When We Were Wiccan

by C. Don Jones

Knoxville Center Mall (once known as East Towne) was slowly dying. It would take several more years. Now it was losing another store. There was only one person working in the store that night. She was laughing but concerned about the upcoming event. “I don’t know who is going to be priestess,” she said. “I did it the last couple of times. I want someone else to do it tonight.”

She didn’t see me. I was among the free-standing shelves at Disc Jockey. When I was a teenager it was a “record store” that sold more cassette tapes than anything. Entertainment technological change was beginning. I went there often searching for Talking Heads, Rush, Devo, or Ozzy and hoping I had enough cash to buy something. Now I was approaching forty. The nineties were over. And the records and cassette tapes were gone. I was looking for bargains on the remaining DVD’s and maybe a few decent enough T-shirts. The store would be closing soon for the evening. It would not belong before it would be shut down permanently.

I found a copy of Gandhi and looked at my watch. The store had a few more hours left for that day. If I remembered the protocol correctly, she would shut the doors at 9:00 PM and then take some time to count the cash tray and tally the credit card receipts. She may even fill in a bank deposit slip for the next day. She would be leaving at 9:30. The ritual she was planning to attend would start around 11:00 presumably.

Here I was, a Christian minister, thinking about the timing of a neo-pagan ritual. I thought about the calendar. Is there a major sabbat taking place? I wondered. Yes! It was the time of Imbolc (sometimes called Candlemas). The chain store had gone through Christmas (or Yule) and was closing for good the first week of February. If I wanted to get back to browse the videos again before the shutdown, it would have to be soon.

I took my purchase to the cash wrap after she got off the phone. She smiled. Despite being about to lose her job, she seemed happy. “Find everything alright?”

“Yes. Too much,” I joked.

She sighed. “It’s the way it always is.”

I wanted to ask about the ritual. Was it Wiccan? If so, was it of the Alex Sanders type, Gardnerian, or another type. I didn’t ask though. I could be conversant on these matters. But, striking up a conversation could lead to an invitation to take part. It was not my world. But, spiritually speaking, I was her elder brother.

In the late 1960s, the Baby Boomers who looked for alternative spiritualities looked east. They explored Zen, Taoism, and the hodgepodge of spiritualities that came to be known as “New Age.” They redeveloped the practice of syncretism. For some, this would include attending Church on Sunday, then some other time during the week attending a Sangha, as in “My faith is Christian while my practice is Buddhist.” My father read Jiddu Krishnamurti and took us to the Church of Christ where he grew up.

Generation X is known for having been left alone. When it came to spirituality, we were expected to absorb something. My own high school student body was heavily influenced by Christian fundamentalism. Young Life met one morning per week for prayer and Bible study. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes consisted of a much larger group that met every Thursday immediately following lunch. Apparently, one did not have to be either Christian or an athlete to take part. It was open to everyone. I briefly attended one session and watched some of the biggest jerks “give their testimony.” The meetings were summed up best by a friend of mine who said, “The first liar never has a chance.” Testifying about how you were a sinner and then saved (or fallen and restored) was one thing. Trying to make your story more dramatic was another. It often fell into competition.

Since my family were Church of Christ, my parents did not expect me to participate in those school clubs. I was glad I didn’t have to. I resented the ambient fundamentalism of my town. To make matters worse, the Moral Majority was in its ascendency. Jerry Falwell was on television every Sunday and on talk shows during the weekdays. I saw and heard way too much of him for my taste. It was my first exposure to the idea that The United States was intended to be Christian, have a powerful military, and make sure the students never learned anything that threatened those ideas.  

I discovered Michael Harrington’s book Socialism and atheism at about the same time. But atheism is difficult for people to comprehend. For many people, thinking there is no deity is contemplating nothingness. I needed to look for something to believe and that would nurture a spiritual side, if I had one.

I looked in the strangest of places. I chose “the Occult.” Somehow, I discovered that wonderful forgery titled Necronomicon supposedly translated by “Simon.” The rituals were interesting. But the long background story of the magic was more impressive. I was a reader of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I played and was a Dungeon Master for a few Advanced Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. But it was not until the Necronomicon that I heard of the author H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. In addition to that I was reintroduced to the occultist mage Aleister Crowley. I once read his story in a horror comic book when I was younger. And then there was the song Mr. Crowley by Ozzy.

A friend and I began pursuing “the magickal path.” I was the more voracious reader. I read anything I could find. There were works by Sybil Leek, a biography of Alex Sanders titled King of the Witches (I copied the Book of Shadows that was an appendix to this book), The Book of Law and Magick In Theory and Practice by Crowley, and Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft and Practical Candle Burning Rituals. I studied folk magic, parapsychology, and demonology. I bought a set of Rider-Waite Tarot cards after my friend told me they could be found at Waldenbooks. We mispronounced the word as “taa-rot.” Honestly, we were weird.

I learned how to read the Celtic Cross method of tarot. I practiced ritual magick. I continued to study occult history and the stories about medieval sorcerers Albertus Magnus and Cornelius Agrippa. I even read about John Dee. I was never interested in astrology or playing with Ouija boards. They never interested me. But what got the attention of my circle of friends and acquaintances was my reading on Nazi occultism, including the hypnotic effect of Adolf Hitler and the Satanism of Anton Szandor LaVey.

I watched Ghostbusters in the theater four times. Dan Akroyd’s character Ray Stanz appealed to me. He was excited by what he knew and could find out. He could scare the living hell out of himself and analyze it later. He was my kind of guy. I had friends who fit the other characters somewhat.

Could I ever say I was truly Wiccan? I am still not sure. But the natural focus and the balance of the goddess and the horned god appealed to me. Being outside was my idea of heaven. The spirituality of Wicca helped me understand the concept of ecology better. It was pantheistic which made everything connected. The difficulty was explaining this belief to my peers.

Jon was a friend, a conservative Christian, who wanted to know more about the stuff I was reading. We began the series of conversations on Senior Day for the class of 1984.

“So, what is it?” He asked.

We were following a trail in the woods near the park where the other seniors were enjoying the day. We were able to goof off. I chose what I liked to do during such times. I walked the woods.

“Well, it comes from an old word meaning ‘wise’,” he said. “The words wit and witch are somehow related. The craft would be about using nature the way a woodworker uses wood.”

“Okay. What do you believe?”

That question was tricky. “Well, some believe in the god and goddess and a balance to all things. Sybil Leek believes in cycles of reincarnation.”

“Why?” The idea of reincarnation touched on what a lot of people considered the ultimate concern of their evangelical faith. It was summed up by the evangelistic question, “if you died today where would you go?”

“All of nature is in cycles,” I began. “There’s birth and death, which is also a balance. The seasons change Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. The cycle of being goes from birth, life, death, to rebirth.” I stopped talking when we topped a hill. There was a break in the trees that allowed us to look over the park where our classmates were.

“Do you believe we reincarnate?” He prompted me, after giving me a moment.

“I think so.”

“Were you always human or some other animal?”

“I’m not sure about that. Do animals and humans have the same essence or soul?” We started walking again.

“Don’t ask me.”

“In church, they say we don’t,” I said. “I don’t really care either way. I can’t remember any past lives.”

“Don’t some people?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe them?”

“Why not?”

I said earlier that I didn’t believe the testimonies of my classmates when they offered them in FCA. But I knew some of them were honest enough for there to be some truth in the stories. I felt the same way about some of the stories from people who claimed to receive information about their past lives.

“Do you mean that I believe everyone who claims they were a King or Jesus in a past life? Then no. I don’t believe those,” I said, finally.

I can’t tell you every position on a football field. I am not sure how I managed that growing up in the South. But I did understand that I knew something my peers didn’t.  

I was not completely out of step with my world though. Folk magic has been practiced in the Appalachian Mountains for centuries. Members of my family practiced it too. My maternal grandfather and my uncles located their wells by dowsing. The used a divining rod made from the branch of a hardwood tree. Some bystanders said they could hear the stick twisting downward in their hands. I never watched it being done. But I could picture the bark scraping against the calloused hands of my grandfather as the end of the rod pointed downward. He never moved his hands. He always found a good spot to dig a well. But that wasn’t all. He told me about working by the signs

“Do you know when to stack lumber by the signs?”

“Stack lumber?” I knew he planted his gardens by the signs most of the old people in East Tennessee did.

“Mmmmhmh,” he began. “You never stack lumber on the full moon. If you do that it will rot faster. The best time is to stack it at the new moon. It stays dry longer.”

“Really?” I asked.

“That’s right.” My great-grandfather had a sawmill. He cut railroad ties for the ALCOA’s rail lines between the three plants in what became the City of Alcoa. Aluminum was smelted at the South Plant and taken either to the North Plant for sheeting and molding or the West Plant to make foil. The finished product was sent to the major railroad station from tracks dedicated for the use of the company.

I could not imagine how long cut lumber was to be kept before it could be used. I knew green wood had to dry to be used and had to be kept flat. But what did the signs have to do with anything? I was driving home when my education kicked in to explain it.

The phases of the moon affect the tides of the oceans and other large bodies of water even the human produced lakes of the Tennessee Valley Authority. There is also water in the ground. As Barbara Kingsolver points out in High Tide in Tucson, there are tides in the ground too. The phases of the moon, I realized, either brought the water up or kept in lower which affected the dampness of the lumber. The “signs” were not as much astrology but astronomy and geology. Agricultural work is determined by such natural wonders. Spirituality is not divorced from the everyday world. It is part of the rhythms or cycles of living.

Eastern Tennessee can be described as the limestone capitol. We have a lot of limestone caves. It is because of all the water we have. There are springs everywhere. Grandpa’s divining rod was always going to find water because water is everywhere. When one of my uncles, Mike, could not find water using the rod, he claimed the others were faking it. They weren’t. But Mike is the youngest and the only son to graduate high school. The others trusted the practice of dowsing. He never “found” water like they did.

Generation X in the South searched for a spirituality that did not reflect the work/school schedules that made us latchkey kids and left us alone for a few hours everyday after school. Our parents may have believed we should do our assignments, designated chores, babysit younger siblings, or be babysat. Very few of us did any of those things. Some of us explored whatever forbidden fruit was available. Many of us went off the beaten path and found new plants and old uses.

Fundamentalist youth often went out to sow wild oats and prayed for crop failures. Some of us went into other things. And some of those, like me, returned to their fundamentalist roots for a while, at least. But something different was happening. The churches started changing.

“I don’t know understand, Christian rock,” one friend said to me. “It seems like so many of these guys want to play Rush or Blue Oyster Cult. But their parents will let them if they are talking about Jesus.”

Rock was once the enemy of Christian fundamentalism. Terms like “backward masking” and the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” were part of the scare tactics of the preachers of our childhood. “Faithful Christians do not compromise with the world,” we were told. Unless, of course, if it would “win souls” for Jesus. Then it was not compromise. It was being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The selling point was stealing the kids back from the Devil.

Churches that made such changes tended to double-down on doctrinal expectations of their members. Believing remained the important issue. Acting out one’s faith had little to do with living life. Acting out one’s faith was doing special acts of short-term missions, special gatherings or rallies for youth, and “soul winning.” There was a grand failure in the works for the churches. The great turning off was beginning for Gen-X and later the Millennials. Congregations putting on better programs drew members from smaller churches. A better show attracts more people. Messages preached often lacked nuance because the listeners were prepared by music that used very simple lyrics and repetitive phrases. This appealed more to fundamentalist-raised Gen-Xers than the non-fundamentalist ones.

Gen-X had two important and contradictory goals. We wanted to be accepted. And we wanted to be different. A young woman said to me once, “Our church is very open and progressive.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We use all sorts of instruments in our music. We don’t have pianos or organs for our worship.”

“That’s not what progressive means.” I had hung out with Unitarians at one point.

“It doesn’t? What does it mean?”

“Progressive means upholding gay marriage and female clergy with liberal doctrine.”

“Oh.” She wrinkled her nose. “Really?”

Her claim was a good example of Gen-X attempting to fulfill incompatible desires. It is who we are. By the time of that conversation, I decided acceptance was not all it was supposed to be. I began to liberalize my own faith. I had the background. And the internet helped me review works I no longer had immediate access to.

The young woman in Disc Jockey brought it all back. I decided to find out about the alternative spiritualities some more. I had left it behind. But more people over the years joined and began new schools and approaches for new generations. Still, the desire to stand out is strong. The new methods and schools of pagan thought are evidence of that.

The misfit aspect continues to be a part of alternative spiritualities too. Outsiders and misfits tend to find each other and form other communities. The internet makes that easier. Technology increases the availability for connections in nature-based spiritualities. It is ironic but Gen-X and the Millennials learned to adapt. So far it is working. After all, I am a fairly open Christian.

——

C. Don Jones is a United Methodist Minister. He publishes a blog on Progressive Christian Philosophy and Practice titled Glorious Life. He still lives in East Tennessee.

A reading list from “level:deepsouth” in-progress

Since the first works were published in July, level:deepsouth has covered some territory but is still a long way from telling the whole of this complex story. Works have been published from six states, with two book reviews (and two more on the way), and I’m looking forward to hearing from more Generation-X writers. Below is a list of available readings, organized by state. And the call for submissions remains wide open! 

Alabama

“Dinner on the Grounds” by Luisa Kay Reyes 

“The Baby Blue Bomber” by Adam Powell 

“Revved Up like a What?” by Vallie Lynn Watson 

“That Vibrant Community” by Foster Dickson 

“1980s Montgomery: Remembered and Now Considered” by Adrienne Gaines

Florida

“Southern Christian Soccer-Punk and Other Unicorns” by Ben Beard

“Remy Zero’s Villa Elaine (1998)” by Charles Reed

Georgia

“That was Lana” by William Nesbitt

“Cloves” by William Nesbitt 

Kentucky

“Camp Earl Wallace” by Elena Vale Wahl 

“A Summer, A Fall” by Wes Blake 

North Carolina

“R.E.M at the Mall” by Peter Stavros

Texas

“Bitter Melon Soup” by Rob Linné 

A Summer, A Fall

by Wes Blake

In July, of the only summer I lived on Mary-Anne Drive in Morganfield, Kentucky, a friend of mine, Zach, asked me to go to vacation bible school. His family went to the big Baptist church on Morgan Street—the one with the swinging fire escape stairs, which my buddy Todd and I always swung up and down until it soared high, carrying us up with it, fingers clinging tight to rust-scented iron, catching that flying feeling, ready to let go and run down the alley and grab up our bikes as soon as we heard the minister’s voice yelling out. I said yes, hoping that I might get a chance to meet some girls during that summer of 1992. I hadn’t seen Whitney since school let out, and had started to feel hopeless about the whole situation— without something to look forward to, or hope for.

Since it wasn’t my church, I felt less pressure to be good. Also, on some level that I may have not have been aware of, I felt a distrust towards churches that were brand new and too big. This Baptist church was huge. Its building was brand new, too. Everybody went there. Maybe because my parents hadn’t chosen to go there, I felt that there was something not quite right or completely honorable about the church.

During the first Bible Study class, the first morning of vacation bible school, I couldn’t help but tell a joke to my buddy, Zach. He laughed. And I laughed harder. The youth minister gave me a mean look. So, I tried harder not to laugh. Which only made me laugh more. I covered my face with my hands, looked down at my shoes and the floor, wrung my hands together, tried not to laugh. Laughed anyway. This went on, in different variations for twenty minutes. I was asked to step outside.

The youth minister stepped out to talk to me. We stood in the Baptist church basement beside the countertop, which divided us from the small dark kitchen. He explained that, if I wanted to stay, I would have to be serious and stop causing trouble. It bothered me that his first recourse was to kick me out. Right away, I didn’t like this youth minister or this church.

Before lunch, we went up to the huge sanctuary to sing. We sang hymns. I sat in the third row. Crystal French, a girl I had a crush on in the fifth grade, before meeting Whitney, was sitting in the row beside me. I tried to make an impression. I decided that since I didn’t like the youth minister or the church that I’d just have fun anyway. So, I decided to crawl under all the pews to the back of the room—all the way to the big door at the front of the church, and walk out. I belly crawled under the pews like a soldier, ’til I got to the back door, stood up, and walked out. Without looking back. I didn’t even crouch. That was the trick. You had to act confident like you weren’t doing anything wrong. You had to believe it in some way, or no one else would. I walked through the church parking lot on Morgan Street, back around, into the side door entrance, and made my way back to the sanctuary. I walked in like I was confused about where I was.

The youth minister stopped everybody from singing, and raised his voice at me. “Where have you been?” he said.

“I was trying to find the bathroom. Is it back there?” I pointed behind the pulpit.

Everyone laughed. His face turned red. “Come with me,” he almost yelled. I could hear everyone laughing in the sanctuary behind me as I followed him. I smiled, but looked away, so he couldn’t see. Once we were out of the sanctuary, he explained that I would have to leave and that I was not welcome here. I should not come back tomorrow.

I said, “OK,” flatly. I could tell this surprised him and made him angrier. I’m sure he expected me to be upset or scared, and beg to be able to stay. Or at least to come back tomorrow.

“Should we call your mother to pick you up?”

“I can walk.”

“I assure you I will call and explain this to your parents.”

“Thank you,” I said flatly and turned to walk out.

I walked up Morgan Street on the broken sidewalks that rose and fell at absurd steep angles like there’d just been an earthquake. I had to watch the ground closely, so that I wouldn’t trip when a new square of sidewalk jutted at a forty-five degree angle. I walked under big trees, and I liked their shade. They made it cooler.

I wondered if I had gone too far earlier. I didn’t really care. I could tell right away that the youth minister was a jerk. I didn’t like him at all. I had known people just like him in other places that I’d lived. I never wanted to go back to that stupid church anyway. I smiled as I thought of everyone laughing behind me as I walked out, and the youth minister’s face turning red. I walked by Todd’s house, on the opposite side of the street. It didn’t look like anyone was home. I was ready for school to start back again. I was ready for fall.

***

Morganfield, Kentucky, in recent years

School started back again. Seventh grade was better than sixth. We weren’t the smallest kids in school. We knew what to expect. As October began, people started talking about the Corn Festival. Todd and I had plans to hang out at his dad’s furniture store, helping them a bit, and being free to wander around some. We’d probably have lunch at the cafe next door with his grandmother. Every fall, this was the big event in downtown Morganfield. A couple years ago, I had helped build a float with the Boy Scout troop that my dad led. Troop 27. Me, my dad, Billy, and Zach designed and built the float the two weekends leading up to corn festival. Then, we had rode it down Morgan Street, standing up, moving slow, wearing our stiff beige button up shirts, merit badges, and wool green pants, waving, throwing candy corn to people standing along the tree-root-cracked sidewalks. I was glad I didn’t have to do that again this year. I had quit the Boy Scouts after the parade, after passing the requirements for Tender Foot. I had wanted to stay and work my way to Eagle Scout, like my dad. I liked the Boy Scout Handbook—the survival techniques, rope tying, helpful images to identify trees, poison ivy, birds, fire-starting methods, and the emphasis on friendship. But, we had a vote for scout troop leader. And I had lost. And I didn’t like the boy who won. So, I quit.

I looked forward to the Corn Festival this year. I had talked to Whitney Drury a couple times this year already. She had come over to Todd’s house one Saturday afternoon, with her mom, and played pool with me and Todd, in the basement. I had even made a joke that she laughed at. I knew she would be at a booth down the road from the furniture store. The booth was for some club she was in at school.

As the weekend of the Corn Festival approached I had something new to think about when I couldn’t sleep. I thought of all the ways that I could finally win Whitney over. I’d have to be brave. I thought of all the things I could say. I thought of what she’d be wearing. How she’d smile at me. I thought of how I could invite her to lunch with us. Just about every night that week I had a worse time than normal—not sleeping. Except, this time, all my thoughts were about what would happen at the Corn Festival with Whitney.

I stayed over at Todd’s place the Friday night before the Corn Festival. We woke up early. Todd’s dad took us with him to B&H. I liked the smell of Todd’s dad’s cigarette smoke as it mixed with the cold fall morning air and faint exhaust from the white diesel delivery truck.

We sat on stools at the long counter, arms resting on the cool metal counter top, watching the thin burgers frying on the long black iron griddle, steam rising off, and listening to the sound of crackling grease. Every square inch of the small trailer by the train tracks—that was B&H—was filled with the delicious smell of frying Angus ground-chuck. The cook slid our white plates in front of us. The burgers steaming and the buns becoming damp with grease. We made short work of our burgers—burning our mouths and going back for another bite right away.

And we hopped back in the truck, headed for the store. I felt nervous as we pulled up to park at the loading dock in the back of the building. I wondered if Todd’s cousin, Whitney, might be helping out with the store today. I imagined inventing some reason to talk to her as she stood at the counter, running her hand through her fine dark brown hair. There was no reason to believe this was even a possibility. She’d never helped at the store, as far as I knew. It was just a distant, absurd, far-reaching hope.

Me and Todd helped his dad move a kitchen set out onto the wide, cracked sidewalk out front. Todd’s grandmother followed us, instructing us where exactly to place the chairs, table, and coffee table. She had the voice of a long time smoker. Just like my grandmother. The only difference being that my grandmother grew up in a small town in eastern Kentucky, and she’d grown up in a small town in the western part of the state. She had lived alone since her husband – Todd’s dad’s dad – died years ago. Todd and I used to stay overnight with her sometimes. She let us stay up late. We sat in the living room playing cards with her. She was really nice to me. She treated me like I was her grandson, too. She took us to lunch at the cafe all the time. After we moved the tables to her liking, she stood at the edge of the sidewalk, door to the store open, smoking a long cigarette and pondering the placement.

“Bobby,” she said. “Don’t you think we should move the table closer to the building?”

“Whatever you want, Mom,” Bobby said. “Just tell me where you want them.” He looked back at his mother, waiting. You could tell Bobby didn’t mind moving the tables around more. He really didn’t.

It got closer to nine, and the people started showing up. Cars and trucks lining up in the parking lot behind the furniture store. I kept inventing reasons to leave the counter, where everyone stood around talking, to go out front and check if Whitney was around. She wasn’t. I asked Todd if he knew where her booth would be. He said he had no idea. I didn’t ask him about her often because he’d get mad if I talked about her too much.

The crowd grew. People filled the streets and sidewalks. Todd and I hung out in the back storage room for a while to dodge out on doing work. Then we wandered down the road a bit. People were still setting up booths. It got close to noon. Todd and I went and got lunch with his grandmother at the cafe down the road from the store. This was our tradition. We sat at the table with her and her friend. Todd and I ordered cheeseburgers, again. Todd’s grandmother’s friend’s hand shook all the time, and every time she picked up her glass of milk I thought she would spill it. Me and Todd drank cherry cokes out of straws poked through lidded styrofoam cups, and tried not to make each other laugh too much.

It was almost time for the parade. I started to feel anxious. Nervous. I started pacing back and forth down the sidewalk in front of the furniture store. I hadn’t seen Whitney all day. And it was so crowded now, I worried I wouldn’t see her at all. I didn’t even know exactly where her booth would be. Now, Todd and I sat at an iron white table out front of the furniture store. We drank at our refilled, styrofoam-cupped cherry Cokes, straws creaking as we moved them to our mouths. We sat and watched the parade go by.

“Are you done with your Coke, you stupid gas ass?” Todd yelled at me, over the sound of the crowd and music from the floats. I had been distracted, wondering where Whitney was.

I nodded. He took it and carried it inside the store to the trash can. As the parade wound down to its end, the floats further apart, I felt more nervous. Alone for a moment, I had more time to think directly. I had to find Whitney before everything ended. I saw the last float headed towards me. I had an empty feeling. I heard the door swing shut as it closed behind Todd.

“That’s the last float. Want to walk around?” I said.

“In a minute.”

We walked down Morgan Street. I led the way. “Let’s go down this way,” I said, when we reached the next intersection. We hadn’t gone down that direction yet. We walked down the road. I looked carefully at the booths ahead of us, looking for her. I barely gave enough attention to what was in front of me.

Then, I saw her. Her head was turned to the side, but I could tell it was her. Her short brown hair falling down in a slight curl, just over her shoulder. She stood behind the FFA table. She wore a light-tan Pocahontas-style dress, with ruffles and a turquoise necklace. The light tan dress made her eyes look pretty. It drew their darker brown color out. I tried to think of something to say to her. There were people crowded around the booth.

“Why don’t you take a picture,” Todd said.

“Very funny.” I walked up the road a bit, past Whitney’s booth. “Want to get a Coke?” I said, stopping in the road.

“We just had one.”

“That’s right.” I tried to think of something to say to Whitney. Maybe I should wait until the booth gets less crowded. I looked around, trying to find any reason to stay here for a while. Until the right moment to talk to Whitney. When the crowd cleared a little. When I thought of the right thing to say. A few minutes went by like this. We couldn’t stand here anymore. There were still a few people around Whitney’s table. She brushed her hair back behind her ear with her fingers. I sighed. She looked too pretty. I didn’t have the courage to talk to her. I was making excuses before. I knew. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready.

“Want to head back?” I looked back to Todd, having accepted my defeat.

“Sure,” Todd said.

I almost turned back to talk to her, as we walked past her booth. But I didn’t. I would come back this road a half hour later, but she’d be gone. I had missed my chance, if there had been a chance at all. At least missed my chance of trying to create a chance.

I walked back to the store the final time that day, quiet. I didn’t want to talk. Todd sensed it. He was quiet, too.

——