and sighed. Had she believed Momma would answer any differently? But she could play verbal chess too. “Even if school wouldn’t make me happy, you’d want me to go?” “You’re a smart woman, Rachel, and I expect you to think with your head, not the flip flops in your stomach when a handsome boy smiles at you.” Momma bobbed her head like she did when she was scheming—for the good of others, of course. “Why don’t you pack a bag and take a trip to see your Aunt Val? She’s entertaining enough to keep your mind off your brother and sister’s departure while you wait until it’s time to go to school. Even Tennessee, if you want.” So Momma figured agreeing to her choice of Tennessee over New York would distract her from Dex. Rachel couldn’t help the smirk curling her lips. Momma was so easy to read. “But you believe I’m capable of making a wise decision?” “If anyone can,” she widened her eyes and tipped her head forward as if to glare the right decision into her, “it’s you. You know what the right decision is.” But Dex’s kiss hadn’t scrambled her brains, just her heart. “And if it’s not the choice you’d have me make?” Momma picked imaginary lint from the green shawl draping her shoulders. “Your father says all we can do is pray you’ll make good decisions, not make them for you.” Rachel leaned over and kissed Momma’s forehead. God bless Papa. That was as close to an agreement as she was going to get. “I’ll pack, Momma.” Whether she’d go to Aunt Val’s or Kansas would depend on Dex. Did he love her as the poem he’d recited suggested, or had her longing pout lured him into an indiscretion? She flew up the stairs faster than she had this afternoon, when she’d fled the desire to disgrace herself and kiss a man silly. However, she might do just that now if given the chance.
Dex’s eyes roved over the gathering crowd as he sat on the fairground stage, intermittently twanging his Jew’s harp while Jedidiah strummed a happy melody on his banjo. Why couldn’t his friend play something that droned along in a minor key? Thecheerfulness grated his nerves, along with the smiling faces, bubbly laughter, and giddy conversations of the nearby cluster of women arranging their blankets and baskets on the grass. The men lugging chairs and dance floor boards also seemed in high spirits despite the children playing tag getting underfoot. Life wasn’t over just because Rachel had fled from his kiss and declared she never wanted to see him again. But for the moment, it seemed so. Why couldn’t the rest of the world subdue itself in an instant or two of compassion? An auctioneer’s chatter boomed from one of the tents full of people. The warm weather had brought out more people than ants, but Dex would rather have had rain. Jedidiah poked him in the shoulder. “Why don’cha up and do something? There’s plenty of time before the music starts. Last good vittles before we hit the trail.” “No thanks.” If he mingled, someone would want to talk to him, and what would he say? Oh, you want to know how I’m doing? Well enough, I suppose, considering I’m contemplating sticking my head in the horse trough until the lack of air blacks out the feel of Rachel’s lips upon mine. “Aw, buck up, Sunshine.” Dex scowled. “Oh, now, that’s better. And here I’d only thought a bee’d flown in your bonnet. Seems you’ve been chomping on scorpions too.” Jedidiah sighed and went back to strumming. “At least go buy me a fritter if your sulky self insists on sucking the life out of the air I’m breathing.” Near the auctioneer’s tent, Patricia’s showy green hat stacked high with purple feathers bobbed above the crowd. “How about I go make sure Everett knows the meeting’s been moved up?” Would it matter if he didn’t bother to come back and play? His instrument wasn’t necessary to keep beat or melody. Maybe he’d find himself a sore throat or a