Home > Spring Fever(6)

Spring Fever(6)
Mary Kay Andrews

Pokey’s daddy, who’d played butler and head waiter at the party, had been delighted at Annajane’s enthusiasm for the family product, and he had gladly replaced that first empty soda bottle with two more bottles in quick succession.

When the party was over, each girl in attendance was given a huge goodie bag containing a full-sized Cabbage Patch doll, a monogrammed grosgrain ribbon hair bow, and yet another bottle of Quixie cola, this one with a special commemorative label that said: IN CELEBRATION OF POKEY BAYLESS’S FIFTH BIRTHDAY. A VERY SPECIAL DAY.

Even at five, Annajane knew better than to share all the details of the party menu with her mama. She hid the commemorative bottle of Quixie at the bottom of her toy box, and two hours after she got home from the party, still wearing her treasured silver tiara and feather boa, she found herself crouched over the commode, silently retching up the contraband soft drink.

But the upset stomach did nothing to dim Annajane’s enthusiasm for Quixie, or for her new best friend, Pokey, who’d earned the nickname because she’d been born nearly two weeks after Sallie’s due date.

Pokey was as blond and fair-skinned and round as Annajane was dark and skinny. To Ruth Hudgens’s consternation, the girls became inseparable, alternating sleepovers at each other’s house nearly every weekend. Ruth never said a word to Annajane against Pokey—how could she? Silly, sunny-natured, fair-haired Pokey was the golden child everybody—even Ruth, against her will, loved.

As for Sallie Bayless, she was always cordial to Pokey’s best friend, but as Annajane grew older, she came to realize that she would never measure up to Sallie’s standards. Not as a friend, and certainly never as a daughter-in-law.

At the Bayless house, Pokey’s brother Davis was an annoying constant in the girl’s lives, bossing, teasing, and tormenting the girls until they would retreat, in tears, to Annajane’s house, out of his reach. Annajane heard a lot about Mason, the adored oldest brother, who was four years older than Pokey, but she saw him rarely. Mason went to boarding school in Virginia and spent summer vacations sailing and water-skiing at Camp Seagull on the coast. According to Pokey, Mason was very near to a saint. He was the hero who stood up for her against Davis, whipped everybody at every sport, and, during summer vacations, when the family spent a month at their house at Wrightsville Beach, took her fishing and taught her to play spades.

On the handful of occasions when she’d been around Mason as a kid, Annajane had been so tongue-tied in his presence that she was sure they’d never even exchanged more than a “hey-howyadoin?”

Every summer, the Baylesses would invite Annajane to join them for their August trip to the beach, and every summer, Ruth would refuse to let her go. Sallie Bayless would write Ruth Hudgens a polite note on her pale blue engraved stationery, and when that didn’t work, Pokey’s father, Mr. Glenn Bayless, would seek out Annajane’s stepfather, Leonard, at the plant, clap him on the back, and declare loudly, “Now, Leonard, my daughter Pokey is fussin’ and fumin’ at me because y’all won’t let your little Annajane come to the beach with us. It’d sure give me some rest if you could do without her for a week or so.”

But Leonard had his orders. “I’m sorry, Mr. Bayless,” he’d say firmly. “But August is when we get together up in the mountains with Annajane’s grandma and aunts and uncles. I’d have the whole family down on my neck if I messed with the family reunion.”

So every summer, Annajane obediently joined her mother’s relatives in a crowded, damp mountain cabin on a dirt road, where the relatives played cards and listened to gospel music and the cousins slept on pallets on the porch, played endless games of Clue, and griped about the lack of television.

Finally, miraculously, the summer when Annajane was fifteen, Ruth announced that they would not be going to the mountains. Her sister and brother-in-law had sold the cabin and were moving to Florida and taking Annajane’s grandma with them.

Annajane was on the phone with Pokey moments later. “Guess what?” she said breathlessly. “No more stinkin’ mountains for me! I’ve got the whole summer to do whatever I want!”

“Guess what else?” Pokey countered. “Daddy says he’ll give us jobs at the plant this summer, if we want. Real jobs! With name badges and paychecks and everything.”

“No way!” Annajane squealed with delight. “Our own money. No more babysitting for me.”

The Monday after school was out found Annajane reporting to the Quixie front office, where Voncile, Glenn Bayless’s assistant, seemed surprised to see her.

“Mr. Bayless has a job for me,” Annajane said quietly. “Pokey said so.”

“Of course,” Voncile had said, smiling and leafing through some papers on her desktop. Growing up, Annajane and Pokey had always had the run of the Quixie plant. Voncile looked up at Annajane, standing there in the neatly pressed plaid dress Ruth had sewn just for this occasion. “Where is Miss Pokey this morning?”

“Oh. I thought she’d be here already,” Annajane said, her spirits sinking. Pokey had promised to meet her at the plant at nine sharp.

“Well. Do you know how to type?”

“Yes ma’am,” Annajane said proudly. “Forty-five words a minute.”

“Wonderful,” Voncile said. She ushered Annajane into a tiny windowless office not far from the reception room. A long table and two folding metal chairs were in the center of the room, and an enormous canvas mail bin sat beside the table, where a computer had been set up. A large plastic tub held boxes of business-sized white envelopes, and a smaller one held glossy Quixie coupons.

“Here we go,” Voncile said. She gestured at the mail bin. “Are you familiar with our Quixie Quickie summer promotion?”

“I don’t think so,” Annajane replied, trying not to giggle.

Voncile picked up a bulky padded envelope and ripped it open. Five distinctive red and green Quixie screwtop bottle caps tumbled out. Voncile swept them into the trash with one hand, and extracted a piece of paper from the envelope.

“This,” she said, waving the slip of paper, “is what we’re after. We’ve asked Quixie lovers to mail in five bottle caps, along with their name and mailing address, for a chance to win one of those.” She gestured to a row of gleaming red Coleman coolers against the far wall. Each of the coolers was printed with the oval Quixie logo, the one with the Quixie Pixie, leaning against a Quixie bottle, smiling and winking impishly.

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