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Linc was walking down the beach, away from the motel. He couldn’t remember ever feeling worse. He sat down in the sand. Again he wondered at what he had become lately. Where he had always placed other people first, he could now only look back on the last few days and see how far he’d fallen: he had dealt horribly with Clare and her father; he had presumptuously tried to take advantage of a nice girl (Sherri); and worst of all, he had hurt Dan--and God only knew how badly. What must Dan think of me? he wondered. And Jamie? Because Linc was always so steady and true, his father had always called him his Rock of Gibraltar. What had become of that boy? The killing venom of homesickness surged inside him. He wanted to telephone his family.
He walked back in the direction he had come, then trudged up a grassy slope to a convenience store--just like the one back home, except this place hadn’t yet found room for a pinball machine; Linc wouldn’t have minded playing a game just then, anything to get his mind off his troubles. Then, with the help of the operator, for he had never done it before, he arranged a collect call on the pay telephone in the parking lot.
“Royce! Royce, it’s me!”
“Linc! Where are you?”
“On the beach--Jacksonville beach.”
“Is Danny there? Let Danny say hi.”
“Well, he’s not with me right now, but he’s here. Sure, Danny’s here! How have you been feeling, Royce?”
“Fine. What have you been doing?”
“Well, we really just got here today; we’ve mostly been doing a lot of driving.”
“You let Danny drive?”
“Heck no. I drove it.”
“That’s a long way. I’ve been looking at it on a map.”
“Royce, Florida is an awful long way.”
“Have you been keeping up with the Astros?”
“Been trying to.”
“Linc, I wish you and Danny would come on back home. It gets so lonesome around--”
“Royce, this is costing a lot, so I better hang up now.” (That was just what Linc needed: Royce making him feel even worse.)
“Listen, tell Mom and Pop I love them.”
“I love you, too.”
“I love you, Linc.”
“You take care of everybody.”
When he replaced the receiver, Linc knew it was time to go back home. He felt he had a lot of things to make right with a lot of different people, and that sitting around sunning himself wasn’t going to get the job done. He had a sick feeling that, if he didn’t get home soon, someone might die before he got the chance to make things up with him or her. Lost in thought and self-loathing, he ground the gravel beneath his feet.
He heard a car door shut behind him. He turned around. It was Sherri. She hadn’t seen his face when she pulled up in front of the store. She had no idea how glad he was to see her at that very moment. He crossed in her path.
“Linc.” She started in surprise.
“Sherri, please--can we talk for a minute?”
“Linc, I’m glad--really glad--to see that you’re all right, but I don’t have anything more to say to you.” She folded her arms across her chest and looked him squarely in the eye.
“Sherri, you have to let me apologize to you.”
“You have,” she said calmly.
“Yes, but I didn’t do much of a job of it before.”
She watched his eyes, but said nothing.
“Sherri, I feel worse right now than I’ve ever felt in my life. And it’s not only because I mistreated you, but for a lot of other reasons besides.”
She could see he was sincere and hurting.
“I know you’re a nice girl, Sherri, and I know you’ll help me when I tell you I’m reaching out to you.” Suddenly he thought of Dan, and how Dan had reached out to him so long ago in kindergarten, when he was told to draw a picture of his best friend, when he didn’t have a friend of any kind. Linc hadn’t rebuffed Dan back then, and he felt confident that Sherri wouldn’t decline his offer of an apology, an apology he saw as merely the first step in his ultimate self-rehabilitation.
He tentatively reached for her hand and took it between his own, saying, “Please say you’ll help me, Sherri.”
“Just tell me how I can help you, Linc,” she said softly.
He searched hard for the words, his mind scrambling. He said, “You have to accept my apology--not tomorrow or the next day, but right now--before I die.”
“Then give it.”
“I apologize, Sherri. I admire you for being the kind of girl you are. I’m sorry I touched you like that. I wish you would forgive it.”
She closed the small space between them and said, “You’re already forgiven, Linc: I forgave you the first time. . . . Now you have to promise me something.” The playful, sporting look he loved came over her face and enlivened her eyes.
“What? Anything,” he said, elated because she was being huge in her forgiveness, trembling because she was making this so easy.
“I want you to promise never to think about it again--okay?”
It was becoming easier and easier. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. He walked away from her.
“Linc--” she said, raising her voice, an urgency in her tone. She hurried over the dozen steps between them. “Tell me you feel better than you did five minutes ago.”
“A lot better. Human again.”
“There’s just one more thing . . .”
“I was right about you being a nice guy.”
Linc smiled. He said he didn’t know about that, but that he was going to start working on it.
“I’m not sure how to put this, Linc, but would you think me too forward if I wanted us to, um, exchange addresses? Corny, huh? But if I drive away right now, I think I might regret it if I was unable to get in touch with you.”
“If I only had a pen and some paper . . .” he teased, looking all around, scratching his head. He was exalted by the way things were turning out with Sherri Shaftstansbury.
“Right this way, sir,” she said businesslike. She led him to her car. She sat down inside and wrote out her address on a scrap of paper.
“Here you are, sir,” she said. She handed him the paper.
Linc glanced at it. He smiled and said, “I think I’d be a fool to write to you, Sherri.”
“How come?” she asked quietly, uncertain.
“Because you live about ten miles away from my house.”
“You’re kidding!” Her unsettled expression turned joyful.
He hurried around to the front of her car. “Christ,” he said, “I never even noticed your Texas plates! Why didn’t you tell me you live in Texas?”
She said she never got the chance.
That was true, he reflected. He tore up the address and tossed the pieces to the scattering breeze. “What I need is your telephone number,” he said.
She found another piece of paper on which to write her telephone number. She did so, then tore it off and handed it to him. She said, “Now if you should happen to lose this, I’m the only Shaftstansbury in the book--I hope--I was last year. I hate that name.” She knitted her eyebrows.
He asked her when she would be leaving for home; she told him she would be leaving the next day. “What time?” he asked.
“Early. Five in the morning. One of the guys has to get back to his job. When are you going back?”
He said, “Whenever I get there won’t be soon enough.” She had just reconfirmed his decision to go back home. Her leaving first would only serve to make him do all he could to get home faster. The grass back home was looking greener and greener, and even the prospect of having to come to some kind of an understanding with Clare, and all the things that went along with that, was beginning to present itself as more of an opportunity than as something from which to flee. “Listen,” he suggested, “you ought to go on and get some sleep if you’re leaving so early.”
“Tell me something, Linc Lebeau. What do you think the chances were of us bumping into each other at this store and then finding out we were practically neighbors?”
He laughed. “Not bad,” he said. “Not bad at all.”
He leaned down to kiss her cheek. He stopped short, wondering if that would be all right with her. It was.
“Where do you suppose he is?” asked Dan. He was restless and about ready to go look for Linc.
Jamie pointed out that since Linc hadn’t come back for his car, he couldn’t have gone far. She said she was sure he was all right, and then Dan said he was probably cooling off somewhere.
“Do you think he’ll apologize?” she asked.
“I’m the one who’s gonna be doing the apologizing. Whatever Linc did to me, I had coming.”
She was ready to throw in the towel over trying to convince Dan that Linc was the one who was in the wrong. In an exasperated tone, she said, “You’re not as bad as you think, Dan. Maybe you just shouldn’t drink.”
“Tell me about it. I’m giving it up: no more beer for Danny. . . . Listen, I’m sorry I bit your head off a while ago.” He sat down at the cramped writing desk. “Come sit with me, Jamie. I want to talk to you.”
She went to him; and since there was nowhere else to sit, she sat on his lap. She took his hands in hers. She wore an expression of curiosity on her face, one that she hoped would convey she had no idea of what he wished to speak.
“Jamie, I want--”
Dan was interrupted by Linc opening the door and stepping into the room. Jamie and Dan stood up from the chair. Just for a moment, Jamie wondered if Linc had come to resume the fight.
With a sly grin, Linc asked if he was welcome. He was obviously feeling much better.
“Always,” said Dan, moving toward his friend. Jamie remained where she was, all her misgivings about Linc washed away by the boys’ rapprochement. She was amazed how two such different boys could be so much alike.
Dan put his hands out to his sides and said, “Linc, what can I say? I opened that second beer; I was an idiot.”
“And I hit Dan Blair. I can’t believe it,” said Linc.
“That’s okay, man--I saw it coming! I don’t even remember anything after that. It would take a lot more than that to damage my goods.”
Linc put his arm around Dan’s shoulder and hugged him like a brother.
“You’re not gonna get all mushy on me and start crying, are you, Linc?”
Linc backed away from him. Same old Dan, he thought, and that was fine with him.
“Man, I’m sorry I messed it up for you with that Sherri. I swear I was only trying to help you out because I could tell you weren’t making any headway with her. I swear I was sure--”
“It’s okay, Dan. Do you know why?”
“Because I saw her and made things right with her.”
“I’m damned. Really?”
“Really. Know what else?”
“She lives in Fort Worth, and she wants me to call her.”
“Then I’m doubly damned.”
“Jamie,” said Linc, “I know Dan’s probably about ready to keel over, but how about you? Are you hungry?”
“Hello to you, too, Linc,” she said. “I’m starving.”
After Linc had convinced himself that Dan felt fine, they drove to a seafood restaurant downtown.
At dinner Linc said, “I want to talk to you two. What would you think about us going on back home?”
“I’m thinking we just got here,” said Dan.
“Listen,” said Linc, “I’ve got to go back--and the sooner I do, the better I like it.”
“For Sherri?” said Jamie.
“No. I had my mind made up about it before I talked to her. I just have a lot of things I need to take care of. Listen, if you two don’t want to go with me, I’ll give you the money we have left over, and you two can go back whenever you’re ready. You could take a damn plane if you wanted to.”
Dan said that if Linc was going back, then so was he, and then Jamie said she was going with Dan.
“I hoped you’d both feel that way,” said Linc. “I’d hate to make that drive all by myself. How about leaving first thing in the morning?”
Dan said, “You’re the driver, Lincoln.”
Then Jamie asked Linc: “If I’m not being too nosy, why, specifically, do you want to go back home?”
“How do I put this? . . .” began Linc. “. . . It’s because I’ve found out that people who take care of what they’re supposed to take care of--you know, like showing up every day at their crummy jobs, stuff like that--are the kind of people I want to be like. People like Mr. Alexander, or Ethel, or the man taking his wife and kids on their vacation. That’s who I’m gonna be from now on--just someone who takes care of business. And I’m never gonna try to run away from that again.”
They all agreed that, indeed, they had met some first-rate people on their abbreviated trip (though Dan still harbored serious reservations about Mr. Alexander and his cooking skills).
Linc knew now that everyone had their own unique niche to fill in this world. And he knew that, more often than not, circumstances, rather than one’s own personal desires, dictated just exactly what that niche was to be; and facing those circumstances squarely would be his future course of action. Linc Lebeau had come to realize it would no longer be enough simply to recall, from ancient memory, Dan’s saying what a nice boy he was; no, from now on, Linc would try his best to be a good man.
When they got back to the motel, Jamie said that she would like to go for a walk. Linc thoughtfully said he was too tired to go along, and then he suggested to Dan that he should accompany her. “No, I’m pretty pooped myself,” said Dan, dense as ever. But when Linc flashed him one of his familiar Are you out of your mind, Dan? looks, Dan didn’t waste any time in escorting Jamie through the doorway.
Jamie playfully took Dan by the collar and slowly guided him backward toward Linc’s car. Dan eased up on top of the warm hood. She arranged his collar. She put her face inches from his and said, “Now, tell me, Dan Blair, what was it you were going to say to me right before Linc walked in on us?” She put her arms around his flanks, resting them on the hood of the car. She looked up at him with a serious and alert expression on her face, all her features softened by the moonlight.
“I only wanted to tell you how much I love you, Jamie.” He moved a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“Then why don’t you?” she asked, seriousness turning to playfulness.
“I love you, Jamie. I want to take good care of you forever.”
“Even when I’m an old-timer?” she teased.
“Yes. I just know you’ll still be real nice and pretty.”
She turned and rested her cheek on his lap. “I love you, Dan Blair.”
They sat for several minutes, Dan stroking her jet hair. Then they walked to the beach.
The three were up early the next morning and began loading their gear in the car.
“Whose play pretty is this?” demanded Linc, holding aloft the little boy’s blue pail, swinging it by the handle.
“Ah! Let me have that, Linc,” said Dan. “It’s some kid’s we met on the beach. Damn!”
“What the hell are you gonna do with it, Dan?” asked Linc. “You know we’re hurting for space as it is. I’ll buy you a nice, fancy, new one when we get home.”
“Oh, that was funny,” Dan said sarcastically.
“You say it’s some kid’s?” said Linc.
“Some kid called Louie. Let me go look for him, Linc. I wanta get that back to him. He may be on the beach. It’ll only take a sec.”
“Oh, Jesus, Dan--go on,” said Linc. “But you better run all the way.”
“Come on, Jamie!” said Dan.
The two of them ran to the beach. As it was still early morning, only a few beach-combers were stirring: no children.
“See him anywhere, Jamie?” asked Dan. He knew what her response would be; the child wasn’t there, that was obvious.
“Man, he probably thinks I swiped it,” said Dan. He punctuated his statement by kicking up some sand.
“I’ll bet he’s already forgotten about it, Dan; it’s only a cheap toy,” said Jamie.
“Still, though--I’m gonna go set it down where he was.”
They hiked over to the general area in which the boy had played the day before. Dan knelt down and scooped some sand with the pail. He looked thoughtful for a moment. He said, “I don’t know what else I can do, Jamie. . . . I guess this is all I can do . . .” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the two shell fragments he and Jamie had found the previous day. He put the prettier of the two into the pail. He said, “I promised the little buccaneer I would split any loot with him.”
Jamie smiled at the gesture. She said, “He’s going to like that, Dan.”
He pressed the base of the pail into the sand, securing it. They began to walk back to the motel. Dan said, “Linc’s probably getting pissed--we better run!”
So they trotted the rest of the way to the motel, and then the three of them commenced the long drive back to Texas and home.
Her mother stepped aside to let Jamie come through the door, gently touching Jamie’s hair as she walked by her. “Oh, honey. Larry . . . Larry,” she called. “Come see who’s here.”
Jamie’s father was in the kitchen. “What is it?” he called back. Then, entering the living room, seeing his daughter, he said, “How are you, honey? What are you doing back from your trip so soon?” (When Jamie telephoned them from that rest area, she had sounded so enthusiastic, her mother and father didn’t expect to see her for some time.) Her father hugged her tightly as if he would never release her.
“I’ve come back home . . . if that’s all right.”
“Oh, honey--Jamie! You know that’s all we want in this world,” said her father. He stood back for a good look at her--brown as a bear and so beautiful. With his huge thumbs he wiped two tears from her cheeks.
When the greetings were over, Jamie’s parents each took one of her arms and led her to her old favorite living room chair. It was strange and somehow comforting for her to see that nothing much ever seemed to change inside that room. But when, only two years earlier, she would have wanted to fly from that chair out into the sunshine, now, finding herself once more among her loved ones, all she wanted to do was sit there for a while. She leaned back in the recliner and let the foot rest swing up and support her feet.
She told them all about Dan. She told them she would like to move back home just long enough so she could take some typing courses she hoped would enable her to land a secretarial job. She also told them Dan would be enrolling in college in the fall, with the goal of earning a business degree of some sort.
Like a lot of concerned parents would, Jamie’s told her that though they thought her plan to take typing courses was a good one, and that they would do everything in their power to help her achieve her plan if that was what she really wanted to do, they told her she shouldn’t absolutely rely on all her plans with Dan to come to fruition. They suggested she might want to consider taking her high school equivalency exam and then go on to the junior college.
Jamie knew better than her parents. She knew Dan would always take good care of her. But she didn’t get angry with her parents for voicing their doubts about her and Dan’s plans for the future; no, it was just so nice to be home.
Her parents were especially pleased she was finally away from Peter Amesley. Though they had grown to be somewhat tolerant of Pete, they still considered something to be not quite right about his and Jamie’s cohabitation. Jamie knew all this without its being said. She wondered how they would feel about Pete if she told them how he had encouraged her to “entertain” certain of his guests while he observed it all in secret. (But it should be said about Peter Amesley that he continued to send them his checks. He even increased the amount of their stipend, in order to defray the cost of Jamie’s upkeep, and to cover all her expenses in secretarial school.)
When Dan left home with Linc his parents considered it just the latest of the boys’ wild schemes. They really didn’t expect the boys to get any farther than the lake. But naturally, after a couple of days when Mr. and Mrs. Blair hadn’t had a word from Dan, the two of them became very upset. And though they had been telephoned by Linc’s parents the night before and told that the boys were all right, it was to their great relief when Dan finally came dragging his duffel bag through the front doorway.
Mr. and Mrs. Blair were so pleased, in fact, there was even something said about them making themselves more available to their son than they had done in the past, but nothing ever really came of it. Dan was just beginning to tell them about his plans for college, and about Jamie, and about how he hoped one day to marry her and spend the rest of his life with her once he finished college, . . . when his parents had to leave, “for only a little while, we promise.” They were needed at the hospital.
“Royce, you old thief! What have you been up to?” cried Linc, giving his little brother a hug.
“Are you back home? Are you staying!”
“I sure hope so, Royce. How have you been feeling?” Linc let go of him and stepped back to see for himself.
“Did you read those books we found?”
“Only that first one; you haven’t been gone long enough for me to read the others.”
Linc laughed at that. Yes, he thought, it had been a quick trip. “Did you like it?” he asked.
“Yeah. It made me feel like you weren’t so far away. I think it’s for grown-ups, though. Hey, where’s Danny?”
“He’s home, too. I dropped him at his house. Hey, where’s Mom and Pop?”
“Out back,” said Royce.
Linc hugged Royce again and went out to the backyard to find his parents.
His parents were relieved and surprised to find him back so soon. They all went inside and sat down at the kitchen table.
Linc told them he had made up his mind about some things. He told them he had decided to tell Clare to do whatever she decided to do with the baby, and that whatever she decided would be fine with him, and that he would do everything in his power to provide for it. He said he realized that he wouldn’t be able to provide much in the short term (what with his newfound commitment to go to college and make as much of himself as he could, something he decided on during the long drive back from Florida while reflecting on their trip), but he assured them that, as time went by, he would be able to provide for all the child’s needs.
“I’ve also decided I want to work for you, Pop, this summer.”
“That’s fine, Linc,” said Mr. Lebeau.
“And when fall comes around I want to go to the junior college. I figure--”
“College, Linc?” said his mother. “I can’t believe my ears.”
“Yeah, Mom. I figure if I go to junior college for a couple of years, by then I will have found something I wouldn’t mind too much doing for the rest of my life. And while I’m in college I’d like to work a few hours for you after classes every day, Pop, and all day Saturdays, if that’s all right with you.”
“I’ll be glad to have you, son. You’ve always done a good job for me; you know that.”
“Yeah, but not without a lot of grumbling. From now on I’m gonna work real steady, just doing what needs to be done.”
The Lebeaus couldn’t be happier with what they were hearing. Mrs. Lebeau said, “Have you given any thought to what you might like to study in college, Linc? Are you leaning toward anything?”
Linc had come to realize, somewhere between home and Florida, that you can’t, in one lifetime, travel to every city or meet every person in the world. He had also come to realize, just as Peter Amesley professed, that one place was pretty much the same as another. And he had learned for himself that the happiest people, the ones most content with their lot, were the ones who realized these few simple truths and made a worthwhile life out of whatever circumstances in which they happened to find themselves.
Linc knew now that he didn’t have to experience all of creation in order to write, to have something meaningful to say. He knew now that it was sufficient to write about one’s own unique circumstances. He would write about his own experiences, and about Dan, and Jamie, and Pete, and Hiram Alexander, and Ethel, and all those salt-of-the-earth types it had finally dawned on him one comes across every day in everyday life. Life was once again easy for Linc. He felt he had years of writing to catch up on.
Now when Linc looked toward the future, he saw rock-solid images in place of fuzzy ones, images of every one of his free moments being spent writing, logging the trappings of his life, all the experiences unique to his own existence. And if his writing didn’t provide him with a living, that wouldn’t matter; while writing on the side, he would get his living some other way--probably by running his father’s shop, the prospect of which now seemed pretty perfect to him, and every bit as respectable as farming.
Linc’s mind was a hundred miles away, contemplating the insights he had picked up on his trip with Dan and Jamie. His mother had to repeat her question about whether or not he was leaning toward pursuing any particular course of study. He laughed. Since he was trying to be more responsible, he figured now wasn’t the time to tell them about his dream of being a writer. So instead of telling them about that just yet, he said, “Mom, I only know what I’m not going to be studying.”
“What’s that, son?” asked his father.
“Gypsying, Pop, gypsying.”
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