Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Diamonds in the Woods

All was quiet, except the steady hum of the fan blowing the cool morning air through the window. Somehow, Erin’s bedspread had made its way back over her body in the night. Before she had drifted to sleep, the heat had made the sheet barely tolerable. But a sheet couldn’t be sacrificed, in case ghosts decided to feed off her bare skin. A silly thought in the morning. It was never silly before bedtime.

Saturday. Erin loved Saturdays best, even during summer break. Dad would be disassembling some motorcycle part in the garage. Mom would be stripping all the beds and making the house smell like spring, even with a cigarette burning in the ashtray. Erin would have no responsibility toward her younger brother today.
She snuck down the creaky stairwell, hoping to be the first one awake. But the smell of coffee and smoke hit her in the dining room. Her parents were already drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.

“Good morning, Sweetie. Did you sleep well?” Her mother asked, as she did every day.

“It was so hot last night. Can’t we please get an air conditioner for the upstairs? Please? Jo Jo’s family just got one.”

The comment was ignored and gas prices continued to be discussed. Erin sat at the table and poured cereal and milk in the bowl that had been laid out for her. She ate three bites before bouncing out of her chair to answer the ringing phone.

“Hello? Yeah! Did you call Tina yet? Five minutes.”

Erin ran back upstairs to dress in her Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirt and pink shorts. She brushed her teeth without flossing and ran to the door to put on her tennis shoes without socks.

“See ya, Mom. See ya Dad. Tina, Jo Jo and I will be at the railroad tracks. Don’t tell Benny, please.” Erin’s little brother had a way of showing up wherever she was.

“Be careful, Slick,” Erin’s Dad looked up before the screen door slammed shut.

Erin peddled her bike through the quiet town. Already the humidity was beginning to threaten her refreshed soul. As usual, she was the first one at their special hideout. Twenty yards past the railroad track marked the entrance of a wooded area on the edge of town. A large tree stump served as a table, and often the chairs as well.

As Erin waited for her two best friends, she listened to the insects and hoped she wouldn’t see any snakes. Unlike Tina, she monitored the ground closely for any slithering motion. Tina refused to look at the ground. Joanne didn’t search out, nor did she avoid seeing snakes. She didn’t like them, but they didn’t scare her either.

Something glittered on the dry, native grass near her feet. Erin reached down to pick up a thick piece of green glass from a soda bottle. Setting the glass on the tree stump, she bent down to look for more. Eventually, there were ten pieces of glass on the stump, ranging in sizes no bigger than two inches. Most were green, but a few pieces were brown or translucent.

Eventually Jo Jo and Tina joined her. All three girls wore their Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirts. Tina wore purple shorts that she insisted were pink. Joanne stuck to code with her pink shorts.

“What in the world?” asked Tina while studying the broken pieces of glass.

“Treasures,” answered Erin nonchalantly as she kept searching.

Joanne studied the pieces. “Looks like pop glass to me.”

“Now it does,” answered Erin.

Joanne began searching the ground with Erin.

“What are we doing today? Riding bikes?” Tina asked hopefully. She always wanted to ride bikes.

“Too hot!” Joanne answered.

“Then what?”

Joanne and Erin kept searching the ground, waiting for Tina to answer herself.

“We could…build a Barbie city? No, that’s getting boring. Play ball with the boys? No, Jimmie’s too mean. Have you finished writing your movie, Erin?”

“No. Besides, we need to convince the boys to be in it.” Erin was writing a play with the intention of having the town kids perform for their parents.

“How about… swimming?”

“After lunch,” Joanne answered decisively. “We’re busy now.”

Tina sighed. She was going to be forced to look at the ground. “Okay, but if I see a snake I’m going home.” Tina always threatened to go home. Joanne never wanted to go home.

“Perfect! I wondered where we were going to hide them.” Erin pulled a rusty tuna can out of the ground, then placed the can next to the bounty. “I think we have enough. Be right back.” Erin walked toward the railroad tracks and picked up three large pieces of river rock. Holding the rocks in her t-shirt, she ran back to camp. After giving each of her friends a rock, she began to crush the glass on the stump. Tina and Joanne looked at each other and smiled, then joined Erin in the task. Once the glass was reduced to small, but not inscrutable, sparkling jewels, they were placed in the tuna can.

“Jo Jo? What are you going to do with your riches?” asked Erin first. Erin always wished Jo Jo would talk more.

Joanna shrugged. Tina responded immediately.

“I know! I’m getting a really cool car. A red convertible. Then I’ll buy Mom and Dad a nice car. Something better than our green bomb.”

The girls laughed, since they had all been passengers in the loud, muffler-less Chevy Impala many times. None of the families had new cars, but the green bomb was the ugliest of them all.

“I’m going to buy shoes; high-heeled shoes of every color to match my sequined dresses. We should have fancy parties, don’t you think? But no one could smoke or drink! We’d only serve Tang with 7-Up.” Erin imagined a party like those she watched on The Young and the Restless – something much different than their parents’ parties of barbecue and beer.

Joanne smiled and kept crushing. Then she shrieked, dropped her rock and began to suck on her finger.

“Jo Jo! You cut yourself!”

Joanne closed her eyes tight, as she always did when she anticipated pain. The other two girls stopped working to pry out their friend’s injured finger. Tina delicately held the finger that continued to seep blood.

“It’s not bad.” Joanne felt embarrassed of the tiny cut.

“We should go back and get a band-aid,” directed Tina.

“No,” Joanne responded emphatically. “I’ll get in trouble.”

“We all will,” Erin added. But they all knew that Joanne would get in the worst trouble if her Dad found out.

Joanne wrapped her finger around her t-shirt and looked at her friends. “You know what I think we should do with our treasure? Forget the dresses and cars. Let’s see the world! Erin, Tina and Jo Jo will snorkel off the Yucatan Peninsula, shop on 5th Avenue in New York City, ski in Steamboat, climb the Eiffel Tower, see the Parthenon in Greece, go on a safari in Africa…”

Tina and Erin had often heard Joanne talk about places they knew nothing about. Her mother had been a flight attendant before moving back home to marry her high school sweetheart.

Erin interrupted Joanne. “Hey! Let’s have lunch at Jo Jo’s! Your mom can tell us about places we should visit!”

Joanne became serious. “Can’t. Mom’s working today.”

Thoughts of the world were quickly replaced once the girls realized their stomachs were grumbling. The sun had crept into their shaded meeting spot and the shouting of boys playing on the baseball field could easily be heard throughout the small town.

Neither Erin or Tina felt like going back to their own houses for lunch. So after a few minutes of waiting for a solution to appear, Joanne suggested, “We could go to Granny’s.”

“Tang with 7-Up.” Tina added.

“Let’s go,” directed Erin. “Ride your bikes fast by the ball field. Maybe the boys won’t throw rocks at us.”

“Wait. What about the diamonds?” asked Joanna.

“I know.” Tina found a soft spot in the earth and started digging a hole with her rock. Once the hole was big enough, Joanna placed the tuna can in the hole. Erin covered the treasure with the loose dirt. The three friends smiled at their accomplishment, then jumped on their bicycles to race toward Jo Jo’s grandmother’s house. They easily made it past the ball field as the boys were in the middle of a play.

As they sped through the pebbly main street of town, a muffled sound of a thunderous engine settled in the air. The girls made a sharp turn at the t-section to hear the revving of the engine getting louder.

“Car!” Erin yelled to her friends who performed the drill of slowing down before scattering to the soft edge of the road. Generally, all kids came to a complete stop to watch a car drive through town. Today was no exception.

Initially the girls were blinded by a deceiving silver flash, created by the sun’s reflection. Then a bright yellow sports car broke through the aura.

“Wow! Look at that car,” Tina exclaimed. “It’s gotta be a Camaro.”

Trucks, station wagons and sedans were common place in the town that housed blue-collar families working as machinists, secretaries or waitresses. Sports cars were rare.

The girls watched the car draw closer and eventually come to a stop.

“Dad?” Joanne squinted her eyes in disbelief as the driver rolled down his window. “Who’s car is that?”

The girls hopped off their bikes to take a closer look.

“I was right! It is a Camaro. Is it brand new?” Tina felt the smooth paint job.

Joanne’s father attempted to hold back a smile. “Oh, no. It’s two years old. 1978. Think your mom will like it, Jo Jo?”

“Dad? Are you kidding? Are we getting it?”

All three girls stood back with eyes wide open.

“No, Honey. We got it. I bought it today.”

Joanne looked at her friends in wonder. Erin smiled incredulously. Tina’s smirk reflected her apparent jealousy. Joanne ducked her head in the window to get a closer view of the interior.

“Can we have a ride, Dad?”

“Not now, Hon. Later. I’ll take you, Tina and Erin out for a spin.”

The three girls watched the rumbling Camaro drive away.

“I wonder how you and your brothers are all gonna fit in that.” Tina noted.

“I think it’s very cool,” Erin told her friend.

“I hope Mom likes it,” Joanne said with trepidation. “Wonder what Grandma will think.”

The girls made their way to Granny Annie’s, who obviously predicted guests for lunch with lunch meat, bread and potato chips already set out. As the girls sat down to devour their sandwiches, Granny Annie mixed the Tang and 7-Up.

“Guess what, Granny?” Joanne talked with her mouth full. “Dad just came home with a brand-new, well not quite brand-new, Camaro!”

Granny stopped pouring the 7-Up and looked out the window.

“Test-driving? Just dreamin, I suppose. Your Dad’s a dreamer.”

“No. He bought it. He told us.”

The girls kept talking and laughing, not noticing the subtle change in Granny’s attitude. Granny set the drinks on the table, kissed Joanne on the head and said, “There’s ice cream in the freezer. Help yourselves when you’re done. I’m going out to the garage to talk to Grandpa, okay?”

“Bye, Granny. Thanks for lunch.”

Granny Annie left in a hurry to tell her husband about their financially-strapped son’s recent purchase. Despite the anxiety felt by Granny, excitement was the only emotion ruling over the three girls. Even Tina, who felt a bit jealous, was encouraged. If Jo Jo’s family could afford a Camaro, certainly her family could too.

“Should we go back to the hideout? Or should we go swimming?” Erin asked.

“I’m kinda thinking that those diamonds are lucky. Maybe we should go back to the hideout.” Tina decided that swimming now seemed boring.

Joanne nodded and lifted her cup of Tang and 7-Up. “A toast – to the diamonds in the woods.”

“The magical diamonds in the woods,” Erin corrected.

“No, the magical, mystical, friendship diamonds in the woods.” Tina finalized the toast.

The three girls raised their drinks to each other, took big gulps, and slammed their plastic cups on the table. Now they had orange mustaches to match their Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirts.

And they each had the twinkle of hope in their bright, young eyes.

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