RUBY SLIPS AND POKER CHIPS
Quandary Pond was situated between my house and the tiny one-bedroom shack that sat five minutes down the road. The shack was a rental and a poorly cared for one at that. Our neighbors didn’t stay there much longer than a barefoot on the pavement outside Price Chopper in July. The house appeared lopsided to me, shingles falling off, and the siding was worn with time. Grass grew as high as my thigh and Uncle Embry often stated his intention to go over there and give the yard the weed whacking it deserved. The last residents had left in the middle of the night. I overheard Aunt Henrietta say something about drug charges.
“I’m going down to the pond!” The screen door shut behind me. Uncle Embry was at work at the air-conditioned post office and Aunt Henrietta reclined in the oversized Lazy boy trying to stay cool in the heat of the Kansas afternoon. The fan that oscillated next to the chair made more of a racket than what it was worth.
I preferred cooling off by the pond. Dressed in cutoffs and a tank from the local thrift store, my braids bounced against my back as I skipped down to my favorite hangout.
Making my way down the path from the house to the pond, I glimpsed a red station wagon sitting in front of the shack. New renters. I never really took the time to get to know anyone who lived there, since they’d probably be gone in a couple of months. Removing my shoes, I dove into the pond, no longer worried about the leeches that some of my girlfriends squealed about. After a short swim, I trudged out, settling on a drip dry as I made my way to the tree where I hid my stash. The hollow in the tree contained a jar for bug catching (usually fireflies at night), a couple of bottles of water, a net, a pail and my science journal (which I kept in a plastic bag in case it rained). I picked out the net and started to creep around the reeds looking for Old Bill, the bullfrog that was as large as a grapefruit and had so far avoided capture. My goal was to sketch and categorize each frog in the pond, as well as many of the insects. Rounding the bend by a large tree, Bill sat on a rock sunning himself. This was going to be the day. A crop duster flew overhead masking any sounds my feet made in the grass. I lifted my net at the perfect angle for frog catching, ready to pounce.
“Are you trying to catch that frog?”
Old Bill jumped off the rock and back into the depths of the pond. I could almost hear him laughing at me from the murky waters.
I whipped around in anger, ready to attack the big mouth with my words. “I was until you had to open your trap and scare him away!”
“I’m sorry.” The boy was older than me, and definitely not someone from my school. He had dark hair, almost black like the new tar they laid on the main road through town. A smattering of freckles dotted the bridge of his nose, probably the kind that the sun brought out in the summer. “Do you want me to try to catch him?”
“No,” I muttered. “Just go away. This is my pond.”
“The map the realtor gave us said it was called Quandary Pond, I must’ve missed the sign.” He paused and grinned. My fist had knocked that type of grin off a couple of boys’ faces before. “What’s your name anyway?”
“If I tell you, will you go away?” I kept my back to him determined to at least find a tadpole and shake away the annoying fly behind me.
“Maybe,” he said, still following.
I reached the shore near the trail and set my net against a tree, refusing to reveal my other treasures.“I’m Dottie.” I turned to start up the path to go home. “Are your parents renting the shack?”
“My mom and I just moved in yesterday.” He didn’t follow me but drew some letters in the mud on the bank with a stick. “I’m Corbin.”
“Nice to meet you.” I reached the crest of the hill. “Now stay away from my pond.”
“Hey, Dottie!” Corbin ignored my comment. I turned and rolled my eyes. The other girls at school would find him cute.
“What do you want now? Pond’s not for sale, so don’t even ask.”
Corbin pointed to the letters he drew in the mud that read Dottie’s Pond.
“Just in case someone else doesn’t know, thought I’d save them the trouble of having to deal with you.” Corbin threw his stick into the water and headed back to the rental.
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