Big thanks to suerem for looking at this and adding some much needed changes, couldn't have done it without her.
Also, just want to say that I really liked Nadine.
Dream, Big or Small
When Nadine is a little girl, she dreams of spending the rest of her life on the farm while Jolene has different aspirations – she simply wants to be big, be bright. Nadine just wants to be happy, and so far she's been plenty happy on the farm.
"Ain't nothing wrong with dreaming big." Aunt Raylene reminds her, and that's true enough.
So true that Nadine takes it to heart, takes it right in the same way she takes everything Aunt Raylene says, and dreams a little bigger. She's gonna be a veterinarian, she decides. Because she wants to help animals, because she can't stay on the farm forever but maybe this way a little piece of her can.
Mid-summer it's hot enough to peel house paint, Nadine is 9 and her Uncle Vance says she's the sweetest thing this side of a sugar cane.
"I like sugar canes." Nadine announces grinning, because it's the plain truth, those sweet woody columns fascinate her.
Truthfully? Nadine likes a lot of things, more so than not, the world was made especially for her to explore. She likes napping out in the field under the warm sun, grass brushing her cheeks. She likes opening her bedroom window at night so she can hear the quiet lull of the farm, and wake up to the first crow of the rooster.
Yet, there are things that she doesn't like, that stick in her craw as Aunt Raylene might say. She doesn't like it when Bo takes the poor frogs out of their home by the reservoir and sticks them in her bed. She doesn't like it when Jolene sneaks off and leaves her with all the chores. ("It's a barn." Jolene scoffs," How clean do you expect it to get?")
One summer Jolene ,when she's 15, hitches a ride into town with those dang city slickers Bo is always starting trouble with, and it takes Nadine so long to get around to bailing the hay her sister should have bailed that by the time she gets started, the sun is already falling away.
"Better slow down." Her brother says, because he's just turned eighteen last winter and his favorite thing in the world is being the boss.
Nadine sticks her tongue out at him and keeps on bailing as quick as she can. When it's totally dark, she wishes she'd been a tad nicer and had asked him to bring out a lantern but she's only got a little more left to do. She steps forward for more hay and –
And she pitches right off the tractor trailer. She doesn't even get a chance to windmill, to yell, because it feels slower than molasses in January, but she hits the ground before she can even breathe.
All she knows is that it hurts something wicked. Later her Uncle Vance jokes that she sounded like a rooster getting rained on, which is funny, but at the time she can remember him running out of the house pale faced with fear, Aunt Raylene right on his heels. Then there'd been Bo, looking scared as a kitten as he peered out from the upstairs window, while her pa came running in from the fields. She'd cried the whole time in her brother's lap when they'd driven her into the county hospital, but later when she was right as rain and calm, she'd felt guilty for scaring everyone. Her brother said," I told you to slow down," and he patted her on the head in that way she hated. Still, he slipped her butterscotch every time he came in, so she let him.
One day, she meets Bruce. They must've gone to school together since forever, but it's just that one day she actually notices him, and he notices her too, and, well… The fourth time she brings him home, Bo says, "We couldn't fit a cigarette paper between you two." It's the closest thing to approval that she knows he'll say.
Then it was Jolene saying: I can't wait to graduate, with envy, because it's Nadine's last year. Nadine dreams-simple and pure: Me and Bruce'll get married and live on the farm.
Yet, before any of those hopes can be christened it's Bruce who says, "Nady, I'm thinking about joining the army." So, that's exactly what he does, and before she knows it he's gone. Now when she falls asleep every night she's dreaming about Bruce coming home, Bruce being okay, them getting married, please God let Bruce come home.
Aunt Raylene makes Nadine apply to the community college not too far off, and she does, mostly because she thinks she'll go bat crazy if she doesn't do something.
Then it's her pa going in to get a routine surgery. The doc says "Don't you worry, he'll be heading back home before the day's over." Except her pa doesn't finally come home until three days later, when they bury him out in the family cemetery.
Nadine cries so hard she can't breathe right. Her brother hangs his head the same way as Uncle Vance and Aunt Raylene wears black for a long time. Jolene cries too, but when her tears stop they're only replaced by a whole lot of angry.
"How could they?" she raves. "How could they just let him…let him die!"
Ain't no one can calm her, ain't no one can make her happy – Jolene is a storm, a twister set down smack dab in the middle of their forlorn family. To look at her is to see a young girl, pretty and tanned and blonde and pissed. Yet, even with all her wildness, she's still Nadine's sister, still little Jolene who used to hide under the covers during the summer rains.
Like a summer storm, troubles come to pass. Nadine gets a letter that says showed all the boys here your picture, now they know I'm the luckiest guy on base and smiles every time she reads it, as she makes it to her second year of college.
At twenty, Nadine still shares a room with her little sister who is not so little anymore. Most nights they fall asleep talking about the cute boys on the high school football team, about what dress Nadine will wear when she gets married, about how dumb Bo's girlfriends always are. Then there are those nights when Jolene will only talk about Pa and how wrong it was.
"Yeah," Nadine agrees, and it's the truth. Pa had been a good man, so good, so honest and hardworking and it was wrong that he'd just gone like that. "One day," she starts.
And stops. Dream big, Aunt Raylene still told her regularly.
"One day," she comes to realize, "I wanna be a doctor. So I can make sure stuff like that doesn't happen, you know?" When Jolene and her make this choice together, this shared dream, it doesn't matter that Bo scoffs at them during breakfast, because suddenly they're closer than they've been in years.
Luckily, Nadine hasn't started her major yet, although the local vet is disappointed he won't one day have the lovely Crowell girl to work with, and she starts looking into medical schools that aren't too costly.
Before doing anything else though, she writes a letter that goes something like: I know it seems sudden, but it makes so much sense and, like always, I can't wait to see you again, I love you so much.
Nadine doesn't know if Bruce gets the letter, but he comes home soon after she mails it, the same way her pa did, in a casket. People come from miles for the funeral and the county cemetery is packed as they somberly honor the sacrifice of one of their own. Aunt Raylene holds her like a child while she cries – and cry she does, till hours later she crawls into bed, eventually sobbing herself to sleep.
Bruce hadn't deserved to die either and Nadine can't stand the farm anymore, not now.
Everything reminds her of him – the barn they would hide behind when he snuck over the fence while she was doing chores, the patch of bluebonnets near the gate that he'd planted and called hers, the oak tree which he'd pulled her under to ask her to be his.
Nadine had thought she'd never leave that farm and it's bittersweet when she does. On one hand the start of the new school year off at the big old college can't come soon enough. Yet, on the other hand, while standing at the dirt road and staring at that old house and those barns and the wild fields, she realizes how scary it is to go when she's never known anything else.
"I knew it was just a matter of time before one of my chicks left the roost." Aunt Raylene smiles, but she's teary too. She hugs Nadine the whole time Bo is backing the truck out to take her into town for the bus and she squeezes extra tight before she lets go. "But don't fly back too soon, you hear? There's plenty of room out there for you to spread your wings."
And that's exactly what Nadine plans to do…