Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chapter 11 part C- Poppies

“Jobeth you are safe. It’s me Alan,” he reassured her, holding on for dear life. She fell into his arms heaving and sobbing, burying her face in her hands. The nightmare had passed. She was again with Alan in their new home. It was Alan: sweet, kind Alan, not Father James. “What happened to you?” Alan “Nothing,” Jobeth shrieked, clutching her arms protectively around her unbuttoned blouse. Alan sat down wearily beside Jobeth. Shame coursed through his heated body, all desire leaving him. He was nothing more than a selfish rogue. Why would Jobeth just give herself to him freely? They weren’t really married. “Who is Father James? Is he a priest?’ Jobeth’s head jerked up surprised. “How do you?” She shook her head confused. “Am I going crazy?” “Jobeth,” Alan lightly touched her damp arm. She pulled away, causing him to blush, embarrassed. He sat back some distance, giving her the space she wanted. He loved her so much; he felt he would die without her in his life. Now all his hopes for them were shattered. “Did this Father James do something to hurt you?” “Why should I tell you?” She cried, hunched into the corner of the couch. She knew this time would come. The time to expose what had happened with Father James and the outcome of that union, her son. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. Her precious, tiny baby. Oh how her heart ached to hold him one more time! Images of his tiny grave littered with red flowers played itself out behind her closed eyes. Jonah was with him; he was not alone and by now the little flowers would have crept over onto his grave as well, blanketing them both with her love. She opened her eyes. It was time to reveal her shame and her heartache. It was time for her baby to be recognized. “I don’t know a thing about your past,” she said lamely trying one more time to avoid the inevitable. Alan would never want to live with her after he knew the truth. He would probably even find her unfit to care for Shawna. Fear enveloped Jobeth; she could not lose them too. “All right,” Alan jumped up from his seat. Shawna moaned in her sleep. Alan savagely raked his fingers through his hair, a habit Jobeth had come to recognize meant he was troubled about something. “Stay here. I will put Shawna to bed and then we are going to talk. It’s time we got everything out in the open.” How strange the night had turned on him. Teasing him to believe Jobeth was his. At least Shawna did not change, he thought. She was still the sweet little girl she always was. She was always happy to see him and never disappointed if he did something wrong. He sighed as he looked at her in his arms, then laid her on her bed and kissed her warm brow, tucking the slumbering child under her blankets. Quietly, he stood and left the room, shutting the door behind him. Jobeth was still huddled in the corner of the couch, sniffing. She watched Alan as he sat down on the opposite side and felt sad. He looked defeated and Jobeth knew she was responsible. Alan always tried so hard and she made him feel like a failure every time. I am not worthy of him, she thought, staring at Alan’s pained expression. It was time to be honest. At least Alan would not feel responsible for her outbursts any more. Alan looked to the ceiling and could not help but admire the white, smooth surface. He took a deep breath and glanced down at his rough knuckles. “I am not an orphan,” he began. Jobeth startled, sat up straight. “My parents are alive.” “What?” “Let me finish,” he said, not looking up. He did not want to tell this story. It was all a distant memory. A memory he cared not to remember, but if it would help Jobeth convey her own bad memories, then he would do it. “My parents, they were terrible. They drank moonshine all the time and beat me when they were liquored up. They told me I was nothing but a freeloader and wished I was never born.” He choked, refusing to look at Jobeth’ sympathetic eyes. “Anyway, when I was eight years old, one day they up and went to town. I was glad because I could have some peace for a bit. Well, they never returned. I did not know what to do. I was just a little thing. Days passed and I was starving. I wandered through the house crying out for help, but no one answered.” Alan paused remembering the fear he had felt as a boy. The pain resurfaced as fresh as if his parents had left him only the day before. “The nights were the worst. The night sounds...I used to hide under the bed, thinking every sound was a monster coming to eat me up. Finally, because I was starving, I went out on the streets and begged for food. I even hoped I would see my parents and ask them to take me back. I could handle the beatings but I could not stand being all alone.” He glanced at Jobeth and quickly turned away. She could feel his pain from the experiences he had endured as a child. How horrible it must have been to be abandoned by your parents! She had been lucky to have her parents for the short time she did. “The street folks took me in as one of their own. Especially one--Eddy.” Jobeth thought she heard Alan’s voice break slightly. “We decided to make it big on our own. We hopped on a train and we did all right. We weren’t rich by any means, but we had a home and a little money put aside. Eddy was the first real family I had ever had. I had only lived with beatings and hatred before. Eddy gave me love and comfort. He gave me everything. “Everything was going well until my parents came and took me away. I still don’t know how they found me. I told them I hated them and that I would not go with them. Damn, I was already ten by then and the only time I had ever been happy was with Eddy. He was my father in my heart and the only parent I needed,” a tear rolled down Alan’s cheek. “I asked them where they had been the last two years. They never answered me and took me anyway. They threatened Eddy and me, telling us they would have the sheriff arrest and hang Eddy for kidnapping. I had no choice but to go. Eddy cried when I left and I cried too. He was so good to me, Jobeth. No one had ever been so good to me. I knew what it was like to love and be loved in return. I was never allowed to see Eddy ever again. Two months later, he died.” Alan covered his face with his hands, his emotions taking control of him. It had been a long time since he had thought of Eddy and he was surprised how fresh the pain still was for losing his only father figure. “Eddy was old. That was true, and he was the kindest man I ever knew. My time with him was the best part of my childhood. I suppose that is why my parents took me from him. They could not stand to see me happy, especially with someone like Eddy. You see Eddy was black, and there was no way their son was going to be raised by a nigger.” Jobeth looked up at Alan. Jonah’s gentle face jumped into her mind. Oh how she missed him. “I despised these two people who claimed to be my parents. They hadn’t changed. They continuously insulted me and beat me within an inch of my life on more than one occasion. They drank day and night; if I ever saw them sober I couldn’t tell you. I don’t remember it. It was harder living with them the second time. Maybe it was because they kept badgering me for living with a black man, or maybe it was because I now knew what it was like to be loved. I had never known before. Eddy taught me I was good enough to love. That I was someone. That is so important to a child and something I plan for my own children to always know. I will never let them feel like they aren’t worth loving... Anyway, my parents were cruel. “When I was twelve I left to go to town and decided I would never go back. I met Todd and Adam on the road. We met up with others. Some stayed for a while and others left. I remember when we met Jonah.” Alan shook his head remembering and laughed sadly, “He was nearly dead when we found him. He reminded me of Eddy. Not just because he was black but also because he was like him: Kind and funny with a good heart. Now they are both gone. I used to believe Jonah was Eddy. Stupid, eh?” “No,” Jobeth said weakly, wanting to reach out and comfort Alan. He looked so lost sitting on the other side of the couch. It broke her heart to see him in such pain. It had never occurred to her that maybe he too had experienced such horrible events in his young life. “Now you know,” Alan said, wiping his face with a hanky he retrieved from his pants pocket. Jobeth looked at him mutely, not knowing what to say.She did not have time to say anything. Alan leaned forward a bit and looked straight into Jobeth’s eyes with his slanted feline ones. “I want to know what happened to you. I was honest with you, now it is time for you to be honest with me.” “I’m afraid to tell you,” Jobeth uttered barely louder than a whisper. Her hand clutched the sides of the cushions, digging in with all her strength. “Jobeth,” Alan said coming and sitting beside her. He pried her hand free from its death grip and lifted her chin to face him. Jobeth closed her eyes and turned her face away, tears beginning to form. He pulled her face towards him again, forcing her to look at him. “Jobeth, you don’t need to be afraid. I will never think badly of you.” He blushed in all honesty, the love plainly written in his face. “Oh, Alan, you will loathe me. I just know it and I can’t bear for you to hate me.” She couldn’t stand to look into his loving eyes and see the shock in them when she revealed her sordid story. “How could I hate you? I love you more than I have ever loved anyone or anything before,” Alan confessed. Jobeth looked into his strange, wondrous eyes. She had once thought they were unusual and odd. Now she saw the truth in them. He loved her and she knew without a doubt she also loved him.Closing her eyes, her heart started to deaden. How could Alan love her after she told him about herself? “Alan, I feel the same. I do and that is why I am so afraid of telling you.” “Jobeth,” Alan beamed, grasping her hands to his firm chest. His very soul was singing. “This is the most wonderful news I have ever heard.” “Alan, no.” Jobeth cut him off, placing the palm of her hand over his moist lips. He grabbed it and kissed the smooth surface. She gently pulled it away, not wanting to look at his face, the face she had grown to love so dearly. “I am an orphan,” she started. She had to tell him the truth, he deserved to know. If they were to have any future together, she was going to have to come clean about her past. Whatever happened, she would deal with the consequences. The weight of her secret was too heavy to keep any longer. “A few months before I met you and the others, my parents were killed in a train accident,” Jobeth breathed deeply, dreading to tell the rest of her story. Alan listened patiently, his face void of any signs of emotion. He knew Jobeth would watch closely to see if his expressions would change. She started by telling him about Pauli, and the tragic accident that took him from their family. Then about the loss of her parents, and her nightmares of how the hurricane had wiped out everyone on the train. Her chest tightened at the recollection of the horrible way her parents died. Jobeth couldn’t believe how it still hurt to think of it. It was nearly two years since their deaths. It suddenly dawned on her that she never spoke about how they had died to anyone before. “I loved my parents dearly.” She swallowed; a lump had begun to form in her throat. “They were good folks. Our lives together were happy. After their terrible deaths I was sent to a home for orphans. I had no living relatives to go and stay with. The people who ran the home were Mother Tomalina and Father...” Jobeth could not bring herself to say his name out loud. “Father James?” Alan asked, holding on tightly to her hand. He was beginning to see where Jobeth’s story was going. “Yes.” Jobeth whispered, her eyes fixed and blankly staring into space. Her throat felt so tight she could not swallow. “Was he a priest?” Alan asked. It would not be the first time it had happened with a man of the cloth. “No,” Jobeth said miserably. “We just had to call him that.” “Did he force himself on you?” Alan asked, focusing his eyes on Jobeth’s hand held firmly in his. Hearing the words spoken out loud, Jobeth could not hold back and burst into tears. Alan caught the agony about to release in his own throat. His arms automatically went around Jobeth and he held her shaking body tightly. “You don’t have to worry. I won’t ever hurt you,” he whispered into Jobeth’s hair as he stroked her thin back. He lifted her chin with his hands so she could look into his eyes. “I love you. The moment I saw you and Shawna asleep on that old mattress, I fell in love with you. Nothing will ever change that.” “But, Alan,” Jobeth sobbed, “what happened between--” “Jobeth,” Alan soothed, “he forced you. My darling, how could you blame yourself?” He gathered her into his arms as she sobbed like a child. “Alan, he said I provoked him, led him on. I didn’t think I did, honestly. The man had always repulsed me.” Jobeth broke into fresh tears. It was like a dam had been released inside of her and she could not stop the outpour. “Shh now, I know.” Alan patted her head, reassuringly. “If I ever see the animal, I will kill him for what he did to you.” He did not want Jobeth to know the anger he truly felt over her rape. The thought of Jobeth’s virginity being ripped away from her by another man and the thought of that man touching her and taking something of hers freely without permission made Alan barely able to see straight. He shook his head, clearing his mind of the horrible vision. “There is more, Alan,” Jobeth sobbed, holding him tight. Alan felt his own eyes burn with tears. He could barely stand to hear what she had to say next. “What is it darling? You can tell me,” he lied, hating every word she uttered. “I had--” she stuttered, remembering the tiny infant weighing barely more than a stick of butter, so small in her loving arms. “I had a son.” Alan pulled Jobeth abruptly away from him. “What?” he gasped, speechless and unable to hide the emotion flooding to his face. Jobeth began to wail. “Oh, Jobeth, I am sorry. I’m not angry. Please, you just surprised me.” He grasped her tightly to his chest again, feeling her tremble uncontrollably. Fear seized him. Where was the child? It didn’t make sense. Jobeth had said her parents died only a few months before they had met. “I ran away after the first time.” Jobeth wept. “I didn’t know I was pregnant until that time when I fainted at the lake with Tamara.” Alan remembered the incident and how frightened he had been for her. The pieces started to come together. He stupidly thought that Jobeth’s growing belly was caused by parasites and her deteriorating health during their first travels.“What happened to the baby?” he was confused. The child would have been born. Where was it and how could he have not known? “You and Shawna were gone to town,” Jobeth sniffed, wiping her red nose. “It was too early for him to be born. Jonah delivered him and he died shortly after. We buried him in the field. The same place where we buried Jonah.” Jobeth held her breath, waiting for a response from Alan. The truth was out. It was too late to turn back.“Is that why you insisted Jonah be buried there?” Alan asked trying to soak up all the shocking information. How could he have been so blind? He remembered how once for nearly a week Jobeth would not leave her room. When she did, her waist had shrunk away. Jonah had said Jobeth did not need a doctor that the doctor could not help the sickness she had. It all made sense to Alan now. Jobeth had been grieving the death of her child. How could they have kept it from him? He bent his head, aghast at the horrifying news. “Yes. Jonah wanted to be buried there, as did I. We named my little son after him.” Jobeth’s eyes began to tear again. “I did not want my baby, but when I held my little boy, I loved him as much as a mother could love her child. I will always miss him and the man he might have been. But I had Jonah and he was such a support for me. He saved my soul and now they are both gone.” “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have been there for you, too,” Alan said, numbed. “I was afraid you would have nothing to do with me. I thought you would find me disgusting. I did not want to lose the only family I still had,” Jobeth hiccupped-the horror of the past had already begun to lift. “You never need to worry about telling me something, Jobeth. I will always listen and never would I leave you,” Alan whispered afraid to let her hand go. “I am so sorry about your son. I cannot imagine your loss.” “I feel so awful. I hated the man who raped me, but I loved the son that was produced from it. Am I that sinful? I don’t deserve anything.” “No. Jobeth, you did no wrong. You loved your child, like all mothers should. You cannot punish yourself any longer. You have committed no sin.” Jobeth, now released from her guilt, clung to Alan. “What about Shawna?” He asked, stroking Jobeth’s hair. His feelings were hurt that she had not felt comfortable confiding in him sooner, but he kept his feelings to himself and concentrated on the baffling story being told. Jobeth had lived an entire life without him even realizing it and something told him there was more, meaning Shawna. He had always wondered how the two could be sisters. Besides the age difference, they looked incredibly different from one and other. “Is she really your sister?” “In my heart, yes, but no,” Jobeth said looking up at Alan. He looked down at Jobeth with more love than she felt she deserved. “Not by blood that is. She was one of the children at the home. Her sister was killed.” Jobeth stopped remembering how she had feared the same fate awaited her and Shawna. “He raped her.” The blood drained from Alan’s face. “I never knew her until I was going to run away. She begged me to take her with me. I almost didn’t. I was afraid she would slow me down. She ended up being the reason I kept going. No matter what, I needed to keep going for her.” “I remember what she looked like when I first saw the two of you.” Alan said. Jobeth’s head was cradled in the nook of his shoulder. “A frightened little lamb. No wonder, the poor thing . . . She was never raped?” Alan asked a few minutes later, afraid to hear the answer. “No, he seemed to prefer them a little older than her.” Jobeth sighed, starting to feel sleepy. It had been an exhausting night. “Will I ever be forgiven?” She still feared damnation, but not as strongly as before. “You never needed to be forgiven, Jobeth,” Alan yawned too. “You have suffered enough loss. You don’t need to be forgiven. You did nothing wrong.” His eyelids drooped and he could hear Jobeth’s steady rhythmic breathing. He held her tighter, feeling drowsy. “I love you, Jobeth, and I will wait forever for you,” Alan whispered falling asleep. The next morning, Jobeth awoke in his muscular arms. She got up and went outside to the chicken coop to get eggs for breakfast. The air felt cool and crisp as she walked back to the house. For the first time in a very long time, Jobeth felt peace in her soul. She stopped and gazed around at the view. The ground was frozen with a sheet of ice that covered everything. Wind blew her waist length hair out behind her and she looked the picture of an ice maiden standing in her frosty domain. Everything sparkled with life and promise. Alan loved her. He knew everything and still loved her. Finally, the weight on her soul was removed. She had nothing else to hide. She searched the sky. The morning sun shone down on her fresh up-turned face. She grinned and closed her eyes. “Oh, Jonah, I do miss you and I always will. As always, your words of wisdom have once again rung true. Please watch over my little one. Tell him I love him. Mama, Pappy, I am sorry, but I did not ask for what Father James did to me. I will not apologize for my son any longer. I love you, please watch over my boys and give them the love I cannot right now. I must say good bye and start living my life fresh again.” She looked away from the sky and continued walking toward the house. Right beside the door nestled in the corner, she spotted something red buried deep beneath the grass and other vegetation. She bent down pushing away the greenery to expose the tiny red flower trying desperately to shove through. Blood coursed through her warm and alive. It was the same red flower she had planted on her baby boy’s grave. The same flower which now covered both Jonah’s and the baby’s resting place. She thought of the dried seed head she had wrapped tenderly in a hanky in her drawer. They were still with her, they were always with her. Smiling down on the tiny flower, she thought of how she would weed out the other plants to let the flower grow and multiply. She stood up, dusted herself off and opened the door to where Shawna and Alan waited for her.

Chapter 11 part b- Poppies

“Oh, Alan!” she cried out happily. George and Diana needed a week to pack and say their farewells to their children. Alan and Jobeth used that time to enroll Shawna in the local school, and to become accustomed to their new surroundings. Diana and George were dears, always there to help the younger couple with whatever they needed. Jobeth felt it was all too soon when the older couple sat in the buggy, glowing about their impending future. They wished Jobeth and Alan well and said their good-byes with warm embraces. “We are so lucky to get this house!” Jobeth said, jumping into Alan’s arms, laughing. Shawna sat on the couch with her dolls. She could not sit by and quietly watch Alan and Jobeth’s enthusiasm. Bouncing off her seat and sending her dolls tumbling to the plush rug, the bright child joined in the excitement, running into Jobeth and Alan’s waiting arms. “Are you happy, Jobeth?” Alan asked, holding her close to his strong chest. “Yes,” she breathed, deeply conscious of her breast pressed firmly against Alan. Tingling sensations rippled through her nipples and she felt them harden. Confused, she pulled away slightly. Alan was conscious of his effect on Jobeth and gripped her tighter to him. “Now that I have told everyone we are married, you won’t have to hide like before. Shawna can have friends at the house and you can, too.” He said in a husky voice. He looked deeply into Jobeth’s flushed face. His eyes dove into the depths of her soul. She felt a warmth between her legs and she pulled abruptly away from his embrace. “Let’s go see our animals.” Jobeth bent down to the giggling Shawna and lifted her onto her hip. She avoided Alan’s eyes, confused with these new emotions. “You heard your sister, Shawna, let’s go!” Alan clapped. He reached over and retrieved Shawna from Jobeth’s grasp easily placing the squirming six year old on his broad shoulders. Nothing was going to ruin his good mood, not even Jobeth’s hesitance towards him. He watched the back of her head as she demurely walked in front of him. Her long sandy hair was loose and it bounced softly down to her narrow waist. “We are going to like it here!” he roared, full of life, clasping Shawna’s legs firmly around his neck. The child wrapped her small hands under Alan’s stubbly chin and held on tight. “Go! Go! Go!” She squealed, roughly kicking Alan in the chest with little bare feet. Jobeth glanced over her shoulder shyly, unable to keep her heart from fluttering uncontrollably at the sight of Alan and Shawna so content together. “You heard our girl, Jobeth. Let’s go, go, go!” Alan teased, speeding past her. Shawna’s squeals trailed behind them. Jobeth blushed, turning a scarlet shade. She took a deep breath and exhaled, pausing a moment before she continued on. She needed to compose herself before she faced Alan again. Outside there was a small barn with a chicken coop nestled right beside it where chickens scurried to escape a bullying roaster. “Oh look,” Shawna pointed, “baby chickies!” Alan put the excited youngster down and opened the door to let her in. Shawna ran inside and began to chase the yellow, chirping puffballs. The mother hen, angered by Shawna’s pursuit of her offspring, pecked furiously at her exposed ankles. “Ouch!” giggled Shawna, gently pushing the mother chicken aside with her foot. Jobeth chuckled to herself. Shawna looked beautiful standing amongst the clucking fowl, her face animated. The child bent and retrieved a squeaking chick and nestled it to her cheek lovingly. Jobeth fondly remembered similar events that had happened in her own childhood at about the same age. She took a deep refreshing breath. It was good to know Shawna would have memories of the softness of a baby chicks’ down rubbed against a cheek. Maybe it would help to erase all the bad ones she had accumulated over her short lifetime.“Let’s go see the other animals,” Alan said over Jobeth’s shoulder. She could feel his breath warm on her neck, as goose bumps jumped forth from her skin like seedlings springing out of the newly dampened earth after a rain. Jobeth nodded, hesitantly rubbing the goose bumps on her arms. For some reason she didn’t yet understand, she was suddenly uncomfortable being alone with Alan. “Shawna, are you staying here?” Alan asked, leading Jobeth towards the barn. “Yes!” she grinned as a furry chick pecked at her hand. Jobeth laughed despite her apprehension. The sight of Shawna being attacked by chickens was too funny not to respond. She sighed nervously and followed Alan obediently towards the barn, feeling rather foolish. This was Alan, what was there to be afraid of? Inside the barn a medium size brown cow and her calf greeted them. The beast mooed lazily in response to their arrival and continued to chew on the yellow hay littering the barn floor. Her calf ignored the visitors and suckled busily from its mother’s udders. “We will have to get some pigs,” Alan said, walking over to the stall to examining the cow. “Maybe even a horse and carriage.” Queenie sauntered into the barn, her tail wagging playfully. She bent down low on her front legs and yipped at the mother cow. The cow, unmoved by Queenie, mooed back at the dog. Queenie, insulted, turned on her haunches and ran out the door, barking once more in defiance over her furry shoulder. Alan and Jobeth both began to laugh, the earlier tension between them melting away. Jobeth smiled warmly as she bent down and shooed the little brown calf away from its mother’s milk supply. Everything was going to be all right. “This is my dream house,” Jobeth said to Alan later that evening. They sat side by side on the couch, Jobeth admiring the handiwork of the furniture. Diana must have worked hard to make the cushions fit the carved wood frames. She traced her finger down the tightly sewn seams of the flush wine cushions, her eyes focusing on Shawna, who lay fast asleep on a matching chair. “Ever since Shawna and I ran away...” Jobeth stopped herself. She didn’t want to remember those times. Too much pain would surface, with the memory of other times. One bad memory would lead to another and another. This was a happy time. She had to learn to let go of the past and all that happened in it. “What?” Alan asked. He had always been curious about what had happened to Jobeth before he found her asleep on the dirty mattress with Shawna held tight in her grip. “Nothing,” she stood up, avoiding Alan’s eyes. “Shawna is asleep and we should put her to bed. Which room will be ours?” She reached down to pick up the sleeping body. Shawna’s pale blonde hair haloed her angelic face causing Jobeth’s heart to swell with love. She bent and kissed the warm, flushed cheek like a mother would a favored child. Alan stared at Jobeth, holding his breath. He couldn’t stand not to touch her any longer. He stood up and quietly walked behind her. Nervously he reached out, placing a gentle hand on her slender shoulder. Jobeth turned her hazel eyes upon him, and then quickly shifted her gaze down to her shoes. Alan summoned all his courage. She had responded to him in the barn. She had. It wasn’t his imagination. Jobeth began to shake uncontrollably. She was torn between fear and something else she could not explain. Something warm and good. “I thought...” Alan said, slowly caressing Jobeth’s arm with his finger. His breath became heavier and his heart pounded uncontrollably. “Since everyone thinks we are married...” He hesitated then leaned over and softly kissed the nape of Jobeth’s neck. A shiver raced through her whole body, like the rumble of thunder. Alan felt the goose bumps rise beneath his lips and continued to softly kiss her neck, savoring the tiny bumps. She was torn between pleasure and fear. Against her will, her hands combed through Alan’s soft chestnut hair, pulling his head closer to her waiting neck. Alan, encouraged by Jobeth’s grip on his head, kissed her straight, fine-boned jaw. She let out a sigh as Alan, unable to hold back, cupped her face in his hands and kissed her hard on the mouth. She acknowledged his touch, grasping him to her heaving chest like a starved person finally handed food He slid his tongue between her parted lips and without hesitation she opened her mouth and received him greedily. “Oh, Jobeth,” Alan moaned, clutching her savagely to him, afraid she would suddenly vanish and leave his arms empty, “I have wanted this for so long.” “Alan...” Jobeth sighed arching her head back allowing him to kiss her throat and collarbone. Warmth permeated Jobeth. She didn’t want his kisses to stop. Each time his lips touched her skin, she felt electrical current crackle through her. She felt Alan’s hand unbutton her blouse and his warm wet kisses cover her chest, slowly creeping to her breast held tight in her corset. The stays were quickly loosened and her perky breasts fell free from their imprisonment. Alan swallowed hard at the perfect beauty of the round flesh, with small rosebud nipples. “Oh Jobeth, I love you so,” he exhaled in a husky voice. His hand caressed the circular form. The nipple instantly became erect. Unable to leave the other bare he gently stroked it with his bottom lip. Jobeth, completely enthralled, held Alan’s head to her breast, wanting to cry out with delight. She jumped as she felt Alan’s lips encircle her raised nipple. It was moist and good. He began to suck gently and then with more fervor. Alan felt the uncomfortable confinement of his enlarging groin. His hands encircled Jobeth’s back and he pulled her to him, eagerly pressing her to his throbbing member hidden behind his trousers. She went into his arms willingly, pressing her pulsing body to Alan’s hard one. He rubbed against her intensely and Jobeth gasped. Suddenly Father James stood before her, fat and ugly, his purple snake enveloped in mangy black curly hair. Memories of him forcing that vile stick savagely into her flooded her mind. Revolted, she pulled away clutching her blouse over her exposed breast. “No!” Jobeth began to cry, horrified at what was happening between them. Alan stood stunned, his erection becoming increasingly painful in his pants. “Jobeth?” He reached out to her. “Stay away from me,” she yelled, not seeing Alan any longer, but Father James. She had been transported back in time to the house that had caused her so much pain.“Give me the whip, Father James. I don’t want to play these games. I promise I will never wet the bed again.” Jobeth fell to the ground, crying hysterically, pounding it viciously with closed fists. Alan, dumbfounded, dropped behind Jobeth and grabbed her arms, trying to prevent her from hurting herself. Everything was going terribly wrong.

Chapter 11 part a Poppies

— Chapter 11 — They moved on until late in the night. Exhausted, Alan tied the horses to a tree and the two went to sleep in the back of the wagon. Jobeth slept snuggled up to Shawna while Alan lay alone in a roll on the floor. The wagon had become their new home. In the morning Alan caught a rabbit for breakfast. They had plenty of food: the meat dried for winter and their store of vegetables and dried fruits and grains, but there was no reason to dip into their supplies when food was plenty off the land. Jobeth tried to push aside the pictures that came to her mind, but she could not stop the images of Jonah arguing with Shawna over who caught the rabbit or of him standing next to her chatting away while helping her prepare the evening meal. She wanted to cry when she thought of him but tears were a luxury she could not afford at the moment. Landscape passed by without Jobeth noticing. She easily conformed to traveling again and figured she would never be settled in one spot. Something would always happen to uproot them again. The difference this time was she had no urges to lay down roots. She had all she needed and that was Alan and Shawna. They passed town after town in their covered wagon. Alan knew eventually they would have to stop. Shawna needed to be in school and Jobeth needed her own home, whether she believed it or not. He knew this and still continued pushing the horses on. As they moved farther south, the weather warmed. Even though winter had begun, traveling was not a problem. Covered in warm blankets at night and dressed in cozy clothing, there was no reason not to continue on their journey. How nice it was now that they had the leisure of the horses. They became healthier and stronger as their hearts and souls healed. “Jobeth?” Alan asked, flicking the horse’s reins. “Yes?” Jobeth responded, seated snugly beside him in the front seat of the wagon. Evening was creeping up on them. Soon they would need to stop for dinner. The gray sky was cool and the bare trees swayed in the breeze. Alan and Jobeth could hear Shawna playing contentedly in the back with her dolls. Her small voice in harmony with nature’s music. “We are gonna have to stop soon,” Alan said, looking at the gravel road. It was well-worn, a telltale sign that a town lay ahead. “Yes, Shawna must be hungry.” Jobeth clasped her mittened hands together, shivering. The night air was unusually cool. “No, that is not what I mean,” Alan continued. Jobeth pulled the dark brown woolen cloak she wore tightly around her ears and bent her covered head down. “I know you don’t feel ready yet, but it has been three months since Jonah...” “I know, Alan,” Jobeth sighed, looking at him. She sniffed, wondering if her nose was as red as his. “It’s just hard. I’m not sure I am ready to start again.” “Shawna needs school, friends, a home. We all do,” Alan said, staring out at the starlit sky. He understood how Jobeth felt. He too didn’t feel ready to stop moving yet. The last three months had been so peaceful. He pushed out his breath, loosely between his lips, causing the air to steam up in front of him like smoke.“You are right. I know you’re right,” Jobeth nodded, her heart fluttering. Alan grinned and absently placed a mittened hand on her blanket-covered lap. “Soon, just not yet,” he said, patting her leg reassuringly. The next morning, Jobeth was sleeping soundly as Queenie lay curled up protectively beside her. “Jobeth wake up!” A male voice called from the back of the wagon. “Alan?” Jobeth groaned in protest, turning over and hiding her face in the quilts. The sun was beaming bright into the wagon, stinging Jobeth’s unadjusted eyes. “I am exhausted,” she moaned, noticing the wagon was not swaying with movement. Alan must have stopped for some reason. “Now honey, I want you to see this house with me,” Alan said in an excited voice. “Honey?” She sat up abruptly. Alan was holding the canvas of the wagon open, his body shielding most of the sun’s rays from penetrating inside the dark retreat. He beamed at Jobeth, winking at her. Confused, she quickly arranged her hair. Alan held his hand out, imploring. “Please play along?” he whispered into her ear as she jumped down from the step. Squinting from the bright rays, she adjusted her eyes and looked around. The wagon was stopped in front of a little white house. A couple in their early sixties was standing respectfully by the horses, waiting it seemed, for her and Alan. “This is my wife, Jobeth,” Alan presented to the elderly couple. He placed his arm around her waist and gave a light squeeze, causing a shiver to bolt up Jobeth’s spine.The couple walked over, hands outstretched in greeting. “You two look young to be married,” the man said, squinting his gray eyes. He was a handsome man with a mane of snow-white hair and a strong tanned build, made hard by work in the sun. “Oh, stop it, George. I married you when I was just sixteen,” said the small woman beside him. She pushed him aside easily in spite of the difference in their sizes and raised her hand out toward Jobeth, warmly. “Hello, dearie. I am Diana and this big old lug is my husband, George.” “Hello,” Jobeth replied rather shyly, wanting to hide behind Alan. Diana was the first new person she had spoken to in over a year. She felt nervous, but Diana had a kind face with light blue shimmering eyes and soft blonde hair showing only the slightest gray. She accepted the older woman’s hand and was pleased how soft and warm it felt. “Well,” Alan said clapping his hands together if in prayer, “I guess we can see the house now,” Jobeth looked at Alan questioningly.“Of course.” Diana smiled sincerely, gently dropping Jobeth’s hands and turning towards the little white building. “Where is Shawna?” Jobeth asked searching for the little girl. With all the confusion she had forgotten about her little charge. As her eyes scanned the area, she could not believe the magnificent view. Two large oak trees towered over a little two-story house. That was what it was, but to say it was merely a house would be an understatement. The dwelling screamed out “home.” A swing hung from one of the oak tree’s branches. In the summer the grass would cover the front lawn in a counterpane of green with flowers trimming the edges of the house.“Shawna is in the back yard playing with our grandbabies,” Diana said, linking her arm in Jobeth’s, comfortably. She began to lead her toward the house. “Your husband here says you are newlyweds. Big responsibility having to raise a little sister on top of just becoming a wife. Once the babies start coming, you are going to have your hands full.” Diana exclaimed. Jobeth’s heart jumped. Suddenly she felt frightened and didn’t understand why. She looked back beseechingly to Alan who was engrossed in his conversation with George. He did not notice the anxiety in Jobeth’s eyes. “Shawna is no trouble to Alan or me. We love her dearly,” Jobeth said a bit defensively. “She is a blessing.” Diana looked at the young girl’s wounded face. This couple did seem awfully green to her. But what tugged at Diana’s heart most was the sorrow in Jobeth’s eyes. She had seen that look before in ones who had beheld and lost too much in life. Diana also saw how those same pained eyes would glow lovingly at the boy, Alan. He shined just as brightly at Jobeth. “Children are all a blessing,” Diana smiled kindly. Jobeth forced her lips into a grin and followed Diana into the little house. It was beautiful. It had two separate bedrooms plus a loft. There was a secluded room for cooking and eating, plus another room for sitting and relaxing. This room boasted two chairs and a couch jacketed in a rich burgundy material. Best of all was the outhouse. It was indoors! An odd-looking chain hung from a tank attached to the wall. When you pulled it, the waste was flushed away. It was truly amazing. Jobeth and Alan had never imagined such a device. Diana and George laughed at the young couple’s disbelief and had to demonstrate how it worked. “They are called toilets and they are the wave of the future. Soon every home will have one,” exclaimed Diana, her hands clutched to her full chest. “Now that you have seen our little place, what do you think?” “It is the most beautiful residence I have ever seen,” Jobeth was unable to hide her awe. Alan smiled proudly at her excited face.“There is the barn too, and a few animals,” George said, holding the hand of his bride of fifty years. “You don’t have to start from scratch. We know how hard it is to start a home when you are newlyweds.” “Do you want the house, Jobeth?” Alan asked, clutching her hands tightly in his. “Of course,” Jobeth commented in disbelief. She had never dreamed of such luxuries. “But how? You don’t even have a job?” “I got a good paying job in town while you were sleeping. In fact, after I was hired, I asked around if there was a house I could buy and was told about George and Diana. All we need to do is trade Diana and George our horses and wagon, plus a hundred dollars.” Jobeth couldn’t believe their luck. Could it be possible the beautiful house could be theirs? “That is it?” She squeaked. A hundred dollars was a lot of money. It was all the money Alan had saved. A near fortune. But a home such as George and Diana’s was a dream comes true. “Yes,” Diana chuckled, placing a hand on a bewildered Jobeth’s shoulder. “George and I want a change. The children are grown and have families of their own. Now it is our time. Like when we were first married.” George reddened and coughed, embarrassed. It had been his dream, when they first got married, to travel across the country, but Diana kept having one baby after the other. Now, finally his dream was coming true. All he wanted was Diana by his side and leather reins in his calloused hands. “The horses are fine beasts. We aren’t really giving you a deal, Miss.” Jobeth nodded kindly to the older man. If he only knew how they had started out. This house was too much to ever dream of. “Alan says you have been traveling for months and it is beautiful,” George said, excited. His adventure was about to begin. He would never have guessed at sixty-eight years of age his life’s wish would come true. “Wonderful,” Jobeth cooed, remembering the therapeutic power of the open plains. Yes, her heart was forever changed with the loss of Jonah and her baby, but the journey to this little town had begun to heal the wound their deaths had left. “Well, Jobeth?” Alan asked, staring into her hazel eyes, looking incredibly handsome. Jobeth’s blood felt warm in her veins and her heart fluttered uncontrollably. “Do we take it?” “I would be a fool if I said no,” she said, overcome with joy, “Yes, we’ll take it.” Jobeth spun around, arms outstretch like a gleeful child in the center of the family room.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chapter 10- Poppies

— Chapter 10 — Alan went to work as usual the next morning, but he couldn’t shake feeling restless and nervous. Something deep in his bones told him to pick up everything and everyone and run. When he voiced his thoughts out loud to Jonah, he was surprised at his reaction. “Alan, we could be jumping to conclusions. We got ourselves a nice little life here and I am tired of running.” Alan, feeling defeated, nodded. He too was tired of running. He stood beside his friend, wanting him to take the burden he suddenly felt off of his shoulders. “Be careful today,” Alan said as he held Shawna in his arms. She was beginning to be too big to carry. Her long legs dangled over Alan’s hips as she clutched her slender arms around his neck. “We will,” Jonah replied. Jobeth came up from behind him. “Good. Give Shawna a kiss and we’ll be off.” Alan smiled. Shawna stretched her arms out to Jobeth and she hugged and kissed the six year old. Once Alan and Shawna left, she went to the water basin sitting beside the dinner table and began to wash up. Edna needed to be milked and she wanted to make Jonah’s favorite dish for supper: roast pork with potatoes and carrots in with thick gravy. Later, Jobeth sat humming on a stool, tugging Edna’s teats. Milk squirted into the pail making a pleasant hissing sound. Jonah was behind the house down by the creek slaughtering one of the largest pigs for supper. It would supply the meat for many meals to come. Suddenly a thundering roar pierced the air, causing the world around Jobeth to vibrate. Edna stumbled backwards and mooed kicking the pail of milk over. Jobeth jumped up, her heart leaping into her throat. Her hands raced to her neck as dread filled her. Something terrible had happened. She ran outside to see where the noise came from, looking out toward the creek. There was a man who looked like the fellow Simpson, with a shotgun, running away. Jobeth’s eyes darted one way and then another as she started to run in slow motion. “Where is Jonah?” Jobeth asked through clenched teeth. She turned to the side of the house and noticed two lumps slumped on the ground. They were not moving. Jobeth gasped and sped up her pace. “Jonah!” she screamed as she drew closer to the figure hunched beside the butchered pig. “Oh no...” She moaned as she fell beside his crumpled form. A dark pool of blood encased him. The source of the blood was a deep wound in his stomach. “Noooo...” Jobeth cried, tears falling uncontrollably. Panic overwhelmed her as she gently touched Jonah’s sweaty brow. “Jobeth,” he whispered, spitting blood through stained red teeth. “Oh no, Jonah,” she whimpered, picking his head up and cradling it in her lap. “I am dying,” he winced--his eyes were bloodshot and yellow. “No,” Jobeth whined, “I won’t let you.” She hugged his limp head close to her heaving chest. “Jobeth . . . you have to listen.” Jonah wheezed again. His head felt fuzzy and he had a hard time thinking straight. “Jonah!” Jobeth wailed, her heart breaking. “You are my brother and I won’t let another brother die! The people I love can’t always die! How much do I have to lose for the sins I have committed?” Jonah sputtered, spitting up fresh blood. “Listen to me . . . remember what I said about life not always giving you what you want.” Jobeth wiped a tear from her eye with her fingers. A crumpling frown crossed her face. “Shut up!” she yelled. “Life is not fair. How could this be happening?” Her tears fell on Jonah’s paling face. “I have to say what is on my mind before I meet my maker,” Jonah’s eyes became wide, the black orbs drilling into Jobeth. “I don’t want you to mope around after I’m gone. I will be with God and baby Jonah. I am not sad to go to them.” Weakly he reached above his head and grabbed Jobeth’s hand, squeezing with all his strength. “And I will always be with you.” Blood bubbled from the wound in his belly. “You gotta be strong for Alan and Shawna . . . They need you.” Jobeth was bawling, but she continued to listen. She was covered in Jonah’s blood as she clung to him, hoping her love for him would keep him with her. “Alan,” he spat, his voice becoming weak. “He loves you so much. He wants to do good by you and Shawna.” He closed his eyes, his chest not moving. “Jonah!” Jobeth screamed in terror. His eyes fluttered open and looked around aimlessly, unable to focus. “Don’t cry, Jobeth,” Jonah smiled a bloody smile. His eyes seemed fixed, gazing at the sky. “I’ll be watching over little Jonah, telling him his ma loved him.” “Don’t say that, I need you here with me,” Jobeth cried, rubbing her bloody hand across her already blood-smeared face. She hugged Jonah’s heavy head harder to herself. “I love you. You are the best friend I have ever had. You make me want to go on when I don’t want to. Who will help me run the house or help Shawna and Alan? We need you here.” “I love you, too, but it is time for you to go on alone without me. You don’t need my hand to hold anymore.” He smiled peacefully. “Tell Alan I love him and our girl Shawna.” Jonah squeaked in a high voice. “I will Jonah,” Jobeth sobbed. He grabbed Jobeth’s arms, embracing her body, weakly. “I can’t see! I can’t see…” “Oh, Jonah!” Jobeth cried, hugging his limp body. “Please don’t die. Please . . . please don’t die.” “The living needs you, not the dead. Don’t make me cry when I am gone cause you dying down here,” Jonah barely whispered. “You promise me,” he strained. She lifted his face and gently cupped it in her blood stained hands. Tenderly, she placed an upside down kiss on Jonah’s bloody wet lips, her forehead resting on his chin. “I promise,” she said closing her eyes. She felt Jonah give one final sigh on her cheek, warm and moist, and threw back her head and howled mournfully. She wailed out her pain to the clear blue sky as she held tight to the lifeless body of her friend. That night, Alan walked into the small house feeling dread. Something was wrong. It was too quiet. “Go to your room and play,” he said to Shawna. She looked at him with puzzled blue eyes. “Git.” He said softly but lovingly. He shooed her off with his hands and she skipped off to play with her dolls, grabbing an apple out of the basket on the table. Alan looked around the empty room. It was neat and tidy—it looked like what he usually returned home to, but there was no smell of dinner perfuming the air. Jobeth was nowhere to be seen, when she normally would be bustling around setting the table with Jonah chatting around her. Something was terribly wrong. Alan felt it the moment he’d walked into work that morning. Simpson was not there until later in the day, which was unusual. He acted strange and distant to Alan once he returned. Fear enveloped him. Something was just not right. He immediately ran out the door. Shawna, sitting on her and Jobeth’s bed, listened to the door slam shut. She clutched her doll close to her small chest watching the entrance to her room. Something was very wrong. It did not take Alan long to spot Jobeth slumped over Jonah’s dead body. He ran up to her, panting. Grief spread over his face instantly and a moan escaped his throat. Jobeth lifted her blood-streaked face to Alan’s tortured one. “He’s gone.” She said hoarsely reaching her hand out to him. Alan’s knees gave out from under him and he fell beside Jonah and Jobeth, a sob caught in his throat. He placed a hand over the open, glazed eyes of Jonah and closed them, searching Jobeth’s grief-stricken face for questions he already knew the answers to. “It’s my fault,” he choked, his words barely audible. Tears formed in his beautiful eyes. Jobeth gently took his hand away from Jonah’s eyes, and held it tightly. “No,” she said through a stuffy nose. “Not your fault,” she repeated, shaking her head. She took a deep breath and rubbed tears out of her eyes. Alan looked at Jobeth with quivering lips. He began to cry. Jobeth embraced him and stroked his soft brown hair, lovingly. Jonah had been right again. Alan and Shawna would need her even more now. “I should have moved us last year when I thought there might be danger,” Alan cried, holding on to Jobeth for life. “No, Alan,” Jobeth soothed softly. “It was winter and we were freezing. You did what you had to do. For us. And we were so happy, if just for a little while.” “But,” Alan said, red-eyed, “I knew I should have stayed home today.” “No, Alan,” Jobeth whispered, her fingers running through his hair. She could not help noticing Jonah’s dried blood coated her fingers. “No one knew this would happen. The fault for Jonah lying here is that Simpson and his prejudice! His fear of Jonah, not yours, and Jonah knew that.” “How could he?” Alan begged, wanting the guilt that plagued him to leave. “He told me, and he told me he loved you.” Jobeth smiled, giving birth to fresh tears. “He loved us all and he wasn’t afraid to die anymore. He said there are many waiting for him in heaven so he won’t be alone.” Jobeth sighed and looked down at Jonah. It did not even look like the boy she had loved and lived with. It was just an empty shell. Jonah was already gone. She cupped her hand to her mouth trying to control the urge to burst out crying. Alan needed her to be strong for him. Later she could mourn for her beloved friend, in private. “He told me we were not to cry for him. We had to be strong for each other. That we still had each other and Shawna.” Alan placed his head in Jobeth’s lap and cried. She put her arms protectively around him and rested her head on his back as Alan shook with grief. “We have to be strong for each other,” she cried, Jonah’s words ringing in her ears. “Jonah was a very wise man. One of the wisest men I have ever had the pleasure to know . . . I promised him we would be strong Alan . . . I promised.” She held him and cried with him until night fell across the land and the cold became unbearable. “Shawna will start to look for us.” Alan sniffed, releasing his grip on Jobeth. She nodded, trying to fix her hair. “I will have to clean up before she sees me.” Jobeth stood up on sore, cramped legs. She had been crouched in the same position since finding Jonah that morning. “What do I tell her?” Alan choked back a sob about to release again. “The truth . . . the truth,” Jobeth said turning to the creek. She walked away slowly, like a mythical creature of the forest, leaving Alan standing and staring after her. “I am so in love with her Jonah,” Alan whispered to the air. Jobeth’s form faded out of sight. An unseasonably warm breeze blew over him, blowing into his ear. He could have sworn he heard, “I know,” in its warmth. He looked down at the empty body of Jonah. “I will miss you,” Alan said numbly. “More than you know.” Leaves rustled in the trees behind Alan. He turned back, confused. There were no leaves on the trees. They had fallen off days before. They buried Jonah the next day beside Jobeth’s son. Alan was confused by Jobeth’s insistence as to where Jonah was to rest. “I want him there. It is very beautiful and peaceful in the summer. Jonah once told me it was like God was right there,” Jobeth said, trying to avoid Alan’s questioning eyes. “All right then. That is where he would probably want to be buried.” When the three mourners reached the sight of the burial, Alan looked at the cross already placed in the ground. “It looks like someone else thought this was a good place,” he said to Jobeth. She looked away from him, guilt flooding her soul. She wanted to tell Alan that it was her son that lay beneath the tiny grave marker. She wanted to reveal to him how Jonah had asked to be buried here, beside his namesake, but she was afraid--afraid she would lose Alan if he knew the truth. It was a chance she was not going to take. Alan began digging as Jobeth and Shawna stood back, teary-eyed and watched. They cried openly without reservation as Alan began to scoop dirt over the wooden coffin. No more deep laughter echoing through the day. No more talks. No more Jonah. He was gone forever. Jobeth stood staring at the two crosses erect in the cool air. Alan was on one side of her and Shawna on the other. “Good-bye, dear friend. I will miss you forever. Take care of mine in heaven. My life will always have a hole without you in it. We have been blessed to have you in our lives, if just for a short time. Sleep well and one day we will all be together again,” Jobeth said, looking at both crosses. “I will never forget you,” she said to both crucifixes. Alan placed a warm arm around her shoulder and she smiled at him as she clutched Shawna’s hand. “We’ll be all right,” Jobeth coaxed Alan. “If anything should happen to you two . . .” Alan breathed, bending his face into Jobeth’s loose hair. “Shhh,” Jobeth placed her index finger to Alan’s moist lips. “Nothing is going to happen to us.” She hugged the two sobbing people, holding them dearly to her. “Please,” she prayed in her mind, “please don’t take them from me too. That would be too cruel to bear.” Alan went into town later in the day to sell the livestock, while Jobeth and Shawna packed their belongings. “Don’t open the door for anyone,” he said to Jobeth before he left. “I won’t,” Jobeth said, cupping Alan’s face in her hands. They felt warm and smooth. He smiled warmly into her kind face, hating to leave, but having no choice. Winter was nearly upon them and he wanted to purchase a horse and covered wagon to protect them from the elements. He did not want to travel on foot again. It had nearly killed them the last time. They had come too far to regress back to the beginning. They were not the same people they had been a year ago. “Jobeth?” Shawna asked, handing the older girl some of her dresses. They were in their bedroom sorting through their belongings. It was the last room to pack. “Yes,” Jobeth said absently folding cloths. “At school . . .” Shawna stopped, afraid of the answer she would receive. “What is it Shawna?” Jobeth looked up from her folding. Shawna’s blonde head was lowered and her two braids hung down on each side of her small shoulders. “Well, the children said I would be taken away,” Shawna’s eyes looked beseechingly at Jobeth. Sympathy filled Jobeth and she reached out, grasping Shawna’s light form, bringing the child into her comforting embrace. “No one will ever take you away from me, Shawna. No one,” she said earnestly. Queenie jumped up from her resting place on the floor and began to growl. A shiver ran up Jobeth’s spine. Both she and Shawna turned to the door. “Stay here,” she ordered, standing up. Queenie stood protectively beside Jobeth, teeth bared. “Jobeth,” Shawna squealed. Jobeth put her palm up to silence the frightened child and crept to the locked front door leading outside. “Come on out, you whore!” came a female voice from behind the entrance. “We don’t want trash like you around our children!” yelled another female voice. A chorus of approval rang out. Jobeth peeked out the window and saw about twenty women with small children held tight to their sides. One plump, middleaged woman with a toddler in her arms lifted a rock from the ground and hurled it at the window. The glass shattered, causing Jobeth to jump, screaming as her hands covered her ears. Shawna came running out of the room, terrified. “Jobeth!” she squealed, frightened. “The loft! Go to the loft and hide under the bed!” Jobeth said, running to Shawna. Queenie started to bark as rocks began to pelt against the little house, crashing through windows and denting the sides. Shawna scurried up the stairs and looked down at Jobeth with wide, frightened eyes. “Send out the child, whore,” came an angry voice from outside. Jobeth grabbed the snarling Queenie and wrapped her arm protectively around the furry neck. The dog licked Jobeth’s face, whining and growling, baring her teeth menacingly at the door. “It’s all right girl,” Jobeth soothed. “Come on Alan, hurry back.” She glued her eyes to the door and did not move, knowing Shawna would be scared up in the loft alone. Jobeth wrung her hands together, feeling guilty. She was not there to comfort the poor child. “Go upstairs, Queenie. Go see Shawna.” Jobeth spoke into the animal’s ear. The dog whined turning to go up the stairs. She looked back at Jobeth, ears alert. “Go see Shawna,” Jobeth hissed, grabbing a chair to place under the door handle. Queenie obeyed and went to the waiting arms of the little girl. Shawna was relieved to have the dog’s warm furry body with her. “If you think you can whore around our town, you got another think coming!” yelled another voice. Jobeth grabbed a log from the woodpile and stood in a defensive pose, ready. She would do what she had to, to protect herself and Shawna. No one was taking Shawna from her, and no one was going to hurt either one of them again. “Alan, please hurry back,” Jobeth whispered, afraid more than she had ever been in her life. “Hurry…” That afternoon, Alan rode up the familiar path to the house he had shared with Jobeth, Jonah and Shawna for more than a year. He was seated on the front bench of a covered wagon. A brown mare and a spotted brown and white filly pulled the cart easily up the path. He reached the house and noticed the battered appearance. Glass was shattered everywhere and rocks littered the once immaculate entrance. Jobeth and Jonah had cleared out the weeds and branches that littered the path, taking care to give it a simple, yet appealing exterior. Now it was unrecognizable. Panic seized him. “Whoa!” He reined in the horses, which gave a startled snort. Alan dropped the reins and jumped off the wagon, running to the sealed door. It was jammed and he pushed full force with his shoulder trying to get in. “Jobeth, Shawna!” he yelled frantically, pushing the door slightly ajar. “Alan?” he heard from the other side. Relief filled his soul. He could hear Jobeth moving objects away from the door. “Oh, Alan!” she cried, opening the door to his bewildered face. She had never felt so glad to see him as she flung herself into his arms and hugged him tightly, afraid that his husky presence might not be real. “Where is Shawna?” he peered over Jobeth’s shoulder. Rocks and glass littered the once tidy room. “I’m here!” Shawna chimed over the railing of the loft. “Thank God,” he panted, squeezing Jobeth back. “Oh, Alan, we were so frightened. They called me horrible names and they threw stones. They came to take Shawna.” “Don’t cry. They’re gone now,” Alan soothed, patting the back of Jobeth’s long loose hair. Jobeth pulled away from Alan’s strong embrace. “Did you get the wagon?” Jobeth asked. He nodded. Tears filled her eyes. The reality of leaving their beloved little home flooded her. Jonah was here. Her baby was here. “Why?” she wailed angrily. “Why did they have to kill Jonah? Why did they steal him away from us? Why did they have to ruin our home? Why?” She sobbed, unable to stop. “I loved him so much. I loved our home.” Jobeth fell to the floor crying into the palms of her hands. She was leaving so much behind. “Jobeth,” Alan pleaded. “Please, Jobeth . . .” He bent down and placed his large, strong hands around her tear-streaked face. Jobeth looked at him, sniffling. “We have to leave. I don’t want to leave Jonah either, but we have too.” He looked at the debris thrown aggressively across the floor and Jobeth could see his eyes water. “What they did to Jonah . . .” “Alan,” Jobeth felt ashamed by her outburst. “No,” Alan jumped up, glaring at Jobeth. She shivered. Alan had never before acted this way. “Jobeth don’t. You understand what they could do to us, to Shawna?” Shawna gasped, clinging onto Queenie’s neck. Jobeth stood up. Jonah’s last words, to be strong, rang in her ears. She patted her messy hair down, looking up to the loft with a forced smile. “Come on down, honey, and help me pack,” Jobeth said to the silent child whose eyes were big with worry. Goosebumps crawled over Jobeth’s skin. For a moment, the child looking down was that same haunted child Jobeth had escaped with so long ago. Slowly, Shawna crawled down the stairs and grabbed Jobeth’s hand tightly. Reassuringly, Jobeth squeezed it back. “Did you have trouble selling the animals?” Jobeth asked Alan. “No, we had good animals. They just want us out of their town. I sold them quickly.” He smiled shyly at Jobeth, wanting to kiss her. “Wait till you see the horses. They are beautiful.” “Well then,” Jobeth forced a grin, “let’s see them.” They ate in silence and then packed their belongings in the wagon. Jobeth made up a bed in the back, putting the fatigued Shawna down to sleep. It was getting late and they wanted to be on their way. They stopped at the grave one last time to say good-bye. Standing beside Alan, she stared at the stark crosses: the only reminders that the two buried beneath had existed in this world. She wished they were coming with them. She bent down and fingered the dried red flowers on her son’s grave. Her heart ached at leaving them behind, but Jonah had been right, as always. Alan and Shawna needed her and they were alive. She felt she would never get over losing Jonah or her son, but she would live and love. She had to; She had promised Jonah and it was the only way she could survive. “Are you ready?” Alan questioned, watching her caress the dried seed heads. Jobeth was almost sixteen and had already lived a life far beyond her years. She had lost her parents, her child and her best friend all in a little more than two years. The pain was there. It probably always would be. She looked at the man beside her and her sad heart lightened. She snapped one of the flowers into her hand. She would take a part of them with her. Somewhere, someday she would plant those seeds. She placed a mittened hand on his arm and smiled peacefully at him. “Now I am ready,” she said. Seated back in the wagon, Alan clicked his tongue and slapped the reins down onto the horses’ backs. The wagon began to move forward. Alan was worth going on for. He was only seventeen years old and worked harder than any man she knew. She turned and faced the road. The sky had turned gray and cool. She snuggled into her wrap and sighed, clutching the dried flower in her hand. They would make it. They had to make it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chapter 9- Poppies

— Chapter 9 — Alan noticed the change in Jobeth immediately. She had been in bed when they returned home that evening. He assumed she was still not feeling well, but by the end of the following day, she still had not emerged from the room she shared with Shawna. He became concerned. “I better get a doctor up here,” Alan said at the dinner table. Jobeth had refused supper again for the third night in a row. The remaining three sat silently eating the meal Jonah had prepared. He placed his hands on the table, bracing himself to get up. His intent was on going to town to fetch the doctor. It didn’t matter if they had to leave when Jobeth and Jonah were discovered. She was sick and he could not let her go without medical attention. “Alan,” Jonah said softly, looking up from his plate of vegetable stew, “no doctor can help Jobeth. She gotta sickness of the heart that only she can heal.” “Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Alan stormed angrily, his face displaying a look of disgust. “Alan, don’t be asking me something I can’t tell yah,” Jonah said to the redfaced youth. “There’s gonna come a time when you gonna have to listen with your heart and not your ears.” This just made Alan angrier. He could not understand what Jonah was talking about. “And I know yah getting hot under the collar, but that is too bad. If you want to help Jobeth, you sit down and finish your supper. She will be up and at it tomorrow. We is gonna let her be for tonight,” Jonah said with finality. He lifted his spoon and shoved it into his mouth forcefully. He chewed his food without actually tasting it. Alan was too stunned for words. He sat down in his chair and stared resentfully at his half-eaten stew. “Now tell Jonah about your day at school. You learning to read?” Jonah said changing the subject. He listened intently while eating his dinner as Shawna chatted about daily activities and a girl at school who was mean to all the other children. Jonah listened intently as Alan, defeated, began to eat again. His eyes stayed transfixed on the bedroom door where Jobeth slumbered deep in mourning. The next day, after Alan and Shawna had left, Jonah walked hesitantly to the door of Jobeth’s retreat. Shawna had been sleeping in the loft with him and Alan since Jobeth began hibernating. He paused, dreading what he had to do. Knowing he could not put it off any longer, he walked into the dark, dank room. It smelled stale and slightly sour. Swiftly, he crossed the area between himself and the window and pushed open the curtains. Sunlight bathed the room, exposing the pale, dark-eyed form collapsed on the bed. Jobeth turned and buried her head into the pillow, protesting. Jonah placed his strong young hands on his hips and glared on her frail body as she withered under his angry eyes. “You can lay there and slowly die if you want, but you are needed around here. You got a bad loss that come to you, but life has many bellyaches to hand out to us all,” Jonah growled, hating himself. “We need you and we are the living. Little Jonah is gone. I am ashamed that he is looking down from heaven with the angels and seeing that his ma’s a quitter. She done let herself get so consumed with misery that she neglecting the living that loves and needs her.” He shook his head sadly. “There will be tears in heaven right now, ‘cause you done forgot about us and how we needs yah.” He turned to leave trying not to see Jobeth’s red-rimmed eyes. “There is lots of work to be done around here and I can’t do it alone. I need my best friend to help me.” And he walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. Lifting her head from her pillow, Jobeth gazed toward the window, her eyes squinting from the bright light. Tears she thought were all dried up fell anew. She wiped them away with the back of her hand and slowly sat up, every inch of her body feeling bone weary. She swiveled her head to the door of the bedroom and mustered all of her strength. “The least you can do is draw me a bath,” she roared with all her might. Jonah leaned behind the door and held his breath as his hands tightly clasped the door handle. He smiled, released his firm hold on the handle and went to get the washtub. “I suppose I could do that by myself,” he responded. Alan was surprised when Jobeth finally surfaced, weak as a kitten, but seemingly better after her ordeal. Jonah had been right; it was just a matter of time before she came around. He still did not understand what had happened to cause her to hide from view for nearly a week, but he trusted Jonah and obeyed his wishes. Jobeth had lost a lot of weight and the dark circles under her eyes worried him. She seemed very sad but at least she was not sick. As time passed, the circles that ringed her eyes began to fade just as the snow began to melt and spring started to bloom. Jobeth ached for her dead son, but her heart started to heal slowly with the love of the two boys and Shawna. She seldom spoke to Jonah about the baby, but felt a great bond with the young man who was decades older than his sixteen years. Then again, she too was much wiser than her own age of fifteen. The two frequently went to visit the tiny grave. They would sit silently, absorbed in the tranquil atmosphere. When the snow finally melted, just as Jobeth had envisioned, the grass grew tall, alive with small animals and birds. Tiny budded heads pressed out of the earth and soon the field was speckled with multicolored wildflowers. “It is nice here,” Jobeth said, smelling a small, red flower she had carefully uprooted. She planned to replant it onto the child’s grave. Jonah turned from placing the small cross he had constructed on the ground. He wiped his sweaty brow and breathed deeply of the spring smells bursting forth around him. “Good place,” he sighed looking around him. “Feels like God is right here.” Jobeth agreed. “Jonah?” “Yes?” He continued with the work at hand. He would have to dig a hole deep enough to support the wooden crucifix. Jobeth stared at his naked dark back rippling and glistening with sweat. He had removed his shirt when the heat became unbearable. She could not help admiring his beauty. Jonah was a very handsome man. “Thank you.” “For what?” Jonah asked, facing her again, shovel in hand. “For everything,” she pretended exasperation. She stood up and walked to him. “I love you, all right.” And she kissed him squarely on the lips. “Ah, heck,” Jonah said embarrassed, turning his back to her. “I love you, too.” He blushed under his dark skin. Jobeth fell backwards, giggling, until her stomach ached from laughing so hard. “What is so funny?” he said, pretending to be offended. “You,” she giggled, sat up and rubbed tears out of her eyes. She had not laughed so hard in ages. In fact, she could not remember ever laughing so hard. “What would I ever do without you, Jonah?” “You would be just fine,” Jonah smiled, trying to hide his own urge to laugh. It felt good to see Jobeth smile with color in her face. “Aren’t we an unlikely pair?” “You know it,” Jonah laughed out loud in his deep, rich voice. Hearing Jonah laugh started Jobeth up again and they both continued to snicker together. A week later the two were cooking supper when Alan ran into the house after finishing his work at the mill. The house was fully furnished, thanks to Jonah’s carpentry work, and looked like a very comfortable, modest home. Jonah and Jobeth had worked hard to create the type of home they wished to live in and they had succeeded. “Jobeth! Jonah!” Alan yelled from the doorway, “Come see what I brought home.” He was very excited and Jobeth could not help the smile that broke over her face. Her heart fluttered when she thought of him. Jonah noticed how Jobeth flushed over Alan and smiled. He saw the same look on Alan’s face every time he was near Jobeth. She wiped her hands on her apron and removed the cooking chicken from the fireplace. “Come on, Jobeth, move,” Jonah squealed, grabbing her hand and dragging her outside. Both stopped in their tracks as they reached the front veranda. Jobeth’s mouth dropped open and she covered it with her hands. There on the lawn was a cow. It was a small cow, spotted black and white and it stood lazily, chewing grass. Shawna stood beside it holding the leathery lead rope. “Wow!” Jonah yelped, jumping down from the porch. “A cow!” He went up to the beast and began to pet it. “Milk and butter and cream and . . .” Jobeth started to laugh, jumping down from her domain. “Alan, how wonderful!” Alan stood back proudly. This had been a dream of his. “We cannot have a home without a cow. Shawna, show her.” Jobeth faced the blonde child with anticipation as the waif laughed, pulling out small packages from behind her back. “Seeds!” Shawna squealed. Jobeth grabbed the small packages from her tiny hands and recited the writing on them. “Radishes, potatoes, carrots.” She squeezed the envelopes to her chest. “Vegetables! Vegetables! Finally, some vegetables!” “Are you happy?” Alan asked, suddenly standing beside her. A strong desire moved through him to sweep her lithe body up into his and touch her lips longingly with his own. His heart pounded and the scent of her freshly washed hair made him dizzy for her. “Very,” Jobeth whispered, very much aware of his strong male presence. She gazed into his eyes, her breath failing her. “Thank you.” She placed her hand on his warm cheek and without thinking leaned over and kissed him softly on his smooth lips Alan’s hand instantly encircled her wrist by his face and he breathed in her breath. It was sweet and fresh. Jobeth’s eyes were closed and a surge of heat tingled up from her toes to her head. She opened her eyes and stared into his piercing gaze. Embarrassed, she pulled away and covered her mouth with the back of her hand. Alan was confused, feeling he had offended her. One moment he had felt joy as he had never felt before and the next he felt as though he had committed some heinous crime. He looked directly into Jobeth’s eyes and breathed deeply of her essence. Not knowing what else to do, he squeezed her hand and went to Shawna and Jonah, who were too involved with the cow to have noticed them. “What we gonna name her?” Alan yelled running down to where Shawna and Jonah stood patting the cow. Jobeth stood still, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest, staring after Alan and wondering what she had done. “How about Edna?” Jonah roared, picking Shawna up and placing her on the cow’s back. “Edna?” Shawna and Alan questioned in chorus. “Yes.” Jonah puffed up his chest, faking hurt feelings. “I had an aunt named Edna once. Yup, Aunt Edna. If I remember right, she looked just like this here old cow.” Shawna and Alan began to laugh hastily at Jonah. Jobeth could not stop a giggle from escaping her lips as she gazed upon Alan’s strong young back. She felt confused. She had enjoyed kissing him and would have liked to kiss him more. How was that possible? When Father James had kissed her, she hated it. She cringed with disgust at his very touch. But Alan had been different-he was gentle and his lips were soft and caring. After Edna and the new seeds came into their lives, Jonah and Jobeth had more to occupy their busy days. Jobeth did not miss going into town. Jonah was more than enough company for her during the day, and in the evenings she had all three of them to absorb her time. She felt very loved and needed once again. Life seemed livable. Jonah and Jobeth quickly set themselves to work fixing a barn for Edna and starting a garden. Fortunately, her mother had taught Jobeth at an early age how to make dairy products. So Edna became a great luxury in their lives. “Jobeth, a girl has to know how to make edible foods with what she has,” her mama would say, looking down at the little girl. She no longer cried when she thought about her parents and the life they once shared together. She was only thankful that they had taught her well. The knowledge her parents had bestowed upon her before they died had proven to be very useful. Jobeth thought of them now with loving memories. They had served her well. Every time Jobeth milked Edna or was making butter or cheese, she would remember her mother and her calm voice telling her how to do this or that. It was just like when she had been on the run with Shawna. She remembered her Pappy’s strong voice telling her how to build a fire or make a snare. They left Jobeth prepared to survive alone and for that, Jobeth was forever grateful. Her parents were still protecting her and watching out for her. Alan kept surprising them with gifts. A month after Edna’s arrival, Alan came home with two live hens, a rooster, some flour and two pigs. But the best surprise of all was Queenie, a little puppy Alan and Shawna found half-starved and abandoned by a creek. They brought her home and nursed the light brown mutt back to health. Everything was going well. The four had everything they could hope for. They had a real home full of love and kindness, something most of them had never experienced before. And they had livestock to sustain them. They even had a watchdog. Fall rolled around quickly, changing the green leaves of summer to bright red and yellow. The warm air began once again to turn cool and crisp. A year had passed since the four left the other members of their little family. Early one morning Jobeth and Jonah started pulling out the remaining vegetables from their garden. They had harvested enough for winter and were storing the food in a cellar Jonah had built behind the house during the past summer. “Jonah, do you ever wonder what happened to the others?” Jobeth asked while brushing dirt from a carrot with her gloved hand. The garden had thrived under their care and she was very pleased. Gardening was becoming a passion of hers. Little seeds bursting forth with life never seemed to bore her. She could spend hours in her vegetable garden unaware of time passing. Next spring she planned to add a flowerbed. Jonah stopped what he was doing and looked at his dirty hands. He did not like to use gloves. He said he liked to get his hands right into the earth. It made him feel closer to nature. He truly believed that was why the vegetables grew so well. He was a firm believer in coddling the garden, treating it with loving care. He and Jobeth were so alike in many ways. “Yes. All the time,” he said, arching his back. He had been bent over digging and picking potatoes for a while and a stitch had begun to gnaw on his spine. “I just hope they have fared as well as we have,” Jonah replied, testing his new vocabulary. Jobeth and Shawna had been teaching him and Alan how to read and write; during this time their slang was disappearing, much to both Alan’s and Jonah’s pleasure. “I guess we will never know.” Jonah continued picking potatoes. He felt suddenly sad. The others rested heavily on his chest. He felt guilty for the fine life he was living. The likelihood that the others had done as well was unlikely. “You don’t mean that, do you? We will find them some day.” Jonah looked up into the sky. “It is not for us to know. God willing, they will be back in our graces. But there is no use letting dreams like that eat at your mind. Some things in life happen that we don’t much like, but life doesn’t have to be fair.” “That is something I do know,” Jobeth spoke softly. “That is something we all know,” Jonah replied, returning to the potatoes at hand. Jobeth sat by the roaring fire after dinner, lazily working on some mending. The nights were getting cooler and the mornings were filled with a world covered in frost. She felt content being inside the warm little house. Shawna was fast asleep in their bed and Alan and Jonah sat at the dinner table figuring out the accounts. Queenie, who had been sleeping by Jobeth’s feet, stood up and began to growl. She was not fully grown yet and was already taller than the largest pig they owned. Alan looked up from the table and Jobeth put her sewing down, glancing at the door. Someone knocked abruptly and insistently. Queenie began to growl louder and Jobeth placed her hand on the dog’s back. Her ears went down and she began to whine. The knock came again, louder. “Alan?” asked a deep voice behind the door. “It’s me, Simpson.” He knocked again, a little more forcefully. Alan, close to hysteria, stood up and pointed for Jonah and Jobeth to disappear. “The loft, go!” he whispered in a panic. Jobeth and Jonah obeyed by jumping up and climbing quickly to the loft. Messing his hair, Alan yelled out, “Coming.” He opened the door pretending to tuck his shirt in. “Come in,” Alan said, moving away from the door. His heart pounded and he fought the urge to look up at the loft. Two men followed behind the person named Simpson. “Kurt, Dean,” Alan said, nodding to the other men. The two in question looked younger than the man Simpson, but they all looked quite similar, with closely cropped brown hair and blue eyes. They all were a bit overfed and wore similar brown felt hats. “What is the meaning of such a surprise?” Alan laughed nervously patting the middle-aged Simpson’s back. “Alan,” Simpson replied, looking around the neatly kept room, his eyes resting briefly on the basket of half-finished mending. “Sorry to have to bother you like this. I hope we did not wake your little sister.” He continued to look around the room. Jobeth spied down quietly at the men, her heart beating against her rib cage uncontrollably. “The boys and I needed to have a talk with you,” Simpson said, looking back at Alan. The other two men examined the house with their eyes, searching for something. They turned on cue when Simpson spoke and sat down uninvited at the table. Alan took the money he and Jonah had been counting and placed it in a container on the shelf. He sat down with the other three men. Queenie, seeing that Alan sat calmly with the strangers, settled back at the fire and went to sleep. “Nice little home you got here, Alan,” one of the men said. He was running his finger across the fibers of the wooden table and admiring the handiwork. “How did you fix it up so good while working?” He looked up, smirking at Alan. “I manage,” Alan replied a little coolly. “Shawna helps a lot.” He started tapping his fingers on his knees under the table. Jobeth looked at Jonah crouched beside her under his bed. She placed her arm around his shaking shoulders. He tried to smile confidently at her, but failed. “Alan,” Simpson said seriously, “the reason why we’re here is because my little girl, Amy, she is in school with your sister, well she says when she walked by here the other day, she saw a nigger and a white girl running around.” Simpson stared at Alan hoping to see him falter. “Rumor around town is that you and your sister aren’t the only ones living up here.” Jonah and Jobeth clutched each other tightly in the loft. “Is there a nigger and a girl here?” Simpson asked point blank. Alan stood up angrily. “Does it look like I have anyone else around here?” He glared at the faces of the three men he worked with. He felt the heat rise on the back of his neck as anger and dread enveloped him. Everything was going so well. Jobeth even seemed to be happy. Nothing else had happened between them since the kiss, but she was always kind and sweet with him. He did not want things to change and the three before him only posed problems. He had to think quickly. “I only wish I had a girl up here.” Alan laughed, causing the other three men to laugh with him. Jobeth did not find it funny. She felt fear rising in her throat, and she squeezed Jonah for comfort. “Yah, don’t we all?” laughed one of the other men. “A real saloon gal. Yee- Hah!” he wallowed. “Well, my Amy don’t lie.” Simpson said. Jobeth and Jonah swallowed a lump forming in each of their throats. “But the doc thinks she might need specs,” Simpson said, standing up from his chair as the other men followed suit. “If there is something going on up here,” he said calmly to Alan, “I’d put a stop to it right away. We are God-fearing, good folks. We don’t want no messing around going on in our town.” He looked straight into Alan’s green eyes, telling him his true feelings. “Sorry to disturb you, Alan, but this is the way things are.” He paused, trying to lighten the mood. “Listen, there is a country dance at the Mackenzie’s on Saturday. Young Miss Jossie’s gonna be there. A young man like yourself aught to be thinking of settling down, especially with a little sister to think of. She needs a female around to teach her how to be a good wife and mother. Miss Jossie would be a mighty good catch and I know she has an eye for you.” Alan blushed deeply. Miss Jossie was Simpson’s niece and not at all his type. She was a mindless creature who constantly hung out at the lumberyard bringing him refreshments and baked goods. Alan was fully aware of her intentions and was not at all interested. “That seems fine,” Alan lied. “I will have to look into it.” “Good . . . Good,” Simpson said. “Jossie will be glad to hear it.” Jobeth felt sudden outrage. Who was Jossie? Did Alan like her? What if he did? Then she felt fear. What if Alan did want to settle down? What would happen then? How would she fit into the picture? It had never occurred to her that Alan might want to marry. But then why wouldn’t he want to get married and have his own life? She was a fool to think he would always be there to protect and care for her. One day he would want to move on. Maybe he already wanted to with this Jossie. “Well, boys, come on. Let’s get a move on before the women folks start to fret. Good-bye, Alan, and mind what I say. We like you and want to keep it that way.” Simpson said opening the door, looking serious. “Don’t worry,” Alan said too loudly as he watched them walk away. Jobeth could tell he was jittery and her heart went out to him. Alan was always concerned about how she and Jonah felt about being hidden away. They had never even thought how hard it might be for him to pretend they were not there. It must have been torture to lead two different lives. Jobeth had been so content that It had never occurred to her. “Come on down,” Alan said, after a bit of time had passed. Jobeth let out a long sigh and relaxed. “That was too close for comfort,” Jonah said, helping her down the ladder. “You’re telling me,” Alan replied, absently. His mind was a mile away. Something told Jobeth things were going to change once again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chapter 8 Poppies

— Chapter 8 — Alan woke the next morning with a hop in his step and a whistle on his lips. He had done it--he could now give Jobeth the life she deserved! He washed his face in a warm pot of water Jobeth had heated for him. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed her narrow back and grimaced. She was so very thin. But still, he thought, she was very well groomed with her hair piled up in the latest twist. “Here you go,” Jobeth smiled, handing Alan his lunch wrapped up in a burlap bag. They had been using it to carry their food in when they had been on the road. “It’s leftovers from last night.” “Thanks,” Alan said, drying his face with an old towel. Jobeth stood uncomfortably before him, trying not to meet his gaze. She cleared her throat and started busying herself by tidying up the main room. There was a smaller room off to the side where Shawna and Jonah slept on the floor in blankets. Above was a loft the length of the house. “Are you nervous?” Jobeth asked while dusting the only chair in the room with a rag. She couldn’t look at Alan’s round, flat face. “Not really. I’m used to carpentry work,” Alan returned. This was the first time he had ever been totally alone with Jobeth and he felt at a loss for words. Each time he opened his mouth his tongue felt thick and heavy. “Well,” Jobeth said, having no choice but to look at him. He stood awkwardly with his lunch clasped in his hands. “You don’t want to be late for your first day.” “No,” Alan said, wide-eyed. He grabbed his hat off the chair where he had left it the night before and started for the door. “Jobeth?” He paused, keeping his back to the girl behind him. “Yes?” she asked with her hands clasped together. Her heart began to pound anxiously. Had Alan noticed her condition now that she was not layered down with clothes? “Uh,” the boy faltered not knowing how to tell Jobeth what he needed to say. He pressed his lips tightly together. It had to be done. It was the best for everyone. The blood drained from Jobeth’s face. Alan had to know. She would be out in the cold once again. Maybe he would let her stay the winter, please God. “No one knows you and Jonah are here. I didn’t think they should know.” Alan said looking embarrassed. This was the fly in the ointment. The one thing he could not give Jobeth still. “Why not?” Jobeth asked, surprised and a little relieved. “What about Shawna?” Alan stood in the doorway feeling like a failure once again. Just when he thought he might succeed in her eyes, another obstacle was put in his way. “These people . . . listen, we have been on the road for two months. Finally we can live in a real house that ain’t about to fall in on us, and it’s ours. Not some shack we steal into in the night and sneak out of during the day. I am paying for it monthly at the bank in town. I set it up with this Mr. Myers, he is some big shot at the bank. He said this place was for sale. With my job we could get a horse, maybe even a buggy. Shawna can go to school and be educated like them other proper girls. We can have real food--not these meager bits of scrap we been living on. But if you and Jonah are found out . . .” he stuttered, feeling ashamed. Could he ask so much of Jonah and Jobeth? “Why?” Jobeth protested, her hands gripping the back of the chair. She wanted to lead a normal life again. The baby kicked her hard, a reminder of her present situation and she blushed, shutting her mouth tightly. She had no right to a normal life any longer, let alone to be seen in public. “Because,” Alan said, annoyed by Jobeth’s red face. He just could not stop disappointing her. He breathed hard, running his hand up the side of the rough wooden wall and gazed down at the floor. “They don’t like blacks in this town, Jobeth. Blacks are considered the lowest humans around here.” Remembering the events of the day before, he continued, “I was in town at the lumber yard where I got my job. I was talking to the owner of the shop when this black man walked by. The owner called him ‘boy’ and asked him what he was doing walking by his shop. The black man had fear in his eyes. The type of fear that has seen too much trouble and knows what could happen if he just walks in the wrong place.” His eyes darted from the sight of Jobeth’s gaping mouth. “I told them I had a small sister, Shawna, who would be attending the school. Tonight after work I am gonna sign her up and later I am going to the store and get some credit so she can have dresses. I won’t have the other kids laughing at her because she is dressed in rags. She ain’t going to be ashamed of where she comes from.” Jobeth nodded and wrapped her arms around herself protectively. “We won’t be noticed.” “Good.” Alan turned back to the door again, “You’re a good kid, Jobeth.” And he left, leaving Jobeth standing in the doorway watching after him. She placed a hand on her budding tummy, feeling the occupant inside twisting and turning, and wondered what she was going to do. Life settled down as the winter hit full force. Shawna started school dressed like an angel in her new clothes that Jobeth and Jonah made. Alan had even splurged on a store-bought dress for Shawna. Jobeth was disappointed with his extravagance and said so one morning. “Why waste money on store-bought dresses when I can make the exact same dress for half the price?” Jobeth scowled at the humbled Alan. “Besides, the other children will think she is too high-class for them.” She stomped off to the room she shared with Shawna and threw herself onto the straw bed Jonah had built for them. Alan, confused at Jobeth’s outburst, turned red and clumsily left the house. He walked a few feet from the house and began kicking stones around. He bought the dress to make up to Jobeth for forcing her to stay hidden from the rest of the world. He felt terrible that she could not lead a normal life, a life he felt she deserved. Again he had failed. Alan looked toward town and contemplated leaving early for work. He did not want to see Jobeth’s disappointed face. Shrugging his shoulders, defeated, he began walking down the worn path. A hand on his shoulder stopped him in his tracks and he turned to face Jobeth’s crestfallen image. “I will return the dress. I wasn’t thinking right in the head.” Alan fumbled, his hands jammed into his pockets. “No, Alan.” Jobeth shook her head. He looked at her, wide-eyed, fearing he had done yet another thing wrong. “I am the one who should be apologizing. I acted horribly and for no reason. Please forgive me. The dress was a beautiful idea and Shawna loves it. She will be the envy of her schoolmates.” Alan became red in the face, completely confused. As long as he lived, he would never understand women. “I...I know things ain’t been fair for you and Jonah, with being hidden up here,” Alan said. Jobeth lifted a pale hand in protest. “Alan, please. You have been trying so hard to give us a proper life. Jonah and I don’t mind just staying around here. At least we have each other for company, and there is plenty of work around here to keep us busy.” Jobeth winced, clamping her hand down upon her stomach. The familiar cramping across her middle ripped through her. She wondered if it was normal and wished she could talk to someone about the changes occurring in her body. Alan couldn’t help but notice Jobeth’s pained expression. He went to her and placed an arm protectively around her shoulders. Her face became very pale and her hand gripped her small swollen belly, harder. “You’re not well,” Alan said. Jobeth scanned Alan, liking the way his strong jaw was set firmly with concern. “Something I ate,” she cringed, pain rippling through her. It was stronger and harder. She needed to lie down and said so, panting. “Of course, of course,” Alan supported her back with his hand as they walked into the warm house. Jonah and Shawna were sitting at the newly built table and chairs. Jonah, it turned out, was an excellent carpenter. His handiwork was showing up everywhere in the dwelling, making the small home very cozy. He and Shawna both directed their attention to the door when Alan came bursting through it practically carrying Jobeth. Jonah bounced up, knowing full well what was wrong with her. She must be further along then I first thought, Jonah thought to himself. He bolted to Alan, grabbing the other side of Jobeth. She grasped his hand painfully, her hazel eyes saturated with panic. “Get Alan and Shawna off. I don’t want them to be late,” she whispered to Jonah. He nodded in complete understanding. Jobeth did not want Alan and Shawna to witness the birth of her child. “Must have been that cabbage we ate, Jobeth. I gots the same bellyache.” Alan looked at Jonah, questioningly. He did not look sick. “Me and Jobeth done ate a cabbage we weren’t sure of was good or bad. Guess it weren’t.” Jonah put his hand on his own belly and groaned. Alan looked suspicious at the two crumpled forms beside him. “Yup, what we need to do is lay down till it passes. Gonna end up in the outhouse all day. No work gonna be done today. No, not today. You and Shawna be no help to us sick ones. Better get yourselves off to your business. Nothing can be done for us with you here,” Jonah shook his head scooting the bewildered Alan and Shawna out the door. “Jobeth, I told you, you shouldn’t have eaten so much of that old cabbage,” Jonah eyed Alan. “See, Jobeth ate most of it. I guess that’s why it is getting back at her worse than me.” Hunched over in agony, Jobeth couldn’t understand why Jonah was lying for her, but she was grateful. The pain began to subside. “Alan, please get to work. You and Shawna are already late. I will be fine. I already feel a little better. I just need to lie down for a bit.” She straightened her rail thin frame and walked, alone, to the bedroom. “If you think so…” Alan hesitated. Jobeth suddenly seemed better. Again, he shrugged, not knowing what to do. He couldn’t miss any work. If he did, he would lose a day’s wages, wages that were needed. He could see Jonah helping Jobeth to her room. The two boys now slept in the upstairs loft together. “Come on, Shawna,” Alan said to the mystified child. She obediently grabbed hold of his hand. ”Is Jobeth gonna be all right?” Shawna asked in her tiny voice. ”Yes. She just ate something that didn’t agree with her. Jonah will take good care of her.” Alan stood in the doorway ready to leave, where Jobeth lay. ”I’m leaving!” He yelled. From the bedroom he could hear Jonah saying goodbye and a strained farewell from Jobeth. Suddenly he felt he should stay. There seemed more to the situation than met the eye. Alan’s free hand raked through his brown hair: a habit he had when he was nervous and confused. Jonah did not really seem sick and Jobeth would be in good hands. There was no reason for him to stay behind. It was just a feeling in his gut. But then again, Jobeth had seemed in a hurry for them to leave. Not knowing what to do, he turned away from the warm room with Shawna in tow and closed the door gently behind him. Jobeth did not seem to want him around anyway. She seemed quite happy to have Jonah with her. Jonah sat anxiously beside Jobeth. She writhed on the bed in pain, clutching her extended abdomen. There was a silent click from outside as Alan shut the door. The coast was clear and Jonah looked into Jobeth’s twisted pale face. “It looks like your baby is gonna come, Jobeth,” Jonah said tenderly, smoothing the hair from her sweaty brow. Jobeth’s eyes darted, surprised. “Does Alan know?” Fear mingled with her pain as she clutched her belly. “Naw, he don’t know, but he gonna have to know soon,” Jonah said, rubbing her arm. Jobeth moaned, menstrual-like cramps boring through her again. “It’s gonna be all right, Jobeth. I am figuring the reason yah don’t tell us about the baby is because you married a bad man. Makes sense you take yourself away from those bad types,” Jonah soothed patiently, trying to reassure her. Jobeth started to cry. How could she tell Jonah she was not married? “Now don’t cry. It’ll be all right,” Jonah comforted, glancing at Jobeth’s hard belly. “You sure is small for your time to come.” “That’s because I’m not at my time. I’m only a little over six months along.” Jobeth wheezed through clenched teeth. Her body felt possessed as though it wanted to turn inside out. Hard as she tried to stop it, her body was doing its own thing. It was awful. The worst pain she had ever experienced. When another contraction seized her, she let out a loud wail. Jonah began to worry. Six months was too early for the child to come. How would it survive? He frowned on the whimpering Jobeth, who howled while holding tightly to her belly. “I’m gonna get some blankets to wrap the babe in and some water to wash him.” Jonah stood from the bed, his head hanging sadly. Jobeth’s baby could not possibly survive. “Jonah, don’t leave me,” Jobeth sobbed reaching out and grabbing the sleeve of his shirt. “I know it’s too soon. Please stay.” Jonah closed his eyes and squeezed his full lips together. He nodded and held Jobeth’s hand tight. “Aaaah!” Jobeth gasped, her contractions becoming one constant pain. “Talk to me Jonah. Please!” she panted. Sweat started to run down her face and she held her breath and strained as the urge to push consumed her body. “Maybe you should bear down if you have the urge,” Jonah said, wiping Jobeth’s face with a corner of the quilt she lay on. There was a basin of water beside the bed for Jobeth and Shawna to clean up in the morning. With all the commotion, Jobeth had not had time to change the water. Jonah looked around for a cloth and grabbed a damp towel resting on the floor. He quickly dunked it into the water basin and placed the wet towel on Jobeth’s streaming forehead. “Thank you,” Jobeth breathed and let out a blood-curdling cry. Jonah reached behind her back and helped Jobeth situate herself, her chest pressing forcefully on her bent thighs. Jobeth pushed, her veins pumping furiously from her forehead. A warm gush of fluid poured from between her legs, soaking her and the bed. “Did I wet myself?” she asked, embarrassed. Jonah, who was now supporting her back from behind whispered into Jobeth’s ear. “No, Jobeth, your water broke. The baby is coming.” He sighed. It was too late to go back now. The child would have to be born. Jobeth screamed in agony for two hours as Jonah slowly coaxed her into allowing him to see if the baby was starting to come out. At first she had refused, mortified. But with each contraction the pressure became too much and soon she relented, just wanting it to finally be over. “I see the head,” Jonah cried excitedly, looking up from between Jobeth’s trembling legs and into her fevered face. A tiny head, the size of an apple, all covered in black curly hair, slithered out. Jonah turned the child’s face upward and inserted his pinky finger into its small mouth, clearing the mucous. “One more push, Jobeth. Just one more,” He said holding firmly to the miniature head. Jobeth tightened her grip on her legs and closed her eyes, trying to gather all of her strength. She was exhausted and could not take much more. “You can do it, Jobeth. Please, one more push,” Jonah cried out, noticing how fatigued she was. Jobeth braced herself and, straining with all her might, pushed. Jonah held the incredibly small baby as it slipped out. Infinitesimally small hands and feet flailed weakly. Never had Jonah seen anything so small. Jobeth collapsed onto the bed, exhausted, breathing heavily. It was over. Jonah cut the cord and wrapped the baby in a blanket, wiping the fluids from the birth off him. The baby was a boy and he was alive. “What is it?” Jobeth asked without emotion. A frail meowing noise came from the blanket Jonah held. Almost like a cry of protest over his mother’s rejection. Something pulled at Jobeth’s heart. The child was her baby. It was not his fault how he had been created. “He’s a boy,” Jonah said sadly, noticing the tiny infant struggling for air. His small scrawny chest heaved uncontrollably up and down. “Let me hold my son,” Jobeth said gravely, a tear sliding down her face. Jonah placed the baby into her arms. She quickly uncovered him and undid the buttons of her blouse. Tiny dark eyes looked up at Jobeth lovingly. Her heart melted as she loosened a breast from her stays. She placed a nipple, darkened from pregnancy, into his small gaping mouth. Her breast was nearly the size of the child. The infant tried to suckle but did not have the strength. Jobeth hummed a lullaby and rocked her wee son as he tried to feed from his mother. Jonah, holding himself, looked on with tears in his eyes. The baby’s chest was jumping in spasms. “I am naming him Jonah after you,” Jobeth sobbed, touching the soft curly down on the baby’s head. She was not blind. She could see the irregular movement of the baby’s chest. His lungs just were not developed enough. The child was literally gasping for air. “Oh, that is too kind,” Jonah choked out, unable to contain his emotions as he watched mother and child. The baby, although small, was the most beautiful infant Jonah had ever seen. “You are my best friend, Jonah. It would be an honor to me and my son if you accepted.” Jobeth smiled through her tears. She reached out her hand to him. Jonah received it and bent beside her and the small newborn. He reached out his dark finger and placed it on the infant’s small transparent cheek. His finger took up most of the child’s face. The baby looked at Jonah, as though he recognized his namesake and his little chest stopped rising painfully. Jonah felt his tiny life leave. Jobeth let out a wail, the sound of a wounded animal, as she felt the baby’s lips fall from her breast lifelessly. She clutched the dead child close to her chest wanting to squeeze him back into her body where he was alive and well. “I want my child,” she cried out in pure agony. Jonah, overcome with emotion encircled his arms around Jobeth and the baby, scooping the two into the safety of his embrace. He rocked her back and forth in his arms as she cried, brokenhearted, for her son. They buried the infant Jonah, in a tiny coffin that the senior Jonah built in haste. He had prepared the wood earlier, planning to surprise Jobeth with a cradle. Tears fell freely as he nailed the lid of the small coffin over the wrapped body of the baby. Jobeth had enshrouded the child tenderly and lovingly in a soft blue and pink quilt that she had made just recently for Shawna. Tears fell silently as she kissed her son’s curly head and handed the child to Jonah to place in the miniscule coffin. Weak as Jobeth was from the terrible ordeal of childbirth, she walked stiffly beside Jonah, out into the backfield. She wore a shawl wrapped around her for warmth and it hung limply, dragging on the icy ground. Jonah stopped at a clearing and looked at Jobeth questioningly. She gazed around slowly, feeling a clean breeze brush her wet cheeks. “This is a good place,” Jobeth said with little emotion. Wild flowers would sway gently in the breeze and the flutter of small wings would bustle out from hiding spots in the tall grass when spring came. She could imagine how it would be alive with nature. The place would be lovely. But for now, because it was winter, the tall grass pictured in her mind was standing yellow poking out of its white winter blanket, waiting for spring and the warmth of summer to be reborn. Jonah placed a quilt on the tightly packed snow. Gently he placed the coffin down and retrieved his shovel. It would be hard work breaking the frozen ground, but Jobeth had insisted that the baby be buried that day. She sat the coffin down beside her and lovingly placed her hand on the smooth surface, rubbing the grain of the wood. Jonah worked with a fever all afternoon, digging the grave for his namesake. Tears refused to stop falling and he could not look at the figure of Jobeth draped protectively over the wooden box. His heart ached to comfort her, but she didn’t want comfort, she wanted the baby buried. So he continued to dig into the frozen ground, blinded by his own tears. When the grave had been dug deep enough, Jonah gently removed Jobeth’s exhausted form that was clenched tightly to the little crate. Jobeth then watched with vacant eyes and a heart as cold as ice, as he placed the coffin into the hole. She struggled to stand up, her strength completely wasted. Jonah went to her and helped her stand, his large hand supporting Jobeth under her arm. She was weak as a newborn fawn and as light as the snow that fell to the ground. Together they walked to the foot of the grave, looking across the white field. Jonah cleared his throat and tried to think of a proper farewell for little Jonah. “Go with the angels, little Jonah. You won’t feel pain ever again. God has got you now. No one is ever gonna hurt yah, little one. You will always be in our hearts and one day we will meet again.” Jonah spoke directly to the sky, as though he truly believed he was speaking to the babe in heaven. Jobeth gazed up into Jonah’s dark wet eyes, her own eyes dry and distant. “I do not want anyone to know about little Jonah.” The words came out icy, in a voice Jonah did not recognize. Not believing his ears, he stared at Jobeth in shock. “Why not?” “I was not married, Jonah. My foster father made me . . . forced me to be with him.” Jobeth stammered on her words. She had never said them out loud before. “I have committed a great sin and God has punished me by taking my son. I didn’t deserve to have little Jonah and I do not deserve to grieve for him aloud. He was conceived in violence and I hated him and his father. I had wished my child never to be born and now I will have to live my life as though he never was.” She turned stiffly from Jonah’s stunned face and headed back toward the house, leaving him to stare after her, baffled. “Oh, girl, you done nothing wrong,” Jonah said out loud to himself. “But you got a lot of wrong done to you. God help yah with the blame you got nestled up inside. It’s gonna eat you alive . . . God help yah.” He shook his head and rubbed his face with his hanky. It had been quite a day. A day he was not likely to forget anytime soon. He scratched his head and began slowly to fill the smallest grave he had ever beheld. He winced, repulsed at the sound of the cold earth thudding sickly onto the coffin.