The chilly kiss that played against her skin was a sweet contradiction to the stifling early summer heat that had hoovered all month long. Even in her almost thread bare tank top, that draped loosely over her body was her skin still perspiring.
Riley swapped her forearm across her top lip, where evidence of her discomfort rested, before waving at her neighbors across the street. A lovely couple, Mr. and Mrs. Hinde. They were well into their 70’s and flirting happily with their 80’s.
She had been by to visit them when she first moved in with her husband, August Guffard. Mrs. Hinde said she and her husband had married young too, “Younger ‘n fifteen, we was. Orval just had that gleam in his eye and such a golden heart.” Mrs. Hinde sighed, her gaze waxing nostalgic. “And believe it or not, a smile that was just down right irresistible. I promise he had a head full of teeth then.”
Riley had laughed so hard that the lemonade she was drinking almost came straight out her nostrils. It didn’t help at all that Mr. Hinde had given her a cheeky, toothless grin and wink, just as his wife mentioned his teeth.
Mrs. Hinde continued. “Times was differn’ back then. I ‘spose you being young as you are and married to August don’t seem too far off from me and Orval.” she squeezed Orval’s hand and beamed at him, before turning her smile on Riley.
Riley silently took another sip of her lemonade.
She and August didn’t really know one another when they decided to jump the broom. Really it was Riley’s mother and her backward ways who had decided that she marry August Guffard. The trailer was being foreclosed and Mama had had her last run in with the law.
It wasn’t so much the three strikes kind of thing, but it was enough to have her sitting in a cell, feigning penance for the next 10 to 15 years. That left Riley, barely 18 and hardly graduated from high school, in a bind tight enough to squeeze the little hope of life and a future right out of her lungs.
She had determined to get her high school diploma. Something no one in her family had managed to do for the better part of 40 years. She even had plans for college. Her guidance counselor had told her she had great potential and shouldn’t waste it.
Riley had hidden several applications to local universities within her things, waiting for the moment she had enough extra change to properly apply.
Well she had the applications, they were gone. Riley had happened upon one of the brochures oil stained and in one of the old cars August was fixing up. Her heart sank when she saw it sitting saturated and abused.
She had cried all night over it.
She hadn’t understood why August had taken them. Just like she didn’t understand why he had taken her. He was nearly a decade older than she, was a far cry from hard on the eyes, with a solid build standing at six feet even, nice dark curls and beautiful eyes Riley liked to think were the color of smoke. He even had a nice little home he had been sharing with her and enough extra cash to give her a weekly allowance; $50 every Friday.
Under different circumstances she could have fancied herself mooning after him. But not just out right marrying him just because her mama said so, converting herself into his maid and cook, because that is all she had been for the first four months of their marriage.
August hardly said a word to her, outside of prayer and bible study. That was up until two months ago when he asked her why she hadn’t been back to school. “I got a call from your guidance counselor today,” He speared several lumps of mac and cheese with his fork, grimacing before choking them down. Riley wasn’t even a good cook. “She said, you ain’t been to class in a week an’ a half.”
Riley felt her stomach knot, she didn’t know if it was from nerves, fear or anger. August had never hit her. He had never even touched, although Riley knew he wanted to. She dared not tell him the feeling was mutual. But she didn’t know how to respond to him about it either. Wasn’t he the one who had swiped her college dreams away?
August pushed his plate away and folded his thick arms across his chest. “I told your mama that I would make sure you kept your love for the Lord a priority and that you finished up with your schooling. Then I have to leave work to go and talk to some stranger about why you ain’t been to class and I don’t even have an answer for her.”
He paused realizing Riley wasn’t going to say anything. Instead, she had slipped further down into her seat the same way the beads of condensation slipped down her drinking glass.
August rose from the table. “I told her you would be in class tomorrow morning, and that you would have all that work made up before the end of the month. Don’t make a liar out of me.”
Feeling more beholden to him than anything, Riley got on the bus the next morning and hit her books with a mighty vengeance. Each morning she watched the Hinde’s as she left for school, and even watched them from her front porch at night, wishing she could have had what she saw from the view of her and August’s house.
What she would have given to have what they had, wrinkly skin and missing teeth and all. The view from their house was perfect, even with stifling heat, and Good Will furnishings. They had a selfless love, a love that kept the other from making fool decisions and getting locked up, a love that only grew even as hair fell out, a love that was solid even when the skin cracked.
Yeah, Riley wanted that. She would even take it with August.
She let her eyes drift closed and took in the sweet smell of the air. The sun was setting just down the way and another day was ending drawing her further away from the life she had once known and into the greater unknown, beyond her marriage to a beautiful stranger, and dreams she thought she would never see breathe life.
“You make a decision yet?” August’s voice called at her from the window of his pickup truck as he parked it behind the old Camry he had fixed up for her. He stepped down from his truck, the door slamming shut behind him. He was unconsciously heavy handed. “We ain’t got forever.”
Riley still hadn’t wrapped her head around it, even though her heart had eaten it whole with one bite, that August had taken her college applications and sent them all off the very day he had found them.
She shrugged and shook her head, and found herself accepting the offer of his arm stretched out like a protective wing that pulled her close to his side. No, she hadn’t decided on what university she would attend that fall, but she had decided that she would have what the Hinde’s had across the street, and the smile August Guffard gave her seemed a sure sign that his golden heart agreed.
This story was fun to write. It played at pieces in my past, by the view of the image that is shown of the street. No, its not of anywhere that I have been, but it reminded me of my childhood, when I would spend weeks up north with my 3rd cousins. I also spent nearly an hour writing this as apposed to the usual 15 to 20 minutes that I set aside for free writing. I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did writing it.