July 27th – I am angry. I am so angry I can’t stand myself. Angry like I haven’t been in a long, long time. Angry enough that I could hurt someone and do it on purpose and not give a rat’s tail about it.
This morning I woke up from a very restless and almost non-existent sleep. Rand tried to comfort me but it didn’t help. It didn’t make things worse, but I remained weirded out and scared silly. Turns out with good reason. We walked to the gate and not even five minutes later Pastor Ken shows up with “the man.” I barely recognized him.
“Young lady I am very pleased to see that you have survived the ordeal that has befallen us all recently. I’ve had a rather difficult time tracking your whereabouts until I gained access to the population census for this area. Official documentation allowed me to obtain a travel pass. And here I am.”
He had changed. He’s aged and lost a lot of weight, and it doesn’t look good on him. But as soon as he opened his mouth I knew. I had to listen to him lecture me ad nauseum a couple of times a year so I ought to be familiar with his soulful Southern gentleman drawl.
“Yes my dear, it is I. Some what changed as I’m sure you’ve noticed but still the same man on the inside.”
And still fond of the sound of his own voice. That’s not as mean as it sounds, he really does like the sound of his own voice. He told me so during one of his “what do you want to do when you grow up” talks. His voice is one of the reasons he went into law. It was either law or the stage. He said since there wasn’t all that much difference between most criminals and most actors he chose law since it paid better with fewer risks.
“Mr. Barnes, not that I’m not … oh this is ridiculous. Why are you here?”
“Still the same direct young damsel I see. And thank goodness. We do not have much time my dear and you have some very, very serious decisions to make.”
Decisions?! Try I’m being backed into a corner and given no choice except to endanger the one thing that means more to me than all the rest.
Introductions were made and we went back to the property to discuss things more privately. Mr. Barnes took quite a while to line up the way things are happening, where he stood as a matter of opinion and where we stood as a matter of law.
See, this is how it goes. Check the tax rolls. In arrears prior to the fourth wave of the pandemic? Second home? Investment property? Forfeit. Being held in trust? No forwarding address? A farm gone fallow? Forfeit. Known death but no executable will? Owe child support/alimony to the state? Property in extreme disrepair? Criminal history? Forfeit. Forfeit. Forfeit. Forfeit.
I fell into the “being held in trust” category. Mr. Barnes said that he only knew the issue had come up because he, as a well-known estate lawyer, had been called upon by an advocacy group to try and help people that were being railroaded by the government. He regularly checked the property logs as they were issued and I was his last client unaccounted for.
They had issued the 30-Day Notice to his office the following day that the property appeared and he had been working for three weeks to try and find me. He said, “I do detest what is going on my dear but our options are limited.” Basically because I’m a minor I’m in big trouble because I have no court appointed guardian living here with me proving the property is viable and homesteadable.
I do have some things on my side. There is legal documentation that the taxes are current (“We really need to sit down young lady and have a talk about this aspect of the situation.”) The house is in good repair. The land is currently being farmed (“As the season permits of course, but we have no need to give them those details.”) There is “documentary and dispositional evidence” of my residence on the property in excess of two months. I am not a drain on local social services, not that there is any. I am not a criminal.
But the points against me outweigh all of the above. I am under age. My court-appointed legal guardians are dead or returned me to state custody. There are a couple of people in the community who could make trouble for me if they put their minds to it. My own history of “personal issues.”
“You see my dear, while I never did agree with the assessment that you were not ready for your emancipation – it would only have required a bit of restructuring with your trust – we only have so much to work with to refute their claim against your property.”
“This is not fair! And this isn’t just my home any more, it’s Rand’s too!! How can they do this?!!”
“We’ve had this discussion about the word ‘fair’ before. Life is not fair; we do try and find some justice however. They shouldn’t be able to do this my dear. Under normal circumstances, even removing the issue of constitutionality, I would be able to delay this in the courts until it was moot when you turned 18, 21, or whatever arbitrary age they set. But these are not normal times. The President has enacted his executive powers and due process has been thrown out the window and they are seeking to not only blind justice but silence her as well. They are using administrative actions outside of the judicial system. The legal steps will be taken after people have been forced into submission and the denial of rights is a fait accompli.” He sighed deeply and continued, “I found record of your aunt’s passing but had honestly hoped to find you and your uncle in residence here. We could have skirted the issue of his remanding you to state custody as a clerical error of which there are not a few in this fiasco already.”
I was getting so upset it was hard to concentrate on what they were saying. It made me angrier to know that they kept on talking without my input after I grew silent. It was almost as if I was unnecessary to the decision making process.
“How old did you say you were young man?”
“Hmmm. Just old enough for it to look good on paper but not so old as to raise any hackles. Yes, let’s see, one of the local judges appears to be a rather fire-and-brimstone fellow. Met him yesterday while paying a courtesy call to say I was in the area on business. I’m sure he will issue a writ authorizing a license. You’ll need to talk her around of course. I’d do it from a good arm’s length away. She’s rather fond of her ideals no matter how strange they may appear to you or I.”
They left quickly after that and I was seething so bad I was shaking and my teeth were locked together. Rand had learned it was better to give me time to pull myself together and eventually I was able to say, “Rand I am not stupid. I may appear slow on the uptake some times and the words don’t always come out the way I mean them to but it sounds to me that he was seriously saying that we should … “
“Whoa! Don’t go nuclear on me. Let’s talk this through now that they’re gone. I’d like to know what you really think of this man. I don’t know anything about him.”
Gathering my wits I tried to tell him the best way I could. “He’s a do-gooder. Had a wife and child killed a long time ago by a drunk driver and it became his reason for living to help people that were similarly devastated. He does … did … a lot of pro-bono work. Nice just … serious about managing things the way he thinks they should go. I don’t know too many adults period, must less lawyers, that would have taken the time he did with me especially after the attitude I gave him in the beginning. I used to call it ‘blood money’ and didn’t want to have anything to do with it. He is tough and honest though, even Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charlie stepped careful around him.”
“So basically you’re saying that he can be trusted, at least as far as your business affairs go.”
“Yeah. And he was pretty cool about helping me try and get my emancipation. We just drew a short straw with the judge we got.”
“Ok, so let’s discuss the rest of it.”
“What’s there to discuss? Mr. Barnes is saying you’re gonna be forced to … to … marry me … so we can keep our home!”
“First, no one is forcing anyone. That’s why you and I are talking. Second … he’s right Kiri. As much as I hate to say it, he’s right. This is our only legal recourse.”
“This is just not … yeah, I know … nothing in life is fair but this is different. How can they do this?! There has to be thousands … maybe tens of thousands … of really and truly abandoned properties out there. Why this one?! Why now?!”
“Questions I intend to get answers for but we have to prioritize the emergencies here. First we need to secure ownership. Second, we need to disarm any other outstanding threats. Third, you need to talk to Mr. Barnes about the rest of your trust.”
“What rest? This is it Rand. I’m sure the little bit of any money there was is gone.”
“Don’t assume anything. Once we get things squared away we can set up some kind of contract that states that any money is yours and … “
“Rand, I can’t let you do this! You’d be giving up … “
“Would marrying me really be such a hard thing Kiri? I need to know because if it is we can scrap this whole discussion and start on plan B.”
“Of course not. You just don’t understand.”
He got a little upset himself finally and said, “So explain it to me. Explain to me why you are so dead set against getting married.”
“I’m not dead set against getting married.”
“Then it must be me.”
“No! Of course not. You’re like perfect and everything. You fit in one of those blasted fairy tale stories … the kind I never thought I would get.”
That knocked the wind out of his sails. He got quiet and asked, “Then Kiri what is it? I don’t understand.”
“You’re being forced into it. I hate it when people force me into things. I wanted … I mean if it ever … this isn’t the way I imagined it Rand. I'm not even seventeen. You’re barely twenty-one. I don’t think either one of us are babies but look at me. I’m a mess. I never know if I’m going to be walking with my feet or unsticking them from my mouth. You’re a people person with lots of friends … People make me ill and I’d be happy if you were the only other person on the planet. You got all mad when you thought I was trying to bribe you to be my friend. What can you be thinking about this?”
We’d made our way around this house talking and we had walked into the barn for a change of scenery. “I’m thinking that I wish I would have told you how I felt sooner and we might not be going through this.”
“Kiri, I told you before I want to be with you. I want to be only with you … now and however many years we have down the road. I just thought like you’re thinking; we are young, we have time to take things slow and enjoy things, have some fun. I wanted you to see that Julia is the past and that I was more than happy to spend not just now but the future with you. Most of all though I wanted you to be sure.”
“Kiri, yeah, this house, this land it has already started meaning something to me. But it isn’t everything. I wouldn’t want to go live with Uncle George … I don’t know if I even could anymore and it would probably drive you nuts … but we could figure something out. As in us, we, you and me, together. I just don’t want those peckerwoods to win. What they are doing is wrong. For it to be happening to you makes it even more wrong in my eyes.” He brushed a lock of hair out of my eyes. “A marriage license is just a piece of paper. It has its uses. But what is most important is the public commitment … saying that these two people are absolutely and totally for each other. They’ve got the same goals. They’re promising to work on those goals as partners. They are promising to be exclusive. And that there isn’t anyone here on earth that has the power to change that but each other. I don’t have a problem saying those things with you. Can you say the same thing? Look at me please. I really do need to know.”
“I thought I was too young to feel this stuff. Yes, I can say that and I don’t care who knows it. I just hate that you are being forced … “
“I … am … not … being … forced. Period. End of discussion.”
“Rand I already do feel those things. I don’t say them as pretty as you do but I do feel them. I wouldn’t know what to … I wouldn’t know what I’d be right now if you hadn’t decided to be curious about me. It’s not just about not being able to do all this stuff by myself, I could probably figure out a way to get by maybe. It’s … it’s … you make it worth getting up in the morning and you make doing all of this stuff fun when by rights it should be nothing but work, work, and then some more work.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t say it pretty.”
“Rand, don’t push your luck. I’m still madder than you even want to know. I’m going to have to go walk this off some or it’s going to make me upchuck nothing but acid.”
“Tell you what, just as soon as you tell me if you’re going to let me marry you we’ll take Bud and Lou for a ride. How’s that sound?”
So I said yes and he spun me around enough that I got sick to my stomach for real and then he saddled the mules … Hatchet was still hacked off at Rand because he’d gotten some burrs in his mane and tail and they’d taken a long time to comb out. Rand had had to tie Hatchet between two posts and it had hurt his feelings.
While we rode I told Rand, “Your uncle is going to have kittens of every shade of the rainbow.”
“Maybe not. He’s more likely to be able to accept a ‘marriage of convenience’ than one in haste for any other reason. And I’m older than Brendon by three years. Besides, even if he has a hard time it isn’t going to stop us. I love my uncle Kiri … but I’m not a little kid any more. My self-respect comes from what I chose or don’t chose to do, not from anything he says to me these days.”
I hope he is right. We saw the very man we were talking about as we rode across the fields to see how much hay remained in the barn at the little house …even a lazy ride has a purpose these days. But there wasn’t much of a house left.
“Hey boy, don’t you know just when to show up? Give us a hand loading these joists and Kiri if you can help the boys get those bricks it would be appreciated.”
“I will Uncle George but do you have a second?”
Rand walked with his uncle and as they got off in the trees I heard, “WHAT IN THE SAM HILL DID YOU SAY?!”
Brendon and Jonathon looked at me. “I am not! Don’t even think it. Couldn’t be unless you believe in another immaculate conception so close your mouths; it … it’s …,” and I could feel myself tuning up and getting upset again.
“Hey! Knock it off you two!! Kiri, look at me did they say … “
“No. I’m just still mad … no, not at you … just in general and specific and …”
Uncle George came out of the trees a lot calmer than he had sounded just a moment before. “Boys, leave her be. They’re getting married within the week if it can be arranged. Some of what Henderson has been predicting is coming to pass. It’s the only way to keep the land out of the government’s greedy hands. “
So the whole story had to be told all over again. I was mad so I went to kick some of the old hay around in the barn. It was really flying. Mick and Tommy had come over to watch me. I was working up a good steam. I liked the way the last batch of hay flew so much that I hauled off and kicked the next one twice has hard … only there wasn’t hay under the hay.
I kicked something so hard my teeth rattled and I nearly said a cuss word, the only thing that stopped me to be honest was the boys standing there. Tommy helped me up off of the floor where I fell and Mick ran to get Rand who came running.
“Absolutely no lectures about my temper just see whatever it was I kicked please … so I can kick it some more.”
“Honestly Kiri what did you … it looks like a … Uncle George?”
“Well, will you lookee there.”
There were a bunch of antique farm implements buried under the old hay. The old canvas covers that had protected them at some point were rotting and letting all sorts of pointy shapes stick out. The wood was split and rotting but there was enough there that Rand thought it would get a pattern for him to work off of. A lot of the steel was pitted and rusted but Uncle George thought with a little spit and polish most of them should still work. There was a chiseled-shaped plow … that was in the worst condition, likely because it was the oldest. A wing shovel plow that Uncle George said was used for hilling potatoes. There was an old wooden harrow eat up with wood rot and carpenter ants but the pattern still showed and Rand pulled out some paper, pencil and a tape measure from Bob. There were a couple of old cultivators but Daddy had a new one hung up in the barn so Rand told Uncle George to take those if he wanted them.
But the two things that Rand was most excited about was a disc/harrower/seeder combination thing - it was pulled by horse or mule but it had a seat for the operator with a lever for adjusting the seed spacing – and something he called a sulky plow. “They need some repair and I have to figure out a hitch but if Clyde could help me bang out some of these bent pieces they should work without a problem. Girl, you are a good luck charm. With these and the mules we’ll get that garden you want, I can help Uncle George plant, and we might even be able to trade out some work that would net us a little less work by going in shares at harvest time. If we can find an old hay rake and a sickle mower we’ll be in some business.
I haven’t the foggiest what those things are even after Rand tried to describe them to me. They sound like torture devices. But seeing that he was happy and still thinking of the house and land as “ours” made me determined to make the best of things.
Marriage is a big deal. We’ve been living under the same roof and doing stuff for each other like a couple … but there was still some stuff we hadn’t talked about and that left me nervous on the ride home. I stayed there to fix dinner since we hadn’t had lunch and Rand took the little wagon to start bringing the pieces he could home.
He’s gone back and forth a couple of times and it’s given me time to sort through all of this. I was much angrier when I started writing. I’m calmer now though I’m not sure how to bring up to Rand the stuff we didn’t talk about. Just because we are getting married doesn’t mean I feel any more ready for the responsibility of that stuff.
July 28th – Mr. Barnes came back with the license in hand and he was happy with the results. “I’ve never felt so in tune with a judge in all my forty years of practicing law,” were his exact words. “I shall endeavor to assist Judge Walker by keeping him informed of what is occurring in Tallahassee these days.”
“I thought you came up from Tampa?”
“No my dear. Tampa is a death trap for such as I. My great niece and her sons offered me a place in their home and it has proven beneficial for all of us. To which, I must return to them shortly. I have secured transport home on Monday which will give me time to have the papers recorded and then forwarded to the proper authorities no later than Wednesday which is the deadline. Would it be possible for you to arrange an official ceremony before then?”
Uncle George, Brendon, Clyde, and Bill had come to help Rand move the rest of the farm equipment that wouldn’t fit in the little wagon. Between Rand and them and in consultation with Pastor Ken who was providing Mr. Barnes with his mobility for now it was settled that this Sunday’s church service would be a good time … it would actually be a double wedding. Brendon speaking for Alicia said that by having all of us get married together it would take some of the heat off.
“Or give them more to talk about,” I couldn’t resist adding.
I have exactly one more day to freak out about this. And I still haven’t managed to talk to Rand about … about the rest of it. Rand and I are getting married on July 30th whether I’m ready or not.
July 29th – I woke up in the middle of last night realizing that I didn’t have any idea what I was going to wear to get married. I cried, “Oh no!”
Rand jumped awake and wanted to know what was wrong. I said, “I don’t have a thing to wear.”
I thought he was going to laugh himself sick. “You pick the strangest times to go all girly. You are NOT getting out of marrying me. Just wear the skirt you made. I like … “
“Yes, I know you like it. No, I’m not going to wear it to get married in. I’m trying not to embarrass you or myself.”
“Honey, you could go as Lady Godiva and I’d be happy.”
“Oh go to sleep. You just don’t understand!”
And he did, the rat. Brendon had said that Alicia was going to wear a prom dress Missy had found someplace. It was off-white and floor length, she was just taking the brightly colored ribbons off of it. There was no way I was going to show up in a prom dress even if I had one to show up in. But, there was a sun dress I thought I could do something with.
I washed the dress first thing in the morning. Rand’s breakfast was a little late … more like brunch … but he just laughed and said not to worry about it. I think he is getting a little nervous too. We have to be at the park early for a little practicing and then Alicia and I will change in the community building. Brendon has seen Alicia’s dress but I’m not going to let Rand see the dress I fixed until as late as possible. I even covered it up in a garment bag after I was through with it.
The dress is a green so light it looks white unless you have it next to something that really is white. It is made of cotton and for someone a lot taller than I am. It was long to begin with but since I’m short I was tripping all over it. I took the bottom ruffle off and it now falls from an empire waist line just to the top of my feet. The waist line is gathered with a string and has these little cap sleeves that are also tied with a string. I had embroidery thread that was the exact color of the dress … or at least so close you can’t tell the difference … and crocheted a wide lace edge on the sleeves and around the deep neckline in front. I’ve never showed so much cleavage in public in my life as I’m gonna be showing tomorrow. The lace makes the simple dress pretty. There was no way I was going to have a veil. Momma had some netting but it was the wrong color and then some. But, I did find some silk flowers in light green and white and I sewed them to a plastic head band. I’ll wear Momma’s pearl ear studs and Memaw’s pearl choker and that’s about all I can do.
Rand said he was going to sleep on the sofa tonight but he’s already snoring, half on and half off his mattress. I missed my last chance to talk to Rand about the other stuff. He tossed hay after they got the antique farm things stowed under tarps and was so tired I don’t want to wake him even though his snoring is so bad it even made Fraidy come sleep on my bed for a change. I wish I could sleep like that – without the snoring of course. And I really hope I don’t puke in the middle of the ceremony tomorrow.