Gone Pecan excerpt

   Michael ran for the American Airlines wing,

pausing at security and waiting with a handful

of people. He checked his watch again. Three

people in LSU T-shirts and shorts bounded

into the arms of what looked like waiting

family. A toddler ran toward a woman carrying

two armloads of presents. Three airline

attendants passed security, trailing their

baggage behind them. Had he missed her?

   Michael was about to rush over to baggage

claim when he spotted a lone Dewey heading

down the aisle. If he hadn’t been there

specifically to retrieve her, he surely would have missed her. Unlike her usual attire of trendy clothes — at least on the few occasions he had seen her — she wore an oversized sweatshirt, jeans and the same Converse shoes from high school. A ratty old backpack was thrown over her shoulder, causing her sweatshirt to list starboard. Her light brown hair, an aspect of Dewey he had always adored, was now blonde and cut into one of those hip California hairstyles where pieces poked out at various angles. Mused from the flight, her hair seemed to rebel against the ridiculous constraints of style, forcing its strands back to its normal state and making her appear ten years younger, almost as if she had stepped out of her senior year and time had never passed between them.

   But, it was the dark circles above her cheeks and the blood-shot eyes that made Michael’s heart constrict the most. He knew whatever argument he had had with Mamaw, Dewey must have had it worse. Because despite Michael’s stubbornness to bridge the gap between them, despite his reluctance to talk about what happened, it was Dewey who had actually gone pecan. It was that last thought, that painful memory still fresh after all those years, that made Michael resist pulling her into his arms.

   “Dewey.”

   She nearly collided into him before hearing her name spoken, her head bent in deep thought. When she looked up, the pain in her eyes made him reconsider that last thought about a hug. After all, they had been best friends once.

   He opted to remove her backpack, slinging it effortlessly over his shoulder. Sandy would have laughed, had she been there. “The things you do to express emotions,” she would have said with a shake of her head.

   “Do you have baggage to pick up?” Michael asked.

   Dewey blinked. “What are you doing here?”

   “You needed a ride to Lafayette.”

   “I have a rental. I told Sandy that.”

   Michael adjusted the backpack and started walking toward the baggage claim. “Do you have baggage or what?”

   Dewey, who almost reached the same height as Michael but who could never maintain his long strides, rushed to keep up. “Michael, you didn’t have to pick me up.”

   “Yeah, well, here I am.”

   Dewey halted suddenly, her eyes brimming with tears. Michael was bent on getting her suitcases and hauling her back home that it took him a few seconds to realize she wasn’t by his side. When he looked back and witnessed her heartbreak, he almost did give her a hug.

   “She’s fine. Nothing has happened.”

   She pulled her tangled hair behind her ears, the tears precariously close to brimming over.

   “She’s fine,” Michael repeated, stepping closer. “I saw Mamaw today. Trust me, it’s nothing to worry about.”

   Dewey stared at him with a haunting, somewhat accusatory gaze, making Michael feel twice as guilty for sending their grandmother into an assisted living facility. He let the backpack drop and stepped close enough to breathe a fruity scent he could have sworn Dewey wore in high school. Memories came flooding so fast it almost choked him, like too much water gulped on a sweltering day. Michael forced them aside. He wasn’t going there now.

   “Look, Dewey, the reason Mamaw is in the home is because we had a fight this morning. She got mad because I wouldn’t agree with her, threatened to stop talking to me and, well, she did.”

   Dewey’s gaze grew even more suspicious. “When was this?”

   “Today.”
   “When?”
   “You want to know the time?” God, was she for real?

   “What did you argue about?”

   Michael exhaled and offered up a sly smile he often gave his students when they presented him with excuses. “You mean who did we argue about?”
   Dewey shook her head, her eyes never leaving Michael’s. When she spoke, her voice rose with each word, as if incredulous to be speaking such an atrocious statement.

   “She’s not going to talk to us until we get married?”

That was basically it. Mamaw had complained about their years-long estrangement, nothing new there, then started making demands. By the end of the conversation, she presented her ridiculous ultimatum — the two of them had to get married or she would never to speak to them again.

   “I take it you got the same conversation I did.”

   Dewey’s eyes grew larger. “Yeah, this morning. I can’t believe she’s doing this to us. It’s insane!”

   Welcome to his world. “Mais, so is dressing up like royalty for Carnival, but it seems to be quite popular here.”

   “Michael, she can’t be serious!”

   Michael picked up the backpack and took Dewey’s elbow, leading her toward the LSU menagerie at the baggage claim while snatching the ticket from her fingers. “Why don’t you go cancel your rental car and I’ll pick up the luggage.”

   She paused, turning enough to meet his eyes, her gaze begging for hope. He almost laughed at the absurdity of it all, but then they were standing together on Louisiana soil. Maybe the old lady wasn’t as crazy as they thought.

   “She got you home, didn’t she?”

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