Bobby look up at me, startled. He put down the pants, like he be tryin’ to hide what he doing. “Hey, Rosie,” he say. “I was just… picking out some clothes for tomorrow.”
“For when Miss Cecelia comes,” I say.
“Yeah.” He reach up and scratch his yellow hair. He used to never have a hair out of place, but now his hair is messy. I wonder if he can see hisself in the mirror over the bathroom sink. I’m guessing he can’t, which is why he also got two days’ growth of a beard on his face. The beard is a little darker shade of yellow than his hair.
I try to pry the pants out of his hands. “Let me fix them. I shorten them for you. Make them fit right.”
He resists at first, but eventually, I get them out of his hands. He know I be right. Now he got his pants just hanging down loose over the edge of his wheelchair and it don’t look good. ‘Least, it wouldn’t look good to Miss Cecelia.
“Thank you, Rosie,” he say.
“It my job,” I say. I open his drawer with the rest of his pants. “I could do a few pairs if you like.”
“No,” Bobby say. “Not yet.”
Why he keep sayin’ that? Acting like him losing his legs ain’t a forever thing. Maybe he feel sad, but having his pants legs flopping around ain’t gone make him feel better.
I get out the sewing machine, guessing at the length of Bobby’s stumps. They about half the length his thighs use to be. I sew the legs closed, leaving them a little on the long side, and figure he can tuck them under if he need to. I think I done a good job, considering I never made no amputee pants before. I’m sure Miss Cecelia like them better than the pants he got on now.
Before I go back in his room to give him them pants, I grab a small mirror from one of Miz Corliss’s dressers in the living room. When I come in, Bobby’s got his head bowed over a small, worn paperback book. I hand him the pile of the pants and the mirror, and he look surprised. “I figure you need a mirror,” I say. “For shaving.”
Bobby touch his chin. “Yeah, CeCe likes me to be clean shaven.”
I nod. “I figure.”
I look down at the book Bobby’s got. I see the name of the author: Ernest Hemingway. I read one other book of Hemingway’s from Bobby’s connection, called The Sun Also Rises. It was a crazy story that take place mostly in Spain, with the bullfighting and all. I like Hemingway’s style, how he say what he want to say without lots of extra words.
“A Farewell to Arms,” Bobby say, noticing me looking at his book. “It’s about the first world war.”
I don’t comment that if Bobby were to write a book about this war, he’d have to name it A Farewell to Legs.
“I carried it with me in Germany,” Bobby say. “Read it again and again. For a while I was thinking it was good luck, but…” He look down at his legs. “Obviously, it ain’t.”
“Maybe you woulda died,” I say.
“Maybe.” Bobby don’t sound convinced. He look at the book one more time then he hold it out to me. “Rosie, I’d like you to have it. To read.”
I take a step back. “No, sir. I can’t take your book.”
“Your mama did,” Bobby say, his blue eyes very serious.
“She may be my mama,” I say, “but that don’t mean she don’t make mistakes.”
Bobby raise his eyebrows up. “You really think your mama made a mistake bringing you all those books?”
I remember how excited I used to get when Mama brought home a new book from Bobby’s collection. I would rip it clean out of her hands and dig in right away. She have to scold me to come to dinner. Even the hard books, I read them, and it got me through high school. Maybe I could never go to college, but I got more education than most. Although it ain’t doing me a lot of good being here.
Much as I loved those books though, I know it was a mistake. If Mama got caught with one of Bobby’s books, Miz Corliss would have fired her before she could say boo. It don’t matter that Bobby gave her permission. And then what would we have done? Nobody would a hired Mama after she was caught stealing. We would a starved.
If I’d known, I would a told her to bring them books right on back to Bobby Corliss.
Charlie, he be taking me out tonight, and even though I ain’t sweet on him, I spend a little time in the bathroom, making sure my hair pulled back nice, and there ain’t no food stains on my clothes. If there was, there ain’t nothing I could do about it nohow, but a girl want to look nice when a man taking her out.
I pull out my lipstick from my purse. I got it for a nickel at the drug store and it rub off pretty easy, but it’s not like me and Charlie gone be doing anything that will mess it up, except maybe for eating. I apply it to my lips in Miz Corliss’s vanity mirror and it don’t look half bad. Maybe I shouldn’t be encouraging ol’ Charlie though.
Miz Corliss out for the night, so I set out Bobby’s dinner and go grab him a glass a water. Bobby wheel up to the table and I can see he be takin’ an extra long look at my face. I lower my eyes. “Rosie,” he say. “Are you wearing lipstick?”
“Just a bit,” I say. My cheeks feel hot, but unlike Bobby, my skin don’t show it.
“Rosie!” he say. “You got a date?”
I arrange the silverware around his plate. “Yessir,” I mumble.
He grins at me. “That’s great! Do I know the young man?”
I almost lie and say no, but I figure he see Charlie meeting me in front of the house and blow my secret. I may as well just tell the truth. “Charlie Jones.”
He look surprised. “Wow,” he say. “I wouldn’t ever have thought… I mean, isn’t he a little old for you…?”
I jut out my chin. “He be only 26 years old.” But Bobby got a point. Charlie ain’t old, but he could pass for forty easy.
“I’m sorry,” Bobby say quickly. “Charlie seems like a great guy. I can see why you like him.”
“I don’t like him,” I say before I can stop myself.
A little crease appear between Bobby’s dark blond eyebrows. “You don’t?”
I lower my eyes again. I should never have said nothing.
“Rosie,” he say. “If you don’t like him, then why are you going out with him?”
“Because,” I say. I swallow a big ol’ lump in my throat. “Because he fix up your bathroom for you.”
Bobby stare at me, like he can’t believe what he hearin’. I almost can’t believe it neither. I never meant to tell him I did that. It was supposed to be my secret. But somehow, I couldn’t let Bobby think that I was really sweet on Charlie Jones.
He still be staring at me when I grab my coat and hurry out the front door.
One thing I got to say for Charlie: he tryin’ real hard to make this a real special night. He meet me on the Corliss’s front yard carrying a rose and wearing a fresh-pressed white shirt and tan pants. He look sharp, Charlie does. He reach out and take my hand and give it a kiss. I feel bad telling him he just wasting his time.
“I been waiting for this night a long time, Rosie Jackson,” he say, as he pull out a red rose from behind his back. “A rose for Rosie.”
Ain’t no boy never got me a rose before. I take it in my hand and it done pricks me. But that ain’t Charlie’s fault. I press it into my nose and take a deep breath.
“Come on,” Charlie say. “We going to have ourselves a nice meal.”
The “nice meal” ended up being at a diner called Sunny’s, ‘bout a mile down the road. Charlie and I walk side by side, and sometimes he try to put his hand on my back but I ain’t be letting him. I feel bad because he tryin’ so hard, but it just ain’t right. I don’t like Charlie Jones that way, and I reckon I never will.
We get a table at Sunny’s and Charlie tell me to order whatever I want from the menu. “You get the most expensive thing, you hear?” he say. Excepting nothing at Sunny’s that expensive. It be mostly us coloreds at Sunny’s and we don’t got much money.
I order shrimp and grits, and Charlie get a burger. He gaze across the table at me as we wait for our food, his leathery skin glistening in the overhead lights. Charlie, he ain’t a bad looking man. Not what you’d call handsome or nothing, but he ain’t ugly. I wish I could like him, I really do. My life would be so easy.
“I know what you thinkin’, Rosie,” Charlie say.
I raise up my eyebrows. “You do?”
Charlie nod. “Yup. You thinking that I just like you a cuz you pretty. But that ain’t the truth.”
Yeah, and I be born yesterday. “It ain’t, huh?”
“You a sharp girl, Rosie,” he say. “Not like all the others. You know how to think.”
“Is that so?”
“And you got spunk,” Charlie say, grinning wide. “That’s what I like in a woman.”
“So if I was as ugly as Helen Brown, you’d still want to take me out to dinner?” Helen Brown is a girl Charlie and I both know from church. She weigh a ton if she weigh an ounce.
“There’d just be more a you to take out to dinner,” Charlie say.
A course, I don’t believe a word he sayin’. But he ain’t unpleasant to be talking to, and we make conversation through the meal. We talk about Mama, and we talk about church, and we talk about how we both don’t care for Miz Corliss.
Charlie pay up the check and we go back outside. It’s dark now and Charlie be standing real close to me, like he trying to protect me. He pretty strong, so I think he probably could protect me. He lean in and whisper in my ear, “Hey Rosie, reckon it’d be all right if I gave you a kiss?”
“No,” I say simply. I keep on walking, but Charlie grab me by the elbow.
“Come on, Rosie,” he start pleading with me. “Just one little old kiss? Just on the cheek?”
It be dark and late, and truth be told, I be a little afraid of what Charlie do if I say no. So I nod, and he leans in give me just the smallest peck on my left check. “Woo-wee!” he cry. “I got to kiss Rosie Jackson!”
I secretly think to myself that it will be the last kiss he gives Rosie Jackson.
On the way to the bus stop, we pass a tribute put up to the boys who fought over in the war. It’s a statue of a soldier and underneath in stone, there’s written all the names of the boys from our little town who fought. I stop to get myself a closer look, but Charlie, he look impatient. “What you want to look at the names of a bunch of white boys?” And he right. Only the white boys have their names written up in stone. All the colored soldiers ain’t up here.
Still, I look at the list of names, a couple dozen total. I see Edward Dixon, then a few lines up, I see Robert Corliss printed in the stone. “Look,” I say, running my finger over the letters. “It’s Bobby’s name!”
I look back at Charlie and he be giving me a funny look. My stomach does a flip-flop because I don’t like the way he be looking at me. Finally, he say, “Lord almighty, I can’t believe I never seen it before.”
I straighten up, clutching my bag to my chest. “Seen what?”
Charlie’s eyes get real dark. Even darker than usual. “You’s in love with Bobby Corliss.”
“No,” I say, my heart slamming in my chest. “I ain’t. You talkin’ crazy.”
“Oh, yes, you is,” Charlie say, sounding so dang sure of hisself. “That’s why you so keen to get me to fix up his bathroom.”
“I ain’t,” I say again, but Charlie just keep on looking like he don’t believe me.
“You unbelievable, Rosie Jackson,” he say. “Ain’t enough you got to fall for a white boy, but it got to be a crippled white boy?”
“I ain’t!” I feel tears coming up in my eyes.
“You say you ain’t in love with Bobby,” he say. “Then prove it. If you ain’t in love with Bobby, then let me kiss you.” He add, “On the mouth.”
I don’t know what to do. I don’t want Charlie to kiss me, but I don’t want him going ‘round saying I’m in love with Bobby neither. “Okay,” I finally say.
I expecting to get myself a kiss, but ‘stead, Charlie make a face at me. “I knew it,” he say. “You in love with him. If you wasn’t, you’d never agree to kiss me.” He frown. “I don’t want to kiss a girl who in love with some crippled white boy nohow.”
And then he march hisself off, leaving me standing there to walk all alone to the bus.
Really, it’s Mama’s fault that I fell in love with Bobby Corliss.
She done raised him since it was just a tiny baby, since before she even had me. She loves him. Half her stories was always about Bobby and how wonderful he was, how every boy should be just like Bobby. A course, if I’d been a boy, I’d have hated him. But as a girl, I felt something different.
‘Specially because a the black and white photo Mama kept in her purse. It was one of Bobby’s school photos. Miz Corliss wouldn’t have wanted her to have it, but Bobby gave it to her. Few times, she showed it to me, and I just stared and stared. Bobby looked so different from the boys in my own class. His hair was so light and feathery, even though his blue eyes look gray in the photo, they was still so different from the black as coal eyes of my classmates. I would dig around in Mama’s purse just to look at that photo. If I thought she wouldn’t a noticed it, I’d a stolen it.
Then Mama started bringing me Bobby’s books. She said he wanted me to have them, to learn from them. I would look at his name scrawled on the inside cover: Robert Corliss. And I’d run my fingers over it, like I done at the memorial.
I saw Bobby only once before I been working for Miz Corliss. He was 14 years old and it was at his daddy’s funeral. Mama brung me along to help out, and I saw him sitting in the front row at the wake, so handsome in his black suit, trying so hard to be strong like a grown man. I’d done lost my daddy three years earlier, so I felt like the two of us had a connection, that I knew what he was going through. Even though I was mostly helping out my Mama, I got to go up to Bobby and pay him my respects. I said to him, “Bobby, I sure sorry for your loss.” And he said, “Thank you, Rosie.” And his eyes close up was just so blue, I couldn’t hardly believe it.
I ain’t really in love with Bobby. To be really in love, there has to be some chance a us being together. There ain’t. But when I dream about the man I been waiting for, who I want to spend my life with, he always look like Bobby.
Don’t tell Mama.
To be continued....