Things changed for Tayla on Saturday evening of the 1959 Labor Day weekend—one of the few weekends when she wasn’t working. It was a little after six. She was sitting under an old umbrella in front of the Neel family’s dilapidated trailer, sipping lemonade and trying to keep cool.
Jimmy Keller, the neighbor family’s sixteen-year-old son, was an athlete—one of the best in town. Although Southern Baptist, he had been recruited by St. Gregory’s Catholic Boys High School, which was located on Mackenzie’s far southeastern edge—the opposite side of town from Tayla’s. Jimmy’s down-and-out, single-mom family had no car. So a fellow athlete, Jack, who was from the neighborhood near St. Ann’s where Tayla had lived before her mother died, was dropping Jimmy off this day, after their late-afternoon football practice.
“Tayla? Is that you?” Jack asked loudly in surprise. His name was really “Jacques”—he was French Canadian. But n Mackenzie he went by “Jack.” Instead of heading home for his supper, Jack came over and sat down beside Tayla, not waiting for an invitation. “Got any more lemonade? I’m dying of thirst. ... Haven’t seen you since your mother died. I’m real sorry about that.”
Tayla wasn’t shy, but she didn’t know how to talk to young men. She had no idea what to say to Jack or what to talk about, so she smiled and sat in silence. He was fascinated. The girls he went around with never stopped talking and never ceased trying to find ways to impress him and get his attention—he was one of St. Gregory’s star track-and-field athletes and had a nice car. Those girls were preoccupied with their clothes, hair styles and perfume.
In total contrast, Tayla, who out of habit was wearing her green chicken-processor work uniform, sat in silence. She was looking off at the evening sunset, watching the stars starting to come out. To her surprise, Jack followed suit. This corner of Mackenzie was the quietest part of town. The Golden Spread was at the end of the last dead-end road in that God-forsaken part of town.
Jack relaxed and started watching what Tayla was watching—the ending of the colorful West Texas sunset, followed by the stars at night that were so big and bright.
Jack was unaware that Tayla’s father was in the trailer, passed out on his couch-bed from his latest bottle of vodka, and that her little brother was watching the one channel their second-hand TV could get, keeping the volume down low so that his father wouldn’t wake up and beat him for waking him up. And Jack had no idea that this was one of the few Saturday nights when Tayla wouldn’t be working until midnight. This being the Labor Day weekend, the processing plant was closed.
Tayla was shocked and again didn’t know what to do or say, when after about an hour Jack reached over and held her hand as they watched the stars. The sunset was long gone. She was fifteen, had never been kissed and had never given it a thought. No time.
In the mornings, she looked at herself in the mirror only long enough to make sure she didn’t have anything on her face that wasn’t supposed to be there. She never gave a thought to how she looked or to whether she was pretty or not. No time for that.
Now, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jack admiring her. She knew that all he could see was her profile, but apparently that was enough. Finally—it was already almost ten and he had been there since six—Jack got up, bent down, and gave Tayla a gentle kiss on her forehead, whispering, “Good night.” This was the only thing he had said in the last four hours! He then went strolling to his car, got in, started the motor and disappeared into the night.
Tayla couldn’t move for another hour, thinking about Jack. The only thing she said to herself, as she at last got up and went to bed, was, “I wonder if he’ll come back.” She had seen him before, picking up and dropping off Jimmy, but this was the first time Jack had recognized her and had come over to sit down beside her.
“I wonder if he’ll come back?” Tayla said to herself again, but this time in the form of a question. It took her several hours to fall asleep. “I hope he comes back,” she prayed aloud as she at last dozed off. She fell asleep with her hand on the spot on her forehead where Jack had kissed her.