Friday, December 12, 2014

Chapter 74


“You did what?!” Sawyer yelled. 

“I set a booby trap underneath the propane tank lid.  I nearly had a heart attack when you insisted on checking the lock behind me.  I was afraid it might go off accidentally.” 

“Cutter are you insane?!” 

Cutter looked like he expected to get kicked.  “Maybe.  Been called that anyway.  But … but I saw the way you looked at me this morning Sawyer.  Damn that hurt man.  I didn’t know any other way to prove to you that … that I hadn’t meant to get caught up in what happened.”  

While Sawyer stood just staring at his cousin I said, “Sawyer, did someone set it off?” 

Quietly he said, “Yeah.” 

“Who?” 

“Don’t know.  But they’ll be blue.” 

Sawyer snapped, “What the hell do you mean they’ll be blue?” 

He looked at me and tried the innocent approach and I realized what he wasn’t wanting to admit.  “It was you?!” 

“I swear … I … I …” 

Sawyer growled, “Cutter …” 

‘I had just started dating Beth and there was this other guy and … aw crap.  Beth is going to kill me.” 

I shook my head.  “I doubt it if you were really trying to protect her.  But geez Cutter … enough with the reliving of things I’d rather forget.” 

Sawyer growled again and this time asked, “All right is someone going to explain the big mystery or what?!” 

I patted Sawyer and said, “We had punks on our side of the school too.” 

“Your side?  You mean … uh …” 

“Stop tippy toeing around it Sawyer.  The special ed program side.  We come in all flavors the same as you normals do.” 

“Dammit, stop calling yourself names.” 

“I’m not calling myself a name Sawyer.  I was in the special ed program.  The reasons I was there might not have been the same as most of the students but that is the way it is.  And like I said, some of our own were as mean to us as any of the nor … oh all right, don’t blow an artery … the non-special ed program kids could be.  And Richie Carmike was mean and a pervert on top of that.  He was nasty to us, to the girls on the other side of the school, and to the teachers too.  It was that last that finally got him expelled and last I heard he was in jail for attempted rape … and getting a taste of his own medicine.” 

Sawyer and Cutter both yelped at the same time.  “Kay-Lee!” 

Exasperated by how the Hartford men could be downright nasty in their own way one second and then total Puritans the next I told them, “Well don’t expect me to have Preacher Don to pray over me for it.  Richie was a sicko and enjoyed being that way.  And what Cutter is dancing around about happened during my Freshman year only I wasn’t there to see it, only heard about it afterwards as I was still recovering from a surgery on my foot to deal … whatever.  What I heard happened was that somehow some of the blue dye that had been purchased to re-dye the cheer squad’s uniforms got all over him when he used a storage room to drill a hole into the girls’ shower area and he’d been using school equipment to try and take movies of what he was seeing in.  No one said anything about you being behind it Cutter.  No one seemed to even be suspicious of it since you were pretty well incapacitated at the time … or was supposed to be.” 

“Deputy Reynolds figured it out, let me know he knew, but said he’d let me off with a warning and keep it between the two of us if he had my word that next time I got wind of something like that I’d come to him rather than try and deal with it myself.  Hell yeah I gave him my word and that was my last prank in school too.” 

Sawyer asked, “This Carmike guy was blue?” 

I nodded before adding, “For at least two weeks except he was put in detention so no one is sure exactly how long the dye lasted.  He got expelled not too long after that and I heard that the blue in his hair was still growing out at his arraignment where they were trying to bring charges against him … but all he did was go to juvie that time.” 

Sawyer turned back to Cutter.  “So I’ll be able to tell who was here and set your little fun card off.” 

Cutter responded affirmatively.  “Sawyer … I …” 

Sawyer was trying to hold onto his mad but I could see he was losing.  Into the breach I said, “Cutter, no one has to know it was you who set the booby trap.” 

“Of course they’ll know Kay-Lee.  I have to own up to it.  My gawd I just … the family … what’s this going to do?  All this crap going on.  I thought Beth had to be imagining it, that it was hormonal or something.  But this morning … it … it shocked the hell out of me Sawyer … it shocked me more when it was going on and I realized how easy I got caught up in it.  We were just supposed to come over here and ask to see your set up, to see if it was different from ours.  You sip propane and it’s like we’re guzzling it.  It got so crazy so fast with Jamison egging us all on.  His wife is leaving him … going back to her family in Tennessee.  She said she wasn’t going to kill herself on a little piece of land if he wasn’t going to help make things better.” 

Not comprehending the true state of affairs or how it happened so quickly I focused on what I could.  “What does she think she is going to find back in Tennessee?  And if it is so great why doesn’t Jamison go with her?” 

Sawyer snorted, “Because Jamison is Jamison and doesn’t think he should have to start at the bottom and work his way up like the rest of us and that’s exactly how it would be for him in Tennessee.  At least around here he is a Hartford.  I swear he is just like Bud.  They come down from Uncle Forrester’s first wife and she was like that too.” 

“That’s just stupid talk.  You can’t inherit attitude.  You can absorb it though and it looks like someone has.  Oh well.  Too bad so sad for them.”  Then I had a brief thought.  “Sawyer, when your booby blew did it damage anything?” 

Sawyer hollered at that and took off to check it out himself with Cutter close behind him. 

********** 

Later that night I asked Sawyer, “Are you going to stay mad at Cutter?  He really does seem truly sorry from what I can tell.” 

He snorted.  “Cutter is always sorry, but usually not until after whatever disaster he started is mostly over.”  I just stayed silent and waited.  “I guess not,” Sawyer finally let slide out.  “A couple of ‘em called me while we were at the hospital to say they had no idea things were going to get as freaky as they did.  To a man they said that Jamison was the one that sent things down the dark road.  I still got that to deal with whether he is the one that set off Cutter’s prank or not.” 

“So you’re saying it might not have been Jamison?” 

“I’m saying that I’m not going to convict someone without some kind of proof.  I’ve lived on the other side of that and it won’t help make things better if I’m wrong.  Cutter said he mixed some strong homemade pepper spray in with the dye and even if whoever it is manages to get rid of the blue the pepper spray was made from hot cayenne peppers and will probably look like a burn or rash where it landed.  It made my eyes water just walking around back there and Cutter said it had to have happened at least an hour before he got there because the oil had been absorbed into the ground.  We’re going to lose some grass.  It was already wilting … looks like it had been sprayed with round-up.” 

“And if it isn’t Jamison?” 

“Then I keep my eyes and ears open and we make sure that we keep everything around here locked down 24/7.” 

“Is that why you went around the house with a flashlight?” 

“Yeah it is.  I didn’t see any signs that anyone tried to break in … here or the barn … but it looked like something on the chicken coop door was messed with.  Good thing we shut the birds up in the barn.  I’ll turn the stall on the outside corner into a more permanent chicken room and rebuild the chicken wire fence so they can come and go through a little door I’ll build for ‘em.  Damn.  I did not need this extra work what with everything else that needs to get done.  Combining the corn is already a day behind.  What had you planned for today that we had to push off?” 

“Apples, collard greens and turnip greens, the muscadines, more pears and tomatoes … mostly the yellow and orange ones though and all of those cherry tomatoes that are in the frig that need to be pickled[1][2].  I need to get to those almonds before the squirrels get through that netting you put over them and call Docia to see if she will help for a share of the bounty since she can only drink almond milk.  I’ll get to that stuff tomorrow but that means waiting another day to do something with those pumpkins that you keep having to climb over in the dining room.  I need to bag some more pecans and walnuts so they can finish curing.  I want to pickle some of the green walnuts[3] off that one tree that seems to be taking forever for the nuts to ripen or whatever it is that nuts do.  I need to make a place down in the basement for the sweet potatoes too.  And then I need to check the persimmons, jujubes, and the hawthorn trees to see what is ripe.” 

“You make me tired just listening to that list.  I hope you know what you are doing with those jujubes; even Gramps thinks they are a waste of time.  Oh and … PS? … I don’t know if I want to know what a pickled walnut is.” 

I grinned and told him, “Gramps won’t say that by the time I dry the jujubes[4] and they show up in fruit cakes this Christmas.  Their nickname isn’t Chinese Dates for no reason.  As far as the pickled walnuts I guess we’ll both find out.  Supposed to be pretty good so long as you watch what kind of vinegar you use … need something mild and normal rather than fancy.  I’m going to use cider vinegar.  I also need to go out and do some foraging.” 

“Er … no.  Not until I can go with you.”

“But …” 

“I know Kay-Lee and I don’t like laying down the law and taking away your fun but considering how the family was acting this morning I’m worried about other people being just as, if not more, crazy.”  I was not happy and he looked at me with those eyes and that hair and said, “Please.  For me?” 

Irritated I snapped, “You are a dirty, rotten, stinker Sawyer Hartford.  You know good and well when you throw all your greek …” 

“None of that … I just want you to do it for me, not cause I’m supposedly blasting you with some charm that I don’t have.  I’ll try and make time day after tomorrow to go with you.  I’d do it tomorrow but I already promised Uncle James that I would help Tommy glean the last of the fruit trees at his place.  They’re even behinder than we are.  He offered some of the fruit to us in exchange for the work but I told him …” 

Shuddering I begged, “Please tell me you told him to keep it.” 

Sawyer tiredly chuckled, “Yeah I did.  Maybe under other circumstances I would have taken it but I owe Uncle James and Tommy both for a lot of things and we’ve got enough to trade this season.  Toby’s grandfather sure is happy to get what we can barter.  And if you have any extra walnuts or pecans out of their hulls I know they’ll look favorably on those as well.  They made the mistake of taking out their trees a couple of years ago when they enlarged their pasture land and now wish they’d kept some of them at least.” 

“Hindsight is 20/20 according to Aunt Suzanne.” 

“Sure is.  The grocery list on the frig is looking kind of short.  You keeping it someplace else?” 

“No.  I’ve just been trying to be careful after the prices I saw last time we were in town.  But if you think it is all right I’m going to add more wheat, rice, and oats to the list even if we have to get it from that feed store on the other side of town … maybe even the one in Hightown if we have to split the order.  Beyond that there may be a few other odds and ends but I’m trying to stick to the bulk items as much as possible.  And … uh … we need to make another personal hygiene run.” 

Sawyer cleared his throat.  “Kinda worked a deal with Burt.” 

I was silent for a moment before asking suspiciously, “What kind of deal with Burt?” 

Sawyer chuckled.  “Yeah, it does sound bad doesn’t it?  Actually it isn’t though.  A company he ships for buys in bulk for these machines they put in restaurants and malls and … er … motels.” 

“Machines?”  Then it clicked.  “You mean those coin operated machines on the wall in the ladies’ rooms?  Are you telling me guys have that in their bathrooms too?!” 

Sawyer laughed out loud.  “You kill me sometimes Kay-Lee. They sell condoms in the men’s room.  I’m surprised those don’t sell them in the …” 

I put my hand up to stop him.  “Okay … TMI … I don’t want to know and I don’t want to know how you know.  You may not have been an angel before we met but that doesn’t mean I want to know about the details.  So if you have …” 

“Whoa,” Sawyer said wrapping me in a hug.  “I didn’t mean it like that.  We’ve got stipulations.” 

I sighed realizing I had made more of it than I should have.  I shook my head and told him, “I over reacted.  Just ignore me.  I trust you … I just don’t want to hear about how you come to know … well … some of the things you know.  OK?  And I guess the thing with Jeannie … I’m just tired, we both are, and should probably get some rest while we can.  Next couple of days are going to be full of catching up and trying to get ahead.” 

Sawyer looked like he wanted to say more but didn’t.  Sometimes it is best to say nothing rather than to say something that is just going to bring up what is best left in the past.  It didn’t take much more for us to get ready for bed but there was a change in our normal routine.  Instead of the shotgun being in the closet, Sawyer put it and his rifle in the corner of the bedroom closest to his side of the bed.  He also took his pistol out of the night stand drawer and set it on top next to the alarm clock. 

I’ve held the guns a couple of times but each time I had my chest had tightened up and there was a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach.  My reaction is stupid and I know it but that is the way I felt.  I also know that some of my reaction is due to all the stuff I’d been fed as a kid … guns are evil, guns kill, junk like that … and it just isn’t true.  Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  You could outlaw and destroy every gun on the planet and people would still kill people even if they had to do it with their bare hands.  And I know that some of my reaction is leftover crap from being told how my parents were killed by those eco-terrorists … guns, explosions, and general mayhem by human jackasses.  But knowing that and being able to control how I feel are two different things.  And now Sawyer expects me to learn how to use them because I might have to use them against other people.  It’s a big pill to swallow.  But … what is almost freaking me out is the fact that if I’d had a gun in my hand this morning I might have shot Jamison … and I might not have regretted it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chapter 73


Nervous of the answer I let Sawyer ask Uncle Ben how things stood.  He answered, “’Bout as good as can be expected.  Jeannie is blaming herself.  Benedict is scared to death.  They’ve moved the boy out of the NICU but he still just ain’t acting right.” 

Relived and surprised at the answer I blinked, trying to figure out why they were all so still upset.  “Wait, he’s out of NICU this fast?  Don’t you know how good that is?” 

Uncle Ben looked at me in surprise.  “Good?” 

“Seriously good.  They wouldn’t move him out of NICU if they thought he was in danger.”  I looked at Sawyer and said, “He’s going to live.” 

Benedict came through the door and said, “They don’t know if he’s going to have anything wrong with him.” 

“Don’t be stupid.  He’s a Hartford boy.  Every one of you has something wrong with you so I don’t see why he’d escape whatever damage you turkeys have.  Move.” 

Linda was sitting beside Jeannie looking like she was trying to swallow a surprised giggle.  Jeannie was just staring at me with a tear stained face and her mouth hanging open like she couldn’t believe what I’d just said.  I told her, “They moved him out of NICU!” 

“I … I know.  They just told us.” 

“Then why are you crying?” 

“They said … they said they still aren’t sure …” 

“Whether there is something wrong with him because his oxygen was cut off?” 

Benedict came in angry and started to say, “Dammit … don’t upset her.” 

“What’s upsetting is for me to see the two of you act like the world is coming to an end.  Your little boy is going to live!  Why aren’t you jumping up and down crazy happy about that?” 

They just looked at me confused.  I shook my head.  “For you to be church people you sure do need reminding of things a lot.  Look at me.  You know how long I lived in the NICU and PICU until they thought I might live?  Most of the first year of my life.  And yet here I am.  Life wasn’t easy, it wasn’t great, but I’m alive and most of the time I’ve managed to find that a pretty good thing to be.  And that was without too many people around to encourage me to feel that way.  You have a whole family full of people that can go around telling your baby that being alive is a good thing and to keep trying to be alive on those days that it isn’t so great.  You can love him and touch him and he can love and touch you.  Where’s your faith?  Even I know about that stuff and I’d never been in a real church kinda place until Sawyer took me that first time.  And where is Preacher Don?  He’s a lot better at explaining this stuff than I am.”  I shook my head and left the room. 

Sawyer followed me as I went down the hallway I knew all too well.  “Wait.  Kay-Lee stop.”  He grabbed my arm and turned me to him.  “Where are you going?” 

“Back to where I started.  I was dead a couple of times before they got me here.  I guess I died a couple more before I decided I was no good at it and gave it up in favor of trying something else.” 

Shocked Sawyer yelped, “Kay-Lee!” 

I shook my head, giddy in my relief.  “Oh Sawyer.  I guess it is just one of those things you’re not going to understand.  You kinda had to be there.  I don’t remember it, people just tell me about it and … well … it just is the way it was.” 

Sawyer shrugged and followed me through the maze of hallways until we were in front of an old-fashioned viewing window.  Most of the modern hospitals were getting rid of those windows for security reasons but they hadn’t here yet.  I looked and found him almost immediately.  “Oh look … there he is.   Wow, he looks like Jeannie and Benedict all mashed together.” 

“He isn’t crying,” Sawyer observed with concern.  “All of the other babies are looking cranky or tuning up.” 

Leaping to the baby’s defense whether I needed to or not I said, “He just went through an ordeal.  He was tangled up coming out.  Has probably been handled by dozens of medical staff whether he wanted to be or not.  Shoved up and in one bassinet with a bunch of wires and monitors, lights blazing away at him, and now shoved in this one and put on display like a prize pig or something.  Oh look!  He moved.   See?!  He did it again.  I bet he starts crying to be fed in under a minute.” 

“How do you know that?  I didn’t think you had anything to do with babies.” 

I shook my head.  “I said the school didn’t want us in their childcare program but when you are in foster care you pretty much learn about babies whether you want to or not.  Older kids are always expected to help with younger kids.  Plus I was in the hospital a lot and basically lived on pediatric units sometimes.  Kids of all ages and pains were there.” 

“So you know about kids.” 

“Enough.  And if I know anything that baby is a Hartford … and a boy Hartford on top of it.  And if I know anything about boy Hartfords it is that they do not tolerate being hungry for very long without … see … told you.” 

Baby Boy Hartford made a horrible face then started yelling.  He wasn’t very loud but he was very definite about his displeasure.  He even startled the nurse that had been changing another baby in the background. 

I couldn’t help it.  A laugh bubbled out of me and I clapped my hands.  “You tell ‘em Baby Hartford!”  I turned to Sawyer who was looking from me to the baby with a puzzled expression.  “How did you … I mean … you said it would and then … it did … I …” 

“Don’t just stand there.  Call Benedict and tell him to put … oh never mind.  I’ll do it.” 

I called Linda’s phone and when she picked up told her to give the phone to Jeannie right away.  “What?” she sniffled. 

“Listen,” I told her before putting the phone to the glass.  Then I took it away.  “Know what that is?  Someone letting the world know that he is disgusted with his situation and wants to be fed or changed or maybe both.  But the face he is making sure says he wants to club someone.  Looks just like a Hartford before he has had his first cup of coffee in the morning.” 

It sounded like the phone fell or had been dropped and then I heard Jeannie demand, “Benedict get that chair over here and you push me where I need to go … right now.  Hurry.  He’s crying and I gotta …” 

I didn’t hear anything else but I knew Jeannie so told Sawyer to stand back out of the way because if Benedict didn’t move fast enough Jeannie was liable to make a run down the hall with or without him. 

********** 

Later that evening Sawyer and I were walking out of Jeannie’s room.  I was so happy I was wiping tears from my eyes but I guess your average person would have thought the tears were for another reason.  Certainly a man that we almost ran into did.  He looked at me and then turned very pale and started to keel over. 

Sawyer yelled, “Benedict!” 

Benedict came out just in time to see Sawyer and I trying to keep the guy from buckling all the way to the floor.  “What the heck?” 

The man looked at Benedict and said, “Jeannie?  The … the baby?” 

Benedict blinked and then stood straight and said, “They’re fine sir.  We … uh … they … it was bad for a … but … oh geez.”  He wilted and it finally clicked. 

I patted the man’s shoulder and said, “Jeannie must take after her mother.  Probably a good thing.  Anyway, things were touch and go and then Benny Robert decided to show the whole nursery who is boss.  Jeannie just finished feeding him and they took him off to do all of the necessary measurements and chart commentary.  The pediatrician should be back shortly with the full run down.  Speaking of down, you look like you need to sit down before you fall down.  Would you like a chair?” 

“Jeannie … my little girl …” 

Sawyer slid a chair under him so we could put him in it.  He wasn’t exactly a lightweight.  Benedict carefully went back when Jeannie demanded to know what was going on.  A nurse was looking at us prepared to intervene when Benedict came out and asked Jeannie’s father, “Would … would you please come say hello to Jeannie?  She … she really needs you to.  If you want me to stay out here …” 

The man shook his head.  “No … no I’d like to see both of you.  Hear … hear how Jeannie … how both of you … have been doing.  Maybe … maybe see …” 

“The baby?  I’ll go ask the doctor.” 

“After I see Jeannie.” 

The man disappeared into the room and Benedict glanced at Sawyer, looking confused before going in and closing the door. 

Thinking it over I said, “Guess there really is a reason for everything, even bad stuff.” 

“Huh?” 

Continuing down the rabbit trail were traveling I said, “It just seems sad that it took Benny Robert nearly getting strangled to get Jeannie’s family to start coming around.  They sound as hard headed as the Hartfords.” 

Sawyer gave me a look and said, “Getting a little sassy there aren’t you?” 

“Maybe.  Ready to go?  Whatever is happening in there is none of our business and will probably take a while.  Benedict needs to handle it and if he can’t then Uncle Ben and Aunt Lurlene can.” 

“Too right,” Sawyer said suddenly starting to hustle me towards the exit.  “Let’s get out of here before there’s any more drama … like Jeannie’s mom or sister showing up.” 

“Her mom will … as soon as she figures out Jeannie’s dad snuck over here.  I’m not caring too much for the sister either way.  She sounds like a stuck up snob.  Even Jeannie’s uncle said something that one time I met him.” 

We were out of the parking lot and on the way home before I thought to ask, “Did anyone tell Gramps what happened this morning?” 

“Yeah.  He said that the hospital wasn’t the place to talk about it, that we were all to focus on Benedict and Jeannie and the baby.” 

I nodded.  “OK.  Can I ask you something else?  Why didn’t the dogs go nuts like they normally do?  I didn’t even think about it until Linda asked who’d grabbed the dogs.” 

“I had shut them in their kennel in the barn because I’d just finished brushing out all of the stickers and crap they brought in on their coat where they went hunting with me.  I left them in the kennel until I can make sure they won’t take any food from anyone but us.  Someone could poison them.” 

“Jamison … he could shoot them.” 

“He hurts my dogs and that really will be the end of it.” 

“I still worry that Uncle Forrester …” 

Sawyer swore under his breath.  “You really are determined on this aren’t you?” 

Irritated I said, “Well just tell me to shut up then.  It’s not every day I promise to commit mayhem on a man I never met and find out he’s some kind of family.”

I turned to look out at the dark through the fogged up passenger window.  Sawyer sighed.  “I didn’t mean that quite the way it sounded.” 

“Whatever Sawyer.  They’re your family, but I guess because I’ve been calling them that I expected them to act like it.  I knew … or knew of … some of them before I knew you.  Now I don’t know what to think.” 

“Of the family or of them.” 

“Both.  If Gramps thinks you bunch are going to play nice together in the middle of the end of the world I can pretty much say after this morning’s actions that he is in for some serious disappointment.  And I hope that the family job he is setting you up with doesn’t include laying down and letting people walk all over you just because they feel they are due something or other.” 

We were silent the rest of the way home, both of us deep into our own thoughts.  It was when we pulled in that we saw Cutter sitting on the porch.
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chapter 72


“The hell you say!” 

Startled at Sawyer’s sudden yell I looked out the back window to see him and another man just about to come to blows.  I grabbed the wrist rocket I kept on a nail hanging by the door and the bag of rocks and ball bearings that hung beside it and quietly stepped out onto the porch.  That’s when I saw Cutter and some of the other cousins looking between the two like they didn’t know which side to pick. 

I startled them all by calling, “Cutter?!  What’s going on?!” 

“Uh … maybe you better go inside Kay-Lee,” he answered. 

“Not while that guy looks like he is going to fight Sawyer.  And what are you bunch just standing around for?!  Help him!” 

Sawyer growled.  “Kay-Lee … this is Jamison.  He showed up not that long ago and has been settling in.  However he seems to think – they all apparently seem to think – because you and I have busted our butts to save what propane we have left that because they didn’t they should all just be able to come over here and ‘borrow’ some.” 

I sighed.  This had to be at the top of my list of worst case scenarios that I had been imagining.  That’s when Jamison took a swing at Sawyer.  It was a sucker punch that none in the yard had been expecting, not even Sawyer.  I did something they apparently expected even less.  I put a stone in the wrist rocket and let fly, pegging Jamison in the knee.  He screamed and dropped.  Everyone stopped dead still trying to figure out what had just happened. 

As close to being hissing mad as I have ever felt I said, “Boys, don’t take this the wrong way but I do believe Gramps has outlawed feuding in the family.  Next one of you that tries to cheat and be a jackass will get the same.  And Jamison?” I yelled towards the man on the ground holding his leg.  “Next time you threaten my husband – who is the only thing that stands between me and being thrown to the wolves of this world – you better watch your back for the rest of your life.   I will put you down the same way I put down the chicken killing dog that came into our yard and tried to kill my rooster.  You better understand that.” 

A voice from the side of the house said, “You’re a Baffa all right.”  The men in the yard jumped but I didn’t. 

I snapped at Uncle Mark.  “And I married a Hartford.  Which must make me even crazier.  Whatever.  Have you come to watch the circus or participate in it?” 

Uncle Mark snorted.  “Definitely a Baffa.  God help any kid the two of you have.  They’ll be crazy on both sides.” 

Then something smacked the porch rail and this time even I jumped.  There was a growl and I turned and saw what it was and said for all of us, “Uh oh.” 

Sawyer for some reason chose that moment to snicker.  Then to laugh. 

“Sawyer Hartford!  This is not a laughing matter.  Uncle Forrester is angry.  That’s the look he had on his face when he saved me from those guys at the flea market.  I told you it wouldn’t be a good thing to get on his bad side and now I think I’ve gone and done it.” 

Uncle Forrester “harrumphed” and smacked his cane against the porch rail again and then beckoned me forward.  “I’m sorry.  I just couldn’t stand by and let him …” 

“Hush.  Inside,” he said directing me back into the kitchen with his cane.   

I looked at Sawyer and could see his fists getting balled up but he nodded and I stepped through the back door into the kitchen.  Aunt Pearl and Aunt Suzanne stood there and I was ready to get really balled out but instead they said, “They’re liable to take a while but they’ll work it out.  Gramps would have been here but Jeannie went into labor last night and he is at the hospital with Benedict and Ben.  There’s been a complication and they are trying to get her family to come to the hospital.” 

“What?!” 

Sawyer called from outside, “Kay-Lee?” 

I ran out ignoring everyone else and said, “Jeannie … the baby … some kind of complication.  Sawyer …” 

Next to Linda, Jeannie was the closest thing I had to a friend.  She’d even said we were all sisters.  I’d just talked to her the day before and she seemed fine, tired but also excited about the baby arriving and hoping it was soon.  And now to hear there was trouble.  Sawyer, as concerned by my reaction as he was the news came up onto the porch, saw the aunts and asked what was up. 

Aunt Suzanne sighed.  “The cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck.  He came out blue and is taking a long time to get his numbers up.” 

“Numbers?” 

Knowing the answer because of stuff I’d heard about me my whole life I explained, “When you are born you get a number assigned to you based on how responsive you are and a couple of other things.  It is called an Apgar score.  My numbers were in the tank.”  Turning from Sawyer I asked, “How bad?” 

“Bad but he’s breathing on his own now.  They just don’t know how long the cord was … was wound around …” 

After that there was a real ruckus.  Nothing was solved but everyone was willing to put away their differences, at least temporarily, in favor of supporting Benedict and Jeannie.  I guess that is what family is all about though Jamison and I gave each other dirty looks.  Uncle Mark saw and tried to push at me a little bit but I’d had enough of his brand of attitude and told him, “Call me whatever you want Uncle Mark but if that guy – Hartford or not – takes another cheater’s swing at Sawyer I mean it; I will peg him in the butt with steel ball bearings and make sure he won’t be able to sit for a long time while the rest of us work ours off.  I don’t know what is running through everyone’s head but Gramps and all you uncles have been telling us to be careful and frugal because bad times are coming.  Well they aren’t coming any more.  They’re here.  But that’s no excuse to make things worse by stealing from family because you were too stupid to heed the good advice you were being given all along.” 

I turned and stumbled after Sawyer who helped me into the truck.  He insisted on helping me with the seatbelt and while he was doing it said, “Ignore ‘em.  Just focus on Jeannie and stuff for a while and let me handle this other.” 

When Sawyer got in the truck I asked him, “What happened?  All I saw was the start of a fight then super jerk take a pot shot at you.  I mean I know you know what you are doing and would have put him down hard but …” 

Sawyer sighed.  “Maybe.  Maybe not.  I’ve known Jamison has been here for a few weeks but haven’t crossed paths with him.  Been too busy and he hasn’t been to any of the work days.  I ain’t fool enough to assume I’d win a match up against him.  Jamison worked the oil fields and is not someone to be messed with but … geez … I didn’t think he would do what he did.” 

“What started it?” 

“They just showed up.  They didn’t ask or nothing.  If I hadn’t been home you wouldn’t have been able to stop them.  They would have bled the tank dry.” 

“But why?” 

“Because they were out and we had some.” 

“Huh?  But … I mean … they had their tanks filled up after we did.” 

He shook his head in aggravation and concern.  “I know we talked about this happening but I didn’t figure it would be done by family.” 

“I … I guess I didn’t make things any better.  Now I’ve got Uncle Forrester mad at me and …” 

“Whoa.  No you don’t.  Uncle Forrester heard about what was happening and made Uncle Mark drive him over to try and stop it while Uncle James and Tommy drove around to the other places to take a good look at what is going on.” 

“But I hurt Jamison.” 

“Jamison is lucky he didn’t get shot.  And that’s the only thing that is making me glad I’ve put off teaching you to shoot.  That changes tomorrow though.  You’ve never met Jamison and don’t know who he is.  If you hadn’t asked Cutter and just based your actions on the threat that Jamison was making of himself you could have gotten scared enough to shoot him.” 

“And I’ll try and not have nightmares about that now that you’ve mentioned in.  But what I don’t get is why the others were acting like they were acting.  They know the score even if Jamison doesn’t.” 

Sawyer sighed and it told me how sad he was.  “I feel like I’ve come so far only to be thrown off the side mountain three-quarters of the way up.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t know why they thought they had the right to come in and do something like that.  I might have been inclined to let some of them come over and share the hot water or whatever the problem is but for them to think they could just take it?   We got some figuring to do Kay-Lee.” 

“Yes we do.  And it starts with me not wanting you to work for those that did this.  I can’t believe Cutter of all people.” 

“Cutter and Beth are having some problems.  Beth is complaining that Cutter isn’t doing his share and Cutter thinks Beth doesn’t appreciate what he does and wants what she had with her parents … who have money in case you haven’t guessed.  The stress is getting to them.” 

Half understanding I told him, “The stress has been getting to all of us every so often.  Even you and I have gotten snarky a few times.  And I’ve heard the other wives complaining and comparing what they have with what we’ve worked for.  It’s stupid.  Wasting time with words when action is what is needed.  The only ones that ever came with me foraging were Linda and Jeannie … well Beth has a couple of times but not far from the house; the others looked at me like I was crazy taking it so far.  Even most of the aunts aren’t thinking about things getting that bad.  Aunt Suzanne and Aunt Nel have given me lots of support but even Aunt Pearl considers it a funny quirk I have.  I had to defend it so much I finally just had to make out like it was a hobby and that it was a culinary adventure for me.” 

“Did it work?”

“You mean did they believe me?  Some.  It got most of the teasing to stop but the worst of them still have to make a comment every now and then.  Mostly they dislike me because they think I am a suck up.  And now they are going to think I am a Yoko Ono.” 

“A what?!” 

“John Lennon – you know the Beatles guy, singer, whatever you call him – had this girlfriend named Yoko Ono that a lot of fans blamed for being what broke up the Beatles and made John go so weird and hippie.  I don’t know if it is true or not but enough people believed it that the idea got turned into a stereotype or cliché.  Now if a guy starts dating a girl, or marries her, and it breaks up a band or business or whatever he has with some other guys people say he got Yoko’d or say the girl is his Yoko Ono.” 

“That’s got to be one of the damned stupidiest things I’ve ever heard.  And how the hell does that apply here?” 

“You must be mad, you’re losing your religion.  I hope it isn’t at me.” 

Sawyer was quiet for a moment and then said, “No, not at you.  At this situation.  At … at just all of it.  But next time I don’t want to see you try on purpose to get hurt.” 

Suddenly furious I said, “There better not be a next time or it won’t be me or you who gets hurt.  If Jamison or any of those other meatheads think I was kidding they better unthink it.  You’re everything I have in this world.  If not for you I am pretty sure I would be dead … or wishing I was.  I won’t go back there.  I won’t.  We are together and that’s just the way it is and if they can’t handle it they can suck wind and broken teeth when I let fly with my next rock.” 

Sawyer saw how truly upset I was and pulled over and pulled me into his arms.  “It’s OK Kay-Lee.  Didn’t I promise you I wouldn’t let anyone put you on the street?” 

I held on tight and told him, “It’s not the street I’m most scared of anymore Sawyer.  It’s losing you.  I can’t face what I am anymore without you.  With you I am Kay-Lee Baffa Hartford, a little mechanically challenged but I find life still worth trying to make it through the day.  Without you I’m just Igor Baffa all over again and life just wouldn’t be worth living.”