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Truth or Beard(2)

By´╝ÜPenny Reid



I shivered as a gust of late autumn wind met my excess of bare skin.

“Come on,” Claire looped her arm through mine, “let’s get inside before you freeze your beard off.”

I followed her into the old school building. As we neared, I heard the telltale sounds of folk music drifting out of the open double doors.

It was Friday night, and that meant nearly every able-bodied person in a thirty-mile radius was gathering for the jam session at the Green Valley Community Center. As it was Halloween, the place had been decorated with paper skeletons, carved pumpkins, and orange and black streamers. The old school had been converted only seven years earlier, and the jam sessions started shortly thereafter.

Everyone in Green Valley would start their evening here. Even if it hadn’t been Halloween, married folks with kids would leave first, followed by the elderly. Then the older teenagers would go off, likely to Cooper’s field for a drunken bonfire. The adult, unmarried, and childless would leave next.

I was clumsily and hesitantly trying to find my way in this new single adult subgroup.

Before I left for college, I was part of the Cooper’s field, teenager, drunken bonfire subset, even though I usually didn’t stay long and never got drunk. But I always managed to find a boy to kiss before I left.

In my present predicament, where each individual from the unattached adult cluster (to which I now belonged) ended the evening would depend heavily on that person’s personal goals. If the goal was to have good, clean fun, then you typically went to Genie’s Country Western Bar for dancing and darts. If the goal was to get laid, then you typically went to The Wooden Plank, a biker bar just on the edge of town. If the goal was to get laid and cause trouble, then maybe get laid again, you went to The Dragon Biker Bar, several miles outside of town and home to the Iron Order biker club.

Or, if you were like me—no longer an angst-filled, rebellious adolescent looking for boys to kiss—and the goal was to relax and grade a week’s worth of calculus assignments, you went home, put on flannel PJs, and turned on The Travel Channel for background noise and inspiration.

I spotted my father before he spotted me as a crowd had gathered; he was speaking animatedly to someone I couldn’t see. My daddy was standing at the table just inside the entrance where a big glass bowl had been placed to collect donations. He was, as always, wearing his uniform.

Claire stood on her tiptoes then tried leaning to the side to gauge the cause of the crowd. “Looks like they’re doing trick-or-treating. I see a bunch of kids in costume, and there’s a bucket of candy at the table.”

I nodded, glancing down one of the short hallways then the other. Music came from only one of the rooms, but there was a mass of kids going in and out of the five classrooms, each with either a decorated pillow case or an orange plastic Jack O'Lantern bucket to hold their treats.

I leaned close to Claire to suggest we skip the line and make our donations later when my eyes snagged on a red-haired, bearded man coming out of one of the classrooms, holding the hand of a blonde little girl—not more than seven—dressed like Tinker Bell.

I felt a shock—a jolt from my throat—travel down my collarbone to my fingertips, then weave through my chest and belly. I lost my breath on a startled gasp. The shock was followed by a suffusion of spreading warmth and levels of intense self-consciousness—the magnitude of which I hadn’t experienced in years.

My eyes greedily traveled over every inch of him, dressed in blue Dickie coveralls that had been pulled off his sculpted torso, the long sleeves now tied around his waist to keep the pants portion from falling down; they were dotted with grease stains and dirt at the knee and thigh. He also wore a bright white T-shirt and black work boots. His thick red hair was longish and askew, like he’d just run his fingers through it…or someone else had just run their fingers through it.

Beau Winston.

I knew it was Beau and not his twin Duane for three reasons. He was smiling at the little girl. Beau always smiled. Duane never smiled.

Also, he appeared to be helping the little girl in some way. Beau was friendly and outgoing. Duane was moody, quiet, and sullen.

And lastly, my body knew the difference. I’d always been reduced to a blubbering mess of teenage hormones at the sight of Beau. In contrast, Duane, though identical in looks, raised my blood pressure and made me a blubbering mess of self-conscious irritation.

My adolescent crush—nay, my adolescent obsession—was walking toward us, his attention focused solely on the child next to him. He looked like a ginger-bearded James Dean, only taller and broader. I think I forgot how to breathe. He was so dreamy. He was so dreamy, and I’d forgotten how much I disliked the word dreamy.

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