Carrie sucked on a straw while she covertly watched Adam talking to his friends at the table near the lunchroom window. So intent was her attention on him that she didn't notice the carton of milk was empty until the bubbling sound of milk and air at the end of the straw announced it to the entire room. She jerked the straw from her mouth and shrank down into her chair as everyone turned to look at her. Her face flamed with the heat of a flush as Adam glanced her way. Her pulse quickened, but he gave no sign of recognition. A mere glance, and then he turned back to his friends.
Annette giggled from across the table, her round cheeks bunching up around sparkling blue eyes. “Good show, Care. Now he thinks you've got class.”
Carrie's face grew even warmer. “Who?”
Annette rolled her eyes. “Who? Who have you been watching for the last fifteen minutes? You haven't heard a word I've been saying, have you? All you can think about lately is Adam. Why don't you stop waiting for him to ask you out? You've got to be more aggressive. Go ask him out.”
Carrie squirmed in her chair. “Sure, I'll bet he'd jump at the chance,” she answered sourly.
Annette shrugged. “You never know until you ask.”
“I know,” Carrie answered, punctuating the statement by crushing the milk carton against the table. “Why would he be interested in a nobody like me - especially when he has someone like Sharon practically drooling over him?”
Annette threw a glance over her shoulder at Sharon, three tables down, and then leaned toward Carrie, lowering her voice. “I heard Sharon's father grounded her for three weeks. Darlene said he caught her making out with Joe Tatum.” She giggled softly. “Can you imagine that?”
Carrie tossed the flattened milk carton on her tray, avoiding Annette's gaze.
“So what? Maybe she likes him. Is there some law that says a person has to be good looking and rich to deserve attention?”
Annette sobered, eyeing Carrie cautiously. “No, but you know what a preppie Sharon is.” She tipped her head to the side and frowned. “Gosh, Care, I don't know why you're defending Sharon after all the times she's turned her nose up at us.” She tossed her head archly. “Not to mention all the boyfriends she's stolen from us.”
Carrie couldn't help smiling. “Like either of us ever had a real boyfriend.”
Annette grinned. “Poor Carrie. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed.”
“I can wait,” Carrie answered, warmth crawling up her neck again. Actually, the idea of kissing a boy was a little frightening. Unlike most girls, she viewed a kiss as a promise - not of sex, but of deep feelings. She didn't know if she even had deep feelings for Adam, let alone some boy she barely knew. She let out a long sigh.
“Anyway, my parents wouldn't let me date until this year. What's your excuse?”
Annette wiggled her eyebrows. “What makes you think I've never been kissed?”
Carrie shrugged and rose from her chair, slipping her purse strap over her shoulder and hefting the empty food tray. “I'm sure I care.”
Annette giggled and stood, picking up her tray. She glanced at Adam when they passed his table and then paused beside Carrie while they emptied their trays in the trash. “I still say you should ask him out.”
Carrie grimaced. “Even if I wanted to, and I don't, what would I wear? All I have is these stupid blouses Mom made, and three pair of jeans. I don't think he'd appreciate riding around on the back of my bicycle, either.”
Annette slid her tray on the counter. “You got your license this summer. Ask your parents if you can borrow the car.”
Carrie stared at her friend. “Borrow the family car to take out a boy? You do remember my parents, don't you? You know, the ultra-conservative elderly couple that live nine miles from nowhere on a hog farm?”
Annette wrinkled her nose. “What was I thinking? That car must smell like the dickens.”
Carrie made a face. “No doubt, but even if it smelled like a rose, I wouldn't have a chance of borrowing it - especially if Dad knew I wanted to pick up a date. I can just hear him.” She lowered her voice and stuck out her chest in a comical fashion. “Ain't no girl of mine going to chase after a boy. If he wants to date you, he'd better have the nerve to come out here and get you!” She shook her head. “I know what he'd do. I've got a sister two years older than me, you know.”
Annette shook her head. “Don't be so negative. Adam will ask you. Just give him time.”
Carrie sighed heavily. “No he won't,” she answered as they left the lunchroom. “He doesn't even know I exist.” She trudged down the sidewalk. “I wish I had a job. If I had some nice clothes like Sharon, he might notice me.” She ran her fingers through her long straight brown hair. “And maybe a decent haircut."
Annette reached out and flipped her hair. “Your hair is beautiful the way it is. It looks so shiny and healthy. Not like mine,” she said pulling a strand of over-processed blond hair down on her forehead and giving it a cross-eyed examination.
Carrie laughed at Annette's antics. “At least yours is in style. Mine is about as stylish as my clothes.” She sobered again. “No wonder no one ever asks me out.”
The bell rang with an incessant clatter and Annette darted across the walkway, waving to Carrie. “I'll see you on the bus.”
Carrie rushed to her locker and then to class, settling in her chair as the second bell rang. Two more classes, and then she would see Adam. They shared the last class of the day - history. Not that it made any difference. Adam would never look at her - except sometimes when the teacher would call on her. Then she'd get so flustered she couldn't answer the question right. He probably thought she was a dunce.
Actually, history was one of her favorite classes, and her grades belied the impression she gave to everyone but the teacher. Adam was never flustered, though. He always had the right answers, and he sounded so confident when he spoke. He was always neat and clean - and he smiled a lot. Mom and Dad would like him if they ever had the chance to meet him. The idea of introducing Adam to her parents on the hog farm brought new warmth to her cheeks. What boy would want to date a girl that lived on a hog farm?
The day drug by until History class, and then it raced to dismissal time. Adam paused in the doorway on his way out to ask the teacher something. Standing like that, his tall lean frame taking up a third of the doorway, Carrie had no choice but to brush by him. She kept her face averted from him and hoped he wouldn't notice the color in her cheeks or the pounding of her heart. With her head down like that, she didn't notice when the boy ahead of her stopped - not until she ran into him. The books erupted from her arms and spilled on the floor, spitting half completed homework everywhere. Her face burning, she dropped to the floor on one knee and began scooping up the papers. Adam stooped and retrieved her book, handing it to her with his usual smile.
Somehow she managed to get a thank you from her blubbering mouth and crammed the papers back into the book. Without looking him in the eye, she darted from the room. Did he think she had done it on purpose, or did he think she was simply a klutz?
The bus ride home took nearly an hour, and hers' was the last stop. She arrived at home in time for chores, though. Her job was taking care of the sows that were ready to farrow. She mixed a bucket of slop for them and leaned over the fence to pour it into the trough. The sow waddled over to the trough and began slurping up the food. She grunted and squealed, stomping one cloven front foot into the trough, as usual.
One by one she fed the hogs and then used the water hose to wash the concrete floors of their stalls. It was getting dark when she finally trudged into the house. The smell of fresh mashed potatoes and pot roast drifting from the kitchen announced that supper was ready before the words escaped Mom's mouth. Carrie washed her hands and joined her family at the kitchen table.
Dad glanced up as she sank into her chair and folded her hands in her lap for grace. He blessed the food and then eyed her with concern.
“You're looking a little tired tonight. What's the problem? I hope you're not coming down with something. The county fair is next week, remember.”
Carrie picked up her fork, ignoring Jamie's knowing glance. “I know. I have my FFA project ready.” How did Jamie know about Adam? Her face grew warm again. Had Annette said something to her sisters? What if it was all over school? What if Adam had heard? She picked at her food, unsure if she could get it down around that big lump in her throat. “I was just thinking how nice it would be to get my hair cut and buy a T-shirt to wear when I make my project speech.”
“Your hair looks fine the way it is, and what's wrong with the blouses your mother makes? I think she does a fine job. They’re nicer than anything you'll find in the store.” Dad was working up to a lecture again.
“Oh Dad, nobody wears blouses anymore,” she blurted out.
Dad gave her a stern look. “No, they went out the door a long time ago - along with respect for your parents. It's bad enough that you wear jeans all the time.”
Carrie met his gaze. “What's wrong with jeans? The boys wear them all the time. They're comfortable. Don't you want me to be comfortable?”
“Nothing is wrong with jeans,” Mom interrupted before the women's rights argument could get started again, “and of course we want you to be comfortable.” She passed the platter of pot roast to Dad. “It's all right to want to fit in, Carrie, as long as you don't loose your identity in the process. If you don't like the blouses I make, I'll buy you some T-shirts.”
There was a touch of hurt in her dark eyes and gentle voice. The blouses were as beautiful as they were out of style, because Mom could sew even better than she could cook. Mom had always been there for the girls, as she was at this moment. Carrie squirmed in her chair.
“I like the blouses, Mom. I just want to wear something casual for once.”
Mom nodded. “I understand. This weekend we'll go down and get you a few T-shirts. I've saved back some money, and you work hard around here without much complaint.”
“One T-shirt will be fine - and maybe a haircut?” Carrie tried.
Mom glanced at Dad, and he shook his head. She smiled. “We'll try putting your hair up somehow. You have beautiful hair and....”
“I know,” Carrie interrupted with a tired sigh, “a woman's hair is her crown and glory.”
What was the use? When she turned eighteen she was going to get a crew cut and buy some slouchy clothes. That would show Dad. Why did he have to be so stern all the time? Didn't he realize that times were changing?
It was a question she asked Mom while they were shopping for a T-shirt that weekend. Mom gave her best tolerant smile.
“It took our ancestors years of trial and error to learn the lessons we take for granted. Don't be so quick to trash their efforts. Experience can be a painful teacher, but sometimes we refuse to study our lessons. You throw apples away when they get old, but wine only gets better. It's knowing which ones to toss out and which ones to keep that make life better.” She held up a pink T-shirt. “What do you think of this one?”
“It's nice,” Carrie answered absently. She had an idea that would improve her speech, and suddenly the T-shirt didn't seem as important.
Mom and Jamie fussed over her hair the evening she made her speech. Together they managed to combine a French roll and a pony tail into a unique hair style that Carrie actually liked. Donning the pink T-shirt and her best pair of jeans, she figured she was about as ready for the speech as she could possibly be.
Standing on the podium at the fair, she started her speech. When she came to the part she had altered, she felt Dad's eyes on her. She glanced around the crowd as she spoke, as she had been instructed, but she didn't let her gaze fall on Dad. The disappointment in his eyes would be unnerving, and she was nervous enough as it was. As she finished her speech, she finally met his gaze - and found that it reflected admiration. She smiled warmly at him and started down the steps to join him. That was when she noticed another pair of eyes gazing at her and she imagined she found admiration in those as well. Could it be that the new hair style and T-shirt had actually gained Adam's attention? He turned and melted into the crowd. Apparently not.
“That was a nice speech,” Dad said, patting her on the shoulder. “Very well thought out.”
She glanced away, unsure how to accept his praise. “Thanks,” she muttered. “I've got to go check on the hogs. That one sow we brought in looked like she was ready to farrow any time.”
Her escape was successful, and amid the din of the carnival and hundreds of people talking, she sought solitude with the hogs. As she neared the stall of the expectant sow, she heard a pitiful squealing. Pushing past the people crowded around the stall, she stared down at the mother hog. The sow had farrowed and one of her piglets was caught between her and the wooden planks of the stall. As she watched, one of the onlookers reached into the stall to free the baby pig. The sow swung her head viciously, narrowly missing the helping hand with a pair of sharp white teeth. The onlooker jerked back, and a startled cry made its way around the others gathered around the stall.
Carrie worked her way to the far side of the stall and flung a leg over. As she expected, the mother sow lunged at her. It was all that was needed to free the baby pig. But the little pig lay limply on the ground where it had fallen. She needed to examine it before the sow went back over there and laid down on it again. She couldn't ask one of the onlookers to risk their very limbs to distract the sow while she removed the baby pig.
A hand dropped on her shoulder and she glanced up to find Adam standing over her. He smiled.
“I'll distract her while you get the baby out.”
The blood rushed to her cheeks with a vengeance and her heart hammered at the warmth of his hand.
“She'll bite you,” she managed breathlessly.
He grinned. “She'll try.”
Carrie grudgingly left him to distract the sow and walked around to the other side of the stall. The sow watched her, turning so that she kept Carrie in her sight at all times. It wasn't going to work. That was when Adam called to the sow.
“Here piggy,” his deep voice sounded silly voicing such a call.
He threw a leg over the side of the stall and the sow swung her head to watch him. Carrie leaned over to pick up the baby pig, but the sow turned and rushed at her. Adam leaped into the stall.
“Hey, Pig! Over here!” He waved his arms.
“Adam! Get out of there!” Carrie gasped.
The sow charged Adam. He turned and literally dived out of the stall. For a second Carrie stood transfixed, horrified at the thought of Adam crashing on the cement walkway. And then the piglet struggled to rise. In that instant Carrie grabbed the baby pig, and by the time the sow turned around, the piglet was safely in her arms. She raced around to Adam, who was pushing away from the ground and dusting himself off.
“Are you all right?” Carrie asked.
“I'm fine. I told you she'd try, didn't I?”
Carrie could only nod. With the emergency over, her tongue was tied in knots and glued to the top of her mouth. For a moment they stood there staring at each other uncomfortably. Finally Adam broke the silence.
“Is the baby pig going to live?”
Carrie gently examined the piglet. “I think he's fine. I guess she just squeezed the breath out of him. I'd better take him to Dad, though.”
Adam fell in stride beside her. “I liked your speech. I don't think we should completely abandon the old ways of farming either. It was cool the way you worked old ways of predicting weather into new methods of farming. I've heard some of them from my grandfather, but you had some new ones.”
“Thanks,” she managed. Who would have thought a cool guy like Adam would be impressed with such a speech?
“It looked like your father liked your speech as well. Your parents seem kind of….” He paused, probably trying to find a polite way to say they were squares. “Nostalgic,” he completed with a twisted smile. “I'll bet your speech was inspired by them.”
Carrie laughed shortly. “Yes, but I never would have described them as nostalgic; stern, meticulous, even old-fashioned, but nostalgic?”
“I'd give anything to have my father look at me the way yours looked at you tonight. He was proud of you. My father is always gone someplace on a business trip, and when he gets home, I'm just in the way. Mom is busy with her business as well. It must be nice to have both your parents working at home.” He paused and shifted uncomfortably. “And those blouses you wear. I'll bet your mother made them for you. I always liked the way you looked so different. Except....”
She stopped beside him. Here it came. Why did there always have to be an except? Except she looked like she didn't have a dime to her name. Except she was too much of a prude.
“Except you never smile,” he finished, looking at the ground and shuffling his feet. “You're so unapproachable.”
Unapproachable? Was that why no one ever asked her out - because she didn't smile enough?
“I smile,” she defended tersely.
Adam glanced up and searched her face. “And you have a nice smile, too. Like today after your speech. You looked...well, pretty.”
She stared at him. “Thanks,” she muttered, and resumed her search for Dad. One thing was sure. She was going to smile a lot more in the future. She spotted Dad and raised her hand with the baby pig in it. Dad nodded and started her way.
“Hey,” Adam spoke beside her. “Are you going to Sharon's Halloween party?”
“Dad would never let me use the car for a party,” she blurted out before she thought. Her face grew warm again. “Anyway, I don't have a costume.”
“I'd be glad to come get you,” he answered instantly.
The flush turned into a flaming inferno. “I wasn't hinting for you to come get me. It's a long way out to my house and...”
“But I want to.” he spoke with apparent sincerity.
“But I live on a hog farm,” she cautioned with a smile. “The place is a regular pig pen.”
He grinned. “I've been told that would describe my bedroom. So what's your point?”
She giggled. “Well, if you're that determined, I'm sure I could whip up some kind of costume. Shoot, half my clothes would make a good 50's costume.”
He made a face. “It's not that bad.”
“You two look like you're having fun,” Dad's voice broke into their chatter.
Carrie introduced Adam and explained the ordeal with the pig. Dad shoved out a hand to Adam. “It sounds like you're quite a brave young lad. Those mother hogs can be downright mean.”
Adam beamed at Dad, and Carrie remembered his comment about wishing his father was proud of him. She had always considered Adam the lucky one, with all the money, clothes and friends. Right now she felt like the lucky one. Adam was right. She should smile more. She had a lot to be happy about. She smiled up at Dad.
“Adam asked me to go to a Halloween party with him Friday.” She held her breath, half expecting Dad to tell her she couldn't go.
Dad gave Adam one of his soul-searching stares, and finally he nodded. “You be sure to get her back before midnight.”
Yes, she had a lot to be happy about. Funny how things could change so quickly. Had she changed, or had Dad? Maybe they were both learning to throw out the old apples. She smiled up at Adam.
“We'd better get this little piggy back to his mother.”
He took her hand. “Have you ever won anything at those booths?”
She squeezed his hand and smiled. “No, but I'm feeling especially lucky today.”
They exchanged knowing expressions, and he grinned.