Summary: Who has the last laugh?
Word Count: 1170
“Can I come?”
“Please.” The voice was soft and pleading.
“Why not?” The voice had become petulant.
“You know why. Don’t be silly!”
“I don’t know why! Just because…”
“Dangit, you know you can’t come with us. It wouldn’t be right.”
“Humph! You’re just being mean ’cause you know I haven’t got a horse, Joe Cartwright.”
“Am not! You know you can’t come swimming with us, Sally Lynn. You’re a girl!” Little Joe spit the last three words from his mouth
“It ain’t like you got anything I ain’t seen. I’ve got three brothers.” Sally Lynn’s lips twisted into a wicked grin. “If you’re that worried, just keep your drawers on.”
“NO!” Little Joe’s face had flushed beet-red with anger and embarrassment. He looked at Mitch and waited for him to speak up. When the teacher had unexpectedly announced that school would be dismissed two hours early, the two friends had decided it would be the perfect time to sneak up to the lake for a real swim. Unfortunately they had voiced this opinion within earshot of the one female who would actually think she should be invited along.
Seeing Joe’s look, Mitch declared, “You heard Little Joe. You can’t go, Sally Lynn.”
Sally Lynn frowned at the two boys. Sometimes she wondered why she considered them friends, but then they were the only other ten-year-olds in school. “You two just wait. If you don’t take me along, you’ll be sorry.”
The two boys snorted their dismissal in unison and strode off. Sally Lynn chewed her bottom lip and thought. Then her eyes lit up, and she dashed off.
“Joe,” Mitch called to his friend as they rode toward the lake. “Seeing as Adam told you to come straight home ’cause you have extra chores from that prank ya played on Hoss, if Sally Lynn tells…”
“Sally Lynn don’t know about that, she ain’t going to be seeing Adam, and ‘sides, Sally Lynn may be a girl, but she’s no tattletale.”
“No, but I’m in trouble with my ma too, and if she did tell…”
“Has she ever told?” Little Joe demanded.
“Well, no, but she said…” Mitch’s voice had taken on a whiny tone.
“You want to go back and get her?” Little Joe sputtered. “Do ya want to take her swimming?”
“Then quit going on about it.” Little Joe drove his heels into his pony’s flanks and raced away.
The water was cold, but the sun shined down, and the two boys were soon enjoying themselves with enough energy to keep from shivering. When they tired, they pulled themselves up onto a sun-warmed boulder that jutted from the water’s edge. Panting, they stretched out and grew still letting warmth soak into them from both sides. Then they heard it floating on the air, the trilling sound of feminine giggles. They bolted upright eyes searching in every direction for the source of the sound. The sound grew into gales of laughter. The two boys looked at each other and then dived back into the lake. When they surfaced, treading water and searching the shoreline, they saw two figures appear. Not only Sally Lynn but also Lissa Cradder stood on the shore. Each girl’s arms were full of familiar clothes. Little Joe felt his cheeks grow hot above the chill of the lake.
“SALLY LYNN! Just wait. I’m gonna… I’m gonna…” Little Joe’s anger was at full boil.
Sally Lynn shook her finger at him, “Now, now, Joe, it’s not like you would hit a girl.” Sally Lynn’s emphasis on the last word said that if she had to suffer the indignities of being female, she intended to reap the benefits as well.
Little Joe cursed. Sally Lynn was right. No matter what, a Cartwright would never hit a girl.
Sally Lynn turned to her companion. “Lissa, what do you’d think we should do with these? You think people would have enough sense not to leave their things just lying about.”
“Sally Lynn, you both set those clothes down and get,” Little Joe ordered desperately.
Mitch decided on a different tack. “Please. Please put them down and go away.”
“I said please, Mitch, and you still said no.” Sally Lynn turned to Lissa, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, don’t you think?”
“Absolutely!” Lissa had been the brunt of several Little Joe pranks and was thrilled to be getting some payback of her own.
Sally Lynn turned her eyes toward the sky. “Times getting on, Lissa,” she announced loudly, “We’d best be heading home.”
“We wouldn’t want to be late,” Lissa agreed, and both girls turned their backs to the lake.
Thoughts of walking into the yard naked flashed in Little Joe’s mind. “Leave our clothes, please, leave our clothes.”
The girls turned and then gave each other a questioning look. Lissa said softly, “The church picnic.”
Sally Lynn, Lissa, and half a dozen other girls had born the brunt of Little Joe’s sense of humor at the last church picnic.
“Be glad that horse theft is a hanging crime, or we’d take your ponies as well.” She announced with satisfaction. Then both girls turned on their heels and began walking away.
Little Joe made a quick decision. It wasn’t like there was anything the girls hadn’t already seen, and he sure was’t going home to Adam without his clothes. “Come on,” he shouted to Mitch. Mitch was three seconds behind him as they roared out of the lake.
They did not manage to lay a hand on the girls, but Sally Lynn and Lissa did drop most of the clothes in their arms before scrambling onto Lissa’s horse and racing toward home. The two boys quickly gathered what had been dropped and regained their modesty. When Little Joe set his head down on his pillow that night, he gave a sigh of relief. Adam was none the wiser, Sally Lynn had had her revenge, and like he had said before she was not a tattletale.
Ben Cartwright hurried to lead his family down the church aisle to their accustomed pew. They were late due to Little Joe’s usual reluctance to rise, and the first hymn was about to be sung. Turning to usher his sons to their seats, he saw something sitting on the pew where his youngest usually sat. He reached over and picked up the folded cloth. As it fell from its folds, Ben Cartwright found himself holding a pair of his son’s cotton drawers with a note pinned to the seat. “Little Joe, Thought you would want these back. ” glared at him in flowing, black script.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright!” echoed through the sanctuary. A roar of laughter followed. Finding he had not died on the spot, Little Joe did the only thing left and raced out the door. When Ben caught him, he told the truth. What else was there to do?