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"Wavy was always checking for trouble."
An exclusive bonus scene from 'All the Ugly and Wonderful Things'
I rolled up to the little park that lay to the west of the county courthouse. All it was was some trees and a couple benches. The fountain in the middle of it hadn't had water in it for years, but it was someplace quiet we could sit and talk. I could see in my side mirror how Wavy was frowning. We'd never come there before, and she didn't know why we was there.
After I put the bike up on the stand, she got down and took off her helmet. I liked how she always looked around herself. Kinda put me in mind of a lioness on Mutual of Omaha, looking off over the savannah, checking for trouble. Wavy was always checking for trouble.
"Come on," I said, and she followed me over to one of the benches in the shade. Somebody had left their Styrofoam coffee cup there, so I picked it up and took it to the trash can. When I came back, Wavy had herself set in the middle of the bench, which tickled me. With other folks, she woulda put herself on one end or the other to be sure nobody sat too close to her. With me, she sat in the middle to make sure I sat next to her.
Honest truth, she'd been pretty chilly to me since the day Val come back from the hospital, but I thought maybe she was finally ready to let it go, so I laid my arm up across the back of the bench. Except she stayed where she was, so that I got to wondering just how mad she was at me. I propped my legs out and crossed my ankles, like I was trying to get comfortable. I felt stupid thinking she was gonna sidle up to me just cuz I put my arm out.
"So you don't like other girls riding on my bike?" I didn't look at her when I asked it.
"You wouldn't either."
I glanced over at her, and the way she smiled made me laugh. She was watching me think that one through and come up with the same answer.
"Naw. You're right. I wouldn't like it if you was to ride on some other guy's bike. I wouldn't like that at all." For a whole lotta reasons. "You still pissed at me, though? About--about the other stuff? About me laughing when you said we should get married? You know I wasn't laughing at you, but you asking that shocked the hell outta me. I mean, it ain't every day a girl asks me to marry her."
Then she did scoot up closer to me and lean her head back against my arm. Still smiling, too.
"Not mad. Careful," she said.
"Careful? What for? You know you can trust me. You know you can count on me."
"Hey, Junior," somebody said as they walked by, made me jerk my head up. It was Dale Mason, worked up to the bank, cutting across the park to the court house.
"Hey," I said.
He was talking to me, but looking at Wavy. The way people looked at her that made me nervous. Like he was trying to figure out what the fuck a girl like Wavy was doing sitting on a park bench next to a guy like me. I took my arm off the back of the bench and rested my hands on my knees.
After he was gone, me and Wavy sat there quiet for a bit. Careful, she said. I wasn't sure what that meant. We'd had a humdinger of a fight that night when she first suggested us getting married, so I couldn't pretend I didn't have some idea what she was upset about. She accused me of playing along with I love you, that I didn't mean it the way she meant it. I honestly didn't know. I guessed there were a couple hundred ways you could love a person, and I wasn't sure how many of those were the way I loved Wavy, but it was a lot. More ways than I'd ever loved anybody else, including my ma.
"But you know you're too young to get married," I said.
I guessed that meant she wasn't talking about actually getting married. Maybe she was just asking for something to help her believe that I was gonna stick by her. Same with asking me not to take other girls on my bike. Cuz maybe me taking other girls around made it seem to her like she wasn't important to me. Her whole life, Liam done her that way. Rode off with one girl after another and left her to take care of herself, and her mama, and now Donal, too.
I thought about that real damn hard, so that we was there on that bench not saying a thing for ten solid minutes. That wasn't no time at all for Wavy to stay quiet, but it sure was for me. She didn't once look at me like she was waiting for an answer. She'd said her piece.
When I was done thinking, I knew for sure there wasn't no other girl in the world I wanted on the back of my bike. I didn't wanna do nothing that might make Wavy feel like I was gonna leave her.
"Marriage. I mean, that's big, sweetheart. How do you know you'll even wanna marry me when you're old enough. A whole lot can happen in five years," I said.
"Already five years."
"Oh. I wasn't thinking '¦" The longest we'd been apart in the last five years was the two weeks I served on an assault charge. And even then we wrote letters, so we wasn't totally apart.
"Yeah, I guess we been together for five years already. Still. There's a whole lot can happen between thirteen and eighteen. I grew six inches and gained a hundred pounds."
We both laughed thinking about her getting that big, but then we got quiet. I thought about putting my arm on the back of the bench again, but instead I turned my hands over and looked at my palms, at all the grease stuck in my calluses.
"I just mean, maybe you'll change your mind about me."
"Maybe you will," she said.
"No. You don't need to worry that I'd ever change my mind about you. I love you. You know. All the way. You'd have to kick me to the curb to get shut of me."
Once I'd said all of that, I understood what she meant about getting married. That wasn't a damn bit bigger than what I felt about her, what I was willing to do for her.
She reached out and pressed her fingertip to the inside of my forearm, just an inch or so down from the crease in my elbow. Like her finger was a pen, she drew a curl that dipped down to a point and then came back up to make a loop, before it made another point and another curl. Her fancy W. The a and the v came after. As easy as I could write her name right side up, she could do it upside down. When she got to the y at the end, she gave it a long tail that looped back up under the W and made me a shiver.
I stood up and, when I held my hand out, she took it and pulled herself up. Her hands were so damn small and soft, but strong.
"Shit. Ain't that just like me? Spending all this time talking when I already know the answer. Come on," I said.
She started down the sidewalk toward the bike, but I turned her and steered her across the street toward the jewelry store.
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