From the Back of the Truck
The day his life began was in the late September of 1991. Stalks of wheat tickled his bare arms that lay behind his head like a pillow against the dirt of the field. The hot Texas sun blazed on his rugged teenage face. Some days Daniel would come to this field when the usual scenery of the farm became too familiar.
Nothing but an unusual air warned him that today was different. The sun was suddenly a thousand times brighter, and the world that much more beautiful. When he realized he was staring into someone’s eyes, he quickly sat up, embarrassed.
Looking at him was a girl his age, with long brown hair flowing over her shoulders in two braids. Her rose pink lips parted slightly as her soft pale cheeks were tainted a shade of red as she came to the same awkward realization as Daniel.
“Sorry, I was just wandering,” she said quietly, looking down at her small hands.
“Me too,” was all Daniel could reply.
There was an uncomfortable silence as they tried to decide what to do next.
“Is this your field?” she finally asked.
“No,” he answered honestly, “too be truthful, I really don’t know who owns this field.”
“Are you new here? I don’t think I’ve seen you at school.”
“Yeah, I’m visiting my aunt.”
Again they wondered where to go from here.
“My aunt said there was a river around here,” she began.
“Oh yeah, it’s that way,” Daniel pointed beyond some trees east of them.
The girl looked nervous when she asked if he would come show her the way.
The gurgling creek welcomed the two, who then realized they had no swimsuits. Instead of entering the clear brook, the two sat on the shore and dipped in their bare feet.
“What’s your name?” the still shy Daniel asked.
“Jodi. What’s yours?”
“Have you lived here long?” she asked.
“I lived in another town nearby until I was ten. Then my family moved here,” he answered.
“Why’d you move?”
Daniel watched as a mother squirrel led her baby up a tall oak tree across the river. “My little sister died when I was four.” The words came out easily now, but they hadn’t always come out this simply. “She had run into the street to save a baby bird that must’ve fallen out of a tree limb above. The driver of the pickup truck didn’t see her in time.”
There was a long silence that wasn’t like the other ones they had had. This one was filled with the sounds of the rushing water and bird songs, and a feel of familiarity.
“The bird lived at least,” he finished.
Beneath the ripples of the water, Jodi’s feet were pushed gently by the current against Daniel’s, but she didn’t fight it. “My mother died when I was two,” she said back. “She was real sick.” Again peaceful silence consumed them.
Jodi moved her hand onto his, entangling her warm fingers in his. “I should get back to my aunt’s,” she said. The comfort of her hand left his as she stood up.
“Wait,” he said as she turned to leave. He stood up. “I was wondering if you’d maybe want to hang out sometime,” the words came tumbling out of his throat. “Or something,” he added.
She smiled. “Sure.”
The sun had set when Daniel got home. In the driveway his dad worked on the engine of his red truck. Black grease stained his plane white shirt.
“Give me a hand,” he ordered in his deep voice.
Daniel immediately took the wrench from his father and got to work. When Daniel’s father gave an order, it was followed without complaint. His father turned to the house before adding, “Fix it good. It’s yours now.”
Jodi smiled like Daniel had when she first saw his truck pull up in front of her aunt’s house, although she didn’t know if it was the truck she was smiling about.
The day consisted of the best ice cream in the small town, and some movie that Daniel tried to watch at first, but eventually gave up at as the corners of his eyes preferred looking at the girl besides him.
When the lights of the carnival brightened the darkening sky, the two of them held hands as they reached the top of the Ferris wheel. Like yesterday, her touch alone seemed to flood his life with light. Right now, in this moment, all he needed was her.
The carnival was closed at midnight, but Jodi didn’t want to do back to her aunt’s yet. Instead, Daniel parked the pickup in the field they met in. Nobody ever used this field, so he was sure a few tire tracks would be okay
Lying side by side in the truck bed, they admired the stars quietly, smiling secretly to themselves. All of the movies made love seem possible to Daniel, but right now, looking at the stars with a girl he met only met the other day, he finally knew that love was real.
“Do you ever miss her?” Jodi asked suddenly. “Your sister, I mean.”
“Sometimes,” Daniel answered. “I used to not admit she was really gone after the accident. I used to wake up and think she was still out here playing in this field.” Daniel smiled. “I had forgotten. She was the one who found this field.” Silver moonbeams led a path from the sky to the back of the truck, casting dim light on the two. “Hey, Jodi?” he asked quietly.
“What is it, Daniel?”
“I know it’s like a whole semester from now, but I was just wondering if you’d maybe go to prom with me.” When she didn’t answer, Daniel mentally screamed at himself for being such an idiot. That was when he heard the quiet sobs coming from besides him. “Jodi?”
“Daniel, I’m sorry,” she managed to say.
“I have to tell you something,” she said, rolling her head to face him. “I know I should have said it when you asked me out, but I was so excited that I didn’t want to ruin it.”
“Jodi, what is it?”
Jodi licked took a shuttering gasp and wiped her eyes as she struggled to find the words. Finally she located them, and slowly she admitted the secret. “I told you my mother died when I was two while she was very sick.” Daniel nodded. “Well,” Jodi continued, “the thing she was sick with was AIDS.”
The shock made Daniel confused and sent him into denial of where she was going with this. “What does that have to do with…?”
“The disease was transferred to me during childbirth. It wasn’t a serious problem, though, until about a year ago. There’s no cure for it yet. It’s not only a death sentence, it’s a social curse. I was too embarrassed to tell anybody about it, so I came here to my aunt’s so that my friends thought I was just moving. I didn’t want them to have to miss me when I…” Jodi began sobbing again, but choked out a few more words. “Then when I met you in the field and we went to the creek, I forgot all about my AIDS and the fact that I’m not expected to still be alive by next semester. It was as if I was just a normal teenage girl again. When you asked me out, I didn’t want to tell you the truth because I thought you wouldn’t be interested if you knew we couldn’t… you know…”
Jodi was hushed as Daniel pulled her head into his shoulder, holding her tightly. Her brown hair smelled like lavender and was softer than feathers. Her breath came out warm against his neck, and he could feel her heartbeat quicken softly at her surprise.
Standing up, Daniel held her hand as he guided her out of the truck onto the field of wheat. Wrapping his hands around the small of her back as she hung her arms around his neck, he held her close as they swayed in a slow circle to the music in their heads, not thinking about what would happen to them tomorrow or next semester. For now they were together, in the center of a sea of wheat, a lone red truck standing idly by as the moon watched them from above like a guardian.
For now they were together, and that was all they needed.
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