James McClane was unaware he had an accent until the admissions lady guessed his home state over the phone. This new information surprised him, but he was able to regain focus quickly when she started talking about financial aid.
“That’s perfect,” he said, dividing the numbers into months. He would be able to make up the difference somehow. He was proud of himself now too, not just his son. “Michael will be ecstatic. He’ll be the first in the family, you know.”
As his father spoke on the phone Michael McClane was laying on the top of his pickup about a mile down the road, chewing on a twig he plucked off a stalk of barley. He breathed clear air at the sky and imagined smoke pooling from his lips to form the only cloud in the sky.
“Can’t we sneak one?” he asked the sky.
“No,” was the answer, not from the sky but from the young girl hunting around the glove compartment for her sunglasses. “It’s a nasty habit.”
“Since I got caught,” she replied, slipping on her sunglasses. She had hair the color of charcoal that barely hit the tops of her ears. She hoisted herself up on the hood of the car, using the front tire as a step stool. “And I’m not letting your smoky kisses get me in trouble.”
Michael kissed her once then looked back up at the sky. She tasted like sweat. She watched him from behind her mirrored glasses for awhile, but then looked at the sky too.
“I’m gonna smoke in college,” he told her. He closed his lips, and his eyes.
“As long as you don’t when I visit you, that’s fine. If I can visit you,” she added.
Michael turned to face her. Her glasses reflected his eyes, his amber beard, his lips that twitched but didn’t open.
The sound of a truck. Clunk, hiss, clunk. His dad’s truck, they both recognized it. Michael crushed the end of the barley twig into the car before remembering it didn’t have to be snuffed.
“Wanna get the lunch?” he asked, and she slid off the hood to get their sandwiches safe in paper bags. His father didn’t understand doing things for no reason. Lunch was at least a reason. They were unwrapping the sandwiches when Michael’s father pulled in behind their truck.
“Hey, Michael. Susie Q., how’s your dad doing?” James asked from his window.
“He’s well,” she said, hooking her elbows around her knees. “Been better.”
James pulled his head back into the truck and cut the engine.
“Even asking about my dad, he calls me Susie Q.,” she muttered.
Michael shrugged. He liked the nickname. He only stopped calling her Susie Q. when she shaved her head and demanded Sue Anne. He missed Susie Q.
“Michael,” James said, running to him on the dirt road dusted in barley. “Listen, I called the New York university.”
“What did they say?” Michael asked.
James paused, memorizing the picture of his blue-jeans son sitting on a rusted truck in a field of barley with his rock-a-billy girlfriend, wondering how Michael would look in a suit.
“You can go. We can afford to send you.”
Michael leapt to the ground and embraced his father so neither had to see the other cry. Sue Anne smiled, glad that her sunglasses hid her eyes, and cursed her injured, expensive father.
Michael hugged her next, which was a surprise. It had been awhile since he’d hugged her.
“You got your escape,” she whispered.