Baby Ruth

Sherman White was pumping gas into his car at the pumps of the Hillsboro Big D Convenience Store and Gas Station when he heard his name being shouted. He glanced up and noticed a car with a UHAUL trailer attached to it at the next pump island. Mary Davis was leaping out of the passenger side of the car and hopping across the island to give him a hug.

"It's great to see you!" Mary laughed.

"You're leaving?" Sherman asked, gesturing toward the car.

"Back to Notre Dame, year two!" She grinned. "That's Barry, from Greenville. We're sharing the ride. He's a senior."

"I'm surprised your parents aren't taking you," Sherman remarked.

"It's John Paul's turn this year," Mary grinned. "He's off to Seton Hall tomorrow. They're taking him."

"How's Ruth?" Sherman asked.

"Better, we think," Mary said with a sigh. "They say she's in remission. Her hair's growing back. Keep praying, though."

"I will," Sherman promised.

"What are you up to?" Mary wanted to know.

"I leave for Ireland in a few days," Sherman announced.

"Ireland! Wow! That's great!"

"There's this new program I heard about through school," Sherman explained. "They work in parishes and schools across Ireland hoping to spread the Gospel and Jesus to young people."

"That sounds amazing," Mary beamed.

"It's a year-long program," he said. "We travel all over the country. Stay at people's houses. That sort of stuff."

"Thank you for doing that," Mary said earnestly. "That could be the first step to priesthood!"

"Mary, you ready?" Barry called, having finished with the gas.

She lifted her hand to acknowledge her friend. "Well, Shermmy, I guess this is goodbye," Mary sighed. "I hardly even saw you this summer."

"Things are different now," Sherman shrugged.

"That's because you and John Paul don't hang out anymore," Mary complained.

"He went to the Tech School, I stayed at the Catholic School," Sherman shrugged.

"That's really no excuse, Sherm," Mary pouted.

He shrugged indifferently.

"You should stop by and see Ruth," Mary suggested.

"Isn't she going to New Jersey?" Sherman asked with surprise.

"No, my parents think the trip will be too much for her," Mary explained. "I'm sure she'd love to see you."

"I'll try to stop by," Sherman replied.

"Thanks." She gave Sherman another hug and then she kissed him on the cheek before breaking from the embrace and heading for the car.

Sherman let out a sigh as he watched her go. They had been friends forever – the three Davis kids, in fact since they grew up in the same neighborhood. Mary and Ruth attended the Catholic School with Sherman while JP went off to the tech school mostly as a protest, Sherman believed.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis were devoutly Catholic and overly religious and they passed on those disciplines to their children. The girls didn't seem to mind and JP was the most well behaved and obedient kid in the neighborhood, almost to a fault.

But then, near the end of 8th grade, JP seemed to revolt from his upbringing and the parental rule of his household. He insisted that he be allowed to attend the tech school and he stopped serving on the altar of St. Patrick's.

Sherman and John Paul (as he was still called at home) had been pretty good friends growing up but once JP decided to start breaking the rules, drinking and acting out, Sherman stopped hanging around with the guy- mostly because he couldn't keep up. Sherman heard all sorts of wild and crazy stories about JP's partying exploits as high school progressed.

JP became a pretty good football player for Tech and he worked part time at Miller Motors so there was less opportunity and interest to keep his friendship with Sherman going.

Sherman continued to see Mary and Ruth around school and the neighborhood and their friendship remained strong. Mary was popular and well liked, smart and intelligent, personal and friendly to everybody – the kind of girl who made every guy feel like he was special.

Sherman foolishly believed he was special for a while but nothing happened between them and then Mary, a year older, was off to Notre Dame and Sherman had to endure his senior year without her.

Ruth was a year younger than Sherman, a humorous and perky kid and Sherm liked her – but in a different way than he was attracted to Mary.

Ruth had been battling a brain tumor for a year and she had missed a lot of school so Sherman hadn't seen a lot of her in recent times. He realized that he should pay the kid a visit before heading overseas.

Sherman let out a sigh as he climbed into his car and headed home. He quit his job at the Baxter Box Company a few days earlier in preparation for his departure and he didn't have a whole lot to do prior to his departure except to start missing the place – and the people he had known.

Maybe he should have gone to Notre Dame instead of Ireland Then he could at least be around Mary.

Sherman considered swinging by the Gray's house to say so long to JP but then he realized there was no point. Their last conversation had been confrontational – JP giving Sherman a hard time about still serving on the altar at St. Patrick's even though he was about to graduate from high school.

"You should have graduated yourself from all that stupid Church stuff a long time ago," JP said.

They had bumped into each other at the hospital not long after Ruth's latest surgery. Sherman was surprised that JP was bitter and dismissive regarding their religion given his sister's ill-health.

"Do you want to go into the chapel and pray?" Sherman offered.

JP looked at him as if he had just suggested they jumped into a volcano crater. "I can pray anywhere, anytime," he snapped. "Stop being brainwashed by this crap and start thinking for yourself."

"I'm thinking about your sister right now," Sherman countered.

"Yeah?" JP asked snidely. "Which one?"

Sherman realized that day that he and JP no longer had anything in common and that their friendship had dried up. To put it bluntly, JP was now an asshole and there wasn't any point in attempting to resurrect the old days.

Sherman figured he'd wait JP out – eventually, John Paul would return to his senses and his roots and stop behaving like a jerk once he grew up and figured out the meaning of life.

Sherman drove home thinking about Ruth by default. Mary was on her way to Notre Dame. JP was on his way to Seton Hall. Ruth was the only Davis left!