“Good afternoon, Creighton.” Anna Grace’s voice behind me broke the late summer silence.
I turned around quickly, startled that I hadn’t heard anyone approaching. “Hi,” I said, slowly easing my grip on the hammer. “What are you doing here?”
Annie’s eyebrows furrowed together in confusion. “I’ve come to read like I usually do,” she said. “It’s a short novel that Molly gave me.” She smiled and I tried to return a like expression.
“Swell,” I said, glancing around. Ever since my in-town run in with Butch Smith and Dan Winters I’d been jumpier than a grasshopper. “Why don’t you sit under that big maple by the pond to read. It’s cooler there.” I continued repairing the fence.
“I thought I might read it aloud. I read the first chapter last night and its about a dear, old school master. I thought you might like it so I decided to wait and read it aloud to you.” Annie’s eyes brimmed over with excitement.
“I’m working right now,” I said sharply, turning away slightly. “Go sit under that maple and read.”
Annie’s face was an open book and in the split second I turned away and went back to work, an expression of keen hurt and confusion clouded her face. She walked away silently and sat beneath the maple tree I had suggested, her back against the trunk. She watched me a moment before opening her book and beginning to read.
I forced myself not to hurl a curse on my own head. Instead, I beat my clenched fist against the fencepost. Why couldn’t I just keep my dumb trap shut? Butch and Dan were miles away. Just because I’d seen them again once did not mean they were keeping tabs on me or watching how much I interacted with the people around me. This was Ralston, Texas, not Louis Cassetti’s Chicago.
I finished my work on the post and stole a glance over at Annie. Her nose was stuck faithfully between the pages of her book, but something in her manner told me she wasn’t paying attention to the words she was reading.
I walked over to the tree. She looked up when my shadow darkened the pages of her book. Her brown eyes were narrowed and a dark cloud clung to the backs of them. The hurt on her face drove a sharp pang of shame deep into my soul.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted out. Apologies never had been my thing.
Annie shook her head slowly, lowering her eyes. “You have nothing to be sorry about,” she said. “You were right. You have work to do and I was interrupting you. I’m sorry. If I’m keeping you from your work, Creighton, just tell me to go. I know I am a nuisance.”
“No, Annie, you have never been a nuisance.” I squatted down and lifted her chin with my hand to look straight into her eyes. “You have been nothing but a God send. You were the one who kept trying to befriend me when I was being a lousy-tempered idiot. I was a dope back there and you were being the kindest, most selfless ...” I started backwards at my own vehemence. I let go of her chin and bolted back into an upright position. “You weren’t wrong back there,” I finished suddenly.
Annie was staring at me. The hurt in her eyes was gone, replaced with amazement.
I stuffed my free hand into my pocket and fiddled with the hammer with my other. “Go ahead and read that book aloud,” I said quietly. “I’d be glad to hear it.”
Annie kept looking at me a couple moments longer and then reopened her book to the beginning.
By the way, who knows what book Anna Grace is talking about in this scene? I am curious to know if anyone gets the reference.