What’s happening: Linn Sparks has recruited 16-year-old Joe Trumbull to help with her luggage. The talkative young fellow is about the deliver the punch line of an old joke.
“Call me anything you want, just don’t forget to call me for dinner.” Joe rubbed his belly and chuckled. “I heard that from my pa.”
Linn tried, but couldn’t manage even the slightest smile. If she were onstage, performing at the Crown Theater, it would come easily. She could display a wide range of emotions as she acted, and when she sang, as well. Emotions, she’d learned, were the heart and soul of art. Tabitha Ann had first taught her that lesson, and Clarence, her mentor and manager, had trained her to project feelings enough to fill the theater’s huge auditorium.
The feelings, of course, weren’t real.
“Listen, Joe, you look like a strong fellow. Why don’t you carry my bags to the livery for me, and then you can go on to…” Linn had to stop and swallow before she could get the name out. “To Loonsfoot’s.”
How was James Loonsfoot doing these days? Her mother never mentioned him in her letters. The man no longer ran his seed and feed business himself, Linn knew. He’d turned that responsibility over to his sons years before, right after the accident.
“Sure thing, Miss Sparks. Glad to oblige, and I could use whatever you pay me.” The chunky fellow hefted two bulging suitcases up from the ground, then grabbed for a couple hatboxes.
Worried about damage to the contents, Linn picked up the two remaining hatboxes. They weren’t heavy. She could manage.
“Do you know about the harvest festival?” Joe asked as he huffed and puffed along at her side. “It’s coming up at the end of summer.”
“I won’t be staying that long,” she said, her words clipped and curt.
“Oh, well, no, of course not. I just wondered if you knew about it, that’s all. Cause that’s why I’m going to Loonsfoot’s, you see. There’s this vegetable contest. For the festival.” He caught his breath. “I’m growing squash. I got to get some fertilizer. It can really make your squash grow, but you got to be awful careful with that shit—” He stopped and his face turned several shades of red. “Well, that’s what it is, you know, but I didn’t mean to say it in front of you, Miss Sparks.”
“Don’t worry, Joe. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that word.”
The livery’s office door wasn’t much farther now. Thank goodness! Linn quickened her pace.
Joe’s feet sped up. So did his mouth. Like an anxious coonhound, he yapped as he trotted at her heels.
“Nellie Young’s entered in the contest too. Thinks she can grow a bigger squash than me. I can’t let some girl beat me, Miss Sparks. That’s why I need to get that shi—uh, fertilizer, I mean, so I really appreciate you offering to pay me, and it’s too bad you won’t be here for the festival.”
He rattled on and if Linn hadn’t been holding two hatboxes, she would have clamped her hands over her ears to shut out the boy’s incessant chatter.
“And then there’s Founder’s Day, you know. That’s coming up next month, and this year there’s going to be—”
Linn all but raced to the door of the livery. She sagged against it and dropped her hatboxes. “Just put everything there, Joe, and thank you.”
“My pleasure, Miss Sparks.”
Where Linn might have been a bit stingy with the motor coach driver, she made up for it now with a generous tip for young Trumbull. It would be worth it not to have to listen to him any longer.
“Thanks. I mean it, really.” His brown eyes grew bigger and rounder. “If you need anything else, just holler at me.”
Linn grinned. “Buy some good shit, Joe,” she called out as he headed in the direction of the seed and feed store. “And good luck with the squash.”