I yawned and rolled over, tugging the comforter until the edges were neatly tucked under me. The pillow under my head was soft, and I burrowed into its warmth.
“So go get another blanket,” I said sleepily. Behind me, I could almost feel Bo glaring at the floor and wondering what it would feel like on bare feet. The bed shifted again.
I snorted. “Not a chance. Go get it yourself.”
There was a moment of silence that had me nearly drifting off to sleep again before I suddenly gave a loud yelp.
“Get your feet off me!”
“But I’m cold!”
“You’re like ice! Move!” I shifted away from the offending feet, but they followed me until I nearly hung off the side, crammed into the narrow edge of the bed. “Bo…”
“You’re warm, though,” my cousin protested, and I could tell he had no intention of moving from his newfound warmth. Briefly the thought crossed my mind to hit him, but the cold was already sinking out of his feet and I could feel them beginning to warm. I sighed.
“And now I’m gonna be cold,” I muttered, shifting once again until I had more room.
“So get another blanket.”
The next winter, I talked Uncle Jesse into buying us separate beds.
I eyed my cousin from the couch, looking down on his blonde curls where he was sprawled across the floor.
“Aren’t you supposed to be doing homework?” I asked. His math book lay open in front of him, and a pen dangled between his lips, but the pages of his notebook were conspicuously blank.
He tilted his head back to look up at me. “It’s boring.”
I rolled my eyes. The car magazine I had been flipping through fell to the side.
“It’s math. It’s not meant to be exciting.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t get most of it, anyway.”
“What don’t you get?” The floor was hard, and already my elbows were beginning to groan in protest, but I ignored the telltale prickles and leaned my head over to peer at the book.
He pointed at a line of numbers and letters. “That.”
I grinned. “Factoring?”
“Yeah.” Bo rolled over in frustration, staring up at the ceiling. “It’s stupid. And useless.”
I chewed on the end of his pencil consideringly, commenting absent-mindedly, “It’s useful when you get to higher math.”
There was a pause, then: “Like I said, completely useless.”
Laughing, I scribbled the problem down. “There’s an easier way of doing this, you know…”
“Well, say you want to square this—” I pointed to the expression ‘(4x+2) squared’ –”then you just have to remember the binomial shuffle.”
He stared at me for a second, before finally saying, “What in the world are you talking about?”
“That’s right, Coach Thorne retired. I had him back when he still taught math and football. All right, you just square the first, square the last, product of the two, doubled fast!”
“Square the first, so 4x squared is 16x squared. Square the last, 2 squared is 4. Then product of the two, 8x, doubled fast, 16x. Voila! 16x squared plus 8x plus 4 is your answer.”
Bo looked at me for a long moment, then at the paper, then at me again.
“I still say it’s useless.”
Bo and I were lounging on the front porch, with me staring up at the sky trying to figure out whether it was going to rain or not. His comment didn’t break my concentration.
“You’re always hungry,” I replied. Squinting, I watched a dark cloud drift steadily closer. The wind had picked up a bit, too.
“I know.” There was a shuffling noise behind me. “But I really am now.”
“So why don’t you go in there and ask Daisy to rustle you up something to eat?”
He mumbled something I couldn’t catch. “Do what?” I turned, giving him my full attention.
Bo stared at the planks of the porch with interest. “She kicked me out.”
“Daisy kicked you out.”
“Of the kitchen.”
“That’s what I said, ain’t it?”
I grinned at him. “That’s what you get for bothering her while she’s cookin’.”
“Aw, how was I supposed to know that she had that flour in her hand?”
“Well, you should have known better then to scare her like that.”
I made him scoot over on the swing, and we sat by each other, looking out into the fields as the sky began to darken. After a moment, Bo snickered. I turned my head to glance at him.
“What’re you laughin’ at?”
“You gotta admit, it was pretty funny. Daisy looked just like Casper.”
We both set to laughing, and kept on laughing until Jesse’s voice called to us that supper was ready.
Bo gave out a howl of laughter that echoed around the garage, sending Cooter and me out from under the car. A stack of books and papers went sliding down the bench along the sides, slamming into the wall at the other end. I gave a sympathetic frown to them. Those poor books had been more mistreated by my little cousin than anything I’d ever seen.
“I’m finally done with school!”
“Good,” I smiled at him while wiping my greasy hands off on a cloth, “you can start celebrating by helping us.”
It sometimes surprises me when people say they think fixing a car is more work than school. At least you don’t have to do homework on a car—and testing it by driving is much more fun than testing by writing essays. Yessir, Bo figured that one out pretty fast. I can’t blame him, though I know Uncle Jesse was hoping at least one of us would pay more attention to our studies—Bo just wasn’t going to be the one to do it.
“All right!” Bo said eagerly, ready to bury himself in the inner workings of the car right then and there. I held up a quick hand to forestall him.
“First out of your school clothes. Daisy’ll have a fit if she has to clean oil from ’em.”
“I don’t care, because I’m free!” Bo grabbed me by the arms and gave me a quick hug before racing off to grab some old clothes from the truck outside. I shook my head, watching him leap off.
Cooter laughed as Bo’s whoop of excitement reached us. “I remember that.”
I arched an eyebrow at him. “When? I remember tell of you skippin’ class more than you went to it.”
“Yeah. But it still felt awful good when I was done and didn’t have to make up excuses to fish.”
“And now you have this,” I waved to the work area around me.
“Sure,” Cooter shrugged philosophically, “but this is fun, not work. I mean, what guy in his right mind wouldn’t want to be around cars all day, and get paid for it to boot?”
Bo reappeared in one of my old shirts. He was almost getting too big to fit in mine anymore, and he had to leave it untucked because it had trouble covering his long torso.
“C’mon, cousin, let’s get to work.”
“Sure!” I leaned back against the workbench, gazing at him as he slid under the car and examined what me and Cooter were working on that morning. This was his last year at school, and graduation was coming up in a few months. It was a wonder he went enough to graduate at all, but I heard Uncle Jesse asking Rosco to make sure Bo was at school enough to at least get something. Not that Bo appreciated the attention, mind you, but…
“Hey, Luke, you gonna help?” Two blue eyes stared at me from under a fall of blonde, and I nodded.
“Yeah, sure. Move over.”
” ‘kay.” The garage lightly pinged with the light rings of metal on metal and the humidity pressed down already so that a few times I had to wipe the sweat off my forehead.
“Mm?” I stared a particularly rusted piece, knowing it would have to be replaced.
“You’re not gonna leave or anything, right?”
That caused me to pause, and I looked over at Bo, who was concentrating on the bottom of the car instead of meeting my eyes. “Not planning on it. Why?”
“C’mon, Bo, why’d you think I was gonna leave?” I kept my voice gentle, and he turned to stare at me with a worried expression on his face.
“Bo,” I said again.
“Just…” He shrugged as best as he could, reluctantly continuing, “with the war and all, I thought…”
I smiled reassuringly at him. “It’ll be fine, Bo.”
I gave him my most serious look. “Promise.”
That was the summer of 1964. Right before Bo’s graduation, and right before my whole world was turned over with one little letter from the U.S. Government.