Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Chapter 39


"There's my girl!"

I didn't know who Aunt Pearl was talking about and looked behind me to see until a couple of people laugh and Sawyer turned me gently back around.  Just in time to get a great big hug and smooch.

"Picking up all of that citric acid.  What a godsend.  We'll be able to save our lemon juice and why I didn't think of it I don't know.  It isn't like we didn't do it at the factory."

Another smooch, a pat, and then I was summarily put into battle to help to divide up all of the supplies.

"Aunt Pearl?"

"Yes Honey?"

I sighed.  "There was a woman that claimed we were getting more than our fair share.  I didn't believe her but ... but I don't know ... it was creepy.  If we keep doing this we may have to do it a little different."

I felt very self-conscious as everyone suddenly got quiet.  Gramps harrumphed and asked, "Where was this?  While you young folks were out gallivanting?"

It was Davis who said, "Naw sir.  Cutter and I and Sawyer used the old overlook to rearrange stuff so the fresh wouldn't get squished.  It was some woman ... looked like a Merriweather connection - face like the backend of an old dump truck - and sour, Lord she was sour.  I kept an eye on her and we weren't the only ones she was checking out.  Kay-Lee was just the only one that openly called her on it."

I added, "She looked like she was about to open the truck door to get a better look.  I've been around nosey people but most of them don't mean any harm.  This woman was hinkey.  I ... I'm sorry.  Should I have kept my mouth shut?"

Gramps sighed.  "No Honey, if she were that bold she didn't give you much choice.  But what caused it?"

"It was the farmer's market Gramps," Cutter explained.  "People were acting insane.  Why they were I don't know but they were.  People were grabbing up things left and right and I tell you it was just weird."

I saw Uncle Mark step away to make a call and the rest of us kept working.  Aunt Pearl pulled me over and said, "Honey, I got a favor.  With as much canning as we need to get done it is going to kill the propane.  Mark and James and some of the others said they looked at that old kitchen and that the wood stove in there is in real good shape.  I've got some yard stoves that I'll have some of the boys load up and between those and your stove we should be able to get most of this week's canning accomplished in one day.  Your place is central and if it works out I'd like to keep doing it this way."

"Are you asking me?  'Cause Sawyer is really the one y'all should ask."

Somebody with big ears heard his name and came over and asked, "Sawyer whut?"

I sighed.  "You know that shirt was still clean not too long ago.  What have you been eating?"

"Drinking ... it was a Yoohoo."

"Well you missed your mouth.  And your aunt wants to do some canning at the house tomorrow and all summer long.  Because of the wood cook stove to save propane."

Sawyer grinned and then frowned.  "Aunt Pearl, I haven't looked at the wood pile real good but what I did see looked mostly rotted."

"Got a load on a trailer already plus James said there's some trees down near the road up to your house.  We bring the splitter over and we'll just start piles for canning needs and keep splitting until everyone gets what we need."

"There's a splitter in the barn that looks almost brand new.  I fiddled with it - runs off a three point hitch - and the tractor there has what it needs.  If we can get and keep a couple running at the same time we can do a lot of wood.  It's going to be getting it small enough for the stoves that's gonna be a challenge."

Uncle James came over and said, "Challenges is what keeps life interesting and the blood flowin'.  Heard you had a bit of trouble ... back at the tractor place."

Sawyer sighed, "Not trouble, just irritation."  He then snorted.  "Kay-Lee set it straight.  And the rest of it ain't worth talking about.  I just wonder why the traffic was so crazy at the farmer's market.  Bad location for it but still shouldn’t have been that bad."

That's when Uncle Mark walked over with a scowl.  "That might be the last market until things start coming in around here.  Davis had said it looked like a lot of migrants and not the regulars you normally see.  Well there's some new federal regulation that even the stuff going to the markets are now going to have to get some kind of FDA stamp on them and be taxed to get the stamp and then taxed again when it gets sold ... both of those are assuming you can even get the stamp to begin with.  Sounds, from what I heard, like a lot of paperwork."

"Isn't that double taxation?" I asked before thinking that I was butting into a male conversation.

Uncle Mark scowled a little harder but nodded.  "Yes.  It is.  Damn it, I'm a getting about sick of Dad always being right."  He turned and took a roundabout path to have a word with Gramps.

Uncle James scowled as well.  "I have no idea if we are even going to have the summer to get finished up."  He looked at Sawyer and tossed his head and they went over to some of the other men and started talking.

Aunt Pearl said, "Oh Lord preserve us from the demons out to prick us.  Build a hedge of protection 'round about us and give us the wisdom to know when it is time to get barricaded behind it."  She sighed and then looked at me.  "I'm gonna take Sawyer at his word and assuming nothing comes up before now and sun up a pile of us are going to be at your place about mid-morning.  I'd be over sooner but I want to get the last of the strawberries out of the field as they came in all together for some reason ... well I know why, it was that funny weather we've had this year ... and we'll also bring the first of the greens, first of the rhubarb, and last of the asparagus.  That ought to be more than plenty to get done tomorrow but it if isn't we can fill in with some ideas I've got.  I'll bring some my lids and rings and we'll all bring our jars.  Think you can get Sawyer to carry you up some jars so you can get them prepped tonight?  It'll be easier on you tomorrow."

"I've got a lot already in the kitchen and I'll start on those.  How many do you think I should prepare?"

"Honey, I'd start with half a gross and we'll work from there ... well, actually better make it a gross.  I'm thinking while we've got everyone together we might oughta go ahead and get some soups and other things going so I can finish cleaning out the deep freezes.  I just got me an itchy feeling between my shoulder blades.  It'll make for a long day tomorrow for all of us but ..."

"... But if people are willing to eat buffet style and not everyone count on eating all the same thing we can cook what we can and then add a big pot of rice or egg noodles or ... or maybe dumplings to thicken things up ... then whatever doesn't fit in a canner can go onto the table and they can just kind of graze for their lunch and supper."

She laughed, "And where did you come up with that idea?"

Cutter sauntered over and smiled, "The Hospitality Club used to have bake sales and things like that and the rest of us would get the leftovers so long as we moved stuff where they told us to and then stayed out of the way.  No snitching stuff off the table or we'd get banished.  How do you think the school used to make so much money off the spaghetti dinners and things?  Man, my mouth is watering just thinking about the spreads that used to get put on."

"Yeah well, your senior year was the last year we got to do very much of that.  Our funding kept getting cut, and then cut again, and then finally cut some more.  And we could never replace the money because there were all those new rules on what kind of food we could serve and how much we were allowed to put on each plate.  We had to weigh, measure, list ingredients, list nutritional information ... it got to be a lot more work than it was worth in the long run.  Especially when we started getting audited by the health department and those people from the healthy lunch program."

"Well for heaven sake.  Well we aren't doing that here.  But I do believe that the men and boys can all just graze as you said."

It wasn't long after that that Sawyer and I got loaded and headed for home after telling everyone else that we'd see them tomorrow.  It had been a long day and I still had a long way to go before I could stop."

Chapter 38


We finally got piled back in and were able to get back on the road.  "We're going to have to go by Gramps' place."

"OK."

"Uh ... so ... you know Cutter."

"Know him?  No, not really know him.  Know of him?  Yeah.  Everyone in school knew Cutter.  He was a legend in his own mind and was regularly listed on the principal's most wanted list."

It took five seconds for what I said to sink in and he barked a laugh.  "Cutter can be a mess and that's a fact.  If he hadn't been such a good football player he probably would have been expelled after some of those stunts."

"Yeah.  But it was really bad when he broke his leg like that.  I didn't see the game but it was all over school how those guys dog piled him to hurt him on purpose."

"Yeah.  He still limps sometimes and will for the rest of his life.  Destroyed his college football potential."

"He seems pretty upbeat."

"He wasn't at the time.  He hid it pretty good outside the family but even I could see it when it was just the family around despite being in the middle of my own crapstorm."

"Uh ... "  But I stopped and sighed figuring that if it was my business Sawyer would eventually tell me.

Sawyer picked up on it and said, "You're wondering about Davis."

"Well yeah.  Was it me or what?"

"Kay-Lee ..."

"Oh ... so it's me, me as in it wasn't just a byproduct of me but was really me."

"Did that just make any sense?"

"Probably not.  Just explain why it was me."

"Everybody in the family was pushing Davis to be the one to marry you."

"Ew."

"I ... what?" he asked trying to turn his thoughts on a dime.

"Ew.  Davis gives me funny vibes.  I'm glad it was you ... gladder all the time."

He reached his hand over and put it on mine.  "Really?"

"Yeah.  But if he didn't want to and now he doesn't have to what is up with him acting so weird.  It's not like I was going to reach out and contaminate him or anything."

"Uncle Mark is riding him really hard about it."

"That doesn't make any sense.  Your Uncle Mark doesn't really like me."

"Don't take it personally.  Uncle Mark and Old Man Baffa used to really get into it.  Uncle Mark used to date his daughter years ago."

"Wait ... Mr. Baffa was married?"

"Er ... no."

"Oh."  Unable to figure out a polite way to ask the obvious I finally just said, "Is she alive?  And if so why wasn't she the one to inherit or whatever?"

"She's alive.  But she hates the Baffa name, all the Baffas that ever lived, and all it and they stand for and blah, blah, blah.  She's crazier than her father ever was.  She tried to have Old Man Baffa committed about five years ago after not having anything to do with him for over 20 years just because he didn't recognize her when they were standing in the same line at the bank.  The lack of contact for so long was the only thing that saved him from the VA crazy farm.  Lawyers got involved and it was messy and the woman got cut out, cut off, and in a big snit she made a huge production of signing away any future rights or proceeds the to yada, yada, yada.  Don't worry, she can't take your home away."

I shook my head.  "I'm not worried about that.  She can't take you away so it's no biggie.  I was just wondering ..."

"What did you say?"

"Huh?  When?"

"Just now."

"Uh ..."

"Is that really how you feel?"

"Well ... yeah.  I mean the house is important sure but I wouldn't have it except for you and ... I mean ... we're married right?  I ..."  I said quietly, "I know it's the house that got us together but I'd do something to make sure you and I had a place to stay that wasn't the street.  I could get a job and help and ..."  Then getting quieter still, "Unless ... I mean ..."

"Don't even," he said.  "I got you now Kay-Lee."  I looked over and he was grinning.  A big, fat, really stupid grin.  "Yeah, the house is important but something could happen like a fire or some kinda disaster but you're right ... we're a team now and no one can break us.  Right?"

"Right," I told him wishing I felt as comfortably goofy with what he was saying as he did.  I'd let my fear show and that was never a good thing.  To distract him from what I'd said I told him, "Actually it is just strange to imagine I've got someone out there that I am related to."

"Don't Kay-Lee.  I wasn't kidding about that woman being as crazy, if not crazier, than Old Man Baffa was.  If you really want to know about her you can ask Uncle Mark but be prepared to get blasted."

"Are the Baffas that bad?"

"Naw.  I actually kinda remember your Aunt Pet.  She used to make caramel apples for the Fall Festival at church and her kids were Delly's age, I guess are their age I mean.  If ... hmmm ... look if you really want to know about your aunt I'll take you to Delly's.  Your aunt was her Sunday School teacher for a couple of years I think or maybe she was just an adult volunteer with the youth group, I can't remember exactly.  I just remember Delly crying and crying when your aunt died."

It was just strange on top of more strange for the day.  Every time I turned around it seemed I was finding something out about my family - a family I didn't really know - that others think of as so common knowledge that it slips out and in dribs and drabs and no one is surprised but me.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Chapter 32 (out of order, read in chronological order)

UGH.  JUST NOTICED THAT WHEN BLOGSPOT BURPED THE OTHER NIGHT CHAPTER 32 DISAPPEARED.  PLEASE READ THE CHAPTERS IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER AND NARSHALA THANKS FOR POINTING THIS OUT.  I CAN'T BELIEVE I DIDN'T CATCH IT.

-----------------------------------------


"You sure you don't need anything else Kay-Lee?"

"I'm fine Linda.  I'm sorry I spoiled your day off by acting like a baby."

"You weren't acting like a baby and my day off was just fine.  I got to spend it helping a good friend which is what I had wanted to do anyway."

From outside Tommy called, "Linda, we gotta go.  This ice is melting and Mom wants this meat to get all the way to Aunt Pearl's."

Linda gave me a hug goodbye and then had to avoid Harley and Davey's brand of good bye before telling Sawyer bye and climbing into Tommy's truck and leaving.  I closed my eyes and did all those relaxation exercises they had taught me in physical therapy but it only partially worked.  I was so into my breathing exercises that I hadn't heard Sawyer come back in.

I jumped when I felt him picking me up.  "I thought you were asleep," he said.  "I was going to take you upstairs."

"You're going to hurt your back.  I can use my crutch."

"Tomorrow.  Tonight I want to do it."

"You don't need to."

"Maybe I do."

"Sawyer ..."

"Not because I don't think you can get up the stairs by yourself but because I don't want you to have to get up the stairs by yourself."

"Was that supposed to make sense? Because if it was I missed it.”

"It makes sense, you're just tired.  I wanted Linda to come over and help figure out why you've been upset the last couple of days but it didn't work out that way.  Now I'm going to have to just come out and ask you myself.  Did I do something wrong?"

"Huh?"

"Is ... I mean ... is it about Old Man Baffa dying?"

"Oh Sawyer ..."

"It is isn't it.  I guess we were kinda ... uh ..."

"No.  I mean yes in a way, but more because I don't feel worse that Mr. Baffa died.  But there's other things too and ... and I just don't know how to talk about it.  There's just a lot of new stuff going on in my life and I'm not sure ... I mean ..."

"Is it being married to me?"

"What?  Sawyer ... doggone it ..."

"Well, what am I supposed to think?  We were getting along good and then we started getting along great ... better than great.  Didn't you enjoy Sunday?  You said you did, then you changed the next day.  Was it too much?"

I put my head back on my arm on the table.  "The only problem is that I'm still waiting to wake up."

"You're still ... you mean what you said the other day about being worried that I'm going to get bored?"

"Yeah only it is more than that.  I don't ... I mean I really don't Sawyer so don't figure that I do ... expect you to act like other guys.  I don't know if I would know how to act if you did.  But ..."

"Kay-Lee, you're not making any sense at all."

"I know.  God I know.  But that's the way I feel.  What happens ... what happens if ..."

"What happens if what?"

"What happens if ... if I get more ... more attached than you do?  I know there are things that you like - and that's ok, I'm not saying it isn't because it is - but what if it makes you uncomfortable that I like you more than you like me?  What happens when I finally embarrass you enough that ..."

"No."

"I know.  That's what I thought," I said dejectedly.

"Kay-Lee I mean no ... as in you don't embarrass me.  I admit it sometimes might bother me - like at the flea market - that people say the things they do but it is not because you embarrass me but because they don't know what they are talking about.  There's nothing wrong with you."

"Sawyer, are you blind?!"

"No.  No I'm starting to see better every day.  And I'll do what I can to help you see better too."

I let him carry me upstairs.  I let him help me get ready for bed.  Then I let him hold me until he went to sleep.  But all I could do is lay there and think.

Chapter 37


Jeannie wrinkled her nose and said, "Ugh.  If I have to look at one more nasty box of tools ..."

I grinned.  This was the third pawn shop and the guys had already had as much fun pawing through old tools and stuff like that as we girls had had going through the clearance mall.

Linda tapped my shoulder and said, "Lookey there.  If the guys can do their thing I don't see why we can't do ours."  It was a thrift store and a pretty big one and it had a going out of business sign tacked to the door.  Linda ran in and told the guys where we were going and after two false starts we finally got across the street.

Jeannie and Linda both went bonkers.  A lot of stuff that had been on the list that Aunt Pearl had sent with them was there.  The woman was so happy to be able to get rid of all the craft supplies, sewing notions, and fabric that she threw in all the old patterns and pattern books she had as well.  "Less I have to put into storage the less I have to pay.  You got some way to get this stuff home girls?"

Linda, finally back to her normally sunny-self smiled and said, "And three men to do the moving too."

The woman laughed good naturedly and we kept shopping.  I found jeans for me and for Sawyer and then I found some decent canvas shorts that I could work in over the summer.  There were a bunch of flannel shirts in different sizes and work shirts as well and we bought all she had since she was selling everything off the rack at a quarter an item.  For that price Linda and Jeannie got most of the rest of the jeans thinking that someone would be able to use them or they could be made over into something else.

From the back the woman pulled out a bunch of dusty jars.  They weren't name brand but they didn't have any imperfections so Linda said they would work.  I helped them pick out some kitchen ware for the other wives that didn't have anything or barely had enough.  In fact we almost bought too much.  The guys about keeled over when they saw what we had and were wondering how we would get it all home since they'd bought their share as well.

The woman laughed and said, "Oh what the heck.  I got a trailer in back that the tag is just about up on.  You give me fifty dollars for it and it's yours."

After the guys looked it over and pronounced it road worthy Sawyer gave her the money for it and she grinned.  "Now this is gravy.  I was thinking I was just going to have to leave this here."

The trailer was little but went a long way to making it possible to get home what we needed to get home ... at least until Uncle James phoned Tommy and asked if we could pick up the order from the Mennonite store on the way home.  Everyone groaned but laughed too as we set about rearranging things one more time.

---------------

"You ok with those bags under your feet?" Sawyer asked.

"I'm fine.  Stop worrying so much.  Just watch the road.  I've never seen so many crazy people in all my life."

Sawyer smiled and said, "I thought the Hartfords were the biggest crowd of crazy people you've ever seen."

"I thought so too but compared to the ones I've seen today the Hartfords are the model of logic and stability."

Sawyer barked a laugh then had to jerk the wheel to avoid someone pulling out into the road suddenly.  Sawyer uttered a curse and I had to grab the dash to keep my foot from slamming into the door.  "You ok?"

"I'm fine but your Gramps is never going to believe this mess.  I've never seen anything like it."

"Me neither.  Whose bright idea was it to have a farmer's market at the intersection before the wash out?!  And what is the deal with all the people?!  It wasn't this bad at the mall."

Sawyer's phone rang and he threw it at me to answer while he navigated the insane traffic.

"Hello?  Sawyer?"

"Um, I'm sorry Sawyer is driving right now.  Can I take a message?"

"Is this Kay-Lee?"

"Er ... yes.  May I ask who this is?"

"It's Cutter.  Tell Sawyer to turn into that old overlook on the other side of the wash out.  Tell him I have dad's big diesel and I'm about six cars behind him.  I'll take some of that grain if he'll take some of this fresh stuff.  Might make that trailer less twitchy."

I turned to Sawyer but he nodded and said, "I heard.  Tell him I'll wait on him."

---------------

"Kay-Lee, this is Cutter and Davis," Sawyer said, introducing me to his cousins.

Cutter grinned a little self-consciously and said, "I know Kay-Lee."

Sawyer frowned and said, "You do?  How?"

I interrupted and said, "My school.  He was a football player remember."

"I know that but how does he know you?"

"Are you saying that I wasn't worth knowing?"

Sawyer was about to say something then caught himself just in time and said, "That's not what I meant.  I just mean that Cutter ..."

I grinned, "Was always being Cutter and had to scrub lockers and stuff like that more than once when his practical jokes would go ... er ... astray."

With a ferocious frown he growled, "Did they go astray on you?"

I laughed, "Cutter's pranks went astray on everyone.  It's no big deal Sawyer."  I turned to Cutter and said, "But I swear if you set off a stink bomb in our house you are going to think back fondly on all that scrubbing at school as a gentle learning experience.  Sawyer and I just got the place aired out."

Cutter acted like he was afraid and said, "Yes'm.  I mean no ma'am.  My pranking days are over."

"Yeah right.  Uh huh ... just whatever you do, do it someplace else."

Davis just continued to frown and avoid looking directly at me.  When he had his back turned I looked a question at Sawyer but his just minutely shook his head so I dropped it.

We weren't the only people that used the overlook turnout to get out of traffic.  The guys started getting twitchy when people kept coming over and asking where we got this, that, or the other.  When they started crowding the guys had a hard time getting done what they wanted to get done.  Finally I stopped just standing around and asked a woman that was trying to see into the back of the truck, "Excuse me but can I help you?"

My tone wasn't rude but it wasn't exactly gentle either.  Hers was just plain nasty.  "You got more than your fair share."

"Excuse me?"

"You got more than the rest of us."

"More what?"

"More stuff."

"Stuff doesn't tell me anything.  And if we paid for it ..."

"Kay-Lee!" Sawyer called interrupting.

"I'm over here," I called back.  "Some people are having trouble with personal space issues."

It wasn't Sawyer that came around to our side but Davis.  "Problems?"

"Just she was looking in the back of both the trucks.  And not casual looking either; I wasn't sure if she was going to try and open the doors next.  And says we have more than our fair share."

"Fair share of what?"

"All she would say was stuff."

The woman was slowly backing off but she still looked daggers in our direction.  People were starting to look at her with suspicion as well.  Some of them made a big scene out of locking their doors or telling their kids to beep the horn if someone got too close.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chapter 36


I hobbled down that direction and then heard voices only not outright fighting.  The voices I heard sounded like they were being falsely polite to each other but drawing blood every chance they got.

I came around the corner and three people had Sawyer verbally trapped.  Unless he wanted to make a scene he wouldn't be able to escape and there was a cop not too far away that seemed half way interested in what was going on.  Sawyer's sensitivity to that held me back regardless of the rights he had.

There was a really pretty young woman there that had to be Lisa, a guy that looked to be my age, and then an older man that had to be Lisa's father.  Lisa was standing there being false understanding and saying, "Sawyer, I know I hurt you.  I take responsibility for that.  But you just have to stop this.  It isn't healthy and you are going to get in trouble.  No more stalking."

The cop seemed to be getting more interested and I got involved.  "He wasn't."

Everyone looked at me, not knowing who the heck I was so I introduced myself.  "How do you do?  My name is Kay-Lee Hartford and I'd appreciate it if you would stop trying to upset my husband.  You've caused him enough problems by running off like a coward when people bore false witness against him.  Then he forgave you that when most men wouldn't and you haul off and did it again.  He really doesn't want to have anything to do with you so stop trying to instigate something to make yourself the center of attention."

She got ugly real fast.  "I don't suppose he told you he followed me to the flea market."

"We were there at the invitation of his grandfather to have a family get together.  It's a regular thing the Hartfords do.  Apparently a well-known thing they do that you had to know about considering how long the two of you were dating.  So why would you find it so out of the ordinary for him to be at the flea market is beyond me.  As for this unfortunate meet up, again his grandfather sent him with a list of things to get.  We've been over in Hightown all morning so how we were supposed to know you'd be at the tractor store of all places at this exact time just isn't logical."

I had continued to walk and finally got to Sawyer's side who was really angry but holding it in.  I continued, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for Sawyer to even be polite to you when you make such nasty scenes and draw other people into it?  That's just terribly sad that a girl with your looks and your father's money would find it necessary to go so far out of her way to behave this immaturely."

"Now just one minute ..."

"Actually you don't have a minute.  You don't even have five seconds.  Sawyer is long done wasting time on you and I'm done wasting time as well.  If you regret your actions to Sawyer then fine, hopefully you've learned from your mistakes but it is too late.  Go find someone else only this time I'd suggest you learn what loyalty is.  You don't run out on a man just 'cause he's down.  That's just wrong."

I put my arm around Sawyer and it took a second but we started to walk away.  Lisa's brother wouldn't move and I thought there'd be a scene but the cop said, "Get out of the way before I cite you for trying to instigate a fight.  That goes for you other two as well.  I was sitting in my cruiser the whole time.  The guy walked over here to get away and you followed him and confronted him.  Bad move on your part."

The cop continued to talk to them while Sawyer and I got gone.  We were half way back to the others when he stopped me.  "Thanks."

"For what?"

"For taking my part.  I didn't know she was going to be at the flea market or the tractor store.  I swear I didn't."

"Of course you didn't.  No one with any sense would think that you did.  And speaking of sense, I know you've got more than to get involved again with someone that did you so wrong.  Like I said, just because she is sorry doesn't mean she gets to go back to the way things were.  You've moved on.  She's just going to have to learn to deal with that."

Right as we reached Linda I could hear Lisa's father snapping, "Just get in the car.  We'll discuss this when we get home."

Jeannie went "whew" under her breath but didn't say anything else.  Benedict stepped towards his cousin and asked, "You done in or can you go some more?"

"I'm fine.  Anyone else want to call it quits?"

No one did so it was decided to hit a couple of the pawnshops that the guys had wanted to go to.


 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Chapter 35


The next yard sale was a bust and Jeannie was upset and wanted to go back to the first yard sale.

"I have an idea ... maybe."

"Kay-Lee ...," Linda said reading my thoughts.

"Well, that's where they always took us and you know they'll probably have the kind of stuff Jeannie needs.  I'm not too sure about the guys though."

"I don't know about Benedict and Sawyer but Tommy isn't going to go for it."

Sawyer asked, "Where?"

I turned and said, "The Mission Thrift Store downtown."

Sawyer and Benedict said, "No."

"But ..."

"No.  I'm not taking Jeannie anywhere near that place.  It's right next to the 'hood."

Sawyer said, "Absolutely no."

Knowing when I was licked I just shrugged, "OK."

But Jeannie hadn't had her say.  She asked, "Why do you think they'd have what I was looking for?"

"Because all the rich people around town would always donate a lot of stuff at Christmas and the people at the Mission would package it up and get it where it needed to go but there was always so much extra coming in - sometimes deaprtment stores would donate stuff they couldn't get rid of on clearance or anything that got too messed up and wouldn't sell - that they had to build a thrift store.  A lot of stuff is second hand in there but its like name brand and in really good condition."

Benedict said, "I don't care if they're giving gold diapers away.  No."

They started bickering and I said, "Aw geez, don't start squabbling.  You sound like Harley and Davey after the same bone.  If that place is out how about the clearance mall in Hightown.  It means a drive but ..."

The three guys looked at each other and said, "I feel a drive to Hightown has moved to the top of my list."

Jeannie said, "What about gas?"

Benedict answered, "I'm good, both tanks were full before we left.  What about you Sawyer?"

"We should be ok.  Let's stop at the tractor place coming back.  Gramps was talking about needing some pins and other stuff for the tractors like ..."

Jeannie rolled her eyes.  "If it isn't cars it’s tractors."

Linda grinned and said, "Yeah, and I bet before the day is over they take credit for Kay-Lee's idea since it seemed providential that they could stop at their man stores."

Jeannie smiled and asked me, "You ok with that?"

I yawned, "Anything to stop them from looking at me like I have three heads just 'cause I suggested going downtown.  I didn't mean anything bad by it."

Linda walked with me back to the Sawyer's truck.  "I know you didn't.  They know you didn't.  But you gotta remember they're as nervous about going downtown as most of the folks in the 'hood would be about traipsing out to the country.  They just don't mix too well."

"Whatever."

Sawyer was on the cell phone with his Gramps almost as soon as we pulled out and by the time we got to the highway had added almost a page of stuff to his already long list of things to look for.  He'd call something out and I would write it down.  About twenty minutes later we were pulling into the clearance mall.

"Wow, this place looks dead," Tommy said.

"It's not a paycheck weekend.  Let it get towards the first of the month again and people will have money to spend," Sawyer said as he helped me get set.  He asked me, "You ok for this?  Not too tired?"

"I'm fine.  If I need to sit down there looks like there are plenty of empty benches.  But does this wreck up what you wanted to do?"

"We may have to do the thrift stores another day but maybe not, we'll have to see.  I heard back at that place we stopped that now that the grand opening is over with the discount store is jacking up their prices and doesn't have as much on the shelves either ... their restocks are on backorder or whatever you want to call it.  Basically they can't get stuff to restock with."

Our other plans may have been a bust but the clearance mall was a hit.  In fact the guys had to go take some bags out to the vehicles and then come back because they said they were starting to feel like pack mules.  I had fun looking while Linda and Jeannie shopped for things on Aunt Pearl's lists.  I did get a couple of things but not bags and bags like they did.  The guys had been good about going in every place we wanted to stop but they drew the line at the discount beauty supply place so we left them salivating in a tool store.

Jeannie and Linda were testing out nail polishes but I was looking for a hair brush because mine had lost more bristles than it had left and I had forgotten to look last time we were out.  What I found were boxes of the inexpensive throw-away combs that you get in the barber shop and from there I found nail scrubbers, nail files and clippers, and the sort of little odds and ends that the charities always put into the Christmas stockings of teenage girls.  They were actually useful though in some homes they were a prohibited item so were confiscated.

I picked up a bunch and then took them to the counter.  Jeannie saw me heading that way and stopped me.  "Watcha got?"  When I showed her she asked, "Actually that might be a good idea."  Linda agreed and we all came out of the store with stuff like that.  While in line I also added a bunch of hair bobs and clips that were in a clearance box just begging for someone to take them home.

We came out to find the guys were starving to death and there was an inexpensive Chinese place in the food court.  We all ordered something different and then shared it all around.  I had never done anything like that and had a lot of fun.  Even the corny fortune cookies were funny.  Sawyer's said "Flattery will get you far tonight."  Everyone laughed at that one while I blushed but then when I opened mine they laughed harder still.  "Marriage lets you annoy that one special person for the rest of your life."  OK, so yeah, I saved those two fortunes.  Dorky but I've got a place I can stay and keep stuff now so I don't have to get rid of every little thing that might weigh me down or take up room in my backpack.

After eating we finished up the last aisle of the outdoor type mall and then headed off to the tractor place.  We - us girls I mean - were set on waiting the guys out but across the road from the tractor place was one of those tourist traps that sold all sorts of junk and then some.  There was also a used book store and a news stand.

It was two story and I wasn't loving trying to hobble up the stairs but there was a kids' consignment shop up there so I told Linda and Jeannie that I would hang around downstairs and to take as much time as they wanted.  I went straight to the bookstore and looked around and then got lost in the dollar bin that amongst all the bodice rippers there were some pretty interesting old cookbooks.  I debated and picked up a couple of the cookbooks, a couple of "trash to treasure" craft books, a book on "fixing just about everything," and then a big book on frugal living that had a huge section on homemade cleaning supplies and beauty supplies and another big section of recipes for things like condiments and a bunch of other stuff like that.

From there I wandered through the stores that I imagined tourists would love with all their goofy collectibles like t-shirts, spoons, thimbles, shot glasses, and other stuff that had absolutely no use except as a dust magnate.  The news stand was the last store and I was considering buying a couple of the women's magazines that had decorating ideas that looked cute when Benedict stuck his head  in and said, "There you are.  Uh ... look ... we got a situation."

I followed him out immediately and found Jeannie looking green in the gills, Linda crying, Tommy looking upset, and Sawyer looking like he was about due for a nuclear meltdown.  I looked at Benedict but he was already heading towards Jeannie and was pulling what looked like crackers out of his pocket.  Sawyer was completely unapproachable and stomped off when he saw I was heading in his direction.  I turned to Tommy and he said, "Jeannie ran into her sister who was here with her aunt who was visiting from out of town and there was a scene.  Linda's mom told her she can't come by.  And Sawyer is mad at Lisa who was at the tractor place with her dad and brother getting their riding lawn mower fixed and complaining about how high the bill was."

"Ooooo-kay."  I looked for Sawyer but didn't see him and wasn't in any shape to chase after him where ever he was so I took Linda and sat her on the bench away from where Jeannie was retching into the barrel trashcan.  "What's up?" I asked her.

"I called Mom and she said I couldn't come by."

"Did she say why?"

"Because Dad is ... is having a bad day and wouldn't remember me.  Then she said it might be better if ... if I not plan on coming by at all ... ever ... because ... because ... Dad isn't really Dad most of the time anymore and that ... that it would be too ... too hard ... that he has gotten a lot worse a lot faster than anyone expected and they think he might have had strokes and I'm not supposed to even come see him if he has to go into the hospital, that she'll let me know ... know when ... when he dies."

"Oh Linda."  I held my friend as she tried really hard not to cry.

She was only getting worse and I knew I needed to stop her spiraling thoughts.  Linda didn't get like that often but when she did it could get really bad.  "Hey Linda ... look, you know your Mom and Dad care about you right?  You do know that don't you?  They picked you.  Out of all the kids they had fostered they picked you and only you to adopt."

She sniffed and said, "I know.  I just ... I just don't understand.  And he ... he just forgot me ..."

"He isn't forgetting you on purpose.  He has something wrong with his brain.  You explained that part to me yourself.  You ... you knew this was coming.  Maybe not so quickly but ..."

"I know.  But Mom doesn't want to see me either."

"Now that's just not true."

"How do you know?!" she snapped.

"Because your Mom is one of those really nice people.  Not gushy or sweet but honestly nice.  Who has she put first in all of this?  You.  She wanted to see you settled before things got bad.  A lot of people might have had something to say about you and Tommy getting married, they might not have understood or might have even been nasty about it ... but not your parents.  They want you to be happy and taken care of and living in a situation where you can ... where you can flourish and reach your full potential.  And you are.  Don't you think she needs to know that you are?"

"Then why won't she let me see her and Dad?"

"Because right now she really needs all her energy to focus on your Dad.  I guess they thought they had more time to get things straight, to ease into this ... this new phase they are going through.  But apparently they don't and it is taking all of your mom's energy to try and help your dad the best she can.  And seeing you seeing him not knowing you would probably be too hard for her ... and she doesn't want him to hurt either so ... so even if maybe it’s hurting you I don't think she is hurting you to make you hurt but to prevent you from hurting worse."

I doubt that would make sense to anyone else, but Linda grabbed a hold of that idea with both hands and I could see her wanting to believe it so much.

"I wanna help her Kay-Lee.  She helped me so much, I want to help her back."

"Well, for right now how about writing her a letter telling her that you understand that it would be really hard for her to have you around right now but that you want her to know all the ways that you appreciate all she's done for you.  You could put in all the good memories you have.  This way even though your dad is losing his memories your mom knows that someone will remember the good times besides her.  She'll know for absolute certain that she isn't alone and that you are thinking of her all the time."

Linda nodded.  "Ok.  I'll give it a try.  But you know I don't write very good."

"And the fact that you took the time to try will mean that much more to her."

"You think?"

"You always told me that your mom loved getting mail ... real mail, not bills."

Linda smiled and said, "She does.  She really does.  She kinda dances back from the mail box to the house when she gets a letter from someone."

"See?  And maybe with some time for your mom to think about it she can find a way to see you and you her.  OK?"

"That's a really good idea.  And I'll tell her about what I'm doing.  Maybe ... maybe she can read the letters to Dad on his good days."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

"But now our day is all messed up.  Why do bad things have to happen like this?  We were having so much fun."

Remembering what one of my foster families used to say I told her, "Adversity is the opportunity to discover that you are more than you think you are."

"Huh?"

"It means in the bad times you can find strength that you didn't realize you had.  Bad times is when you find stuff, not just lose it."

"Well it feels like we are all losing stuff.  My dad, Jeannie and her family, Tommy worries that he's gonna lose me because I'll go back to living with Mom and Dad to help out, and Sawyer lost ... um ... I mean ..."

"It's ok Linda.  I don't know what happened but I know that girl hurt him really bad and he lost his love for her."

"Yeah."

"Look, you're dad isn't running out on you on purpose.  It's bad but ... kinda out of anyone's control.  Like that time I almost died because of that infection I got after they put those screws in my ankle.  No one meant it to happen, my body just got sick and ... and now I've got drop foot.  It made things hard but I learned to live with it and even though my foot is forever going to be weak part of me is stronger because my foot is weak.  Jeannie ... well Jeannie can't control how her family is reacting.  Maybe she and Benedict did some things backwards but they're trying to do the right thing now.  I don't know why her family is running out on her but they are.  Maybe things will get better and maybe, like my foot, she'll have an injury to her heart that won't.  But she can be stronger for it.  Her and Benedict together can be stronger for it and learn from the mistakes her family is making."

"And Sawyer?"

"I don't know what all happened.  It is kinda not my business but ... but if I have it right that girl Lisa ran out on Sawyer when things got tough.  She ran instead of getting stronger.  But when she ran Sawyer got stronger.  He ... he stopped being a boy and all that trouble he went through when people ran out on him ... well he learned to be stronger.  Except Gramps ... Gramps didn't run out on him, it just took time until Gramps could reach him in a way he could understand.  It can be the same way for your mom.  And you can let Tommy know you aren't going to run out on him ... and Tommy's hand writing is pretty decent, you can get him to help you write those letters and that will help you and Tommy to get strong together."

She nearly strangled with a hug and then ran over to Tommy and started talking to him and in two seconds he seemed to be ready to take on the world.

I leaned back and then someone behind me said, "Not bad Sunshine, but it is going to take more than words to help Sawyer."

I turned and Benedict and Jeannie were standing there.  "What happened?"

"You know who Lisa is?"

"Generally speaking."

"Yeah well, generally speaking she messed Sawyer up bad.  You come along and he laughs more than he has in a long time.  We all thought he was going to become like Uncle Mark."  I made a face and Benedict nodded solemnly and said, "Exactly.  But seems like Sawyer is still pretty sensitive because we were in the tractor store and we didn't even notice them until Lisa's old man comes bulling over and shouting at Sawyer to stop stalking his daughter."

"Huh?"

"Yeah, I didn't know what he was talking about either."

Tommy who had come up added, "Lisa was at the flea market.  Yeah I know Kay-Lee but Sawyer didn't want to ruin your day and he seemed to get over it after you two were back together.  That Lisa is a piece of work and her dad is really loud and embarrassed Sawyer I think."

"Where is he?"

"Around the other side of the building."


 

Chapter 34


Linda saw me first and opened the car door and came over.  "Are you ok?"

"Yeah.  I guess I sprained it worse than I thought.  Most of the swelling is gone but not all of it.  And my foot and ankle look like I've been stomping grapes."

"She's going to use that crutch and that's all there is to it."

Linda looked at Sawyer and rolled her eyes.  "Down boy.  Ain't you had your coffee yet?"  Everyone chuckled and then chuckled some more when he held up a big thermos with an even bigger grin.

I was quickly introduced to Benedict and Jeannie.  Benedict was nearly twenty-one and Jeannie was nineteen.  I remembered her from school but only as a face on the student council.  Linda quietly warned me not to bring her parents up because they'd basically disowned her for dropping out of college to marry Benedict and it made her either really mad or really sad.  They'd been carrying on behind her parents' backs for a while and actually "had" to get married if you catch my drift.  I didn't say anything even after Benedict had to stop the car twice between the house and the highway so that Jeannie could jump out and puke.

"What kind of car is that?" I asked Sawyer after the second stop.

"The body is a Chevy Impala but everything else is basically a mutt.  It was Benedict's senior project.  He was hoping it would get him a scholarship to that mechanics college in Ohio but the scholarship fund ran short and he didn't make it.  He dug the body out of a gully and then took an old Diesel engine and converted it to run homemade ethanol.  Pretty slick.  He and Uncle Ben still keep it up and running and converted one of their tractors over to do the same thing."

"Wow.  He must be a really good mechanic."

"He's da ... uh ... doggone good and gets all the work he wants making decent money at it too.  Too bad Jeannie's parents only want to think a college degree makes a man."

"It doesn't.  Not even a lot of degrees makes a man if he isn't one to begin with.  I met a lot of doctors that are jerks and don't even realize it."

Finally Sawyer asked, "Uh ... you know what the sitch is?"

I nodded.  "Linda warned me not to bring up her parents and kinda said that they had to get married.  The puking just sort of clarified it.  How long have they been married?"

"About a week longer than us.  Jeannie is ok.  Better than some of the other ... uh ..."

"Yeah.  Linda said some of the wives are having trouble settling in.  Probably just town girls having to learn to live in the country."

"That might be some of it but really, it's mostly that a couple of them just didn't get as lucky as me."

He put his arm around me and grinned and I didn't know what to make of it.  He added, "If you reach into my front pocket I put some more money in that envelope so you could get what you want."

I felt bold all of a sudden and told him, "Sawyer Hartford.  I might not know much but I'm pretty sure that money isn't why you want me to put my hand in your front pocket."

Sawyer started laughing so hard he had to wipe his eyes and then laughed off and on from there to our first stop which was a multi-family yard sale in the parking lot of a closed tire store.  "Hang on," he told me.  "I'll come around and help you down."  I could have gotten down on my own but I let him help as it seemed to make him feel better ... or more in control ... or whatever it was he needed.

Jeannie was already pulling Benedict over to a table full of baby stuff.  Benedict didn't look unwilling to be pulled either.  Linda grinned and said, "Here's hoping that we don't run into anyone Jeannie knows.  She's in a good mood and that's put Benedict in a good mood so hopefully we should have fun today."

Tommy and Sawyer wandered off to talk to a guy that had a bunch of tools on his table.  I asked Linda, "What are you looking for?"

She pulled a piece of paper out of the pocket of the shirt she was wearing over a tank top and said, "Craft supplies, jars, good plastic containers, baskets big enough to use in the garden, shoe laces, zippers - well sewing supplies of all sorts really - fabric, paper goods, card games, and a bunch of other stuff like that.  What are you here looking for?"

"I'm not sure.  Sawyer sort of popped this on me at the last second.  I should probably get a couple of more pairs of jeans if I'm going to help but maybe some shorts too.  I'm making over some of those tops and stuff that were in the house ..."

"That stuff has to be like really old and gross," Linda objected.

"Some of it is nasty that's true.  But actually some of it is really nice when it comes out of the wash.  Kinda retro.  And you should see all the cute aprons and stuff.  Much better than anything we had in school.  They're fun to wear.  Oh wait ... I just thought of something."

I hobbled over to Sawyer and asked, "Can I have a piece of paper off of your notepad?  I wanna make a list of things as I think of them."

"Sure," he said eager to step away from the table he'd been standing in front of.  Below his voice he muttered, "Man, that guy wants an arm and a leg for his junk.  I hope the pawn shops aren't like that."

"Lotta people probably trying to sell stuff before the summer starts so they'll have money to deal with the kids being home all day."

"You know I never even thought ... what about your school?"

I shrugged.  "Because they are still working on the damage to the school from the riot, they said that they weren't going to require the seniors to finish out the year unless they wanted to or were on the border of failing.  I didn't want to and I wasn't anywhere near failing.  I guess I should put in a change of address form so they can mail me my diploma."

"What about graduation and all that?"

"The ceremony?  They're not having one.  They still haven't lifted the ban on large public gatherings ... at least I don't think they have.  Some people are real bent about it but it's no big deal.  To me it just meant I was that much closer to getting dumped on the street.  Not like I was ever going to be able to go to college."

"Would you want to?"

I thought about it.  "If I could get a better job maybe but ..."  He gave me a growly kind of look so I didn't say what I was going to say but instead said, "But we're planning for something else happening so I figure I'll make a job out of that and worry about the other stuff later ... if things change."

"You don't need to," Sawyer said putting his arm around me.  "When work needs to get done I'll get the job and you can run the house."

I didn't say anything and let him think what he wanted to.  There weren't a lot of places that would want to take the risk of having to insure someone like me anyway.  Then something popped into my head and I asked, "Sawyer ... what about insurance.  The state has always taken care of mine."

"Well," he said thinking about it.  "Neither of us has a job.  I suppose they can fine us but since we aren't doing anything to create income they can't collect the fines."

"Can they take the house?"

"No ... or let me say they aren't supposed to be able to.  Let me talk to Gramps and see what he says.  Try and not think about it, at least for today.  Let's have some fun.  OK?"

I looked at him and saw he needed a day of fun.  "Ok.  Sorry.  I didn't mean to be a downer."

"You didn't ... aren't.  I just want us to have some fun.  Things are going to start getting busy and there aren't going to be any more days like this for a while.  Next week ..."

Linda jogged over, "Next week Aunt Pearl wants to have a work day for the women.  There's a lot of greens and things that are going to be ready all at once and whoever helps gets a share for their household."

I looked at Sawyer and he asked, "You feel up to it?"

"Come heck or high water.  I like you Aunt Pearl and Linda and I always had fun doing our projects together in school.  She was always the one that could catch me up on things the fastest."

Tommy wandered over, "Think Benedict and Jeannie found some of what they were after.  They want to head on to the next place if you all are ready."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chapter 33


"Feel like going to town?"

"What?"

"To town?  Feel like going?"

"Uh ... Sawyer.  My ankle is still ... I ... I have to ..."

Frowning he said, "You better use that crutch.  I don't want to see you putting any weight on that foot until that brace fits properly.  Kay-Lee, there's no need for you to be in pain.  Don't make me be a jerk and have to order you."

I looked at him and saw something.  He was giving me an out.  Letting me think that it was his fault I had to use the crutch.  He was actually trying to use reverse psychology on me so I wouldn't feel bad.  My mouth almost fell open.  "Sawyer?"

"You gonna make me be a jerk?"

I hobbled over to him and put my hand on his chest.  "You aren't a jerk.  You're ... you're the opposite.  And I'll take the crutch."

"And use it?"

"And use it," I agreed.

He relaxed.  "Good.  Hopefully, if everything works out, we'll grab some Chinese food when we're finished.  If there's time we'll even go to a buffet.  If there isn't we'll do take out.  Place I'm thinking about has both."

Going back to the kitchen chair and sitting down I asked him, "What do you need in town?"

"I thought we'd hit that discount place again.  Then a couple of pawn shops I've been meaning to stop at.  But first Linda told me there's a couple of thrift stores and some yard sales that she and Tommy and a couple of the others were going to where I might be able to find some extra jeans and I thought ... well ... you don't have many clothes either so ..."  Then in a little bit of aggravation he said, "How come you don't ever ask for anything like that?  You don't ask for anything."

"'Cause I don't need anything.  And besides, you gave me that money to spend at the flea market and I got what I needed then and when we went to town."

"I mean besides that."

Carefully since I didn't understand the problem I asked, "Aren't we ... I mean you and me ... whatever ... supposed to be saving money so it could be spent on stuff we're gonna need when that thing you're Gramps expects happens?"

"Yeah.  And we are way ahead because of your crazy uncle ... er ... I mean ..."  He sighed.  "I'm sorry Kay-Lee.  It's just really hard to think of him any other way."

Slowly I admitted, "He probably was a little crazy.  Hiding money in a fireplace, even in a supposedly fire-proof safe, isn't exactly not crazy.  And the other stuff he did showed he had issues too.  And I know he gave your family a lot of grief.  I can understand where it is coming from but the guy is dead and he left us all this ..."

"You.  He left you."

"You.  Me.  Us.  Does it matter?  We're here now and ..."

"It matters to you."

"What?  No it doesn't."

"Sure it does.  You think because I volunteered to marry you that somehow I'm going to be sorry for it and wish it away and you're going to be out on the street.  You think now that he's dead that it's just going to happen sooner."

I was silent for a moment then said, "You did marry me so your family could get this property.  That's a fact and one I've accepted.  But it isn't because of this house and stuff that you could get to where you wish you hadn't been the one to volunteer.  I don't know if you need glasses or what but ... c'mon ... look at the mess I am right now.  God knows I'm not as much of a freak as I used to be but I'm not ever gonna get better.  I'm not ever going to be able to be like other girls Sawyer.  I've accepted it but I'm wondering if you have.  Falling like an idiot is just part of it."

"One I wish you wouldn't call yourself a freak.  It isn't good to make yourself feel like that.  You ... you were different but different doesn't equal freak.  And two, you have to give me a chance to prove you wrong.  You accept real easy that I might regret volunteering down the road someplace.  How about accepting that I might not regret it?"

The idea was so novel and different that it took me a few minutes to wrap my head around it.  "Uh ..."

My confusion must have been enough to appease Sawyer because he smiled and pulled a chair over to where I had been sitting folding the latest load of the old clothes that I had managed to wash, dry, and mend.  "Here.  Let's see if I can loosen the fastenings on your spare brace.  This way it won't turn your toes purple."

"You don't have to do that Sawyer I can ..."

"I know you can but let me pretend you need me a little more than you do."

"Huh?"

"Linda told me that I need to ... uh ... open up to you more because if I don't then you won't.  I used to be a really open guy, no secrets, no nothing but ... now it is a lot harder to be like that so if I sound stupid blame Linda.  But here it is ... I like when I'm needed.  It ... it hurt my feelings when Delly believed Buttface over me.  I did a lot of stuff for her because he was never around or when he was he was too tired to notice she needed help.  Then when Lisa and her folks turned their back on me too ... I couldn't ... still can't ... believe how fast everything changed.  I can't understand how they just out of the blue believed that I would steal like that.  Buttface and I had never been what you would call friends but we weren't enemies.  Hell, he is twenty years older than I am and I barely had much to do with him until after Dad died.  He was just never around.  There was no reason for him to believe that I'd steal that kind of money from him ... any kind of money."  He stopped and shook his head.  "Everybody use to be my friend, love me I guess, and suddenly I couldn't get a dog to come around even with a steak tied around my neck.  I know that sounds pathetic but I was feeling pretty pathetic and hurt and confused.  It still hurts that my cousins and uncles thought it was possible that I would sink that low but it is what it is and I think mostly it is because Uncle Forrester had just had his stroke and everyone was so worried about him dying that Gramps ... well he thought that it would work out."

He started putting the brace on my foot and said, "The reason I can understand some of what you feel is because I guess I felt abandoned by everyone ... like you got abandoned by your extended family after your parents died when you were a baby.  For a while Delly acted like she was sorry and I went right back to doing what I had done before but I think Gramps may have had something to do with that even though no one has ever come right out and said so.  But ... now there's you ... and me ... and we ... I mean ... together ... we can need to be needed by each other and it's ok because we aren't going to leave or whatever."  He was concentrating on putting my shoe over my brace and said almost too low for me to hear, "I'm the type of guy that needs to be needed Kay-Lee.  Just need me a little ok?"

I reached out and touched his hair.  "I'm afraid I might start needed you a whole lot.  If I do and then suddenly, for whatever reason you aren't ... I've hurt a lot in my life but I think that would hurt more than I could stand."

He looked up and I just knew he was going to kiss me.  He was half an inch away from my lips when a car horn playing "Dixie" could be heard coming down the drive.  Sawyer groaned.  "That would be Benedict.  He and Jeannie were picking up Tommy and Linda."

"And we're all going into town together?"

"If you want to go.  I won't make you but ... I'd like you to."

"Depends," I told him.

"On what?"

"If I can get a rain check on the kiss and if you help me to get up and get going so we don't keep them waiting."

Sawyer grinned hugely making it totally worth stepping outside my comfort zone.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Chapter 31



"Kay-Lee?"

"Coming!" I answered Sawyer.  I was wondering what had kept him away all morning instead of watching how tight I was holding onto the rail.  I was half way up the basement stairs when my brace hung up on a riser.

Normally it was no big deal.  Normally I was holding on tightly to the hand rail.  Normally I wouldn't have panicked.  Normally when I did stop falling I wouldn't have thrown a hissy fit.  Unfortunately normal went out the window.

"Kay-Lee!!"

Sawyer clattered down the stairs faster than I would ever be able to move, even stumbled and caught himself, then finished by neatly jumping down beside me all of which only made me more upset.

"I'm fine!" I snarled.

"You fell down the stairs!"

"No kidding," I snapped.  "Just move and let me get up."

"Get up?!  Just ... just wait.  I need to see if you're hurt."

"The only thing hurt is my pride ... again ... like I need more reminders of just how stupid and clunky I am.  Now move!"  I tried to get up but then a shooting pain in my ankle took my breath away and I stiffened up.  "No ... no, no, no.  I don't have time for this."

"You've got whatever time I say you have.  Now be still.  Wait.  Hang on a sec."

He ran back up the stairs and off to I didn't know where.  All I cared about was it gave me time to get up and prove to him - and myself - that a fool I might be but one that could move under their own power.

I heard feet and then from top of the stairs, "Kay-Lee!  Oh my goodness!"  I heard her tell Sawyer something and him start to get upset but then she told him to move and I heard him running up the back stairs.

"Linda?!  What are you doing here?" I asked her when she got to the bottom.

"Trying to save you from getting smothered to death 'cause I know you hate it.  I sent Sawyer to get one of those blue pills you take when your joints hurt.  Wow, look at you.  What happened?" she asked as she helped me stand up.

"My brace caught a riser and I wasn't paying enough attention so couldn't stop myself once I started to lose my balance.  Geez I am such an idiot."

"Don't call yourself names.  You never let Tommy and me do that when we'd flub a test or anything like that."

"Totally different."

"No it isn't."

Then there was as squawk and Sawyer flew at me and I almost fell again only I wound up being picked up and carried up the stairs.  "What are you doing putting weight on that foot before I've had a chance to look at it?!  Did you hit your head?  God, I need to take you to the emergency room you could have a concussion.  Hang on let me get my keys."

"Sawyer ..."

"How many fingers am I holding up?  Do you hurt ..."

Sawyer!"

"I'll fix this Kay-Lee, just let me ..."

"Sawyer!!"

"What?"

"Put me down in the kitchen chair.  Then get a glass of water so I can take this stupid pill.  Then get a wash cloth, wet it, and wipe your face.  You act like your head is on fire."

He stopped in the middle of wetting a kitchen rag, looked at it then looked at me.  "That's not funny Kay-Lee."

"I didn't mean it to be.  You're making a fuss over nothing.  I may be an idiot but I'm not a crybaby."

From behind me Linda asked, "Now who's head is on fire.  If you get any madder Kay-Lee you're going to burn down the house.  Instead of Sawyer wiping his face maybe you should stick your head in a bucket."

I was ready to tune up and blow back on her like no one's business but then I realized this was Linda, one of the few friends I had in the world, the one that was honest to a fault and was never mean on purpose.  I groaned.  "Fine. Point me in the direction of the bucket and I'll do just that."

Linda laughed but Sawyer not so much.  "Stop it Linda.  Kay-Lee is hurting."

"Kay-Lee hates to fall Sawyer.  She really, really hates it.  It isn't the hurt, it's the fall."

Sawyer wasn't listening to her and he came over and put his arm around me where I had my head on my arm on the table.  "Kay-Lee?  Seriously, let me look at your ankle.  I know it hurts.  I heard you."

I sighed.  "Why do you guys have to be so nice?  Can't you just let me be a dumb clutz once in a while?"

"OK, that's enough.  I guess I get why you don't like falling.  It embarrasses you in a way that makes you feel insecure.  But you didn't fall on purpose and it's just me and Linda, not a room full of people.  And we aren't laughing.  C'mon Kay-Lee ..."

I didn't bother looking as he turned me in the chair.  I knew exactly what it was going to look like.  It was my weak foot and while I didn't have all the feeling in it I had enough I knew the foot was swelling and bruising.  After years of operations and physical therapy I had learned to manage pain and to not let people see it but somehow they both knew.  Linda I could understand because she'd been my friend forever.  I was having a hard time computing why Sawyer would have been able to tell.

He said, "Kay-Lee this might be broken."

"It's not broken."

"You don't know that."

"I do.  I've got more metal in that foot and ankle than I do bone.  Pins, plates, rods, screws ... all titanium.  They tried to get me to laugh about it by calling me the bionic girl.  Ha ha ha.  If the job they did on me was so great I wouldn't have to live in that stupid brace.  If I ..."  I hissed involuntarily when my leg started to draw.  "Move!"

"Kay-Lee ..."

"Move!"

Linda said, "Move Sawyer.  Her tendons are drawing up ... kinda like a charlie horse.  She needs to stand up and stretch them."

I used the table to keep my balance.  I was having to choose between the pain of the badly sprained ankle and foot and the pain of the nuclear powered charlie horse.  Stopping the charlie horse won hands down.

"What do I do?  She's hurting."

"Nothing you can do Sawyer.  Kay-Lee sometimes hurts.  It's a lot better than it used to be.  She used to hurt every day, sometimes all day long.  When they were straightening her back and making her leg grow longer it was the worst.  She told me once it was like ..."

"Linda!"

"He needs to know that you’re strong Kay-Lee.  When he understands how strong he won't worry so much.  You're not like his momma.  You're not going to go away from a bee sting or a fall ..."

This time it was Sawyer who yelped, "Linda!"

"Well, someone needs to explain it to you two because you sure aren't explaining it to each other."

Linda's logic was breathtaking in its simplicity.  She was right but it was really hard to admit it.  But one look at Sawyer's face and I knew that I'd have to be the one to reach out first.  Still holding onto the table with one hand I inched my other one over to lay on the top of his and said, "Sawyer, could you help me to sit back down and get my foot propped up?  Then in my pack there is this telescoping crutch; I ... I ... need it."

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chapter 30


"Boy, you look tired.  Didn't that new mattress agree with you?"

"Yes sir," Sawyer grinned.  "Yes sir it sure did.  Just catchin' up from where I was stuck on that air mattress in the truck for most of a week."

It was Monday and Gramps and a couple of Sawyer's uncles had come to look over the house to see what kind of repairs it needed.

"Road needs to be graded for one but I ain't wantin' to start that in this mud and until after we make sure we ain't gotta dig it up to make sure the yard drains proper.  What about that basement Son?  Did it stay dry?"

I stepped out onto the porch and asked, "Coffee?  I've also got muffins made.  Everything is on the kitchen ta ..."

I moved out from in front of the doorway just in time to keep from being trampled.  Gramps laughed after taking his first bite of muffin.  "Honey, did anyone get your toes in that stampede?"

I smiled.  "No sir."

Around mouthfuls of coffee and muffins the men found out that the basement itself didn't leak but the broken window down into the basement did which was why it was probably boarded over in the first place.  While a couple started on that, another uncle went to check out the roof and another one started checking the fire places.  Sawyer was everywhere at once while I stayed in the kitchen making stew and dumplings for lunch and pocket pies for dessert.  I was also reading the directions for the dehydrator and getting it set up.

About an hour before lunch Sawyer bellowed, "Kay-Lee!!"

I stopped what I was doing and "ran" to where he was hollering at which was the fireplace in the master bedroom.  I come in breathless to find him covered in soot ... and so was everything else in the room including all of the clean linens that I had so painstakingly ironed a few days before.

"What happened?!"

"That screwy uncle of yours that's what!" he groused.

"What now?" I asked calmly without telling him it was a kinship by blood and nothing else so to please not act like it was my fault by connection.

He tried to hand me a blackened box but I just backed up and wouldn't take it.  "Here," he said.

"It's dirty.  Everything in here is dirty ... especially you."

He opened his mouth to say something then really looked around for the first time.  Uncle Junior walked in and said, "I told you Boy not to drop them weighted scrubbers; that we had a little prepping to do first."

"Uh ..."  Trying to ignore the horrible mess he'd just caused he instead blamed it on Mr. Baffa.  "There was a blockage and we couldn't figure out if some of the bricks had fallen on the inside or what.  Turns out it was this."

I still wouldn't take it.  "Don't you want to know what's inside it?" he demanded.

"Whatever it is you can deal with it.  I need to get this stuff down, shaken off, and washed unless you want to go back to sleeping in the truck.  Oh, and I still need to fix dinner for all you Hartford men."

"But Kay-Lee ..."

"Sawyer, if it was something Mr. Baffa thought important enough to hide then I think it must be important enough that you can deal with it."

"Kay-Lee just guess."

I rolled my eyes.  "Pictures of naked women?"

"What the ...?  No smart aleck."  He flipped back the lid and showed me that it was rolls of fives, tens, and twenties just like the money we'd found in other places, only this time inside one of those smallish sized fire proof safes.

"Well at least it doesn't stink as much as the stuff we found in the toes of those boots.  Still ... you get to clean this bunch since apparently I'm going to be spending most of the rest of my day cleaning this room up."

I started stripping the bed.  Uncle Junior said, "C'mon Son ... sometimes a man needs to know when to make a strategic retreat.  This is one of those times."

------------

The Hartford men had all left for home hours before, the kitchen was clean for the last time, I'd managed to put the bedroom back together, and the stars were out in force in the clear night sky.  I should have been exhausted after all the work I had done, and I was, but apparently not exhausted enough to get some sleep.

Sawyer had passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow, proof that he'd worked long and hard to keep up with all his uncles were doing; but, every time I tried to get comfortable I was afraid of joggling him and waking him up so I rolled out of bed and came down to sit at the kitchen table and chop celery to go on the dehydrator first thing in the morning.  While I washed and chopped I replayed the day.

Everyone had liked the stew and really liked being able to take a pocket pie and go outside for a bit of fresh air.  That's where they were at when a car with the words "Process Server" on the door showed up.

"Is Kay-Lee Baffa Hartford here?"

I stepped out onto the porch but the men had formed a pretty much kept me there rather than let me come down the steps.  It was Gramps who asked, "What business do you have with my granddaughter?"

I was so hung up with being called his granddaughter that I almost missed him saying, "I'm sorry to inform you of the passing of Jacob Baffa, her uncle.  I also have papers here for her to sign to release the body and a few other odds and ends.  He requested cremation and then burial at the National Cemetery without a graveside service."  He droned on for a bit longer but the bottom line was all I needed to do was sign the papers because everything else had already been take care of.  One of the papers even said the inheritance taxes had already been paid.

"Who paid them?" I asked.

Sawyer said, "The lawyer that handled the property transfer.  They got it filed before he died so the tax effect was smaller.  Property taxes are also paid.  All the legal stuff is taken care of.  I'll give that to Old Man Baffa, when he decided to do something he didn't do it in half measures."

Everyone else went on along like it was just an everyday occurrence.  I just sort of stood there with the papers in my hands.  That's how Uncle James found me.  "You ok Kay-Lee?"

"What?  Oh ... oh yes sir," I answered trying to hide how confused I felt.

"Don't seem ok."

"I am ... or will be.  As soon as I figure out how I'm supposed to feel about all of this."

And that's where I still was at; trying to figure out how I felt.  I had no connection to Mr. Baffa.  He said he was my uncle and that giant family Bible said I was he was my uncle ... and related to a lot of other people too yet had never known or seen.  And for the life of me I couldn't make myself feel anything for them.  And somehow that made me sad which was too strange to contemplate.  And then there was the house and land and the Hartfords seemed like I should be dancing nekked in the streets with joy that it came my way.  But somehow that didn't mean anything to me either.  I was just a conduit that transferred the land and house from a Baffa to a Hartford.  Then there was Gramps calling me his granddaughter like he didn't even have to think about it, that being married to Sawyer had somehow conferred that privilege to me.  I had more feelings about that than any of the other.

And then there was Sawyer who I really didn't know what to feel about.  We were married.  We were even acting married ... but somehow it felt like it was all on the surface and for show while at the same time there did feel like something more was going on.  The "more" also worried me.  In fact all of the connections I was developing with the Hartfords worried me.  I'd gotten attached to a couple of my foster families when I'd been little and I'd even made the mistake of falling into the fantasy that one of the nurses that had taken care of me when I was in the hospital was going to adopt me and take me home just as soon as I got well enough.  That had been the last straw because I had been old enough to realize I'd built something up that wasn't there and that it was my own fault that it hurt.

I remembered all too well what a broken heart feels like.  I didn't want to feel that way again ... ever again.

Chapter 29


It continued to rain and we were still in bed even though it was almost lunch time.

I sighed.

"What?  You tired?"

"Kinda but not really."

"Then what's wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong.  Not yet.  I'm just waiting to wake up is all."

"Huh?'

"This.  It's gotta be a dream.  Eventually I'll wake up."

He pulled me closer and then pulled the covers up higher.  "Then we just don't wake up."

"You'll get bored with that soon enough."

He gave a gruff chuckle.  "That right there tells me how little you know about men.  Honey, there are some things we never get bored of."

"If you say so."

"What?  You think you're going to get bored with this?"

I shook my head.  "Not so long as there's this part.  This just ... just being together.  I don't expect you to be like Tommy or some of that other silly stuff I've seen guys do.  But if there can just be this I think I could do this forever."

"I can handle forever," Sawyer said.

----------

Sawyer eventually dosed off and I carefully got up and dressed and made my way down to the kitchen to quietly pull out the ingredients for pizza.

The pizza was in the oven and cooking and I was trying to reorganize the mess that had been made when we moved everything to the pantry willy-nilly when Sawyer showed up.

"What's cookin?  Smells good."

"Pizza."

"I didn't see that we picked up pizza yesterday."

"It isn't the frozen kind.  I got a log of pepperoni at the flea market and some pizza sauce at the same booth.  And not all of those mixes we picked up at the discount warehouse were for biscuits or muffins.  There were a couple for pizza crust as well.  Won't be exactly like you can get at the Pizza Pub but it should still be ok."

"What about cheese?"

"Aunt Pearl got some at the Mennonite store and divided it amongst everyone."

"Oh."  He leaned back against the doorframe and then said, "You got up.  Was it because I went to sleep?"

"No."

"Then why?"

"I ... I guess ... look, it sounds pathetic."

"So tell me anyway."

"When you went to sleep ... I guess I just started thinking."

"About what?"

"About the fact that I'm here to make it so ... oh I don't know.  I just got up ok?"

"No.  It's not ok.  Didn't you like what we did?"

"Yes," I said turning bright red all over.  "It was ... it was too good to be true Sawyer.  Can't we just leave it at that?"

"I would if this wasn't forever but ... but it is.  You talked about forever too."

I looked at him and saw that he was honestly concerned that I might be backing out of things.  I shook my head wondering what fairytale I had fallen into.  "Sawyer how can you possibly look so hot and still be talking about forever with me?  I know you said no one bothered you about it yesterday but I'm pretty sure they were thinking it and let you know they were thinking it even if they didn't actually say anything.  And don't say they didn't because I might not know much else but I know people.  I've had lots of time I couldn't do anything else but people watch and by and large the human race pretty much sucks."

"Wow.  You're cynical."

"It keeps me out of trouble and lowers my expectations to the point of being reasonable."

"Dang girl.  You're really cynical ... sound just like I did before Gramps helped me."

I had to stop looking because Sawyer wasn't wearing a shirt and he'd crossed his arms making his muscles stand out even more.  It was giving my brain a swirly.  Trying to draw a good breath and keep my mind from remembering what we had been doing earlier I told Sawyer, "You're Gramps is different.  I don't know what kind of different he is but he is most definitely different.  Most people are the same.  They may look different but if you could crack them open to their gooey centers you find the same kind of filling ... usually the kind that everyone is disappointed they find in the box of chocolates."

"How about me?  Am I different?"

"Sawyer I can say with absolute certainty you are not only different, you are grade A crazy."

"So is that a good thing?" he said finally stepping over and getting in my space.

"It makes you dangerous and vulnerable.  It isn't the best combination," I told him honestly.  "You're going to get hurt.  And when it comes to this you're going to get hurt because of me.  I can't stand that.  And ... and I gotta figure out some way to stop it."

He walked me back against the shelves and surrounded me.  "Looks like I'm not the only one that is crazy."  Then he started kissing.

I didn't want to stop him but I pushed and said, "Sawyer, you can't ignore this."

"Which this?  This problem you have thinking that every problem I have is your fault?  Or this?" he said putting his hands in places that he seemed to like to.

"Sawyer ..."

We didn't make it out of the pantry until the timer for the pizza started dinging.  I saved it just in time.  And I had been right, it didn't taste like Pizza Pub but that didn't stop Sawyer from inhaling most of it then pretend chase me around the kitchen then back up to the bedroom where we stayed the rest of the day.