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Chapter 7

By early December, just over two weeks into rehearsals, the sky was winter dark before Miss Garber would let us leave, and Jamie asked me if I wouldn’t mind walking her home. I don’t know why she wanted me to. Beaufort wasn’t exactly a hotbed of criminal activity back then. The only murder I’d ever heard about had occurred six years earlier when a guy was stabbed outside of Maurice’s Tavern, which was a hangout for people like Lew, by the way. For an hour or so it caused

quite a stir, and phone lines buzzed all over town while nervous women wondered about the possibility of a crazed lunatic wandering the streets, preying on innocent victims. Doors were locked, guns were loaded, men sat by the front windows, looking for anyone out of the ordinary who might be creeping down the street. But the whole thing was over before the night was through when the guy walked into the police station to give himself up, explaining that it was a bar fight that got out of hand. Evidently the victim had welshed on a bet. The guy was charged with second-degree murder and got six years in the state penitentiary. The policemen in our town had the most boring jobs in the world, but they still liked to strut around with a swagger or sit in coffee shops while they talked about the “big crime,” as if they’d cracked the case of the Lindbergh baby.

But Jamie’s house was on the way to mine, and I couldn’t say no without hurting her feelings. It wasn’t that I liked her or anything, don’t get the wrong idea, but when you’ve had to spend a few hours a day with someone, and you’re going to continue doing that for at least another week, you don’t want to do anything that might make the next day miserable for either of you.  The play was going to be performed that Friday and Saturday, and lots of people were already talking about it. Miss Garber had been so impressed by Jamie and me that she kept telling everyone it was going to be the best play the school had ever done. She had a real flair for promotion, too, we found out. We had one radio station in town, and they interviewed her over the air, not once, but twice. “It’s going to be marvelous,” she pronounced, “absolutely marvelous.” She’d also called the newspaper, and they’d agreed to write an article about it, primarily because of the Jamie-Hegbert connection, even though everyone in town already knew about it.  But Miss Garber was relentless, and just that day she’d told us the Playhouse was going to bring in extra seats to accommodate the extra-large crowd expected. The class sort of oohed and aahed, like it was a big deal or something, but then I guess it was to some of them. Remember, we had guys like Eddie in class. He probably thought that this would be the only time in his life when someone might be interested in him. The sad thing was, he was probably right. You might think I’d be getting excited about it, too, but I really wasn’t. My friends were still teasing me at school, and I hadn’t had an afternoon off in what seemed like forever. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I was doing the “right thing.” I know it’s not much, but frankly, it was all I had. Occasionally I even felt sort of good about it, too, though I never admitted it to anyone. I could practically imagine the angels in heaven, standing around and staring wistfully down at me with little tears filling the corners of their eyes, talking about how wonderful I was for all my sacrifices.  So I was walking her home that first night, thinking about this stuff, when Jamie asked me a question.

“Is it true you and your friends sometimes go to the graveyard at night?” Part of me was surprised that she was even interested. Though it wasn’t exactly a secret, it didn’t seem like the sort of thing she’d care about at all.  “Yeah,” I said, shrugging. “Sometimes.”

“What do you do there, besides eat peanuts?”

I guess she knew about that, too.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Talk . . . joke around. It’s just a place we like to go.”

“Does it ever scare you?”

“No,” I answered. “Why? Would it scare you?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “It might.”


“Because I’d worry that I might do something wrong.” “We don’t do anything bad there. I mean, we don’t knock over the tombstones or leave our trash around,” I said. I didn’t want to tell her about our conversations about Henry Preston because I knew that wasn’t the sort of thing Jamie would want to hear about. Last week Eric had wondered aloud how fast a guy like that could lie in bed and . . . well . . . you know.

“Do you ever just sit around and listen to the sounds?” she asked. “Like the crickets chirping, or the rustling of leaves when the wind blows? Or do you ever just lie on your backs and stare at the stars?”

Even though she was a teenager and had been for four years, Jamie didn’t know the first thing about teenagers, and trying to understand teenage boys for her was like trying to decipher the theory of relativity.

“Not really,” I said.

She nodded a little. “I think that’s what I’d do if I were there, if I ever go, I mean. I’d just look around to really see the place, or sit quietly and listen.” This whole conversation struck me as strange, but I didn’t press it, and we walked in silence for a few moments. And since she’d asked a little about me, I sort of felt obliged to ask her about herself. I mean, she hadn’t brought up the Lord’s plan or anything, so it was the least I could do.

“So, what do you do?” I asked. “Besides working with the orphans or helping critters or reading the Bible, I mean?” It sounded ridiculous, even to me, I admit, but that’s what she did.

She smiled at me. I think she was surprised by my question, and even more surprised at my interest in her.

“I do a lot of things. I study for my classes, I spend time with my dad. We play gin rummy now and then. Things like that.”

“Do you ever just go off with friends and goof around?” “No,” she said, and I could tell by the way she answered that even to her, it was obvious that no one wanted her around much.

“I’ll bet you’re excited about going off to college next year,” I said, changing the subject.

It took her a moment to answer.

“I don’t think I’m going to go,” she said matter-of-factly. Her answer caught me off guard. Jamie had some of the highest grades in our senior class, and depending on how the last semester went, she might even end up valedictorian. We had a running pool going as to how many times she would mention the Lord’s plan in her speech, by the way. My bet was fourteen, being that she only had five minutes.  “What about Mount Sermon? I thought that’s where you were planning to go. You’d love a place like that,” I offered.

She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. “You mean I’d fit right in there, don’t you?”

Those curveballs she sometimes threw could smack you right between the eyeballs.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” I said quickly. “I just meant that I’d heard about how excited you were to be going there next year.”

She shrugged without really answering me, and to be honest, I didn’t know what to make of it. By then we’d reached the front of her house, and we stopped on the sidewalk out front. From where I was standing, I could make out Hegbert’s shadow in the living room through the curtains. The lamp was on, and he was sitting on the sofa by the window. His head was bowed, like he was reading something. I assumed it was the Bible.

“Thank you for walking me home, Landon,” she said, and she glanced up at me for a moment before finally starting up the walk.

As I watched her go, I couldn’t help but think that of all the times I’d ever talked to her, this was the strangest conversation we’d ever had. Despite the oddness of some of her answers, she seemed practically normal.  The next night, as I was walking her home, she asked me about my father.

“He’s all right, I reckon,” I said. “But he’s not around much.”

“Do you miss that? Not growing up with him around?”


“I miss my mom, too,” she said, “even though I never even knew her.” It was the first time I’d ever considered that Jamie and I might have something in common. I let that sink in for a while.

“It must be hard for you,” I said sincerely. “Even though my father’s a stranger to me, at least he’s still around.”

She looked up at me as we walked, then faced forward again. She tugged gently at her hair again. I was beginning to notice that she did this whenever she was nervous or wasn’t sure what to say.

“It is, sometimes. Don’t get me wrong-I love my father with all my heart-but there are times when I wonder what it would have been like to have a mother around. I think she and I would have been able to talk about things in a way that my father and I can’t.”

I assumed she was talking about boys. It wasn’t until later that I learned how wrong I was.

“What’s it like, living with your father? Is he like how he is in church?”

“No. He’s actually got a pretty good sense of humor.”

“Hegbert?” I blurted out. I couldn’t even imagine it.  I think she was shocked to hear me call him by his first name, but she let me off the hook and didn’t respond to my comment. Instead she said, “Don’t look so surprised.  You’ll like him, once you get to know him.”

“I doubt if I’ll ever get to know him.”

“You never know, Landon,” she said, smiling, “what the Lord’s plan is.” I hated when she said things like that. With her, you just knew she talked to the Lord every day, and you never knew what the “Big Guy upstairs” had told her. She might even have a direct ticket into heaven, if you know what I mean, being as how good a person she was.

“How would I get to know him?” I asked.

She didn’t answer, but she smiled to herself, as if she knew some secret that she was keeping from me. Like I said, I hated it when she did that.  The next night we talked about her Bible.

“Why do you always carry it with you?” I asked.

Now, I assumed she carried the Bible around simply because she was the minister’s daughter............

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