Monday, November 10, 2014

Chapter 67


“Kay-Lee Baffa Hartford!” Uncle Carl irritably said walking towards me from the direction of the orchard.  “Why didn’t I know about all these fruit trees?!” 

It was early morning and I was still antsy about having so many of the family here at one time so my response wasn’t what you might call diplomatic in nature.  “I don’t know because it isn’t like I haven’t been giving all the fruit away I can convince people to take on canning days.  Need some coffee?” 

Aunt Pearl rolled her eyes, laughed, and said, “You’ve got his number Kay-Lee.  I don’t know who is worse, Carl or Sawyer.  I’d say it was Ray if he was still with us.  That man needed a whole pot of strong and black before he was even willing to think about being human.” 

Sawyer came out onto the porch as soon as he heard Uncle Carl’s first bellow and before he could give some blow back I stuck the pot I had just used to fill that man’s mug under his nose and he followed me into the house like the aroma of fresh brewed coffee was a hook through his nostril.  I heard some good natured laughing behind us but it didn’t stop me from making sure that I filled the biggest coffee cup we had in the house and tell Sawyer to drink up.  Sawyer had fallen in love with the ugly monstrosity at one of our thrift store runs and it doubled as a soup mug when he wasn’t using it to chug his black brew. 

I went back to the kitchen to start another pot but Aunt Pearl said, “Don’t bother Honey.  Let ‘em work the evil out chopping wood or clearing the trees.  We do not have time for people to throw an attitude and be coddled.  All of us need to cut back before we have to; it’s not like there is going to be a coffee fairy to bring us any when the stores run out.  Why don’t you show me which trees you don’t mind us gleaning today.” 

“Aunt Pearl the family should take whatever they need.  I’ve got a lot already.  And wasting food makes me itch.” 

Linda stepped into the kitchen and said, “She isn’t telling stories Aunt Pearl.  She got hives one time walking into the teachers’ lounge and seeing all they’d let go bad.  I think that’s when she went into battle to try and get it changed to giving it to the football players and other jocks.” 

I rolled my eyes.  “It wasn’t a battle.  I just talked to Coach.”  And to quickly change the subject I asked, “What are those things?  Aren’t they wine presses?” 

Uncle Carl who had come in looking chagrined at his earlier behavior said, “They’re fruit presses Honey, though they can be used for wine making right enough.  C’mon and I’ll show you how they work.” 

He insisted on helping me down the stairs and as he did so leaned over and whispered, “Shouldn’t have cracked the whip like that.  But I’m with you, I hate waste.” 

“Then let’s not let there be any.  You tell me what to do and I’ll do it.  Though I warn you, Aunt Pearl has already cut off the coffee supply.  I think she’s on the warpath again.” 

He got a very innocent look on his face and said quietly, “She had to wait on a few of the kids that she didn’t feel she should have had to wait on.  But if I were you, I wouldn’t mention it.  There’re some touchy for no reason and it ain’t just the kids.  Dad changing plans in mid-squat like this has gotten the fur up of more than a few.” 

Uncle Carl’s wife was a short woman everyone called “Dump”.  It was short for Dumpling and apparently what she’d been called her whole life.  When I asked what her real name was I got a few warnings not to ask again because apparently Aunt Dump considered it so horrible that she’d forbidden anyone to mention it.  Aunt Dump came baring down on us to ask me, “You really mean for us to pick what we need?” 

“Yes ma’am.  I’ve been trying and trying on canning days but I think people must have thought I was kidding.  I know everyone was so busy no one strayed far from the house to see how many trees there really are.  I just can’t keep up with all the apple and pear trees.  Mr. Baffa apparently planted the whole orchard back before he got sick with the intention of starting a farmer’s market or maybe selling at one or something.  He wasn’t real clear in his notes which it was.  But as you can see he didn’t do any such thing.  Either way Sawyer thinks this may be the first full harvest from all the trees at once and I just don’t know how to … well … it’s a mess and I’m not sure what to do about it and Sawyer just looks at me and says ‘eat ‘em’.” 

Aunt Dump nodded and then turned like a Battalion Commander and said, “Kids!  Line up!”  She proceeded to put them into groups and lead them out into the orchard. 

“Whew,” I muttered under my breath. 

Uncle Carl looked at me and winked and said, “Uh huh.  Now let’s show you how these things work.” 

Basically the short version is you pick the fruit then wash it to get rid of dirt and bugs, pick out the wood stems and leaves, cut the bad places out if need be, and then dump them into a hopper that directs them into a grinder that coarsely chops the fruit … peels, steeds, and fruit … and then drops it into a bucket that is nothing but slats that has been lined with this really fine mesh made of nylon.  Uncle Carl said in the old days you would use cheesecloth but it was a messy business and the nylon mesh bags were re-usable and didn’t soak up any of the juice.   

Once the slatted bucket was full a pressing plate was placed on top and then the pressing screw was turned.  As the press squishes the fruit in the tub the juice comes out of the bottom and is funneled into another bucket.  When the pressing is finished and all of the juice is squeezed out you are left with the very compacted remains of fruit.  It is dense and heavy and called pomace. 

The long version is everyone has their own way of doing things and I decided to stay out of it and watch rather than get drawn into some of the good-natured – and not so good-natured – rivalries. 

After the first few batches of apples were run through, the resulting pomace was put into a big tub and covered with water and left to rehydrate overnight.  Tomorrow it will be run through the press first thing in the morning and the resulting weak cider is called “Ciderkin” and will be used for the kids to drink the rest of the weekend to save the full strength for bottling and for turning into “hard cider” or fermented cider.  The kids told me it was like apple-flavored Kool-Aid and to them it was one of the best things of the family harvest day. 

Aunt Suzanne told me, “When I was a girl we used to give the fruit pomace to the chickens and pigs but supposedly the animals can eat too many seeds and die.” 

“Is it true?” 

“Wellll, I think mostly these days we can afford store bought feed so we don’t do it but better safe than sorry.  They use it to feed cattle with but a cows got more than one stomach and processes what they eat different.  They’re also some bigger than other animals with makes a difference too.  Nowadays we just throw it on the compost pile.  I see you’ve got a great big one started out yonder behind the barn.  I was wondering where all the peels and such were going from canning days.  I don’t think your pile is going to hold all the pomace we make this weekend.  We’ll get about five gallons of pomace per hundred pounds of apples.  We might have to piece it out.” 

“Whatever you think best.  Sawyer already had to use that metal security net that used to cover the outside tractor implements to cover the pile a few times because the raccoons and other animals were getting into it.” 

“Too much fruit in the pile.  I’ll have some of the kids that can’t climb trees rake up some of that cut, dried grass out of the orchard and we’ll throw it in layers with the pomace.  That should help some.  It’ll cut down on the vinegar smell as well as the pile ferments.” 

We had multiple presses running split evenly between apples and pears except for a couple that didn’t have grinders on them that were used to press grapes.  Not just the remaining grapes from our vines, but bushels of grapes brought by the rest of the Hartfords.   

However even with all of that activity going at the same time, pressing the apples and pears and grapes to get their juice was only part of the process.  Oh no, nothing can ever be simple.  And to be honest watching some of the other men and women get all persnickety about the varieties and amount of fruit used in each pressing came close to giving me a headache.  The same kind of headache I would get when we would have a guest speaker who was a chef or some other kind of cook that insisted on turning a simple chore into a science experiment with all sorts of secret ingredients and ways of doing things.  I know some people get a real charge out of that but I don’t.  Just press the doggone fruit and then give it to me to bottle up.  It all gets drank by the same orifice and comes out the same end.  The point is to make people happy with a full belly, not to make people worship the ground you walk on because you are some kind of food wizard. 

When the aunts and uncles started squabbling I left the scene and headed indoors where I could actually get some work done.  After reading a lot of different sources and talking to the aunts I decided I was going to do up our share of the apple juice three ways.  First I was going to leave it completely natural.  This juice would have the most solids in it.  Next I was going to strain the juice through several layers of cheese cloth.  This would leave some solids but they mostly settle to the bottom of gallon and half-gallon jars and jugs that it would be stored in.  The last type was filtered apple juice and this would leave the clearest juice with almost no visible solids.  I was using a water filter pitcher that I had lined with coffee filters.  I would store some of this in pints for drinking or using in cooking but a lot of the filtered juice I was going to make into apply jelly.  I have hopes that by using filtered juice I would get a clearer, prettier jelly than the cloudy stuff that I had made thus far.  Of course before I could get to that point I would have to process everything in a boiling water bath canner. 

Pears I wasn’t going to be so choosey about.  Sawyer had told me that he preferred a “full bodied” pear nectar rather than what he considered a thinned out juice so that is what I was going to give him.  I wasn’t going to filter the pear juice at all but bottle it up au natural by the quart.  Mrs. Penny – who showed up with Delly and Burt and their kids about midmorning bringing a big cooker and an untold number of frozen burger patties that Burt had taken in payment for helping out someone he knew at the meat packing plant – told me to run some of the dessert pears through my electric juicer and then use that to make jelly.  She said it was real light and sweet and worked well on a relish tray as well. 

“And between me and you, if you just happen to let a few hot peppers fall in your jelly making juice you’ll probably have to fight the men off at the next dinner on the grounds.  They get downright silly over it and I wouldn’t mind sharing all the trouble they try to bring me.” 

I had no idea whatsoever to say to that but I couldn’t imagine that Sawyer would care for it too much so while I might try the hot pepper idea, I’d save it all for him.  I can barely keep up with Sawyer’s silliness, I can’t imagine being open to wanting more from anyone else even if they were willing to be silly with Igor Baffa. 

Uncle Carl and Gramps seemed to be everywhere at the same time.  Most families had at least one press and it required the kids working at top speed to keep up with the demands for fruit, especially if they had an electric motor on the fly wheel of the grinder.  Mid-afternoon many of the youngest children could be found on the front porch napping.  Jeannie and Cindy were watching over them because they weren’t able to really do much.  Cutter and Davis were forever running around the front to see if they needed anything.  Gramps eventually got so irritated with the fact they weren’t staying focused that he sent them back to his place to pick up the next trailer load of apples from his part of the farm. 

It didn’t take long for the juicing to get ahead of our ability to get it processed but then up the road came a truck that turned out to be driven by Toby.  “Hey Ho the Hartford Clan!!” 

An older man stepped out after Toby got the door open and though I didn’t really get introduced as I was in the middle of helping Burt get a big kettle of baked beans onto the grill to heat up and cutting up some of my own bread and butter pickles for relish.  

Sawyer ran over and asked, “You gonna kill me if I take another five hundred pounds of peanuts from Toby?” 

Giving him the eye I said, “I will if you don’t share them with your family.  What on earth would we do with that many peanuts anyway?!” 

He grinned, winked, and then headed back to where some of the men were conferring.  I eventually found out that Toby’s grandfather was going to take most of the apple pomace off our hands and use it for feed for his pregnant cattle.  He also wanted several bushels of whole apples and some fresh apple cider.  In exchange he is going to barter the peanuts, a half of beef (we have to get Uncle James to help cut it for us), and some hard cheeses.  The cheeses are still green and require aging but I’m so not complaining about that.   

I was spooning the baked beans onto plates at dinner time when Gramps came through the line and asked me, “Baby Girl, you really mean to share out those peanuts?” 

“Gramps, I’ve already dealt with five hundred pounds of peanuts.  I’ve boiled and canned them green.  I’ve shelled them and roasted them and then oven canned them in hopes they’ll last a while.  I’ve boiled and flavored them and then canned that up.  If you want you can stick your head down in the basement and take a look at what five hundred pounds of peanuts looks like.  The very idea of dealing with another five hundred …”  I shuddered.   

Gramps smiled real big.  “Well now, that’s a fine thing.  And I may just have Sawyer do some more bartering for the family.  Hasn’t done too badly.” 

Burt was putting burgers and dogs on plates as fast as I was putting beans and he said, “I’m not surprised.  He’s done doggone good on the few of the runs I sent him out on.  Came back with more than I expected and spent less for it.  And with the economy being the way it is, it’s much appreciated.” 

After the servers had gotten their chance to eat I quietly went over to Burt and said, “I … I haven’t quite known how to ask how your brother is.  I guess you know that Sawyer gets tight lipped when his name comes up but if I had a brother, even if he was a problem child, I’d still wish things were different.” 

“Mason isn’t a child but he is a problem.  However, you’re right.  I do wish things were different but he’s picked his path and I’m not going to be blind to it any more.  I tried to talk to him, tell him when he got out I’d try and get him some help but all he did was get in some trouble in County and get transferred to the state pen.  Even with overcrowding and good behavior he’s going to be in there at least a year.  I can’t imagine what our parents would say.” 

“Maybe this will be his wake up call.”  But even Burt could hear the doubt in my voice. 

“Guess you saw some rough stuff in foster care.  Had a guy used to work for me that spent most of his early life in and out until his grandparents got the courts to let them adopt him.  He told some stories I wouldn’t repeat in polite company.” 

“Not all foster families are bad any more than all bio families are good.  Most of the bad stuff happens because the courts or the social workers give bio parents a lot of rope to hang themselves with.  But it is a Catch-22.  Then again maybe I shouldn’t talk; there was no way I was ever going to get adopted and get a supposedly normal family life anyway.” 

“Why do you say that?” 

“For one the courts would have always found some excuse for it.  That stupid trust fund that has a lot of sticky fingers all over it.  Two, my medical needs up until a couple of years ago were more than most families could handle.  But that’s all in the past and things are different now.  That’s how I’m going to look at it and I’m going to make the best of it that I can and be the best that I can even if it falls shy of what others can do.  Maybe Mason can get a clue and realize the same thing.  He can start over, it won’t be easy, it may never be what it could have been, but it sure doesn’t have to be terrible.” 

Burt looked at me, snorted, and said, “From your lips to God’s ears … and into Mason’s hard head.” 

Sawyer picked that moment to come around the corner of the house, hear Mason’s name and snarl, “What about Mason?” 

I turned and gave him a look that said mind his p’s and q’s.  “Mason needs to be prayed for.  He’s picked a hard road and is making it harder still and it makes the people who care about him very sad so they need prayers too.” 

Sawyer glowered but closed his mouth and instead grabbed a hot dog and started to load it up.  After a moment he asked Burt, “Everything OK?” 

“Is.  Will be.  Has to be.  Believe I’ll go make sure your sister hasn’t been on her feet too long.  She’s wilting earlier in the day even though it’s not as hot as it has been.” 

After Burt was out of ear shot I told him thank you and then explained about Mason digging his hole deeper and deeper.  Sawyer sighed and shook his head.  “I don’t want to feel sorry for him but …” 

“Then don’t.  Feeling sorry for someone never does any good and usually winds up making things worse.  But you might say a prayer for him.  Brother Don says we don’t forgive people for their sake but for our sake because carrying around a bunch of garbage is bad for us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and just about every other way too.  Plus he said God says we have to if we want to be forgiven.  And if Brother Don is right and God sees all sins equally then maybe we need to tread real carefully when we say someone is worse than we are.  That’s how I’m trying to see all those people who’ve been … well call it what it was, they were unkind, the exact opposite of what your family has been to me.  I’m tired of … of having all that stuff hold me back and drag me down.  I like our life Sawyer and I don’t want to taint it by bringing all the old garbage with me.  That’d be like grinding worms with the apples for the fruit press.  You might not be able to tell there are worm bits in there but it would still spoil the juice all the same.” 

“Damn sure would,” he said making a face.  Then he leaned over and kissed me full on the lips.  “I don’t want ‘worm bits’ floating in our juice either.  But this is a hard grudge Kay-Lee and it isn’t going to go away overnight.” 

“Fair enough.  It’s not like it’s real easy to just put all of my insecurities aside and go with the flow that’s happening between us.  Let’s just try and not let old ‘worm bits’ get in the way and spoil things.” 

“You telling me to cut Burt some slack?” 

“I’m not telling you anything Sawyer.  You don’t need me to.” 

“Uh huh,” he said but rather than being mad he slowly grinned.  “Tell you what, I’ll go see if Burt needs some help getting that monster cooker cleaned up.” 

I got another kiss from Sawyer and watched him walk away and wondered if I would ever be able to forgive anyone that separated me from him and found that maybe I was being more than a little self-righteous telling Sawyer the things the preacher said.  I’m not sure I would be able to forgive someone that did that to us. 

Chapter 66


“That’s the last watermelon,” I told Sawyer as he stuffed the last bit of red fresh fruit into his mouth as we sat in the swing on the porch. 

“You sorry?” he asked. 

“Not really.  All good things must eventually end … or at least take a vacation.  We have one more cantaloupe in the frig that you can have tomorrow for dessert or in the morning with your breakfast.  Then there is all of the watermelon and cantaloupe jam, jelly, and pickles down in the basement.  Next year I’m going to have a garden for us so we can be more independent.” 

“You are?” 

I heard the grin in his voice so asked, “Are you making fun of me Sawyer Hartford?” 

He shook his head.  “Are you kidding?  I’m beginning to think there isn’t anything you can’t do and maybe God made you lame so the rest of us could keep up … oh crap.  Kay-Lee that didn’t come out right.” 

I leaned over and kissed his cheek.  “Yes it did.  You meant it as a compliment and I’ll take it as one.  Just because other people might hear it and not understand us doesn’t mean that I don’t.  You’re a special man Sawyer.  I don’t even think you know how special because I don’t know how to tell you and you give me special every single day.” 

“Wow.  What’s all this about?” 

“I don’t know.  I just … something is better between us.  Things were always better than I’ve ever had them but … but something has made the better even better.”  I shook my head.  “I know that doesn’t make any sense.” 

“Who cares if it doesn’t make sense.  If you feel like that then I’m all for it.  Wish I didn’t’ have to work.” 

“But you do.” 

“But you’ve promised me you’ll stay in the house as much as possible since they still haven’t caught Man Boob.” 

“Will you stop.  I was just shook up yesterday and my mouth kind of got away from me.  I wasn’t trying to be silly on purpose.” 

Sawyer chuckled.  “I really shouldn’t be laughing.  It could have been bad.  Just by the time Darla finished explaining it to me and to the other deputies that showed up behind me I thought we were all going to need hernia operations.  You do know who you hit in the man boob don’t you?” 

“Sawyer!” 

“Ok, ok.  Take it easy.  It was Big Cal Ferguson.  He was one of the guys that dog piled Cutter and destroyed his football potential.” 

“So I’ve heard.  Just about a million times.  And please tell Cutter to stop going around shouting Big Cal Man Boob like that.  It’s getting annoying … and embarrassing.  Beth doesn’t look too happy about it either.  Cutter shouldn’t gloat, it’s not appealing in the least.” 

“Don’t worry about what hot water Cutter gets into with Beth.  If he isn’t fire proof by now he’s just going to have to burn.  And I’m the only one you need to worry about finding appealing.  So …  speaking of hot water.” 

I winced.  “More tomatoes?” 

“’Fraid so,” he said while trying to keep the smile out of his voice.  “But I’ll try and make as many of these the green ones like you’re wanting.  And the cherry tomatoes so you can do those pickle things you want to also.  And I think I might be able to bring you a punch of yellow ones ‘cause they looked about ripe day before yesterday.  And before I forget, Aunt Suzanne wanted to know if she could have some of the canning pears.  Apparently the tree she had been expecting to get most of hers off of got hit by lightning and is dying faster than the fruit can ripen.” 

“Tell her and anyone else that wants some to come get them.  They’re as bad as the apples … not bad bad but … oh you know what I mean … numerous and hard to keep up with to keep them from wasting.  I wonder if you can juice pears.” 

“Some you can because Uncle Carl makes pear cider whenever there is a bumper crop but I don’t know if you can juice these that are coming in right now.  It might be you can juice them all, but they might not all give the same amount of juice.  A mix of varieties is better anyway.  Speaking of, I need to know how many gallon jugs we have around here.” 

“A … lot …,” I answered slowly.  “Sawyer … are … are we going to make ‘shine?”  I wasn’t sure whether I was joking when I asked him or not. 

Sawyer didn’t immediately deny it, or laugh at the idea, so I knew something was up.  “Kinda depends.  Have you bottled any juice up yet?” 

“You mean canned it?” 

“Yeah.” 

“No.  Well, I’ve made some with that juicer I got at the thrift store but I’ve been using that for canning other things and for cooking with.  I’ve mostly been doing other things with the apples because I thought we were supposed to do a big juice and cider kind of party the beginning of October.  Sort of a harvest festival slash delayed wedding reception kind of thing.” 

“Wellllll, plans might be changing.  I mean that’s what we normally do – the family harvest day in late September or early October – but Gramps said the signs and portends are for a hard winter and for lots of civil unrest and what not and he’d like to have the harvest day on Labor Day weekend instead.  I know that is this coming weekend and short notice and it has caught the family by surprise.  You should see the aunts.  And since …” 

A little out of patience for no good reason I said, “And since we have the wood stoves, the wood piles, and all of the outdoor space already wrecked up he thought we might as well have it here.” 

“Uh … I’m kinda getting the feeling …” 

Shaking my head apologetically I told him, “No.  No I’m sorry if it sounded like I was giving you an attitude.  And I don’t want to spoil our mood either.  I guess … oh never mind.” 

“You guess what?  C’mon, you know you can talk to me about this.  You listen to me complaining about the family some times.” 

“I’m not really complaining exactly … at least I hope I’m not, because I’m feeling too what Preacher Don calls blessed to have the right to complain.  It’s just that the others are always talking about their places but I’ve only been to exactly three of your family’s homes and one of them is ours.  This one, Burt and Delly’s, and then Gramp’s place because that’s where we’ve done some of the separating and sharing out of stuff.  It’s not like I want to go sticking my nose into their business but they talk like they go visiting with each other all the time and … and even Linda and Jeannie … even Beth …” 

“You feeling cooped up and tied down?” he asked with concern.  “I wish I had the time to take you out more, like to town or the movies or even to the discount mall again.” 

“Huh?  No!  It’s not like I’m hurting for things to do and we spend lots of time together at the end of the day.  And I don’t want to measure us by them either.  It’s just … how am I supposed to get to know them if I never have a chance to get to know them except on canning days.  It seems a lot longer but we’ve been married five months and I know that sort of thing takes time.  I know that a lot of them knew each other beforehand so I don’t want to butt into their existing friendships.  But I’ve never even been to any of the work days to help the others set their places up.  No wonder they all think I’m some kind of snobby know it all town girl with issues and …” 

“Whoa!  Did someone say something?!” 

“Not in those words and I don’t know if I can even explain it.  At school I was used to being the outsider.  I’m not even sure I would have trusted anyone that made out like I was anything else.  And there were a few who made sure us SLD kids stayed in our place … or what they thought was our place.  But then you come along and there was Linda and Tommy here and they cushioned the sudden changes … then Uncle James and Gramps … I felt so welcome … so a part of things.  Aunt Pearl and Aunt Suzanne have given me a big head over what all I’ve done to make sure the kitchen and pantry here is stocked and how we’re taking care of the orchard, vineyard, and all of the other little odds and ends we keep running into on the land.  But lately …” 

“Lately?  C’mon Kay-Lee, spit it out.” 

“Sawyer lately I feel like I’m back in school.  I’m working as hard as I can, playing catch up to keep up and there’s all these other things going on that I can sense that I’m not a part of but are just waiting around the corner to trip me up.  And most of the time I’m so busy it doesn’t matter or I don’t feel like I need to worry about it but then there are days like today …” 

“What about today sparked it?” 

I sighed.  “I don’t know exactly.  I guess … I guess maybe … Sawyer?  Are you ever … are you ever scared?” 

Slowly he admitted, “Sometimes.  There are a lot of things to finish up and … and some days I feel like I’m running out of time.” 

“Yes!”  I felt my cheeks turning read because I’d shouted and Sawyer had almost jumped in surprise.  “Oh brother.  See what I mean?  Sometimes I just feel like … like I don’t know how to do this family thing and that I’m supposed to be helping with this huge deal.  Some days I feel like I’m doing better than treading water … that I’m making headway to safety even if the water is deep.  But then other days … other days I feel like I’m barely treading water and getting tired and there’s a storm on the horizon and the water is so dark and murky it’s like not only is there a storm but there is something with sharp teeth swimming just below me waiting … waiting for me to fall back from the others … get tired and stop moving.  I know if all of us swimming can just stick together we’ll help each other stay afloat and the monsters won’t get us.  But then … but then sometimes it feels like I’m being left behind and I don’t know, sometimes it feels like I’m getting left behind on purpose.  And yes, I know how pathetic that sounds but you asked how I felt.” 

Sawyer scooted to the center of the swing and then pulled me into his lap.  “I’m sorry Kay-Lee.  I didn’t know you were feeling so bad.” 

“It’s not all the time.  It’s not even most of the time.  Just lately … lately I feel … something.  Like there is something out there that’s gonna get us, separate us and pick us off one by one.  I’ve never … I’ve never had what I have now … and I don’t mean the house so much as what we have, the two of us.  And I know I’ve only had it for five months but … oh Sawyer …” 

“Hey … shhhhh … it’s gonna be ok.” 

“I wish I could believe that.  And I guess if I didn’t most of the time I wouldn’t be working so hard.  But Sawyer, look at how I was born.  Look at how much pain and misery just a couple of people created.  Not just for me but for lots of people.  No one expected it to happen and look how bad it was.  How much bigger and badder can it be with us expecting it?” 

Sawyer was quiet for a while and then told me, “I can’t promise bad things aren’t coming.  I can’t promise bad things won’t happen to us.  What I can promise you is the same thing I promised five months ago, to work my hardest to make sure the bad things have as little chance of getting us as possible and if they do get us that they hurt as little as possible.” 

“Oh Sawyer.  Me too.  And I’m sorry.  I know it isn’t your fault.  You’ve made things so much better that if someone had told me what my life was going to be by coming up to the ridge I would have thought they were so crazy there wouldn’t have been words for it.  I don’t want to lose this.” 

“Well if this means me then there’s no chance of that.  Not that I’ve ever thought about it but after I saw what a mess Lisa was when her house burnt down … she has no backbone.  She’s worse than even the most complainingist of the new wives.  If we had stayed together all I would have been doing is digging my whole deeper.  The thing is I never saw it … that … that …” 

“Fatal flaw.” 

“Huh?” 

“On that documentary we were watching the other night, the one about people who snapped.  Several times they pointed out that the men and women had what they called a fatal flaw in their character and that some of them hadn’t snapped so much as that that flaw had been uncovered and revealed.” 

“Yeah.  Ok.  Maybe.  But it sure does make you think.  Even looking at the family I can tell some of them aren’t taking this as seriously as they should.  For some it is almost like one of those role play fantasy games.  They can put it on and take it off at will.  But this needs to be a lifestyle, not a hobby.” 

“Gramps been talking again?” 

Sawyer sighed.  “Yeah, him and Uncle Forrester, Uncle James, a bunch of ‘em.  I don’t know if they – and me for that matter – are feeding on each other’s worries or if we’re really feeling an increase in the influence of the Dark Side.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“Some of us, to blow off steam, have taken to calling the feelings we are getting the ‘Dark Side’ … like Star Wars stuff.” 

“Uh … never saw it.” 

Sawyer just looked at me and then said, “What the hell?  You never saw Star Wars?!” 

“No.  It isn’t that big of a deal.” 

“Oh my gawd woman.  Well I know what we are doing … starting tonight.  I know I have them in my DVDs just gotta remember where I stuck them.” 

“Your old collection is in a box under our bed.” 

“C’mon … popcorn time.” 

He threw me over his shoulder and was carrying me in the house.  “Put me down!  What kind of Neanderthal fit is this?!” 

“A righteous one.  Everyone has to see Star Wars at least once before the world ends.” 

“You’re nuts!!” 

But we were both laughing and the scary monsters stayed under the bed and in the closest because the light we made was too bright for them.

Chapter 65


“What did you say?!” all the men squawked at the same time nearly busting my ear drums.  Except for Burt who sat off to the side with a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel held to the back of his head.  Burt took one look at me, winced, and went back to letting Delly give him some tender-loving care that had been marinated in cider vinegar. 

Bringing my attention back to those surrounding me I said, “One of the ways you can identify him is he is going to have to pick a ball bearing out of his right man boob.  I saw the blood.  It went pretty far into the meat from the look of the shock on his face and the way he was holding it and shouting that I’d shot him.” 

Well a couple of them absolutely could not make any sense after that so it was up to Deputy Darla Riddle to get the whole story out of me. 

I sighed and shook my head.  “Mind if I sit down?  It hasn’t exactly been fun trying to keep everyone from throwing an even worse fit than those jerks did when Burt Jr. dropped the bay door down on them.” 

“Sure.  As a matter of fact how about we move over here while Deputy Thompson gets statements from the men.” 

“Bound to be quieter that’s for sure.  And when Sawyer – Sawyer Hartford, that’s my husband – gets here he’ll make enough noise to drown out all of them combined.” 

Deputy Darla tried not to smile but then said, “Yeah.  Sawyer and I went to school.  So maybe we better get this done quickly.” 

After I sat down I explained, “I came to town with Sawyer today because see I don’t drive.  It’s not that I can’t because I can, just I don’t have insurance so can’t drive except on the farm and even then I don’t drive much because … well because I just don’t; it is a waste of fuel.”  She nodded like she understood so I continued.  “So Sawyer was going to drop me off at the store, run a couple of errands, and then pick me up until he heard about what went on in town this morning but since we were already out he brought me by Burt’s warehouse instead … Burt is his sister’s husband.” 

“And you were here for …?” 

“Because Sawyer needed to check out a … well … if you went to school with Sawyer you know the story.  It was his ex-girlfriend and her family.  Her dad and brother are kinda real touchy but her mom is nice from what I understand and Sawyer wasn’t really going to get involved just make sure if they … well, a lot of people probably won’t understand.” 

“You’re right.  A lot of people won’t understand but I know Sawyer and Lisa and I can see Sawyer …” 

She sputtered to a stop and I filled the rest in for her.  “Being sympathetic and wanting people to understand he isn’t the jerk he was painted as.” 

Deputy Darla nodded though I wasn’t sure exactly what she was thinking.  She probably plays poker really well if she does such stuff.  “I haven’t even heard how that went yet.  More trouble today we do not need.  Anyway, Sawyer really wanted to go and I don’t have a problem with that or that he did in fact go.  I want that in your report.  I don’t want people getting the wrong idea.  It is just that Sawyer wasn’t real keen on me going since he didn’t know what his reception would be or if there was more trouble to come so Burt said I could stay here and help him go through some of his new inventory which suited me because they wanted me to look at some antique kitchen gadgets to see it I knew what they were so they could be cataloged properly.” 

“So you were basically here as a consultant.” 

Slowly I nodded.  “I suppose; but I’d never get quite so egotistical about it.  Family helps family and that’s what I was doing because I’m family now, you can ask anyone.  Well Burt Jr. and I are going to town, separating silverware into bins by manufacturer and style if possible.  We ran across what looks like an entire set of Sheffield – that’s an English eating utensil manufacturer that specialized in bone and ivory handles – and I knew Burt would be excited about that so I went to the office to tell him.  I walk in the door only to spot him on the floor with some great big, shirtless, fat dude standing over him with a crowbar.” 

“Did you scream or make any sound to draw the man’s attention?” 

“No.  I’m sorry it just didn’t occur to me to scream.  In my experience screaming is more like a hunting cry for certain types of males and since I’m not what you would call light or fast on my feet I backed out without a sound.  But then Burt Jr. yells and I turn and there’s these wild looking men running at us – we had the bay open to let out some of the heat from the warehouse.  Well I yell at Burt Jr. to drop the door, it’s so easy that a kid can do it since it is lever operated.  Only I kind of misjudged how fast they were going or how slow the door was going.  I thought the door would close before they got there but instead it dropped right on top of them.  One of them was knocked out clean and the other two were pinned like bugs and they started yelling and carrying on because the door is too big to just push up and escape from.  Well all this time I’ve continued to back up but then there is a bull roar from the office and the big, fat, half-naked guy comes running out.  Also, I’d backed myself into a corner.” 

“And is this where the sling shot comes in?” 

“Basically yeah.  See Burt Jr. is teaching me to how to safely use the wrist rocket.  I can hit the cans he places on the fence post most of the time now and last time he was out at the farm he showed me how to hunt safely and humanely with it.  He’s a pretty good teacher even though he’s just a kid.  Well we’d been clearing the rats out of the warehouse earlier until Burt was getting a little cheesed off at all the noise so we stopped but we’d left it on that stainless steel sink over there.  We figured if the ball bearings were going to fall, better for them to fall in that sink than roll all over the floor like they did the first time we dropped them.  So when the half-naked fat guy turned toward me with that crowbar raised like a club I just picked up the wrist rocket and hit him in the man boob since it made such a handy target.” 

“Handy … target?” 

“Yeah but I’m kind of surprised that I was actually able to hit it.  Both of them were bouncing all over the place out of time with each other.  It was completely disgusting.” 

“Disg … uh …”  She stopped and squinched her eyes like she was fighting off a headache.  “So you shot him in self-defense.” 

“Yes; in the right man boob.  And that’s when he started running around holding it and crying that he’d been shot.  I pulled back to let another fly if he went towards Burt Jr. but instead the guy barrels through the side door, nearly taking it off the hinges – there’s a dent in the side of the building where the doorknob hit – and I don’t know which direction he went from there because I was yelling for Burt Jr. to stay away from the pinned men and trying to get to Burt … Burt Sr. … who stumbled out of the office with blood gushing all over and ready for bear.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“He had that big ol’ aluminum bat that’s leaning against the table where Burt’s wife set it.  She’s not too happy he didn’t coming out with his gun but you got to cut the guy some slack after all, his head was bashed in and all he could think of was protecting his son.  I think it was pretty noble myself.” 

Burt Jr. called over, “Yeah, Dad was cool.  Just like that guy in that movie Sissy thinks is soo cute.  Only that guy had a battle axe and Dad had a bat and he wasn’t wearing a skirt like that movie guy was wearing.  So that makes Dad even cooler.” 

Deputy Darla squinched her eyes again signaling the headache was getting worse.  Then a truck flies into the parking lot followed by a cop car with its lights flashing.  Sawyer runs toward the warehouse followed by two deputies who keep telling him to stop.  He runs into the warehouse and does this strange little dance before his foot flew up and his back flies down. 

Burt Jr. then observes, “Hey Kay-Lee!  I think Sawyer found a couple of ball bearings that we missed!” 

I move and get there as fast as I can and land beside him and Sawyer is trying to draw a breath after having had it knocked out of him.  He finally asks, “Are you ok?!” 

“Sure.  But I might kinda be in trouble.  I shot a guy in the right man boob.” 

For a long time Sawyer just laid there looking at me like he wasn’t too sure he’d heard what I'd said. 

********** 

“I’m relieved that Burt doesn’t have a concussion.  Although for a while there I thought Delly was going to give him one.  Burt Jr. is stepping lightly around her too.” 

We were in the parking lot of the warehouse about to leave after having made sure that everything was locked up.  Sawyer leaned on his steering wheel and shook. 

“Sawyer?  Sawyer?!  Are you ok?” 

“Kay-Lee?” 

“Yeah?” 

“Don’t do that no more.” 

“Don’t do what?” 

“That.  Get hurt.  Don’t do it anymore.” 

“I didn’t get hurt.” 

“You could have.” 

“But I didn’t.  I’m not completely helpless.  I mean shooting a guy …” 

“Dammit Kay-Lee, you didn’t shoot anyone so stop saying that.  Sure I mean you got that guy in his tit but … but …”  Suddenly Sawyer is howling with laughter.  “Oh my gawd woman … you went around saying you shot the guy’s tit like it is something you do every other day.” 

Indignant I snapped, “I did not use that word.  I said I hit him in the man boob.  It was his right one.” 

Sawyer just goes off again.  People are looking … no they’re staring … and some of them must have known what he was laughing about because they start laughing and pretty soon I’m wondering if the whole bunch of them don’t need some kind of tranquilizer.  I put it down to needing to release some pent up energy and I just sit there and wait it out.  I think that part got more than a few chuckles too as all I could do is cross my arms and roll my eyes at Sawyer’s antics. 

“My gawd Kay-Lee.  I love you soooo much.” 

And then I couldn’t breathe.  “You what?” 

“I said I love you.” 

It was like all of the oxygen in the truck was sucked out.  He had stopped laughing and asked, “Are you ok?” 

“Yeah.  Just … you said you loved me.” 

“I do.” 

“Really?  ‘Cause you’ve … you’ve never said it before … I know because … well because.” 

“I must have.” 

“No.  No you haven’t.” 

“Well I do.  Does it bother you?” 

“No.”  After a moment I added, “Are you talking like a friend?  Like Linda has said to me before?” 

“No.  I’m talking like I love you with all my heart.” 

“Really?” 

“Really.” 

“Wow.  ‘Cause … you know that’s how I feel about you but … but … I just figured … I mean …”  I turned and looked him full in the face.  “You really do?” 

“I really do love you Kay-Lee.  And it’s really with all my heart.” 

“Oh Sawyer.”  Well I was out of my seatbelt and in his lap faster than we’ve ever managed to do before.  He was a little startled but got into it quick enough.  I didn’t even care about the cat calls and whistles from the parking lot.  Sawyer had said he loved me.  I hadn’t even realized I was waiting for him to say it.  I hadn’t thought he would ever say something like that to me.  But he had.  And suddenly there didn’t seem like there could be anything bad enough in the world to dim what I was feeling.