July 4th – For a long time I thought my life was perfect – Mom, Dad, little brother and all things good, at least as a kid would see it. Then I thought my life was over and all bad – lost my idyllic family, pains and scars and emotional battles. Then it managed to get even worse than I could have imagined when the pandemic went from manageable to horrific. But I struggled through all of that and survived and slowly my life has gotten … better. I still can’t say it's perfect but I don’t know if anyone but little kids ever really experience that. As you grow up you see things and begin to be aware of things. But my life has definitely been getting better … lots better … and in ways that I never expected. But yesterday, just one word out of turn, and I could have lost that. It could have totally been gone and regardless of Momma O’s words about His will and His timing, people still are in control of their own choices and the consequences of those choices and what He wants for us may not be what we get because of our own actions or omissions.
Rand left really early in the morning to go straight over and meet his family. He didn’t even sit down for breakfast so I gave him the muffins to eat when he got a chance and I munched on dried granola and fresh fruit. The only thing that Rand asked me to do was stay around the house and that he would be back but not too late because they had done all of the prep work for dismantling things already.
My morning was full. The red plums were in and I was happy to have them. I was a canning fool and was really happy for some reason. I don’t know why. There was no real reason for it. I just felt good and everything seemed to be going good; really, really good. A guy, a girl, a horse, two mules, chickens and a cat and a home for all of them to share … it just felt good. I know I keep saying that but, when it has been so long since a person has felt that way, good is the same thing as great, wonderful, awesome … but more deep and grounded, like when the preacher used to say “God is good” and the congregation would say back “Good all the time.” It had been a while since I thought about that. A lot of the time it was just something I mouthed because all the grownups around me were saying it. But yesterday morning was different, I understood what they meant.
I was even hungry at lunch so I fried up a little bannock bread and dipped it in the half boiled syrup that I was making from the left over cherries, raspberries, and plums before I went inside and started reorganizing the remaining mess in the house. I had planned to give it my best shot to get it finished that night.
After I was finished eating I realized I needed three more jars before I could seal the syrup so I put a lid on the pot and pulled it off to the side so that it would stay hot but not turn into candy or burn. I turned around and ..
“Chase! You scared me to death. What are you doing here? Is Rand back?”
“No. I … I came by to apologize … for the other day.”
I had been in a totally different zone and it took me a while to figure out what he was talking about. I didn’t really know Chase and just didn’t think about him that much. He’d been an annoying pain and honestly Rand took up most of my thoughts when it came to people of the male persuasion.
“Don’t worry about it Chase. You didn’t have to come all the way out here for that.”
“Well, I didn’t … not just for that. I wanted to warn you.”
I didn’t like the sparkle in his eyes. It didn’t match the expression on his face. “Warn me?”
“Yeah. About Rand.”
“Chase, I think you need to go.”
He kept on just like I hadn’t spoken and that made me itchy. I knew something was going on. “See Rand isn’t the good boy that he tries to make himself out to be. I could tell you some stories, oh yes I could. I could tell you some things about him and Julia both. Going to church on Sundays and every other day making it like …”
“That’s enough Chase. I want you to go. Now.”
“They always thought they were so good. Hypocrites, that’s all they were. And then Rand acted like he really did ‘get religion’ and started changing. No more drag racing ‘cause someone could get hurt and it was ‘wrong.’ No more going to the quarry for the parties because there was liquor and drugs and other stuff. But I knew deep down he and Julia both were still just the same as the rest of us. They couldn’t fool me.”
Every time I tried to edge away from him he would cut me off so I stood still and waited to see what he was after.
“And then he even got to be too good for Julia. Went off to Gainesville with that big scholarship like he was going to be somebody. Turned his back on the rest of us that’d been his friends. Broke Julia’s heart. And I knew, I knew that it wouldn’t take much to console her and I was the man for the job. And I did, and she liked it. But every time Rand came home she’d run to him and she’d be little Miss Goody Two-Shoes again.”
Once we’d gotten away from the fire I realized what I smelled wasn’t the fruit. Chase had been drinking and from the look of his eyes a bottle wasn’t the only thing he’d been sucking on. I knew those eyes and if he didn’t have a pipe of something close by I hadn’t spent the last few years of my life in a foster home with troubled teens.
“And then she finally saw him for what he was. A loser with nothing, not special, not anything. But instead of coming to me like she was supposed to she went with that freak Harbinger. Rand has totally ruined her.”
“Chase, you aren’t making any sense. You keep contradicting yourself. And what Julia chose to do is her responsibility, don’t try and make it different by blaming someone else. You got a problem with her you go tell her, not me. But for now why don’t you go on home and sleep it off. Better yet, find Mitch, talk to him.”
“My holier than thou brother? The one who didn’t give me any backup and let Rand throw me in with that … with that … No, I apologized for what I said but it is more important that I’m here to warn you. See Rand will get to you too. He’ll break your heart. But I can save you. I will save you.” And suddenly I was in a lot of very bad trouble because I was staring down the barrel of a really big gun. “You’re coming with me. Now.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you Chase Peters. You’re drunk and you’re high and you need to go someplace and sleep it off so you can find your brain.”
“You either come with me or I’ll tell Rand you aren’t the little innocent you play at being. And I’ll be convincing, just as convincing as I was every time he called begging me to tell him whether Julia was cheating on him or not. He believed me then. He’ll believe me now. Better yet … better yet … why don’t we just take care of that ‘innocent’ problem right now? Rand won’t want you any more after that and you’ll have to let me save you.”
Chase had completely lost his mind if he thought that I was going to simply give in to his lunatic demands. I might not always get what people are talking about the first time around but I’m not stupid either. I also knew that I wouldn’t have too many chances to get this right.
It was a fight but something told me that Chase had fought with girls before because he seemed to know all the dirty tricks that usually worked. I wasn’t going to give in, I just wasn’t … but Chase was a lot bigger and stronger than me and I knew without a doubt that unless I was lucky eventually I was going down. Going down though isn’t giving in.
“Turn her loose Chase!”
And then I was pinned up against him and I could feel the barrel of his gun jabbing me in the ribs.
“She isn’t worth it Rand. You never would have known if you hadn’t come back early would you? Man she’s a freak, the things she does,” and he said it with a dirty little laugh that left no one doubting what he meant.
I hadn’t been scared until then. It never occurred to me that Chase would actually follow through on his threat to tell Rand that … that I was that type of girl. And I could see something dark and nasty on Rand’s face. It felt like I was losing everything.
“Boy, turn her loose.” That was Mr. Henderson.
“Chase, what would your mother say?” That was Pastor Ken.
“Chase, my God … have you lost your mind?!” That was Mitch and you could see the pain written across his face as clearly as the anger on Rand’s.
Chase was getting agitated. He was very into his fantasy of the moment. He kept saying all these things to egg Rand on but also trying to blame me for what was happening. But no amount of pleading or ordering by the men he faced made him do anything but hold on tighter to whatever crazy he had going on.
The standoff was coming to an end, I knew it. I could feel it. Mr. Henderson did too. And Mitch was reaching for his gun but stopped when Chased shoved the gun even harder into me, nearly making me holler. Rand looked like he just wanted to barrel in and rip Chase apart but no one dared do anything.
Then I looked to my left and we were right by the fire again. And the pot was right there. And I knew, this was my last chance. Mitch was still pleading with his brother but stopped, confused when I said, “I’m sorry Mitch.”
It confused Chase and everyone else too. That gave me the one second advantage. And God is good … good all the time. I twisted left, grabbed the handle of the pot. The lid went askew as I jerked it up and flung it straight at Chase’s face. He could have used me as a shield. As it was my aim was off and the near boiling syrup caught him on the lower half of his face, the arm he’d thrown up to protect himself, and ran down the front of his shirt. He was screaming as soon as the first drop touched his skin. I got a few splatters on me too but it wasn’t the splatters that have me laid up.
I’d swung myself free when he brought his arm up but the gun still went off. I didn’t feel anything at first. Don’t feel much now given the pills that Pastor Ken made me take. What’s another scar? All I can say is thank goodness for metal underwires. Apparently that is what deflected the bullet and I only have a small furrow and a huge bruise under my arm where the bottom of my bra normally sits. That and the fact that Chase was using a reload that didn’t fire with the full force it was supposed to, the only reload in the whole gun. God is good.
They had to haul Chase off to the clinic. I could have gone but Pastor Ken recommended against it as some stomach bug was running rampant and the clinic was a major point of infection it seemed no matter how many times they disinfected everything.
The pastor patched me up before he would leave. I wanted Rand there but I didn’t know how to ask so I sat and tried not to think about the scars I already had while the pastor tended to what would become my newest one. Only Mitch seemed to be anxious to get his brother some help … but even he said he wasn’t leaving until he made sure I was going to be OK.
After everyone left Rand took care of the animals and brought in my canning stuff. I was pretty groggy and lying on the sofa. Every time I thought I had found a thought to think it would slip away from me. Every few minutes I felt Rand touch me and I’d try and open my eyes but they didn’t want to work. Rand didn’t say much and I didn’t seem to be able to put sounds together, every time I tried my mouth would forget what I was supposed to be saying.
Eventually I could keep my eyes open for than a few seconds at a time and Rand came in and locked everything down. When he looked at me … I knew what was wrong, or thought I did. And suddenly I wanted to cry so bad but couldn’t abide the idea that he would see me cry yet again. I got up and moved to go to the bathroom but the room tilted and I wound up walking into the wall and not the hall like I had meant to. I hit where I hurt and I nearly upchucked right there.
“Kiri! Geez. Here let me … Kiri? Come on … come on … that’s right. Let me … there we go. Now where were you headed? “
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? OK … how about we go wash your face? Hmmm?”
Rand carried me and then set me on the edge of the tub in the bathroom and took a washcloth and washed my face and hands and then bent to take my shoes off. “What are you doing?”
“Kiri, the stuff Pastor Ken gave you is pretty strong. You aren’t feeling too much, thank You God, and I don’t think you’re going to be doing much tonight. Why don’t we get you comfortable and we’ll go upstairs and …”
“You … you … you still want to stay … with me I mean?”
“Boy are you flying. Let’s get you situated and upstairs so you can lay down and sleep.”
“No, I mean yes, I mean … Rand … “
“Hey, look at me … Kiri?”
“Please don’t … please don’t … “
“Kiri, I promise I won’t … push you … but you are going to need some help getting undressed and upstairs.”
“Rand … please don’t …”
“Kiri, it’s OK I …”
“Listen to me! Please don’t … don’t think I’m like her.”
All the sound went out of the universe.
“Is that what you’ve been … Kiri, look at me. I’ve known Chase Peters since we were in middle school. He used to be my best friend and I know exactly how big a liar he can be. Even if I didn’t know that the fact that you were fighting him tooth and nail would have clued me in. And even if I didn’t know either one of those two things … Kiri, are you hearing me? …Look at me sweetheart. Even if I didn’t know those two things, I know you. You may be a lot of things but a flirt and a … hmmm … loose … isn’t one of them.”
I don’t remember but Rand said that tears were running down my face and all I seemed to do was want to lay my head down on his shoulder. I guess Rand did “help me get comfortable” and got me upstairs though I don’t remember more than bits and pieces.
This morning I only woke up when I did because nature doesn’t wait. They don’t talk about that in any of those romance books, how real that “real life” can be. I made it downstairs and to the bathroom pulling the sweaty t-shirt away from myself. I knew for it to already be that hot it had to be way passed breakfast. I was trying to decide what I could wear that wouldn’t make me want to scream when I heard the front door open. I didn’t hear him go up the stairs but I sure heard him come down, sounded like a herd of elephants.
I mean to say “in here” but all I could manage was a croak. “Whew. I didn’t expect you to be awake yet. You feeling OK?”
I told him probably like he did after Laurabeth’s wedding. “That good huh?”
I smiled but all I wanted to do was lean against him and make sure he was there and was really staying.
“We’re taking a day off. Or at least a day off from work. Besides, I have presents.”
I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. But before he would tell me he wanted me to take the other pill that Pastor Ken had left. After an argument that neither one of us was going to win we compromised and I took half the pill. My head still felt like it was barely attached but the room didn’t move around without my permission.
I wanted to clean up but Rand wanted me to come into the other room and sit first. I looked at the pile of stuff and realized it looked like it had grown again somehow. “Wha … ?”
“I told you … presents. Missy came with Uncle George and them yesterday and she took Mick and Tommy and went back over a couple of those trailers we passed by. She actually found one or two things in most of them except for one where she found a bunch of clothes and kid’s stuff. She took everything to divide up with the families over by them but she sent this stuff to you because she said it looked your size. And yeah, I know you are trying to be polite about other people picking out clothes for you but surely you can wear shorts and these things Missy called sundresses when it’s just me. And … I um … thought you might feel too uncomfortable and the dresses are the kind that …”
So I ended up wearing a sundress with a stretchy top part rather than the full armor that I normally wear. When I came out of the bedroom Rand wolf whistled and I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or throw something at him.
He … it’s hard to explain. For a couple of hours I was pretty out of it again. We went back up to the dormer room but we opened the windows and shutters all the way. Rand had found a very small fan that he plugged into some gizmo that he had wired into the solar panel thingies. He explained it to me but my brain was pretty toasted. All I know is that it worked and that little ten inch fan kept us cooler than we would have been otherwise. I’d kinda dozed and then find he’d done something else. There was a new pillow on my bed. A picture I’d never seen before suddenly appeared on the wall over Rand’s mattress. A small glass with some wildflowers in it was on a small table that I had been using as a nightstand.
Gradually the pain pill wore off and I sat up. The clock showed that it was lunch time but no Rand was in sight. I rolled offf the bed and decided I wouldn’t say no to a couple of ibuprofens and started down the stairs. I heard him in the summer kitchen and when I went in there he said, “I told you I could cook if I had to.”
It was fried rice and he had a bowl of fruit. “Come on, we’ll go back upstairs. It’s a few hours yet before the animals need any attention.”
He wouldn’t let me carry anything so it took him two trips. We had a picnic lunch and then … we’ll we cuddled. Not to do anything just to be close.
“Kiri, I know Pastor Ken said … look … did Chase … hurt you or ….”
“No. He clocked me once but he’s a wuss and I barely felt it.”
“I swear girl, you are going to kill me. You know what I mean. Did he .. “
“No Rand. I didn’t like him touching me but he didn’t do any more than that and mostly that happened because we were fighting.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there and … “
“Rand, don’t you dare make this to be any of your fault. I don’t know what Chase’s problem is but … Rand … how … how mad is Mitch at me? And I didn’t even know there was anyone else until Pastor Ken mentioned their mother.”
“His mother. Mitch and Chase have the same dad, different moms. Mitch lived with their dad and Chase lives with his mom and the kids from her second marriage after the divorce. She lives way on the other side of Hwy129. Her parents had money and built her this nice house. They’re friends with the same crowd the Harbinger family is, what’s left of ‘em anyway.”
“But what about Mitch?”
“Mitch will deal with it. Don’t worry about it. Chase has had problems before. He’ll clean up and then fall off the wagon. Before his grandparents would always pay to have him to go to rehab … don’t know what they’ll do this time.”
“Rand, I need to know the truth … did you ever … I mean … did you believe any of the things he said?”
“No. Kiri, look at me, I mean it … no. Not even for a second. I was just so … furious … at Chase … at myself for leaving you here alone to deal with him when I know how dangerous it is … I’m still not feeling real good about what happened and if you need to talk about it we will but Kiri … I can’t promise I won’t get upset. I’m trying real hard right now because Pastor Ken said this plus everything else … that you need some peace and quiet. But it does hurt Kiri and … I’m not sure what to do with those feelings right now. Julia would flirt and it never bothered me near as much as seeing Chase touching you even though I know you weren’t asking to be touched. I’m just … “
And I could feel him getting upset so I just scooted closer to him and whispered stuff to him that I’m not going to repeat here about how he was the only one that I ever wanted to touch me. That seemed to settle him down some.
After a bit somehow or other we started talking about what needed doing and why as far as the projects around the place went … our place. He wants to get the lanai fixed first but the next project after that needs to be a corral for our mounts. And after that he wants to build a smokehouse. Both projects will require getting some materials from the salvage houses and he’ll need my help. That makes me feel better, knowing that we will work on things together. I told him I needed to get to work on turning a garden. He said Lou could probably be trained to plow … assuming we had a plow. He said let him think on it and we’d do what we could do until something better came along.
Then we worked our way back around to how people were changing and how our lives were changing. Was it because of what was going on? Or were the changes not changes but parts of the people that were there to begin with and simply revealed by the current circumstances. Rand talked a little bit about Julia and I finally … well I finally told him about finding Uncle Charlie’s remains when I first got here. I told him part of me wanted to know why he would have just left me to rot in Tampa while he came up here and part of me didn’t. He admitted that he’d been blind to the changes going on in Julia’s life but he also said that he could never have imagined her ever turning to a guy like Freddie Harbinger.
He’s still sensitive to the whole situation. When I tried to ask him what he had heard as far as what was going to happen to her … not gloating, just wanting to know … he said that he’d been trying not to find out. Uncle George tried to get him to talk about it a couple of times but he said he wasn’t going there any time soon. She made her choices and he didn’t want to get drawn into the drama again. He said he wants people to know he is through with her and that he and I are together and that nothing is going to change that. We were both ready to just let everybody talk and not worry about it. Or at least that is what we said. I have a feeling it is going to matter, especially to Rand because some of the people are the ones he cares about enough to care about what they think of him. And I’ll care because Rand will care.
It was embarrassing but Rand cleaned and redressed my ouch. The ibuprofen wore off real quick and Rand didn’t have to work too hard to get me to take the other half of the pill I had turned down earlier.
We talked for a while longer but I dozed off again. When I woke up he was coming in from putting the animals up for the night. He had a list and a mission and was going through Daddy’s files with a vengeance and I finally felt coherent enough to write everything in this journal.
Some fourth of July … but one without any fireworks or explosions was nice under the circumstances. Except maybe I spoke too soon. We’ve just heard the next promised convoy rattling along US90. I hope everyone has the sense to stay away this time.
July 5th – I was very sore when I woke up this morning. Too sore for anything but the sundress but then I nearly died of embarrassment when Brendon showed up with Major Sawyer, Alicia and Missy in tow. Laurabeth and Jonathon had stayed home to help make some decisions on the new additions. Brendon was picking up the last few odds and ends and Major Sawyer (he asked me to call him Bill but that’s going take me a while) was riding shotgun.
I tried to go in and change but the most I could manage was to put a pair of jeans on under the sundress. I couldn’t stand to have anything pressed against my ouch. Alicia was the one that told me I was being silly, that it was just “us girls” since the guys wouldn’t be staying. I gave in but left the jeans on and excused that by saying I didn’t want to drop any hot fruit on bare skin.
Where I had gotten a few splatters of the fruit syrup had blistered and itched like crazy. I tried really hard not to think of Chase but I couldn’t seem to help myself.
Alicia and Missy stayed and helped me can and change out the dehydrator trays while Brendon and … Bill … went to pick up the last bit of stuff that hadn’t fit in their wagon yesterday. I hadn’t known that they’d been working yesterday. Rand didn’t go with them today either. I asked him about it later and he said they were family but they didn’t live in each other’s pockets all the time. They knew he wanted and needed to stay home with me. I also tried to find out about Chase but everyone would change the subject when I did so I have a feeling it is bad and maybe I’ll give it a few more days; I’m thinking maybe I don’t want to know after all.
We fixed rice and beans for lunch by boiling them rather than soaking them before setting them to cook in the Dutch oven. Brendon and Bill were back for that and I wasn’t comfortable sitting anywhere except beside and behind Rand. I think they thought it was because of what happened with Chase. The truth is I just felt exposed. Other girls might not have problems wearing loose and breezy sundresses but it was new experience for me and one I’m not sure I’ll repeat in company. I like my armor thank you very much.
After lunch I was just too tired to do any more canning. Rand was working on the lanai and I asked him if he wanted any help. He turned me down saying what he was doing was a one person job and why didn’t I go lay down for a little bit. I honestly thought about it and that’s when I realized maybe I was more hurt than I had thought. If there are any lessons to be learned in all of this, I’m learning I’m not an island and that there are some things and some times that I need to accept help … and to do it willingly and graciously. I’m still working on the willingly and graciously part.
I didn’t go lay down though. I went to the summer kitchen to start putting away the cooled jars of stuff from the last couple of days. Missy wouldn’t take anything that was made today. Apparently what Bill brought with him included some regular groceries besides the bulk staple goods. In fact they left some of that with us but told me to keep it to ourselves and not use it for trade. Flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt are already impossible to find and people are down to little or nothing. Pastor Ken said people are killing their livestock and eating acorns and stuff like that to get by until their garden starts coming in.
After I finished putting the jars in the pantry I took a good look at it. To me it was beautiful but it wasn’t even a quarter full. What had looked like a lot at the little house didn’t look like nearly as much once it was sitting on the shelves my Daddy built. And I’m sore as all get out from tugging and pulling at my muscles while dumping the dry bulk staples into the big gallon jars that were found. Using the Tupperware would have been easier I guess but I’m afraid that mice or rats would get into things. I’ll use the Tupperware for temporary storage or for stuff that isn’t food. I’ll just need to remember to label it the right way. I’d hate to mistake soap powder for sugar.
After I put the jars away I got this journal and sat down for a while. I doubt I’ll feel much like writing tonight. Every minute that passes my muscles stiffen up even more.
July 6th – No company today. Good thing, I wasn’t in the mood for any. I’m tired and so is Rand. How did pioneer men and women do all of this work?! Corral is three quarters finished and made out of these metal panels Rand found at the old place. Rand said he’ll make a more permanent one when he finds one that he can dismantle and put back together. I asked him why he couldn’t use barbed wire and he said because Hatchet, Bud, and Lou would get all cut up when they lean over it. That’s good enough for me.
July 7th – Rand finished the corral today and the animals are getting used to it. They like being off their pickets that’s for sure. Hatchet kicked it once and won’t go near the walls now except when it is time to go into the barn at night. I think the noise scared him.
Rand started on the smokehouse but just barely. Took him a while to find a refrigerator that could be used and drag it back to the house. It was the first time he’d left me at home by myself and I’ll admit I was jumpy the whole time. I’m glad Mr. Henderson didn’t come by until after Rand got back. No Mitch today, Hoss and Bradley were with him. I saw Rand get angry for a minute when the men were talking to him but Hoss said something that calmed him right back down. I’ve been waiting and waiting for him to tell me what it was but he hasn’t. I’ll give him until tonight and then I’ll ask tomorrow.
I used up the last of the cherries and sent a bucket home with Mr. Henderson since he was heading that way. I asked Rand how Mr. Henderson ever got any work done with all the running around he does. Rand looked at me then laughed and said, “Honey, Mr. Henderson has over fifty people that work for him. You’ve only met a couple. And he has two foremen – one for the animals and one for everything else and both of them cousins of some type – that handle things while he’s out making deals and taking care of organizing the security patrols and such.”
I had no idea that Mr. Henderson was such a big deal in that way. I mean I knew he was a big deal for us but not a big deal throughout the community even before things went crazy. Apparently he owns a lot of acreage outright but is also using some fallow land and abandoned hay fields to keep his operation running and his people and their families fed. My little bucket of cherries didn’t seem like so much after that but Rand told me not to think like that because I might be surprised.
Tomorrow Rand said we’d also try turning the garden area too. That should be interesting. Hope to goodness I can actually do it with as sore as I still am. Rand said he expected me to be more healed up by now. Pastor Ken, who came by in time to share an early dinner with us (I guess that extra biscuit was meant to happen for a reason), said that it’s probably from me being wore out more than usual. He is seeing it a lot at the clinic and out in the community. People not getting the food they are used to, not getting the rest they are used to, the stress, the lack of medicine. He said he knew he didn’t have to worry about clean water here but a lot of people had to use stale water out of whatever containers they could catch rain in, or they’re boiling river and pond water. Lots of people getting sick from that too.
I wanted to ask about Chase but every time I tried to steer the conversation in that direction the men would change the subject. Something is up and I have a feeling I’m not going to like it. There’s going to be a fellowship this Sunday, if I can’t get my answers before then hopefully I’ll be able to hear some gossip or just flat out ask Momma O, I know she’ll tell me.