“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.
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