I sure was glad all the fellows had already left with Papa marched me out of that camper, his hand gripped so hard on my arm I had the bruises to show for it. Once in the clear, he herded me home like a goose. I didn't dare look back to see his dark face; I hadn't ever known him to be so mad. Already the muscles in my butt were quivering; I knew it was just bound to be the worst whipping I'd ever taken at his hand.
He didn't say word one until we were home. I walked into the living room - cleaned up spick and span before I left that morning, I want you to know - and stood waiting.
"Turn around," he said.
I turned around. He looked at me. His eyes were just furious. He kept his voice low and mean, like he didn't dare let it get out of control.
"For better than a week, I been hearing all these fellows talking about this pretty girl who'll do It with anybody for a quarter." He stopped, breathing hard. "So today, when I made up my mind I could use me a little piece of nooky my own self, being a widow-man and all, what do I find? My own sweet daughter. My own and onliest daughter, taking on all comers for two bits a throw."
He stopped talking to wipe his face with the flat of his big hand. I didn't say anything. He took a step toward me, causing me to flinch in spite of myself.
"How long has this been going on?" he said.
I didn't say anything.
He reached out to take hold of my arm again. "I asked you a question, girl."
I didn't say anything.
His face got like a thundercloud. He jerked me closer, his other hand rising to slap the tar out of me. But he didn't hit me. Not yet.
Instead he said, "What have you done with the money? Just frittered it away, I reckon, on pretties and doodads."
I didn't aim for a minute to let him think that. "I ain't," I cried out. "I ain't spent the first quarter. I've been a-saving it."
It stopped him. Then he said, "Where is it? I want to see it."
I figured he was trying to catch me out in a lie, and once he did, he'd just cut loose. So I marched into the bedroom, Papa following, and showed him the fruit jars. I tell you, there was a peculiar look to his face as he hefted the weighty jars filled to the brim with those fine quarters. One by one he spilled out the coins onto the bed, taking his time about it. There was a pretty pile of quarters, too, let me tell you, when he had emptied the last one.
His voice was quiet, even thoughtful. "Well. It looks like you've been working steady for some time."
"Yes, sir," I said proudly. "I ain't the one to brag, but let a fellow come once, he's bound to bring me another quarter every chance he can get."
I must have said just exactly the wrong thing. It made him rear back on his hind legs, more furious than ever. With both hands, he reached down to grab up a double handful of the quarters and fling them down onto the bedspread again. One of the coins bounced to the floor and rolled all the way into a corner, where it circled three times, making a thin, ringing sound, before falling over plop on its side.
"God Almighty, girl," he said. "If you just had the sense God give a goose, every one of them two bits might just as well be a dollar bill."
I stared at the pile of silver, thinking how if it was dollars instead. Doubtfully I shook my head. "A dollar is right much, Papa."
Oh, he got madder than a wet hen. "Take off your dress and look at yourself," he roared at me.
"Papa!" I said.
"Do like I said!" he yelled. "Damn it, or I'll . . ."
Now, I had there in the bedroom and old pier glass Papa had found once in a junkyard heap and brought home as a Christmas present. So I did like I was told, and stood looking at myself in the wavy glass.
He came up behind me. "Girl, there ain't a man in the world wouldn't pay a dollar for the chance to handle a pretty piece like that there," he said. "Now, ain't that the living truth?"
I looked upon myself, my pretty white hair and big blue eyes, that shade of blue I hadn't ever seen on anybody except my mama - I remembered, then, that the poetry-reading fellow had told me, once, they were Delft blue, a shade of color they use in pottery over across the big ocean, he said - and then at my breasts and my belly and my legs. I was ever just a pocket-piece of a girl, so tiny, but size didn't matter, it was all there, and all ripe. I had even got to looking better from all the fucking I had been doing, because it's good for a girl's looks as long as she don't overdo It.
I had to admit it to myself; Papa was right. It was worth a dollar to have the using of a pretty girl like me. And here I had been practically giving It away. I hadn't set my sights high enough, it was plain to see.
Papa put one hand to my shoulder, pulling me back close against him. He wasn't mad anymore. I could tell that right away.
"Girl, it just breaks your poor old Papa's heart," he said. "If you don't have a right sense of your own worth, won't nobody else have it, either. A woman's got to hold herself proud, to my way of thinking. Give It away for a quarter, then you ain't nothing but a two-bit piece of tail. That's the plain and simple truth, as I see it."
"I'm ashamed, Papa," I said, hanging my head. "I'm downright ashamed."
He held me closer. "That's what comes from going out headstrong on your own, without asking the advice of them what knows you and loves you," he said. "I could have told you right from scratch that you were worth a lot more than any old two bits. If you had only thought to ask me."
"I'm sorry, Papa," I said. I was sorry, too. It could have been a pile of dollar bills there on the bed, just as easy as anything.
"Then you won't do it no more?"
"I promise," I said, heartfelt. "I promise, Papa. From now on, I'll count myself at my true worth."
"All right. I'm glad to hear it. But just to teach you a lesson you won't forget, I aim to take charge of this change you've accumulated."
"Papa!" I said despairingly.
It wasn't no use, as I well knew; he was scooping up the money by the double handfuls and pouring it back into the fruit jars. It just broke my heart; made me mad, too, to think of all those long hot afternoons when I had been sharecropping for quarters down there at the artesian well. But there wasn't a thing to be done about it. When Papa made up his mind about something, there wasn't nothing else to be said. I'd never lay eyes again on one cent of all that hard-earned cash.
Done, he straightened to look at me, a different look coming into his face. I realized then that I was naked still, so upset about the money I hadn't taken thought as yet about putting on my clothes.
His two hands went to the buckles of his overalls. He said, "Lay down there on the bed."
I just stared. Here it was still broad open daylight, and he hadn't had the first drink of liquor. Even so, I reckon I wouldn't have had the nerve to deny him if I hadn't been hurt and heartbroken and mad as a wet hen about the money.
"No," I said.
He was still shucking off his overalls. "If any man in the county can have a the using of you, I reckon I can, too," he said. "I told you already, I came where you was with nooky on my mind."
I glared at him. "I don't do It without getting paid."
He had his answer to that. Putting his hand into his pocket, he took out a quarter - I reckon it was the same two bits he had saved up during the week to bring to the artesian well - and threw it on the bed. "There. Now lay your ass on George Washington's head and let's get on with It."
I stood without moving. "You just got through telling me it was worth all of a dollar."
I don't know what it was. Maybe it was just that he didn't have a dollar to his name - not counting the quarters in the fruit jars, I mean. Be that as it may, he stared for a long minute, his face showing blacker and blacker; then he turned on his heel and stalked stiff-legged out of the room. I had won.
Of course, when I got dressed and came forth to start supper, I saw that he was-sitting out on the front porch in a straight chair tilted back against the wall, staring into nothing and nipping at his jug of piney-woods rotgut. So I knew full well that, come good dark, he'd do his druthers.
Which is how it happened. He ate his supper, not saying word one, and went back to his jug. After washing up the supper dishes, I went to bed and just laid there, not able to go to sleep because I knew he was coming. Then, all of a sudden, he was there in the dark, with that awful smell of liquor on his breath, and I want you to know, he nearly used me up for good that night. It just seemed like he never would quit; every time his nasty old Thing lost it, it found it again right away and started all over, until he got to the point where he couldn't lose it anymore, but couldn't quit either, till I got to feeling like a hundred men had trotted their old Things through my pussy one after the other. When he finally did quit, for the first time I could remember he didn't cry a teardrop - which only showed, I reckon, how things had changed between us. He didn't offer to pay me a thin dime, either.
Next morning at breakfast, he still didn't have nothing to say. Only, when he took his lunch bucket and started for work, he stopped to say, "Remember what you promised me, girl."
"Yes, sir," I said. "I won't forget."
I was just a little bit afraid, when I saw the fellows waiting at the artesian well, about what I had to tell them. My stomach grabbed at itself as I stood thinking: What if they all just laugh out loud and walk off? What then?
But it wouldn't do to go home tonight and tell Papa I had been afraid to ask for a dollar bill instead of a two-bit piece. So I said, keeping my voice as steady as I could, "Fellows, before we get started, I've got to tell you something. From now on, it's going to cost you a dollar apiece."
The lean, mean fellow that always worked me so hard on account of his roughness said, "That's a pretty good raise, ain't it?"
I felt suddenly, I don't know exactly why, just all-fired sure of myself. So I switched my ass as him and said, "If It ain't worth it, then good-bye and farewell." I walked to the camper and climbed in.
I didn't have long to wait. I hadn't taken the time to let them know who was privileged to come first. It was the lean and mean fellow that showed himself in the doorway, a dollar bill in his hand. To tell the truth, though I'm not dead sure about it because I hadn't been able to look them straight in the face whilst I was letting them know about the higher tariff, I don't think a single one quit on me. That's how easy it was.
But I've got to tell you, even with the dollar bills coming in, life wasn't nearly as sweet as it had been. Papa was the reason.
Every day when he came home from work, the first thing he had to know was how much money I had fetched home from the artesian well. Taking the bills in hand, he'd count them one by one, licking his thumb and forefinger between each number. Then he'd wad them up like so much scrap paper, shove them into his pocket, and tell me to fix supper, he was so starved he could eat a broiled bobcat.
Yes, sir. Right then and there, I learned something else about menfolk. They ain't a one of 'em, I don't believe, won't take money offen a woman, given the chance. Oh, he was doing good by me, according to his lights; every day he'd let me keep a dollar for my very own. Now, wasn't that nice of him?
So there I was, working harder than ever, and earning my rightful due, too. But no matter how hard I worked, however much I pleased my fellows, I couldn't make myself no more than a dollar a day. I might as well have been picking cotton.
It was not only that Papa was taking and using my money. Every night he'd tackle his liquor jug, and then he'd tackle me. It seemed like, once the damn had let go, he couldn't get enough of his pretty pocket-piece, as he so often called me when feeling loving and tender about his little girl. And Lord, did he ever think of paying his dues? You bet your life he didn't.
I put up with it for the longest time because I didn't know what to do about it. But then he got to talking about quitting his job in the pulpwood, which just put my teeth on edge. When he did quit, he spent his days laying around the house in clean overalls picking his teeth and waiting for me to bring home to his greedy pocket my daily earnings.
I put up with it a lot longer than he had any right to expect. After all, he was my papa. But the day he started to get suspicious that I was holding out on him, it put the icing on the cake. He'd take the money and count it; then he'd look at me out of the corner of his eyes to say, "Is that all?"
"Yes, sir," I'd say. "Every last dollar."
"Girl, don't lie to me."
"I ain't lying, Papa," I'd say. But all the time I knew he was finding it hard to believe me. When I wasn't telling him nothing but the God's truth.
He couldn't get it out of his mind that I was keeping a few dollars on the sly. But finally he got it worked out how to handle the problem, so he said one day, "I don't see why you have to go traipsing off down there to the artesian well every day, when you could carry on your business right here at home in the finest style." He waited a minute to see if I'd remark to that. I didn't, so he went on. "I'll tell you what. You just let them fellows know that they can come on up here to the house from now on. I'll even lay in some beer and stuff to enjoy whilst they're waiting their turn."
I just looked at him, this man that had got me into the world. I knew full well what it was he had in mind. He meant to collect them dollar bills into his own hand. I'd never even get to touch one.
So I looked at him and I lied in my teeth. "That's a good idea, Papa. I'll have my own little room, won't I? It won't be so hot as down there at the artesian well."
He was so pleased. "I might even put you in an air-conditioning," he said, smiling. "Soon as I can afford it, anyway. Of course, we'd have to put in the electric first. So you just tell them they'll be welcome here any time of the day or night."
"Yes, sir," I thought to myself, "and I'll be flat of my back day and night, whilst you walk around in clean overalls and count your money."
"Yes, sir," I said. "I'll be sure and tell them."
I went into my bedroom for a minute; then I took off down the road to the artesian well. I didn't even look back as I went.
Now, as it happened, there was a very fine fellow there that day named Frank who drove a great big semi from Florida to New York on a regular run, hauling citrus. To see me, he only had to swing a hundred miles or so out of his way. I was pleased to see Frank, because, like most truckers, he was easy to get along with, though he couldn't last hardly long enough to get it in, to tell the dog's truth on him. But he'd drive all that extra distance to enjoy his half a minute or so, and was always so nice and kind about it, too, claiming it wasn't a usual problem but he just couldn't help thinking about me too hard whilst getting there.
I saved Frank till last. I accepted his dollar, let him take his shortcut home, and then, while he was putting on his clothes, I said, "Frank, think you could give a girl a ride?"
"He was surprised. "Where you going?"
"I just smiled and said sweetly, "Why, wherever you're going, Frank."
He couldn't believe his good fortune. His face got all lit up with pleasure, and he put his hands on me, lifting me to my feet and hugging my nakedness.
"God, girl, I didn't know you felt that way about me. I'll show you how to make love, all right. I won't be like I've always been with you. I'll . . ."
I kissed him, but more to hold back his enthusiasm than to encourage it. "We'd better get going, hadn't we?" I said. I laughed. "I'm running away from home, and you sure don't want Papa taking out after you, not if you can help it."
He hustled, then, so in less than a minute we were rolling down the road toward the big highway, me riding shotgun in the roomy, air-conditioned cab of that great big semi, watching Frank push it through all those complicated gears until he had the rig up to speed.
So that was how I come to leave the country where I was born and raised. I wasn't carrying anything with me but the one pretty pair of underpants I owned, made out of nylon instead of flour sacking, because I figured a girl on the road would need at least a change of drawers. It didn't worry my head none that, otherwise, I was leaving empty-handed. I had myself, didn't I? . . . And I had come to know my worth. I felt just as sure as anything that I could make my way in the cold world - at least, as long as some durn-fool man didn't take a notion he was entitled to the dollars I had managed to earn by the sweat of my brow.
By the time it come sundown, we were a good ways along. I reckon Frank was still uneasy about Papa, though, because he kept on driving even after I had remarked two or three times that I was getting pretty hungry and sleepy. It must have been ten o'clock before he pulled into a truck stop for the night.
He maneuvered the semi all the way around to the back. "I'll have to sort of sneak you in," Frank explained. "I'm not sure how the fellow who runs this place might feel about a girl on the premises."
"I was hoping we'd spend the night in a motel," I said. Not ever having done that, I had been counting on it.
He didn't answer to that, just got down on his side and looked carefully around before saying, "Come on. Hurry, now."
We went through the back door into a long corridor, lined on each side with numbered doors. Frank found an empty room, hurried me inside, and closed the door safe behind us.
It was just a tiny room, more like a closet than any place to sleep, the pineboard walls bare except for a girlie calendar that was a couple of years too old to be of use to a mortal soul - I looked at the naked girl, and she didn't have half of what I had got, and was so proud of it - and two narrow bunks, one on top of the other, covered with army blankets. There was two thin towels hanging on a wall rack, but no bathroom as far as I could see.
"Where does a body go to the toilet around here?" I asked.
"It's down the hall," he said. "Hot showers and everything."
"Well, I don't aim to go to no bathroom with all these men around," I said. I could hear them laughing and talking far off through the thin walls.
"I'll take care of that problem," Frank said impatiently. He wanted to put his hands on me, I could tell, and he didn't want to think about anything but doing It. "I guess I'd better go check in . . . he'll have seen the rig pull in. You stay right here until I get back . . . won't be more than a minute."
He went away, and I sat down on the lower bunk to wait. He was back in no time, as promised, and I stood up, ready to talk about when and where we were going to eat, when he said, "Now, by God!" and grabbed holt.
Well, when a man's got It on his mind, a girl might as well forget about supper. So I let him have the handling of me, which he did passionately, first feeling me up and then taking off my dress and bra and pants. I giggled and squirmed whilst he did so, which lit his fire just like I thought it would, so that he pushed me down on the hairy blanket, shucked off his breeches like he had found a lighted cigarette in them, and started crawling on top of me.
"What about my dollar?" I said, holding him off with one hand.
"Damn it," he said. "You wanted to run away with me, didn't you? I thought . . ."
"I don't care what you thought," I said. "I get a dollar right on."
Now, that's a man for you. He was so hot bothered that he didn't know what to do with himself. Still, he wanted to argue about the price.
"But you're traveling with me," he said. "I've got you to feed, ain't I, as well as transport? I'm entitled to what I want, when I want It. It's only fair."
"Fair or not fair, I don't do It unless'n I get paid." I swung my legs to put my feet to the floor. "Come on, Frank, let's eat. I'm starving to death."
Angrily he picked up his pants and found a dollar bill. He wadded it up and threw it at me. It hit me on the breast and dropped between my naked legs. But I didn't care; I just picked it up and smoothed it out and said sweetly, "Come on, Frank, show me what you can do."
He had bragged beforehand. But, shoot, the minute he was astraddle of me, he shoved once and was done with It. He groaned, laying on me cussing at himself. I held him tenderly as long as he'd let me. Which wasn't long.
"That wasn't worth a thin dime," he said bitterly, sitting up on the side of the bunk
"Not my fault," I said, as mad now as he had been before about the money. "I can't help it if you can't last long enough to let a girl do her thing."
Looking at him then, I softened inside. After all, he had been nice about helping me leave home, hadn't he? The minute I had let him know I had it in mind to travel, he had taken me up on it. Besides, I knew full well that a mean streak in me had made me giggle and squirm, knowing that when he got too hot he'd pop like a Chinese firecracker.
So I said, "you lay down there, Frank, let me do you some good."
The bunk was so cramped, I had to get all the way out before he could get in. Once he was all set, I curled myself inside his legs and took his old Thing in hand, holding up the limpness so I could tickle it with my tongue. Which perked up interest, let me tell you. Then I took it gently between my lips, nursing it nicely, and pretty soon that old Thing was nigh about as ready as it had ever been.
I got to my knees and told him, "Let me take care of everything. You just lie there and enjoy It."
Which I did.. And he did. Oh, I tell you, I gave him the best of little old me, just to let him know I was grateful for the ride. I slipped myself down over him and moved just as easy and delicate and nice as a girl can move, and all the time I was watching his face, so that when he looked like getting too excited, I'd ease off.
In that way of doing, I held him on the edge for so long I was driving him up the wall. Finally, of course, he fell over the edge for good and all, and knowing it was now or never, I fucked him to a fare-thee-well, plunging and twisting at the same time, and when he started coming, he didn't know how to stop.
Gone now, all gone and feeling just fine, he reached up with both arms to grab me down on top of him. "Oh, God, girl, oh, God," he kept saying, holding my head with both hands and kissing me all over the face.
"Was it worth the dollar, then?" I whispered into his ear.
"A dollar?" he said. "It was worth a thousand dollars, if a fellow had it. Ten thousand."
Gratified, I kissed him on my own free will; I guess I had showed him, hadn't I, not to put a girl down by telling her it wasn't worth a thin dime, when it was all his very own fault?
I got up and started putting on my clothes, telling him, "I don't know about you, but I'm going to get something to eat."
He sat up and reached for his pants. "You can't go up there to the restaurant," he said. "I'll have to bring you a hamburger."
"With french fries and a Coke," I said. "Make it two hamburgers."
He went out. I sat there alone, waiting for him to come back. After a while I decided he must have got hungry, too, being fucked so nice, and was taking a meal before he bothered to fetch my food.
Well, all right, if he wanted to be so selfishhearted about it; seemed to me like he could have done it the other way around. I waited awhile longer, but then I got to thinking about needing to go the bathroom. I eased the door open and looked up and down the hallway. Empty. I walked down it, not the way we had come, but the other, and pushed open a door.
I was looking for the bathroom, but what I had found was a nice big room all outfitted with couches and chairs and a color television set, which two or three fellows were watching Bonanza on, whilst six or seven others were playing blackjack and drinking beer around a big circular table. Just a homey place, it looked like, with nobody but good friends using it.
"Hello, fellows," I said.
The sound of a woman's voice sure did startle them. Even the fellows watching the TV turned around, while at the blackjack table the play stopped entirely.
The dealer, instead of turning the next card, stood up. "Well! Where did you come from?"
I laughed. "Frank brought me. You all know Frank, don't you?"
"Yeah, we know Frank," the dealer said. He started to laugh. "Or maybe we just thought we did. I never figured he was all that talented a fellow, to travel with a pretty girl like you."
"It's not that the's traveling with me. I'm traveling with him," I said, laughing at the sharpness of his wit. I do like a witty fellow; it seems like the sharper a man is in his mind, the better he is at doing It. "Can you tell a girl where she can find a bathroom?"
"Right in there," he said, pointing to another door.
"Anybody in there?" I asked. "I ain't accustomed to using the toilet along with the menfolks."
"I don't think so. But I'll see."
He disappeared, to return in a minute with another man. "It's all yours," he assured me.
I went on, and it was just the nicest place you can imagine - four or five wash bowls, with mirrors and lights over them, and three or four johns, each one in its own separateness, and three shower stalls. So I did my business, even to the extent, since I had found a nice dry towel, of taking myself a shower in the hottest water I'd ever enjoyed - I had to bathe out of a washtub at home - and then I combed my hair and put on fresh lipstick.
The minute I appeared, everything stopped in the common room. They every one watched as I walked across the floor. I stopped at the door to look at them again, one by one.
Smiling, I said, "I'm done there in number twelve, in case somebody wants to give a girl a little company."
"What about Frank?" the dealer said.
I frowned. "He left, seems like an hour ago, to get me a hamburger and some french fries. I reckon he must of got lost."
I went on. But I hadn't no more than got in the room and turned around than the dealer was standing in the doorway, a silly grin on his face. I looked at him. He was a nice fellow even with the grin, husky in the shoulders and lean in the hips, though he looked to be nigh about as old as my papa.
"Is It on the house?" he asked, still grinning.
"There ain't nothing on the house around here," I said. "It's going to cost you a dollar."
He didn't hesitate. "All right. Take it off and get in there," and he was already getting naked his own self.
Now, here was a man who knew what a woman's all about. He wasn't in no great big hurry, like so many. No, sir. He took his own sweet time, and in his way he was loving about it, putting his hand between my legs and his mouth on my left nipple and making me feel so warm and good I could have eaten him up with a spoon. These truckers, let me tell you, are something else, though there's a mean one here and there. Which I suppose is true of any bunch of men.
He had me nigh about as interested as he was, even though we were cramped together in that narrow bunk, and when he slid his old Thing into me, I let him know how proud I was to have it there. I do like to see the change in a man's eyes when he first knows what he's let himself in for.
So we started. But Lord, it did come to a screeching halt! All of a sudden there was a bellow of sound, the dealer was snatched up off of me, and another roar of sound as Frank hauled me off the bunk, stood me on my feet, and slapped me halfway across the room.
Which got the dealer mad. He come up fighting and knocked Frank down with one hard lick, then went for him with his boots, which he still had on. Frank grabbed his ankle, twisted him down, and there they were fighting and cussing and just making a terrible racket with the way they rolled around on the floor, thumping and banging against the walls. People were running in the hallway outside, the door slamming open to show their clustered faces.
Didn't nobody make the first move to stop the fight; they just wanted to see it, that was all. I reckon they figured it was a private argument. Some hollered for Frank, but most hollered for the dealer, who seemed to be a popular sort of fellow. Let me tell you, I was on the side of the dealer because of Frank slapping me like that when he didn't have no right. I could feel the bruise on the side of my face, hot and aching and beginning to puff. I sure hoped I wouldn't have a black eye. A girl really looks like she's been into it when she's sporting a black eye.
Frank and the dealer fought it to where they were just wore out with each other. They got to their feet, glaring still but both ready to quit. They were bleeding from scratches and cuts all over their faces. I do believe, though, Frank had got the worst of it.
He was still as mad as a wet hen, glaring at the dealer's nakedness, except for the ankle boots. "By God, I'll cut you down to size, Bob, taking up with a fellow's woman while his back is turned."
"Now, wait a minute," I said. "I ain't nobody's woman."
Frank whirled on me. "You keep your mouth shut. As long as you're traveling with me, what I say goes."
I looked at the fellows crowded in the doorway. I looked at the dealer, Bob. Then I looked at Frank. "Just because I rode in your truck don't mean you own me," I said. "You paid your dollar, and you got your rocks off. That's all I owed you, so I reckon you're paid up in full. And you didn't even bring me my hamburgers and french fries, either."
I looked down on the floor then and saw where he had dropped my supper the minute he had seen Bob on top of me having his good time. All their rolling around on the floor had abused those burgers something terrible.
Frank didn't have nerve enough to answer to the truth I had told him. He looked to the fellows instead saying, "Get on out of here, all of you. It's between me and her, and I reckon I can take care of her."
Well, I had answer for that. I just smiled at those nice men and said, "I wish you all would run Frank out of my room. I don't aim to get beat up no more." I laughed and wiggled my naked butt. "Besides, maybe some of you lonesome menfolk might want to entertain a girl yourself sometime during the night."
At that, two or three men came on into the room, ready to do my bidding. They got close around Frank, sort of hovering on their toes, one saying, "Damn a man that'll hit a woman, anyway." Frank looked from one to the other, knowing that he had got caught on the short end of the seesaw for sure this time.
Bob started laughing, throwing back his head. Everybody looked at him, he was so happy with his thought.
"Looks like I'm the one ought to stay," he said. "After all, I got some unfinished business to tend to." He turned to me, smiling, his eyes bright on my naked body. "I promise I won't take up much more than an hour of your time."
"Bob has got the dead right of it," I told them. "He was interrupted mightly rudely just when we got to the interesting part."
That's how the scuffle was settled. They hustled Frank out of the room - he didn't like it, but there wasn't much he could do about it - and then all left except Bob. Both still naked, we started in just like it was the very beginning, and I felt so good about him coming to my defense after Frank had slapped me halfway across the room. I just gave him everything I had, and then some more. It was considerably longer than an hour before he left, promising for sure to bring me something to eat.
But I tell you, I couldn't hardly find the time to satisfy my appetite. He had hardly disappeared before the next fellow stood in the doorway, dollar bill in his hand. After that, another. Then a third, before I could catch my breath and sit on the side of the bunk filling myself up with hamburgers and Coke and french fries.
Those truck-driving fellows were just as nice as could be. One brought a hot towel to hold against my cheek, hoping to take out the swelling enough to save me from a black eye. He tended me good, too, coming in between the customers with a towel freshly hotted each time. It was only when he was satisfied he had done the best he could, did he take his rightful turn.
I made twelve whole dollars that night. Which was pretty good raise for a girl who had left home only today with only one change of underpants. And the next morning I ate breakfast in the common room, fetched for me by the fellows. What a breakfast it was, too! There was pancakes and sausage and three eggs and just lots of butter and maple syrup, and a great big pot of coffee that held at least five cups, though I couldn't drink all of it.
It didn't seem like anybody was anxious to leave on the day's driving, but all sat around talking to me just as friendly as could be. Except Frank. He was sulking at another table, with not a word to say. Hadn't nobody tended his bruises, so his face was puffed and raw.
I was taking my time, enjoying myself with my friends, and feeling right to home. Finally Frank said, "For God's sake, come on. I've got to make time today."
I looked at him for the first time. "Where are you headed for, anyway, Frank?"
"New York," he said. "With a load of oranges. You know that."
I looked at the dealer, Bob. "Where you headed for, Bob?"
"Now, wait a minute," Frank said rapidly, standing up. Nobody paid him any mind.
"San Antonio," Bob said. "Running light, to pick up a load of watermelons for Chicago."
"You come here with me, you leave here with me," Frank said.
I shook my head doubtfully. "I don't know. I ain't all that anxious to go all the way up there into Yankeeland." I glanced around. "Where are you all going?"
"Now, by God, I don't aim to have this," Frank said.
Nobody paid him the least mind, but with a sort of walled-up excitement, told me, one after the other. I had my choices, all right, from New York to San Francisco. I looked again to Bob.
"I think I'd like to see San Antonio," I said with a slow smile. "Can I ride with you, Bob?"
"Any old time," he said happily. "Ready to roll when you are."
"Now, you don't aim to act mean on me like Frank here did last night?" I warned him.
"Far as I'm concerned, you're a girl in your own right," he said. He grinned. "Just hope you'll keep on taking my dollars, too."
I stood up. "Now, there's a man after my own heart." I looked around. "Hope to see you fellows again somewheres. You've been just as nice as a girl could expect."
Frank had gathered himself up to have his last say. "You come with me, you leave with me," he said. "That's all there is to it."
I looked at him. "I think these friends of mine might have something to say about that."
"You whoring bitch," he said.
"He's getting mean on me again," I complained.
Two or three fellows stood up. Frank looked at them. His eye switched back to me. He was mad, all right. There was hurt in his face I didn't like to see. He had really believed that, out of all the fellows back there at home trying to get me to go somewhere with them, I had picked him.
I guess it don't hurt none for a man to think well of himself. So, going to him, I patted Frank on the cheek. "Frank," I told him, "don't be that way. It may be we'll cross trails again. All you've got to do is have your dollar in your hand. I promise you."
Which somewhat mollified his pride. But still he went on out so he wouldn't have to witness me leaving by my new transportation.
Now, I want you to know that for better than a year I traveled all over America from truck stop to truck stop in those great big semis, and it was just the best time a girl could even hope to have. Those truck drivers were just the nicest people you could get to know. They'd sneak me into the sleeping quarters, they'd bring me food and anything else I wanted, and all the time I was making money hand over fist; which, for safety's sake, following the advice of a nice older man, I made over into traveler's checks every once in a while. Because I didn't have hardly any expenses to speak of, my purse got more and more stuffed with those little books of safety checks, to the point where I got to feeling right down rich.
I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for a cross-country truck driver, because they were good people to have on your side. Oh, I'd run into a meanie every once in a while, or a strange fellow that liked to do strange things, or have strange things done to him - there's more men like that in the world than a girl could imagine if she didn't know better - but always the others around were willing and able to protect me from anything real bad.
And, oh, they just did me proud. And the adventures we did have! There was the time, for instance, when a whole bunch of us got snowed in up in Colorado by a sudden April blizzard. Fifteen fellows and me. They set me up in the prettiest motel suite you ever saw, just down the road from the truck stop where they were all staying, and I had the thickest towels and hottest water and the best food - I ate in the motel restaurant, just like a lady, and of course by this time I had nice clothes and everything - and then they'd come to see me in the night, one by one, to do It with me.
Such traveling lasted more than a year, as I said - a good time I won't soon forget. It was during this time I truly learned my trade and set my rules. I wouldn't travel with any one fellow more than a few days at a time; and always, if they didn't know already - of course, I was getting to be famous nationwide, by word of mouth, and after a while nearly everybody understood how I was - I let them know right in front what they could expect and what they couldn't.
I wouldn't take on anybody who had liquor on his breath. They had to be stone-cold sober to come to me with a hot dollar in their hand. I didn't ever tell nobody why, but it was that if I smelled liquor, I couldn't help but feel like it was Papa with his thick old Thing inside of me; and there had always been something about that I just couldn't like. I reckon it was because he was the only man I had ever done It with that didn't pay me my due.
A real good life. I had my little suitcase to carry nice changes of clothes, just the one piece of luggage and my purse, so I could travel light and ready. After I had money ahead, once in a month or so I'd lay over for a couple of days in a nice motel, all by myself, during which time I'd see two movies every day, or just lay around and watch television and soak in the bathtub. But pretty soon I'd get lonesome for my friends, so I'd show up at the nearest truck stop looking for the next ride. They were always so glad to see me.
So it went until I come to my first great city, new Orleans, Louisiana. If I had known how life was going to change on me, I never would have set foot across that city line.
Or, taking the good and the bad, maybe I would have. I don't know.