Jeremy adjusted his cap, slapped the baseball into his glove and headed out the door, yelling over his shoulder. “Late for practice, Mom. See ya!”
The screen door slammed shut, punctuating his quick exit. He thought he was “home free” as he bounded over the stoop, but his mother’s voice arrested him in mid-stride. “Jeremee!” Her pitch and tone were exactly like an umpire’s “stree-ike three” and it held the same result for Jeremy.
“Did you forget you need to take Sally with you today?” She asked softly, knowing he hadn’t forgotten.
“No, ma’am,” Jeremy looked down at his sneakers, wishing they had been a little quicker. “I thought. . . maybe you would. . .”
“Take her with me?” Marie finished the thought. “Son, you know I would if I could, but Mr. Barker says I can’t bring her anymore. Some people don’t understand; he says it hurts business to have your little sister there. Until I find a different job I need your help.”
Marie worked part-time at Barker’s Diner, because the pension from her husband’s death was not enough to provide for them. It had been hard on all of them.. Marie, who had devoted her time to caring for Sally’s special needs, was forced to enter the work force. Jeremy was thrust into being the twelve-year-old “man” of the house, and Sally, while it seemed she never fully understood, withdrew into her own little world.
At first, Marie was allowed to take Sally to work, where she would stay in a back booth, playing with rag dolls and listening to a small radio. She’d sing and play quietly and Marie would bring her a snack or sit with her during her break. Sometimes Sally took a nap.
Most people were kind to Sally, asking the names of her dolls and nodding as if they understood her replies. Some complimented her singing, and, while some words were clear, most were foreign sounds formed by a tongue and a mind not fully developed.
Yes, most people were kind and indulgent, except for Mrs.Windemere, who decided to bring the Ladies Aid Society every Tuesday for lunch. This large group was good for business, so Mr. Barker bent over backwards for her. When she noticed Sally, it was clear that things would change.
“Who-o on earth is that?” She asked, drawing out the “who”, so it sounded like an owl ready to swoop down on a mouse.
“That’s Marie’s little girl. She brings her along while she works. She’s a little slow and she has some speech problems, but she’s well-behaved and Marie is my best waitress.”
“Well, Mr. Barker, the Ladies Aid Society simply can’t be distracted by that little creature. These meetings are most important – we’re planning our fund-raising bazaar for the poor people in our African mission. Our ladies need to enjoy their luncheons in peace.“
So, Marie’s hours were changed to evenings and while she worked, Jeremy needed to care for Sally. Marie devised a plan whereby Jeremy could still go to ball practice by taking Sally along. Coach Martin had suggested she come and sit with his daughter, Hannah, who would watch her.
“Come on, Sally,” Jeremy reluctantly took her hand. “We’re already late and it’s the first practice.”
“I wun. You wun – faaast!” Sally broke into a sprint. Although she was slow in some ways, Sally was a swift runner.
As they approached the diamond, Jeremy’s peers turned to hear Sally’s urging, “Wun, Jewemy, wun!”
Embarrassed, Jeremy tried to head Sally away from the circle of laughing boys.
One, known as Chubby Chad, began to mock. “Yeah, Jewemy! Let‘s see you wun! Or is this your cheerleader - if she is, she don’t talk so good.“ His words pierced Jeremy‘s heart like an arrow, causing his face to redden more.
Before he could speak, Coach Martin stepped forward. “Some people speak well; some run well. Let’s start by doing some sprints to see who can run. Chad, we know how well you think you speak, let’s see how well you run.”
Bending down to Sally, Coach asked, “Want to run, Sally?”
“Shuh,” she grinned.
At Coach’s signal, Sally and Chad set out.
“Go, Sally!” Jeremy yelled.
Sally crossed the chalk line, beating Chubby Chad by a good three strides and the boys cheered. Now, flushed with pride, Jeremy ran to Sally and hugged her.
“I wun faast!” Sally laughed.
Jeremy beamed. And, everyone gave her high fives, even Chubby Chad.
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