Daisy stood outside the social hall, waiting in line to pay the dollar for admission to see the play. She had not planned to attend the performance since, because of her low grades at school, her parents had made her cut down on her social activities. Yet, her mother's aunt was visiting, and, when she had heard of the play, she had wanted to come. Of course none of her three elder sisters had volunteered to put up with Aunt Petronilla's mood tonight, and Daisy had seen this as a golden chance for her to leave her seclusion, and see how things went between Jane and her suitor.
Once she had paid the money, Daisy was about to return to her great aunt's side, but stopped when she spotted Jane on a wagon driven by her father and sitting next to her brother Matt. Curious, Daisy kept watching until the wagon stopped just a few feet from where she stood. Jane and Matt eased off the carriage while their father said, loud enough for Daisy to hear. "I'll pick you up in an hour, all right?" The man slapped the reins on the horse's back and drove away.
Jane reached Daisy's side, and Matt exclaimed, "Janey, let me go and pay with the money pa gave you."
Without a word, the girl gave her brother the coins, and he shot off. When the girls were left alone, Jane smiled and said, "So you finally came."
"My parents let me come with my aunt," Daisy explained, tilting her head to a serious-looking grey-haired lady who was talking to Reverend Simpson. "And what are you doing with Matt?" Daisy exclaimed after a beat.
"My parents wouldn't have let me come alone," Jane replied.
"But you know Matt's a tattletale… he's gonna tell on you."
"So is any busybody who comes here today. Well, my mother said I couldn't see Mike alone… and now I'm not alone, so she can't say anything against it."
Daisy shook her head, fully aware that however logical that train of thought sounded, Mrs. McCloud would still be unhappy. The girl was about to comment on Jane's words, but she was interrupted by her aunt's voice who unkindly ordered her to stop chit-chatting and help her to get into the hall. When Daisy was gone, Matt came back, and Jane then saw Mike stopping his horse. She smiled at him, and he initially smiled back, but when he noticed the young boy next to the girl, he made a questioning face. Jane just shrugged her shoulders with resignation, wordlessly explaining the presence of her young brother.
Mike tethered his horse to a nearby post, and approached the girl. "Hi," Jane greeted him shyly.
"Hi," the young man greeted back, his eyes indiscreetly staring at the girl. He shifted his gaze momentarily, noticing that Matt was looking at him with curiosity. Mike's face turned into a frown as he said, "And I know you. You were one of the three fools who played those pranks on us the other day."
Matt winced, and spooked by Mike's angry face, he hid behind his sister as he said, "But I won't do it again. I promise."
"You better…" Mike said in a menacing tone.
"Daisy's also come with her aunt," Matt added, trying to steer the attention from himself.
"Who cares about Daisy and her aunt?" Mike exclaimed, and cheekily looking Jane up and down, he added, "What I want is to be with your sister."
"But my mother…"
"Mattie, why don't we get inside?" Jane cut in before her brother could say something about their parents, and the tremendous lecture she had received. Mike already knew she was younger than she had claimed to be, and she did not want to appear too childish in front of him.
Mike led the way inside the room. Jane could see Daisy, sitting next to her aunt in one of the first rows of seats, and when the spectacled girl saw her friend, she waved at her in greeting. Jane smiled, and noticed Mike get settled in the fifth row on the left of a central aisle. Matt followed, and was about to sit on the only seat on the man's left, but Jane stopped him by grabbing him by his right arm and made him sit between her and Mike. She did not know why, but it made her nervous to be so close to Mike. It was silly really since a few days ago she had been all alone with him, and sitting even closer, but she felt it was different. Her agreeing to see him a second time meant something more, and the fact that she had brought Matt as a chaperone showed her ideas in a clear light.
Jane smiled at Mike over Matt's head, and looking around, she said, "The hall looks strange. Those decorations are kind of weird."
"The company is performing a spooky tale… you know, about ghosts, witches and all that. But don't worry… it's suitable for everybody, even pretty young girls," Mike said, winking at her. Jane blushed, and lowered her eyes shyly. Matt shifted his eyes between the two people framing him without much enthusiasm, and when Mike noticed the boy looking, he added, "I ain't so sure if this thing might be a bit too much for children like you, boy. Maybe you should wait outside."
The comment did not sit well with Matt, and glaring at Mike, he shot back, "Maybe I'm a child, but you're a coward who boasts of courage in front of girls, but can mess your pants like a baby."
"Mattie!" Jane exclaimed, totally shocked by the comment and so embarrassed that she wanted the earth to open up and swallow her. "Apologize to Mike at this very moment!"
"I won't do it. He started it!"
"Boy, fortunately for you, your sister is here. Otherwise, your parents would have to have another baby to replace you."
"You see what he's saying?" Matt exclaimed so loudly that everybody started looking in their direction.
"Please, Matt. Keep quiet… you're embarrassing me!" Jane hissed among gritted teeth.
Angry, Matt folded his arms, and pouted unhappily. Mike and his sister started talking, ignoring the young boy completely. Matt was sulking as he was feeling totally bored. A few minutes later a familiar whistle drew his attention, and as he looked behind him, he saw Ike and Billy sitting in the last row of seats. Ike was waving and motioning to him to sit with them. Mattie did not think about it twice, and jumping to his feet, he exclaimed, "I'm going with Ike."
"Matt, no! Don't go!" said Jane, but it was too late and her brother was already reaching the boys, who received him with open arms.
"Leave him. He's such a pain," Mike said, quickly sitting on the chair next to Janey, which Matt had vacated. "Next time leave him at home."
Jane did not reply even though she did not like the way Mike was talking about her brother. She was the first one to admit that Matt was a total nuisance, and because of his big mouth, he had got her in trouble with her parents more than once. But this time Mattie had been in his best behavior, and it was Mike who had egged him on.
People from the theatrical company started to close the window shutters and put out the oil lamps scattered in the place. The room then was in darkness, except for the faint light coming from the makeshift stage, and the play began. The dark atmosphere daunted Jane, but it was not that the content of the play scared her because she hardly followed what was happening on the stage. Actually, what unnerved her was the young man sitting by her side. She was fully aware of his presence; his leg was touching hers, and his arm was casually stretched on the backrest of her chair. Jane knew it was silly to feel this apprehensive; she liked Mike, so what was there to be afraid of?
Meanwhile, in the last row the boys were having a little argument. "I don't want to do it!" Matt whispered. "It wasn't you who almost got licked by that bully."
"He won't notice a thing. You're small in size, and you can hide," Billy tried once again. Matt hesitated. It was true that Matt was a bit small for his age. Even though he had inherited his father's traits, he was petite like his mother. When he did not say anything, Billy added, "You don't want that idiot to keep bothering Janey, do you?"
"I don't think Janey thinks he's bothering her."
"Well, if it doesn't bother you, it's fine," Billy replied. "Soon he'll be courting Jane, you know, you'll have him around often, especially on Sundays, he'll become part of your family, and before you realize what's happening, he'll want to marry Jane and take her away."
The panorama that Billy described was totally grim for Matt, especially the idea of Jane going away. So despite himself, he found himself agreeing to Billy's plan. "All right." Without wasting time, Matt crept along the aisle towards his objective. The row behind Jane and Mike was empty and the boy crouched behind the seats, making sure not to be seen. Matt turned his face behind him to look at Billy, who exaggeratedly gestured him, touching his own shoulder. Matt shifted his eyes back to the oblivious pair in front of him. Mike still had his arm on Jane's backrest as both of them attentively looked at the play.
Without a further thought, Matt placed his hand on Jane's shoulder. As soon as the girl noticed the touch on her shoulder, she stiffened for a moment, but then she told herself not to be silly, and turning her face towards Mike, she smiled brightly while the young man grinned with a blank smile. Jane felt his fingers run up and down her shoulder blades, tickling her, and she giggled while looking at him. Mike stared at her with a clueless expression, and then removed his arm from the backrest. Mattie had to stop, and moved his hand from her sister's shoulder, and directed his eyes to the back row again, and Billy mimicked him to keep going.
Still ducked behind the chairs, Mattie crept closer and placed himself between the two chairs on which Mike and his sister were sitting. He noticed the pair's hands at their sides, so an idea hit him. Matt slid his little arm through the gap between the two chairs, and placed it on her sister's, massaging it softly. Janey smiled and kept looking at his companion. His touch sent a rush of sensations to her skin, and she liked it. Mike kept looking back at her with a strange expression, but Jane did not seem to notice anything strange.
After a while, seeing this was not making the desired effect, Matt thought of provoking the man, so he shifted his hand from her sister's to Mike's, and repeated the same procedure. Mike gave a jolt of surprise when he noticed the little hand caressing his, and gazed at Janey with a wide smile as she returned the look with a twinkle in her eyes. The young man was pleased by her obvious forwardness. From the very first, he had known she was younger than the age she had stated to have, but she had something that had attracted him. So because of how young she actually was, he knew he had to go slow with her, but maybe this young gazelle had more baggage than he had thought, something that excited him tremendously. Mike's hand reached to put his left palm on top of the one he thought was Janey's, sandwiching it between his. He tilted his head to one side and whispered, "Your hand is so soft and delicate. I love it."
Jane gave him a coy little smile. Meanwhile, Matt was cringing at having his hand squeezed by Mike's callused ones, and quickly removed it. The boy made a face and even rubbed his hand up and down his pants as if to clean it. Matt was starting to get tired of this matter; his legs cramped from being crouched for so long, so he ended up kneeling on the floor. He let out his breath, as he stared at the sight before him. Suddenly, his eyes got drawn to his sister's lap as he was struck by a naughty idea. Spreading his palm wide open, Matt slid his arm through the gap again, and without stopping to think, he landed his hand on his sister's right thigh, giving it a squeeze.
Jane's eyes shot open in surprise, and her face flushed. Very slowly, she turned her flabbergasted face towards Mike with a serious expression; the young man looked at her with a smile, and then unexpectedly, the girl lifted her hand and slapped him across the face hard. Feeling totally offended, Jane could not stay next to him any longer, and jumping to her feet, she quickly went to sit on the empty seat by Daisy. For a few seconds, Mike remained seated, bewildered, rubbing his sore face. He did not understand what had happened, and honestly, he did not want to waste his time with silly girls' games. There were more fish in the pond, and this one had already given him too many headaches. So he rose to his feet, placed his hat on his head and left the room.
From his hidden position, Matt's face dared to lift and look at his friends. Billy and Ike were grinning in amusement, and Matt just raised his thumb, feeling deep down that he had done a good deed, and he could feel proud of himself.
That night Louise pushed the bedroom door open, and stepped inside, carrying a tray. She smiled at her daughter, who lay on her bed. "I've brought you these cookies and a glass of warm milk," Lou said as she placed the tray on the bedside table. "These can't hurt."
"Ma, I don't want to eat anything. I told you," Jane protested as she sat up on the bed, the sheet covering her lower half.
Louise crossed her arms over her chest. "But where does it hurt?"
"I told you. My belly."
Lou shook her head. "That's because of all the candy you children eat. I'm not surprised." Jane did not reply, and Louise added, "Honey, I'm going to bed now. I'lI leave you the tray here. If you feel like eating, do. And if not, just leave it. And if you feel worse, call me, all right?"
Jane nodded. Lou stooped to give her daughter a kiss, and when she turned to leave, Janey called her. "Ma?"
"I'm not going to see that boy anymore… the one working for Mr. Benson."
Louise smiled and said, "I'm so glad to hear that."
"Ma, how does a woman know?" Jane asked.
"That a man is right for you…" Jane elaborated.
Louise approached the bed once again, and sat next to her daughter. "You never really know that. I guess experience teaches you some, but even after years and years, a woman is likely to misjudge a man… in both ways."
"How did you know Pa was the one for you?" Jane kept asking.
"Honey, I don't think there's a secret formula for that. As I told you, one never knows. When I agreed to marry your father, what I knew was that he was an honest man, sweet, romantic, sincere, and also with a few faults of his own…and of course and most importantly, I loved him terribly, and I knew he loved me. When we were young, we made many mistakes, and we learned from them. You know your father and I are quite different, but we love and respect each other. And when time passes, and you realize you can't imagine your life without that person in it, you then know that's the one."
Janey smiled. "When I grow up, I want to be like you and Pa."
Louise rubbed her daughter's back affectionately. "That's very sweet of you, honey. I know you're not a child, but you ain't a woman either. Don't be in such a hurry. Things take their time. Janey, when we are so eager to reach the destination, we sometimes miss the scenery during the trip, and you know, sooner or later we'll get to the destination. So why not enjoy the rest in the meantime?"
Janey nodded. "Ma, I'm sorry we argued the other day. I don't like when we fight. I missed you these days. You're my best friend."
"And your mother… especially, your mother. And all I want is the best for you and your siblings."
"I know," the girl admitted, and wrapped her arms around her mother's body. "I love you, Ma."
"I love you, honey."
"And I feel much better now," Jane said when they pulled away.
"Very well, Janey," Lou replied as she walked to the door. "Good night."
"Good night, Ma."
"Kid…" Lou's voice called, penetrating his still asleep mind, but he still kept his eyes shut. "Kid, come on, wake up."
"Lou, it's Sunday," he replied with closed eyes. "I think after a very hard week I deserve to sleep in this morning."
"We have to go to church."
Kid finally opened his eyes to find his wife in her robe, hovering over him. "Doesn't the Good Lord say in the Bible that Sunday is the day men can rest? I'm not getting much rest here."
"Don't whine, honey," Lou replied with a smile. "We have to go to church, you know, we need to talk to the minister about Ginnie's christening."
Kid stared at her. He loved the way she looked early in the morning; there was a special freshness that even after all these years he found totally irresistible. So without even being aware of his own movements, he raised his hands to her, wrapping them around her slender body and bringing her towards him. Lou gave a surprised yelp, but did not protest when Kid kissed her. She responded to his hot kisses with the same vehemence that he generously showered her with this morning. They rolled over the bed without stopping, and as his body hovered over hers, his hands quickly slid under her nightgown, caressing her thighs and in the process hitching the material up. When Lou felt his hands on her skin, she broke the kiss to say, "Kid, we don't have time for this now."
"Lou, just something quick. Lately we're so tired that we hardly get to dance," he said, using their old euphemism for their love-making. "I really miss you."
Louise did not need much persuasion to follow his husband's lead, and they spent the next minutes in a most intimate, pleasurable routine that was as intense and passionate as always even after long years. Like water, which did not lose its refreshing quality and was still a life-giving source, their love was renewed and strengthened with time.
Half an hour later they lay in each other's arms, panting and whispering old words of love, but the moment was broken by a loud wail, coming from the cot in the bedroom. Lou and Kid shared a smile, and as she slid out of the bed, she said, "Your daughter wants her breakfast." She paused to look at the tub she had got ready for Kid this morning. "I'm afraid your water has gone cold, Kid. I'll take Ginnie down, and I'll heat some more water."
"I can do that," Kid replied, rising from the bed and walking after her. "Just see to Ginnie's breakfast." Standing behind her, he wrapped his arms around her body and kissed her on the neck. "Thank you for getting my bath ready. You're the best wife a man can have."
Louise smiled, kissed him on the lips lightly and disengaging herself from his hold, she added, "Good try, Kid. But you won't get away from coming to church with me." They shared a laugh as Lou picked up her baby from the crib, and left the bedroom.
About half an hour later Lou climbed the stairs to wake up her boys. She opened the door to the bedroom that Mattie and Jed shared, and as she stepped inside, she walked to the window to open the curtains and said, "Matt, Jed, time to wake up."
As she turned to the beds, she noticed that Matt had hid his head under the pillow whereas Jed was wide awake, on his knees on the bed and smiling. "Mama!" he exclaimed.
"Good morning, my boy!" Lou said, stretching her arms to him. Jed eased off the bed and energetically jumped to his mother's arms, hugging her. Louise planted a big kiss on the boy's cheek and exclaimed, "I love you, my baby."
"I'm not baby… Ginnie's baby," Jed protested.
"Yes, you're right. You're all grown up now," Lou said with a tinge of sadness. All her children were growing up so fast that it scared her. She missed when Jed was a baby, or when Janey and Matt were two small children. But that was life. "And now, my big man, let's get you dressed." Lou lowered her son while she said, "Matt, wake up now."
"I'm tired," Matt's muffled voice protested.
"Yes… you're always tired," Lou replied. "Come on; get out of that bed right now."
"Ma!" Jane's voice sounded from outside the bedroom.
"Yes, honey?" Lou called back casually while she did up Jed's shirt buttons, and when she did not notice any movement in Matt's bed, she said, "Mattie, I'm not gonna repeat this any more. Get up!"
Mattie knew that he could not mess up with his mother, and he reluctantly slid off the bed, but remained seated on its edge.
"Ma!" Janey called again.
"One moment, Jane," Lou replied loudly as she was finishing with Jed, and looked at her other son with an unhappy expression. "Matt, please. Don't make me angry this morning. Get dressed right now."
"Coming, honey," Lou replied to her daughter, as she walked to the door, and before stepping out, she turned to her eldest son, and said, "Matt, when I come back, I hope to find you ready, all right?"
When Lou went, Mattie reluctantly slid out of his night shirt and put on his pants. He sighed, and sat on the bed again. Jed let out a giggle, and Matt looked at him unenthusiastically. "What are you laughing at?" Jed did not say anything, but giggled again. "You hungry?" Matt asked, and when Jed nodded, the older boy added, "Me too. Let's go to the kitchen."
Matt took Jed's hand and steered him out of the door, but when he noticed their mother before her own bedroom, he stopped and remained hidden under the threshold. Lou was knocking while saying, "Kid, open up."
"One moment," Kid's voice was heard from inside. When he or Lou had a bath or something unsuitable for the children to witness, they usually locked the door since one day a few years ago Matt had walked in on them in a very compromising position. Fortunately, Matt had been too young to understand what he had seen back then, but from that moment on Lou and Kid had agreed to be more careful.
"Kid, please, open up," Lou insisted, knocking over and over again.
The door finally opened, and Kid appeared, his hair wet from his recent bath. "Lou, what's the hurry?"
Louise did not reply and simply said, "Please let me in." She gently shoved him to one side and walked into the room. Kid stepped out in the corridor, and noticed his two sons in front of their bedroom. "Hey, boys."
"Hi, Pa," Matt replied.
Louise came out of the bedroom in much the same hurry as she had gone in, but this time she stopped before her husband. "Kid…"
"What's going on?"
"What about her?" Kid asked with a concerned frown.
"Jane… our Jane's become a woman," Lou whispered, her eyes bright as they stared at her husband's. Kid could hardly utter a single word. Louise smiled, gave him a squeeze on his arm, and then quickly headed for the girl's bedroom.
Kid remained in the corridor, feeling invaded by a myriad of emotions. His girl… his little girl. A woman. How had this happened so quickly? He had hardly noticed time go by, and it was just yesterday that Jane had climbed up to his lap and asked him to read a tale for her. He still remembered very clearly the day Lou had first told him she was expecting. He had lived those months intensely, fearful and excited. And the day Jane had been born, and Lou had presented him with their first baby had been one of the happiest moments in his life. Had that happened that long ago? Really? It did not feel that way, but the truth was that their children were growing up, and Lou and he were growing old.
Kid lifted his eyes and noticed Matt looking at him with a strange expression. He tried to compose himself, and said, "You boys want some breakfast?" Matt simply nodded, eyeing his father curiously. "Let's go downstairs then."
Kid lifted Jed in his arms, and Matt followed him down the stairs. When they reached the kitchen, they sat around the table. Kid kept quiet as he served the boys their milk, and the eggs that Lou had cooked. A few minutes later Lou appeared with Jane. The girl smiled at her father shyly, and said, "Good morning, Pa."
Janey sat down at the table. Lou stood next to her, stroking her daughter's back affectionately, while she shared a look and a smile with her husband. From his position, Matt shifted his eyes from his sister to his parents, and back again. The way his parents looked at each other and Jane was strange, and he really wondered what was happening.
Later that Sunday after church, the McClouds returned home where they enjoyed lunch. Kid had promised the children to take them to the waterhole, and in the meantime Matt had gone to the yard to play with his marbles. Ike had soon joined him as well as Stuart, who had come to visit their friends after much insisting to his mother. Mattie lifted his eyes from the ground and directed them to his house. Janey was sitting on the swing in the porch while reading a book. He kept thinking about what had happened this morning and what he had heard his parents say, and since he was not one who kept things to himself for too long, he felt the urge to share his thoughts with his friends.
The boy was crouched, and strategically maneuvered his little fingers to hit the marble, and get the best shoot. "What now?" Ike asked in a flat tone.
"Do you think Janey was a woman when she was born?"
Ike stopped to look at his friend with an expression showing that he thought Matt had actually lost his marbles. "What are you saying? Stop talking twaddle."
"Of course she was a woman, silly!" Ike exclaimed a bit miffed.
Matt kept thoughtful for a while, and then addressed his other friend. "And what about a year ago, Stuart?"
"A year ago what?" Stuart asked, lost at the meaning behind Matt's question as his concentration was on the game.
"Was my sister a woman a year ago?"
"Are you off your head?" Stuart exclaimed, tapping his right temple with a finger. "Of course she was!"
"And yesterday?" Matt insisted. "Was my sister a woman yesterday?"
Ike and Stuart shared a look. "What's wrong with him?" Ike asked, looking at Stuart. "He's gone crazy or what?"
"Tell me the truth, Ike. Was my sister a woman yesterday?"
Ike shook his head, getting tired of this conversation. "Of course! Are you trying to pull our legs or what?"
"You're both wrong!" Matt stated, rising to his feet. "My sister is just a woman today."
Both Ike and Stuart frowned. "What's all that nonsense?" Ike exclaimed.
"It's not nonsense. It's true. Janey is a woman today, and the rest before that doesn't count. My mother has told my father about it."
"The rest doesn't count?" Ike whispered in awe.
Matt shook his head. "No, what counts is from today."
Stuart and Ike exchanged another confused look. "Are you sure that's what your mother said?" Stuart asked.
"Yes, that's what she said."
The three children almost simultaneously turned to look at Jane, who kept reading her book a few feet from where they were. After Matt's information, they lost interest in the marbles, and Ike said, "Let's go and have a closer look… maybe there's something different."
They slowly approached the house, and positioned themselves just below the porch, watching Jane unblinkingly while trying to keep their presence hidden. Yet, after a few minutes Janey looked in their direction, and when she discovered three heads showing over the porch and staring at her, she exclaimed, "What on earth are you three doing?"
Ike and Stuart scurried away quickly, but Matt simply rose to his feet and came close to his sister. "Pa's taking us to the waterhole later. It's warm today for a good swim. Are you coming along?"
"Uh… no, I don't think so."
"Because I have a cold," Jane simply said, and turned her attention back to her book.
Matt did not say anything, and slowly sauntered to where his friends were. As soon as he appeared, Stuart said, "I don't see anything different."
"She looks the same," Ike agreed, and then he spotted Daisy, who was coming down the path leading to the property. A couple of weeks ago Ike's mother had an accident; she fell down the stairs and as a consequence, she had sprained her ankle. The doctor had prescribed her to rest, so Ellen had arranged for Daisy to come around for a few hours every day to help her with the housework. "Look, Daisy. Maybe she knows something."
The three boys ran to meet the spectacled girl, and Matt suddenly blurted out, "Daisy, as from today Janey is a woman, and the rest doesn't count."
"What?" Daisy let out with a confused frown.
"Yes, my mother has told my father that Jane's become a woman."
The words finally dawned on the girl. A smile split her face as she shot towards her friend. The three boys curiously saw Daisy hug Jane, and started talking like they usually did when they were telling each other secrets. After a while, Daisy got up and left for the Cross's house, waving at her friend and casting a too bright smile in her direction. "I don't understand anything," Ike said after a while. "But something's going on for sure."
"What are you three up to?" The question sounded behind them, and the boys swirled around to find Billy.
"Hey, Billy!" Matt exclaimed, and lowering the voice, he said as if he was telling a secret, "Do you know something? As from today, Jane's a woman… that's what my mother said to my father."
Bill directed his eyes to where Janey was sitting. "Oh I see," he replied. "She must have gotten her monthly."
The children sent each other confused looks. "Her month?" Matt echoed
"What month? May?" Ike asked.
"No, not her month… her monthly, you know the period," Billy explained, but noticing the clueless expression on the children's faces, he added, "You know, the curse." The three friends kept looking at him blankly, and Billy grinned. "You don't know what the curse is?" The boys shook their heads in unison, expecting Billy to explain to them what they had been trying to find out all this time. "Well, the curse is something women have every month… they bleed…"
"They bleed?" Ike asked with a totally shocked expression.
"Every month?" asked Matt this time.
"Every month at the same time?" questioned Matt again.
Billy chuckled. "I don't really know. I guess."
"And why does that happen?" Ike continued.
"Because that's their nature. That means that they can have babies," Billy explained.
This new piece of information surprised Matt even more than what he had learned today. "So do you mean my sister could have a baby if she wanted to?"
Matt suddenly felt very sad even though he was not sure why. He shifted his eyes and kept staring at his sister with a sullen expression. Then he shot towards his house, and approached Jane with slow steps when he came closer. Jane lifted his eyes to him, wondering what on earth he wanted now, and to her utter surprise he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Mattie, what's with you today?"
"I know what's happening to you. You're in the month of women, and you're doomed," Matt said, confusing all the words that Billy had tried to explain patiently.
Jane could not help but burst out laughing. "Oh Matt!" she exclaimed as she ruffled her brother's sandy hair. She then noticed Billy standing just at the foot of the steps leading the porch, and she stiffly asked, "Anything I can do for you?"
Billy climbed the steps and when he was closer to her, he added, "Would you like to go for a walk with me?"
"Go for a walk? With you?"
"Yes, it's a beautiful day. And I can also be good company," Billy replied.
Jane did not reply straightaway; she stared at him as if carefully considering the idea, and finally she said, "All right."
Billy smiled, and then they walked off, leaving Matt behind. After a few seconds, the door opened, and Kid and Lou stepped onto the porch. The man gently tapped Matt on the shoulder as he asked, "Ready to go swimming?"
"Yes!" Mattie exclaimed enthusiastically, taking a little jump. "I'll tell Ike and Stuart!"
Before he ran away, since she could not see Jane anywhere, Lou asked him, "And where's your sister?"
"She's gone for a stroll with Billy. They've gone that way," Matt replied, pointing in the direction the two teenagers had taken off, and then scurried away to his friends.
From the porch Lou could see Jane and Bill in the close distance, walking side by side. Louise smiled as a sigh escaped her lips. "Oh Kid," she exclaimed, resting her head on his right shoulder. "I feel as if I was centuries old today. Why do they have to grow up?"
Kid wrapped his arm around her narrow waist, bringing her closer, and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. For once he had no words to tell his wife; he also felt old today, and shared the same feelings as Lou's. So they remained there, standing on the porch, watching their daughter in the distance and worrying about where her steps would lead her in the very near future.