Carly Mae picked up a flat rock and skipped it, just like her father taught her and the twins to do long ago. She found another rock and skipped it, too, and studied the ripples until the surface calmed. The faint sound of a motor broke the silence. She looked over her shoulder and saw a familiar brown Jewel Tea truck chugging toward her.
When the vehicle pulled to a stop, Dusty Lambert climbed out and waved to Carly Mae while brushing wrinkles from his uniform and adjusting his hat. He was the high school’s star reporter, the one who found Carly Mae’s violin after the terrible twister touched down. He still hoped to become a journalist one day, but his dad, who had worked for Jewel for three decades, suffered a stroke when Dusty was a freshman at University of Illinois. Dusty’s mom, a new widow with no outside job experience, had three other children to raise. Dusty returned home and took over his father’s sales territory.
Twenty-three and enterprising, he was affectionately known as the Jewel Tea Man. He sold much more than tea and coffee—everything from kitchenware in an autumn-leaf pattern to strawberry toothpaste and potato chips in tins. For many locals, his visits were the highlight of their week. He knew how to spin a yarn and make people laugh, so they ordered little things they didn’t need just to keep him coming back. Missy was one of his regular customers. Carly Mae, Ray and Blanche enjoyed seeing new items he demonstrated in their home week to week. Unbeknownst to Missy, he always added a few small items to her orders and paid for them out of pocket. It pained him he couldn’t bring the Foley children’s parents back, but he could at least give them a treat every week.
Dusty joined Carly Mae at the pond. “What are you doin’ all the way out here?”
Tension in her gut eased with his approach. She saw compassion in his brown eyes whenever they spoke. “It’s a long story.” She skipped another rock, then picked up two more and handed one to him.
“Out with it, kiddo.” He tossed his rock. It skipped four times before sinking.
“Great toss!” Carly Mae threw hers with a deft flick of her wrist. It skipped four times, too.
“Say, you’re good at this.” He stared into the calming water, then turned toward her. “I’ve got plenty of time—only two more customers left today, Varnie and Leolia, right up the road.”
His kindness broke through reservations she had about sharing what she’d just learned. “Blanche and Ray, they have a different dad than me.” Her voice cracked as she struggled to continue. “Damon’s not their real dad.”
“Blanche and Ray?”
“Grams didn’t plan to tell us. She’s kept it secret all this time.”
“To be honest, plenty of us have wondered where they got that light hair and pale blue eyes,” Dusty said.
“I thought it was recessive genes or something. This is bad, really bad. I was already an outsider, ‘cause of the twin thing. I swear, they can read each other’s thoughts.”
Dusty put an arm around her. “But you know you’re still family, right? Things don’t have to change just because of this.”
“I guess.” Carly Mae drew a line in the dirt with her toe.
“Say, you know, I have some booties in the truck, new item this week. I’ll get you a pair. They’re cool. They fold flat, small enough to stick ‘em in your pocket.”
Carly Mae looked up and giggled despite the tears sliding down her face. “In case you’re ever out on the road and happen to need new footwear?”
Dusty chuckled on the way to the truck, where he riffled through his inventory and found the booties. He was closing up when a man emerged from woodland across the road. He was dressed in frayed and wrinkled shirt and pants ripped at the knees and streaked with grass stains. His mud-brown hair stuck out like feathers at his ears, and a matching beard and mustache gave him the look of a giant feral cat. He pointed a pistol at Dusty. “Gimme yer keys.”
Neither Dusty nor Carly Mae had ever imagined an encounter like this. To her great dismay, Carly Mae froze, horrified. Dusty felt like his blood had turned to molasses. He struggled to speak.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish