Monday, September 7, 2015

Chapter 85

“Stay here,” Sawyer commanded. 

“But …” 

Sawyer ignored me as he flew out of the bed, grabbed the shotgun, and then made his way downstairs to find out who was banging on the door at three in the morning. 

I was doing the best I could to get dressed silently yet be ready to help Sawyer if I could.  I cursed how clumsy and slow I was – the cold making it worse – and then cursed again when Sawyer yelled, “No!”  The sound being followed by a shotgun blast. 

I nearly fell down the stairs when I reached the landing and saw Burt Jr. huddled at the door crying and shivering but managed to get down and pull him the rest of the way inside.  The night was freezing and I grabbed up an afghan that I had used earlier to put over Jeannie while she slept.  He clung to me and I was torn between trying to see what was happening with Sawyer and taking care of the nearly hysterical boy in my arms.  Right as I was about to go to the door Sawyer banged inside carrying Delly and trying to drag an obviously shocked Rissa along too. 

Sawyer looked around, spotted me and said, “Help me get them upstairs.” 

Sawyer took the stairs two at a time carrying his barely conscious sister and as soon as they were out of sight in the dark Rissa decided to emulate her brother and have a hysterical fit.  I almost slapped her but could see she’d already been roughed up.  Instead I grabbed both of her arms and shook her twice.  “Rissa!  Look at me!  That’s better.  You’re going to have to help me to help you all.  C’mon.  Calm down so we don’t all come tumbling down the stairs.  That’s all your mother needs right now.” 

She gave me a look like she’d like to scratch my eyes out but I’d survived several such attempts and was prepared to do what I had to.  She didn’t help with Burt Jr. but she didn’t add to the problems I had getting him up the stairs either.  We were three-quarters up when Sawyer came to help.  He took one look at Rissa’s expression and put her against the wall; he wasn’t rough but he wasn’t gentle either. 

“You will NOT cause problems.  You WILL mind Kay-Lee without giving her any lip.  I come back and find you’ve been any size or shape of a problem and I will turn you over to the aunts for the duration.  I find out any of your slack-jawed friends were in on this and you better pray … that’s all I’m saying.  You got that girl?” 

After a brief moment of defiance she crumbled.  “They hit me!  They HIT me!” 

“Yeah and from what your mother said they did worse to some of the others including your little brother.  Stop being a spoiled brat pain in the ass and grow up already.  Get in there and help with your mother.” 

She scrambled to get away from him.  I tried to send Burt Jr. after her but he clung to me.  Sawyer finally picked him up and carried him into the room.  He put the boy in a chair by the bed but he slid to the floor and stayed there.  I saw Sawyer had started a fire but had also locked the old-fashioned fire screen so it couldn’t be gotten to without the key that went with it.   

He pulled me into the hallway.  “I have to go.  Delly didn’t say much before she passed out but a group of about two dozen people came to their place.  Claimed they were looking for Mason.  Something went wrong and shooting started.  She saw Burt fall and then most of the others run off but two of them.  Those two grabbed her and the kids, roughed ‘em up, then said they were coming here.” 


“Paybacks.  From what they said they were the ones with Mason the morning he came here to create trouble.  Babe I’ve got to go.” 

“That makes no sense.” 

“Not much does right now,” he growled while throwing on his heavy jacket after tying his boots on.  He stopped and then grabbed me in a tight hug.  “Babe … I … I gotta.” 

I decided rather than throwing a hissy and delaying the inevitable that I would do what I could.  “While you go put some extra shells in your pockets I’m gonna throw some jerky in a bag for you.” 

I left Sawyer only long enough to hobble to the kitchen pantry as quickly as I could and grab one of the snack bags that I’d started making up for Sawyer to take when he left the house.  I was always worried that he’d get stuck someplace and no one would think to offer him anything to eat.  It had happened enough times that I never had to worry about the bags going stale.  I also poured what was left of the lukewarm coffee into a thermos.  It wouldn’t taste great but it was thick, dark, high test, and that’s about all a Hartford needs.  Hot would have been nice but wasn’t necessary in the scheme of things. 

By the time I got back Sawyer had added some layers over his long johns, put his coat on, and added his rifle and a hand gun to the shot gun he had already been carrying.  I wished one of the cousins was around to back him up but there was nothing I could do to make it happen.  I handed him the bag and the thermos for which I got another kiss. 

“Bolt the door Babe and don’t open it for anyone but Gramps, Uncle Ned, or Uncle James.” 

“And Tommy and …” 

“No,” he said harshly before drawing a breath.  “Kay-Lee … Babe … just do as I’m asking you to.  Don’t open it for anyone but me and those three.  Tommy and … and some of the others … are good guys but it wouldn’t take much to break ‘em down if they threatened the right person.  So just mind me on this so my mind can be at ease.” 

“Sure Sawyer.  Just promise me … be careful.” 

“Absolutely,” he said.  “And don’t let Rissa push you around.  She’ll maybe try but no matter my sister or Burt Jr., you can’t let her get away with it or she’ll just keep trying to run you over.  Once she figures out she can’t she’ll settle down.” 

“Don’t worry about me … or the others.  You … you just be careful.  And come back.  Soon.” 

“Soon as possible.  Now give me another kiss to warm me up and then you bolt this door.  And remember …” 

“I’ll remember.  Gramps, Uncle Ned, Uncle James … no one else.”


Monday, June 22, 2015

Chapter 84

I had my back to Sawyer making sure all of the jars were covered under towels to keep a stray cold breeze from cracking them until they could cool down when he came back up from the basement.  He walked up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder to gently pull me around.  “You feel up to telling me what that was all about?” 

Not sure how to explain it I simply said, “Temptation.” 

Although Sawyer and I tried to not let our pasts leak into our presents neither one of us was exactly stupid when it came to life and had experienced more than enough.  “Did you have a problem?” he asked. 

“No.  But I almost did.  And I know that doesn’t make sense but I promise that’s how it was.” 

“Linda and Tommy both have told me how … how you were in pain most of the time.  Is that when it happened?” 

Understanding his questions were valid even if they made me uncomfortable I explained rather than make him guess.  “It happened when my foot got infected.  I thought I knew what pain was before that, thought I understood it … but when the infection got into the nerves and bone it became something else completely.  It was like there was acid boiling under my skin day and night.  There was no break, no getting away from it.  Then the fevers got really bad and … and started to affect me … I mean cognitively.  I was hallucinating and losing who I was.  I spent more energy fighting the pain than fighting the infection.  My body was just wearing out and stopped cooperating. The problem was that because I’ve had to be on so many drugs for most of my life some have become ineffective and I’ve developed sensitivities and allergies to others.  Especially narcotics and antibiotics.  They wound up putting me on intravenous Dilaudid that I got through a pic line because my veins were blowing out. My reaction to that was so bad that … anyway about the only ‘safe’ thing left for me that helps with the pain I used to have is straight up morphine.” 

“Morphine?!  You hurt that bad?!  Babe ... do you ... are you ... are you hiding how bad you hurt?” 

I chuckled but it wasn’t a nice sound.  “No, I'm not hiding anything.  We have stipulations and I won't break them.  But I used to hurt every day, sometimes all day.  But its obvious you were never into drugs.” 


“Sawyer, dilaudid is several times stronger than morphine … I just can’t take it because it makes me kinda nuts.  Trust me, I would if I ever hurt that way again.  But it might mean you'd have to lock me away in the basement.” 

“That's completely not funny Kay-Lee.  Just explain it to me so I’ll understand.  And don’t worry that … that I’ll think less of you.  You don’t think less of me for being in prison.” 

“No, I don’t. For one you didn’t deserve to be there.  This is different though.” 

Acknowledging that I had a point he said, “Yes it is but I hope you know what I mean.  The situation was out of your control … like mine was.  Sounds like you didn’t have any choice.” 

“I wouldn’t go that far, we always have a choice of some kind. I was a kid and didn't really have much say over what the doctors were doing but I could have made a stink.  I just hurt too bad and went along with everything hoping that it would stop me from hurting and fix what they said they were fixing.  But what I’m saying is that it is obvious you don’t know about the drugs because you were never into them.  Well, I wasn’t into them either except as a … a survival mechanism is what Dr. Carruthers called it.  But that last time … the infection … me needing the drugs almost got away from me.  I almost got dependent on the morphine and went through various stages of withdrawal when they started weaning me off of it.  Then the staph infection tried to come back on me and I was almost … almost ready for them to just cut it off, amputate the foot and anything else just to make it all go away.  At that point the medical staff medicated me against my will and I got really, really scared that I wouldn’t be able to get away from the drugs … ever … because we didn’t know what kind of damage was going to be left from the effect of the infection.  I was in limbo land for a while.  And then things got … better.  I was still left with drop foot but … but I survived and really Sawyer that’s all I want to talk about it.  I hope I never hurt that bad again but I guess Dr. C is worried that … that something might happen and that I’ll need the narcotics but not be able to get them.  But having someone like Dr. C basically say something that … that huge … I don’t know what that could mean and how that works with what we are trying to prepare for.” 

Sawyer carefully drew me into his arms and suddenly it felt like things were ok again.  He wasn’t judging me.  “Babe, we can’t read the doc’s mind.  For all we know she was just paying you some extra special attention since she seems to think she has some kind of stake in how you turn out.  On the other hand … she seems like a smart person and I guess maybe she thinks of you as part of her legacy and is doing what she can to ensure things go the right way.” 

“Fine, I won't assume anything one way or the other but …”  I sighed.  “But Sawyer I really don’t want people knowing about those drugs.  Some of what is in that box is morphine ampules but there is other stuff in there too … expensive stuff.  If we were in town I know where I could sell those drugs for big bucks.  And I know the people that would do almost anything to get their hands on the kind of high test narcotics I asked you to hide.” 

Sawyer shook his head and blew a breath through his nose.  “Girl you scare me to death talking all casual about that stuff.  It makes me feel bad that you had to go through it.” 

“Well don't.  It was just my life and maybe now … maybe now you get a little bit of idea why I was so scared to believe in what you were offering for so long.” 

He kissed me.  “You gonna be ok?  Ready for bed?” 

“Yes but I wanna show you what else Dr. C sent.  About half of each of the threes boxes is my medical records.  We’ll need to find a place for those.  It’ll take up the whole draw in one of those filing cabinets you moved upstairs.” 

“I’ll carry the boxes upstairs as we go to bed.” 

“No, just leave them down here, it can wait.  I’d rather move this other stuff first; I'm not comfortable leaving it where just anyone could see it and start asking questions I'm not prepared to answer.  For now I want to move the Naproxen to our bedroom closet but at some point we probably need to move it down to the basement and hide it.  If I’m understanding what you said, these little blue pills are worth some money.” 

“That they are Babe."  Staring over my shoulder into one of the boxes he said, "Looks like the doc decided you needed a pharmacy and a walk in clinic combined.” 

“I know.  And look at this.  I think it is a draft of a book one of her partners was working on.  Doctor Foley always kind of creeped me out but was a real genius by all accounts.  I just hated being treated like I was Dr. C’s weird little science experiment slash pet.” 

“He sounds like a jerk.” 

“She," I said correcting him.  "And she had the bedside manner of an overflowing bed pan but that didn’t stop her from being a brilliant researcher.  Her hobby was home remedies and trying to determine which ones were efficacious and why.  I’m going to go through some of these and ask Uncle Ned about them.” 

We went up the stairs with Sawyer carrying the box we'd emptied of my records and filled with the medical supplies.  We slid it into our closet but we both agreed we needed to build a hidden cabinet down in the basement for all the stuff we didn't want a casual investigation to find.  We also needed to finish putting all of our supplies away that were still laying about. 

“Babe, unless something comes up Gramps has told me to focus on what we need for the next couple of days.  He and the uncles are going to try and sort out the mess some of the cousins have made and try and encourage all of them to pay attention and get their work done rather than looking for someone else to fix it for them.  So, first priority is to finish organizing our stuff.  Second order of business is I want a better lock on that basement door, on all the exterior doors too ... I got them from some junk Burt had so I won't have to go to town to get what we need.  I also wanna finish moving some of our wood to the basement and if I’m going to do that I might as well at least start on that dumb waiter since I’ll be able to use the pulley to move the wood down without having to take it down the stairs by hand … or at least send some down with the pulley and carry the small wood.  That sound ok to you?”

“Just having you around sounds good to me.  I’ll try and help, but if I just get in the way … oh stop, we both know it’s true … if it seems like I’m making more work then I’ll see what I can do about using up what little is left in the chest freezer.” 

And with that plan thought out we got ready for bed and though we were both exhausted it was some time before we could relax enough to actually sleep.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Chapter 83

“Well I guess you did get a few things done despite the day being what it has been.” 

I looked at Sawyer and decided to take his surprise as a compliment when it could have been something else.  That’s me being oversensitive and not ‘cause he means to.  Time has proven to me that men, and apparently Hartford men in particular, like to chew on their feet.  And I’ll keep believing that until I have reason not to so I merely nodded and said, “Yep.” 

He still caught my tone of voice however.  “Uh …” 

I shook my head to get over myself.  “Forget it Sawyer, I’m just tired and this stuff with your family …” 

“Our family.” 

I looked at him. “Ok.  This stuff with … with our family.  It feels rotten … rotten and wrong.  I’m just not sure what to … how to … I guess what I mean is I’m not sure how to react, what to say, wondering if I should say anything at all.  I never expected to have a family and now … now look at all of this going on.  And I’m sorry.  I know you’ve had a rough day.” 

Sawyer looked at me and said, “You don’t have anything to be sorry for.  And I sure hope you don’t feel like you have to apologize for some of them dipshits.” 


“Look Babe, yes they are my … our … family, but the fact is I had to learn the hard way that family or not, sometimes people can be dip … alright, alright … sometimes people can act ignorant with little to no reason to back their choices up.” 

Feeling helpless to explain it perfectly I decided I still needed to explain it someway.  “Sawyer after everything Gramps and the aunts and uncles have been saying since all of us got married, the way some of them are acting isn’t just ignorant … it’s dangerous.  I mean … we have a bargain and our stipulations and I would have thought they would have had those things too; and so we’ve got some baggage between us but that didn’t stop us from following through on our bargain.  Breaking bargains … breaking promises … that is just all kinds of stupid on top of the danger.  And not just a little dangerous either.  And we … we need to figure out whether they are being dangerous on purpose or dangerous out of being stupid. Look at Jamison, he just barely ran his mouth to a few of his friends to make him look like more than he is and now he’s in the hospital … or at least on a stretcher in the ER.” 

Sawyer shrugged, almost like he didn’t care about his cousin’s fate.  “Try a chair in the hallway.  He’s that thing … triaged … because they’ve got so many real emergencies like people on machines than need electric to keep running and keep them alive.  The radio said they are asking for donations of fuel to keep the generators at the hospital, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities running.  And if you read between the lines you get the feeling if they don’t get donations and volunteers they’ll just go and take what they need and draft whoever they have to.” 

I shivered.  “And that just makes it worse.  If we have what all we do and we’re scared, how are other people that don’t have much of anything going to feel?  And how is how they are feeling going to cause them to act?” 

“Babe …” 

Getting wound up I let my mouth run.  “Seriously Sawyer.  And is Jamison going to really expect to just stroll right back in with the Hartfords?  And will the family just let him?  What he did … what almost happened …”  I couldn’t tell him how I was really feeling because then there might be more to it than being scared.  I was afraid I was going to lose someone else before I knew what having a family really meant.  I was afraid of Sawyer getting hurt, of losing him, because of the job that Gramps wanted him to take on or just because of some of his cousins’ stupidity. 

I could tell he was seeking to find some words that would soothe me and answer me at the same time and oh how I wanted to be soothed so when he spoke I listened. “Let’s just say that ol’ Jamison has finally dug himself a hole he isn’t going to get out of unless someone drops a long ladder down to him and if what I’m hearing stays true, ain’t no ladders long enough in the family that they’re willing to part with.”  I opened my mouth to ask another question but he kept going.  “As for the others that were acting like a butt end they are getting their reality check.  How much of a check depends on how much effort and thought they’ve been putting into it all along.  Some of the ones that would snicker and roll their eyes behind people’s backs are having to do some serious reevaluating.” 

“That makes no sense.  If they didn’t believe anything was going to happen then why did they play along and get married and all of it?” 

“Honey, you’re guess is as good as mine at this point, and to be honest I ain’t in the mood to play twenty question about their mental capacity ‘cause I know it’ll only give me indigestion.  And before you start worrying it to death some more, think on this; I am not going to just give up all of our hard work to people – family or not – all because they played grasshoppers to our ants.  Gramps and the others can do what they want but I will not go down that path.  I sign up for a job … not a suicide mission.  I’ll do my best to help those that are willing to work … willing and who actually do the work … and I’ll look after those that can’t work for some reason that is beyond their fault like the old folks and babies and stuff, but everyone else is going to have to root hog or die.  Too few appreciate things unless they do the work themselves; look how some of them were about that furniture.  That’s one of the reasons why Gramps made sure that all the cousins participated in helping to build their own places … he wanted them to appreciate what they were getting.  And that’s why Uncle James was beginning to get so bent out of shape at the ones that kept waiting for other people to help to finish up their places.” 

“I guess.” 

“No guessing to it.  And if you want more proof, Uncle Mark today told some of them that the cash tap is officially turned off.  He is co-executor or whatever you call it for the trust.  He said between bank restrictions and government restrictions there is no more where the rest came from.  According to him most of it has already been used up, to the point of hardly any left, and what little is left is for taking care of Gramps, Uncle Ned, and Uncle Forrester for just in case.”  Sawyer shook his head in disgust.  “You shoulda seen the looks on some faces.  I knew some of ‘em were knuckleheads but this about takes the cake.” 

“They were really angry?” 

“Nope.  Babe they were scared.  Like something had finally sunk in.  Oh a few of ‘em tried to bow up but Uncle Mark put ‘em straight without even looking at Gramps or any of the uncles.  Surprised more than a few.” 

“Set ‘em straight how?” I asked suspiciously having suffered more than once the rough sandpaper that Uncle Mark called his tongue. 

Sawyer started scribbling numbers then striking through them while he answered me.  “Apparently it was decided real early on that barring anything unforeseen the same amount of money was to be spent on each of us cousins.  It is to be our inheritance from Gramps and his brothers and we were all to understand there wouldn’t be more because if there was any, it would go to the aunts and uncles.  Well after that decision had been agreed on by all the Senior Hartford clan members Uncle Mark got involved and said that if some worked more and gave back that it should count for them rather than against them.  He has like these books for each couple and you should see ‘em … he’s been keeping track.” 

Rolling my eyes I said, “I’m not sure I wanna know what he’s been keeping track of. 

Sawyer chuckled tiredly.  “He’s actually been fair and objective though I’m sure you are going to have a hard time believing it.  Heck I had a hard time believing it.”  When he saw the look on my face he tried explaining with more detail.  “Let me give you a for instance.  When Benedict converted that old tractor to run biodiesel a piece of our funds got moved to repay him for parts and labor, but then when we used the tractor almost exclusively for running the big log splitter for everyone some of that piece he moved over came back.  Same thing with what has come out of our orchard.” 

“That is more complicated than it needs to be isn’t it?” 

“Yeah … and no.  It actually helped everyone complaining to see what he calls accountability.  It also means that even though it appears that they might spend more cash on some than others – Jeannie’s hospital bills for one though her parents have stepped up and gotten them lots of things for the baby – the reality is that Benedict pretty much was banking family credit by doing all the work he has without asking for anything in return.” 

Sighing I said, “Let me guess, they had a lot to say about us.” 

“Naw, they actually tried to have more to say about Tommy and Linda.” 


“Settle down Tiger.  Uncle Forrester threw his cane through the window when he overheard it and would have followed it with a lamp and alarm clock if Linda hadn’t torn up the stairs and distracted him.  Hardly anyone could understand him but everyone pretty much got the picture and backed off.  As for the rest of it, no one dares say anything about us as our place has been used for the wood cutting and all the canning days.  Uncle Mark said to keep it under our hat about how we’d repaid … er …” 

“My doctor bills from where I went into the ER?” 

“Yeah that.  And don’t make that face.  I promised you that I’d repay Gramps and we have so leave it alone.  Besides, the uncles all agreed that the trick you and Burt pulled getting all them green coffee beans pretty much means you could ask for the moon and they’d try and get it for you.” 

“Ooooooh … stop it.” 

Sawyer grinned and pulled me into his arms.  “I know I’ve been a little shy on appreciating you lately …” 


Sawyer just laughed but that used up some of the last of his energy.  “Seriously Babe, leave it in the Uncles’ hands.  They got it worked out between ‘em and all us cousins can do right now is fall in line.  Now tell me again, and this time slow down so I can write it down.” 

So I started listing off what I’d managed to make while I was canning for Aunt Pearl and the rest of the family.  My main accomplishments were chili[1], sloppy joe filling[2], pork n’ beans[3], navy bean soup[4], clam chowder base[5], cream of celery soup[6], golden mushroom soup[7].  I got smaller batches of black bean soup[8] and garbanzo bean soup[9]. 

“Sawyer I wish I could have done more but there just wasn’t time between the interruptions.” 

“Uncle Ned give you fits?” 

“Not hardly.  All he asked for was a couple of naproxins.  I felt so bad I didn’t get a chance to feed him better.” 

“Dang it, I almost forgot.  You got a package from that doctor.” 

“What doctor?  You mean Doctor Carruthers?  What was in it?” 

“I don’t open your mail.” 

All I could do was roll my eyes since he expected me to open any mail that came to the house regardless of whether my name was on it or not.  He got up and brought me a couple of decent sized boxes and I realized there was no post mark.  “Where did these come from?”

“Courier delivered them to Gramps’ house.” 

“Ok, this is weird.  I wonder what is in it.” 

“Try opening it and finding out,” he said with a laugh. 

I opened it and had to sit down.  “Sawyer?” 

“I see ‘em.  What’s that note say?” 

I read Dr. Carruther’s scrawl and was even more flabbergasted. 

Dear Kay-Lee,  My practice is closing our Uptown offices and several in our practice are opting for retirement.  I will be moving full time to our hospital office space and have included a forwarding address should you need to reach me.  Downsizing is now a requirement including a great deal of paperwork that I’ve been hanging onto.  I have had all of your records digitized but it is unknown how long until those become available in our new system.  Because of your unique circumstances I have copied what I can and am forwarding to you to keep in a safe place with the rest of your legal records.  I have also enclosed some other material that I feel may be of use to you in the near term.  Yours, Dr. C 

“Oh … my …  I don’t believe her!” 

After Sawyer got over his surprise he snickered, “Well I’ll be honest and say I’m glad you didn’t open that with company around.” 

“Very funny.  Ha.  Ha.  Oh my gosh she is just soooo nosy.  I mean I know this is just her way of … well … I don’t know what to call it but it is her way of taking care of her patients.  But dignity dangity.” 

“I was wondering what we were going to do when I got low.” 

“Sawyer, don’t you dare laugh.” 

“I’m not.”  At my look he grinned.  “Ok, I’m not laughing much.  That is some crazy doc you’ve got.  But I like her.” 

“Unfortunately so do I.  She’s just too much some times.  And what are we supposed to do with a giant case of condoms.”  Not exactly in the mood for Sawyer’s leer I shook my head and dug into the rest of the first box.  “Geez, there has to be hundreds of those single serve naproxen packs.” 

“Good.  They’re out everywhere I’ve looked.  All they have is the name brand stuff and in small bottles.” 

“They didn’t have any generic?” 

“Not this side of town though Beth’s brother sent her out a box of stuff from his dental practice and there were a couple of bottles in there.  His practice is being forced to shut down because Medicare and Medicaid are threatening to fine them because they wouldn’t see some special populations pro bono.  He and his partners got tired of having to close down their offices to disinfect everything when them people would come in with things like scabies, lice, and other nasty stuff like that.” 

I’d seen a lot of that in foster care and didn’t feel like rehashing it and making Sawyer feel bad.  “Well there’s other stuff in here too but what is in here … it’s like a message or something.” 

“Are those needles?” 

Slowly I nodded and answered, “Yes.  I want to lock these away.” 

The look on my face must have clued him in that something was up because he asked, “Hon?” 

“Lock them up Sawyer.  Put them down in the basement back in that corner.  Now.” 

“Kay-Lee …” 

“Now Sawyer.”  I calmed down and made myself said, “Please.”


Monday, June 15, 2015

Chapter 82

Sorry about the delay.  My dad took a spill and when my mom try to catch him she went down too.  Nothing broken but they were both sore and I spent last night and most of today dealing with the aftermath. 


“Are you sure Kay-Lee?” 

I looked at my two sisters-of-the-heart and told them, “Will you two go home already?  I’ve got this.” 

“But …” 

“But nothing.  Benedict needs to get home and get in his own bed and Tommy is running on fumes too.  It is either go now or you’ll be here overnight.” 

“Ok, but we owe you … big time.” 

“So fine, you owe me … now get.” 

Tommy had brought Linda earlier to help as Aunt Pearl had sent a bunch of dried beans and frozen meat and asked if I could can up soups to save what they were worried was going to ruin the longer the power stayed off.  Apparently word was going around that the power company had put the rural areas on the bottom of the list to get electric back; they were furiously working to try and get the town back online but even that would take time as the outage was regional rather than just local.  Even when the rural areas got their power back up and running what they called “brown outs” were to be expected as they rationed what the co-op could produce.   

Linda looked at me all owl-eyed, definitely too emotionally wired up for her own good.  I told her, “Don’t even think about it Linda.  Get back to Gramps and company.  Hopefully the mess over there will have died down a bit and the aunts will need some help getting the uncles to knock off and get some rest.  You know good and well after using a whip and chair all day poor Aunt Pearl is going to needs a respite.” 

Linda finally cracked a smile and gave me a giggle.  “I wish you could come with me, you’d probably handle ‘em just right.” 

“Who me?” I asked as innocent as a lamb making both Linda and Jeannie both giggle quietly. 

Sawyer stuck his head in and in mock gruffness said, “Alright you three.  Enough with your diabolical planning.  Give us poor men a fighting chance.” 

It was quick work after that to get them gone.  Sawyer and I looked at each other and all the hilarity melted away.  We walked into each other’s arms and I just held him and him me.  Then I looked up and gently touched his busted lip.  “I’m sorry Sawyer.” 

Sighing like he was as old as Gramps he said, “I’m not surprised but it still hurts.  Hurts more ‘cause of how it is hurting Gramps and some of the others but … but they were warned lots of times.” 



I pulled him over to the kitchen table and put a mug of warm cider into his hands.  I knew he wanted coffee more but he needed the warm and sweet to combat the emotions of the day; coffee would have just made him even more jittery.  “Fear.  You know how it is.  Someone gets scared and they fly apart and act less smart than they are capable of being.” 

Sawyer snorted then grimaced at joggling his nose so much.  “Just go ahead and say it Kay-Lee.  A few of the cousins and their wives just had a big ol’ fat case of the stupids.” 

Unafraid to agree at this point I nodded.  “Ok, they had the stupids.  On the other hand it looks like their folks got ‘em to pull their heads out of their backsides.” 

“For now.” 

“That might be all they need to find some … uh … find their equilibrium.” 

Sawyer pulled the kitchen chair, sat down, then laid his head on his arm.  I heard a muffled, “God Almighty, I hope so.  Another day like today we do not need.” 

“Is Cutter ok?  What about Davis and Uncle Mark?” 

“Cutter is pretty toasted right now and wanted to call Jamison out but he calmed down for Beth when she started getting sick from nerves.  Davis and Uncle Mark are a little roughed up but Cindy stepped it up, I didn’t know the girl had it in her.  She’s tired but … from the sound of things even Uncle Mark was impressed.” 

Still trying to put two and two together I said, “I know you are probably sick to death of it but I’ve only gotten the story by stringing together things the family has been saying as they came by and I’m not sure I have it all or what I do have is in the right order.  Could you … do you feel up to …?” 

Sawyer sat up and stretched and said, “I could say a lot of things but what it boils down to is when Jamison’s wife left him to go to her family in Tennessee he started inviting some of his old high school buddies over.  You think Jamison is a jack … er … pain in the butt, you ain’t seen nuthin’ ‘til you met some of them.  Not that I want you to.  Anyway one thing led to another, and while most of them are stupid, they ain’t dumb … they figured there was likely something to Jamison’s bragging.  Well when the power went down the cops got busy and they got brave and decided it was survival of the fittest or some dumbass thing like that.  They beat the crap out of Jamison when they found bragging was about all he had left.  He gave away some things on the family to get them to let up … but he’s hurt and that’s a fact.  The Turd Brigade just left him in the yard even though shock and hypothermia coulda killed him.  He’s lucky he was fond when he was, he still might lose two fingers between them being broken and then the frostbite.  It didn’t take long for the … er … them to hit Uncle Mark’s place first – likely ‘cause Jamison told them only Cindy would be home or so one of ‘em said – but Cutter was there helping Davis to finish weatherizing those two new mud rooms they added to the front and back entry ways.  Davis sent Cindy down to the basement when they realized there was no talking that crowd out of what they aimed to do.  Instead of the basement, Cindy went upstairs and used a hand held radio to contact her father who brought their clan over and they caught Jamison’s buddies betwixt and between but some damage had already been done.  She still had to blow both barrels of birdshot from the upstairs window when she saw some of them pull knives and guns of their own.” 

Almost afraid to ask I said, “No one wants to talk about Uncle Forrester.  Please …?” 

“Aw Kay-Lee honey … you ain’t crying are you?  I shoulda made sure someone sent word over here.”  He patted my hand as I sat down in one of the other chairs.  “He’ll be alright.  Uncle Ned and Gramps are taking turns sitting with him.  Aunt Suzanne says it wasn’t a stroke or a heart attack … but his heart is hurting.  He got stressed and his blood pressure starting shootin’ all over the place but it’s better now.  Mostly … well he’s known for a while that Bud and Jamison ain’t been pulling their weight.  Bud being out from under foot has helped but this thing with Jamison, well it just has him tied up in knots.  He ain’t had much luck between two bad marriages and kids … and grandkids … that took roads he didn’t want ‘em to.  Won’t be easy, and the family may have to suffer with Jamison a while longer though he’s wanting to head to Tennessee to get back with his wife and kids, but Uncle Forrester will pull through.” 

I wanted to believe it real bad so I did what I’d seen the aunts do and said a prayer and tried to not worry it to death.  “Is there anything any of ‘em need?” 

Sawyer got serious in a heartbeat.  “What some of ‘em need we don’t have … and I mean that whether we have it or not.” 

Confused at the way he phrased it I asked, “Huh?” 

“Sweetheart I’m laying down the law ‘cause it would kill me to ever see you in the same trouble as Cindy found herself.  From here on out we don’t talk about nothing we have … I mean nothing.  And what I’m saying next sticks in my craw a bit but … when I say nothing I also mean no one.  Not even Linda, Jeannie, and the aunts.  Not even Gramps or any of the uncles.” 

I swallowed and whispered, “Sawyer?” 

“I know.  But …”  He ran his hand’s through his hair and I could tell how tired and troubled he was.  “Look, it isn’t how I prefer things being but what happened to Jamison could happen to any of us if we aren’t careful.  With the right reason any man will break … and some of ‘em would break faster than others.” 

“I thought we were all supposed to be working together.” 

“And we are.  I’m just …”  More seriously he said, “I remember a phrase you used … an abundance of caution.” 

“Yeah, the doctors act that way so they don’t have to take back too much of what they say.” 

“Exactly.  What we don’t say we don’t have to worry about trying to take back and unsay.  I get the feeling that maybe only Gramps and Uncle Forrester really have a good idea of what we have but even they don’t know everything we have.  Delly and Burt know a lot too … but not all.  It isn’t that I don’t trust them, but I ain’t painting a target on our backs and that’s all there is to it.  Gramps wouldn’t mean to give us away but then again I can’t say for sure that he won’t expect us to help those that didn’t make more of an effort earlier.  Delly and Burt … well if it gets to be about their kids.  Just to be on the safe side … well … do you understand what I’m trying to say?” 

Carefully I nodded.  “Ok.  But …” 

“Just … just hold that thought.” 

“You don’t know what I’m going to say.” 

“I know it is likely some of what I’ve been thinking but I don’t want to say who we’d help and who we won’t.  Not right now.” 

I blinked in surprise because that was exactly what I was thinking to say.  “Ok, so you do know.  And I guess you’re right.” 

He gave me a kiss on my temple and then asked, “The swelling in my nose must be going down ‘cause I’m starting to notice something.  What smells so good?” 

“Chicken soup.  You want a cup?  I saved some back.” 

“Oh yeah.  That sounds goooood.” 

While I got a bowl for him as well as a couple pieces of cornbread he asked me if there’d been any trouble here.  I answered, “Not trouble trouble but …” 


Slowly I tried to explain knowing that when I did it wouldn’t sound anywhere near as bad as the trouble he’d dealt with today.  At the same time it added a layer that he had to know about.  “Linda is getting fritzy and Jeannie is just … geez Sawyer she is really bad off.  She got gray a couple of times when she’d start to try and help.  I finally asked Linda to take her back to the front room and keep her company.  Then I had to figure on something to keep them occupied so I gave them the aunts’ inventories to organize.  They did pretty good after that, at least until people kept coming by to see if they’d picked up everything they were due as far as the last canning day went, to check on whether anyone was running the log splitters, to see if we’d heard any news they hadn’t.  A couple of them that were a little too persistent and wanted to check the basement for themselves got a little nasty when I reminded them they hadn’t made it to the last canning day and would need to check with Aunt Pearl to see if she had anything for them on her end of things.” 

“Uh oh.  And the women were just out running around?” 


“That was stupid … and wasteful of fuel.” 


“Didja tell ‘em that?” 

“Nope.  Jeannie did though.  A couple of them wanted to start a cat fight and I told them to take it up with Gramps because I was working for the aunts, and them only indirectly.”  After biting my lip I asked, “What do you know about Barbara?” 

“Huely’s wife?  Lately she’s got the disposition of a carton of soured milk but then again so has Huely.  She give you trouble?” 

“More like something she said.” 

“Which was?” Sawyer asked trying to bow up. 

“It wasn’t about me so don’t start that again.  But … ok, this is going to make me sound like a tattle tale but after what happened today …” 

“Just spit it out Hon.” 

I shook my head.  “When I told her to take it up with Gramps she said … she said … that maybe Gramps didn’t have as much to say about things as he thinks.” 

Sawyer was half way out of his sit and said, “Holy … And damn it is too late for me to …” 

“It flew over Linda’s head but Jeannie caught it too and she’s going to tell Benedict and his dad.” 

Sawyer sat back down on a sigh.  “Ok, so that’s what Benedict was trying to tell me over Tommy’s head.” 

“Why over Tommy’s head?” 

“’Cause Huely is about the only one of the cousins that Tommy just outright does not have much to do with.” 

“Um … kinda noticed but when I asked Linda about it over the summer she just shrugged.  Is there a story there or is it just personality stuff.” 

“Both.  Huely had a step brother that was mean as a snake before he went to go live with his dad out in Idaho when we were in middle school.  Sam was … well he was like Tommy but not like Tommy.  Sam had issues from a childhood accident like Tommy only … his personality … he was just mean and liked being mean too.  Kinda wallowed in it.  He made Huely’s life a misery but the adults didn’t really get it and most of ‘em probably still don’t because Sam … well he got away with a lot for a long time though last I heard he finally tried to push the wrong farmer’s daughter and she put him in the hospital and from there he’s been in rehab trying to learn to walk again.”  Sawyer just shook his head and I took it to mean that Sam was someone he was disgusted with.  He finally continued, “Tommy understood more than any of us and caught Sam beating on Huely one day and just plain out and out whipped the tar out of him.  Huely … well I guess he got embarrassed because everyone thought Huely was the one that beat on Sam until Tommy found out about it and told the truth and told why he did it.  That embarrassed Huely twice over.  First for being beat on by someone ‘simple’ and then having to have someone else that was ‘simple’ rescue him from it.  They never could seem to find no middle ground between ‘em after that.  Tommy never expected a thank you or anything but he didn’t appreciate the crap Huely handed him either all through high school either.  But that’s old news.  Huely still shows his backside on occasion but he has … to quote Aunt Nel … been growing out of it and turning human.  At least until recently.  Maybe … no, never mind, ain’t gonna turn it into my headache.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.  But they’ll bear watching.” 

Sawyer started inhaling the soup like usual but then set it down and asked, “Where’d everything go that you got canned up?  And did you keep any for us?” 

“I did other stuff for us.” 

Slightly irritated Sawyer growled, “You mean …?” 

“Don’t start.  You’re too tired and I’m too cranky.  We’ll wind up in a fight and I don’t wanna do that.  Besides I kept out some of the beans and used some of the meat to make other things for us.  We have enough of what the aunts wanted me to work on.” 

“You sure?” 


“Are you positive?” 

“Sawyer …” 

He sighed.  “Sorry, just wasn’t too happy to find out the long way around what the aunts had stuck you with.  I have a feeling Uncle Ned was going to have a thing or three to say about it too and the way he talks he don’t give no one a chance to say otherwise.” 

I gave him a what-for look and said, “I do not want trouble with the aunts.  I was going to heat up the stove anyway and the bean soup was not a lot of extra work.” 

“Tell me another one,” he snorted, again forgetting his nose and wincing.  “But I’ll let it go this time.  I just don’t want people to start thinking that because I agreed to take on the position of family caretaker that they can assume that you’re just gonna get run roughshod over too.” 

I kissed his cheek and noticed he needed a shave … and a shower.  “It wasn’t really like that.  I suspect some of it was just an excuse to get Linda away from what was going on.  She … she can’t get through to her parents and she’s worried about them.  All the stories of the troubles in town was eating her up.  Tommy’s mother and her drama wasn’t helping either.” 

Sawyer finally nodded in understanding.  “Oh.”  He pulled over my inventory folder and asked, “You got things added in yet?” 

“No, I was waiting on the last jar to seal before I counted things up.” 

“Want some help?” 

“Only if you’re finished eating.” 

“I could eat some more but I better not.  But I wouldn’t mind another mug of this cider.”  I took his dirty bowl to the sink and brought back the cider and a mug for me as well.  From there we started working on our own lists.