I was splayed out on the floor scratching an oozing blister and trying to find Waldo on a page of Waldo-wannabes when I heard Penny bellow. I got to the window just in time to see Penny stumbling into the trees on the other side of the railroad tracks.
The rules in our house are few: no sugar after six o’clock (I have two packs of Gummi Bears stashed under my dresser for emergencies); no boys in our bedrooms (Penny gave me said Gummi Bears to keep me from telling about the times Jesse snuck in her window); and NEVER go anywhere near the railroad tracks without an adult. Once, Penny had dared me to go across the tracks and touch a tree at the edge of the forest and then had told on me when I did. Mom took away our Game Boys for a whole month. Neither one of us had ever risked doing it again. Until now.
After a quick listen down the stairs to be sure Mom was still occupied with Molly Johnson’s Tuesday morning piano lesson, I darted out the second floor balcony and down the outside stairs. Halfway across the yard, where the trimmed grass surrendered to the wild, I vaulted over my old, rusty trike and into the tall weeds. The hot wind rushed past and I imagined I was a cheetah chasing down its prey.
I rolled under the barbed wire fence and raced past the tree stump where we sat to watch the trains rumble by. We used to balance pennies on the tracks, three each, so the trains could squish them flat. We weren’t supposed to do that any more but Penny still came out here with Jesse and brought me back her flattened pennies - another bribe. I leapt over both rails and skidded to a stop down the sharp rocks on the far side. I glanced back at the house to make sure Mom hadn’t seen me and I was about to risk yelling for Penny when I heard a muffled yelp.
Smacking pine boughs aside, I sprang into the coolness of the forest and ran right into a wild-eyed and panting Penny. She screamed and held her hands up. “Don’t scare me like that,” Penny hissed and glanced behind her. She grabbed my arm and hauled me back into the sunlight. “Where are your shoes?”
“Quit pulling,” I said and yanked my arm away. “They’re in the kitchen. Mom would’ve seen me. What happened to your shirt?” One of the pockets was torn and the top three buttons were popped off.
Penny scrunched her shirt closed with one hand and grabbed my arm again with the other. “I fell,” she said. “Keep moving.”
We had just rolled under the fence when the screen door on our back porch screeched open and then slammed shut. Penny pushed down on my head to keep me in the long grass.
“Josephine May Jenkins! Where are you?” Mom yelled.
Penny and I looked at each other in silence. A full name meant trouble.
“You go,” I whispered to Penny. “You came out here first.”
“She doesn’t know I’m here. She called you.” Penny whispered back. “You go.”
“You’re older. Shouldn’t you be the more responsible one?”
“Fine. We’ll both go.” She slipped her torn shirt off and said, “Give me your t-shirt.” Before I could protest, she yanked it up and off my head and then shrugged into it as she stomped toward the house. I pulled her shirt on, folded it around myself and ran after her.
I avoided eye contact with Mom as she held the door open for us. Molly was sitting at the table in her perfectly white sundress with her perfectly curled pigtails. I slid onto the bench beside her and brushed my arm against hers. Molly recoiled and stood up. “Mrs. Jenkins, I think I’ll wait outside for my mom.”
Mom nodded but didn’t take her eyes off of us. “Okay you two. Whose idea was it this time?”
I intently examined the time-worn gouges in the top of the old oak table and waited for Penny to blame it all on me.
Penny straightened in her seat. “Bigfoot,” she said. I stared at her open-mouthed.
“Very funny young lady.” Mom wasn’t laughing. “One of you had better tell me what’s going on. You are not supposed to be outside and you are not supposed to be out by those tracks.” Her long finger jabbed the air in front of each of us as she talked.
“I’m serious, Mom. It was Bigfoot. I saw him with my own eyes. I was waiting for the train and he came out of the bush by Mr. Nichols’ place and ran down the tracks and I sat very still so he wouldn’t see me but then he stole one of my pennies so I yelled at him but he didn’t stop so I chased him but I lost him in the bush and then Josie followed me when she wasn’t supposed to be outside and she–”
Mom held up her hand to stop Penny’s ramble. “There’s no such thing as Bigfoot, Penny.”
“But I saw him!”
“That’s enough, young lady.” Mom glared at Penny and Penny glared back. “Start again. The truth this time, please.”
“Arrrgh. You never believe anything I say!” Penny shoved her chair back from the table and ran from the room. The back of her hair was studded with pine needles.
I expected Mom to start in on me but she just stared at where Penny had been and then picked up the phone and dialed just three numbers.
“Go to your room, Josie,” she said.
I didn’t wait to be told twice, but when I got upstairs I went to Penny's room instead. She was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. Two inches of her belly peeked out below my two-sizes-too-small-for-her t-shirt.
"Don't tell anyone, okay?" she said and held out her hand. "Promise."
I shook my head. "I can't," I said and left her lying there, the three flattened pennies still in her outstretched palm.
© 2012 Dawn Huddlestone
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