Caleb set his bag on the end of the bed in his uncle’s guest room. Titus’ house was small, and only had two bedrooms. They had agreed the boys would both keep their belongings in the guest room, but Travis would sleep in the bed and Caleb would sleep on the living room sofa.
“You okay?” Titus had walked up behind Caleb without him knowing.
Caleb turned to face his uncle. “Yeah.”
“You sure?” Titus sat down on the foot of the bed, and motioned for Caleb to join him.
“Yeah. I’m sure.” Caleb sat beside of his uncle, and offered him a hopeful grin. “You’re a better cook than Clay, anyway.”
Titus chuckled. “It’s not hard to beat frozen pizza and peanut butter sandwiches.”
“That’s all we ever eat,” Caleb said softly. “Mama quit cooking a long time ago.”
Titus looked surprised. “She did?”
“Yeah.” Caleb shrugged. “Clay buys easy stuff, and we just get what we want when we want it.”
Titus looked troubled, but he only said, “Well, I promise to feed you at least a little bit better while you’re staying with me.”
“Awesome,” Caleb grinned, and then said, “I have to go cut grass for Mr. Taylor.”
“Okay.” Titus clapped his nephew on the shoulder as he stood up. “I’ll have dinner ready at six.”
Caleb pedaled his bike quickly across town. While he was staying with his uncle, he would be a lot closer to everything. It only took him fifteen minutes to reach Mr. Taylor’s house. As usual, the old man was sitting on his front porch, wearing his daily uniform–a long sleeved button-up shirt under bib overalls. He was whittling a stick with a pocketknife when Caleb climbed the porch steps to say hello.
“How’s Caleb today?” Les Taylor asked.
“I’m okay,” Caleb replied, sitting down on the top steps.
“It’s awfully hot today.”
“When you get done mowing, I’ve got some lemonade in the kitchen for you before you head out.”
Caleb stood to go get the mower from the shed, but his employer laughed and said, “Not so fast.”
Caleb stopped and looked at the old man.
“My great-granddaughter is staying with me for the rest of the summer. She’s about your age. She’s out back trying to get herself a suntan.” Mr. Taylor chuckled a little to himself before saying, “You can just mow around her if she doesn’t get out of your way.”
Caleb nodded quickly, and hurried down the steps. He usually mowed the backyard first, but decided to start in the front today. As he mowed, he couldn’t help thinking about Mr. Taylor’s great-granddaughter. The idea of a girl sunbathing nearby distracted him so much he was actually surprised when he realized he was finished mowing the front yard.
Caleb killed the motor, and quietly pushed the mower to the side of the house, where he unlatched the gate of the fenced-in backyard. As he pushed the mower through the gate and then latched it behind him, he scanned the backyard for the great-granddaughter. She was lying on a plastic lounger, holding a magazine, and wearing a lime green bikini with white polka dots. Her long blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. As Caleb pushed the mower toward the other side of the yard where he normally began mowing, she lowered her magazine and watched him approach.
Caleb wasn’t usually shy, but he had to force a reply out of his mouth. “Hi,” he said softly.
“I’m Megan.” The girl sat up now, and let the magazine drop to the grass beside of her.
“I’m Caleb. I mow for your grandpa.”
“I know,” Megan smiled. “Papaw told me you were coming.”
“He said you’re here for the summer?”
Megan scowled. “Yeah. Unfortunately.”
When Caleb didn’t respond, she added, “My mom and dad are getting divorced, probably. They sent me here for the summer while they try to ‘work on things’ or whatever.”
“I’m sorry.” Caleb tried not to stare at her small breasts, but the sun glinted alluringly off her suntan oil. He looked away from her and said, “I have to stay with my uncle for a while. It sucks when you can’t be at your own house.”
Megan was very interested now. “Why are you staying with your uncle?”
“My mom’s in the hospital.”
“What about your dad?”
Megan looked surprised. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Caleb felt awkward, as he always did when he told someone about his dad. “It happened a long time ago.”
“Is your mom sick?”
“Sort of.” Caleb didn’t want to tell her his mom was crazy.
Megan looked confused, but didn’t question him further. Instead, she asked, “How old are you?”
“Me, too,” Megan smiled. “Tenth grade next year?”
“It sucks being away from all my friends this summer.” Megan looked sulky. “Is there anything to do in this town?”
“Not a lot,” Caleb answered. “Where are you from, anyway?”
“Nashville.” Megan looked proud of her hometown. “It’s a thousand times better than here.”
Caleb grinned. “Little River’s not a bad place. There’s not a lot to do, but it’s not that far to Knoxville.”
“What do you do for fun?”
“Hang out with my friend, Robbie. Ride my bike. Go swimming, or walking down by the tracks.”
Megan looked disappointed.
“I better finish mowing,” Caleb said.
“Wait!” Megan stopped him. “Next time you do any of those things, can you take me with you? I don’t know anyone here—besides Papaw.”
“Sure.” Caleb’s heart beat increasingly hard against his chest. “I’m going to go swimming with Robbie tomorrow. You can go with us.”
“Okay.” Megan pulled a pen from the inside of the magazine where she had been taking a quiz, and reached for Caleb’s hand. He let her take it, and barely breathed as she wrote her phone number on the back of his hand. “Just call me tomorrow.”
©2015 Rachel Holbrook
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, and various other literary journals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.