Libby let out a little huff of displeasure, but Pete ignored it. He was used to Libby’s huffs. It was the only girlish thing she did, and it was harmless. He stood watching until Jackson and Maelle reached the tall rock walls that lined the campus’ entrance. As he had suspected they might, they paused and turned back. Both waved.
Petey waved with his hand held high. A vivid memory filled his mind: standing outside his family’s tenement building, staring at the window, waiting for someone to look out and wave good-bye. He’d stood for hours, but no wave ever came.
He nodded toward Libby. “See there? How would they have felt to look back and find no one watching?”
“Sad.” Libby’s tone reflected the one-word answer and seemed to pluck the emotion from his heart. She gave a feeble wave and pulled again at his arm. “All right, you’ve given them a proper send-off. Now let’s go eat.”
Pete laughed as he turned toward the dining hall doors. He had to hop-skip on his wooden pegleg to match her swift pace. “I’ve never seen you so eager for a meal. You must have built up an appetite putting your things away. But slow down. You’re going to send me tumbling.”
She stopped so abruptly he almost fell forward. He looked down at her, ready to complain, but the tears winking in her velvet brown eyes stopped him. He’d never seen Libby cry—not when she’d fallen out of a tree and cut her chin, not when Bennett accidentally smacked her with a homemade baseball, not even when she’d earned a licking for climbing the rose trellis on the side of the school dormitory.
Concerned, he cupped his hand over hers. “Libby, what’s wrong?”
Instead of answering, she spun away from him and faced the campus. “I changed my mind. I—I don’t think I could eat a bite. I’m going to take a walk instead.” She started off in a determined gait, her arms pumping.
“Wait!” Pete trotted after her, hopping twice on his good leg for every one time on his pegleg. Even after years of using the wooden replacement for flesh and bone, it still jolted his hip when he moved too fast. He grimaced, but he caught up to her. Taking hold of her arm, he brought her to a halt. “What’s the matter? Tell me.” Over the years, he’d been privy to her secrets, her worries, her frustrations. He waited expectantly for a reply. But to his surprise, she turned stubborn.
“Nothing’s wrong. I just want to take a walk. Go eat.” She gave him a little push. “Bennett’s probably holding a spot for you. So go on.”
Even though his stomach murmured in desire, Pete shook his head. “Nah. You know when Bennett’s got food in front of him, nothing else matters. He won’t even miss me. I’ll walk with you instead.”
She pursed her lips, and for a moment Pete thought she’d send him away. But then she released another little huff. “Very well. Let’s go. That way.” Arms folded over her ribs and head low, Libby moved in the opposite direction of the path Jackson and Maelle had taken earlier. Occasionally, she kicked at a stone. Her movements seemed jerky, almost uncontrolled, so different from her usual grace. Although Pete wondered what had her in such a dither, he didn’t ask. He’d learned sometimes it was best to let Libby stew Eventually, she’d let the steam out and he’d know what was wrong.
They walked down a tree-lined path that ended in a field of uncut grass dotted with patches of wild flowers. She stopped and looked right and left, as if deciding which way to go. He waited patiently for her to make up her mind, refusing to fidget even though standing still intensified the ache in his hip. Whichever direction she chose, he’d follow...
Copyright Kim Vogel Sawyer--all rights reserved