That night, after the auditions and the impromptu party that followed, the residents of the Sunset found that their trailers felt too cramped and cold for habitation. They filtered back outside, fired up grills or started fires in backyard pits, and got the thing going all over again.
Fireflies blinked in and out of the darkness while kids chased each other around and their parents sat playing cards or listening to music. Even Isaac Beagle, the most reclusive man in the park, joined the fun by putting on the finest display of hillbilly tap-dancing that anyone had ever seen.
Doug, exhausted after running the day’s auditions, found himself under the inexplicable scrutiny of one Mary Sherman. The girl, dark-haired and pretty, was a year older than him and had been his secret crush since the fifth grade. As far as he knew, she’d never even noticed his existence before. When they gathered to wait for the school bus in the mornings, it was like he became a ghost in her presence. Yet, for some reason, she suddenly seemed very interested.
He stood on his porch with his guts twisted up in anxiety about the situation when the screen door swung open and his father stepped outside with a beer in his hand. “You been squirreling around for damn near an hour already. Why don’t you hang out with Wes or something?”
Doug glanced across the road where Mary stood in a little pack with some other girls. They whispered amongst each other and occasionally glanced his way. “Mary won’t stop following me around. She and her friends are up to something and I don’t know what it is.”
“Mary Sherman?” Doug’s father scratched his stomach and sipped his beer. “Maybe she just likes you.”
Doug shook his head hard, like a donkey trying to shoot flies away with its ears. He’d never received a lick of parental guidance from his father before and he had no idea how to ask for it.
“She doesn’t like me,” he said.
“How the hell do you know?”
“No girls like me,” Doug snapped.
There was anger in his voice and he flinched, waiting for the inevitable smack upside the head. To his surprise, the blow never came. He struggled to see his father’s face out of the corner of his eye. The expression there was not anger. Doug might even have been tempted to say his father looked wounded.
“You’ve been walking around all day with that clipboard,” his father said. “Women like a man with authority. They can’t resist it.”
It was the first time Doug’s father had referred to him as a man. Actually, it was the first time he’d referred to him as much of anything other than “dingleberry” or “jerk.”
Dad sipped his beer. “Why don’t you go talk to her?”
“She doesn’t like me, Dad. She’s up to something.”
Out of nowhere, Doug’s father gave his shoulder a warm squeeze. The sensation caught the boy by surprise and he jerked instinctively away from the grasp.
“There’s plenty of reasons for girls to like you, Doug. You just have to pull your head out of your keister to see them.”
His father opened the screen door.
“I’m going to take you to the dentist next week,” he said casually, as though he’d already been planning to before that moment had happened. “We’ll see if she thinks you might need braces or something.”
“Those are really expensive, Dad.”
“You saying your old man can’t find enough money to get what you need, son?”
“No, Dad. I’m just saying they’re expensive.”
“Let me worry about that. We’re going next week. Don’t forget.”
The screen door swung closed. Doug turned away from Mary and stared at a random spot in the trailer’s siding. He didn’t want her to see his face twisted up with the strange mingling of hope, anxiety, and shame that he was feeling.
Copyright 2020 Jeff Suwak
Continue to Part 9