After dinner, Ruth, Idgie, and Brianna walked back to the Threadgoode house as a delighted Jamie, still thanking them profusely, skipped off to find his friends. Ruth had taken him aside before they left the café and let him know that he was welcome to eat dinner, and breakfast and supper as well, with them whenever he liked; between that and Brianna's promise to continue her story tomorrow, he was so lighthearted that he may as well have been floating.
Back at the house, none of them were surprised to find Little Bit back in the chinaberry tree; sighing, Ruth went inside. Idgie and Brianna sat on the porch swing.
"So, just the four of you live in this big old house?" Brianna asked curiously. Her and her father and mother had lived in a large house in Valdosta, always teeming with family and friends, but after her mother died, she and her father had moved in with his sister and her husband. Brianna's Aunt Susan and Uncle Jack were a strict sort of people who lived in a small house and frowned on social gatherings that weren't church-related. Their two children had been Brianna's storytelling audience until her Uncle Jack told her that she was filling their heads with nonsense and that she was not to tell any more stories to them; she had been hoping that her Cousin Ruth's house would be full of people, as she missed the bustle of her younger days.
As though reading her mind, Idgie answered, "Well, at the moment it's just us. I guess it's pretty different than what you grew up with, but Ninny and Albert will be along shortly, and Cleo later, and Leona and John and their children; there's five of them, and every one's a little terror. And, let's see, Julian and Opal will come along, and Essie Rue and her husband and little boy. Stump's girl, Peggy, and a few of his friends: the Kilgore twins, Reverend Scroggins' boy, Peggy's brother. Every Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, we get a big group together just for the heck of it." Mindful that Brianna was a young lady, she tried to keep her language sort of clean.
Brianna laughed. "Oh Idgie, you just made me the happiest girl in Whistlestop. I was hoping there would be people everywhere."
"Well, you'll get your wish tonight, then," Idgie chuckled.
They talked about inconsequential things, ignoring the occasional rustling from the chinaberry tree. After a while, a woman and a boy came strolling up the drive and went inside, waving cheerfully at the two women seated on the swing and at the chinaberry tree.
"That's Ninny and Albert," said Idgie, in answer to Brianna's questioning look. "He's Stump's age, but when he was born, something went wrong, so his mind's still about four years old."
Brianna frowned. "How awful."
Idgie nodded in agreement. "Yea, Ninny and Cleo were heartbroken, but they love him as much as any parents ever loved a child. And he seems perfectly happy, so there's no need to be upset for him; his life is much simpler than the rest of ours."
A little while later, Stump came outside carrying a football, and sat on the railing by them to await the arrival of his friends. The three of them chatted amiably until four boys came up the drive, laughing and joking. They stopped in front of the porch, each of them tipping an imaginary hat to Brianna, who blushed. Hopping off the railing, Stump grinned and introduced his friends, then began discussing who was going to be on whose team for their Saturday afternoon football game.
As they debated amongst themselves who would be on the two-man team, and who would be on the three-man, Stump had an idea.
"Hey Little Bit," he called up to his sister. "You wanna play with us? We need another player." The other boys rolled their eyes; Little Bit and Stump could play the rest of them and win easily.
However, they did need another player, so they crowded around the chinaberry tree. "Come on down, Little Bit…you know you want to."
"Yea, come on Idgie, please? You can be on my team."
Little Bit looked down at the boys gathered beneath her, then glanced at where Idgie and Brianna were sitting on the swing. She looked at her brother and said "Only if we play in the front yard."
The boys readily agreed; the front yard was visible from the porch swing.
Chad Kilgore stood on his brother's shoulders and hooked an arm under Little Bit's knees and the other around her back. "Come on down, Little Bit." Chet stepped back, causing Chad and Little Bit to tumble to the ground in a heap.
The boys laughed as Chet winked at Chad; Little Bit extricated herself, glaring at the boys. "Are we gonna play, or are you all gonna stand around acting like fools?"
Stump bounced the football off the back of Chet's head and asked "Who's on whose team?
Immediately Chad, Chet, Vernon, and Bobby Lee answered "You and her are opposites."
Little Bit protested, "Aw come on, you guys…he's only got one arm, and I'm a girl." This tactic worked on most people; not on these guys. They'd had their collective butt handed to them too many times to let Stump and Little Bit play together.
"Fine. Then I want Hadley and Scroggins." She looked smug.
"Why?" said Chad and Chet at the same time.
Stump explained: "So she can tackle the crap outta you guys."
"Fine by me," smirked Chet as they all moved into position.
Half an hour later, the boys put Stump and Little Bit together after all. Stump pulled his sister aside before they resumed play. "Little Bit, you better start focusing on the game and not on the porch, or we're gonna get creamed. If you really wanna impress her, help me kick their butts instead of playing like crap 'cause you're distracted." They both turned to look at the swing where Brianna was now chatting with Peggy Hadley, both of whom were studiedly feigning ignorance of the game in the yard.
Stump waved at Peggy, who grinned and gave him a small wave in return before pretending to ignore them again.
Little Bit looked at her brother and smiled; he knew, and that was okay, because it was Buddy. "Alright, let's play some football."
Another two hours later, the disgruntled four-man team gave up on football and gang-tackled Stump and Little Bit. As the game degenerated into a giant wrestling match, the girls on the porch watched in amusement.
"I don't know what Stump told her, but it sure improved her game, didn't it?" remarked Peggy.
Brianna laughed. "Well, once the two of them started paying attention to the game, they did pretty well. I wonder if it was just a trick to get the boys to put them on the same team."
"I wouldn't put it past them," Peggy giggled. "Except Little Bit was showing off more than she was actually playing through the whole game. They still kicked butt, though."
Ruth, catching the end of their conversation, paused in the doorway. She smiled to herself, remembering the enormous string of fish Idgie had carried home one day of a far-off summer, coincidentally at the same time that Ruth was coming home from teaching at the church. Julian had made the mistake of saying Idgie hadn't caught any of them, that she had simply bought them off some colored boys at the river; that remark had cost him a good pair of shoes.
Making a mental note to ask Julian if he remembered the incident, she stepped out onto the porch. "Girls, supper's about ready…will you go tell them to wash up?" She gestured towards the tangled pile of bodies in the yard.
Peggy and Brianna cheerfully stood up and walked out to where the erstwhile football players turned wrestlers had collapsed in a heap.
Seeing the girls coming, they all sat up, straightening their clothes and brushing grass off of each other, embarrassed grins on their faces.
Peggy helped Stump to his feet as Brianna told them that Ruth had said to go wash for supper.
The boys watched Peggy and Stump walking off, catcalling and whistling when they linked hands, then got to their own feet. Chad turned and offered Little Bit a hand, which she ignored. "Good game," he said. "Thanks for playing with us."
She laughed, "Well, someone has to teach you bunch of girls how to play football."
The other boys laughed and started towards the house, discussing the finer points of the game they had just played.
Little Bit started to follow when Brianna called "Idgie…wait." She turned and looked at the blonde girl.
"I hope you're not mad at me."
Little Bit was slightly nonplussed; why would she be mad at this beautiful creature whom she had just spent two and a half hours trying to impress?
Seeing her look of confusion, Brianna continued. "I didn't mean to…catch you by surprise last night." She didn't repeat the term "startle", and tactfully refrained from mentioning Little Bit's fall.
Little Bit stared for a second before realizing that she was expected to answer this remark. "Uhm, well…yea. It's…fine," was all she could manage.
Brianna grinned and linked her arm through Little Bit's. "That's a relief. You looked so mad when you walked off, I thought I'd ruined any chance of us ever being friends."
Little Bit blinked in astonishment. She knew, of course, that her parents had invited Brianna in hopes that they would become friends; but hearing from Brianna's own mouth that she wanted to be her friend…well, that was a bit different.
Having Brianna's arm linked with her own effectively drove any further thought from her mind, however, and the two walked back up to the house in silence.