Today's Reading

*This book contains adult language*

My crying had turned to hiccup sobs. "You leave Grady alone! I can take care of him."

Grady whined loud again. Then came the thunderous boom of Daddy's pistol, and Grady made the most awful screaming crying sound I'd ever heard. Then silence.

Granddaddy cussed at him. "D ammit, you could have waited 'til I got the boy in the house."

"Won't hurt him, he needs to understand life ain't always easy."

I hooked Momma's necklace inside Grady's collar, closed the box, and put it back under the bed.

* * *

"Come here a minute, Junebug." Grandma waved me to her. It was a hot August morning three weeks after my parents' funeral. The hard- packed sand on the dirt path in front of Mr. Wilson's barn was cool on my bare feet. We had come to help the neighbors harvest tobacco.

"Junebug, this is Fancy and her twin brother, Lightning. They live on Mr. and Mrs. Wilson's farm."

The girl was a lighter black than her brother. Her hair was bobby- pinned in little curls, and the boy's was cut right down to the skin. They both watched the ground. "Fancy, would you and your brother mind showing Junebug around and playing together while we work?"

The girl didn't look up. "Yes'um." Her brother didn't say anything. We waited in silence until the grown-ups headed to the fields, leaving us alone. Fancy stared at me, and she didn't look happy. She crooked her finger. They led me down a dirt path to the edge of the woods where a bucket of rocks sat alongside a line of tin cans on a log. The three of us stood apart, getting the measure of each other. I wiped sweat off my upper lip with the back of my finger.

Fancy stepped close, put her face up to mine, and balanced her hands on her hips. "How old are you?" She was bony thin, had a big head, and her upper teeth bowed out. The expression on her face was "I ain't scared. I" thought she might punch me if I didn't answer.

"Eight." I wiped again.

She thumbed back at Lightning. "Us too. Where'd you get a name like that?" Her brother watched.

"Momma give it to me."

"Where's your momma at?"

I studied the ground, shying away from her demanding tone. "Dead."

"Sure don't talk much. Ain't off in the head are you? How'd she die?"

"Car wreck."

"Your daddy too?" She moved even closer. If they jumped me, I'd have to try and outrun them.

"Yep." I closed the toes of my bare foot over a rock and tried to pick it up.

Fancy glanced at her brother, like she was asking a question. He shrugged. When she turned back around, her look was different. Her arm came up. I leaned sideways. But instead of punching me, Fancy grabbed my hand. "It'll be all right, June-bug."

Lightning walked over to the bucket and picked out a rock. He sent it flying at the cans and hit one. "Try it," Fancy said, and handed me a rock. I threw and missed everything.

We spent the next few hours trying to hit cans. Lightning showed me how to curve a rock, and Fancy was actually better at it than either of us.

After breakfast on Tuesday morning the following week, Granddaddy said, "Come on, Junebug, I need to smoke the barn." We stacked some kindling and an ax into a wheelbarrow.

"What do you mean 'smoke' the barn?"

"The Wilsons are coming to help us put in tobacco tomorrow, and the snakes need to be run out before we can hang it." Granddaddy was a big man, arms like posts, and a heavy belly. He was fair-faced with a leathery, sunburned neck, and was never without his wide-brimmed felt hat. At the barn he laid dry pine slabs in the firebox, struck a match to them, then cut down a couple of oak shoots. When the fire was burning good, he added the green leaves and sapling wood. Smoke began to fill the inside of the barn, some leaking from between the logs where the chink mud had come loose.

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