Busted Axle Road
Chapter 67: August, 1987

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

Something had changed, Josh realized as he looked out the window from the fireman's seat of the Rock. It was subtle, but it had changed, and he was sure of it.

Things hadn't been quite the same among Marsha and Danny and Amy and himself since the night the week before, out at West Turtle Lake. He and Amy had stayed in the water of the lake for a long time, still hugging and kissing until their feet got cold. Afterwards, they'd wound up on the sand of the little bay, sitting and hugging, and eventually they got cold enough to get their clothes on, more for warmth, than anything else, both of them wondering what was going on in the back seat of the Chevette, and neither of them wanting to bring the subject up.

The way that Danny and Marsha had burst out of the Chevette, with clothing in disarray and a cry of, "All right, let's go swimming," hadn't told them a thing, and neither had the way the two had snuggled in the back seat, all the way back to Spearfish Lake. Amy had ridden back, with Josh's arm around her, but it was a different Amy, a little more distant. It was a different Danny, a different Marsha -- and a different Josh, as well, he realized.

"God, it would have been so easy," he said to himself over the roar of the Rock's diesel, so softly that only he could hear his words in his mind. For the thousandth time, he went over his decision in his mind. Half the time, he knew he'd done the right thing, and half the time, he kicked himself for turning down the opportunity, but the deed was done -- or undone, actually, but somehow, he knew there would be no turning back.

Still, he couldn't help but wonder what had happened in the back seat of the Chevette. Danny wasn't saying, and Marsha wasn't either. Josh had tried to lead Danny into some discussion, some hint, maybe half a dozen times, but Danny wasn't taking the bait. The only hint that Josh was getting was that Danny and Marsha seemed closer than ever, but that was hardly proof.

"You're pretty quiet over there today," Bud said from the throttle. It wasn't the first run Josh had made with Bud, even though Bud tried to leave himself off of the schedule whenever possible. Sometimes, in the summer, it wasn't always possible. "How's football practice going?"

"Just drills this week," Josh said, dragging himself away from his thoughts about his friends. "We break out the pads Monday."

"How's it looking?" Bud asked.

"Pretty good, so far," Josh said. "We scrimmage against Warsaw the end of next week, and we'll have a better idea then."

"You're a running back, right?"

"Yeah," Josh told him. "The only thing is, I don't expect I'll play a lot. They brought me up from JVs last year, but I pretty much was on the bench. They've still got a lot of senior backs, so I don't expect there'll be a lot of room for me this year, either."

"I keep forgetting you're only a junior," Bud said. "You planning on playing football in college?"

"Not unless I get an athletic scholarship," Josh replied over the roar of the engine. He hadn't thought it out that far, but now that it was said, at least that much made sense. "In fact, I'm not real sure I'm going to go to college."

"I never made it," Bud said. "Back in my day, they weren't quite as liberal with scholarships as they are today. So, I joined the army right after I got out of high school. Had to get away from the grocery business. Well, let me tell you, after a year in Vietnam, the grocery business looked pretty darn good. I stayed with it until this railroad thing came up. It worked out all right."

"I'm just not real sure I want to go to college," Josh replied.

"They been letting you run these things?" Bud asked.

"A bit," Josh said. "Dad and John have let me run them some, and Diane let me take a load of empties from Camden up to Pit the other day."

"Well, then, there's no reason why you can't run this thing while I go hit the head," Bud said. "There's no crossings or anything for the next ten minutes or so, but keep an eye out for deer." He got up from his seat, and Josh moved over to the engineer position.

It was the first time he'd actually been running the motor alone. Every time before, his dad or John or Bruce or Diane had been right next to him. Even though the Rock was lumbering along about 25, lightly loaded, it was a thrill to be able to run it by himself, even more thrilling than when Mark had let him harness up three dogs and take them out by himself.

Bud was back in a couple of minutes. Josh started to get up, but Bud settled into the fireman's seat. "Go ahead and run it for a while," Bud told him. "I learned back during the Warsaw fire how important it is to have all the brakemen know how to run the motors, even if it's just a little bit. John was just a brakeman then, but he saved our butts."

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