Lissa pushed damp strands of hair out of her eyes and resettled her straw hat. It was only about nine o’clock in the morning but her legs already felt like crumbling, her calf muscles shaking when she stood still for too long. The June sun beamed down relentlessly as she and her Family shoved and yanked their handcart through the scrub. When Pa Shannon called for a break, she chanced a look backward to see how far behind them the Schwartz Family had gotten. Their handcart was lumbering around a bend in the trail--partly hidden by pine trees, but she had a clear view of Justin as he braced his arms against the side of the handcart, trying to lever it past a mass of tree roots.
His arms…Lissa leaned against her handcart and mopped at her upper lip. His sleeves were rolled up past the elbow, his olive skin turning even darker in the sun. He was so cute, and he had a huge testimony; he’d borne it during the testimony meeting before they set off two days before. She hadn’t borne her testimony in ages; she felt guilty just thinking about it. She thought maybe he’d looked at her during the fireside last night, but then one of the girls in his Family had whispered something to him and they’d laughed together. Lissa frowned. Sara was way prettier than her and petite—her long blonde hair stayed smooth in its French braid even in the brutal humidity—and somehow she was managing to make even their dowdy pioneer duds look fashionable.
Lissa smoothed her apron and went to fill her tin cup with water from the cooler.
They came to a reasonably sized canal a few hours later and halted with the other eight Families. The Leaders That Be had bad news: the bridge a few hundred yards to the north was out and they would all be taking the ferry across the twenty feet or so of water. Slowly the handcarts loaded on, two at a time. Lissa stood with her siblings and watched as the first few went across. Finally it was their turn, along with the Schwartz Family. Lissa tried to ignore the fact that Justin stood mere feet away and grasped the handcart rail while the ferry hove off.
And promptly sank. As her head hit the water, Lissa thought perhaps the catastrophe could be attributed to the girth of Pa Schwartz, a man of redoubtable faith and significant size. But she couldn’t feel that the whole shebang was a bad thing—even the brackish canal water felt wonderfully fresh on her baked skin. Someone was thrashing in the water nearby and nearly kicked her in the head. She swerved sideways and came up beneath a handcart. That was no good. Cursing the long skirt and bloomers dragging her down, she shoved off and toward the bank.
Hands grabbed her, yanking her up from the water. A face was close to hers: olive-skinned and dark-eyed, black curls plastered against his forehead. “Lissa, are you ok?”
He was even cuter up close. How was that possible? People were supposed to be less perfect up close where you could see all their pores and zits and flaws. She herself was acutely aware of her sunburned nose. “Yeah, uh, I’m on the varsity swim team. At school.” Was she blushing or was it just the darned sun?
He laughed sheepishly. “Oh, I didn’t know that. Sorry.”
“No, it’s ok,” Lissa burst out. Duh, of course he didn’t know that, they went to different schools, how could he have known that? He hadn’t let go of her shoulders yet. They knelt together in the muck, knees touching. His fingers felt like brands. She knew without looking that her blue button-up blouse was stuck to her chest—her currently-unprotected-by-a-lined-bra chest—and her face burned hotter. As if on cue his eyes darted downward, then up again. He jerked his hands away from her shoulders.
“Oh, there you are!” Ma Shannon came bustling up, wringing out her bonnet. “Lissa, we were worried! How did you get all the way over here?”
Lissa started to say, “I swam,” but Ma Shannon steamrollered over her. “Justin, did you help her out of the water? Thank you so much.”
Justin nodded awkwardly. “No problem. Uh, I gotta go see if I can find my hat. I think I lost it in the water somewhere.”
He loped off. Lissa forced herself not to stare at his butt. Ma Shannon placed an arm around her shoulders and nattered their way back to the handcart.