Saturday, September 12, 2009

Just a Game, II

The broad trail swept by Beth’s coat was easy enough to follow. The snow was still ankle deep, and Beth still wasn’t used to moving in it. Jack caught up with her just the other side of the hedgerow.

“Hey,” he said, reaching for her.

She snatched her hand away. “Go back home, Jack,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do to help.”

Jack shuffled around the girl, stopping when he got into her path. She made to go around one way, then the other, and Jack mirrored her moves. She feinted again to one side, and rolled around to the other.

Or tried. Her feet dragged in the snow, and she gave a yelp. Her arms windmilled as she tried to catch her balance. She tried to take a half-step to catch herself, and her yelp turned into a sharp cry as her leg buckled.

Jack caught her before she could land in the snow, hauling her off her bad ankle.

“John Henry don’t you dare pick me up,” she said, trying to get her feet under her.

“Don’t be so stubborn,” he huffed. “Or I’ll dump you right here in the snow.”

“You wouldn’t!”

He did.

She gave a shriek as she landed sprawled on her back in the snow. She struggled to a sitting position, and from there, tried to get back to her feet. She floundered once, and again as she set her weight on the bad ankle.

“Would you like some help?” Jack asked.

She looked up, eyes flashing, cheeks red, breath streaming in long plumes as she gulped in cold air.

“Why are you just standing there?” she asked.

“I’m waiting to help you.”

“I already told you, there’s nothing you can do.”

Jack shrugged. “Doesn’t mean I’m just going to leave you out here.”

“You dropped me here.”

“You didn’t want to be carried.”

They stared at each other.

She thrust a hand out, and Jack took it, steadying the girl as she regained her feet. He gave her arm a tug, pulling her close, and she glared, but didn’t complain as he kept as much weight off her right ankle as he could. They made their way slowly to the porch steps, and Jack hoisted her as she tried to hop. She glared again, but kept her lips set in a firm line.

“Why aren’t you dragging me over to your mom?” the girl asked as she got the door.

“I’d have to carry you to get you that far. Your place is closer. Besides, you’re soaked, and all your clothes are over here.”

“My clothes wouldn’t be all wet if you hadn’t dropped me.”

“If you hadn’t gone running off again, you wouldn’t have fallen in the snow. Now stop glaring at me so we can get you up all these stairs without breaking both our necks.”

* * * * *

Beth opened the door just as Jack made it back up the stairs with the icepack. It looked as if she’d again dressed by whirlwind: purple jeans, electric blue thermal top under a baggy black tee shirt with some sort of red glittery oriental design splashed across it.

She held her bare foot out. “Does it look bad?”

It looked swollen, and a bit red, but it wasn’t the size of a softball and didn’t match Beth’s jeans.

“Well… it doesn’t look as bad as last time,” Jack hedged. “How bad does it hurt?”

“Not as much as last time,” the girl said, bending her knee and pirouetting, hopping back through the mass of clothes on the floor to drop onto her bed. She picked up the pink socks, sucking in a sharp breath and biting her lip as she pulled one on over her right foot.

“You sure about that?” Jack asked, from the doorway.

“You’re allowed to come in, you know,” she said, slipping her other sock on.

Jack looked at the floor. It was littered with shirts, long and short sleeved, half a dozen pairs of pants if there was a one. There were also…

Jack blushed, and diverted his gaze to the ceiling.

Beth rolled her eyes, then slid off the bed, balancing in an awkward crouch as she bundled up the clothes and shoved them into a pile up against her dresser.

Jack picked his way around two open, half-empty boxes, and held the bag of ice out to Beth. She swung her foot up onto her bed, and Jack dropped the ice over her ankle.

“It’s a wonder you didn’t break it trying to get through this room,” he said.

“I told you I was unpacking.”

“Opening the box and emptying it out on the floor is ‘unpacking’?” Jack picked up Beth’s coat from the floor by her bed, and hung it over the closet door.

Her desk, he saw, was in order: two fountain pens sat in a brass holder, with a heavily stained ink bottle between them. A stack of parchment pages sat in a wooden tray beside the blotter, and three notebooks were stacked on the other side, with pens and pencils atop them.

“Feels weird, me being in your room,” Jack said, taking a seat in the straight-backed chair by Beth’s desk. “It’s so much bigger than mine.”

Beth looked around, at the bare walls, the stacks of boxes still left to unpack. “It doesn’t really feel like my room yet.” She gave a short chuckle, but Jack thought he heard a touch of loneliness in it.

“Well, we can work on that,” Jack said. “If you want to paint it, or put up posters or something, I’ll help you.”

Beth looked over at him, and smiled. Jack thought for sure he felt the room brighten. “I’d like that, Jack. When my dad gets back, I’ll ask him if it’s okay.” She held out her arms to him. “I think I might be able to walk, if you’ll help me.”

Jack couldn’t help smiling. He got up, and steadied Beth as she hopped to her feet. She eased her weight over to her right foot, and hissed.


“Bearable. Maybe your mom has another bandage she can wrap it in?”

“Are you kidding? She could wrap you head to toe a couple times with what she’s got at home.”

“Maybe next year for Halloween I’ll be the mummy,” Beth said with a grin.

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