Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Seventy-Four

Chapter 74

January 21st – Being pregnant means I’m going to have to change a lot more than I bargained for. I mean I kind of knew it in an academic way but the reality is a lot harder for me to swallow than I ever thought it would be, what little I had thought about it up to this point. And it’s not just that. I guess nothing stays the same. It just seems that things are getting to a point that the … the … I guess you would call it the dynamics of our little community of people is changing.

Some people are better than they were, some people worse. The people that had it going on before still have it going on but seem to be expanding and even taking advantage of the way things are now. The people that were barely holding on before for whatever reason seem to have lost their grip and are sliding further down, sometimes fast, sometimes bit by bit. The straight up people are even straighter and the crazy people are even crazier. Things are getting even more exaggerated than they were before and I’m not exactly sure why. Either way, nothing is standing still; you either move or you get run over.

After the hospital and the wheelchair I became a lot more attached to my personal space and I didn’t like people touching me without my permission … and I rarely gave my permission that’s for sure. For a while, once I got here I was even worse. All I wanted was to be left alone. But living on Sparkleberry Ranch and having more room and lots less people to interact with I’d gotten used to, with only a few exceptions, having as much space from people as I wanted or needed. I haven’t had to really fight for my space the way I had to before. I can limit the amount of time that I have to be around other people. Even with as much time as Rand and I spend together I still have plenty of room, enough that when we are together I more than welcome the attention he gives me, even crave it sometimes. In fact, Rand has become my one real point of human contact. He’s the only person that I trust without reserve, without question. The Swap Meet reminded me all over again why I’m not a people person. It forced me to remember and realize a lot of things.

I won’t even get into the belly rubbing or patting thing that people have a fetish for. I was at least a little prepared, or at least not as surprised, after what I had to put up with at the last church service. What I hadn’t counted on was having to leash my own temper and way of doing things, not that I did much of that. Thinking about it makes me wonder if I’ve changed as much as I thought I had … and if I’m even capable of changing. Or maybe I’m even worse than I used to be. It makes me wonder what kind of Mom I’m going to be.

Yesterday morning was good. I was only nauseous, not outright sick, and it didn’t last long. I could help with morning chores and that made me feel even better, like I was pulling my load and not being such a burden to Rand. I wonder when I'm going to feel like that again? He never has complained but I can tell a difference in how tired he is at the end of the day when he has to do his work and mine too, even if it is only part of my chores. I don't know what we are going to do now.

Since we weren’t sure how long we would stay at the swap meet, while breakfast was cooking I also fried up some fruit pies and put some bread, pickles, butter, and jam in a picnic basket for us to snack on in case we stayed beyond lunch. Rand threw some hay into the back of the wagon and I hid the basket and a couple of jugs of water under it to keep from having to carry it around with me.

We would have taken the surrey but Rand wanted the wagon just in case. I would have preferred the sprung and padded seat of the surrey but you can’t have everything. Besides, we took Woofer with us. Poor thing was confused when we put a rope on him and he acted like he was in trouble for some reason. But when he realized he was going to get to ride in the wagon with us he perked right up and got doggy happy all over again. It wasn’t quite like riding down the road in a car with the window open but he seemed to enjoy it just the same.

We weren’t the first people to arrive at the park but we weren’t the last either. The difference lay mostly in the fact that we weren’t setting up a table or blanket, we were just there to look and get a feel for what was going on with everyone else and according to the way Rand phrased it “get a peek at the future,” though I’m not quite sure what he meant by that. I can guess but I don’t think it bothers me as much as it seems to bother him, or at least not the same way. The only thing that really bothers me is in how the way things are – and my part in them – bother Rand. I hadn’t had as much time to invest in any particular future as he had. I was also more used to my future plans being sent on a roller coaster ride that was out of my control. I think it makes a difference in how we think about things. But we have enough in common that at times, despite coming at things from different points of view, we still wind up in nearly the same place.

A good example is Woofer. We both thought it was a good idea to bring Woofer along and let him get used to people being again. When other people beside Rand and I are at Sparkleberry Ranch he gets a bit wild … and not in a good or playful way. He’s fine if we keep him by our side but we can’t let him away from us because if someone makes the wrong move he goes all wooly wolf and lunges at them. People only though, he’s fine with animals which is the only reason Rand thinks that he is reconditionable or retrainable or whatever you call it.

We were both thinking protection, just not in the same way. I was thinking that Woofer could be tied to the wagon and be a guard dog and protect things. Woofer is no longer the scrawny half puppy he used to be; he’s bigger and all muscle though he is still a bit scruffy looking. His fur doesn’t behave any better than Rand’s hair does.

“Rand, this rope … is it long enough for Woofer? I don’t want him to get hung up on it.”

“The rope is plenty long.”

Thinking a bit I asked, “Are you going to tie him to the wagon wheel? That still won’t give him much room to move.”

“Nope.”

Getting confused I asked, “Well then where are you going to tie him?”

“Not going to.”

“You’re not? But Rand, the wagon and mules are … humph … you said Woofer was coming along to protect our most valuable asset. How’s he going to do that running around? What if he gets distracted?”

“He’s not going to be running around and, he sure isn’t going to get distracted. I said Woofer was going to be protecting my most valuable asset.”

OK, at that point I could have let my feelings get hurt but knew Rand couldn’t possibly mean what it sounded like he was saying. Rand isn’t selfish about the wagon and mules and he is about the only one that it doesn’t take work for me to keep my mouth closed around so I can keep my foot out of it. Instead I just looked at him waiting for him to clarify what he meant. And boy howdy … that was some clarification when it came.

He looked at me, picked up the rope that was tied around Woofer’s collar and then wrapped the free end around my hand. “Woofer … guard!” Then he tilted my chin back and kissed me square on the lips for everyone and God to see. I was so stunned that not even the whistles and cheers coming from Hoss and Bradley who had arrived with several of Mr. Henderson’s other men broke off what I was concentrating on.

“Kiri, the world could burn down around me for all I care. You … you and the baby … you are the most valuable thing on Earth to me, my greatest asset. So I’m asking you … nicely as I can … if you find yourself in a scrape of some kind to let Woofer do his job. OK?”

I was still uncrossing my eyes from that kiss so all that I could squeak out was, “OK.”

Suddenly a voice from behind me says, “Jeezly crow Joiner, you brought that dang crazy dog with you.”

“Yup.”

“All you have to say is ‘yup’?” Hoss asked incredulously.

“Yup.”

“Well I’ll be son … let’s hope people got smarts enough to give Kiri a wide berth. Blasted animal could take down a Brahma bull by itself, or give it a good shot anyway.”

Hoss did a double step backwards when Woofer turned to look at him and give him a doggy grin. Rand said I grinned too which is why Hoss took two steps and not just one. “Woofer, behave. Hoss is a friend. Friend, you hear? We don’t eat our friends. Well, not often. Hoss, let him smell your hand.”

“Kiri, I know I ain’t the sharpest crayon in the box but ain’t no way I’m gonna stick my hand down at that dog’s mouth. I saw what he did to Bradley’s pant leg when he jump off that fence and accidentally knocked into Rand.”

I said, “Aw, don’t hold that against him Hoss. He hadn’t been with us long and he didn’t really mean it.”

Bradley came up at that point and said, “Hang fire if he didn’t. But I don’t hold it against him none. Good guard dogs are worth their weight in gold and then some. Ain’t that right pooch. You’re a good dog you are. You get a little older I know a pretty little hound that I want to introduce you to. Her looks and your disposition should make one heck of a litter.”

OK, that was enough for me. It’s like birth and rebirth and the stuff that gets you there is about all that is on people’s minds these days, I couldn’t escape it.

I can’t tell the number of times that I nearly tripped over Woofer while we were at the swap meet. He didn’t twine between my legs as bad as Fraidy but my goodness, sometimes he could just sit right on my feet so that I couldn’t go anywhere. Mostly that would only happen if there was a clump of people in front of us. A few times he drug me in a direction I hadn’t intended on going but for the most part I guess we made out OK. I was glad to have him a few times when strange men got a little closer than strictly necessary.

I saw Mrs. Withrow sitting at a table under a tree with some other ladies that looked familiar. I told Rand where I was going and then headed across the still fairly empty field to say hello. She pointed to where Brendon and Jonathon and the boys were unloading two wagons.

“Good suggestion child. People have been taking things off so fast that the boys just about haven’t had to do anything but stand back. That’s a load off my mind and Josiah and his wife now have room to bring in the things they had stored out in his daddy’s barn and make the house their own. I do have some more things that I want Rand to come pick up but I do believe after today everything else should be settled.”

I told her that I would let Rand know but Woofer was getting a little restless so we moved on. I heard someone call my name and turned to keep Woofer close when I saw Pastor Ken walking towards me. “Oh … hello Woofer. Do you mind if I have a word with your mistress?”

Woofer has finally come to terms with Ken coming over to the house. I wouldn’t call him friendly to Ken but he doesn’t get near as bent out of shape with him as he does with everyone else. Basically all Ken wanted to know was how I was feeling and if I’d had anymore pains. I had, but not bad ones.

“Still mild?”

“Pretty much. You said to keep an eye on them and I am. Mostly it just happens when I turn to the right too fast. If I watch what I’m doing then it isn’t really noticeable much.”

“Hmmm. That’s a lot of qualifiers in there. If it gets worse, even if it is just a little, I want to know about it.” Then he went on to visit with a few men I recognized from the Amen pew.

“What did Ken want?” Rand asked making me jump since I hadn’t heard him come up behind me.

“Huh? Oh, he was just asking how I was feeling,” I answered wondering how much Rand had heard.

“Why? Haven’t you been feeling all right?”

“Geez Louise, Rand. I’m fine. I’m really, really, really fine. Ken was just doing his job. I made it to the short list of people that he plans on checking on regularly. I wish you wouldn’t act like I’m going to break at any second. It makes me feel bad, like I’m a burden or something.”

“Sorry Babe. I’m trying. But … you would tell me if there was a problem, right?”

“Rand, there is no problem. I’m not made of spun sugar, I won’t dissolve with no warning. I promise I feel fine.”

“That’s not exactly what I asked but I guess it’ll have to do. Have you been to any of the booths yet?”

We hadn’t been there long and there were already more than twice as many people and booths as when we had arrived; I hadn’t noticed until then since I was standing in the middle. I realized I needed to start paying better attention to what was going on around me, like I used to. I was getting out of habits that I needed and getting into habits that I could do without. What happened later only reinforced that realization.

Right as we were about to start walking around Rand got called over by a group of men. I saw he was eager to go and told him I didn’t need a babysitter and to go be with his friends. Took me a few tries but I finally convinced him.

It was still brisk and I was glad of the coat I was wearing and Woofer who was leaning against my legs. “Ok, since you won’t let me go that way dog, which way will you let me walk your majesty?”

Woofer started taking me for a walk towards the less busy booths. The crazy dog wouldn’t let me get too close but I at least got a look at what was at the different tables. I saw knitted items; braided rugs; sandal-like shoes made from tires; shredded plastic bags that had been woven or crocheted into other items; plastic or aluminum squares that had been crocheted together to make carriers, hats and lots of other things; empty cans that had been snipped and bent into useful objects like lanterns and storage containers; empty juice envelopes that had been sewn together to make useful items. There were lots of items that people obviously brought from their own homes like clothes, small furniture items, hangers, wire, nails, tools, etc. Someone had even made a bunch of toys from wood.

There were also tables with food items like dried corn – both kernel and whole cob, venison jerky, dried beans – mostly soy and black eyed, some dried pears and blackberries, and a cooler with fresh fish swimming just enough to stay alive a while longer. There were several tables set up that were selling seedlings, of both vegetable and tree varieties.

There were also what I have started calling the “craftsmen” types. I’m sure it isn’t what some learned academic type would call the folks like that but I don’t know what else to call them; skilled laborers maybe, though most of them were way more than that. They were advertising specific skills they had and not just stuff to sell. There were metalsmiths, blacksmiths, and machinits; planters and harvesters; breeders of all types of farm animals and if they weren’t breeders they were trainers; weavers, seamstresses, and women specializing in different types of needlework. There were carpenters, roofers, and furniture makers. There were tables with leather and animal hides next to people who were cobblers and who made harness and tack for animals. There were people who could take old truck bodies and turn them into wagons. There was a man there who said he knew how to clean and repair chimneys, and if you didn’t have a fireplace his brother knew how to build one for you.

I saw Uncle George talking to several people and when I walked by I heard them bargaining for the next litter of piglets or asking him about calves or studding services. I wasn’t wading into that many men just to say hello so I kept going; didn’t really have a choice as Woofer kept pulling me along.

By the time I’d gone around twice, I wasn’t bored exactly but I’d seen everything that interested me and was looking around to see what Rand was up to. That was when I saw a knot of men over to the side well away from the booths and there was obviously a brawl going on. That’s when I heard, “A pint on Joiner.” And then, “I take that and see you two on th Gilkins boys.”

I know I promised. I know I did. Well, sorta. I said I would try. Try being the operative word. But I dare any wife or girlfriend, mother or even sister not to develop a sudden suspicion in their head and a zing in their step when they hear words similar to that.

As I walked by Uncle George I called, “Brendon! Jonathon! Clyde!”

Uncle George said, “Boys, better run and catch her. She’s on fire about something.”

“So long as it ain’t at me,” Brendon muttered grimly.

Woofer didn’t know whether to pull me faster or prevent me from going faster. I wound up grabbing him by his collar and dragging him along. He’s a dog. He’s not going to disobey a direct order from his owner even if it is the direct opposite of a previous order. Dogs are smart but few of them can really do more than give the appearance of human level reasoning. I got up to the wall of male backs and they weren’t moving even when I poked them.

I shouted, “Move!” and no one paid me any attention. The guys ran up at that point and pushed their way through. The noise on the other side only got worse and more of it. I’d finally had enough. I took the rope off Woofer’s collar and said, “Get Rand boy. Go get Rand!”

Woofer was through the legs in front of him like greased lightning and it was only seconds before I heard snapping and snarling and screams of pain. “Who’s dog is this?! Call ‘em off!!!” Other things were said as well but they aren’t worth printing for posterity.

I wasn’t satisfied until I heard Jonathon shout, “Call your dog Rand, he’s gonna tear out someone’s throat in about two seconds!!”

“Woofer! Woofer!! Heel doggone it. You’re supposed to be guarding Kiri you mangy mutt!!”

Then a guttural voice said, “I’m gonna kill me a dog and a man, two fer one.”

Of course that’s when I pointed the pistol I had already pulled out as soon as Woofer took off, aimed it at the trunk of the nearest tree and pulled the trigger. The 9 mm was awful loud but it was followed by an even louder silence in the whole swap meet.

Very carefully I spoke into the silence and said, “My Daddy always said to never pull a gun out if you weren’t absolutely prepared to use it. Would anyone like to ask me just how prepared I am right now? I’d be really happy to enlighten you. Any takers? Come on boys, I’m in the mood to demonstrate and show just out good a teacher I’ve had.”

Uncle George limped up then and said, “What in the Sam Hill is going on here?!”

Mr. Henderson in a very forbidding voice said, “I’d be interested in finding that out myself.”

The men finally parted and gave me a view of Rand still struggling up from the ground helped by Brendon and Jonathon. Blood ran from several cuts on his face, his shirt was torn, and he looked hotter than a road flare. Clyde was still going at it with some guy and there were three others that had obviously been in the brawl standing defiantly a little off to the side.

Something in me snapped, or maybe broke is a better word for it. Four. There had been four against one. There was a ringing in my ears and I could feel that numb feeling creeping over me only this time it wasn’t cold … it was hot, boiling, steaming, like I was broiling in the desert. The look on my face must have alerted Rand because he started towards me. I didn’t hear him call my name.

Everything stood out like a picture on one of those real expensive HD televisions used to. I remember thinking, “I won’t lose him too. I won’t. I won’t lose him too. I won’t …. “ over and over. I think that is why when one of the guys pulled a bowie knife I was prepared.

He lunged. Right at Rand. But before he’d taken more than a half-step the 9mm that I hadn’t holstered yet was up. I gave no warning this time. There was no mercy. I wasn’t going to be left alone, not again. One target, one bullet. I didn’t even have to think about plinking cans to steady me. I was a rock.

My gun followed the man’s body down to the ground and I was completely ready to put another bullet in him if he moved, but there was no need. The bullet, as close I had been, did so much damage to his chest that the only skills Pastor Ken needed was figuring out what he was going to say at the graveside service.

As soon as I was sure that the guy on the ground wasn’t moving then or in the future my gun came up and covered the other two guys that I considered the most immediate threat as they too had been going for weapons and heading in Rand’s directions, the other guy had just been quicker.

It felt like I was moving in slow motion. I had tunnel vision and all I saw were the threats in front of me. I didn’t even notice that one of them had wet his drawers. They say that people had been trying to calm me down but I don’t recall. They say that my face was a death mask. I’ll take that with a grain of salt since it sounds like too much of an exaggeration. They also say that it was obvious that something was wrong, that I can believe because I wasn’t really there, not mentally.

I don’t know how long I would have stood like that, or what would have happened if one of those guys had moved, but I felt Rand as he came around behind me. “Kiri. Babe. Uncle George and Mr. Henderson and some of the other men have things in hand. Come on. I’m right here. Everything’s OK.”

His hands slid down my arms and then over my hands that had a death grip on the pistol. “I’m right here Babe. Right here.”

It took everything I had to willingly soften my grip and let him take the gun. But then my heart just about burst when I realized he wasn’t putting it in his holster but tucking it back into mine. I thought, “I might be crazy, but not so crazy that he doesn’t trust me with the gun. He took the gun, but he didn’t take the gun away. We're still OK. He's still OK with me.”

As bad off as I was I still understood that. He gently turned me around and put his arms around me and whispered again in my ear, “I’m right here. It's OK.”

That’s when the heat turned to ice and I started to shake, not so other people would notice but Rand, holding me against him, felt it. He started leading me away from the knot of men that still weren’t really moving from the spot they’d gotten glued to.

For a while I was pretty foggy. They told me later the only coherent thing that came out of my mouth for about twenty minutes was, “Four. It was four against one. No. No, no, no. Not again.”

Mrs. Withrow was there when I started coming back to myself. “It’s OK honey child. Everything’s OK now.”

I was rocking back and forth. To my shame there were tears on my face. I never cried in public. Never. But here I was with tears on my face for everyone to see. I wiped my face and looked at my hand, trying to comprehend the fact that my face was wet.

“Rand. Rand?! Where’s Rand?!”

“Easy child. He’ll be right back. He’s talking to some of the elders, explaining what happened from his side of things.”

I wanted to get up and go look for him. I realized I was still a little off though because when I went to stand up things tilted and it was either sit down or fall down.

Mrs. Withrow must have signaled someone because suddenly Pastor Ken was there. “I don’t think so Kiri. Come on now. Let’s get those feet back up and I want you to stay sat. Come on now, you can humor me for a few minutes can’t you?”

I focused on him and asked, “Where’s Rand? Is he OK? Did the guy with the knife … “

“Rand is fine, or will be now that you aren’t so shocky. You scared … “

“There were four of them! Four! Four against one! How could he be OK?!” I could hear panic in my voice but I couldn’t seem to control it. Didn’t really feel like controlling it if I’m completely honest.

“Rand is tough as old shoe leather. He’s a little banged up, gonna be sore for a day or two, but he’s OK. Now hold still and be good and let me take your blood pressure again.”

Old habits die hard and Ken was my doctor as well as my Pastor. I tried to stay as calm as possible. I at least registered that if I didn’t stay calm the blood pressure reading was going to cause me trouble. I learned that in the hospital. I learned that when they came to take my blood pressure I could focus and moderate my breathing and that helped to moderate my heart beats.

“Hmmmm,” Ken said suspiciously. “Your pressure is much better but you still aren’t off the hook. I want you to lean back here and keep your feet up.”

Mrs. Withrow said, “I’ll stay with her but you better get that boy over here quick. Tell those old fools that he’s talking to that whatever they want can wait. She needs to see Rand and I mean right now.” Several other ladies that were sitting around near me nodded their heads and said, “Uh huh, Pastor … you can tell my husband for one.” “Mine too, you tell him to let that boy come over here right now.”

Thank God for Mrs. Withrow. I don’t know how she understood but she did. And the other ladies. I didn’t know how to tell them how glad I was that someone understood. I felt cold, like I would never warm up again. And part of it was that I wasn’t sorry that I had killed that man. Now, with just a little distance from what happened I’m remorseful that it came to that but I can’t even pretend that I wouldn’t do the same thing all over again if presented with the same situation. I don’t know if there is something wrong with my conscience or if it goes deeper than that. What kind of mother am I going to be?

Rand was there before I had time to worry at it any more. He gathered me up in a hug and I whispered into his chest, “I want to go home. Let’s go home Rand. Now. I just want us to go, to go home where we are safe.”

His hug tightened for a minute and then he whispered back, “We need to stay for a while longer.”

“Why? Am I in trouble? Am I … “

“Shhhhh … no … no, not that. Enough people saw what Harris was aiming to do. It’s not that. And no, I’m not in any trouble either so don’t look like that. We just need to stay for a while longer.”

“Why? Rand … “

“Babe, we’ll talk about it in a little while. OK? After things have calmed down. When we get home. Right now just … just trust me Kiri. People need to see how you feel and … Babe, just trust me. We’ll go home soon. OK?”

I did trust him and I knew that something else was going on but it was beyond me to be able to figure it out right then. So I stayed with Mrs. Withrow and the other ladies while he went away to do other things. I was upset that he would leave, go where I couldn’t see him. I knew as soon as I thought it that I was being irrational but that is the way I felt at that moment.

But it got worse, I wanted to dig a hole and crawl in. People kept coming by. I could feel them staring. Some insisted on coming around and patting me or giving me a hug. They didn’t understand that what they were doing only made me want to pull inside myself more. I had just enough sense left to know that most of them only wanted to be nice, like most of the hospital staff. They didn’t mean to rub against my psyche like coarse sandpaper. I kept hearing, “It’s going to be all right now.”

Now? It was all right before … before that Harris tried to destroy my world, to make me alone again. "Now" didn’t feel like it would ever be all right again. It was the VRC all over again. I wanted to leave. I was desperate to leave but Rand said we needed to stay and even in as bad a shape as I was in I knew that Rand wouldn’t make me stay for no good reason.

I was just beginning to get control of myself when things got bad again. I noticed the older ladies had started to fluff up like mother hens and I heard some protesting then she was there, in my face.

“You’re nothing but a murderer. Look at you, sitting there, acting like you’re crazy. But you aren’t are you? You’re crafty. You don’t belong around here, you never have. You don't belong anywhere. All you do is bring death and trouble with you. You think just because you’re parents built that place that … “

Mrs. Withrow said, “Lucretia Gilkins, that’s quite enough.”

“Enough? I haven’t even started. My poor brother in law was left lying in the dirt. What am I supposed to tell my children about their uncle?”

I couldn’t let these frail old ladies defend me. I turned my head and looked her in the eye and said, “You won’t be telling your children anything. You lost them because you were more interested in feeling sorry for yourself than you were in taking care of them. As for that poor excuse of an uncle they had, he pulled a knife on and unarmed man and would have killed my husband. We won’t talk about your husband and what a poor excuse of a provider he was, what a drunk; everyone already knows that sad story. Having any better luck with the man that you moved into your bed before your husband’s corpse was even in the ground a day?”

She was nearly choking on her venom, “You worthless piece of …. How dare you talk to me like that? Is that kid even Rand’s? I put all the stories I heard about you down to people trying to create a new boogie man to scare their kids with. I thought Rand had better sense … and better taste. But you’re even worse than what people said. You’re a sociopath. You have no remorse for any of the people you’ve murdered do you? When that kid’s born they better take it away or you’ll kill it too.”

I heard the other women gasp. I never got the chance to answer back, though I’m not sure what I would have sad. Tia Cia had showed up and she had blood in her eye.

“You ... will ... get … a … way … now. Do not ever think you can come begging for help at the Ranch again. You are now nada y nadie to me. And you can tell that to your husband’s kinsmen as well. They proved they are traidor … treacherous.”

“I guess Henderson has more to say about that than you do housekeeper.”

Mr. Henderson stepped up and said, “That’s Mrs. Henderson to you. And everyone else too. Cia and I were married last night.”

For the first time Lucretia looked scared. “No. No you … you can’t do that. We buy corn and feed from you. We have a contract.”

“I had a contract with your husband. He’s dead and I haven’t received payment for the last shipment he received. I call the contract null and void. End of discussion. Besides, you aren’t going to need anything like that in the near term, your other brother in laws are going to be busy working off what they owe me. And other people are coming to take payment on what you owe, one way or the other so I'd spend my time on that rather than on attacking innocent people that were only trying to defend themselves. You’ve already burnt too many of your bridges Lucretia, I wouldn't look to be burning any more if I was you.”

Then he turned to me, “Kiri, girl, you don’t listen to a single, poisonous word that woman says. She let her husband’s drunkenness eat her all up. Hard times is only making her worse. Did you hear what I said?”

I wanted to tell him it was OK, that I was OK, but all that came out was, “Where’s Rand?”

Mr. Henderson sighed then looked at Uncle George who had walked over, “He’s taking care of a few other things. And he’s helping to bury the body.”

“Wha … what?! Why?! I should be with him, helping him.”

“Talk sense girl. You’re in no condition to be up to something like that. Now you stay here.” He tipped his hat to the ladies and he walked over to Uncle George and they started talking but with all the other low conversation going on I couldn’t understand anything that was being said. Tia Cia was talking quietly to the ladies, Cassie was with her but when she saw me looking around she came over and sat beside me.

“It really will be OK Kiri. Really. But you need to try and … not be upset. Think about the baby.”

“Huh?”

“The baby … think about the baby. You know you can’t … can’t … the shock isn’t good for you or the baby. Pastor Ken …”

“What did he say?” I asked, starting to get worried.

“Um … “ she said starting to look around a little desperately.

“Cassie … p p p please.” I begged quietly. I hadn’t been thinking about the baby, not in those terms.

She sighed and then leaned forward, “Shock for someone who is pregnant is life threatening. He’s saying one of the reasons you were so out of it is because your blood pressure and other metabolic stuff was affected. He didn’t want you moved for a while just in case …”

“Just in case what?”

“Just in case Kiri. You know what I mean. The other part … the other part I think I get better than the men do. I might not have before but now I think I do. And listen to me Kiri … Rand isn’t going any place. He’s fine. As for the fighting, it used to drive us girls crazy growing up. The boys were always fighting and Rand was one of the worst, always having to prove himself. He changed and grew out of it but not out of the … toughness I guess you want to call it because it is part of who he is. It’s not just … um … how can I say this? Look when the boys brawled with each other it wasn’t always the biggest guy that won. Or the craftiest fighter. Usually it was the one that could outlast the others, take the most hits and still not go down. It’s not that Rand never lost a fight, it’s just that except for a few occasions when he lost it’s just because he got bored or tired of it and went down on his own. A lot depended on who he was fighting and Harris isn’t one he would have just laid down and surrendered to. Especially … “

“Especially?”

She wouldn’t look me in the eye but did answer, “They were name calling and making threats … against y’alls place, the animals …” and after a deep sigh, “against you. Asking if the baby was really Rand’s and saying some other nasty stuff about you. From what I heard listening to Mitch they weren’t the kinds of threats that Rand could or would allow himself to ignore. And the Gilkins brothers have gotten a reputation the last few months if you know what I mean … of fulfilling their threats. They’re bullies, but they’re dangerous bullies and this isn’t the school playground and there aren't any cops to call.”

I was confused. “Wait, people said this guy’s name was Harris.”

“Yeah, Harris Gilkins. He’s the … was the youngest brother of about 8 boys. They were almost like stair step kids. Lucretia’s husband was one of them. Mark and Steve died of the flu. Harris … well, you kinda met Harris. Marshall, Davis, and Johnson were the other three in the fight. Levi … Levi was disowned by the family about five years ago when he turned Steve into the cops for a bad beating he gave some girl he was dating at the time. He’s a minister over in Lake City and Pastor Ken talks to him every week or so to find out how things are going over there.”

“Has this … what I did … started a feud?”

“Poppy is handling it Kiri. So is Rand. It’ll only be a real feud if other people take sides. That’s probably why Rand doesn’t want to leave yet. He needs people to see he isn’t afraid and he needs people to see how upset you are … that you aren’t just running away like cowards. Those guys really do owe Poppy and … he’s um … sending them someplace to work it off. That really only leaves Lucretia and Lemuel. Lemuel won’t get involved. Mitch said he is a coward and hated the Gilkins brothers because they treated him so bad. Lucretia will run her mouth but with the brothers not here to back her up I doubt she’ll do anything but gossip and be nasty. I wouldn’t turn my back on her though.”

Cassie looked over at Tia Cia and then back at me and after hesitating asked, “Kiri, what’s the word for grandmother? In Spanish I mean.”

It took me a second to shift gears, “Abuela or some people say Abuelita.”

“Abuel –ee-ta? Is that how you pronounce it?”

“Yeah … why?”

“I don’t know what to call her. She’s not … I mean she’s not just an auntie to me now. She’s Poppy’s wife. What do I call her? No way do I feel comfortable calling her Cia or Hortencia.”

“So why don’t you ask her?”

“Because I … because I want to do this right. I’ve made a mess of things Kiri. This thing with Poppy … I want him to be happy, it’s just so weird.”

My head was spinning and I had just killed a man, and she thought I had answers for her? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Talk to her Cassie, you might be surprised what she says. She’s seems like a cool lady.”

“Talk about what to whom?” Tia Cia asked catching us both unprepared.

“She wanted to know what the word for grandmother was in Spanish,” I answered for both of us.

I thought Cassie was going to have a coronary but the look on Tia Cia’s face was priceless. “Oh, me chiquita,” and she wrapped strong arms around Cassie in a big hug. It only took a second for Cassie to shyly hug her back. Whatever happens from here on out, at least they seem to be on a better path.

I wish I felt as confident. I didn’t know what to do with myself until someone handed me a cup of tea. It was sweet, someone had over done the honey … or so I thought at the time. I choked it down mostly to be polite and because I was thirsty.

Rand came back a few minutes later with Woofer in tow. Rand’s face was … I don’t know how to put into words what his expression was, all I know is that there was a lot going on under the surface but I don’t think too many people recognized that. I did.

I didn’t have much choice at that point. I had wanted to go home but now I didn’t know if I did. Going home meant dealing with what was under the surface.

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