Osage

Waiting for the bus, Osage slipped her hands into her pockets and found something. Cellophane crinkled as she pulled out four bright orange and yellow Jolly Ranchers. That was the third time this month.

Osage spotted her friend Jessica’s shock of purple hair in the fourth seat from the back of the bus, their usual. She heard bubble gum snapping as she walked between the seats. “I found more candy just now,” she said when she reached Jessica. Jessica looked up from her phone. Osage recognized the deep-voiced narrator of Candy Crush saying ‘Sweet.’

“You don’t think it’s me, do you?”

“Yeah. I think you totally woke up early, carried a ladder five blocks, and snuck into my bedroom window just to put some stupid candy in my pocket.”

“Ever hear of doors, smart ass?” Jessica’s phone cheered and whistled before she continued. “Have you checked your other jeans? Maybe whoever did it hid the candy before and you’re just finding it now.”

“I checked. Nothing. It gotta be Mom because she’s not letting Jimmy, my step-dad, sleep in the house anymore. No way it’s Camden. That would require him to acknowledge my presence.”

“Why don’t you just ask her?”

“I don’t know. Why doesn’t she just give me the candy?”

“True. She’s being pretty stalkery. Like how does she even know which jeans to put them in?”

“I lay my clothes out on my dresser at night.”

“You’re such a freak, Ozzie. No one sane does that.” Jessica’s attention shifted back to her phone. Osage watched a few purple locks of her friend’s hair come loose from behind an ear. They reminded her of the tentacles of a cartoon octopus.

“Shut up. My mom does it, too.”

“That just proves my point…is she any better?”

“Sort of.” Osage traced the seam on the edge of the vinyl seat with her finger. We’ll get through this, her mom had said between sips of beer, we’ve done this before.

A few summers ago, her mom and dad packed her and Camden up for a surprise trip. They acted weird on the drive down, being super nice to each other, like Mom asked permission before she changed the radio station, and Dad didn’t check his phone once while he was driving. Camden and Osage spent the car trip tossing looks across the back seat of the Blazer.

They stayed the night at a La Quinta outside Jeff City. Boys on the floor, girls in the bed. In the morning, her dad told them to put their swimming suits on before they got in the car. After another hour of driving, her dad pulled into a parking lot near a river. They walked down a pier that ended with a tin shed, brightly colored canoes nodding at them as they passed. A man with a long beard handed them four lime green life jackets and two oars, then pointed to a canoe the color of a pencil eraser. Her mom got in first, and Osage followed, then Camden and her dad. For some reason, the morning didn’t feel fun to Osage, it felt like doing chores.

After about ten minutes of half-steamed paddling, their father pivoted to face his family. “Do you kids know where you are?”

Camden shrugged his shoulders; Osage scanned the buildings. Her dad pointed to the shed they’d just walked past. “That’s the boat rental place I worked at in college.”

“This is the Osage River?” Osage dipped her fingers into her namesake; the cool water pushed against her fingers.

“Yeah, and that’s Camdenton,”  her mother finally said. “We wanted you guys to see how gorgeous it is here, how special.”

“This is where we started,” her dad said, using his oar to turn the canoe. “And this is where we want it to end. There’s no good way to put this: your mother and I have decided to break up.” Twelve gongs of a church bell announced the arrival of the afternoon.

“It’s going to be weird for a while.” The boat reeled as her father shifted his weight. “But we still care for each other. We just think we’ll be a stronger team apart. Right, Traci?”

Back in the bus, Osage thought of the last time she’d seen Jimmy at the house. He had offered to pack their lunches. He’d never done that before.

Osage pulled her own phone out of her backpack, clicked on Jimmy’s text thread, and typed, “Thx 4 the candy!”

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10 Replies to “Osage”

  1. Such engaging characters with amazing depth. Reading this story was like journey of discovery – discovery of the complexities and beauty of everyday histories. That tension-building really worked for me as well.

  2. I was getting sick to my stomach wondering what was going to go wrong during that vacation. The building of the tension during the flashback was quite effective.

  3. Your stories are always so full of the everyday, but in such an interesting and unique way – they are alive and growing and they keep me wondering what is going to happen after the final word.

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