“Most of it. Dad had his hands full with Mom. I did what I could. Farms all across America are in the same boat. Whether it’s oranges or another crop. Letting it all rot right off the trees because they can’t afford to pick them. People are starving all around the country and I’m sitting in the middle of tons and tons of dead fruit.” I shook my head.
“How the fuck old are you again?” Bear asked suddenly. When he’d asked me previously I’d said seventeen but that was before Mr. Carson so nicely reminded me that I’d missed my birthday.
“Eighteen,” I said for the first time. Bear raised his eyebrows like the math didn’t compute. “I had a birthday, recently. VERY recently.”
“I can’t believe you’ve been doing all this shit on your own.” Bear ashed his cigarette out the window. “Where I come from most eighteen year olds can’t string two sentences together, especially the girls that hung around the club, and you’re out here running a fucking orange grove.”
I laughed. “You make it sound like an accomplishment. When in reality I haven’t accomplished anything. Just the opposite. Maybe if I knew more, did more, I could have saved it.” I sighed. “There isn’t anything impressive about that.”
“How have you been living? Your family?”
“I got a job at the Stop-N-Shop a few nights a week.”
“THE Stop-n-Shop?” Bear asked.
“Yeah, the very place that started it all,” I sang, staring out the window as we passed row after row of my failure.
“I also used to drive over to Corbin to clean motel rooms on the weekends,” I said. “After I paid the grove’s expenses it was enough for us to get by…sometimes.”
“You realize that’s crazy right? You have two jobs to support your other job?” Bear asked.
“Turn here,” I said, pointing to the slightly wider road hidden behind an overgrown bush. Bear turned the wheel and the truck jumped and swayed from side to side as it navigated the bumpier cut through the road that led into town. “And don’t call me crazy,” I added, crossing my arms over my chest.
“I take back ever thinking that you were mature for eighteen, because right now you’re pouting like a little kid,” Bear said as we passed the first sign that we’d reached the edge of town, Margie’s Used Appliance Warehouse which was more junk yard than warehouse.
“Am not,” I argued, looking straight ahead. “You can park there.” I pointed to the empty street in front of the Stop-N-Shop.
“Logan’s Beach isn’t exactly a big city, but this place is like a ghost town.” Bear turned off the truck and got out. I did the same and when I hopped down he’d already met me on my side.
“Yeah, ever since they closed the exit of the highway the only people left here are farmers, and more and more of those are disappearing, abandoning their farms and moving where the work is.” I shielded my eyes from the sun and looked around. Two trucks and a John Deere were parked across the street in front of Mickey’s Bait Shop and Bar. Two bicycles were tied up on the post in front of the Tick-Tock Cafe. “Looks pretty busy to me,” I added.
Bear looked around again like he was missing something. “The hardware store has an auto section,” I said, heading into the store. “Mostly parts for fixing trucks, but you might luck out and find what you need there,” I said, pointing over to Handy Hardware and Feed Store.
“Catch,” Bear said, tossing something at me that I caught before it hit the ground.
“Why?” I asked, staring down at the silver skull with the diamond eye that had been in my possession for a large part of my life. “It’s not mine.”
“Just hang onto it for me. I’ll call you when I’m done,” Bear said. “Be quick and keep your eyes open just in case.”
I rolled my eyes, squeezing my palm around the ring. I put the chain back around my neck and its familiar weight was more comforting than any hug could ever be. I nodded, heading toward the door. “Ti, I need your number.” Bear pulled a cell phone out of his front pocket.
“I don’t have a phone.”
“If you don’t have a phone then why did you just agree that I should call you when I’m done?”
“The old fashion way.” I cupped my hands around my mouth and shouted, “THEEEEEEEEYYYYYAAAAAAAA!” I pushed open the glass doors and left Bear laughing in the middle of the road.
* * *