Read Our Song Online

Authors: A. Destiny

Our Song (8 page)

BOOK: Our Song
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I expected him to smile back as he passed the food my way.

Because we'd exchanged a
lot
of shy smiles ever since that harmonious sing-along.

There'd also been many sidelong glances.

And him saying, “How's your burn?”

And me asking, “How was fiddle class today?”

But somehow, it felt like we were doing more than exchanging polite pleasantries.

Maybe it was because we shared secrets. We'd committed a criminal act together and been sentenced to covert kitchen duty.

Maybe there was a
different
kind of connection between us. An attraction.

Or maybe,
I thought now as Jacob passed the bowl without a single look at me, much less a smile,
I imagined it all.

I frowned as the potatoes reached me. I also realized I didn't actually want any. I scooped out a tiny dollop, just for show. Then I turned to Annabelle to ask her if she thought Jacob was being weird.

In the next instant, I stopped myself.

Is he being weird? What's he thinking? Should I ask—?Does he—?

Those were the kinds of questions a girl asks about a boy she's infatuated with.

And of course, I wasn't infatuated with Jacob.

Was I?

I shot another quick glance Jacob's way. He looked a little pale, especially next to Ronnie, who already had the burnished skin and peeling nose of a real farmer. Jacob was shoveling in his salad and potatoes, but he did it joylessly, like he barely tasted his food. Even his hair was a little saggy and dull.

Yet somehow, all this moroseness made him look cuter than ever.

I decided I
would
ask Annabelle what she thought. But before I could say anything, she was whispering to me.

“So you say I smell like a sweet potato,” she said. “Do you think maybe
Owen
likes sweet potatoes?” I was so absorbed in Jacob hypotheticals that it took me a moment to figure out who she was talking about.

“Owen?” I asked. “Oh,
Owen!

I craned my neck to see if I could spot him. There he was. Talking and laughing and gesturing with a forkful of delicious-looking meat loaf. “What I think he likes about
what
?”

“Do you think he likes sweet potatoes?”

I looked at Annabelle in confusion.

“Does he like . . . ,” I began. Then I started to laugh. “Annabelle, I think the question you really want to ask is, does he like
you
?”

Annabelle shrugged and looked sheepish.

Feeling kind of happy to have a diversion from my Jacob confusion, I peered over at Owen again.

“Why don't you just . . . ask him?” I said. “Isn't that exactly the kind of thing you said you'd do at Camden? Just
going
for the guy is a great example of sucking the marrow out of life, isn't it?
And
you'll be rejecting traditional gender roles. Bonus!”

Annabelle blinked at me.

“Yes,” she said. “You're absolutely right.”

“So . . .”

I nodded in Owen's direction.

“So,” Annabelle sputtered, “that doesn't mean I'm going to
do
it.”

I stared at her for a flabbergasted moment before I started laughing.

“Stop!” Annabelle ordered me. But her lips were twitching as she said it, and before I knew it, she was cackling along with me.

“What's so funny, you guys?” asked Sadie. Our eleven-year-old tablemate was sitting next to me on the other side. Today she wore a crisply ironed sleeveless shirt and a red-and-white-checked miniskirt. She looked more like a cute 1950s housewife than a middle schooler.

Annabelle and I looked at each other. We knew the cruelest thing we could say to Sadie was, “You wouldn't understand.”

So I just said, “We're talking about how ideas are the easy part, action is the hard part.”

“Especially,” Annabelle said, “when it comes to boys.”

“Oh, boooooys,” Sadie said, nodding sagely. “I get it.”

“You do?” I said, raising my eyebrows.

Sadie gave the rest of the table a shifty look to make sure nobody was listening.

“Not really,” she admitted. “Mostly, I pretty much think boys are aliens.”

I laughed.

“I kind of think the same thing,” I whispered.

Encouraged by this, Sadie wrinkled her nose. “I mean, aren't they gross?”

“Eh, I was thinking more foreign and mysterious,” I said, “rather than green and slimy.”

“Oh,” Sadie said. She gave me a disapproving look before returning her attention to her dinner.

I glanced at the big clock on the dining room wall. Like everything else at Camden, it was folksy and old. The minute hand shuddered every time it moved. And with every shudder, I was that much closer to dishwashing duty with one of those alien boys.

Jacob was especially foreign and mysterious. He was all earnest fanboy one moment, a burglar the next. And then there were those
smiles
he was always shooting at me. Surely they meant something. But it was just as possible they meant nothing. Who could tell?!

It was much easier to think about some other girl and boy before I snuck off to the kitchen.

So I whispered in Annabelle's ear. “You
could
just say hi to him after dinner, you know.”

“Of course I could,” she replied. “But
then
what?”

“Annabelle,” I said. “I know I've only known you for five days, but in those five days, you've
never
been at a loss for words once. I mean, not even in your sleep. “

It was true. The second night in our cozy little room, I'd woken at two a.m. to hear Annabelle murmuring, “But is it
organic
?”

“Don't overthink it. Just do it. You can tell me how it goes later,” I said by way of good-bye.

I grabbed my dishes and slipped away before she could ask where I was going, especially with Jacob MacEvoy just a couple of steps behind me.

Chapter
Eight

J
acob was still quiet when
we reported to the kitchen, but that was okay—Ms. Betty did all the talking for us.

“Finally, you're here!” she said.

“Oh, are we late?” I cried. “Supper just ended.”

“For you, maybe,” Ms. Betty said. She pointed at a big steel table beneath the service window. It was stacked high with trays, plates, and serving bowls.

“Those start showing up about fifteen minutes into the meal,” Ms. Betty said. “And
that's
when our shift starts.”

We nodded as Ms. Betty started rattling off instructions.

“Get yourselves some aprons, babies. You're going to get wet. And dirty.”

She pointed us toward a supply closet. “Grab a couple baseball
caps too. This is a kitchen, you keep your heads covered. Now come meet your new best friend, Hobart.”

Hobart, it turned out, was the dishwasher—a hulking, belching metal box with two big levers that operated entry and exit doors.

Our job, Ms. Betty explained, would be to arrange the dishes in huge plastic trays with perforated bottoms, spray them off with a nozzle that bounced at the end of a long, silvery hose, then shove the trays into the Hobart one at a time.

The spitting, chugging box did its washing work in only a few minutes. Then it was time to lever open the exit door, unleashing a massive cloud of steam. Ms. Betty told us to use big black gloves to pull out the scalding tray, then stack the clean dishes on a rolling cart for the next morning.

“Got it?” Ms. Betty barked after she'd explained all this to us.

We nodded numbly.

“Now, Hobart here's got a few quirks,” Ms. Betty said. “He likes to jam up if you put in too many dishes. If you let the detergent get too low, his motor'll burn out and then you're washing all these dishes by hand. The conveyer belt'll freeze if you push the tray in too fast
or
too slow.”

“Are you sure you trust us with, um, Hobart?” I said. “I'm scared we're going to break him.”

Ms. Betty just laughed.

“No worries!” she said. “He's a hulk. You
can't
break him, not completely anyway. And I'll tell you a secret. When in doubt, give him a wallop. It works nine times out of ten.”

To demonstrate, Ms. Betty gave Hobart a big, open-palmed whack, which seemed to make its (his?)
swish-swash-churn
noises step up their rhythm a bit.

Once we (sort of) knew what to do, Ms. Betty retreated to the food prep part of the kitchen, where one of the other staffers, Ms. Eleanor, was mopping the floor. The last worker, Ms. Loretta, was in the back, stocking the walk-in fridge.

Ms. Betty pulled out a massive crockery bowl and announced to all of us, “
I
am going to make pecan praline scones. They are going to be dee-lectable, and Teagle is going to be eating her words! And my scones!”

While she turned on the radio and began measuring out massive amounts of flour, Jacob and I cautiously approached the now-looming tower of dishes. Jacob used one of the rolling carts to transport them from the window to the rinsing area, where I stacked them on a tray and hosed them down.

Okay,
stacked
might be a generous term.

The truth was, I quickly got overwhelmed by the teetering stacks of dishes and just started grabbing whatever was closest. Bowls, mugs, glasses, plates—I frantically scraped them into a compost barrel, then wedged them into their tray as quickly as I could. I held my breath as I shoved the whole business into the Hobart, which I fully expected to hack and cough and shudder to a halt.

But somehow, it didn't. So I kept on loading and shoving, loading and shoving, until—

“Um, Nell?”

Jacob had wandered over from the receiving end of the Hobart, looking pink and damp. The hair peeking out from beneath his baseball cap had waved up in the steam, and his glasses were smudged.

It was almost annoying how good a person could look under such uglifying conditions.

“I wonder if, y'know,
organizing
the dishes would make it easier,” he said. “Say, plates with plates? Bowls with bowls?”

“No time!” I blurted. I grabbed the sprayer and hosed down the tray. I might have also splattered the counter, my apron, and one of my shoes. “There's too many.”

“No, really,” Jacob said. “It's easy. I'll help.”

He quickly whisked the leftovers off some dinner plates and assembled them into a neat stack on the stainless-steel counter. Then he carefully pushed the stack toward me the way you leave food on a stump for a wild rabbit.

“Oh, all right,” I said. I grabbed the top four plates on the stack, cradled them to my chest, then began to prop them between the stubby plastic prongs on the next tray.

“Okaaaay,” Jacob said dubiously.

“What?!” I demanded. “Look, they're lined up like little soldiers, just like you wanted.”

“But it could be so much faster if you just—”

Jacob paused and exhaled heavily. “Okay, you're right,” he said. “I'm ridiculously type A.”


And
a stalker,” I reminded him. “Let's not forget that.”

“Fine, fine,” he sputtered with a mock glower. “You can put it on a sign. I'll wear it around my neck, right next to my big green
V
,
if
you'll just let me stack that tray.”

“Hey, stack away,” I said, holding up my hands and taking a step backward. “But I'm telling you, it's not going to be any faster.”

Jacob stared down the dishwashing tray for a split second before he began shuffling the dinner plates from his left hand to his right. He used his right hand to plunk the plate into a neat, upright position.

Pass, prop, pass, prop.

In about fifteen seconds, the plates were lined up, but there was still an empty section on the tray. Jacob filled it with glasses, each a perfect fit until only a little gap was left in the corner. For that, Jacob swept up a bouquet of spoons and plunked them into the crevice. He carefully sprayed the whole thing down in precise horizontal strokes. Then he shoved the tray into the Hobart and pumped his fist.

“I knew bagging all those groceries would pay off someday,” he said.

“You're like a Hobart savant!” I said.

Jacob laughed, but as he began filling the next tray, I sensed his dinnertime gloom returning. I could see it in his shoulders, which were just a little too high and tense; in his Adam's apple, bobbing over and over; in the angle of his head, which was a notch lower than it needed to be.

“Jacob?” I asked.

Somehow, I didn't need to say anything else.

“It's just . . . I didn't come here to become a
dishwashing
prodigy,” Jacob said.

“Something happened in class today,” I said. “Didn't it?”

BOOK: Our Song
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