Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter 24

June 1st – I don’t even know what category to put this day in. Parts have been bad, parts have been weird, but parts have been … I don’t know, better than just OK.

I stopped writing last night when Rand stepped onto the porch but that doesn’t mean things had stopped happening. As a matter of fact apparently a lot had been happening while I was sitting writing in my journal. I opened the door and Rand barked at me, “Did you even look to see who it was?”

I would have gotten snippy at him except the front of his shirt had blood on it. He locked the door and rolled down the security door before going over to lean against the kitchen counter. He just stood there with his head down. I got him some fresh water and after a moment of looking at it like he didn’t know what it was he finally started drinking it.

“I went to school with Dickon Brown ever since I moved to live with Uncle George. He’s been one of my best friends. I hadn’t seen him lately. His family lives all the way over off of River Rd and … “

I could tell he shuddered but it was too dark for me to see his face. I got the wind up lamp – one of the things that I brought from the dormer room – and turned it on and he jump like he had been stung by a hornet. “Where did you … ? Never mind. How much battery do you have left?”

I showed him it was a little wind up lamp … I’d forgotten to charge the solar one (now put on my daily to-do list) … and he tinkered with it a second before wondering aloud whether it could be seen from outside. I told him no since I had already checked. The rolldowns don’t let anything out and neither do the accordion shutters because they extend out from the windows on all sides. On top of that I told him Momma sewed black out curtains to the inside of all the drapes that were hung at every window and that we can pull those closed if he wanted to. He wanted to so I went around the house doing that, mostly by feel, while he took the lamp to the bathroom to change his shirt and wash up.

I was trying to be patient but by the time he got out of the bathroom and I put his shirt to soak I had more acid in my stomach than I could handle and nearly ran into the wall trying to get to my parents’ bathroom so I wouldn’t embarrass myself and have a mess to clean up.

I hate puking. I really hate puking in front of other people. I had heard him rattle the door knob but was too busy trying to make sure everything made it to the bowl. I was shaking in embarrassment when he popped the lock and came in anyway when I wouldn’t answer. He opened the cabinets until he found the wash rags and wet one with the pitcher of water I keep in there and washed my face. I tried to make him leave – with hand signals since I didn’t have the breath to talk yet – but he ignored me. When I finally stopped being sick I could have just crawled under a rock but Rand turned out to be pretty cool.

He asked me what was wrong and I explained about how when I get stressed out my stomach sometimes develops a mind of its own. He said, “Yeah, I used to do that during finals week. Didn’t matter how much I had studied all semester, I was convinced that something was going to go wrong and I’d lose my scholarship.”

He made it easy not to be too embarrassed which isn’t something I expected from a guy. I finally pulled myself together but then I started worrying that he would think I wasn’t strong enough to handle whatever was going on. Before I could even say something he told me, “And no, I don’t think you are being a ‘baby.’ But you need to tell me if something is bothering you. I can’t read minds. If it is … um, girl stuff … and you don’t want to tell me, fine but you still have to tell me the it’s girl stuff and that you don’t want to talk about it. Things are too crazy for me to try and guess. Deal?”

I told him “deal” and we shook on it which was a little silly but it made us both smile. Then we went back to the kitchen and he asked me if there was any way to get on the roof so he could see above the trees. I asked him why go on the roof? And then I led him up to the first bonus room whose window overlooked my road, We had to open the window and shutter and it was hot up there (heat rises and it will get warmer up there as summer comes on) but this time of year it is hot anywhere you go; at least the air was fresher than what was down stairs with the windows and the shutters all closed up.

When we settled down, him in a chair by the window and me on the futon and the lamp off but within hand’s reach, he finally told me what had happened.

“I walked the fence line, what I could of it anyway – the quadrant where this house sits is totally overgrown and impenetrable by the way – and didn’t see anything, but I could hear stuff off to the west. I used your road to try and get closer to see what was going on. As soon as I got out of the trees on that piece between the two bends in the road I heard shouting and motorcycles coming from that piece of land where you dumped … well, over in there,” he finished trying not to upset me again.

“It wasn’t too much longer before I heard some shots and then the motorcycles speed off. I was debating what to do when someone came stumbling out of the trees closer to the highway. He got hung up on the barbed wire but eventually made it over but fell down and didn’t move after that. I knew I couldn’t leave whoever it was in the road for anyone to see. When I got up there I realized it was Dickon. He was already dead; his wounds didn’t look that bad so I don’t know for sure what killed him. I carried him back into the trees. The fight, riot, or whatever you want to call it is spreading out from the center of town now. I think the gangbangers are going to use the confusion to hit as many places as they can and cause as much misery as they can. For all I know other people could be doing it as well.”

We really didn’t talk much after that. I fell asleep on the futon but was shaken awake sometime during the night by Rand who asked me to keep watch while he got a little sleep. I did and once heard a really large bang that was big enough that even though it was far away I could still almost feel it. Rand woke up on his own and told me to lay back down which I was happy to do. When I woke up the sun was already up and I could smell smoke which scared me the rest of the way awake.

“Easy. It’s blowing from town. Some buildings must have been set on fire last night. It’s pretty wet and it’s starting to rain again so I doubt it will go far.”

Rand said he needed to take care of the animals and check things out. He asked me if I could cook in the fireplace and I said yes but it heated the house up really bad so he said just to skip it. I pulled out the trusty can of granola but realized I was getting very close to the bottom; there are several more cans in the dormer room and in the hole in the wall in the second bonus room but I didn’t have time to dig them out.

Rand came back in with a scratch on his cheek, “Your rooster makes a good watch dog. I’m lucky his spurs haven’t grown in yet.”

I handed him a luke warm cup of instant coffee using the left over water from last night that was in the thermos. He grimaced but drank it anyway. He also ate the bowl of granola and milk I gave him but instead of putting the dried strawberries on it he handed me a shirt pocket full of blackberries and told me there were a bunch of ripe ones in the orchard.

When Rand walked out there with me – allowing as how I needed to check on my things – his “bunch” and my “bunch” didn’t line up. Most of the berries were still red like a raspberry instead of dark purple or even farther away from being ripe. I did gather the ripe ones but there was barely half a bucket. Maybe if we had walked all over the property I could have come up with a full bucket but Rand wouldn’t agree to that. The ones I did pick I had to fight the mosquitoes for. I brought them in the house and gently washed them to get the rest of the mosquitoes off.

Next, while Rand wandered around the yard trying to figure out what the noises were that we were hearing off in the far distance I dug up the beans and brought them inside and stuck the whole Dutch oven in the fireplace, leaving some hot coals on top to keep them warm.

The coals in the ground were hissing like crazy as the light rain hit them so I covered the hole with a piece of scrap of sheet aluminum. I planned on lighting another fire in there later. With this done I was hanging at loose ends and Rand was eager to get back inside and lock everything down.

I could see how dark he was under the eyes and asked him if he couldn’t just take another nap until lunch time if I promised to stay upstairs and keep watch. It took some weaseling but I finally got Rand to agree to a nap – and he calls me stubborn – and he was crashed in no time flat. He insisted on sleeping on the futon though.

While he slept I decided to get out Momma’s stuff and see if I could rip out the seams on a couple pair of blue jeans that I had found. It wound up taking me longer than I thought it would but it gave me something to do while I kept watch. I also thought out what I could use as a belt for the treadle sewing machine. I found a spool of leather for women’s belts in Momma’s crafts supplies. It was way too wide but I think I can cut it down to make it work using Daddy’s big shop scissors. And in the drawere of the sewing cabinet was a computer printed manual for the sewing machine … Daddy must have found it on the internet when he had promised Momma he would refurbish it someday … and it shows how to rethread the belt. Pretty simple, well maybe, if I can rig up some type of metal staple to hold the two ends of the “belt” together.

I had finished ripping out the jeans and was practicing one of the crocheted edges I remembered on a piece of scrap fabric when I looked over and saw Rand watching me with only one eye. He asked me if I’d seen anything and I told him no and that most all of the noise had stopped too. He got up and I went downstairs and dished out some lunch. I hadn’t fixed any bread but Rand didn’t seem to mind.

After lunch we checked on the animals again. Fraidy showed herself for a few minutes and deigned to be petted and scratched before slinking off into the bushes. Pretty Boy behaved this time and didn’t attack though he wasn’t too happy that we didn’t let him out. We left him pouting in the pile of branches I had stacked in the barn.

We both needed to walk off some energy but Rand wouldn’t go further than where I used to feed the cows. We had just started back when Rand practically tossed me into a big clump of blackberry bushes and then put his hand over my mouth when I started to give him what for over it. A horse and rider was coming up to the fence fast.

Rand had chambered a round in his rifle when the man whispered frantically, “Wait! Joiner … it’s Mitch Peters. You and my brother Jace used to race down on 252 before the sheriff set up that course at the old concrete plant. Got some news and a warning from Mr. Henderson.”

Rand motioned for me to stay put while he went to meet the man. They were quiet but I still heard them.

“Mr. Henderson sent me around to tell you to find a hole and crawl in for a while. Things have come unglued. Downtown is on fire, some idiots tried to bust the gates down at the Supply Depot, and the gangbangers are running around doing everything they can to make things worse.”

Rand whispered, “Have you heard anything about Uncle George’s place?”

“They are holding out. And folks know he’ll shoot to defend his kids and worry about who he is shooting later. But that’s not your problem right now. Freddie Harbinger is dead and his brother Ron has been shot and no one knows if he’s gonna make it. Old Jared is all the way crazy and out for blood. Word is if you didn’t do it you had a hand in it.”

“What?! I didn’t … “

“I didn’t say you did. Mr. Henderson said anyone who did was a fool and his voice is carrying some weight. Not everyone is crazy but some people think you could have. You know how people are. And Mr. Winston isn’t helping ‘cause his daughter is missing. It’s all circumstantial but it don’t look good.”

I made them both jump when I came out of the bushes saying, “He wouldn’t do anything like that. More than that, he couldn’t have. He’s been here taking care of me since the distribution area closed.”

“Doesn’t matter. People believe what they want to believe.” Then turning to Rand he said, “Just keep your head down. It’ll get straightened out after the crazies and gangbangers run out of energy; until then just hang loose. No heroics, no theatrics. And Mr. Henderson said to keep an eye on the girl or he’ll know why not. Now I’m done playing messenger boy. We lost a dozen head before we could get the cattle into the secured stockyard. I braved the loonies to get away from Mr. Henderson chewing on our … “

Rand cleared his throat but I didn’t have any trouble following Mitch Peter’s train of thought. I might not have had many dealings with him but Mr. Henderson didn’t strike me as an easy man to be around when he was in a temper.

After the horse and rider couldn’t been seen for the trees we headed back towards the house. It had finally stopped drizzling but that only made things more hot and miserable and that pretty much summed up Rand’s temper. I handed him the swing blade and pointed at the next area of grass I had intended to cut for the cows. I figured he could chop off some imaginary heads while I went and fixed blackberry dumplings. Momma always cooked a treat for Daddy when he was in a foul mood and the way Rand ate I figured one way or the other he wouldn’t say no to dessert.

It was a good thing that I did fix the dumplings because it took dinner and two helpings of dessert before Rand would talk in words of more than one syllable and stop clinching his teeth and fisting up his hands. I mostly just stayed out of his way. I think by way of an apology he helped with the dishes and then carried the Dutch oven when I started a batch of baked beans with bacon-flavored TVP for tomorrow.

“I have shares with Uncle George and when the weather gets cold we’ll butcher some hogs and I’ll make sure you get some real bacon.”

I told him, “That would be nice but don’t go to the trouble. I don’t have any way to refrigerate it so it would just go to waste.”

“You need a smokehouse. I’m surprised your Dad didn’t build one.”

I explained about how they’d had a bunch of plans but ran out of time to do anything about them. He got thoughtful looking … kinda cute in a goofy way … and he mentioned that if I was really interested in learning that he’d show me how to build a smokehouse out of an old refrigerator. He laughed at my expression and told me they were called “white trash” smoke houses by some people but they worked just as well as the others, they just weren’t as pretty. I told him I didn’t need pretty but that I’d have to learn to get my own meat before I would need a smokehouse.

We went back and forth on that subject for a few minutes then he said he was going to keep watch. I stayed downstairs, he looked like he needed some space to think and so did I. It’s weird having Rand around like this. I like it which only makes it weirder . It’s nice having a friend … a real one for a change … but I need to remind myself that is all he is, not that anything really would ever come of it. He’s older than I am and with Freddie out of the picture I bet you that Julia is going to turn up and cry on his shoulder about the terrible mistake she made, and how things have been so awful, blah, blah, blah. And nice guys like Rand usually fall for that stuff. I want my friend to be happy but not with some girl like Julia ‘cause unless I’m really wrong about her, if he takes her back she’ll turn around and do him like that again someday.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is about the 7th time Iv read this story lol. It still is one of my favorites and I just never get tired of it. Thanks :)

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