book down with an exasperated thud and headed for the phone. She barely managed, “Hello,” when Mark started talking.

“About time you answered. I was afraid all that ringing might disturb old Mutt.”
“Nothing disturbs that cat, not even you. And how’d you know I wasn’t out?”

“I didn’t, not for sure. But I knew your folks had gone with mine to the gospel singing. And knowing you’re about as big a heathen as I am, the odds were you hadn’t. Since there’s not much else to do on Wednesday night in Pinefield, I figured you were home. So I said to myself, self, I said, just tough it out and let the phone keep ringing. Sooner or later either Amy or Jan is bound to answer. Meanwhile, I sat here all pink and clean from the shower and dried my hair.”

“Are you just getting in from work? It’s almost nine.”

“Yep. We finished that ‘killer’ road I was telling you about, the one down in the bottoms going out to the McCarthy lease. Take my word for it, working like a dog from can-to-can’t may build character but it’s hell on the body. I’ve been, as they say, rode hard and put up wet.

“But you’re supposed to ask me what the big question is, not about how late I got in from work.”

“Sorry. Okay, what’s the big question?”

“Well, since you asked, the big question is, do you want to join Willie, Bob, and yours truly tomorrow night on the bluff at Bear Lake? It’d be just the four of us. Kinda like old times.”

“Sounds great. But what about your job? I mean, with you getting in so late and all?”

“No sweat. Uncle Ray has promised on a stack of Sears & Roebuck catalogues that tomorrow will be a shop day. I should get off by five and show up full of vim and vigor.”

“That’s not all you’re full of. But it sounds like the social event of the summer. I’ll be there.”

“’…To love and comfort you,’” sang Mark. “Sorry, can’t let a Four Tops lyric go unfinished. Anyway, Willie and Bob are riding with me. So unless you’re too high-tone to be seen with the likes of us, I’ll pick you up after I get off work.”

They spoke for a few more minutes until Mark said his hair was dry. “I better get some clothes on before the singing Cahill’s get home.”

“It’s not like they haven’t seen your cute little bare bottom before,” said Amy.

“True, but it’s been a long time since my bottom was either cute or little. I’m afraid seeing the current version might make ‘em woozy.”

“You’re so thoughtful. Go ahead and get dressed. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

After hanging up, she turned around to find Jan, hair wrapped in a damp towel and wearing an old terry cloth robe, digging around inside the refrigerator. “Where were you when the phone was ringing?”

“Well, if you must know, I was in the shower. Besides, it was for you, so stop complaining. Who was it?”

“Mark. He and Willie and Bob have decided the old gang needs to get together on the bluff at Bear Lake tomorrow night. He wanted to know if I’d go.”

“Are you?”

“Sure. What are you looking for?”

“I’m hungry.”

“You’re on a diet, remember?”

“How could I forget? But I know we’re bound to have something yummy in here that’s no-cal.”

“Dream on,” said Amy, while reclaiming her spot at the table.

“Don’t tell me I’ve gotta face another grapefruit.”

“Dieting is hell.”
Grumbling to herself, Jan fished out half a grapefruit, grabbed a bowl and spoon and headed over to join her sister. “How can you sit there and eat a bologna sandwich when I’m having to gag down this grapefruit.”

“It’s easy, I’m an old broad now and don’t have to go to cheerleader practice every day or worry about fitting into last year’s uniform.”

“I can’t believe I’ve already gained ten pounds this summer.” Jan shook her head in disgust.

“So tell me big sister, what’s the deal with you going to the lake with Mark and the mob? Didn’t you two go to the Ray Charles concert last Sunday? I mean, I think that’s great. But what’s happened to Bebe?”

“According to Mark, nothing. But give me a second, and I’ll fill you in on what little I know.” Amy finished her sandwich, dog-eared the page she’d been trying to read, and closed the book.
“Did I ever tell you why he asked me to go?”

Jan shook her head while sprinkling a second teaspoon of sugar on the grapefruit. “I didn’t get back from cheerleader camp until after you’d left. And we haven’t had a chance to talk since then.”

“Well, it seems Bebe waited until the last minute to back out. She claimed her old roommate had just broken up with her fiancé and was really, really, really depressed and had begged Bebe to come visit her.”

At the repetition of Bebe’s favorite modifier, Jan began laughing so hard she almost choked. “Now see what you made me do?” she said, between gasps and giggles.

“It’s not my fault if you can’t handle your grapefruit. Anyway, Mark called Sunday afternoon. He told me what happened and asked if I wanted to go.”

“And you said, yes.”
 “Of course. I was facing another boring Sunday. I love Ray Charles, and I hadn’t seen much of Mark since we got back from Baton Rouge. All that, plus I figured going with him would bug Miss Bebe.”

Jan giggled again, but this time her mouth was empty, and she didn’t choke. “What do you think is going on between those two?”

“I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Bebe hasn’t let Mark score. That’s just a hunch. But if she wants to hook him before the end of summer, the timing would be right.”

“So why’d she back out of going with him?”
 “I was wondering the same thing. At first, I thought she might have been playing hard-to-get. But if her running around with Darrell Ray and that crowd hasn’t fazed Mark, why would she think skipping the concert would get his attention?

“But, now there’s a news flash. When today, when I stopped by the Dixie Pride, Bob told me Mark heard from Hoss that one of his customers said Bebe had been somehow involved with that cross burning stuff last week.”

Jan started laughing. “Wait, let me get this straight. A customer told Hoss, who told Mark, who then told Bob, who told you, and now you’re telling me, that Bebe ‘might’ have done something. Only in Pinefield.”

“What can I tell you? The ‘National Enquirer’ has nothing on the Pinefield rumor mill.”

Mutt, having cleaned out his food dish, came over and rubbed against Jan’s leg. The conversation paused while she bent over and lifted him into her lap. “So what’s the deal with tomorrow night?” she asked while stroking the big cat’s thick fur. “Do you think the Bear Lake thing is Mark’s way of getting back at her?”

“Could be. But he’s almost as sentimental and nostalgic as I am. So maybe he just wants all of us to get together one more time before summer ends.”

The moment their parents walked in from the gospel sing, Jan began teasing. “Mom, Amy’s going to Bear Lake tomorrow night with three really, really, really strange boys.”

Amy tried to glare, but couldn’t hide a grin. “It’s just Mark, Willie, and Bob.”

Mr. Marshall gave Jan an affectionate pat on the shoulder. “Our little cupcake may be a snitch, but she’s right, those are three very strange boys.”

Mrs. Marshall told Amy to be careful and to watch for snakes. Turning to her youngest daughter, she asked, “Are you going?”

“Me? No way. Amy and Meemaw may like all that great outdoors stuff, but I’m just like my mommy. There’s just one good thing about being outdoors, and that’s coming indoors.”

“I can’t argue with you about that, baby. But since your outdoor loving sister will be going that way, I’ve got some things she can take to Walt at the cabin.”

The Marshall’s cabin was a frame building perched on cinder blocks. It was located across a gravel road from a small dock that clung to the shore of Bear Lake. While both looked old and rustic, the cabin had running water, indoor plumbing, propane gas, and electricity. 

Inside was a large, pine-paneled room plus a small kitchen and bath. Windows opened onto a screened-in sleeping porch which ran along three sides of the cabin to let in any breeze that might come off the lake.

It’d been built to provide relief from the summer heat back in the pre-air conditioning era. In recent years it’s primary use was as a temporary shelter for camp-outs, fish fries, parties, and weekend fishing trips. But it now had a permanent resident, Amy’s big brother, Walt Marshall.

When Walt came back from Viet Nam, he’d spent one week at home—seldom leaving his old room—before he moved out to the cabin. Everyone in town knew something had happened to him while over there. No one knew what, but all agreed it must have been terrible. The talented, popular, “all-everything,” sure-to-be-governor-someday young man who’d dropped out of graduate school to enlist, had come home a quiet loner who walked everywhere he went but seldom came into town except for church.

When he first moved out to the lake, many of his friends, motivated by feelings of both concern and curiosity, would stop by to visit. But the number of guests soon began to dwindle. It wasn’t because of his behavior, not exactly. He never acted sullen or rude, never failed to speak if spoken to, and always displayed appropriate, if somewhat absent-minded, manners. But when he sat with his company, listening but seldom talking, even the most obtuse guest soon realized his mind was somewhere else and that he’d rather be alone.

Soon there were no regular visitors to the cabin except his family. Even Mark, Willie, and Bob, who had once followed him around like a pack of adoring puppies, were so unnerved by the strange behavior of their boyhood hero they avoided casual visits, claiming they were respecting his privacy. As they now followed Amy to the cabin, none seemed excited to be there.

The front door opened before they reached the steps. A lanky, young man dressed in khaki shorts, sandals, and an olive drab t-shirt, stood framed in the doorsill. Dark, unblinking eyes studied them from a face almost hidden by long, unkempt hair and a beard. 
To everyone’s surprise, the bearded, somber face broke into a once familiar grin. When Amy saw the smile, she yelled”Walt,” dropped her load and rushed forward to hug him. “Hey, big brother, we’ve brought you some ‘CARE’ packages,” she said, after giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“What’d y’all bring me, Sis?” he asked, acknowledging her companions who were holding more boxes and some large bags.

“Your typewriter got fixed, so we brought that.” She motioned for her fellow pack mules to bring their burdens inside. “And there’s a bunch of books you asked mom to order from the state library, and the clothes you didn’t have time to finish drying last Sunday, and some preserves from Meemaw, and I don’t know what else.”

By then everyone was inside. “Just put that stuff on the table,” Walt said. “So how’d you guys get roped into doing all this toting and carrying?”

“We screwed up,” said Mark. He made an exaggerated grunt while putting down a large cardboard box containing the typewriter, two reams of paper, and some of the books. “Like fools, we invited her to join us for a little end of summer debauch on de-bluff before we’d checked to see if there were any ‘CARE’ packages heading your way.”

“Prior planning prevents piss poor performance,” said Walt.

“Now he tells us,” said Willie, as Amy came back in with what she’d dropped.

“So why do you three characters want my little sister along on this debauchery?”

“Oh, you know,” said Bob, with his usual straight face. “We’ve got some special female things in mind for her. After all, somebody’s gotta open the beer and get more wood for the fire.”

“I’m going to tell Libby on you, ” teased Amy.

“Sounds like I may need to come along to protect my little sister, at least from all that hard work.”

The announcement caught Amy off guard. His smile and this upbeat mood had been a happy and unexpected surprise. Now he seemed to be hinting that he might go with them. Was it possible that he was coming out of that God-awful depression he’d been in since coming home?

“Oh, Walt, would you? That’d be so much fun.” When her friends joined in the pleas, Walt agreed.

By the time they got to the bluff, started a smoky fire, put on insect repellant, opened the first round of beers, and found comfortable spots, it had begun to get dark. The ominous clouds that had been building all afternoon were keeping the temperature semi-reasonable and hurrying the twilight.
“Do you think it’s going to rain?” asked Mark.

Walt tilted his head back to study the dark forms. “Nope. Those clouds are just teasing us.”

“I sure hope you’re wrong,” said Willie. “Football practice starts way too soon. Two-a-days are rough enough without having a heat wave adding to your misery.”

“Don’t forget the drought,” said Bob. “Hundred degree heat plus no real rain since June means that practice field at Grambling is going to be extra hard.”

“Thanks for reminding me, old buddy.”

Before the always popular subject of sports could take over the conversation, Walt asked, “Hey, Mark, what’s the story with the Peeping Tom trial? Your uncle’s defending the guy isn’t he?”

“Of course. That man likes nothing better than aggravating folks. And there’s nobody he’d rather aggravate than our DA and sheriff. Frank’s had his bluff in on our beloved DA for a long time,” said Mark, referring to Lyndale Braggs, the well-liked if not well-respected local district attorney. “But this time Lyndale’s so buffaloed, he’d just drop the case except he’s afraid of losing all those Klan votes in Rollins.”     
Willie shook his head. “Man, I wish the DA would go ahead and say “Uncle” to your uncle. With Amos in jail, Malcolm’s about to work himself to death. Besides, with practice starting next week, I won’t be here for the big show.”

“You could always cut one or two and come anyway,” said Amy. “I’m sure coach Robinson would understand.”

“And I’m about 110% certain he wouldn’t,” replied Willie. “Although he did agree to let me come home that first weekend. Malcolm’s catering the country club dance and with Amos otherwise occupied, he’s gonna need help.”

“Coach Rob’s going soft,” said Walt. “What kinda team’s Grambling going to have this year?”

“It’s like I’ve been telling these guys all summer,” said Willie, giving the group his big, teasing grin, “this team’s gonna be so good, it’ll remind folks of the mighty Kisatche Knights the year I was the starting quarterback and we were state champs.”

“You know, it’s a good thing you’ll soon be leaving town,” said Bob, speaking over the chorus of derisive jeers and hoots. “One more crack like that and we might have to take stern measures.”

Willie stuck out his chin. “Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Like, do you remember what we did when we heard you made first-team all-state?”

“How could I forget? I thought you guys were talking about taking me out for a steak. You took me out okay, but you threw me in the lake.”

“We had to do something to keep you from getting the big head,” said Amy.

“Sure y’all did,” said Willie. “But next time, when I win All-American, please wait until summer. Believe me, that water’s a tad nippy in April.
 Mark motioned toward the lake. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, we’d be willing to start practicing right now.”

“Maybe later. I’ve already had one bath this week. But if any of you want to check out the lake water for me, feel free.”

While everyone else kept talking, Amy finished off a small bag of potato chips. After inflating it, she twisted the opening shut and then slammed it into her palm. There was a satisfying “bang” followed by startled cries and then a silence she hurried to fill. “Do you guys remember when we all went skinny-dipping that summer before junior high?”

The first person to answer was Walt. “I do. It was right after I took the picture of you, Willie, and Mark holding that big stringer filled with all those little fish.”

“They weren’t that little,” she insisted.

“Maybe not, but you three were so grungy, I told you to get in and wash off. I just wish I’d had some film left to take pictures of that scene.”

“Talk about your blackmail,” said Mark.

“Why didn’t you come in with us, Walt?” she asked.
 He shook his head. “I’m not sure. Maybe I felt too old. I don’t know.”

As the four men kidded each other about skinny-dipping, Amy wondered what she should say next. As the group’s sole female, she could either turn the conversation onto another subject or keep it heading towards the obvious outcome. She glanced around until her gaze came to rest on Mark. By the time their eyes met, and he’d given her his familiar, reassuring grin, she’d made up her mind.

Turning to look at her brother, she asked, “Walt, would you still feel too old?”

“How should I know?” he said, giving her a surprised look. “Are y’all planning on jumping in the lake?”

Mark’s response was just what she’d expected. “Hey, that sounds like a great idea!” 

The four men began daring themselves into skinny-dipping. Thanks to the clouds, it was almost dark. But moments later, she was able to make out the dim image of four bare, male backsides racing for the lake.
 Although she’d been left alone on the shore, she wasn’t ignored. After hitting the water, the men began calling for her to join them. “I don’t think so,” she answered. “That’s just what I need, a reputation for going skinny-dipping with four guys.”

It was Mark who replied. “Don’t sweat it. You’re rep’s already shot from hanging around us all these years. But if it makes any difference, you’ve got your big brother, your cousin’s fiancé, and a preacher’s son here to protect your virtue. Besides, even if we did peek, it’s getting too dark to see much.”

Amy knew she should say no. For one thing, it would mess up her hair big time. But she also knew this could be her last chance to, well, to do something to get Mark’s mind off Bebe.

From out on the lake, teasing chants of, “Amy’s a chicken, Amy’s a chicken,” accompanied by imitations of chicken squawks interrupted her thoughts.  

The men couldn’t see the determined look on her face as she stood. “Okay guys, I’m coming in.”

Mark stood waist deep in the cool water, watching as Amy began to unbutton her shirt. “You guys turn around until I get in the water.”

It was an unnecessary gesture towards modesty. With clouds hiding the moon, there was little light. That, plus the campfire burning behind her meant nothing was visible except her silhouette.

The request was answered by a chorus of boo’s, whistles, and cries of, “Take it off. Take it off. “ Walt’s voice cut through the din. “Come on, Sis. Don’t start playing shy on us just because you’re the scrawniest person here.”

“Walt Marshall, you’ll pay for that,” yelled Amy as she tossed her shirt to the ground and began struggling with her jeans. In Mark’s opinion, that silhouette in the firelight looked anything but scrawny. Still, count on Walt to come up with the perfect line to get Amy moving.

Once she joined them, there was a lot of horseplay, even a short-lived football game featuring an old sneaker Willie had found on the shore, but very little swimming. During a lull in the action, Amy suggested Mark “toss” her. It was an acrobatic stunt that involved him heaving her straight up out of the water. If done right, she’d have time to arch forward and re-enter in a controlled dive. They’d done this many times in the past, but never in the dark—much less while skinny-dipping.

“Are you sure?” asked Mark, both surprised by the suggestion and more than a little dubious.

“Of course, I’m sure. Come on. It’ll be fun.”
When everyone else began urging them to give it a try, he agreed. “All right. But you guys aren’t fooling me. All y’all want to do is get my head under water.”

He took Amy’s hand and helped her get into position standing in front of him, facing away. The dark lake water lapped at her pale, bare shoulders. When he asked, “You ready?” she nodded. Almost shyly, he placed his hands on her waist, then exhaled to offset his body’s natural buoyancy and began pushing his way down toward a squatting position at her feet. To reach that goal, he had to use her body to help propel and guide his descent. As his hands slid down her sides and his body brushed against her skin, Mark found himself struggling to ignore the feel of that warm, silky, and very naked flesh.
Once in position, he tapped on her feet, the signal for her to rise up on tiptoe so he could cup his hands under her heels. When everything was in place, he shifted forward, and she leaned back against his shoulder, letting him know she was ready. 

That’s when Mark lost his struggle. The touch of her legs along his chest, the smooth contour of her thighs resting against his shoulder, the sensation of her hip nestled against the side of his face, it was more than he could ignore. There was an excited churning in his stomach and a dizzy confusion inside his skull. His mind wouldn’t work. His body couldn’t move. 

Amy twitched her legs as a reminder she was ready, but he couldn’t respond. It was lack of oxygen that broke the spell. Almost out of air, he began propelling her upward. But the long pause had gotten them out of synch. A knee buckled, a hand or maybe it was a foot, slipped and while just halfway out of the water, Amy began an awkward tumble back into the lake.

Once the choking and gasping ended, neither of them got any sympathy from the onlookers. “That has to be the most pathetic excuse for a toss I’ve ever seen.” Willie’s voice was thick with feigned disgust.

“Yep, that was pretty sad, you two,” agreed Bob.

“You two nothing, it was all his fault,” insisted Amy, pointing at Mark. “He even looks guilty.”

It’d become so dark no one else was close enough to make out his expression. But Amy was wrong. The look on Mark’s face had nothing to do with guilt. Its source was a storm of other emotions so strong and unsettling he was having trouble breathing. With an effort he managed to croak, “I’m innocent. And I must have swallowed at least half the lake.”

Amy drifted closer and put a hand on his shoulder. “You poor thing,” she said, giving him a wink that belied her teasing tone. “Do you need help? What about some nice mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? Didn’t Bob get a merit badge in first aid? I’m sure he’d be glad to help.”

“Nothing personal,” said Bob, “but if I’ve got to give him mouth-to-mouth, I say let nature take its course.”

This strong show of compassion continued until Walt broke in. “I can’t stand it. I promised myself I wouldn’t do this. But seeing what a shambles you and Mark made of things, well, do you want to try that overhand toss we did once?”

The overhand was tougher to pull off because the thrower had to squat with his hands shoulder high like a weightlifter about to lift a barbell over his head. This made it harder for the person being tossed to keep their balance. But since the thrower could extend their arms straight up during the toss, if everything worked just right, the results could be a high and spectacular ascent.

Everyone agreed Mark was unfit for duty. After a feeble protest, he moved out of the way so Willie and Bob could get into position on either side of Amy. 

The clouds that had promised but once again not delivered any rain began breaking up. The once dark lake became bathed in soft moonlight. This made it easy for Mark to watch as, after a good deal of talk and shuffling about, Walt disappeared beneath the surface.

A moment later, the lake erupted, and Amy rose into the warm, night sky.
It was a perfect high toss. Willie, Bob, and Walt were covered with spray which blocked their view. Mark was the one person who saw all of Amy’s moonlight flight, and he was transfixed. 
Whenever he remembered the event, it was always in slow motion. The sight of her wet, nude, nymph-like body soaring above the lake was beautiful and erotic, and devastating. The incredible variety of emotions still battering him coalesced into one of all-consuming and undeniable love. 

Mesmerized, he watched her graceful, moonlit form arch and then begin heading back toward the lake. As she sliced through the surface, Mark knew he was in trouble.

He’d fought to overcome his love for her all summer. Hell, he’d even made love with Bebe, and that had helped. But after tonight, he doubted if even sex with Bebe could banish that image of Amy from his mind.

Even worse, Mark knew he could no longer act like nothing had changed when near Amy.

What he felt for her had become too strong. After tonight he’d be like all the other guys feeling awkward and staring hopelessly at her beauty. For he too had fallen in love with Amy, the girl who’d always been his friend, but who would never, could never, be anything more.


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