Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter 31

June 29th – There has been so much to do today and so many people around that I feel like my skin has been rubbed raw with a brillo pad. My stupid foot hasn’t helped. And I’ve been given lots of things to think about too.

I woke up when I heard Rand; he doesn’t seem to need an alarm clock. He doesn’t even seem to need time to wake up. “Rise and shine sleeping beauty!!” I could have chucked a pillow at him and he just laughed. He went downstairs and Fraidy followed him. I got up and hobbled down the stairs and to my parents’ room and got dressed to start the day … but it wasn’t easy. My foot felt like someone had been beating on the bottom of it with a hammer. It wasn’t swollen any more though, just sore. Still feels bruised tonight but not as bad as it did.

I put scuffies on instead of my boots and went outside to fix breakfast. The day was already a scorcher and it was pretty miserable cooking over the coals in the bucket … but the heat didn’t just rise, it radiated out from the sides of the bucket too. I fixed oatmeal with dried apples and raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon. I was carrying the hot pot back inside just as Rand was coming in from taking care of the animals.

I wasn’t very hungry. Between my foot and my nerves that it was going to be another day like yesterday I just couldn’t get it together. Rand noticed and asked me what was wrong. I didn’t want to mess things up but we also promised each other last night that we wouldn’t have what Rand called “sacred cows.” He meant that nothing was off limits to talk about because if we didn’t we’d just wind up in the same place we had before. So I told him and waited for him to get mad.

Only he didn’t. He said that we would likely argue sometimes – we both like having our own way too much – but that we could also talk it out and that he wasn’t worried about another day like yesterday. Yesterday happened because we didn’t know that the other had certain hang ups but now that we do we can work on it. He makes it sound so easy, which I am 99.9% positive it’s not going to be, but he made me feel better about it and that was enough.

He insisted on cleaning my foot again and said there was a lot less infection. I guess all the cleaning and the triple antibiotic cream helped. He put some tape and gauze on it and then helped me to put on my socks and boots. That was embarrassing … especially the sock part because Rand kept giving me looks and smiling. I’m not sure what it was all about but it made my face hot.

We’d gone out the front door and were discussing what we needed to do for the day … I already knew that I needed to start picking the cherries when Fraidy had come out of the orchard with not one blackbird but two … but first thing I needed was to get two new firepits dug. Rand told me he’d do it and I had opened my mouth to say something, I forget what, when we heard a wagon coming. “Yo, the house!”

Brendon has an amazingly big mouth. And it wasn’t just Brendon; it was Brendon, Alicia, Mick, Tommy, Laurabeth, Jonathon, and Charlene. And Uncle George, Clyde, and Melly and her little boy which really surprised me. I felt like somebody had dropped a two by four on my head. Rand looked happy but I wasn’t sure what to make of all these people just showing up. I had so much to do but now I was supposed to entertain company?

Rand turned about and said real quick, “Don’t worry. I won’t tell them about your secret room.”

“Ours.”

“Huh?”

“It’s our secret room.”

I must say something right every once in a while because Rand looked pretty happy and I don’t think it was just because his family had come over.

Turns out they hadn’t come just to visit but to help with the tree. I was flabbergasted. I knew Brendon had said he would bring his dad’s cross cut saw over but I didn’t think they’d all show up like they did. Charlene climbed down from the wagon carrying a bag of something and then Alicia came over and said, “Mr. Crenshaw got a deer early this morning but we need to do something with it quick. I’ve got a big tripod and if we can use your Dutch oven we’ll have venison stew for lunch.”

I nodded and went to get it but Rand sent Charlene into the house for it – I use it so much I keep the cast iron stuff hanging on hooks in the summer kitchen – and told me to sit on the porch while he dug the firepits I wanted. Mick and Tommy volunteered to dig the firepits and that left Rand to help unload the wagon and explain to everybody why I was limping so bad. Uncle George looked over at me and winked and said, “We can share my crutch.”

I can’t just sit down while everyone is working so I went over to see what Alicia, Laurabeth, Milly and Charlene were doing. The bag Charlene had been carrying held potatoes, carrots, and onions out of their supplies and I didn’t know what to say but Laurabeth put her hand on my arm and said, “It’s OK. Missy and Bill brought a bunch of stuff with them. They wanted to come but Bill is just now getting back on his feet and someone needed to watch Janet, she had an asthma attack during the night and she’s all washed out again. Seems we no sooner think she has turned a corner than there’s a setback.”

Alicia was quiet and said, “Do you know how to use a pressure canner? Do you have one?” She was browning chunks of what I presumed was venison over the coals that I had used at breakfast while the fire under the tripod burnt down.

I told her I had a couple, they were my mom’s but using a pressure canner over an open fire was different than using a water canner and I wasn’t sure enough of it to actually do it yet.

“That’s true. You ought to have Rand set up that pot belly stove you have out in the barn and … “

Rand came around the corner, “What pot belly stove?” When I told him the one he kept tripping over every time he went in Daddy’s junk room he had to go see for himself. He came out a little while later and popped me on my behind with his hat and told me he’d get it put together in the next day or two. I blushed … I’m not used to people touching much less that kind of thing, certainly not with people around, but no one seemed to think anything wrong with it so I didn’t say anything either.

Alicia was dumping the browned chunks of venison into the Dutch oven and adding onion, garlic, and some other seasonings with some water and she told me they’d need to simmer for at least an hour and a half before adding the potatoes and carrots. The boys finished the holes and wanted to know what I needed them for. I told them I needed two because it was too crazy when I tried to can over just one and I needed to start canning cherries.

Everyone looked at me eagerly and then Rand called the boys and they came back carrying the grates I had used over my old firepits. “Rand said they were able to get these out for you and that you ladies are supposed to stay over here so they can use the cross cut without worrying about you all getting in the way and getting hurt. We have to go back and help the men.” Then the two little turkeys strutted off.

Laurabeth just rolled her eyes and Charlene complained about “chauvinist piglets.” It reminded me a lot of how it was when my family would get together on my grandparents’ farm and it made it hard to talk when I realized that Momma and Daddy would have liked these people. Like Daddy would have said, “They suffer from the same kind of crazy as us.”

With everyone there to take part, it didn’t take near as long to do things. We had one tree picked clean of ripe cherries in no time. Charlene got a kick out of using Momma’s cherry pitter. We used the less than pretty cherries to make juice the same way I made blueberry and blackberry juice. It took a little more sugar to knock the edge off of the bite but that was about it.

The other things we made were cherry preserves, cherry pie filling, spiced sweet cherries, pickled cherries, and cherry butter. As soon as our buckets were emptied we would go back out and pick over the next tree. With both canners going on both fires it wasn’t as hard to stay ahead either. And the boys built us a fourth fire that we could boil the jars over when we wound up needing it.

When we had enough jars, I used that fire to make a Cherry Slump for dessert using my smaller Dutch oven. You take two and a half cups of sour cherries and pit them. Sprinkle half cup of sugar over the cherries and gently toss them to coat. You spread the cherries out evenly in the bottom of your pan. Then you mix another half cup of sugar with three-quarters cup of flour, and a half cup of chopped nuts and spread that out evenly on the cherries. Then you cut up about the equivalent of a stick of butter over the top of that and sprinkle a little cinnamon to finish it off. From there you bake it for about thirty-five minutes at about 400 degrees. While Uncle George was eating his share later on he asked if the girls had written the recipe down and then realized he didn’t have cherry tree and started floundering. I said I made it with fresh this time but they should be able to make it with the canned ones they were taking home.

Everybody looked at me like they were surprised … except for Rand, he understood and knew that I wasn’t just going to let them help with all of the work and not get any of the rewards. I also told them that as soon as the trays of cherries dried that they’d have some of those as well.

Melly was quiet the whole time they were here and so was her little boy. But it was a healing quiet, like she needed to be part of things without being forced into actively participating yet. Clyde came over several times to check on them. I finally got the little boy to smile when I remembered and ran and got one of my brother’s old toys. It was an old dumptruck and he played with it in the sand until he fell asleep for a nap in his momma’s lap. I told Melly to please let him keep it when she told him it was time to give it back when they were leaving. Last I saw he still had the old thing in a death grip where he sat between a couple of hay bales as they rolled down the road.

After they left it suddenly got very quiet again … but it was a relief. I liked having them over but I was wore out from being on my best behavior for Rand’s sake. Rand was wore out period. Earlier when I had walked over to see what they had done I found that they hadn’t just cut up the part of the tree that had fallen, they had also cut down the piece of the tree that had been left standing. Uncle George said the heart of the tree had been burnt out and that it didn’t make any sense to leave up what was just going to fall down eventually any way. The mules were put to good use dragging the big pieces out of the way.

Brendon put some of the wood in their wagon but ninety percent of it is still stacked in different piles on the other side of the barn. I saw it when I saw Uncle George and Rand talking. I asked Brendon what they were so serious about and he laughed, “Dad is probably giving him the talk like he gave me, Jonathon and Bill the other day.”

“What talk?”

Brendon turned about and looked at me and noticed I didn’t get it and then the other Brendon peeked out and said, “Don’t worry about it. If it is important Rand will explain it.” Looking back on it now I bet Brendon thinks I’m completely senile or something.

Rand and I both agreed we weren’t hungry for a big meal but that a couple of the leftover pan biscuits I had made with some cherry preserves would suit us to a T. We were both washing up in the kitchen when I saw his shirt had gotten torn and I told him to go ahead and give it to me. I could do the laundry tomorrow just as well as I could do it on Saturday.

He was moving pretty ginger and that’s when I saw that while he was a lot more healed than he had been last time I saw him after Laurabeth’s wedding he was still messed up. I felt like giving him a little heck over not taking it easier and made him stay put while I started cleaning the scrapes and bruises he still had.

I didn’t notice anything until he cleared his voice a couple of times and told me we needed to talk. I don’t care who says it, I know that tone. I thought I had done something wrong but when I asked him he told me absolutely not and that was kind of what we needed to talk about.

“Kiri, things at Uncle George’s place look like they are going to be a mess for a while longer and … “

“You have to go? So soon?”

“You don’t want me to go?”

“No,” I just barely managed to whisper.

“Well, that’s good. I don’t want you to want me to go. Actually what I was saying was that they are going to be a mess for a while longer. They are trying to figure a way to move a trailer onto the place for Missy and Bill but that’s going to take something only the Hendersons have right now. And even if Uncle George can come up with enough trade to get fuel from him they still need a trailer and a truck to pull it and someone who knows how to drive the truck to pull it. They’re thinking it would actually be easier to build a house from scratch but that won’t get finished for months. And Brendon wants a place for him and Alicia too which has Uncle George in a knot. That means I might need to stay here for a good long while.”

“Why do you have to go back at all? Your stuff is here. Hatchet and Bud and Lou like it here. You’ve got your own space and … and … “

“Are you sure about this Kiri? Because, like we talked about yesterday, a guy has to have some pride.”

“I … I don’t want you to think I’m trying to pressure you or bribe you to stay. I know you said guys need … their own stuff.”

After a deep sigh he walked me over to the sofa and we sat down. “It’s gonna be about more than stuff Kiri. People will talk.”

“About what?”

And that when he barked out a big laugh. “Kiri, I swear … people are going to think we are having sex. OK?”

“Ooooohhh. But … but … but we aren’t.”

“Nope. But I want to … one of these days … when you want to and are ready for that.”

Oh brother. Talk about freaking out. My whole voice did the whole stupid squeaky mouse thing. “You said we … that the ‘benefits” stuff was … I mean … “

“Whoa, I didn’t say it was going to happen today or tomorrow or even next week. I’m saying that I want to, not that we will any time soon. I know it is different for girls and … “

That brought me up short and made me want to throw something at him again. “Rand, I don’t know where you got your information from but even I know that girls feel the same sort of thing. You make my insides go all wiggly and squiggly. Some of the girls that I heard talk about it just do it for different reasons … like it makes them feel powerful and in control and stuff like that.”

I almost laughed at the look he had on his face. “Wiggly and Squiggly huh?”

“Rand … “ I said giving him a warning.

“Yeah, about that … Uncle George decided that I needed a little … advice. He’s not quite sure he likes me living here with you but he honestly doesn’t see a good alternative. You need the help, I need a place to stay … but the temptation is … is to make there be a lot more to it than that.”

I told Rand I could just die. His uncle was talking about … about … Rand and I doing …

“Relax. Don’t be upset. Uncle George was just being a good parental unit. And he’s a guy and knows what it is like. And he likes you and doesn’t want to see you get hurt. I told him that nothing was happening and he believed me and was relieved. If things were normal this wouldn’t ever come up. I never planned to live with Julia until … oh boy, don’t look like that, don’t get your feelings hurt. I just meant in a perfect … or at least more normal … world I hadn’t planned on living with someone until we got married. But this isn’t anywhere near a normal time and it’s not going to be like that for a long time; maybe a long, long time. What? Are you still upset that Uncle George said something?”

How was I supposed to say that he lost me after he said the “M” word? That was just too big … to go from not ever even thinking I’d have a boyfriend to having one like Rand to yesterday’s big scary blow up to now talking about … about sex and then … marriage? I almost couldn’t breathe. I know he wasn’t talking about marriage with me but it was still more than too much.

Rand figured something had upset me though and hugged me until the shakes stopped. “Stop worrying about it Kiri. I said I want to not that I need to, or that you have to, or I’m going to leave? Is that what you’re upset about?”

I had to tell him something. “Not exactly. It’s just too much Rand. I can’t .. I don’t even know if I’m ready to think about it much less anything else.”

“Well, you’re in luck then because Uncle George was moving things along a little too quick for me too. How’s that for getting along? We’re already thinking alike? Two peas in a pod, that’s us.”

And then he poked me in the ribs and … it was just alright again. Just like that. Sure, it is still floating around in the back of my head but it doesn’t seem like something I have to worry about right now, not if I don’t want to. Which is nice because it seems like we’ve got more than enough to worry about as it is.

Uncle George wasn’t just giving him the you-know-what talk but had also told him that people were just up and disappearing. Sometimes there was a sign of a struggle. Sometimes it looked like they’d been about to sit down for dinner and just walked away. Sometimes you could tell they’d packed up and left.

A few could be put down to leaving the area of their own free will. Apparently two of the families on the county road where the Crenshaws live decided to leave and packed up what they could on horseback and took off about four days ago. They are headed to family they have on the other side of the Georgia line. They just left everything behind. If it didn’t fit on their horses they gave it away. But there have been enough of the other kinds of disappearances that people are getting twitchy.

And animals are going missing too or found drug off into the bushes and slaughtered. The dog packs are getting bolder again as well. So are the gangbangers though apparently some of them hacked the folks in the convoy last night off so much that they took off and burned their camp down to the ground … people and all. Several families were lucky that the fire was stopped by a creek or the loss of life and damage to property could have been even higher.

Rand said from here on out nothing stops my shooting practice but bad weather … and it has to be really bad weather too. Now that he knows about all the ammo in the cubbyhole he says I can’t use the excuse that it will use up all of the bullets. I never made that excuse; I think he was just teasing me. He knows that even having been forced to … well to use deadly force … I’m still not very comfortable with firearms though I’m not afraid of them any more either.

Rand also wants to go around the house and make a list of repairs and projects to make a list of supplies from so we can be on the lookout for them. And he wants to check out some of the houses further away to see if they’ve been completely combed through or not. Clyde and Brendon helped him get the stuff to fix the lanai with today but he says he wants to make the project list and check those other houses before he starts.

Rand is already asleep and snoring. I couldn’t go to sleep without trying to get some of this straight in my head. I wish things … oh, I don’t know what I wish. I just know that my life is suddenly nothing at all what I expected it to be. Guess that is “God’s Timing” thing that Momma O was talking about. I just feel like I need a how-to guide so I don’t mess things up.


June 30th – Tired, sweaty, and hot. That is about the sum total of this day. Oh yeah … add gross, disgusting, sad, uncontrollable heaving and a mild case of hyperventilation. Can’t leave out the hyperventilating, it just wouldn’t be the same without it. I acted so totally like a girl.

Day was nice when we got up, just muggy. It rained a little over night which I was glad for. Carrying buckets of water to the plants is hard work and a soak from a shower usually means I can skip either the morning or afternoon watering. This time I didn’t have to do the morning which left me some time to make a kind of hash brown skillet casserole kind of thing with dry shredded potatoes, freeze dried ham, powdered eggs, onion, and cheese.

While that was cooking I got two canners of cherries going and set a bucket of them aside in the cool of the house to take to Momma O. I opted to only cook two batches so that I could have time to help Rand go over the house after I took a little time to practice my aim. He said there were a few things that needed tending to but overall things looked good. He also made a list of projects that he wanted to talk to me about and I told him … well, I told him I trusted him and all he needed to tell me was what I needed to do for my part. The look on his face was worth saying it that way. He kissed the topped of my head and said we’d talk about it anyway but later, we needed to get ready for what we had planned for the afternoon.

I fixed extra biscuits at breakfast and for lunch I filled them with a kinda of chicken salad that used the freeze dried chicken pieces, some dried apple and some raisins. I had to make my own mayo. We used to do that at the diner if we didn’t want to open a new gallon jar. You take three tablespoons of evaporated milk, one quarter teaspoon of salt, one quarter teaspoon of paprika, one quarter teaspoon of prepared mustard, and a pinch of white pepper and mix it all together. Then you whisk in a half cup of vegetable oil a little bit at a time. Last you add three to four teaspoons of lemon juice. It made about three quarters cup and was just enough to make the chicken salad ingredients stick together.

While Rand saddled the three mounts he asked if I would bring the bags and pillow cases that we used before just in case. I put them in a bag I slung around my neck and Lou stood very still and even seemed to bunch up his muscles in a way to give me an easier time of getting into his saddle. What was even funnier was when he turned his head sideways as if to make sure I was ready before he began to walk. Rand tried to get him to trot but he looked at Rand like, “Are you crazy? You want me to dump her on her head?”

Rand gave up with a shake of his head and said we’d go by Momma O’s first and then work our way back through some areas he had picked out. When we got there Ms. DeLois, Momma O’s daughter, came out and said everyone was down with colds and wasn’t fit for company. I told her I had brought the bucket of cherries as I promised as a down payment on our trade and she took it inside grateful to have something to do besides fetch and carry for her family. Rand had us stop for a moment and he chopped enough wood for me to carry and fill up their wood box on the back porch. We are supposed to go back tomorrow to check and see if they need anything more.

Cutting down one of the nameless private roads off of the highway, Rand took us passed houses that had obviously been ransacked. Then we went down another road and suddenly Lou wouldn’t go any further. Rand, who was riding Hatchet and leading Bud kept going until Bud jerked on his lead. “Rand, Lou won’t … “

“Kiri, hold on!!!”

Lou and Bud suddenly lined up side by side, Lou facing one side of the road and Bud the other. All I could do was hold on. Hatchet had laid his ears back and I could feel that Lou was all tense. Rand had his rifle out and was trying to locate what had set the mules off when out of the bushes charged several large dogs. One leapt and grabbed me by the ankle trying to pull me down and off. Lou spun, lifting the dog off the ground and Bud kicked out at the dog sending it into the roadside ditch.

I re-seated myself and leaned low against the saddle and the mule’s neck and held on for dear life. Lou spun and kicked at the dogs that had come after us. I heard Rand’s rifle bark several times as well as yelps and crunching things as the mules fought. It was over as quickly as it started. Lou was shaking and it took me a minute to open my eyes and realize Rand was say, “Kiri … Kiri … pat Lou’s neck. Tell him it’s OK. He won’t let me near him. Kiri … “

I finally got hold of myself and when I did Lou did too. I love Lou. And Bud too. I would have been dog chow if they weren’t mules. If I had been on Hatchet I never would have made it. He would have dumped me and run off. As it was Rand pulled me out of the saddle and held me while we both shook worse than the animals did. I could tell he was still watchful even while he held me so tight my nose was squashed into the pocket of his shirt but all of our steeds were calm so the dogs that had escaped were long gone.

“We’ll get home in no time. You can ride … “

“No!”

“Kiri, I know you had a scare but you can’t give up on riding, you need … “

“No … I mean no we don’t need to get right home. We came out and I’m not letting crazy, vicious dogs stop me. Unless you mean … oh! … are any of them hurt?! Lou! Bud! Hatchet!”

“Take it easy. They’re fine. Kiri, it’s OK. Look at ‘em. They’re just standing there smelling the wild flowers.”

He hugged me to him again. “If you’re sure, we’ll keep going. The area I’m thinking of isn’t too much further.”

Lou seemed tired so I asked Rand if we could go slow and I kept telling Lou and Bud how good they both had been. They seemed to like it. Their ears kept flicking around like there were really listening to me.

It wasn’t long before I could tell Rand was getting a little upset as we passed house after house, trailer after trailer, all of which were trashed, burned, and/or obviously a waste of time for us to even stop and investigate. “I’m sorry. This looks like it was a fool’s errand. Let’s cut across here and just head back.”

“Head home … “

“Yeah, head home,” he corrected with a tired grin tinged with disappointment.

The houses had thinned out to one every eighty acres or so, if that, when Rand stopped and stood up in his stirrups and then took us off into a densely treed area. In the middle was a clearing and in the clearing was a house with several outbuildings and a heavily fenced area attached to the old barn … we had found where Pretty Boy came from. There were a couple of hens sitting in the branches of the tree inside the fenced off area. There were a lot more dead ones all over the ground.

“Helllooooo the house!” No answer. You get to recognize the feeling of empty but Rand refused to take chances. I wasn’t allowed off Lou until he’d checked the house, barn, and shed.

When he finally let me go in the house he said, “It smells like old people.”

“Rand Joiner!”

“Well, it does. Like the nursing home over in Branford where the youth choir used to go sing a couple of times a year.”

To be honest he was right but it just sounded so disrespectful to say so out loud. There wasn’t a sign of anyone except for a plate with some maggots on it sitting in the kitchen sink. There was a good layer of dust on everything too and the ashes in the fire place were days old according to Rand … how he could tell I have no idea. You could also see where it had rained in one of the back windows that had been left open.

“I’d say at least a week, maybe a day or two more, maybe a day or two less.”

“But … do you think this is one of those houses were people are just disappearing from?”

“Babe, if I knew I’d tell you. But given the state of things I’m going to count this abandoned property. If someone shows up … well, we’ll deal with it then. Start in the back of the house and work your way forward. Absolutely anything that could be useful, you bag up and pile in the front room. I’m going to look in the barn.”

I tried not to let it get to me but with pictures of people staring down from almost every wall of the house it was hard not to feel like an intruder. Mostly it was just odds and ends until I got to the kitchen. There was quite a bit of cast iron cookware and speckleware. One kitchen drawer held enough old butcher knives it would have made my Daddy envious. And someone went a little wild buying Tupperware because there enough of the really old orange, yellow, brown, and green “burping” canister sets to stock a yard sale with. I took every piece and used it to hold everything I could.

When I opened a closet I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was a slew of half pints and pints of all sorts of vegetables, fruits, and homemade condiments, all lined up like I wanted to have my own looking some day. Most of the jars were dated only a couple of months ago, none more than a year. Rand came in when I called him and asked what he thought we should do with it.

He kissed me on the top of the head again … I think he likes to remind me how short I am … and said, “Pay dirt. There’s a small wagon and harness in the barn. It isn’t in real good shape but I think it will get us home so long as we aren’t rough or try to take it through ditches. Bud has been trained to pull single and we’ll load Lou and Hatchet and we’ll walk ‘em back. You bring that screwdriver and those wire cutters of yours?”

I handed them over and started moving stuff to the front porch. Even trying to be judicious it was a pile of stuff and I wasn’t sure we’d get it all in one load, especially if we were going to have to be careful. Well, it wasn’t long after that that nature started calling and I told Rand not to look or I’d wish chiggers on him while I went out back of the house … the bathroom was just too gross for me to feel comfortable using; there were flies and cigarette butts down in the bowl.

Once out there I noticed a little building and realized it was an old-fashioned out house. I thought, “Why not?” I walked over to it and remembered that sometimes wasps would build their nests in the camp latrines at Girl Scout camp. Sure enough I heard something and used the barrel end of my rifle to gingerly open the door.

I slammed the door back shut so scared that I squeezed the trigger of the rifle making it go off and I turned and ran. Rand came running from the barn and caught me. I was in a panic and barely realized it. I pushed him out of the way and then upchucked in the gladiolas and when I was finished I started hyperventilating.

Rand sat me on the porch and put my head between my knees and gradually the hyperventilating turned into hiccupping cries. Rand told me he’d be right back even though I kept shaking my head for him not to go.

Even now, miles distant from what I saw and cuddled up against Rand’s leg while I write this I have a hard time not shaking. The old lady had apparently gone to the outhouse and had a heart attack, stroke or something. She’d been sitting there a while. I had attributed the smell to the ripeness of a latrine in summer and the sound I thought was wasps was … was … rats.

Rand came back looking as green as I felt and sat down on the porch and held me while I continued to cry.

“Yo, Joiner … we heard a shot. She crying ‘cause she missed?”

“Shut up Chase,” Mr. Henderson grumped. “You OK girl?”

“Rats … rats … “ was all I could get out before I leaned over and started crying again.

Chase Peters laughed, “Rats? I knew there had to be something that would finally scare your girl but who would have thought it would be little bitty … “

Chase yelped as Rand dragged him off his horse and around the back of the house. Mitch, who had gone to make sure that Rand didn’t do a permanent type of injury to Chase said that Rand opened the outhouse door and practically through him in. It took Chase nearly twenty minutes before he stopped puking and could get back up on his horse. I don’t remember hearing a sound from him after that.

I was embarrassed and felt so cold despite the heat of the day that Rand made me lay down on the porch with an old chenille bedspread over me. Mitch, Hoss, and Mr. Henderson helped Rand to harness Bud to the wagon and load things up.

“Child, look a here at me. Rand! You need to get this girl home. Her eyes are near about as big as her face. Boys, finish loading them animals down and anything left push it back inside the front door. Rand you can come back for it tomorrow. The girl’s shocky and needs to be put to bed. We’ll ride back to your place and tomorrow we’ll come back and give that old woman a decent Christian burial. One more day won’t make a difference to her now.”

I remember being lifted up and put on the wagon bench and told to hold on but I don’t remember much of the ride back home. It was getting late and Mr. Henderson and the others had to head out quickly as they were already late for a rendezvous. Rand opened the house back up and took me inside and put me on the sofa and made me drink some water. I must have zoned out for a long time because suddenly it was later and Rand was trying to feed me some broth. I blinked and blinked and blinked trying to clear the fog from my brain. After I drank the cup of broth Rand went back outside took care of the animals, putting them in the barn for the night.

I realized while he was outside that everything was in the house and all over the place. I was trying to make some order out of the chaos and not having much luck when Rand came in and locked the house down. “Leave that ‘til tomorrow. It’ll keep. Let’s get comfortable and go upstairs.”

“Get comfortable” is what we say when we mean let’s get ready for bed; we kind of talk around the fact that we are sleeping in the same room. I was starting to feel embarrassed. Not about going up to the dormer room but about the way I had acted. But Rand wouldn’t let me. He said people just get to a point and then their brain is gonna do what it is gonna do. He said it doesn’t mean you’re weak, it just means that you're all full up until your brain processes some stuff and gives you room to work with.

I was going to look through Momma’s cookbooks but I haven’t had the inclination. All I’ve wanted to do was write this stuff out of my system. Put it in some semblance of order and … hopefully find room in my brain to work with.

Rand reaches down every few minutes and pats me or touches my face. I don’t even think he realizes he is doing it half the time. I don’t mind. We’re supposed to go back tomorrow and get the rest of the stuff and it is going to take the best part of me and lots of hard work to make myself go.

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