"Are you fishing?"
He looked down at the fishing pole in his hand and the line dipping in the water and then up , squinting into the sun. "Um, yeah."
She wrinkled her nose in reaction. "How can you stand the fish? They're so... wet!"
He paused for a moment, his mind wondering if she'd lost hers. "That's what they are."
"Sure," she answered back, swaying side to side as she watched the hem of her skirt swing, "but when you catch them, don't they flip around somethin' awful?"
Shrugging he turned back to his line. "That's what they do."
He didn't see her but he felt her crouch down, the hem of her skirt brushing against his pants leg. "Then why do you catch them?"
His fingers tightened around the cane pole he'd whittled himself. "'Cause a man's gotta eat."
"Oh," her cheerful tone was a distraction. "Why don't you come to school?"
He didn't answer her right away, and she stood, turning around in odd circles near the edge of the stream. 'Leave it to a girl,' he thought, 'to have no sense.'
She took a momentary break from her humming to look up at him, catching his curious gaze. "Well? Why don't you come to-"
She went down like a stone, her fancy shoe was caught up in the rocks at the edge of the stream and the way she was twisting around to flare her skirt she didn't even know which end was up until she ended with her bottom in the water and pretty much everything else up in the air.
"Help! Help!" He blinked at her as if she'd disappear or melt into the stream, taking a moment before he could even act.
That got him up and moving. Setting his pole into the mud near the bank, propped up against a rock, he stepped over to the edge of the stream and looked down at her.
Her arms reached up in desperation. "Please... before I... drown!"
It seemed useless to tell her that she was in the shallows. That if she put her hands down into the water she would touch bottom. That if she just put her feet down, she could stand. It was all useless because she'd worked herself into a frenzy.
"Hold on… hold on now," he crooned to her like he did to the mule when she didn't want to pull the plow. "I've got ya." He held out his hand and she grasped it as though she truly were drowning in the water.
He managed to get her upright and out of the water before she threw her arms around his neck and nearly squeezed him to death. "Oh, thank you… thank you… thank you!"
Struggling to get a hold of her he set her back away from him to save his life. "You weren't-"
"You can't imagine the state that I was in," she gasped out the words, "I was nearly faint with fright and I swear I saw straight into heaven before I felt your hand take mine!"
He swallowed hard and shrugged. "Really, you were barely a few inches in and-"
She held up her hand to silence him. "I don't want to think about the horrible experience any longer." She beamed at him obviously recovered. "I must look terrible!"
Again he shrugged. "You're wet."
She moaned like she'd been socked in the middle by one of the schoolyard bullies. "Oh, I know… my beautiful dress! Mama's gonna be fit to be tied when she sees this mess." She held her skirt out so that they could both look at it. She turned slightly to see the back and clucked like some of the hens in his mama's coop. "It's ruined!"
He barely gave it a glance. He wasn't going to be caught dead staring at her skirt. "Should come out in the wash."
Her answering look was all shock and confusion. A moment later and her smile was back. "Well, I should be gettin' home 'fore the stain sets."
"Sure." His shoulders were beginning to get a bit weary of shrugging. He turned back to see where he'd left his fishing pole and started back. He didn't get more than a step when he heard her voice.
"You're not going to let me walk home by myself, are you?"
He gave her a look over his shoulder. "Why not? You walk to school and back by yourself, right?"
She blinked at him for a moment. "Why, of course… but I've never been 'injured' before." Her shoulder's sagged artfully as she leaned heavily on one leg as if to show how injured she was. "What would happen if I were to fall again… and you weren't there to help me?" She gave him a sad little look. "Why I could lie there for days and days and perish from lack of food and water!"
His eyes closed as he struggled to find a good reason to take off for the hills, but his momma would whip him for sure if she found out that he'd 'left her to the wolves.' "We may be poor," she was always telling him, "but we've got our manners." He ground his back teeth together and sighed. "Sure, I guess." As he walked over to retrieve his pole he mumbled to himself. "You've scared all the fish away anyway with all that noise and commotion."
With his fishing pole in one hand and his pail in the other he moved off down the path. A few steps away he waited for her to catch up to him, but she stayed where she was.
"Well? You want me to walk you, right?" He was quickly reconsidering his decision.
"I'm waiting," she gave him a prim look. "For you to offer your arm. I am… injured after all."
He nearly stomped the water off of the cuffs of his pants as he made his way back to her. "Like the whole ten feet would've killed her," he mumbled beneath his breath. Bending his elbow he set his fist on his hipbone. The pail bumped against his thigh as he made a stiff triangular hole for her.
"Thank you," she slipped her arm through and had to nearly jump forward as Kid began to walk in the direction of her house, "I ah…" she was almost a dead weight on his arm, making him work for every step, "you know… I don't think I know your name…"
He spared a glance in her direction. "Yeah, you do."
She hobbled along, slowing him even further. "No… I've heard the 'other boys' calling you names, but," she stopped dead in her tracks and he had to stop too or risk tripping them both up and hitting the dirt, "I don't think I've heard your name."
He continued to move down the path, he was going to be stubborn.
Gamely limping along, she finally spoke again. "I bet you don't know mine."
Turning his head toward her, he gave her the first ghost of a smile. "I bet I do."
"Oh?" Her eyes flashed with a little bit of surprise mixed in with some sass. "Really then," she leaned into him, "what is it?"
He continued to walk, urging her on because he knew she was curious. "You're Doritha Simmons."
"How did you know?" Her tone was shocked, pleasantly so.
He shrugged and the end of the pole where it dangled over his shoulder bobbed with the added motion. "Everyone knows."
"Then why don't I know your name?"
His expression sobered a bit. "It's not important. "
"Well," she goaded him, "I'd like to know the name of my savior, if you don't mind… especially since I'll be tellin' everyone how you saved me from certain death."
"I ain't real fond of my name," he began, "they only gave it to me by accident anyway."
That got her attention. "Accident? What do you mean?"
She said it in such a way that his step faltered a bit. She slowed to a stop beside him, their bodies shaded by the thick branches of the trees overhead. He looked at her and he could see the real concern in her face. "Mama'd lost a baby inside her after Jed. And then right before she had me, there was another boy. Didn't live to see his first year, so by the time I came around," his gaze lowered to the ground at his feet for a moment before looking back up at Doritha, "she was really nervous about everything. Didn't help when the blight came through and the crops started dyin'." He let out a whoosh of air. "By the time everyone come up for air I was nearly one and a half and they called the preacher man in to baptize me.
"He came over to the house and it weren't until he had his pen out to write in my mama's Bible that they figured they'd forgotten to give me a name."
"Oh." Doritha's simple response had him smiling.
"Yeah, well… I guess the preacher man was a bit hard of hearin'," he continued, "'cause the way Mama tells it, Pa'd just said 'He looks like a Rascal to me,' and that's when the man started writing."
Doritha blinked at him, her mind not quite wrapping around the meaning of his words.
"So," he continued, trying to get the inevitable over with, "he wrote in 'Rascal' as my name."
"Yeah." The worn toe of his shoe dug into the dirt at his feet. "It's pretty silly, but you know," he looked back up at her, surprised to see her still listening intently to him, "it's better than 'baby'… or 'boy,' that was Jed's suggestion."
She touched her forefinger to her lips and looked off into the leafy canopy overhead. "Hmm."
He regarded her with curiosity. "What, hmm?"
"You're right," she concluded, "Rascal sounds so… mischievous. That definitely won't do." She took a step or two and stopped regarding him with a discerning eye. "Baby certainly doesn't suit. You're walkin' around fine on your own." She paced the other way a few steps. "And boy… well a boy doesn't suit a knight… oh!" She froze in place, her eyes widening with her smile. "Kid!"
"Kid?" He gave a little grimace and shook his head. "It's not much better than 'boy'."
"No!" She moved forward and set her hands on his shoulders. "It's got… 'flair'!" She grinned wider. "Kid. I think it suits you."
Before he could reply she swung around, slipping her arm in his, and nearly dragging him along as she continued on the path. "I think it suits just fine."
As the house appeared in the space beyond the trees a figure vaulted from the porch. "Doritha! Where have you-" Garth stopped short, his shoes dragging in the dirt, coating the polish with a layer of dust. "What's he doin' here?"
He heard the tone Garth used and it didn't surprise him. He'd been on the receiving end of Garth's condescending tone at every opportunity and even though he tried to let it roll of his back, he felt his jaw tighten up and his spine straighten as he looked the boy dead in the face. "Ain't none of your-"
"He walked me home, Garth…" she bestowed a radiant smile on her savior, "after he saved my life."
"Oh?" Garth folded his arms over his chest. "Did he scare away a rabid dog with his ugly face and those rags he calls clothes?"
"Why, Garth," her sugary tone was laced with a reproach, "I should think that you'd be concernin' yourself with my brush with death rather than pesterin' poor Kid here with such horrible words." She set her hand gently on Kid's arm and gave him an encouraging smile.
"Kid?" Garth nearly choked on his laughter. "Kid? His name," Garth rocked back on the heels of his shoes, his voice almost climbing into the next octave, "is Rascal."
"That may be," she acknowledged, "but I think, as the damsel in distress that he rescued from certain death that I have the right to grant my champion a new name." She gave Kid a knowing look. "You see, I've read every book on knights that I've been able to find and I can tell you that's how it's done." She turned her head to look at Garth, as if waiting for him to argue.
"So you're callin' him 'Kid'?" Garth sniffed. "Talk about goin' from one stupid name to another."
He thought about it for a moment before nodding at Doritha. "I like it."
"You can't be serious, Doritha… he's…. he's…" Garth searched for the perfect word to get his point across, "he's not a knight… he's just pathetic. Pathetic and poor!" He said the last word as if it was a crime and tasted like salt on his tongue.
"Oh, Garth," she sighed and shook her head slowly, her expression indulgent, "what Kid lacks in wealth, he excels in other fine qualities."
"Your father won't like you associating with a boy like him." Garth's dark gaze was full of foreboding.
As if on cue, the fine black buggy driven by Thomas Simmons came up the path to the house. "Doritha, dear? Your dress!" He looked at both boys in askance. "What's happened here?" His gaze fixed on Kid, instantly sizing up the boy with his worn clothing. "Did he-"
"Papa… now you stop your bellowin' this moment." Doritha pulled Kid along as she moved toward her father. "I'd like to introduce you to the man who saved my life…"
Kid looked back at Garth as Doritha prattled on. The other boy was fuming and based on the color rising in his face, he probably had a fever by now. He'd probably get pounded by the boy the next time they were alone, but the look on his face as Doritha regaled her father with his heroic deeds was enough. Finally there was someone else on the outside looking in.