Challenge #9 has me writing a love story. I’ve read countless love stories. I’ve listened to love songs until I’m ready to puke. I have watched movies about love and cried myself to sleep over love. I’ve even dreamed about love. And just when I was about ready to give up on finding true love, I found something better. Real love isn’t that feeling that we hear about or read about or dream about. It’s a natural kind of comfortable feeling that just seems to fit. When it happens, you just know, even if it takes a little while to realize that’s what it is. True love is something you can’t explain. It’s something you feel.
A Real Love Story
Ben was a boy who lived on the farm across the field from us. He was scrawny and always dirty and annoying. But we’d been friends since I was 4 years old. He was my only friend, really. The next farm beyond the Gable’s was 10 miles away and we didn’t own a car. Many people didn’t have cars back then. It was 1938 and money was scarce.
But as annoying as Benji was, life would have been boring without him. He taught me how to catch rabbits, using only a wire, and how to light a fire without any smoke, just like the Indians did. We’d go swimming and fishing in the summer, and ice skating and sledding in the winter. His older brother teased him terribly and he’d run away from home at least once a week. I was lucky, I guess. Ma and Pop were told they couldn’t have kids and I was a miracle baby. But with no brothers and sisters, I was alone a lot.
When I was 13, I got sick with the flu really bad. Benji wouldn’t listen to his Ma when she told him not to come visit me. He did anyway and ended up almost dying from it. My mom got sick, too, but she didn’t make it. I had to go stay with my Aunt Millie and Uncle Roger for the summer. It was nice having a family, but I missed my Ma.
It was almost time to start school again when I got home. Everything was different. I didn’t feel like a little girl anymore. Pop changed, too. He didn’t smile as much and work more than he did before. Every time I tried talking to him about Ma, he got real quiet and sometimes, he just walked away, like he couldn’t bear to hear her name. I think he blamed me for her dying.
Benji and I drifted apart after that. He became bothersome and wanted to do boy things all the time. I started hiding every time he came over or made excuses to make him leave.
Pop finally bought an old truck and fixed it up. Sometimes he let me go to town with him. If he had extra money, he’d buy me a soda. Every once in a while my friends would be at the diner and pop let me go sit with them while I drank my soda. My friends knew Benji lived next door to me and teased me a lot about him. It didn’t bother me until Patty asked me if I was going to marry him.
“Heck no!” I told her. “I don’t have time for farm boys. I’m gonna marry a rich man, with a good job, and he’s gonna take me far away from this stinkhole.” We laughed about it, but in my heart, I knew there was something terribly wrong.
Sometimes I would dream I was living in Chicago or New York, where I lived the life of a socialite. I was a famous designer, and wore the most beautiful clothes. My rich husband and I went to lots of parties and people stop and stared as we walked by.
Someday, that would be me, I thought. But not today.
I stood in the front yard and looked at the sun hanging low in the sky. It was getting late and I was wasting time. I grabbed the bucket of scraps and headed for the barn. Mitzy and Barney, the goats, met me half-way, their noses already in the bucket. “Shoo! ” I said, waving them away. “You’ll get yours soon enough.”
I ran to the barn, while the goats tried to keep up with me. I hurried and shut the door before they could get in. Champ, our horse, whinnied as I set the bucket down and got a scoop of oats from the bin. I poured the oats into the trough and threw some hay over the stall. He stuck his head over the top board so I could rub his forehead.
“Good boy,” I told him as he pulled away to start eating. I picked up the bucket as I clucked my tongue. I could hear the goats hitting the door with their tiny hooves.
I emptied some of the scraps into the trough as a little shadow came from under the tractor.
“It’s okay, Milo, you can come out.”
Milo was a pot-bellied pig we got from the Jensen’s up the road. They owed my dad money from a bad side of beef and couldn’t pay up.
“What’m I gonna do with that thing?” he told Al Jensen.
He shrugged and said, “Whatever you want.”
So Milo became my responsibility. He was scared to death of the goats and wouldn’t come out if they were around. I usually fed him before they got theirs.
I waited until Milo was done before I opened the door for the goats. He saw them coming and high-tailed it back to his spot under the tractor.
“What’s with the pig?” a voice came from behind me. I knew who it was even before I turned around.
I glanced around and saw Ben standing in the doorway in dirty overalls. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. His blond hair was messed up and he had a dirty face.
“What’s it to you?”
“Nothing, just never seen a scared pig before. Usually they’re chasin’ me.” He chuckled and hopped up on the top board of the stall. Champ ignored him and went on eating.
“I’m kind of busy, Benji,” I told him as I grabbed the bucket. “I still have chores to do.”
He became silent for a moment before saying something I’ll never forget.
“How come we’re not friends anymore, Luc?”
“What’dya mean? We’re friends…”
“No, we’re not. You don’t ever wanna do anything with me anymore. We never go fishin’ or huntin’ or pickin’ berries anymore.”
“I don’t do that stuff anymore, Benji. I’m 15 now. I got better things to do.”
He didn’t say another word, but hopped off the wall and left the barn, letting the door slam shut. I walked to the corral and watched him as he walked the dirt path that led back to his farm. I was kind of hoping he’d look back so I could wave, but he didn’t. I almost ran to apologize.
We were still friends, weren’t we?
But I didn’t see Ben the rest of the summer. When school started in the fall, he was in home room, three rows ahead of me. He had cut his hair and washed his face, and actually looked pretty handsome with his farmer’s tan. But he acted like I didn’t exist. I saw him during lunch and was going to go talk to him, but Amelia grabbed my arm and made me sit with her.
Once, he glanced my way, but he was too quick and I lost my chance to make eye contact. This is ridiculous, I thought, and made an effort to get on the bus early just so I could talk to him.
I plopped in the seat next to him, loudly announcing my arrival. “What’s your problem?” I demanded.
“I don’t have a problem,” he replied calmly. He stared straight ahead.
“Then why won’t you even look at me? I thought we were friends.”
He turned and glared at me. “You made it perfectly clear that we weren’t.”
“I never said that, Benji. All I said was that I didn’t do any of that tomboy stuff anymore.”
“I’m not stupid, Lucy. I know how you really feel about me. And my name is Ben.”
I looked over and saw Norma Jean staring at us. She whispered something to Krissie and they both giggled.
I got up and moved to the back of the bus, trying to hide my embarrassment. Norma Jean immediately jumped up and sat next to Ben. I could hear the excitement in her voice as she asked him to her Sweet 16 party that Saturday.
“And you can be my date,” she told him in her high and prissy voice. She was the kind of girl all the boys loved, and the rest of the girls secretly hated. Her perfect hair, expensive clothes, and sophisticated makeup made the rest of us look like rag-a-muffins.
“Don’t let her upset you,” Amelia whispered to me.
“I’m not,” I lied. “I just can’t believe she asked him to her party. And as her date! He’s a nobody. Why would she ask him?”
“I think someone’s jealous,” Kitty sang from behind us. I wheeled around her and glared at her. I was furious! How dare she insinuate I was jealous! I turned around and rode the rest of the way without a word.
But I had time to think as I walked the long road to the house. Why was I so upset? Who cared if he went to the party as Norma’s date? It was then that I realized it was because we weren’t friends. Yes, he was dirty and messy and a pest sometimes. Seeing him today looking so grown up kind of changed my views about him.
I didn’t feel like doing chores and it took me longer than normal. I knew Pop would be expecting dinner on time, too. Since Ma died last year, he expected a lot more from me; cooking, cleaning, and chores, too. But it was getting old. I needed to get out of here. I’d already saved enough money for a bus ticket to Crawson’s Creek. I just needed to finish school first.
Dinner was more quiet than normal. Pop didn’t finish his dinner and I didn’t ask why. He started going out to the field and saw an opportunity to ask him about the party.
“A party, huh? What kind of party?” he asked suspiciously.
“A birthday party … for one of my friends.”
“Will there be boys at this party?” He folded his arms across his chest. Not a good sign.
“Pop, I’m 15 1/2. Yes, there will be boys. But Norma Jean’s folks will be chaperoning.”
He grabbed his hat and walked out the door. “I’ll think about it,” he called back to me.
I washed the dishes and went upstairs to do my homework. I looked out my window at the Gable’s farm across the field. Though the sun was setting, I could see Ben checking fences on horseback. His dad had been killed in the war, and Ben and his 3 brothers helped their mother with the farm. Come to think of it,I hadn’t seen much of her since spring.
Benji and I used to check fences together. He’d take one side and I’d take the other, and we’d meet in the middle. Then we’d take the horses to Monument and looked out over the fields. We’d sit and wait for the stars to come out and watch for the shooting stars to streak across the sky. Make a wish, he’d tell me, even if it was his star.
I heard Pop swearing at the goats as they got in his way back to the house. I went downstairs to get more kerosene and met him in the hallway.
“Be home by 10,” was all he said, as he started to climb the stairs to his room. I wheeled around and ran to him, throwing my arms around his middle.
“Thanks, Pop!” I gushed.
“I know, you need to get out more … spend time with yer friends. Are you gonna need a dress or something?” He looked into my eyes with sincerity.
I smiled sweetly and shook my head. “I was gonna use of one Ma’s and make some alterations.” I was pretty good with a needle and thread.
“Aw’right. Don’t stay up too late,” he said, climbing the stairs.
To be continued ….
I have to stop here because I have a feeling it’s going to take longer than I have to finish my challenges. But stay tuned. I plan on finishing it.