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Eight

‘Uh … Miz Lillian Jean, wouldja wait up a minute, please!’

‘Cassie, you cracked!’ cried Stacey. ‘Cassie, where you … get back here ! Cassie !’

Stacey’s words faded into the gray stillness of the January morning as I turned deaf ears to him and hurried after Lillian Jean.

Thanks for waiting up,’ I said when I caught up with her.

She stared down at me irritably. ‘What you want !’

‘Well,’ I said, walking beside her, ‘I been thinking ‘bout what happened in Strawberry back last month.’

‘Yeah!’ commented Lillian Jean suspiciously.

‘Well, to tell you the truth, I was real upset for a while there. But my papa told me it don’t do no good sitting around being mad. Then I seen how things was. I mean, I should’ve seen it all along. After all, I’m who I am and you’re who you are.’

Lillian Jean looked at me with astonishment that I could see the matter so clearly. ‘Well, I’m glad you finally learned the way of things.’

‘Oh, I did.’ I piped readily. The way I see it - here, let me take them books for you, Miz Lillian Jean - the way I see it, we allgotta do what we gotta do. And that’s what I’m gonna do from now on. Just what I gotta.’

‘Good for you, Cassie,’ replied Lillian Jean enthusiastically. ‘God’ll bless you for it.’

‘You think so!’

‘Why, of course!’ she exclaimed. ‘God wants all his children to do what’s right.’

‘I’m glad you think so … Miz Lillian Jean.

When we reached the crossroads. I waved good-bye to Lillian Jean and waited for the others. Before they reached me, Little Man exclaimed. ‘Owwww. I’m gonna tell Mama ! Carrying that ole dumb Lillian Jean’s books!’

‘Cassie, whatja do that for!’ questioned Christopher- John, his round face pained.

‘Ah, shoot,’ laughed T.J. ‘Ole Cassie jus’ learned she better do what’s good for her if she don’t want no more of Mr. Simms’s back hand.’

I clinched my fists behind me, and narrowed my eyes in the Logan gaze, but managed to hold my tongue. Stacey stared at me strangely, then turned and said, ‘We’d better get on to school.’

As I followed, Jeremy touched my arm timidly. ‘C-Cassie, you didn’t have to do that. That - that ole Lillian Jean, she ain’t worth it.’

I stared at Jeremy, trying to understand him. But he shied away from me and ran down the road after his sister.

‘Mama gonna whip you good, too.’ said prideful Little Man, still fuming as we approached the school. “Cause I’m gonna sure tell it.’

‘Naw you ain’t,’ said Stacey. There was a shocked silence as all heads turned to him. This here thing’s between Cassie and Lillian Jean and ain’t nobody telling nobody nothin’ ‘bout this.’ He stared directly at T.J., caught his eye, and repeated, Nobody.

‘Ah, man !’ cried T.J. ‘It ain’t none of my business.’ Then, after a moment’s silence, he added, ‘I got too many worries of myown to worry ‘bout Cassie Uncle Tomming Lillian Jean.’ My temper almost flew out of my mouth, but I pressed my lips tightly together, forcing it to stay inside.

Them final examinations comin’ up in two weeks, man, and ain’t no way I can afford to fail them things again,’ T.J. continued.

Then you won’t,’ said Stacey.

‘Shoot, that’s what I thought last year. But your mama makes up the hardest examinations she knows how.’ He paused, sighed, and ventured, ‘Bet though if you kinda asked her ‘bout what kind of questions -

T.J., don’t you come talking to me ‘bout no more cheating!’ cried

Stacey angrily. ‘After all that trouble I got in the last time ‘count of you. You got questions, you ask Mama yourself, but you say one more word to me ‘bout them tests, I’m gonna -

‘All right, all right.’ T.J. smiled in feigned apology. ‘It’s just that I’m gonna have to figure out somethin’.

‘I got a solution,’ I said, unable to resist just one bit of friendly advice.

‘What’s that?’

Try studying.’

After Uncle Hammer left on New Year’s Day, Papa and I had gone into the forest, down the cow path, and to the misty hollow where the trees lay fallen. For a while we stood looking again at the destruction, sitting on one of our fallen friends, we talked in quiet, respectful tones, observing the soft mourning of the forest.

When I had explained the whole Strawberry business to Papa, he said slowly, ‘You know the Bible says you’re s’pose to forgive these things.’

‘Yessir,’ I agreed, waiting.

‘S’pose to turn the other cheek’‘Yessir.

Papa rubbed his moustache and looked up at the trees standing like sentinels on the edge of the hollow, listening. ‘But the way I see it, the Bible didn’t mean for you to be no fool. Now one day, maybe I can forgive John Andersen for what he done to these trees, but I ain’t gonna forget it. I figure forgiving is not letting something nag at you - rotting you out. Now if I hadn’t done what I done, then I couldn’t’ve forgiven myself, and that’s the truth of it.’

I nodded gravely and he looked down at me. ‘You’re a lot like me, Cassie girl, but you got yourself a bad temper like your Uncle Hammer. That temper can get you in trouble.’

“Yessir,

‘Now this thing between you and Lillian Jean, most folks would think you should go around doing what she tell you … and maybe you should -

‘Papa !’

‘Cassie, there’ll be a whole lot of things you ain’t gonna wanna do but you’ll have to do in this life just so you can survive.

Now I don’t like the idea of what Charlie Simms did to you no more than your Uncle Hammer, but I had to weigh the hurt of what happened to you to what could’ve happened if I went after him. If I’d’ve gone after Charlie Simms and given him a good thrashing like I felt like doing, the hurt to all of us would’ve been a whole lot more than the hurt you received, so I let it be. I don’t like letting it be, but I can live with that decision.

‘But there are other things, Cassie, that if I’d let be, they’d eat away at me and destroy me in the end. And it’s the same with you, baby. There are things you can’t back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it’s up to you to decide what them things are. You have to demand respect in this world, ain’t nobody just gonna hand it to you. How you carry yourself, what you stand for - that’s how you gain respect. But, little one, ain’t nobody’s respect worth more than your own. You understand that!’

“Yessir.

Wow, there ain’t no sense in going around being mad. You clear your head so you can think sensibly. Then I want you to think real hard on whether or not Lillian Jean’s worth taking a stand about, but keep in mind that Lillian Jean probably won’t be the last white person to treat you this way.’ He turned toward me so that he looked me full in the face, and the seriousnessof his eyes startled me. He held my chin up with the wide flat of his hard hand. This here’s an important decision, Cassie, very important - I want you to understand that - but I think you can handle it. Now, you listen to me, and you listen good. This thing. if you make the wrong decision and Charlie Simms gets involved, then I get involved and there’ll be trouble.

‘B-big trouble!’ I whispered. ‘Like the trees !’

‘Don’t know,’ said Papa. ‘But it could be bad.’

I pondered his words, then I promised, ‘Mr. Simms ain’t never gonna hear’bout it, Papa.’

Papa studied me. ‘I’ll count on that, Cassie girl. I’ll count real hard on that.’

For the month of January I was Lillian Jean’s slave and she thoroughly enjoyed it. She even took to waiting for me in the morning with Jeremy so that I could carry her books. When friends of hers walked with us, she bragged about her little colored friend and almost hugged herself with pleasure when I called her ‘Miz’ Lillian Jean. When we were alone, she confided her secrets to me: the boy she had passionately loved for the past year and the things she had done to attract his attention (with no success, I might add); the secrets of the girls she couldn’t stand as well as those she could; and even a tidbit or two about her elder brothers’ romantic adventures. All I had to do to prime the gossip pump was smile nicely and whisper a ‘Miz Lillian Jean’ every now and then. I almost hated to see the source dry up.

At the end of examination day, I shot out of Miss Crocker’s class and hurried into the yard. I was eager to get to the crossroads to meet Lillian Jean; I had promised myself to first take care of the examination and then…

Little Man ! Claude ! Christopher-John ! Come on, y’all!’ I cried. ‘There’s Stacey !’ The four of us dashed across the yard trailing Stacey and T.J. to the road. When we caught up with them, it was obvious that the jovial mask T.J. always wore had been stripped away.

‘She did it on purpose !’ T.J. accused, a nasty scowl twisting his face.

‘Man, you was cheating!’ Stacey pointed out. ‘What you ‘spect for her to do !’

‘She could’ve give me a break. Warn’t nothin’ but a couple bits of ole paper. Didn’t need ‘em nohow.

‘Well, whatja have them for?’‘Ah, man, leave me be! All y’all Logans think y’all so doggone much with y’all’s new coats and books and shiny new Packards!’ He swirled around, glaring down at Christopher-John, Little Man, and me. ‘I’m sick of all y’all. Your mama and your papa, too!’ Then he turned and fled angrily up the road.

‘T.J.! Hey, man, where you going!’ Stacey yelled after him. T.J. did not answer. The road swelled into a small hill and he disappeared on the other side of it. When we reached the crossroads and saw no sign of him on the southern road leading home, Stacey asked Claude, ‘Where he go?’

Claude looked shame-faced and rubbed one badly worn shoe against the other. ‘Down to that ole store, I reckon.

Stacey sighed.’Come on then, we’d better get on home. He’ll be all right by tomorrow.

‘Y’all go on,’ I said. ‘I gotta wait for Lillian Jean.’

‘Cassie –‘

‘I’ll catch up with ya,’ I said before Stacey could lecture me. ‘Here, take my books, will ya!’ He looked at me as if he should say something else, but deciding not to, he pushed the younger boys on and followed them.

When Lillian Jean appeared, I sighed thankfully that only Jeremy was with her; it could be today for sure. Jeremy, who seemed to be as disappointed in me as Little Man, hurried on to catch Stacey. That was fine, too; I knew he would. I took Lillian Jean’s books, and as we sauntered down the road, I only half listened to her; I was sweeping the road, looking for the deep wooded trail I had selected earlier in the week. When I saw it, I interrupted Lillian Jean apologetically. ‘‘Scuse me, Miz Lillian Jean, but I got a real nice surprise for you … found it just the other day down in the woods.’

‘For me!’ questioned Lillian Jean, ‘Ah, you is a sweet thing, Cassie. Where you say it is!’

‘Come on. I’ll show you.

I stepped into the dry gully and scrambled onto the bank. Lillian Jean hung back. ‘It’s all right,’ I assured her, ‘It ain’t far. You just gotta see it, Miz Lillian Jean.’

That did it. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, she crossed the gully and hopped onto the bank. Following me up the over- grown trail into the deep forest, she asked, ‘You sure this is the way, little Cassie!’‘Just a bit further … up ahead there. Ah, here it is.’ We entered a small dark clearing with hanging forest vines, totally hidden from the road.

‘Well! Where’s the surprise !’

‘Right here,’ I said, smashing Lillian Jean’s books on the ground.

‘Why, what you do that for?’ Lillian Jean asked, more startled than angry.

‘I got tired of carrying ‘em,’ I said.

‘This what you brought me all the way down here for! Well, you just best get untired and pick ‘em up again.’ Then, expecting that her will would be done with no more than that from her, she turned to leave the glade.

‘Make me.’ I said quietly.

‘What!’ The shock on her face was almost comical.

‘Said make me.’

Her face paled. Then, red with anger, she stepped daintily across the clearing and struck me hard across the face. For the record, she had hit me first; I didn’t plan on her hitting me again.

I flailed into her, tackling her with such force that we both fell. After the first shock of my actually laying hands on her, she fought as best she could, but she was no match for me. T was calm and knew just where to strike. I punched her in the stomach and buttocks, and twisted her hair, but not once did I touch her face; she, expending her energy in angry, nasty name-calling, clawed at mine, managing to scratch twice. She tried to pull my hair but couldn’t, for I had purposely asked Big Ma to braid it into flat braids against my head.

When I had pinned Lillian Jean securely beneath me, I yanked unmercifully on her long, loose hair and demanded an apology for all the names she had called me, and for the incident in Strawberry. At first she tried to be cute - ‘Ain’t gonna ‘pologize to no nigger I’ she sassed,

‘You wanna be bald, girl?’And she apologized. For herself and for her father. For her brothers and her mother. For Strawberry and Mississippi, and by the time I finished jerking at her head, I think she would have apologized for the world being round had I demanded it. But when I let her go and she had sped safely to the other side of the clearing with the trail in front of her, she threatened to tell her father.

‘You do that, Lillian Jean. You just do that and I’m gonna make sure all your fancy friends know how you keeps a secret. Bet you won’t be learning no more secrets after that.’

‘Cassie ! You wouldn’t do that. Not after I trusted you -‘

You mutter one word of this to anybody, Lillian Jean, I said, attempting to narrow my eyes like Papa’s, ‘just one person and everybody at Jefferson Davis is gonna know who you crazy ‘bout and all your other business … and you know I know.

Besides, if anybody ever did find out ‘bout this fight, you’d be laughed clear up to Jackson. You here going on thirteen, getting beat up by a nine-year-old.’

I was starting up the trail, feeling good about myself, when Lillian Jean asked, bewildered, ‘But, Cassie, why’ You was such a nice little girl…

I stared at her astonished. Then I turned and left the forest, not wanting to believe that Lillian Jean didn’t even realize it had all been just a game.

‘Cassie Logan !’

‘Yes’m, Miz Crocker!’ That’s the third time I’ve caught you daydreaming this morning. Just because you managed to come in first on the examinations last week doesn’t mean a thing this week. We’re in a new quarter and everyone’s slate is clean.

You’ll make no A’s by daydreaming. You understand that!’

‘Yes’m,’ I said, not bothering to add that she repeated herself so much that all a body had to do was listen to the first few minutes of her lesson to be free to daydream to her heart’s content.

‘I think you’d just better sit in the back where you’re not so comfortable,’ she said. ‘Then maybe you’ll pay more attention.’

‘But -Miss Crocker raised her hand, indicating that she did not want to hear another word, and banished me to the very last row in front of the window. I slid onto the cold seat after its former occupant had eagerly left it for my warm quarters by the stove.

As soon as Miss Crocker turned away, I mum- bled a few indignant phrases, then hugged my Christmas sweater to me. I tried to pay attention to Miss Crocker but the cold creeping under the windowsill made it impossible. Unable to bear the draft, I decided to line the sill with paper from my notebook. I ripped out the paper, then turned to the window. As I did, a man passed under it and disappeared.

The man was Kaleb Wallace.

I raised my hand. ‘Uh. Miz Crocker, may I be excused please, ma’am ! I gotta…well, you know…

As soon as I had escaped Miss Crocker, I dashed to the front of the building. Kaleb Wallace was standing in front of the seventh-grade-class building talking to Mr. Wellever and two white men whom I couldn’t make out from where I stood.

When the men entered the building, I turned and sped to the rear and carefully climbed onto the woodpile stacked behind it. I peeked cautiously through a broken window into Mama’s classroom. The men were just entering, Kaleb Wallace first, followed by a man I didn’t know and Mr. Harlan Granger,

Mama seemed startled to see the men, but when Mr. Granger said, ‘Been hearing ‘bout your teaching, Mary, so as members of the school board we thought we’d come by and learn something.’ she merely nodded and went on with her lesson. Mr.

Wellever left the room, returning shortly with three folding chairs for the visitors; he himself remained standing.

Mama was in the middle of history and I knew that was bad. I could tell Stacey knew it too; he sat tense near the back of the room, his lips very tight, his eyes on the men. But Mama did not flinch: she always started her history class the first thing in the morning when the students were most alert, and I knew that the hour was not yet up. To make matters worse, her lesson for the day was slavery. She spoke on the cruelty of it; of the rich economic cycle it generated as slaves produced the raw products for the factories of the North and Europe; how the country profited and grew from the free labor of a people still not free.

Before she had finished, Mr. Granger picked up a student’s book, flipped it open to the pasted-over front cover, and pursed his lips. ‘Thought these books belonged to the county.’ he said, interrupting her. Mama glanced over at him, but did not reply. Mr.

Granger turned the pages, stopped, and read something. ‘I don’t see all them things you’re teaching in here.’

That’s because they’re not in there.’ Mama said.’Well, if it ain’t in here, then you got no right teaching it. This book’s approved by the Board of Education and you’re expected to teach what’s in it.’

‘I can’t do that.’

‘And why not!’

Mama, her back straight and her eyes fixed on the men, answered, ‘Because ail that’s in that book isn’t true.’

Mr. Granger stood. He laid the book back on the student’s desk and headed for the door. The other board member and Kaleb Wallace followed. At the door Mr. Granger stopped and pointed at Mama. ‘You must be some kind of smart, Mary, to know more than the fellow who wrote that book. Smarter than the school board, too. I reckon.’

Mama remained silent, and Mr. Wellever gave her no support.

‘In fact.’ Mr. Granger continued, putting on his hat, ‘you so smart I expect you’d best just forget about teaching altogether …

then that away you’ll have plenty of time to write your own book.’ With that he turned his back on her, glanced at Mr.

Wellever to make sure his meaning was clear, and left with the others behind him.

We waited for Mama after school was out. Stacey had sent T.J. and Claude on, and the four of us, silent and patient, were sitting on the steps when Mama emerged. She smiled down at us, seemingly not surprised that we were there.

I looked up at her, but I couldn’t speak. I had never really thought much about Mama’s teaching before; that was just a part of her being Mama. But now that she could not teach, I felt resentful and angry, and I hated Mr. Granger, ‘You all know!’ she asked. We nodded as she slowly descended the stairs. Stacey took one handle of her heavy black satchel and I took the other. Christopher-John and Little Man each took one of her hands, and we started across the lawn.

‘M-Mama,’ said Christopher-John when we reached the road, ‘can’t you ever teach no more?’

Mama did not answer immediately. When she did, her voice was muffled. ‘Somewhere else maybe, but not here - at least not for a while.’

‘But how’s come, Mama!’ demanded Little Man. ‘How’s come?’Mama bit into her lower lip and gazed at the road. ‘Because, baby,’ she said finally, ‘I taught things some folks just didn’t want to hear.

When we reached home, Papa and Mr. Morrison were both in the kitchen with Big Ma drinking coffee. As we entered, Papa searched our faces. His eyes settled on Mama; the pain was in her face, ‘What’s wrong!’ he asked.

Mama sat down beside him. She pushed back a strand of hair that had worked its way free of the chignon, but it fell back into her face again and she left it there. ‘I got fired.’

Big Ma put down her cup weakly without a word. Papa reached out and touched Mama. She said, ‘Harlan Granger came to the school with Kaleb Wallace and one of the school-board members. Somebody had told them about those books I’d pasted over … but that was only an excuse. They’re just getting at us any way they can because of shop ping in Vicksburg.’ Her voice cracked, ‘What’ll we do, David ! We needed that job.

Papa gently pushed the stray hair back over her ear. ‘We’ll get by.., Plant more cotton maybe. But we’ll get by. There was quiet reassurance in his voice. Mama nodded and stood,

“Where you goin’, child?’ Big Ma asked.

‘Outside. I want to walk for a bit.’

Christopher-John, Little Man, and I turned to follow her, but Papa called us back. ‘Leave your mama be,’ he said.

As we watched her slowly cross the backyard to the barren garden and head toward the south pasture, Mr. Morrison said, You know with you here, Mr. Logan, you got no need of me. Maybe there’s work to be had around here… Maybe I could get something … help you out.’ Papa stared across at Mr. Morrison. ‘There’s no call for you to do that.’ he said. ‘I’m not paying you anything as it

Mr. Morrison said softly, ‘I got me a nice house to live in, the best cooking a man could want, and for the first time in a long time I got me a family. That’s right good pay, I’d say.

Papa nodded. ‘You’re a good man, Mr. Morrison, and I thank you for the offer, but I’ll be leaving in a few weeks and I’d rather you was here.’ His eyes focused on Mama again, a tiny figure in the distance now.’Papa,’ rasped Christopher-John, moving close to him, ‘M-Mama gonna be all right?’

Papa turned and, putting his arms around Christopher- John, drew him even nearer. ‘Son, your mama … she’s born to teaching like the sun is born to shine. And it’s gonna be hard on her not teaching anymore. It’s gonna be real hard ‘cause ever since she was a wee bitty girl down in the Delta she wanted to be a teacher.

‘And Grandpa wanted her to be one, too, didn’t he, Papa!’ said Christopher-John.

Papa nodded. ‘Your mama was his baby child and every penny he’d get his hands on he’d put it -aside for her schooling … and that wasn’t easy for him either cause he was a tenant farmer and he didn’t see much cash money. But he’d promised your grandmamma ‘fore she died to see that your mama got an education, and when your mama ‘come high- school age, he sent her up to Jackson to school, then on to teacher training school. It was just ‘cause he died her last year of schooling that she come on up here to teach ‘stead of going back to the Delta.’

‘And y’all got married and she ain’t gone back down there no more,’ interjected Little Man.

Papa smiled faintly at Little Man and stood up. That’s right, son. She was too smart and pretty to let get away. He stooped and looked out the window again, then back at us. ‘She’s a strong, fine woman, your mama, and this thing won’t keep her down …

but it’s hurt her bad. So I want y’all to be extra thoughtful for the next few days - and r~ member what I told you, you hear?’

‘Yessir, Papa,’ we answered.

Papa left us then and went onto the back porch. There he leaned against the porch pillar for several minutes staring out toward the pasture; but after a while he stepped into the yard and crossed the garden to join Mama.

T.J.! You sure!’ Stacey asked Little Willie Wiggins at recess the next day. Little Willie nodded morosely and answered, ‘Heard it myself. Clarence, too. Was standin’ right up ‘side him at the store when he told Mr. Kaleb. Come talkin’‘bout how Miz Logan failed him on purpose and then ~ she wasn’t a good teacher and that she the one stopped ooerybody from comin’

up to they store. Said she even was destroyin’ school property - talkin’‘bout them books, you know.’ ‘Who’s gonna take him !’ I cried.

‘Hush, Cassie,’ said Stacey, ‘How come you just telling this now, Little Willie?’Little Wiilie shrugged.’Guess I got fooled by ole T.J. Clarence and me, we told him we was gonna tell it soon as we left the store, but T.J. asked us not to do it. Said he was going right back and tell them it wasn’t nothin’ but a joke, what he said. And he went back too, and I thought nothin’ was gonna come of it.’ He hesitated, then confessed, ‘Didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout it before ‘cause me and Clarence wasn’t s’pose to be up there ourselves …but then here come Mr. Granger yesterday and fires Miz Logan. I figure that’s T.J.’s doin’.

‘He probably figured it too,’ I said. That’s why he ain’t in school today.

Talking ‘bout he sick,’ said Christopher-John.

‘If he ain’t now, he gonna be.’ prophesied Little Man, his tiny fists balled for action.’‘Round here telling on Mama.’

After school when Claude turned up the forest trail leading to the Avery house, we went with him. As we emerged from the forest into the Avery yard, the house appeared deserted, but then we spied T.J., lazily swinging straddle- legged atop an inner tube hanging from an old oak in the front yard. Stacey immediately charged toward him, and when T.J. saw him coming he tried to swing his long right leg over the tube to escape. He didn’t make it. Stacey jumped up on the inner tube, giving them both a jerky ride before they landed hard on Mr. Avery’s azalea bush.

‘Man, what’s the matter with you!’ T.J. cried as he rolled from under Stacey to glance back at the flattened bush. ‘My mama gonna kill me when she see that bush.’

Stacey jumped up and jerked at T.J.’s collar. ‘Was you the one? Did you do it!’

T.J. looked completely bewildered. ‘Do what! What you talkin’ ‘bout?’

‘Didja tell it? You tell them Wallaces ‘bout Mama!’

‘Me?’ asked T.J. ‘Me! Why, man, you oughta know me better’n that.’

‘He do know you,’ I said. ‘How come you think we up here !’

‘Hey, now, wait a minute,’ objected T.J.’I don’t know what somebody been tellin’ y’all, but I ain’t told them Wallaces nothin’.

‘You was down there,’ Stacey accused. The day Mama caught you cheating. you went down to them Wallaces. ‘Well, thatdon’t mean nothin’,’ said T.J., jerking away from Stacey’s grip and hopping to his feet. ‘My daddy says I can go down there if I wanna. Don’t mean I told them ole folks nothin’ though.

‘Heard you told them all sorts of things … like Mama didn’t know nothin’ and she wasn’t even teaching what she s’pose to ‘Didn’t neither!’ denied T.J. ‘Ain’t never said that! All I said was that it was her that …’ His voice trailed off as he realized he had said too much, and he began to laugh un- easily. ‘Hey, look, y’all, I don’t know how come Miz Logan got fired, but I ain’t said nothin’ to make nobody fire her. All I said was that she failed me again. A fellow got a right to be mad ‘bout somethin’

like that, ain’t he!’

Stacey’s eyes narrowed upon T.J. ‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘But he ain’t got no right to go running his mouth off ‘bout things that ain’t s’pose to be told.’

T.J. stepped backward and looked nervously over his shoulder to the south, where the fields lay fallow. The rutted wagon trail which cut through the fields leading from the distant Granger mansion revealed a thin woman stepping briskly toward us. T.J.

seemed to take heart from the figure and grew cocky again. ‘Don’t know who’s been tellin’, but it ain’t been me.’

A moment’s silence passed, and then Stacey, his eyes cold and condemning, said quietly, ‘It was you all right, T.J. It was you.’ Then, turning, he motioned us back toward the forest.

‘Ain’t you gonna beat him up!’ cried a disappointed Little Man.

‘What he got coming to him is worse than a beating,’ replied Stacey.

‘What could be worse than that?’ asked Christopher- John.

‘You’ll see,’ said Stacey. ‘And so will T.J.

T.J.’s first day back at school after almost a week’s absence was less than successful. Avoiding us in the morning, he arrived late, only to be shunned by the other students. At first he pretended that the students’ attitude didn’t matter, but by afternoon when school was out, he hurried after us, attempting to convince us that he was merely a victim of circumstances.

‘Hey, y’all ain’t gonna hold what Little Willie said against me, are you!’ he asked.’You still saying what Little Willie said ain’t true!’ questioned Stacey.

‘Why, shoot, yeah!’ he exclaimed. ‘When I catch up with that little rascal, I’m gonna beat him to a pulp, ‘round here tellin’

everybody I got Miz Logan fired. Ain’t nobody even speakin’ to me no more. Little Willie probably told them Wallaces that hisself, so he figures to get out of it by tellin’ everybody it was -

‘Ah, stop lying, T.J.,’ I said testily. ‘Don’t nobody believe you.’

‘Well, I should’ve known you wouldn’t, Cassie. You never liked me noway.

‘Well, anyway, that’s the truth,’ I agreed.

‘But.’ said T.J., grinning again and turning toward Little Man and Christopher-John, ‘my little buddy Christopher- John believes me, don’t you, fellow! And you still my pal, ain’t you, Little Man!’

An indignant Little Man looked up at T.J., but before he could speak, easygoing Christopher-John said, ‘You told on Mama, T.J. Now she all unhappy ‘cause she can’t teach school no more and it’s all your fault, and we don’t like you no more!’

‘Yeah i’ added Little Man in agreement.

T.J. stared down at Christopher-John, not believing that he had said that. Then he laughed uneasily. ‘I don’t know what’s got into folks. Everybody’s gone crazy -

‘Look.’ Stacey said, stopping, ‘first you run off with the mouth to them Wallaces and now you blaming Little Willie for what you done. Why don’t you just admit it was you!’

‘Hey, man!’ T.]. exclaimed, grinning his easy grin. But then, finding that the grin and the smooth words no longer worked, his face dropped. ‘Oh, all right. All right. So maybe what if I did say somethin’ ‘bout Miz Logan! I can’t even remember saying nothin’ ‘bout it, but if both Little Willie and Clarence said I did then maybe I did. Anyways, I’m real sorry ‘bout your mama losin’ her job and -

All of us, including Claude, stared distastefully at T.J. and walked away from him.

‘Hey, wait… I said I was sorry, didn’t I!’ he asked, following us. ‘Look, what’s a fellow got to do anyway! Hey, y’all, look, thishere is still ole T.J. ! I ain’t changed. Y’all can’t turn on me just ‘cause ‘You the one turned, T.].,’ Stacey called over his shoulder. ‘How leave us alone. We don’t want no more to do with you.’

T,J., for the first time comprehending that we were no longer his friends, stopped. Then, standing alone in the middle of the road, he screamed after us, ‘Who needs y’all anyway! I been tired of y’all always hangin’ ‘round for a long while now, but I been too nice to tell ya… I should’ve known better. What I look like, havin’ a bunch of little kids ‘round all the time and me here fourteen, near grown…

We walked on, not stopping.

‘Got me better friends than y’all! They give me things and treat me like I’m a man and … and they white too…

His voice faded into the wind as we left him and we heard no more.

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