Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter 28

Jun 17th – I don’t have a lot of time to write, not to mention that I’m too tired and kind of freaked out.

I did laundry today like I had planned but I realized while I was doing this that I didn’t really know what to wear to Laurabeth’s wedding … well, I knew half of what I was wearing, the bluejean skirt. I didn’t really have anything to go with it though and I also knew I didn’t have time to make anything from scratch so I started looking through Momma’s clothes. The only thing that came close to something appropriate that I would wear was a short sleeved cotton button down shirt but it PINK! Oh my gosh but I didn’t have any choice. I tried the shirt on and it fit through the back and sleeves but it flapped in other places. Luckily it was already cut to be a fitted shirt so all I had to do was deepen the darts in the front and back. Yeah …only … it took me three freaking tries to get it right.

While I was doing that I had to finish the laundry and finish the pillow cases. At least the million degree heat let the laundry dry quickly. I have to water my container veggies in the morning and afternoon to keep them from wilting. I also had to clean my boots because there was no way that I was going to wear heals. I tried on a pair of Momma’s and aside from the fact they were too big I looked like a dork. Did I mention the shirt is PINK?!

I’ve never been to a wedding before … well, I was a flower girl once but I was so little I don’t remember it so that doesn’t count. Of course I’ve seen that sort of thing on TV and heard about what is supposed to go on but I don’t think this is going to be anything like that and I don’t want to make a fool of myself.

I wrapped the pillow cases in tissue paper with some yarn to keep it closed. I saw some paper over at salvage house four but I didn’t have time to go get it and I could remember seeing anything but Christmas paper anyway although who knows with all the mess that is still in that house. I should have checked to see if there was any scotch tape but I didn’t. I have electrical tape, duct tape, aluminum tape, masking tape … no scotch tape. I really think life just conspires against you sometimes. The yarn is just going to have to do.

On top of all that I was just beginning to relax when I remembered Pastor Ken saying something about everybody bringing a dish of food to contribute to a kind of dinner on the grounds thing after the service. It was too late in the day to bake a cake, not to mention it started to rain in the middle of me getting my own dinner, so I think I just have time to get up go pick some plums and wash them and put them in a bowl and get washed up and dressed before Rand gets here. Argh!!!!


June 21st – You know, it’s a good thing I have such a strong constitution or the things that life keeps throwing at me would have made me want to punch my own ticket a long time ago. And yes, I know that isn’t a very nice thing to say but this is my journal so I can say anything I want to.

Sunday morning was really pretty but I was almost too nervous to notice it. I picked a big bucket of plums and decided it was just easier to leave them in the bucket and then transfer them to a bowl when I got to the makeshift church. I thought about bringing some preserves but I didn’t have anything to put it on. I got washed up and dressed and then French braided my hair and put a ribbon in the tail. I had borrowed the pearl studs out of Momma’s jewelry box but I guess they are my studs now. I was tying my boots when Rand knocked on the door.

I ran to answer it and when he wouldn’t move so I could get out, I pushed him back so I could close and lock the door. I rolled the door down – I found a new place to hide the rod when I’m away from the house long enough that I want to lock it all up – and when I turned around he was still just standing there.

“What?! Yeah, I know. It’s … it’s PINK but I didn’t have anything else to wear OK? No laughing allowed.” I put the pole in the hiding place, grabbed my bag with one of the pistols in it and put it over my shoulder, then turned around to see he was still just looking at me.

“You’re wearing a dress.”

“I know. And … Oh no!!!” I looked passed him and realized he had brought Hatchet and I was wearing a skinny skirt … a long skinny skirt. I had wondered if I was going to be able to get up into the wagon with it on. There was absolutely no way I was going to be able to ride Hatchet, my legs would show.

I went to get back inside to change into pants when Rand grabbed me and said, “No! It’s OK. I just … I’ve never seen you in a dress before.”

“Well duh! When would I have worn one? I can’t ride Hatchet this way and … “

He laughed and said, “Sure you can, you’re just gonna have to hold on.”

I never felt so … so something … before in my life. He had to lift me up into the saddle. He put the bucket in my lap. And then he climbed into the saddle. He must have seen how nervous I was and said, “Trust me. I’m not going to let you get hurt.” That’s the words that came out his mouth anyway but it sounded like he meant something else. “Just hold the bucket on your lap with one hand and hold onto me with the other.”

That was really awkward but it was kind of nice too. OK, I admit it, I like Rand in a girl liking boy kind of way but I really didn’t want to mess up and lose his friendship. He’s twenty. I’m not quite seventeen. He was just dating this gorgeous girl for almost five years that broke his heart by being unfaithful. I’ve never even had a boyfriend much less anything … well, anything like what he had with Julia and all the, uh, “benefits.” He has this fantastic family. I’ve got nothing and no one left walking this planet. He knows everyone it seems and has a bunch of friends. The only people I know around here haven’t exactly seen me at my best and I can name my friends on one hand … good friends on a single finger, him. Fat lot of good my good intentions did me.

Knowing all of that didn’t stop me from secretly enjoying the ride. I tried to get him to let me down before we got to the building and people saw but he said, “No!” and tightened his arms so I couldn’t wiggle. We were so close I couldn’t even tilt my head and look up to see if I had made him mad or anything. We rode all the way up to the building and over to where Uncle George’s wagon and team were tied. Brendon was standing there with a girl that, if possible, was even fairer skinned than Janet who was standing on his other side. Mick ran over when Rand took the bucket out of my hands and handed it to him.

Rand climbed down and right when he reached up to help me down I felt myself being pulled off backwards. I panicked and jerked away and practically threw myself at Rand who I was lucky caught me. Rand must have thought I was hurt or something because he looked like he was about to take off to the other side of Hatchet where Chase Peters was standing grinning.

Before he could do something I hollered, “Chase Peters don’t you EVER touch me again without my permission!”

He looked surprised and then got that stupid I’m-too-cute-to-get-in-trouble look on his face and said, “I was just trying to be friendly.”

“Pulling someone off a horse backwards is not a good way to be friendly. It is however a good what to get yourself klunked in the head!”

Then I realized where I was and I wanted to die of mortification for letting my mouth run away again. I just knew I had embarrassed my friends but when I looked they were all smiling … Brendon was even laughing. Then Chase said, “Oh well” and walked off grinning too.

I looked at Rand and asked, “What was he oh well-ing about?”

All he would say is, “Don’t worry about it. Chase just thinks he’s a stud.”

I told Rand he most certainly was not and I’d tell him to his face if he tried something like that again … and that I needed to get the plums out of the sun which finally had him laughing and over being upset. He’s a protective kind of guy for people he thinks are under his care. That’s what has made what happened later even worse for me to think about. I guess he figured since he brought me he was responsible for me. I was going to tell him not to worry about it when he introduced me to Alicia and re-introduced me to Janet. I guess Alicia is a year or two older than me but she doesn’t look it except around her eyes. Her eyes … they remind me of some of the foster kids that came through Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charlie’s home. There was no need to tell me she’d had it bad. It was written right there for anyone to see if they bothered looking. Her brother who had been hiding just on the other side of the wagon had eyes that looked even more hurt. Sometimes you wish you could dig people up just to kick ‘em around like they deserve.

We all walked over to the building and went in the boarded over doors that had been propped wide open. The long windows that ran along the top of the walls let in enough light that the inside of the building didn’t look dim at all. Rand took the bucket from Mick and while everyone else went towards the front where a bunch of mismatched chairs had been set up we went towards the back of the room where a couple of tables had been pushed together and there were some dishes and pans all lined up looking nice. And then I handed my grungy and out of place bucket to Mamma O.

“Girl, where did you get these plums?”

“Same place I got the blueberries … ma’am.”

“Humph. Grab a bowl off that shelf over there and let’s put ‘em on the table at the end here. If we put ‘em at the beginning there won’t be any left by the time most folks get through the line.”

After I did that Rand took me to sit with his family and whispered, “I’m standing up as Jonathon’s best man. Stay here and save me a seat and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I looked down the row and saw Uncle George looking proud, sad, and in pain all at the same time. His foot was wrapped up in what looked like several yards of ace bandage and was propped on a cushion-topped stool. I waved and he gently waved back at me and I saw his wrist was in a brace of some type.

I had leaned back in my chair when a nasty voice came from behind me in a whisper, “Don’t even think that this makes you any kind of competition.” Julia is demented. Why on earth she thought I was trying to compete with her I have no idea and still don’t. I just tuned her out and listened to the old-timey pump organ that some woman was playing at the very front, beside where I saw that Pastor Ken had taken his place.

I basically just followed what everyone else did. I stood when they stood and looked where they looked, sat when they sat and clapped when everyone else was clapping as Pastor Ken pronounced Jonathon and Laurabeth man and wife. Janet whispered that the dress was the one that their mother had worn and I could see that some powerful memories were working on Uncle George.

Jonathon and Rand looked nice too in suits though both of them looked like they couldn’t wait to rip their ties off. Everyone was sweating buckets and there were lots of hand fans moving the musky air around. With the ceremony over the newlyweds stood up for everyone to shake their hands and I just stood back while their family went up first. Rand came over real quick but before he could say whatever his mouth was open for Julia stepped up to him real close and put her hands on him and said, “You always look so good.”

Rand got a real uncomfortable look on his face and his ears turned bright red. People were starting to look and the only thing I could think of was to laugh and say, “Julia, you’re letting your mouth overload your butt again. Rethink your strategy and come back another day for a different try.”

Rand and a bunch of the men around started wheezing and coughing all of a sudden. Well, like I said, I’m not always at my best when someone is pushing me. Momma would have handled it different, but I’m beginning to understand I’m not her and what made me the way I am is a lot different from what made Momma the way she was. After Julia had stomped off in a huff I looked at Rand and asked him if it had been OK and he smiled and said, “Any time you want.” I’m not sure what that was supposed to mean but it sounded like he wasn’t mad so I relaxed.

The food was served in good time and there was enough for everyone but not really any seconds. I noticed some people were looking hungry even after a full plate of food. Then I saw a little girl and boy all hollowed eye sitting in the corner with their empty plates still in their laps. I went over to them and divided up what was left on my plate between them. A woman came rushing over and I stepped back real quick not wanting her to think that I’d been messing with her kids or anything, but she grabbed my arm and mouthed the words “thank you” like I’d done something really good before telling the kids to eat up in a over-happy voice.

I had been enjoying myself up to that point. But after seeing the kids I looked even harder at the people around me. Not a one of them looked completely healthy. Even Momma O, big woman that she is, looked like she’d lost a dress size or four since the Farmer’s market. Then I thought about how Rand always seemed hungry and all the people they had to feed at their house.

“Don’t.”

Rand startled me. I turned around and asked, “Don’t what?”

“Don’t start worrying. You can’t do anything about it. A lot of people had a chance to prepare before things got this bad and didn’t. They expected the military to keep delivering. They are playing catch up but I think most of them will make it. The ones who won’t … there just isn’t any way to take care of your family and take care of everyone else too.”

I started to tell him that I didn’t have a family to look after when I realized that maybe I did … if they’d let me help, if they want to have anything to do with me again. Before I could go much further with that thought things started happening that have kept me hopping the last few days.

A boy of twelve or so suddenly rushed in the door. He was bleeding from a cut on his head and had obviously been beaten. “Senor Henderson … Senor Henderson … que usted necesita dejar muy rápidamente. Mis hermanos están viniendo y son muy enojados.”

Mr. Henderson went running over to the boy but he passed out. “Silvo … Silvo … anyone understand what he said?”

“He said that you need to get out of here in a hurry, his brothers are coming and they are very mad.” Everyone looked at me with suspicion. I just looked at them and shrugged. I can’t help it if I’ve been taking Spanish since middle school and aced all the course work. Then Mr. Henderson cocked his head right before the rest of us heard it. Motorcycles.

The men … and not a few women … started grabbing for their weapons. The horses and mules in the parking lot were whinnying in fear as the motorcycles started coming through at high rates of speed. “Take ‘em out boys just try not and hit the horses.”

A few horses did get injured but mostly because they’d pulled loose and took off or had fallen down and skinned themselves up a bit. But the sight of so many armed people made the gangbangers fall back even quicker than they had arrived but not without a couple of them getting taken down.

“All right people, we need to break up and get home. Try and do it in groups as much as possible. Looks like we might be in for some more trouble. Don’t just stand there people. Move it!” Mr. Henderson can be loud even when he isn’t shouting and when he says move that’s exactly what your feet tell you to do.

I was looking around for my bucket when I heard, “Oh Laurabeth what a horrible thing to ruin your wedding day.”

I swear that she-cat just seems to go out of her way to make people miserable. What on earth did Rand ever see in her? I marched over and then poked her in the back moving her out of my way. “Laurabeth, ignore her. You got what was important out of this day and no one can take that from you. You and Jonathon are now forever and ever married and you did it with your Daddy’s blessing in front of friends and family. What came afterwards is just that, afterwards … it doesn’t erase what has already happened. Why don’t you go give your hubby a smooch and embarrass him while I deal with Miss Julia.”

I didn’t have to deal with Miss Julia because as soon as she saw how hacked I was she scurried. I know I can’t do too much to her because she is pregnant but I swear if she doesn’t knock it off she’s going to be giving birth ball headed.

Finally we got out the doors after the first press of people had left. Rand was looking around frantic. “I can’t find Hatchet!”

Uncle George was looking bad. He really had hurt himself in the fall he took and trying to help defend his family had reinjured all the stretched muscles and stuff. Jonathon and Brendon were getting Uncle George into the back of the wagon when they called over, “Rand, we need to go! He’s probably half way home by now!”

With a last look around he rushed me over to the wagon and then tossed me in even though I started to fight him, “Don’t Kiri … just do what I ask for once without getting all … “

That’s when the gangbangers came back, and they were back with a vengeance. We were on the road and heading in the direction that I knew Uncle George’s farm lay when they started throwing things … and the things started exploding. I guess they were grenades. They exploded and made holes in the road and that’s all I really care about knowing. The horses were going crazy and it took everything Jonathon had to keep them from running away. Then a grenade landed so close that the buggy tipped up on two wheels. Alicia and I were thrown out and Jonathon lost the reins or something like that and the horses bolted.

I shook off being rattled and then stood up and dragged Alicia with me. I took off towards my land and looked back to see Rand trying to holler something. I must have said that I couldn’t hear him out loud because Alicia said, “He said to get home he’ll come back as soon as he can.”

I told her it sounded like a plan and started dragging her through the trees, lifting my long skirt and tucking it in my waist band to keep it from tripping me up. I wasn’t real thrilled with showing off my messed up legs but it was either be modest or be quick, I chose quick.

Some of the motorcycles left the road and started trying to following us. The difference between people on foot and someone on a motorcycle is obvious but it isn’t all good on the side of the machine. People can climb under and over fences, motorcycles can’t. We climbed a fence and I pushed her down behind a big oak tree and then did what I had hoped I wouldn’t ever have to do again. I aimed with the pistol and shot once and twice … the first motorcycle was down. My third bullet hit the leg of another rider and he laid down the bike he was on just in time to get in the way of the last rider that had diverted to come after us. I shot them while they were down.

With Alicia screaming what was I doing, I ran over to the bangers and took their weapons and ammo since they didn’t need them anymore. I’m a slow learner about some things but when a lesson sticks, it sticks.

I ran back and handed one of the guns to Alicia and started dragging her again trying to put as much distance between us and the mess going on at the road as possible. I finally stopped to get my bearings when Alicia fell down for the umpteenth time. She never complained but I knew that I had to stop before I was literally dragging her through the blackberry canes and saw briers. I looked and then realized one of the houses I saw was the front of the first house I had ever salvaged anything from. I asked her if she could go a little more and she nodded.

I took the gun from her and gave her the bucket. We could still hear motorcycles and explosions but nothing close. I still looked around carefully and a good thing I did. Two of the creeps had gotten ahead of us and were trying to cut us off on foot. They got sloppy when they assumed we were nothing but two scared young women. I was a scared young woman, but I was also a scared young woman with a gun that I wasn’t afraid to use. Five shots and two dead bangers. I dumped the ammo from all five bangers into the bucket for Alicia to carry and I put the extra weapons in my bag. It was so full it was dragging a rug burn on my neck as we ran.

That was the last of them. I got us both home and Fraidy was going nuts and so was Pretty Boy. I opened the door, pushed Alicia inside with Fraidy and turned to go put Pretty Boy in the barn when I saw Hatchet, his sides heaving. I knew I needed to do something for him but I’d never taken care of a horse before.

Alicia came up behind me and said, “I’ll take care of him if you’ll help me get the saddle off; that thing is heavy.”

I’m glad someone knew what to do for Hatchet, he looked pretty bad. I guess he considered Sparkleberry Ranch his home away from home and had headed this way in all of the confusion.

Alicia wasn’t kidding, the saddle was heavy – something like fifty pounds if I had to guess – and the blanket underneath it stunk like sweaty horse. Alicia took care of Hatchet while I pulled a couple of Daddy’s saw horses out and put the saddle over them and hung the blanket on the wall to dry.

It took a while but we managed to get Hatchet calmed down and taken care of. Alicia showed me that Rand kept some extra feed for the horse in his saddle bags but she said it had to be done right after the upset he had had. I left her to it and went out and listened. I still heard motorcycles but I also heard the deeper roar of other kinds of engines too. And the rat a tat tat of what I think are called automatic weapons. Sure didn’t sound like my .22 and I was just glad to be out of it and praying that Rand and his family made it home safe and sound. If I’d only known I’d have been having kittens.

The animals all cared for, Alicia and I went inside and I locked everything down. Alicia was all give out and it wasn’t long afterwards that she was asleep in one of the spare rooms. I changed into jeans and a t-shirt and hung the skirt and shirt in the bathroom. They are still salvageable, but they are going to take some work to fix but I’m considering just putting them away someplace. I don’t know that I want anything to remind me of the last few days.

I realized I was thirsty and a little hungry so I downed a can of fruit cocktail and decided that whether it heated the house up or not I was going to have to cook some dinner and it had to be something that would last.

I burned a couple of logs in the fireplace to make coals and then set to work making Casserole Bread. First you scald a cup of milk and stir in three tablespoons of sugar, one tablespoon of salt and one and a half tablespoons of shortening. Cool the mixture to lukewarm then pour one cup of warm water into a large bowl and sprinkle with two packages of yeast. Stir until the yeast is dissolved then stir in the cooled milk mixture. Add four and a half cups of flour and stir until it is well blended, about 2 minutes. You have to cover the messy dough and let it rise in a warm place until it more than doubles in bulk — about 40 minutes. After that is finished, stir the batter down and beat for another 30 seconds the pour the batter into a greased 1 1/2-quart casserole.

I’d taken the coals from the fireplace and used it to preheat the box oven to 375 degrees and the dough went in there for someplace between 50 and 60 minutes. The smell of baking bread woke Alicia up and we got to know each other a little bit. When the bread was cool enough to cut I gave her a couple of slices with some blueberry preserves on it but by the time she was finished eating her eyelids were drooping again and it was getting dark outside.

She told me what I needed to do for Hatchet and waited for me to come back inside before she went back to sleep. I think sleep was a way for her to get away from worrying about her little brother, Brendon, and the others. I fell asleep at the bonus room window listening to the fight that was still going on and wondering what to do.

I woke up when a bird ran into the window after a bug that turned out to be a tree frog. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the bird or the frog. I was awake and my heart was beating fast but when I turned around I got startled again because Alicia was sitting there just looking at me.

She said she had been awake for about an hour but hadn’t wanted to bother me. I asked her if she had eaten and she looked like … I don’t know … like she wouldn’t know how to take advantage of something that was simply sitting on the counter like the remaining bread was. I went downstairs and we opened my last jar of peanut butter and had peanut butter and jam sandwiches for breakfast.

We went out to the barn and took care of the animals and while Fraidy followed us, she didn’t want to stay outside. That more than the unnatural silence that hung on everything told me that something was wrong. I grabbed the trays out of the dehydrator and was thankful for blessings when I realized the plums I’d had on the trays weren’t ruined. Alicia took them in for me while I walked around the yard trying to figure out what had me so twitchy.

Then I heard some horses coming down the road and motioned for Alicia to stay inside. I’d come out with the rifle so all I had to do was get over into the little blind I used to peek out and see who was coming when I saw a man being pushed down the road by a couple of others. Of the six I recognized two. Mitch Peters, beaten and bloody had a piece of duct tape across his mouth and he was being pushed along at gunpoint by five others, one of whom was Rick Harbinger.

They were all being quiet so I knew they were up to no good and poor Mitch looked like he could barely breathe. I guess I’m kind of losing it because all I could think of was “In for a penny, in for a pound.” I aimed the rifle and it barked one, twice, three times. Tin cans … tin cans … When my eyes stopped burning I could see one man running down the road limping and Mitch wrestling with the other one. A gun went off, the bad guy jumped, and then Mitch aimed at the last man who dropped and didn’t move.

Mitch ripped the duct tape off his mouth and said, “Rand … “ He’s eyes just about bugged out when he saw it was me. I helped him up to the porch and Alicia ran to get him some water. Then we both heard horses coming lickety split. Mitch couldn’t move as fast and I was just about to shoot when he said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa ! That’s Hoss and Bradley, we work together.”

The two big men slapped Mitch on the back nearly sending him to the ground. “Old son, you in better shape than we expected to find. Chase is up to the big house all tore up but they think he is gonna to make it. You the last one unaccounted for. We caught your trail sign and been following as close as we could. We heard the shots and decided to come ahead on. How in hells bells did you take out all five.”

“I didn’t. I got two … she got the other three,” and he threw his thumb back in my direction. What, these men have never seen a girl with a gun before? I thought this was the country.

Mitch and his buddies offered to take us with them to Mr. Henderson but I said no in case Rand came today. Mitch was trying to pressure me when the one called Hoss goes, “Joiner ain't gonna be coming today. I hate to be the one to tell you but we hear he got hit. Don’t know how bad but it didn’t sound good.”

I think my blood must have turned to ice water. I don’t know how I knew but I knew right then I wasn’t going to Mr. Henderson no matter how much Mitch Peters pleaded. I was going to go to the Crenshaw farm and no one was going to stop me.

The three men finally left, taking the corpses of the fallen men with them, and I turned around and spent the rest of the day making sure that I could do what I planned on doing. Alicia strangely enough agreed whole heartedly with me and did everything she could to help. We baked two more loaves of bread, ate sparingly, and I picked through what I thought would be the best food to take with us when we went. Fruit cocktail, instant rice, and then I bagged up some stuff from my #10 cans into Ziploc bags. All of that fit into Hatchet’s saddle bags. I put two bags of flour and some canned veggies in a couple of canvas bags that I roped over the top of Hatchet’s saddle; I was turning the poor thing into a pack mule.

We were leaving at night. I knew how to travel at night and avoid being seen. I’d never tried it on a horse so I was going to be walking and leading while Alicia rode since I didn’t know how good her night vision was. I outfitted both of us with guns and ammo from the stuff I took off the bangers but I also took my own rifle and ammo.

I knew the mosquitoes were going to be bad so I used the unscented Deep Woods Off that I found while salvaging on us. I didn’t want the smell of bug spray giving us away in case we had to pass close to people … but I didn’t’ want bites, ticks, or chiggers either.

Luckily the bottom half of Alicia is about my size and I gave her a pair of jeans to wear. She already had sensible shoes but I gave her socks and had her tuck the pants down into the top since I had a feeling we were going to be travelling through some tall grass; ticks are nothing to fool with.

Alicia is so fair she almost glows, even in the dark so I asked her to tuck her hair under a dark bandana. The top she was wearing was already dark so at least she stood out as little as possible. We just had to have some faith.

It was just shy of midnight when we left. It had been a mess trying to get Hatchet’s saddle back on but we finally managed it. He wasn’t exactly thrilled about leaving the barn in the middle of the night either. I scattered the last little bit of the horse feed on the floor for Pretty Boy just in case I didn’t get back as quick as I hoped and then shut and locked the barn door and headed out. The last two things I had taken out of the barn I stuck on my belt. The first was the giant screw driver that had been so helpful on the trip from Tampa and the second was a pair of heavy duty wire cutters.

With the horse I couldn’t just cut across the field until I got my bearings straight. Everything was quiet except for Hatchet’s hooves when they landed on the grassy right of way. The closer we got to US90 the more agitated Alicia got but she didn’t tell me to stop. We passed the burned out S&S with its Shell fuel sign lying broken in the middle of the parking area. We crossed 90 and I used the big screwdriver to pry the lock off of a gate. Then I turned us northeast, angling to pass behind the building where the wedding had been held, where I had to use the wire cutters for the first time (but not the last). The closer we got to that point the more destruction there was. Bodies and parts of bodies that had obviously taken the brunt of an explosion of some type. Most of the corpses were clothed like the gangbangers in their stupid “colors” but some of the bodies were wearing military issue fatigues. There were only a couple like that but it was enough for me. I wanted to stop and do something for them but I couldn’t afford to and I figured God was sorting it all out even as I was worrying at it.

We kept going until we got near the road that the Crenshaw farm was off of. Alicia, shaky and gray in the moonlight, pointed to where I could see some men in a ditch. You don’t sit in a ditch full of leaches and ticks and other creepy crawly things unless you were stuck or you were up to no good. Beyond them I saw some more men; one group facing the house that Alicia whispered belong to Clyde and another group facing the lane that led down to the farmhouse.

I had Alicia stay with Hatchet and then I did whatever was popping into my head. I still don’t know where it was all coming from. Maybe watching all those cowboy shows and war movies with my Dad when I was little. It sure as heck wasn’t something that I thought about doing and practiced on a regular basis.

At the end of what turned out to be the Winston’s drive way was an aluminum fenced post lying on the ground. I picked it up, snuck up behind the two guys in the ditch and brought it down fast, first on the head of one and then on the head of the other with nasty squashy sounds. They sank down into the ditch water and never came back up. I made sure they didn’t. In for a penny, in for a pound.

The other men on the other side of the road never even turned around. The next part was the hard part. I had to do it just right or I was toast and the whole plan was going to fall apart and I would really catch heck from Rand. I got on my hands and knees and slowly crawled across the road behind the group of men in front of Clyde’s house. He was closer to the road and I hoped if there was anyone home that would mean they were closer to helping me out if I needed it.

My shoe scrapped some gravel and made one of the guys look around but I was practically on top of them and couldn’t miss. There were only two and hadn’t been expecting to be hit from behind. The guys in the other group heard my shots and that’s when I realized I really, really, really didn’t know what I was doing. But Clyde did. The guys in the other group forgot and showed themselves and – boom, boom – two big shots came from an upper window of Clyde’s house. After that I heard clattering and running as he came down his stairs and hit the porch, then the ground, then came over to me to drag me to better cover.

“There’s men over in those ditches,” he said.

I told him, “Only technically. Seeing as how they didn’t come up for over five minutes you’ll probably have to fish them out before they contaminate things.”

Clyde looked at me in a way I was getting used to. People back in Tampa used to wonder if I was crazy. I think people here in Live Oak are convinced of it.

Clyde had to check on the ditch himself before he would believe me. What did he think they were going to do? Jump up and do the fandango or something? Then he let out this piercing whistle and men poured out of all the houses around and stripped the bodies of the bangers for anything worth anything.

I finally went back and got Alicia and Hatchet and complimented them both on doing what I’d asked even though I knew they must think I’m crazy. Alicia even smiled but whether it was at what I said or the look on Clyde’s face when I said it I don’t know. Just then Alicia started running and I saw her jump into Brendon’s arms. I figured they were entitled to the mushy stuff so I just led Hatchet back to the house that Rand had described.

I kept my mind blank while I walked back. The fact that only Brendon had come out wasn’t a good sign. But then Mick vaulted the porch and ran into me so hard I nearly went down. His thin arms had me in a power hug and then he was pulling me to the house. Charlene came out and she pulled me further into the house.

“Daddy is in a terrible state and Rand is even worse. Laurabeth is with Jonathon who got kicked by one of the horses but nothing is broken, he’s just sore and bruised. Alicia is missing and Brendon is going crazy and everything is so … “

I told her to relax, Alicia wasn’t missing and the only crazy that Brendon was going was with the mushy stuff with her out in the front yard. And then I heard a load of creative cussing the likes of which I haven’t heard since Coach Echeverria’s foot got ran over by one of the cheerleaders during driver’s ed. But I knew that voice and when he finally stopped and I was able to tell he was demanding to know what happened I told Charlene I’d tell him. Her response was, “Be my guest. He’s been awful.”

I walked into a bedroom to see him trying to get up, “You can’t be serious about running around with no pants on.”

He grabbed his sheet real quick and looked at me and said, “How the … ? Oh you did not … I ought to … “

“I’ll tell you how later after you’ve rested. Whatever you think you ought to do forget it, you couldn’t catch me right now anyway. And of course I did, I had to bring Alicia and Hatchet home didn’t I?

It took him a while to stop doing the gasping fish thing where his mouth just kind of opened and shut but no sound came out. I made him lay back down and in the process saw that he was badly bruised with a deep furrow where he’d moved around so much he’d made the bandage come undone.

I was totally fine until he stopped being a cranky stinker and then I just sort of crumpled up and started crying. I hadn’t meant to cry. It ruined the whole image of me being able to do whatever it took and then some. I just couldn’t help it. I finally stopped crying and he let me sit up but I got a chair and sat close to his bed. I guess we both fell asleep because I opened my eyes and it was suddenly daylight.

Rand was still sleeping but I could hear quiet movement downstairs. I got up and went to see if the supplies I had brought were inside. It was Laurabeth and Charlene. Laurabeth came over and threw her arms around me. I patted her back because I wasn’t sure what all was going on.

“Oh Kiri, Rand was just frantic yesterday. We had gotten home and he and Brendon were all set to go back for you and Alicia but then those awful men showed up and started shooting and the horses went crazy. Brendon was able to jump free but Rand … you saw the bandage … and he fell right under the horse. Jonathon went to pull him out and got kicked. Nothing is broken but he is so sore he can barely move. And Daddy … don’t get me started on how awful Daddy has been. And the new kitchen isn’t finished but this one is all torn apart and … “

Then it was her turn to dissolve into tears. Brendon was back on watch and the other men were all in a healing sleep so it gave the five of us along with Mick and Alicia’s brother Tommy a chance to try and put things to some semblance of order. I couldn’t do anything about fixing the bedrooms but the only thing left in the new kitchen area was to move things into the new cabinet locations, move the dining room around and to fill the wood box, none of which was rocket science so we were able to do it just fine.

The wood cookstove had come from Alicia’s old house and she knew out to operate it so she got lunch started using some of the stuff I had brought to piece out what was in their pantry. When Laurabeth started to say something I said, “Not a word. Don’t tell your Daddy or Rand unless they make a point of asking. They’d only get cranky all over again.”

It wasn’t long after that that Jonathon woke up and then Charlene carried a cup of coffee to her father while I took one to Rand. I knew he wasn’t going to like what I had to tell him so I figured to get him caffeinated up first. But before I could even get halfway up the stairs, who do I run into but Julia’s mother. She sounded like Fraidy when she hissed at me and then brushed past me like I was something nasty her husband had brought in on his boots.

Trying not to wonder why Mrs. Winston was in the house I walked into Rand’s bedroom and got a shock. Julia was getting undressed and trying to get in bed with Rand. He was still out cold. I knew a set up when I saw one and grabbed her by the hair and whispered in her ear exactly how bad an idea it was to try and pull a stunt like she was thinking about.

I’m not big but the kind of angry I can get can make anyone scary. The clothes went on a whole lot faster than they came off and she left the room even quicker. I realized you could just see a little bump in her otherwise flat stomach that looked out of place.

“Why do I have a feeling you just saved my life again?”

Rand was real groggy and in a lot of pain but he’d seen Julia scuttling out the door. I dug the Aleve out of my bag and gave him two with his cup of coffee. “I didn’t make it so it should be drinkable.”

He smiled despite everything and said, “Don’t avoid the question. What just happened?”

I was in the middle of explaining when Mr. Winston jerked the door open, his wife hovering behind him. He turned to her and said, “I thought you told me you saw Julia come in here.”

I got laser eyes from Mrs. Winston as Mr. Winston stomped off. I know most folks think I’m mostly just a kid, and a strange one at that. I’m also beginning to accept the fact that I likely created at least half of my own problems because I didn’t know when to keep my mouth shut. But the one thing that I learned from dealing with all the kids that came and went at Aunt Wilma’s house is that there are some people you cannot back down from. Trying to just avoid trouble with those types only guarantees it.

I stepped out of the room and grabbed Mrs. Winston’s arm and got her attention before she could squawk. “I know Julia is pregnant. So does Rand. And Rand knows the baby isn’t his … he says there’s no way it could be his and I believe him. So will a lot of other people, especially if I start helping them put two and two together.”

I’d scared her but she was no coward, “You’re nothing and nobody girl. No one will believe you over Julia.”

“You’re right about me being nobody, but Rand and his family aren’t. People like them. If nothing else people are going to wonder and I won’t stand by and let Julia get away with what she is trying. You be sure and pass that along before I’m the one that goes to her daddy and gives him the news he’s going to be a grandpa in however many months.”

I made an enemy but sometimes that happens. They paid me back before the day was too much older. Rand was trying to get out of bed when I got back and demanded to know what was going on. I stayed with him about an hour then he dozed again. I hadn’t had the heart to get him worked up so I didn’t say anything about leaving.

When I went downstairs I found that my “exploits” of the last couple of days had preceded me and the Winston’s were wringing everything they could out of it. Alicia tried to apologize but I told her, and meant it and still do, not to worry about it, all she had done was tell the truth.

Uncle George and Clyde called me outside. Alicia put her hand on my arm but I don’t know if it was to give comfort or get it. I went outside where Uncle George was leaning on a crutch with Clyde looking at the bangers’ weapons that I had brought.

I got grilled; boy did I get grilled. The Resource Officer at my highschool couldn’t have done as good a job. I was crispy all the way through. They also made me feel like … well more than I already do … that there is something off about me. I don’t think they necessarily meant to and that’s the only thing that I could grab onto to keep from lashing out. I had to keep reminding myself that they weren’t hurting me on purpose.

All day, every time I turned around, I found Julia or her mother giving me the shaft in some way. It was subtle but not much different than what I’d endured in school. I’d walk in a room and it would get quiet like they’d just been talking about me and felt guilty. I’d get sidelong glances. Julia offered me boatloads of false sympathy … as long as there was someone there to witness her performance. The two younger boys would just out and out stair, until someone jabbed them to stop it. But no one seemed to have the nerve to just come right out and say something. I got so fed up I started making it worse. I knew what I was doing but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Always being the outsider sucks, I couldn’t have admitted that not too long ago but now … now I can. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

The only relief I got was when I was hiding out in Rand’s room or out of the house and working. I helped Mick and Tommy clean up the yard. There was a mess to clean up that’s for sure all up and down the county road. A couple of people had lost animals so there were attempts at preserving the meat and you’d be walking along and suddenly get that slaughter house smell straight in the face. The Winston’s house was a trashed mess. I was over there and doing fine. Mr. Winston and JR didn’t seem to mind so long as I kept my mouth such and worked. But Mrs. Winston came over and ran me off in as humiliating a way as she could manage. In front of the neighbors she made it seem like she needed to keep an eye on me because I might be looking for salvage items … in other words stealing from them while they were down on their luck.

That was the last straw. I was more determined than ever to leave. I tried to tell Rand one more time but he was in so much pain that I chickened out. I went off by myself after asking Alicia for paper and something to write with. I doubt I did a very good job of it but I tried to write a note for Rand explaining why I couldn’t stay.

I avoided anyone from the house for what little remained of the day, not because I was really angry any more but because I’d finally gotten my anger half-way under control and didn’t want to get riled up all over again and say something to make things worse than they already felt.

I stayed quiet at dinner – a neighborhood stone soup kind of thing – but it wasn’t easy. Then Alicia told me that Rand was asking for me again so I went up there and kept him company until he went to sleep again, this time with the help of something Uncle George slipped in his drink. I sat there a while longer until the house got quiet and the moon came out.

It was a lot easier to get out of the house than I expected, everyone was exhausted. I was off the porch and going cross ways through bushes and trees when Clyde stepped out and said, “You sure you want to do this? Rand’s gonna be hurt.”

“I left him a note.”

Clyde’s snort made it plain what he thought of that. I admit he made me feel like I needed to defend myself which is probably the only reason I bothered to try and explain. “Look, I get it, but the fact of it is I make people uncomfortable. And no one knows what to make of my friendship with Rand which is bound to cause him problems sooner or later no matter what he says. They are being nice for Rand’s sake now that they all think that I’m some kind of weird … I’m not complaining, really I’m not. I know me and this isn’t exactly anything new. But knowing me I know I’m real close to saying things to people that would only wind up hurting Rand worse if I stayed. It’s better for the peace if I just go home.”

Clyde still looked disappointed in me but he let me pass. I wish I could say I didn’t care what this stranger thought of me but a part of me does just because he is Rand’s good friend and that gave me even more reason to get out of there.

The sun was just beginning to come up when I got home. Fraidy nearly knocked me down twining between my legs. At least someone was happy to see me. I unlocked the door, went in and locked everything behind me. I went up to the dormer room, cracked the window for air but left the shutters closed and fell across the bed and went straight to sleep.

I woke up with my boots still on to hear the noise of more explosions only this time they were on the other side of town. There wasn’t anything I could do about it so I got up and tried to be as normal as possible. I’ve taken care of my animals, canned the last of the plums, fixed trays of fruit for the dehydrator, gardened, cleaned my rifle and pistol, and tried really hard not to think about the fact I have probably lost the best friend I’ve ever had.

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