The October wind was blowing multihued leaves down the road, accompanied by swirls of dust. It had been a dry early fall, with hunters complaining of not being able to move through the woods without alerting the squirrels. Jimmy had gone back to the truck early. It was only in the morning, but he had fallen asleep against a white oak earlier. He thought it best just to come back to Tommy’s truck and lie in the bed. He dropped the tailgate and climbed in, resting his shotgun beside him and hanging his legs off the edge of the truck.
He had a headache from too much beer the night before. Tommy, Tommy’s cousin Jon, Jimmy, and Jimmy’s cousin Matt had stayed up too late at camp, drinking and talking about girls. At fifteen, with the other boys being a year or two older, Jimmy missed the times when girls were not such a large topic of conversation around the campfire. He was a bit confused about the others’ all-consuming interest in the opposite sex and more than a bit worried about his lack thereof.
Jimmy looked up as the wispy clouds passed above in the turquoise sky and into the tops of the tall pines. He groaned a little at the pain in his head as he threw his left arm over his eyes. In minutes, his chest was rising and falling in a slow, steady rhythm.
Hearing the pounding of slow, heavy footfall, Jimmy woke a bit dazed. Realizing where he was, he thought “That’s got to be Jon.” Jon was the largest of the three other hunters. Being three years older than him and a nose guard for the high school football team, Jon dwarfed the slim but tall Jimmy.
Jimmy pulled himself to a sitting position and said “What’d ya get?”
“Well, hello boy.”
Jimmy, surprised that it was not Jon, simply said, “Hi,” and scratched his cheek.
Jon was big but this person was a man. Taller even than Jon, broad shoulders, thick neck, full dark-red beard flecked with grey, camouflage clothes and cap, big smile, hands like catcher’s mitts.
“You waiting on your buddies?”
“Yessir.” Jimmy replied, a bit intimidated as the large man drew closer.
“I ran into a big fella down in the creek bed a couple of hundred yards that’a way.” The man pointed south.
“That was Jon.”
“I thought I’d recognized him from the football field. Who do you belong to, boy?”
Normally, Jimmy would have bristled at a stranger calling him “boy,” but he knew that this man was using the term in a way that was not deprecating. “I’m Will and Peggy Gauthiex’s son, Jimmy.”
“Ah, haven’t seen Will in a long time and longer than that for your momma. You look like her, Jimmy.”
“Yessir, so people tell me.”
“I’m Gerald Raney.”
“Good to meet you, Mr. Raney.” Jimmy instinctively extended his right hand.
“Call me Gerry,” Ramey grabbed the boy’s hand and shook it, the man’s large paw enveloping the other’s. The man’s direct gaze from green eyes locked with Jimmy’s dark brown ones. “How’d you do this morning?”
Jimmy smiled sheepishly. “I just went into the woods and fell asleep. So I came on back to the truck.”
“You must have stayed up too late last night, kiddo.” The big man laughed, eyes dancing.
“Yessir.” Jimmy grinned.
“I’d better get home and start dressing these squirrels, buddy.” Mr. Raney raised his large hand.
“Yessir, Mr. Raney. Have a good day.”
“See you around, Jimmy.” The man gave Jimmy a slight smile and a wink of his dark green eye.
Jimmy watched at the man walked away. The sun went behind a cloud, shadowing the field where the truck was parked; the wind kicked up a bit more. About a hundred yards away, Mr. Raney turned. He squared himself with Jimmy and lifted his hand once more. Jimmy signaled back. The man turned and resumed his trek. With the image of Mr. Raney fixed in his mind, the boy positioned himself in the truck bed again and closed his eyes.