Shipping Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie Atkinson since 9th grade English class.

It was March, and as rainy a March as Maycomb County had ever seen. If April showers were guaranteers of flowers in May, the prolific amount of rain we'd received that March seemed to herald only equally bountiful mud. But my brother and I had never been accused of fearing mud, and we squelched our way through rivers of the stuff in our treks around the neighborhood. Only once did we make the mistake of squelching into Calpurnia's kitchen.

We were still up to our ankles in mud - Cal said because we hadn't the sense to attempt going around - but this Saturday was sunshine filled, the first in awhile. Accordingly, Jem and I were about the front yard. Though we'd have likely been there had it been blowing in a hurricane.

Jem was persuaded to push me in the tire swing for a time, but a pensive mood had overtaken him, and he'd retreated farther up the tree where the view of our street was better. His busted arm was all but fully recovered, and he dangled from it, feet perched precariously. Though he'd put distance between us, I sensed he was still in the mood for talking, and so I broached a subject that had been on my mind a long while.

"Jem, do you ever figure Uncle Jack's crazy?" I asked, making eye contact with the soles of his shoes.

My brother shrugged. "Everybody thinks that about their uncles," he said knowingly, and I resolved to start asking more folks about their more eccentric relations. "How do you mean?"

I scooted forward in the tire, pushing off against the tree. "He keeps asking Miss Maudie to marry him. And she ain't never gonna say yes."

I felt more than saw Jem turn in the direction of our neighbor's house, where she was enjoying the sunny day and working her flowerbeds. Every year come Christmas, our uncle would arrive from the city and shout a marriage proposal across the street. Miss Maudie had yet to dignify it with an actual response. More peculiar still was the fact that Uncle Jack never once looked surprised or disappointed.

"Ah, he knows that," Jem said. "It's just their way of saying hello."

"Never heard anybody else say it like that."

Jem lowered himself to a seat, taking the pressure off his arm. He was seated straight above me, and his voice carried conversationally. "Atticus says that Miss Maudie and Uncle Jack were like you and Dill growing up. Always sniping at each other then pretending to get engaged."

My nose wrinkled. Even though I had the suspicion that he was baiting me, I swallowed the lure. "That ain't like Dill and me."

"Anyhow, they just carry on the game as grown folks. He doesn't really want to marry her," Jem reassured me.

I swung in the tire again, swaying the branch he sat on a little. "That's good, I guess." Imagining Uncle Jack married to anybody was a strange picture, and there seemed something especially wrong with the thought of him wedding Miss Maudie. "I don't think they'd fit together."

Jem's face appeared above me, upside down, hair tickling the branch. "They weren't going to ask you."

It suddenly seemed important that he understand the feeling that was niggling at me. I left the tire so that I could stand in the yard looking at my brother in the tree. "Think about it, Jem. Uncle Jack and Miss Maudie don't make any sense." I looked for a way to underline my point and it popped straight into my brain and out of my mouth. "She's better suited with Atticus."

The thought seemed to strike us both with a measure of surprise. My mouth stayed open, and Jem's eyebrows seemed stuck slightly higher on his forehead. He made a show of flipping his body over the tire swing branch and lowering himself to the ground. He looked at me. "Say that again, Scout."

It wasn't something I'd imagined before, but the thoughts seemed to come plenty fast as soon as I opened the door to them. "Miss Maudie and Atticus would be a better match for each other, wouldn't they?" I said, a dual statement and question.

Jem looked contemplative, as though there were thoughts barging into his mind, too. "Never really considered it."

Having thought it up first, I was ready to defend the assertion. "Doesn't really need considering; it's plain enough," I told him.

"Why do you say that?"

I slid through a mud puddle to the front steps. Wrapping an arm around a porch pillar, I turned back to him. "Miss Maudie and Uncle Jack don't have anything in common, do they? And before folks become sweethearts, they're supposed to like some of the same things, right?" It was becoming plainer to me by the second. "Like how Dill and I both like catching toads and knocking loose apples from Miss Rachel's tree with our slingshots."

That line of thinking had me both counting down the days til summer and hankering for one of Calpurnia's apple turnovers. Jem joined me on the porch, and I began a citation of my sources.

"Well, Miss Maudie and Atticus both like checkers. That's why they play in his study most every evening." Sometimes they'd play at her house or on one of our front porches when the weather was best. It was a newer arrangement, but in our father's routine life it had hardly gone unnoticed. Not that Jem nor I minded.

I recalled Miss Maudie once telling me that my father was the best checker player in three counties when they were coming up. She'd gone on to inform me that Atticus had let me win each and every time I'd managed to eke out a victory. However, Miss Maudie, too, had her share of victories against our father, and we both knew that she'd holler at him if she even suspected he was letting her win. I told Jem as much, and he nodded, grinning as he pictured what was likely a factual scenario. "Guess that's true."

"That's not all either," I said, caught up in all the evidence that was springing to mind. "They both love to read. I don't figure that there's a book in Maycomb County that one or the other hasn't stuck their nose into." I plopped down on the steps, belatedly spotting the mud cuffing my trousers and knowing it would cost me a scolding from Cal later. "Miss Maudie and Uncle Jack don't have one thing in common, but she and Atticus have got loads.

"She likes flowers more'n he does," I allowed, "and I don't think Miss Maudie enjoys talking law as much as Atticus, but they're supposed to like their own things, too."

Jem perched on the railing. It seemed as though my thoughts had taken root in his mind, and were beginning to sprout. "Atticus couldn't grow so much as a blade of nut grass," he said, naming Miss Maudie's most frequently cursed garden invader. "But he'll always stop to talk to Miss Maudie about what she's planting. And Miss Maudie's never practiced law a day in her life, but I've heard Atticus ask her for her thoughts, and she always listens to the things that bother him."

These contributions were even more substantial evidence than checkers. "See? Seems like they're pretty well suited to each other." With all of this in mind, it struck me as odd that I'd only ever heard Miss Maudie proposed to by one Finch man.

My brother put a hand on my arm, like he was trying to hold back my imagination but would settle for keeping my body in place. "It's not as simple as that, Scout. There've got to be feelings and stuff, too."

"Oh, I know that. Folks are supposed to love each other before they get engaged. And Atticus and Miss Maudie don't." I turned to Jem. "Do they?"

He kept hold of my arm. "Scout, have you said anything about this to Atticus?"

"No, I haven't."

He nodded. "Good. Don't."

"How come?" I wanted to know.

Jem slid down beside me on the steps. "Because grown ups are real funny about things like this. Don't bring it up to Atticus," he said, and I respected his concern for our parent, even if it did seem the sort of thing Atticus should be made aware of. Jem shook my arm a little. "And for heaven's sake, don't say anything about it in front of Miss Stephanie."

I had lived in this neighborhood long enough to make the last just insulting. "How dumb do you think I am? I know better than to say anything important where Miss Stephanie can hear me."

"Good," Jem said. "We'll just keep it to ourselves. We'll have to keep an eye out though." He hauled me to my feet, and the two of us splashed back through the mud puddle into the yard.

"On what, Jem?"

As part of his answer, Jem nodded across the street. "Atticus and Miss Maudie."

Miss Maudie was still out in her yard, but she had paused in her work to entertain a visitor. Our father had returned from court earlier than expected and without our notice. They stood talking over her fence, she holding a pair of hedge clippers, and he pushing his hat back on his head. They both wore smiles.

I tugged at my brother's sleeve. "Ah, shoot, Jem. They're just as they always are."

He nodded after a moment, considering the sight in front of him even though it was one we'd seen a hundred times. I could tell that to him it seemed different now, but he didn't look angry. Instead he looked almost hopeful. "Yeah."

It seemed that the emotion I'd spotted on my brother's features had indeed been hope, and that it had been well founded. For the first time in recent memory, Uncle Jack made a trip to Maycomb for an occasion other than Christmas. And for the first time, he made no marriage proposal to our neighbor. Atticus has done that already. The rains endured all through the month of April, resulting in the most spectacular flowers for Miss Maudie's wedding bouquet that May.


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