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The next morning at breakfast Linc abruptly told his parents about his plan. One might have heard a pin drop.
"What's got into you, Linc?" asked his mother. "I'm very disappointed in you after what your father told me last night. Just imagine!"
"Well, this way you won't have to worry about me disappointing you anymore, Mom," Linc said absentmindedly, pouring syrup over four biscuits, wanting as much of his mother's cooking as he could hold, before he left it behind, not knowing when he would have a chance to taste it again.
"Don't answer your mother that way," said Mr. Lebeau.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I don't mean to be smart to you." He put his hand atop his mother's. "I've just reached a place where I have to make a clean break and a fresh start. I used to be a nice guy--and not so very long ago, either--and I've got to get that back; and I know I'm not gonna get it back while hanging around here."
"But Linc," said his mother, "you are a nice guy. Your father and I have always been so proud of you."
Linc shook his head. He said, "Mom, I'm leaving. If I don't leave today--right now--I know I'll just shrivel up and die hating myself. Can't you understand? I know it!"
"But what about the child, son?" asked his father. Mr. Lebeau had taken it for granted that, by this morning, Linc would have reached the decision to do the right thing concerning the child.
Linc raised his head, struggling to swallow his bite quickly, and said, "I can't do it, Pop--Pop, I'm only seventeen--I'm only seventeen and I've--I've already practically raised Dan. It's not fair. I just can't do that again right now, Pop."
"I know how you've always been with Danny, Linc," said Mr. Lebeau. "And I can't tell you how much your mother and I admire you for it. Do you know what, though? I wouldn't have had you spend all that time you've spent with Danny in any other way."
"I wouldn't either, Pop; you know how I feel about Danny. Being a kid wouldn't have been near as much fun without him. Still, I just can't do it again right now."
"You sound like you have your mind made up."
"I do," Linc answered simply, licking some syrup off his fingers.
"But how will you live?" asked his mother. "What will you use for money?"
"I haven't really thought about it." (Linc considered any financial assistance from Pete to be a possibility at best, so he didn't feel he was lying to his parents.)
"Listen, Linc," said his father, reaching for his back pocket, "you know I don't have a lot of money to spare, but I'm going to give you fifty dollars so at least we won't have to worry about you tonight."
"I don't want your money, Pop. Keep it."
"I don't want you to go, Linc," said Royce, who had been sitting in quiet shock at what he was hearing. Real tears coursed down his smooth cheeks.
Because of the emotions gathering in his own throat, Linc couldn't respond to him. In anger, Royce shoved his plate toward the center of the table, upsetting a vase holding a single rose, causing a small spill of water. Without a word of reproach for Royce, Mrs. Lebeau gathered her napkin and her husband's napkin and swabbed up the water. That spill meant nothing alongside Linc's leaving home.
A crushing sense of futility was felt by all, and nothing further was said. Linc took his dishes to the sink and went back to his room to finish making everything ready for his departure. Royce came in and sat down by him on his bed. Linc noticed the boy's damp sleeve to which the boy had transferred his tears. Royce sat quietly. He was trying to gather his power of speech.
Finally, he said, "Are you gonna be a Dharma bum?"
Linc laughed, patted his brother's head, saying, "I'm gonna be my own kind of bum."
"I started that book."
"That's good. I'm glad."
"The two hoboes are riding along inside that cold train car."
"Uh-huh," said Linc.
"They're sharing that one guy's wine and cheese."
"That's right. You be sure and stay with it, Royce."
"That's good," Linc said with a grunt, as he drew the string tight on his duffel bag, then hefting it once to check the weight of it. It was heavier than he expected, but he was sure he needed everything it held.
"We can talk about it when you get back home," Royce said, brightening, finally glancing up at his brother. Linc didn't reply; he only glanced down at his younger, and somehow, ancient, brother.
"I'll save the box scores from the Astro games for you; you don't need to worry about that any."
"Don't do that, Royce."
"Why not? Don't you care about what Bob Watson does?"
"Royce, I'm not going to the moon, for Christ's sake. I can read about old Bob Watson any damn time I want to."
"I'll just miss telling you about him in the mornings, that's all."
Linc reopened the bag and crammed an old Astros cap inside. He closed it and, with effort, pitched it in the corner. He went over to his dresser and took from it that notebook in which he had inscribed so faithfully all the highs and lows of Bob Watson's baseball career. He decided to leave it behind; on second thought, he chunked it to Royce, who, knowing what it was, set it down beside him on the bed as if it were a hot potato. "What's that for?" asked Royce.
"You can have it."
"That's yours," said Royce. He snatched it from the bed, marched it over to Linc, held it out to his big brother, saying, "You gotta take this with you, Linc."
Linc accepted it from him and stuck it down behind his belt the way a gangster might carry a forty-four. It was a huge relief to Royce that Linc would be taking it. He would die if he ever saw that notebook lying on Linc's dresser with Linc nowhere around.
"I don't want you to go, Linc."
"Are you ever coming back home?"
"I don't know."
With that, Royce left his brother and had a grudged cry in his own room. When he heard Linc was ready to walk out the door, he went and joined the rest of the family to see him off.
When Linc took leave of his family there were no tears. It was all rather surreal due to it all coming about so fast. One moment Linc was completely involved with the family, and the next, he was quietly closing the door, sensing he was erecting an insurmountable barrier between himself and the family he dearly loved.
Stepping out into the early morning sunshine, he was tempted to toss the cumbersome notebook behind the bushes beneath his bedroom window. No, he could never do it. He slumped his bag down on the porch and made room for the notebook by cramming farther down all the other contents. He drew tight the drawstring. Then he left.
Linc found Dan waiting for him on the front porch of his house. He had a bag by his side identical to Linc's own, for they had purchased them together two years before at a surplus store.
Linc eased out of the car and called, "Ready to go, Dan?"
"Ready," said Dan, yawning hugely.
"Your parents all right?"
"Pleased as punch. They even gave me twenty bucks to hurry me on my way." (Though, as busy professionals, his parents didn't have a lot of extra time to spend with Dan, they loved him very much. They considered Dan's trip with Linc to be just another of the boys' fiascoes-in-the-making, and the twenty dollars was just their way of showing they didn't take it at all seriously. Also, as far as they were concerned, if Dan was with Linc, then Dan was in good hands.)
"Sorry, Dan," said Linc. "Hey, go get that old tent of yours. It might come in handy."
Dan had bought his tent at the same surplus store where he and Linc bought their bags; trouble was, he bought it sight unseen. Imagine his chagrin when, upon unrolling it, he discovered it was riddled with holes and rips. He went right back to that store and demanded back his money, even going so far as to call the proprietor an "old crook." That didn't go over very well with the shopkeeper, and he grabbed Dan by the collar and led him back to the shelf from which Dan had taken down the tent. Printed there in bold, red letters were the words:
ABSOLUTELY NO REFUNDS OR RETURNS.
Dan informed the man that he couldn't "read every ol' sign in the place," and then once more demanded back his money. The storekeeper was unmoved. He instructed Dan to be on his way. Then Dan explained to the man that he had spent all of the money he had on the tent. That softened the man up enough to lead Dan to where the tent sealants were kept. He gave Dan two tubes free of charge. Then Dan, thinking that a square deal, forgot his anger. He went home and spent the largest part of that weekend patching and sealing that tent as well as he could, which wasn't very well, for it seeped and oozed like an untreated sore.
"My tent? You know I'm not much for sleeping in tents, Linc--the old lumbago, you understand. And I thought you said we were never gonna use it again after the last time we got rained on."
"Just get it. We might be damn glad we have it." Linc knew that that tent might well be their temporary home if Pete didn't come through with some money.
Dan got up slowly, grumbling under his breath. He went around the house to the shed where he kept that oft-patched, four-man tent. Returning toward Linc, he hollered, "We'll have to take your car, Linc: Dad hid my keys again. He said I'm a notoriously bad driver. Can you believe it?"
"Yeah, I can. I was planning on taking mine, anyway."
Dan hefted the tent and his bag and tossed them in the trunk with Linc's few things. "Tallyho!" he cried.
Dan took the twenty dollar bill from his shirt pocket, held it up between two fingers, and said, "Want to hold this, Linc? Dad says I don't know how to handle it."
Linc gave him an easy smile and said, "You hold on to it, Danny. Practice handling it."
"You sure? I don't want to hear any complaints when I lose it."
"Just get in the car, Daniel."
They got in the car and drove slowly away in the direction of the lake. They both felt light, buoyant, eager to begin their grand adventure. For the time being Linc had left behind the cares of home and hearth.
"Which way we gonna be heading, Linc?"
"To get Jamie."
"I mean on our cross-country trek. What's it gonna be? I'm all aflutter."
"We're going to Jacksonville, Florida."
"Any particular reason?"
"Well, Dan, we're not going to Alaska, because it gets pretty damn chilly up there; and we're not going to California, because there's a lot of desert between there and here. I just thought Florida might be a pretty good way to go."
"Damn logical, too! And to think I was worried you hadn't put much thought into this.
"You know, Linc," Dan continued, "I sure hope Jamie goes. That's the best idea you ever had. How are we going to divide her up? Woohoo!"
"You can forget about that, Dan. I"ll tell you right now there's gonna be none of that. Jamie might talk real big, but she's just a kid like we are. I"m just gonna give her a chance to get out of the situation she's in, if she wants to."
They pushed on toward the lake. A great gray cloud helped to beat back the sun's blister.
"I just thought of something, Linc."
"Congratulations. What was it?"
"I agree, it gets pretty damn cold in Alaska--now I haven't been there myself, as you probably know, but I seem to remember reading that somewhere."
"And California, whooee! quite a stretch of desert and, well, just badlands and general unpleasantness between there and here--just like you said, Linc."
"So, I just that minute thought of something that makes those places look like the Promised Land compared to sunny Florida."
"And what might that be, Daniel?"
"Alligators, Linc! Alligators, for Christ's sake!"
"Now Dan, there are less alligators in Florida than there are ducks in our lake. Shoot, Dan, this is Texas--you see any cowboys around here? Most people think us Texans can't even take two steps without tripping over some damn cow. All that stuff is just for tourist advertisements, because all they really have in Florida is the damn beach."
"And all those advertisements about Florida alligators are supposed to draw great long caravans of people to Florida?"
"Of course they are. Why, any half-decent advertisement would make a sucker out of you, Daniel. You shouldn't believe all those advertisements you see. Advertisements are just trying to sell you something. Don't you worry about any little ol' alligators."
"But I've heard an alligator can saw a man right damn in half, with its teeth. And that once an ol' alligator has you in his mouth, it couldn't let go of you even if it wanted to, because of the way its jaw is put together. They have to swallow you whole, or else they'd choke to death. Man, I'm not lying. I read about that the same place I read about Alaska being cold."
"See what I mean? They're just trying to make you spend your vacation there by telling you those kinds of stories. You are green as grass, Danny." Then Linc began to sing:
Daniel Blair is green as grass. Thinks some ol' gator'd wanta bite him on the--
"And you think my reading about how I can be sawn right damn in half by some alligator is gonna make me load up the kids and head for Florida? Not me, brother."
"Dan, I think you're probably right. I think if you were somehow dumb enough to stumble into the mouth of one of the two or three alligators that live in Florida, it just might saw you in half, just like you say, and I think you'd probably have it coming to you, too."
"Oh, you do, huh? How come?"
"Well, Daniel, seeing that alligators are just like grizzly bears in that they are more afraid of people than people are afraid of them, and the fact that there are only four or five alligators in all of Florida--and those four or five actually living in the zoo--then you would damn sure have it coming to you if you were dumb enough to fall into one of their mouths."
Dan got a questioning look on his face. He said, "So what you're saying, Linc, is that the alligator population of Florida is actually growing as we speak: at first you said there are two or three; now you're saying there are four or five--" "Am I? Sorry. What I meant to say is there are three or four alligators chained inside a steel-encased tank in the middle of a zoo in a part of Florida we're not going anywhere near in the first place."
Dan reflected for a moment on what Linc just said. "In that case," he said, "I say Florida, here we come!"
They pulled up in front of Pete's house, got out of the car, and went up to ring the doorbell. Pete answered. He was still in his bathrobe. He looked a mess: his hair was uncombed; his bathrobe was unfastened, revealing his disarranged pajamas beneath it. Not yet recovered from the previous day's drinking, his liquid eyes were bloodshot and staring, fixing on nothing, seeming to gaze right through the two boys standing before them. He ran his fingers though his hair and then scratched the back of his neck. Steadier than he appeared, he stepped back and opened wide the two doors. He bowed slightly.
"Come in, fellows," he said. "I hope there aren't any hard feelings about yesterday."
The boys said there weren't. They walked inside.
"Where's Jamie?" said Linc. Pete called her.
Jamie walked into the room. If he were judging by appearances, an unenlightened onlooker would never have taken this girl to be this slovenly, older man's mate. Their appearances were poles apart. Though she wasn't dressed elegantly--for she was wearing jeans, a tucked-in shirt, and strappy sandals--her simple clothes were neat and well pressed; meanwhile, Pete's bare feet clapped the entry tile as he walked. Jamie was reserved. She said, "Hey, guys. I hoped it was you."
"Listen," said Linc, "can we all sit down and talk for a minute?"
Then, with Linc leading the way, the four of them went into the den and sat down on a leather wrap-around couch. Linc's resolve was firm. He was so determined to convince Jamie to come along with him and Dan, even the layout of that large house was no longer confusing to him.
"Jamie," Linc began, "Dan and I are going away, and we'd like you to come along with us, if you want to."
The offer took her by surprise. She glanced at Pete, who seemed not to be listening.
"Where are y'all going?" she asked.
"To Florida," said Dan. "And you have little to fear by way of alligators."
"Just up and leave?" she said, enthusiasm plain in her usually melancholy eyes.
"Yeah." said Linc. "Today. Right now." He told her all she need do was gather her things.
Hoping to catch a hint of his reaction to all of this, she shot another quick glance at Pete. He sat there with his legs crossed, oblivious to all around him, intently regarding the palm of his hand.
"I'd love to go," she said, her eyes still on Pete. "What do you say, Pete?"
Pete's head throbbed. Her question took him by surprise. Deep down, though, he knew his and Jamie's time together had about run its course. And if he were truly honest with himself, he would admit that Jamie should have left months ago.
Pete addressed Linc without looking at him: "For how long?" he asked.
"I can't give you a straight answer to that, Pete, because I don't have one. But I can tell you she'll be welcome for however long we're gone, and whenever she wants to come back, I'll make it my personal obligation to get her back as fast as I can, and all in one piece."
"I believe you will, Linc," said Pete, finally turning to the other three, "and I appreciate it. But how will you kids get by? I know you don't have any work lined up out there. Do you have any money?" (Pete wasn't only interested in Jamie's welfare, but that of the boys', as well.)
"We were hoping that you would fund our little excursion, Pete," said Dan.
For once Linc was glad to have Dan butt in; he hadn't yet planned on how to broach with Pete the subject of money. He said, "I know you've only known us a couple days, Pete, but we could sure use your help."
Pete laughed and said of course he would give them the money--even if Jamie weren't going along with them. He said what the boys were planning was something he might have liked to have done when he was their age--so long ago as that now seemed.
"And you're sure you don't have any problem with Jamie coming?" asked Linc.
"It's Jamie's life, not mine. She knows she is free to do as she pleases--you just try convincing her otherwise." Though Pete tried to make light of things, the sadness was there in his eyes.
Jamie stood up. She was ready to ally herself with the two fun-loving boys. "How much am I allowed to bring?" she asked.
"Just as much as ol' Pete will let you have," said Dan.
She said, "I was talking about clothes and stuff, dummy, not money," She laughed at Dan.
"Bring as little as you can get by with," said the ever-practical Linc Lebeau.
"Yeah," said Dan, "you can bring along all the money you want to, but we won't have the car piled up with a lot of your clothes and junk."
Everybody laughed. Jamie put her forehead to Pete's and asked him if he was sure he would be all right.
"I'm fine, Jamie. Promise me, though, that you'll come back for a visit sometime."
"You know I will," she said.
She said she would, but she had no intention of doing so. She was glad to be closing this chapter of her life. She didn't know if this trip to Florida with Linc and Dan would lead to some other role to fill; no, she was just looking upon it as a welcome break from the role she had been playing for the last two years. For now, she would just be going along for the ride. She went to gather her things, but not before she took a quick look at Dan. She liked his sense of humor and found herself always waiting for whatever he might say next (which, she thought rightly, might be anything), and had since she first slapped his grinning face.
"Listen, fellas," said Pete, "I'm sorry about yesterday. I'm afraid I was more than a little drunk."
Linc told him to forget it. That could be confined to the past now.
Pete said, "You guys look out for Jamie, and I swear she'll look out for you. She's a good kid and a helluva woman. . . . Just keep her safe, that's all."
The boys promised they would. Then the three fellows sat silently and waited for Jamie.
After Jamie had gotten her things together--not much more than a few changes of clothes, a few items of makeup, her toiletries--she prepared sandwiches for them to take along as lunch. She returned to the living room, carrying a small suitcase and a plastic bag containing the sandwiches and a small assortment of fruit. She informed them that she was ready.
"Just look at her," said Pete. "Any other woman would have insisted on taking two steamer trunks, but not our Jamie."
What Pete said was true: Linc wouldn't be the only practical one on this trip. Pete smiled at his soon-to-be-departed child-woman.
"Are you sure that's all you'll need?" asked Linc, rising as she entered, "Don't pay any attention to what Dan--"
"If anything," she said, "it's too much."
Pete asked them what route they would be taking to Jacksonville.
"Just gonna follow the signs," said Linc.
"He's lying to you," said Dan. "I"m gonna be navigator on this trek, but since we don't have a map, I expect to be steering us by the stars."
"Then God help us," said Jamie.
"We've got a map," said Linc, embarrassed, not wanting Pete to think he and Dan weren't up to their task.
"Listen," said Pete, putting his arm around Linc's shoulder and sitting him back down on the couch, "when you hit Dallas, don't go out on 20; drop down to Houston on 45, then head on out east on 10. That'll be a longer drive, but you'll like it better: it'll take you through New Orleans. Any of you been to New Orleans?"
None of them had.
"That'll be a good first night's stop for you; that way, you can break up your drive into halves. Anyway, what's the hurry? No need to drive tired."
If the truth were known, at this point Linc was smitten with second thoughts, because Pete was being fatherly, reminding Linc of his own father; but when Pete said something about going to get their money and then disappeared down the hallway, Linc came out of his funk and hollered after him: "Cash, Pete."
Pete soon returned with two neat stacks of fifty-dollar bills. Holding them aloft, he said, "Now, who's the treasurer of this bunch?"
"Either me or Linc," said Jamie, laughing, watching for Dan's reaction.
"Let Linc hold it," suggested Dan, having back his pound of flesh from Jamie.
Receiving the stacks from Pete, Linc asked, "How much is here, Pete? . . . Damn."
"I'm not sure, but I expect about five thousand. If you kids need any more--call me." He had, in fact, given them all the cash he had on hand.
Dan said, "Thanks, Pete. We will."
Linc looked Pete in the eye and asked him if he would really have been so generous if Jamie weren't going along with them. "I think I might," said Pete.
The two shook hands. Jamie gave Pete one last long hug, but cried no tears.
Dan shook Pete's hand and said, "Thanks for everything, Pete."
"Forget it. Y'all get rollin' now before I change my mind."
They went outside and dumped Jamie's suitcase into the trunk, and then the departing three climbed in the car. Linc turned the motor over and had begun to pull out when Pete ran up to his window and assured them again that if they needed anything at all, to let him know about it.
They drove away, Dan beside Linc, Jamie in the back seat. "I'll miss that old pervert," said Dan. "Me, too," said Jamie.
Linc told them he couldn't believe that Pete had given them so much money. He said he was hoping for maybe as much as a couple hundred dollars. He said now they could just think about having fun for a while before having to worry about where their money would be coming from.
"Pete's always been real generous," said Jamie. "Five thousand is nothing to him."
Continue . . .
All text copyright John T. 1995-Present. All rights reserved.