Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chapter 30

The week that Sloan, Dan, and one of the teams were gone was pretty uneventful. Well, not uneventful completely but uneventful in that nothing truly bad happened. The cantankerous new bull refused to be kept away from the heifers and acted like he hadn't had any female company since time began. So, after repairing the fence twice only to have him knock it down and go visiting the females of his species, we simply left him where he wanted to be. They actually were able to put him in his place better than we could and by the end of the week he was almost docile. Stupid beast.

I'd spoken to Josiah and we both agreed most of the remaining apple trees needed to be stripped and preserved. Most of them went into the cider press and I left that to the men. Josiah's family still owned some orchard land in the Ozarks and he more than knew what he was doing in that quarter. After taking inventory of what I had I filled in a couple of holes by canning apples several different ways and then I simply started peeling and slicing and putting them on the trying trays. In November we would get the Granny Smith apples and the winter apples for keeping.

It was at the very end of the week that things took a turn. I explained to Josiah and he understood as he'd had an uncle that had the same problem. By the time that Sloan came back I was in a bad way.

"Teaghan? Are you down ... aw sh ..." He ran over and tried to pick me up. "Did you fall. Dammit I should have had those stairs .."

"Shhhh. Please God don't make so much noise. Need dark. Need quiet."

Sloan went stock still. He said quietly, "When did it start?"

"The bad part last night. Please just let me alone ..." It was a bad one. A really bad one. It had been a long time since I'd had to deal with a bad headache without the pills. But this time I couldn't. Because of the baby.

"Shhhh. Just hold on."

"Noooo. Down here. Cool. Dark."

"And a damn good place to get sick."

I was pretty much done in for the next two days. The third day I woke and realized a heavy set of black out curtains, the kind Mom had hung up in town when I was little, were draped across the window. And I was naked yet wrapped in the softest thing I've ever felt. I brushed the damp cloth off my forehead and tried to sit up.

"Hey ... easy there. You sick again?"

I looked at Sloan and it was like little flickers of light were fluttering all around him. "Aura."


"It was a bad one. I'm still seeing an aura when I look at you. That's ... that's a kind of light. It's like my brain sees things that aren't there."

"I know what it is. I read up on migraines when I found out you have them. You've never said you see auras though."

"Don't. Unless it's a bad one. This ... was a bad one." My stomach rolled but there was nothing left to come up. The room swam in and out of focus so I closed my eyes. That only made me notice the cover even more. "What's ... what's this?" I asked rubbing my hands across it.

"A new fleece textile from out of Canada. You like it?"

"Ummm hmmmm."

"Good. Now lay back down and sleep."

"Mmm kay."


The next morning I was on my way back to feeling human. "I'm sorry Sloan," I said shamefaced.

"Why? Did you do something to give yourself the migraine?"


"Then don't stress about it. Hey ... you're stomach isn't flat anymore. That was quick."

I looked at him as we lay in bed. He had the cover pulled away and seemed strangely fascinated by the changes my body insisted on revealing so quickly.

"Pretty soon there won't just be a bump, I'm gonna be fat." I didn't tell him I suspected I was going to be roughly the size of the tobacco barn. Twin boys had a bad habit of turning up in our family on a regular basis. My dad hadn't been a twin but he'd had a set of twin brothers. And there were twins on Mom's side of the family as well. Then there was Jeremiah and Jason. I thought it best to keep it to myself for a while yet rather than give him something else to get moody about.

He repeated the act of running his hand along my formerly flat anatomy with deep fascination. "With my kid," he said muttered poking at my stomach with a gentle finger. "Did you make that list like I asked?"

"I started it. How I'm supposed to finish it when I don't know what I need?"

He looked up briefly and then nodded. "I'll ask my aunt."

"No. I mean ... can we keep it to ourselves a while longer?"

He looked up at me and gave me a suspicious stare. "Why?"

"Because I don't want to have to ... you know ... talk about ... you know. Everyone will know that we ... you know."

He lay there puzzling out what I had said and then snickered. "Sweetheart, they already realize we have sex."

"Shut up." Sloan shook his head and rolled his eyes and other things that showed he was trying not to laugh or be exasperated. I told him, "OK ... so they probably figure we do because that's generally what married people do but I just know someone is going to get in our business about it more than I can stand. Besides, I don't think anyone should know until you tell the boys."

"Uh ... can't you do that?"


"I mean ... er ..."

"Oh no ... you aren't going to push that off on me. You're their uncle. You are the man. You ... well you caused this so you are just going to have to ..." I thought for a second then said, "You are just going to have to do your duty."

Sloan groaned and muttered, "Maybe I can just let it slip while Dan and I are talking."

That night Sid asked, "Are you going to puke?"

"No, the headache is over."

Both boys looked at me and rolled their eyes. "Not the head banger ... Josiah says you'll likely puke a lot ... just like Shotgun when he eats something he shouldn't."

I slowly turned to looked at the two and they gazed at me with interest ... like I was some kind of science experiment. "Did your Uncle Sloan say something?"


Monday, August 25, 2014

Chapter 29

I remember I just about jumped a mile when Josiah popped up at the kitchen screen door; I'd been day dreaming, something I didn't normally do, but Sloan had said some things after waking me up in the middle of the night that had my head spinning trying to figure out why he'd said them. I guess he'd had a dream or something and wasn't very awake but the bottom line was that I wasn't supposed to be talking to red-headed men unless it was him. Well I'd never talked to another copper headed man ... a couple of copper-headed boys when I was very little and still in school but I didn't see how that could count. It must have been an odd sort of dream but it was me that it wound up haunting in the long run.

In a rush Josiah told me, "Sloan says stay in the house or better yet get in the basement. Couple a cars spotted turning into the farm road."

He reached in and pulled the big wooden door closed and I heard someone else closing the shutters on the back of the house upstairs while someone else closed the bottom ones. "Boys?" I called. Silas' head appeared below the top of the staircase.

"Uncle Sloan told us to close the shutters then we're supposed to stay quiet."

I heard the worry in his voice; they were still shaky from the night time attack. Truth be told it crossed my mind that someone had gotten bold enough to do it in the daytime. I asked, "Want to see where I used to go during a bad storm?"

They came clomping down the stairs lickety split and all three of us went down to the basement. They became fascinated by the "playroom" and started making plans for it right off. I'd picked the right distraction. "OK you two. I'll give you the same rules my mom and dad gave me. You can call this your space so long as it isn't needed for family stuff and so long as anything you put in here stays cleaned up. Got it? I can't worry that I'm always going to trip over something when I'm down here."

The bargain made I casually drifted back up the stairs and stood on the first floor landing trying to listen. I couldn't hear anything so I opened the door and stepped into the kitchen which was now dark due to both the closed shutters and door. Frustrated I eased to the archway and finally could hear voices coming down the hall and realized men were on the front porch but not inside the house. Lucky for me the windows to the office were still open.

A voice I didn't recognized said, "That must have been some fall you took Williams. Shoulda come to town to see a doc. Can't afford to keep losing you at the Market."

"You didn't lose me," Sloan responded. "I made sure things got where they were going. Just 'cause my body ain't there doesn't mean my spirit wasn't. And tell McEwen over there not to wander. Not all my men know him ... and we've got a new bull that is full of **** and vinegar right now and likes to charge anything and everything. He's bad enough I've forbid the boys and Teaghan from going anywhere near the pen."

Then I heard Mr. Burdock's voice. "Minds you does she?"

"She's usually got good commonsense."

The other man muttered, "Lucky you."

To cover the sudden awkward silence Mr. Burdock at first harrumph'd and then said, "I don't see her around. Usually she's quick to run and bring some refreshments."

"She's still ruffled and upset about the other day. I don't know what those guys were playing at but they nearly had me in the hots with the Highway Patrol. I can't afford that. I have to do too much out-of-county travel to get on one of their lists. And you seemed to know their folks?"

Dan nearly scared me out of a year's growth pointing me back in the direction of the kitchen. "You never hear anything good about yourself that way Teacup."

"And if I don't I'll never hear anything at all. How crazy will Sloan get if I bring tea out to the porch."

Dan looked down the hall then at me. "None if that is all you do. It'll probably help if you make an appearance then skedaddle back inside like you don't like being around strangers."

"I don't."

"So much the better."

I got the tea as I heard Dan go outside. Apparently he'd gone to get some numbers for Sloan to pacify Mr. Burdock with. Once I had things on a tray I went to the screen door but just stood there until Dan nudged Sloan. He looked up and scowled but nodded. I brought the tray out and set it on the table and was going to skedaddle but Mr. Burdock stopped me.

"I'm sorry to hear that you were upset. I'm afraid that with so little work to be had some of the young men are getting restless and a little too high spirited."

I shuddered then said softly, "Dad said when the boys would get up to high jinks that it is always fun and games until someone gets their eye poked out. Sloan could have gotten hurt and those Highway Patrol people were ... scary."

Mr. Burdock nodded. "They aren't the most reasonable, that's a fact. I'm afraid they will be out here pestering you to make some kind of statement and twist your words."

"Why would they want to talk to me?" I turned to Sloan and gave him a wide eyed stare and he snorted and then scowled at me.

"You'll answer their questions and that's all you'll do."

"Not by myself? You'll be there like you were before?"

"Teaghan ..." he muttered and shook his head. He was trying to head me off but I had a head full of steam and just bulldozed on through.

I turned back to Mr. Burdock and said in a properly brainless voice, "Why can't they ask you? You were there and you know all those men. You know everyone and everything that goes on around here. Dad always said so. Sloan says I shouldn’t put that much pressure on you but I don't mean to, it's just the way it's always been that I can remember. Please?"

Mr. Burdock, as men such as I realized he had become, gave a little smile, puffed his chest up and nodded. "I'll do what I can like I do what I can for the rest of the community but I'll admit to being disappointed in how those young men conducted themselves. Speaks of troubles at home, lack of order and discipline where they're needed. Miss your father; he was a man that understood discipline even when he was a raw private fresh out of basic. Saw that in him right off. Never forgot it either. Glad to see Sloan here continuing in that vein. Tobacco crop was solid and what's this I hear about you got you some hemp permits?"

Him turning back to Sloan and to business talk was my dismissal and I gladly took it. The two men with Mr. Burdock weren't his normal company when he came to the farm. They were dressed in what I took to be uniforms of some type and I couldn't stand the way they eyed me up and down.

About a half hour later the visitors left and Sloan came inside to find me humming in the kitchen. Grumpily he said, "I ought to paddle your behind. I nearly busted a gut when Burdock actually swallowed that load of manure you dished up for him. 'Oh you know everything and everyone Mr. Burdock. Can't you talk to them pleeeeeeeze.' You were laying it on so thick I thought one of those idiots would have had to pick up on it but they didn't."

I shrugged and just kept preparing supper.  "Dad used to say that men want to hear what they want to hear and that's all they'll listen to. I just applied that principle."

With a slightly worried expression he told me, "Yeah, well be careful of what you apply and who you apply it to. Be more wary from here on out Sweetheart. Just because Burdock's crowd may have to lay low for a while it doesn't mean they are out of commission entirely. Was just informed that the School District has decided to come in and review the school and 'realign' some of the curriculum being used. I expect there'll be some nosing around by other agencies as well. I hope there's no trouble but sometimes people get pushed into a corner and they'll come out fighting. Until I know which way it is going to jump you just take it easy."

I nodded. "Those two men in the uniforms were nasty. I felt like I was covered in pond scum before I could get back inside. They stared so hard I thought their eyes were going to roll out to try and get a look under my skirt."

Sloan growled, "I noticed. Which leads me to my next edict and I don't care whether you like it or not. If anyone besides Burdock comes around, or he comes around with anyone you don't recognize, you take the boys and go down to the basement and let whoever I have taking care of things do their job if I'm not around. Understand?"

I looked at him. He was not fooling and was dead serious and trying to hide how worried he was so I said, "OK."

A little unprepared for the fact I didn’t give him any grief Sloan asked, "No fuss or temper General?"

The use of the nickname some of the men had given me was to try and goad me but I wasn't biting. I told him, "I may not have been a soldier but I have enough sense not to start a fight I can't win." I walked over to stand beside him and said, "Besides I know you're just trying to be the husband and protect me ... and the baby."

He sighed and put his arm around my shoulder to make me turn to him. "I don't want to fight, and that's a fact; we've both had enough of that and need a breather. But … listen Teaghan, Baumgarten and McEwen coming around with Burdock adds a spin I don't like. They're both with the Sheriff's department - hell, Baumgarten is the Sheriff - but they were out of uniform and acting more like some kind of inspection team or security monitors. They were trying to send some kind of message but I’m not sure what yet.  That McEwen especially bugs me; he was going to wander to try and get an eye full ... nose into things that were none of his business. Plus I know him from someplace and I know when I figure out from where I have a feeling I'm not going to like it. Just ... do me a favor will ya ... if you have to leave the yard - like when you go off to pick your herbs - take Josiah or someone he assigns with you. I have a feeling ..."

He was rubbing his head that was still sore in places.

I reached up and pulled one of his hands away.  "Stop that or you'll make it worse. You want me to rub some liniment on it?"

"Yes ... but I'm going to have to deny myself. There is still a crapload of stuff to do if we are going to get out of here tomorrow." He sighed. "I gotta go Sweetheart but ..."

"Then go," I told him I told him matter-of-factly. "Dad and the boys hated leaving me alone when they went to market. I got a full run down of do's and do not’s every single time. But it still had to happen. The same with you. The farm needs money so we can keep putting food on the table. You need to replenish what you spent on the hemp farm. Reality is what it is."

"You can say it. You can mean it. I can believe it and even agree. But that doesn't change the fact that it makes me uncomfortable to be leaving for a week. It is a small job but with big rewards and another opportunity on the other side of it. I can't afford to alienate the reclamation rep that gave me the heads up."

"Then stop wasting your energy on trying to pacify me when it isn't necessary. I'm not going to have hysterics or anything. And like you said you have a lot to do before you leave tomorrow ... so go do it."

Sloan sighed and then looked at me like he was trying to figure something out.  He started to do that a lot right around that time and I eventually thought I had figured out why but looking back I wonder.

Eventually he said, "You know it's great having a practical wife ... but then again there are times it gives me heartburn." He turned to go but then stopped and asked me carefully, "If you could have something come back as a treat what would it be?"

"For you to come back safe is more than treat enough." I kissed him on his cheek, something I'd gotten in the habit of doing I guess as a sign to both of us that things were ok then told him, "Stop wasting currency. The sooner the winter storage is set up and spring planting saved up the easier we'll both rest."

Sloan got that look on his face again … like he was confused and not liking the state at all.  Since I didn’t’ know what he was confused about there was nothing I could do to alleviate it.  And like he had said, “We’d had enough brangling for a while.”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chapter 28

Later after supper, and after Sloan had finished his meeting with Dan and everything had calmed down for the night, Sloan and I were getting ready for bed. I asked him, "Did Dan hear anything at the market?"

He looked at me in frustration then sighed. "You really aren't going to give this up are you."

It was a statement not a question but I answered him anyway. "What's to give up? All I want is the truth. And it's a little too late for me to go back to being a stupid little know-nothing."

"Hey," he said limping over to where I stood folding back the covers. "I never thought you were stupid. Frustrating as hell. Innocent beyond good sense. Hard for me to understand ... and still are ... but never stupid. And next time I take you out, it won't be to ..."

In a flat voice I told him, "There won't be a next time."

He was quiet for a moment then he said, "I thought you said you were staying."

I reached up and kissed his cheek again to let him know by gones were by gones. "I am, my word is good. But that doesn't have anything to do with what you're talking about. I'm not going to make you or anyone else a target again."

"Teaghan," he said sighing and taking me into his arms carefully, like he used to back when we were first getting to know each other. "What happened wasn't your fault. Those guys that tried to run us down - and that won't happen again because I'll take outriders - got too full of themselves, pushed the envelope, whatever you want to call it. Not even their own are happy with them. The other men that came to the farm were probably just out more for revenge that their buddies got busted and decided to combine it with what they considered a bit of fun and getting what they thought they were entitled to faster than their bosses are giving it to them. It's not like that everywhere. It wasn't like that at the strip center was it?"

I patted his shoulder then pushed him back so I could finish what I was doing. It was also to show him I didn't need to be babied the way he had before. "There is more of it going around than you think there is. That Hattie was an exception, not the rule, as far as females go from what I saw. And she has men making the candies not women."

"How the hell ... never mind, did you peek in her back room?"

"No, that's not something I would do no matter what I was looking for. She has this young man doing the clean up. He was admiring her way with you, saying she was the best. I told him that you were better. Then I asked if she was his sister and got an earful ... how Hattie was great, how he just cleaned up the place, how Hattie was great, how there were guys in the back that made the stuff, how Hattie was great ... you get the picture."

He didn't apparently because he got stuck on something else. "What were you doing talking to a man ... I didn't see one in the place ... or was it that gorilla she had for security. Was he outside?"

I looked at him and nearly laughed but didn't. Instead I shook my head. "Don't growl. You probably saw him and did't think much of him ... he was closer to my age ... draft bait."

"Oh, a boy ... I thought you said a man." He said it with such relief all I could do was shake my head again.

"Don't start that stuff just to make it seem ... "

He wasn't listening. "What the hell Teaghan? You shouldn't have been talking to any guy ... boy or man. You were there with me."

Then I did laugh. "You remind me of Jeremiah when he would get all illogical for some reason."

Indignant he squawked, "I don't know what you are talking about."

"Yes you do, you just don't want to admit it," I said with a smile to take some of the sting out. "First you tell me that it isn't like town every where else. Then you get a little crazy because I talk to some guy for maybe sixty seconds and act like I put myself in some kind of danger. Which is it Sloan? Are guys donkey butts or are they not?"

Sloan sighed. "We're all asses to one degree or the other just like women are all bit... HEY! That's a sore spot. Watch where you're poking. You're close to proving my point by the way."

I was feeling a little charitable so I gave him the point and stopped poking at him when he was down. "Fine. If you had simply told me if Dan had heard anything neither one of us would have gotten off topic."

He grumbled but let me boss him into straddling the chair backwards so I could put some liniment on his back. He relaxed and before I had to ask again he sighed and said, "People were quiet about it but it was noticeable if you looked for it ... listened for it. There was talk about certain people not being around. Some were those guys that chased us over the county line, some were those that showed up to harass us that night. A few tried to sound Dan out but he basically just said he didn't know who all were the ones that were arrested and he wasn't about to start guessing and as for the rest of them a man was permitted to have a little too much fun on Friday nights and that the resulting hangover was between him and whoever he was having fun with."

I rolled my eyes even thought he couldn't see. "I bet that got a couple of goobers laughing."

"You know, for a woman that doesn't have that much experience you sure do have strong opinions on men."

"It doesn't have anything to do with which sex ... 'cause there's goobers of both flavors. All I have to do is read a history book - a real one and not that trash they are using at the school - and it will prove my point."

I had him get up on the bed so that he could relax more and after a moment he turned his head with a groan and asked, "God that feels good. Now tell me what you saw at the strip center that bothered you. And before you blow me off because I can see it in your face, I'll have you know I'm just as interested in the truth as you are."

After momentarily stumping me by using my words against me I told him, "You're a man and might not have noticed, especially if it has been a gradual change, but I can remember back when Hannah still worked in town and saw right off things weren't the same."

"For instance?"

"No women working in the stores. None. No females running the registers. None behind the make up counter. None handling the women's changing rooms. Not a single one. Except for that Hattie ... and even in her back room where they were making the candy it was men."

Sloan took a deep breath like men sometimes do when they get a deep thought suddenly come up in their head.

"Then there were the shoppers themselves. I didn't see any kids. And to be honest I was probably the youngest female there. I know school was in but you'd figure to see babies or kids too young to be in school ... but there wasn't a single one. Not that there were that many women shopping. Those that were there were there in clumps of at least three or four older women or they were tied to the side of a man and not saying too much."

"Women always travel in flocks. It's your nature."

"You want me to poke you again?" He mumbled something rude and racy into the pillow that I'm not repeating. I told him, "And men all have one track minds. Seriously, you didn't notice any of that?"

"Teaghan times are different. The war may be over, the pandemic too, but the aftermath is still being felt. It's dangerous out there."

"Why? Because men don't have any self control or because women cause men to lose their self control?"

Sloan opened his mouth on a joke then slowly closed it. "Damn."

"I'm not saying everyone is going all Sharia and stuff like some people did during the wars but I can see that there is a second Victorian Era developing ... or something even worse ... and things are just as hypocritical now as they were then. Women had to have escorts or they were in danger of being considered no better than they should be, getting bad reputations, and being taken advantage of and no one really caring because they thought they got what they deserved. Even the clothes the women wore and what was available for sell seemed the same ... long gypsy skirts, unfitted extra modest blouses, lots of scarves and hats to cover the hair. The colors of what was available actually reminded me of the clothes I had to wear for Mennonite school. But all of the stuff for underneath was lacy, frilly, and such ... the kind of things that men seem to like and women wear no matter how uncomfortable."

"The things I gave you are uncomfortable?"

"Stay on topic Sloan."

"It's not off topic," he said gingerly rolling over and putting my hands on his chest. "I want to know. Do you wear things just because you think I like them? Maybe because I make you?"

"You don't make me. But ... well would you wear stuff like that, made of that type of material under your clothes?"

"I'm not a woman."

"Doesn't matter."

He sighed. "Then don't wear it."

"I've gotten used to it. It just isn't always ... practical. And I'm always afraid of messing it up. And trying to make sure it doesn't show 'cause I'd die if anyone else knew I was wearing it and I am serious about that."

He started to get "the look" then grimaced. "I'm not starting something I can't finish. Just tell me what else you saw."

Trying to explain by finding just the right word I said, "I was ... superfluous."

"You were what?!" he asked with half a chuckle.

"Superfluous. Only there like an accessory but not really necessary. The only person in any of the stores that paid attention to me was that Hattie and she really didn't want to because she assumed it was a waste of time. In every store when they asked 'may I help you' they were talking to you. All of them. All I did was stand back and watch."

"You weren't shopping. Salespeople would notice that."

"No ... salespeople would try and get me interested in parting with my money ... unless it was already a proven habit that only the men are the customers and women aren't. Even the women that went around in groups had to wait for help over a man that was looking for the same service. I'm not sure people even notice what they're doing anymore because the women that had to wait didn't make any kind of comment like they once would have; like how bad the service was or about going to a different store or something like that. They just waited like they didn't think they'd get treated any differently at any place else either."

He'd closed his eyes and was very quiet, I thought he'd fallen asleep but when I went to move he grabbed my waist. "I didn't see it ... but you're right. Damn. I just assumed that because there were so fewer women since the pandemic that the imbalance in the stores was a result of that."

"Historically when there are fewer women, women actually become more powerful ... a kind of rude supply and demand issue. But I'm not seeing any powerful women ... unless that Hattie is an example of one."

Absentmindedly Sloan muttered while he fiddled around doing things he tended to do, "Forget about her. The only thing she has going for her is her assets, and I'm not talking about her bank account. She's stuck on the idea of how she perceives her business and not on making sure she still has customers. She's pricing herself out of the market. And I'm damn mad she told me she was out of lemon drops when you said there were some behind the counter. I'm gonna get you some but not from her. She can go bankrupt with my blessing. Should have told Dan to look for some at the market while he was there."

"You don't need to do that."

He tugged letting me know he wanted me to lie down beside him. "And you don't have to do half the things you do ... but you do them anyway." He was silent for a moment before saying curiously, "I wonder what you are going to look like when you start to show and if it is going to get in the way."

I never got to answer as his imagination starting getting busy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chapter 27

"She said what?!"

It was Saturday afternoon, two days after the attack, and Dan was in the office reporting the numbers from Market Day. It was the first day that Sloan could get around faster than a snail but it still was decided it wasn't a good idea for him to show his face. The story was that a cross beam gave way and he fell in the tobacco barn and was mostly cussing the delay in other work he had to do.

Sloan had looked so shocked after I told him I was late that he hadn't said a word for thirty minutes and when I got up and got him a pain pill he dry swallowed it and went off to sleep. The subject hadn't come up since.

"Well?" Dan demanded.

"Well what?"

"How sure is she? Damn man, this changes a few things ... more than a few things. For one we're going to need to leave a bigger guard here and maybe we should think about ... I don't know ... hiring someone just to look after her. How's she feeling about it?"

"I don't know."

There was a short silence. "What do you mean you don't know?"

"I mean she hasn't said another word about it since she dropped the bombshell."

Another short silence then Dan asked suspiciously, "Have you said anything?"

"What am I supposed to say?!"

Completely frustrated Dan snapped, "You know something? I'm beginning to think that all those successes you had with women before were nothing but blind luck." Then there was a thud.

"Ow!" Sloan yelped. "What the hell was that for?!"

Deadpan Dan said, "For being stupid and because I felt like it."

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to ask her how she's feeling."



"I ... I don't want her to ... think ..."

"Think what? That you are a complete ass? Too late Boss."

Sloan said, "Sit down Dan. Just ... just sit down. I'l talk to her. My gawd what a mess."

I pushed the door to the office open and brought in the tea tray. Dan jumped up to take it from my hands and I rolled my eyes. "Don't start. Sloan is already pea green sick, don't make it worse. I'm gonna have my hands full as it is."

Dan grinned. "So the news is true? And he hasn't managed to run you off?"

Seriously I said, "I signed those papers of my own free will. I agreed to the bargain. I don't break my word."

I left the room and went back to taking the things that Dan had brought back from the market down into the basement pantry area. I heard a grunt and looked up to find Sloan trying to make his way down the stairs. I told him, "If you think it is hard coming down you'll hate trying to go back up."

"Then come up. We need to ta ..." He stopped with a grimace. "Come talk to me Teaghan. I'm ... I'm ..."

I wiped my hands on my apron and jogged up the stairs without really thinking. Sloan snapped, "Wait! Stop! Don't you know how to walk?! Dammit, these stairs are a hazard. I'll have Dan look ..."

I stopped on the landing and said, "Women for generations have not had a problem with those stairs."

"I don't care about what generations of women have had problems with or haven't. I have problems with them. I've already watched you fall once and ... gawd."

We stepped back into the kitchen and I told him, "Sit down and I'll get you a slice of pie."

"Pie? Pie?! Is that all you can think of?!"

"Relax. I'm not trying to sweet talk you. I know you don't like it."

"Why the hell would you think that?"

"You told me so yourself, the first time we met."

Sloan thought back then shook his head. "Well I wouldn't mind being sweet talked right now. My gawd."

"You've said that already. Several times in fact."

Gently rubbing his still sore and knotty head he asked, "How sure are you?"

"That I'm pregnant?" Sloan winced at my blunt words. "I'm a week late and ... if you must know ... I'm normally regular as clockwork. All the women in my family are. And it just seems ... possible."

"Possible? Not probable?"

I put a slice of pie in front of him and he looked at it grudgingly before starting to fork it into his mouth.

"Can I ask you something?"

He grumped, "Hmrph."

"I'll take that as a yes. Why do you consider me being pregnant so ... distasteful?"

A cherry decided to take a detour down his windpipe. When I was sure he wasn't going to choke to death I handed him a glass of milk. He griped, "You say the damnedest things at the damnedest times."

"But it's obvious. You think ..."

"Don't tell me what's obvious and don't tell me what I think woman. Right now I don't know what I think ... but I know you being pregnant isn't ... my gawd, the things you must think of me to even say that. Teaghan I'm just ... floored. I'm thirty years old. I've never even come close to living like a monk and I can say with all honesty that this is the first time this subject has ever come up for me."

"You sure? If the woman didn't tell you how would you know?"

"I am not discussing this with you. You're my wife." For some reason that struck me as hilariously funny and I fought the giggles. Not the least happy he said, "Enough already." A moment ticked by then he asked, "Seriously Teaghan, how sure are you?"

"I've already told you. As for sure beyond a reasonable doubt I guess if I miss a second time or I start puking my guts up in the morning."

More than mildly frustrated he snapped, "You're awful damn calm."

"Only on the outside. Inside I'm ready for a straight jacket. But if I am then I am and I just have to accept it. I honestly didn't think much about the possibility ... but it sounds like you didn't either. We've just been doing it but as Gram would say, we gotta sleep in the bed we make." I debated with myself for a moment then told him, "I almost left you know. I could be out on the road someplace discovering I was pregnant; trying to figure out what to do."

Dead silence. Then carefully he asked, "Why did you stay if you were so close to leaving?"

Just as carefully I answered, "My promise. My honor. Because somehow despite how much I wanted to hit you in the head with something the idea of someone else doing it wasn't at all acceptable. Because I know the boys need you and the farm needs you and I want to help with that ... and now this baby is going to need you, or at least has the right to know you. That can't happen if I run away. And ..."


"And now I'm mad. I'm not going to let them run me off. What they're doing is wrong. I may not be able to stop them but that doesn't mean that I have to play along either. Maybe we both got married of our own free will but I feel like you ... were manipulated or something, for some reason I haven't figured out yet. Mr. Burdock ... I don't know ... I just don't think he should get away with the things he's had a hand in. And I want to find out if the mob really killed my family or ... or if it was made to look like that."

Sloan put his fork down and said as serious as I had ever heard him speak, "Teaghan, they're some dangerous people involved in this with some fanatical ideas and deep-pocketed backers. I don't think even Burdock realizes how dangerous some of the people he is dealing with are. Even if you aren't pregnant I don't want you anywhere near them; no woman should be ... kids either for that matter. They're sadistic and perverted bastards and have little to no empathy for anyone, not even each other."

Realizing he wasn't in the mood to negotiate that point I asked, "What's your stake in this?"

"What do you mean?"

"Don't play innocent, it doesn't become you. You ... you and Dan both ... seem to know a lot about things."

He wiped his mouth with a napkin and asked, "You ever thought you might not like the answer you get to a question?"

"Whether I like something or not doesn't have a thing to do with it. I want the truth. I'm tired of living a lie."

He looked at me and then turned to look out the window and sigh in frustration. "Teaghan, some things are just best left buried in the past."

"Does this have to do with your wild days?"

"In part. And no, I'm not going to give you details even if it sinks me deeper in hot water with you. Let's just leave it at that I didn't always deal with the most upstanding of the citizenry and that at the time I didn't think too much further than how heavy my cash box was getting. I've put that behind me and I want it to stay there. And saying that my answer to your question still won't sound sweet." He looked at me then back out the window. "I wanted this farm. Not a farm but this one. It was on a list handed to me by Burdock. I saw the description and I wanted it. It was exactly what I had been looking for for about three years. Burdock said the catch was that if I wanted this particular farm I would need to marry you ... that it was a package deal. I'm sorry Teaghan but the truth is ... I ... I wanted the farm. You just sort of came with it."

I tried not to let that hurt. I was actually more successful at it than I expected. I turned to him and nodded. "I suspected as much even back then. Don't worry about it. It is what it is."

"It really doesn't bother you?"

"It's the truth isn't it? Then why should I have hysterics, especially since that's what I asked for?"

"That doesn't answer the question."

I shrugged. "Sloan, for a little while I ... I made the mistake of believing in a fantasy. We wouldn't be having this conversation if I had kept my head. I'm not going to let it happen again. Ever. For any reason. It causes too much trouble between us and with all the trouble out there," I said pointing in the general direction of the highway. "The less trouble between us the better. Assuming ... assuming you weren't just pretending when you said you didn't want me to leave. I need to know one way or the other. I'd like to say you have a lot of time to make up your mind about that but I don't have much time for you to make your mind up before I have to make some plans if you don't."

"Just because I made an ass out of myself the other night doesn't mean that I don't have my own honor. I keep my word too you know. And I never wanted you to leave in the first place ... it just sort of fell out of my mouth when my temper got the better of me."

"Well I'm releasing you from that part of the contract ... and all the rest of it too. It seems that Mr. Burdock used me as bait to get you here for some reason. That kind of thing voids an agreement if I understand the law right."

"Well I ain't voiding it so there. What about you? You were tricked too."

Knowing the truth I said, "No. No I wasn't. I knew what I was doing. I agreed to marry you because it meant staying on the farm. I sold myself to stay where I thought home was."

"Where you thought it was?"

Explaining I told him, "That night I went to say good bye to my family thinking that I would be leaving them the next day ... leaving forever. Instead I realized that no matter where I go a part of my family will always be with me. I heard my brothers' voices clear as day helping me to do what needed doing, reminding me of past lessons. Other times I've heard Dad's voice reminding me about some piece of cranky equipment or some bit of farm lore to help me figure something out. It's my female relatives I hear as I preserve the harvest and try and figure out how to deal with all of your ornery men. I don't care if you laugh at me or think I'm crazy. I know what I heard and what I feel. And that's not going to stop if I leave the farm. That's the kind of thing that I'll take to my own grave wherever that winds up being."

We were quiet for a long time. When he finished I picked up his plate to take it to the sink and wash but he stopped me with a hand. "What about now? Are you here because of the farm or ... or the ... my gawd I can't believe I 'm saying this ... because of the baby? Or ... or is there ... maybe ... something in there for me?"

I looked at him and realized something. Something that wasn't a fantasy. I had a choice. I could make this hard or I could make it easier on both of us. I chose without really even thinking about it. I reached over and kissed his cheek surprising us both then I told him, "You're not exactly the kind of person that is forgettable. No matter what happens or where I wind up, a bit of you will always be with me too."


Chapter 26

Calling myself every kind of fool I knew of I told him, "I was at the graveyard."

Raising bleery eyes to look at me Sloan said, "What?"

"I said I was at the graveyard. I was saying goodbye to my family. Now that you have your answer lets get you ..."

He refused to release my hand. "Don't."

Past beginning to lose patience with both the situation and him I said, "Sloan you need to rest."

Proving he was more like my brothers - in stubbornness at least - than I was comfortable with him being he responded, "I will after I'm sure that if I lay down you'll be here when I wake up."

Exasperated I huffed and asked, "What?"

In a low voice he mumbled, "Don't go."

Surprised, I wasn't sure what to say. "Sloan ..."

He shook his head even though it obviously hurt. "It's a hell of a thing for a man to say, to have to admit Teaghan, but ... I don't want you to leave. OK?"

I sighed too weary to deal what I was going to have to deal with. "Sloan don't. We both know this is the only way to safeguard the farm and everything else."

Not liking my words Sloan said, "Now just wait a minute. I don't know what is going on in your head but I can keep you safe. You just have to cooperate."

I stopped fighting and just let him hold my hand. "I haven't been safe since the moment of my birth and my grandmother said, 'It's a girl.' And there's not a thing you can do about that. I finally figured things out."

Cautiously Sloan looked at me before asking, "Er ... what do you think you have figured out?"

"I'll tell you if you'll go back to bed."

His eyebrows came down and his mouth got a pinched look to it. "That's blackmail."

I shrugged. "Your the one that put the opportunity in my lap. Plus it's the best bargain you are going to get."

He was panting in exhaustion and pain by the time I got him back to bed and propped up on pillows but he still refused a pain pill. "I've fulfilled my part of the bargain, now you."

I sat in the chair and ordered my thoughts. "This goes back to the Second Civil War. I know it's history and I know you know it but it helps me to put order to my conclusions." At his nod I started. "The CW2 was short, brutal, and for everything it corrected, it fractured a couple more. For the sake of peace there were compromises made on both sides. One side saw gains politically and socially as most of the long term programs of financial support through taxation and redistribution were abolished. The other side saw victories in that it had converted a lot of people to their way of life. For about ten years - years spent climbing up out of the economic quagmire the country had fallen into - a little improvement was made in most people's lives every year ... even those who thought getting rid of the entitlements would be a bad thing found out that it actually normalized the economy and produced opportunities for people that hadn't been seen since before the turn of the previous century. Then the war. Our country would have stayed out of it save for the fact that the disenfranchised from CW2 had infiltrated the government and been waiting on their chance to return themselves to the power they had before and even more. Didn't work out quite as expected because their connections to the warmongers overseas was discovered before some of their plans could come to fruition and and that evidence was broadcast far and wide. We almost had another civil war as people took sides. Most of the problems went underground and areas were basically off limits to anyone that wasn't already stuck there. Eventually every got so bad that everyone turned their full focus on the war. Then the cease fire, the pandemic, then the abrupt restart of the war, and then the final cease fire. Things were a royal mess."

Sloan looked at me through slightly narrowed eyes, not in anger but in surprised concentration I think. Like changing his view of me was giving him a headache.

"The pandemic had done a lot of damage ... it had broken a lot of families, destroyed social and ecological balance in many places. I'm not going to go over all that because all I'm concerned about right now is how I got to be where I am. See, nature abhors a vacuum. That's a cliche but it is also true. Into this vacuum of grief and everything else first came the wolves in sheep clothing. They called themselves a relief and aide group. What they should have said was that they were social engineers trained in the way of gorilla warfare. They exploited people's weaknesses and if they didn't have weaknesses the led them down a path that made them weak. They pulled a lot of strings, guided things so that our community could be plucked like a ripe plum. From this point forward I'm guessing but I think I'm right. See what these soldiers of social engineering didn't realize was that there were people that had figured out what they were doing almost as soon as they arrived. They probably put the weak in their sights and manipulated the strong to stay on the sidelines."

Trying to see it in my head I said, "They got a lot of followers. Even weak people are strong when they run around in numbers. Before the pandemic it got to where no woman could be out in public without a body guard. Dad decided we were to come home and stay there. It was the only way he and my brothers could safeguard us. After the pandemic it was even worse and Dad and my brothers doubled down. We didn't live in town so I didn't see what was going on from a window ... only through what they let me know. You notice we don't have an entertainment unit. The subscriptions were too expensive was always his excuse. After a while I just didn't notice what was missing. I didn't notice what he wasn't telling me or how much they were filtering what I heard. It wasn't a bad life because they went out of their way to make sure it wasn't. My brothers were ten years older than me. How many grown men do you know that would have played with their much younger sister the way my brothers played with me? We played ... but they were learning games. I learned to hunt, fish, track, shoot." I shrugged. "I loved it. I loved the attention. And I loved when I was able to beat them at their own games. Dad encouraged all of it. He was so grief stricken but he still tried to stay connected to things for my sake but he was relieved my brothers had taken over some of what he would have had to do. Then came that day. I'm still only guessing but I don't think it was supposed to go down the way it did. My best guess is that something happened at the Market that tipped things out of control but I don't know."

Sloan said, "There was a fight. One of the bigwigs of those you are calling the social engineers got shot. Then a woman that had been speaking out against what was going on got shot. And from what I understand things happened so fast after that point things were almost a done deal before you could even take a breath."

I nodded. "I thought it had to be something ... something that caused people to take sides. Two murders in a really short span of time would certainly do it. But it must have been part of a plan as well. Especially shutting up that woman. I've been thinking about all of the families that lost members in the first massacre. They all had women in them ... every single one. Daughters, sisters, wives, mothers ... but they were all young enough, no gramma's in the bunch." I looked at him and asked, "Am I getting close?"

All Sloan did was sigh. "Thought so. Now this next part is also guess work. The people that had been standing back, waiting, biding their time, suddenly had to act or perhaps never be able to act again. Maybe the time line got pushed up or not, but whatever it was they rode in like the good guys, saved the day, destroyed the enemy ... and filled the vacuum left behind." I rubbed the place between my eyebrows to try and relieve some of the pressure that was building. "They moved too fast or before they had wanted to ... they had managed to get supporters through out the county but only Butler Brook is completely under their control. The sheriff's department is theirs right?" Sloan nodded. "But the Highway Patrol isn't so that must mean it isn't statewide." Sloan nodded again. "So they're a big fish in a little tank ... for now."

I chewed on the inside of my cheek. "More guessing on my part but I think the school is for indoctrination ... get 'em young and teach them something that sounds like the truth but isn't. Because this whole situation isn't a short term venture if what I'm thinking is true; these people are after a way of life. Most of them probably actually believe that crap in the history book they're using up at the school ... and the kids they're telling it to will for sure. They might not share the religion of those we fought in the war but they're infected by the same type of superiority complex. The pandemic simply gave them scope to explore just how warped they can be."

Sloan asked, "You a women's libber?"

"If you can ask that you never have bothered to try to get to know me at all."

Quickly Sloan said, "Easy there Teaghan ... I was just trying to lighten things up a bit."

To let him know what I thought about that I curled my lip. "Well don't. There is nothing light about this. Now that I see it I can't believe that I didn't see it before. Part of me understands why Dad did what he did though it is easier to understand why Jeremiah and Jason would do it the way they did. But another part of me ..." I shook my head. "I'll never understand it. Loving someone and protecting them from harm doesn't have to mean keeping them ignorant and caged up."

"You were their baby, the youngest. They didn't want to scare you."

Irritated I told him, "Maybe scaring is what I needed. Maybe it is what makes us stronger if we let it. It's not like my brothers didn't have it in them to scare me because they used to do it plenty just in jokes alone. Maybe if so many of us hadn't been 'protected' to the point of being made all but useless there would have been more soldiers to fight this war they've brought down on us."

"Don't exaggerate. It's not a war."

"Not yet ... but it will get there. Or are you saying you agree with what they are trying to do ... subjugate and use women for whatever purpose they have for us. To serve, to wait on men, to be seen and not heard, to be turned into baby making machines."

"Where did that come from?"

Then I gave it to him with both barrels because I was full up with thinking about it all by myself. "Check your calendar. I'm a week late. And if you find the responsibilities you've got now hard to handle you just wait until I'm big and fat and unable to get around like I need to. You'll feel like your head has been turned inside out."


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chapter 25

"A septic tank?"

"You got a better idea?" I asked Sloan.

"No, as it happens I don't. And at least this one," he said pointing to the open cap of the tank at the old Turner home site. "Won't contaminate the farm's water supply."

With some satisfaction I agreed and told him, "As they decompose they'll fertilize your hemp crop. Some justice in that."

The bodies of the enemy nearly filled the tank. Dan came up carrying a bag of lime and a bag of quickcrete. "Lime will go in before the cap. Then we'll smooth this over and fill in around the inspector's seal. You'll never be able to tell the seal was broken since it was set such a short time ago."

Sloan asked him, 'Everything else finished?"

"Yeah. Denton and Clayton got every vehicle down to parts faster than I thought possible. Guess the rumor about them having been part of a car stripping operation as kids has some truth to it. Josiah just called and said the boys are pretty upset. Maybe you two better get back and let us finish up here. Only have fifteen minutes left ... tops."

Sloan refused to ride in the bucket of the tractor and asked me to walk back with him. I shrugged. My adrenaline was gone and I was exhausted just like everyone else. I'd had about all I could take. Leaving the farm, all the changes I saw all over, the men, the strip center, Sloan, finding out just how big an idiot I'd been, some personal revelations ... I was ready to walk off and leave him and let him limp back to the farm by himself if he started anything.

The sound of the tractor faded leaving the normal night sounds. We just walked, not talking, then right before we turned the bend in the road so that we could see the house in the first pink rays of morning he stopped. I walked a few more steps then stopped as well.

"Get a stone in your shoe?" I asked.

"No." He shook his head. "Where were you?"

I wasn't going to play stupid so I admitted, "Getting some air. Thinking."

"I ... I was worried. You left the buzzer on the table. I couldn't find you in the house at all then that crowd showed up."

"The buzzer wouldn't have worked where I was."

"Where was that?"

"A place that I could think ..."

He sighed then asked with quiet intensity, "Were ... were you with someone?"

"Not the way you're thinking. But thanks for that on top of everything else."

"Teaghan ..."

"Anything else?"

When he didn't answer I turned and at first I thought he was fooling but as he fell bonelessly forward I got to him barely in time to keep his face from digging up gravel. "Sloan?"

I checked and found several lumps on his head and face in addition to the other injuries I'd seen earlier. I looked behind me and saw the headlights of Dan's truck and flagged him down.

Dan stopped, took one look, then asked, "Did you have to knock him up side the head to get him to see sense?"

"If that had been my intent I would have let him hit the ground."

"Too bad."


"Knock it off Syd. You too Silas. My head is killing me."

"Aunt Teaghan says you aren't allowed up and said we have to make sure you don't."

"Since when do you take orders from her over me?!"

"Since she promised us a watermelon pie if we watched you so she could bring the laundry in."

Sloan squawked in outrage but I smiled in grim satisfaction as I walked in. "Good job boys."

"Where's my clothes?!" I indicated to the boys they should escape while there was opportunity and they scampered with wicked grins while Sloan shouted, "Dan!!!"

I told Sloan, "Forget it. He's outside and has instructions not to rescue you no matter how much noise you make."

"I don't need rescuing. I need my pants."

"No you don't. In fact you don't need what bit you do have on either. Come on and take a bath so I can finish cleaning and patching you up."

More squawking and a copper-headed tantrum followed until he finally ran out of steam midway through. Getting him out of the tub was not fun for either one of us. I dried him off and got him back in bed. "Teaghan ..."

"I'm going to get you some broth and you need to eat it so you can take something for the pain. Then you need to rest and let it work."

"Teaghan we need to talk."


I'd caught him off guard again. "Excuse me?" He acted like he'd never heard the world before.

"I said no. Until I'm sure I can believe what you're saying talking is a waste of my time and yours."

He made the mistake of trying to cross his arms but wasn't able to, even without the gesture he still was able to sound mulish as only a man can when he said, "Well I'm not eating until we talk."

"Then you aren't getting anything for the pain." I turned and left the room.

Some creative cussing followed me out. It got even louder when he relized I had taken everything out of the room but the thin sheet on the bed. Dan was in the kitchen trying not to laugh. "Being a little hard on him aren't you? You'll pay for it later."

I shrugged. "He can't have the pain pill until he eats otherwise he'll just puke it up. Do Charlie and Duncan need anything?"

Dan snorted. "Even if they did they won't come near the house. The Boss' temper is legendary."

"Compared to my brothers he's a cake walk so far. I expect he'll get worse before he gets better however. Anything spotted on the highway yet?"

"No General."

I gave him the same look I had given the boys not too much earlier when they had picked up the new nickname some of them had started to call me. "Knock it off."

Dan snickered again. "Sloan is gonna have a blast with this facet of your personality. Where you been hiding it?"

"No where. It's always been here. I told you Dad and my brothers wanted me to be able to defend myself. Now ..."

"Now ... I want my damn question answered."

I turned to find Sloan leaning hard on the archway that leads into the kitchen barely holding up the sheet he had wrapped around him. The patches of skin showing where the sheet didn't cover were turning dark blotches of red and purple. He really had been pummeled.

Giving him a stern look I said, "I don't know whether Jeremiah and Jason would have killed you or thought you were a long, lost brother. All three of you certainly remind me of the same portion of a donkey's anatomy. Are you ready to eat?"

"I want ..." He tried to step forward in righteous indignation but tripped over the trailing end of the sheet and nearly fell. I waited to see if he could catch himself and he did, only I saw a look of real pain slice across his face. "Do you want to puncture a lung? Because if you break those cracked ribs that is what is likely to happen if you keep this up."

"Don't care," he rasped out.

"Well you better start caring. You've got responsibilities. What do you think would happen to the boys if you were gone from their lives? There's men outside that depend on you for their livelihood. And the farm. Whose hands would it fall into next? You don't have the luxury of playing this kind of game anymore. You're too valuable a player in too many people's lives."

Dan skedaddled and Sloan snarled after him, "Traitor!"

"He's not a traitor," I told him. "He's your friend. He's got a couple of bolts loose but it appears he means well."

I stood there just looking at him, waiting for him to decide what he was going to do next. He grumbled something unintelligible beneath his breath then made his way over to the table and sat down. I brought him a mug of broth and then tied the sheet so he could use both hands without showing the world everything he was born with.

When the first one was gone I came back to refill the mug but he waved me off. "Just sit with me."

I sat and continued to pair up socks.

"Teaghan ... are you ok?"


"OK, dammit. Are you ok? Did anyone hurt you? Touch you?"

"I'm fine. You want a pain pi ..."

"He grabbed the hand I had used to push away from the table with fast than I had ever considered he could move. "I don't want a damn pill. I just want ... need ... you to ..."

Another spasm of pain crossed his face. I asked, "What hurts?"

"Everything. Mostly my pride."

Understanding better than he knew I told him, "You lived. Tell your pride that and then tell it to shut up."

"Easy for you to say."

I shook my head. "Not as easy as you seem to think but I'm walking proof that it can be done. C'mon, let's get you back to bed. A little rest will do you good."

Grumbling unhappily he said, "All I'll get is stiff."

Agreeing with his prediction I told him, "Likely. But that's generally the first step on the road to recovery."

"What's the first step down the road to me recovering my place in your good graces?"

I was not in the mood for his sweet talking. I stood up but suddenly his grip on my hand was strong and painful. I told him, "Let go."

He refused. "No. I can't chase you, you'll get away."

Beginning to get fed up I snapped, "Let go!"

"No." He laid his head on his hands that were hold my hand. "I don't know any other way to be."

Words. That's all they were on the surface. Be they were also an admission of sorts.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chapter 24

After Sloan and Dan went outside I decided that I didn't want them to know that I'd been eavesdropping so I left the basement quickly and made my way up to the attic. I didn't turn the light on but sat on the trunk and tried to calm my swirling thoughts. I was still sitting there an hour later when the buzzer went off. I took it out of my pocket and almost decided to ignore it but then I punched in the code for my location before I could give into petty temptation. I'd learned growing up that that kind of behavior only had a limited and short term satisfaction.

A few minutes later there were boots on the stairs. "Where the hell have you been?"

"I'm right here where I told you I was when you buzzed."

"Sitting in the dark?"

"Sitting in the dark."

"Doing what for gawd's sake?"

"Thinking. There's something going on. Something that has been going on since before my Dad and brothers were killed. I'm puzzling out what it is on my own since too many people have now proven themselves to not trust me with the truth ... apparently even my own family."

"Don't give me tha ..." He stopped when what I said registered. He had to backtrack because I obviously hadn't said what he had expected me to say. "Er ... It isn't a matter of trust Teaghan."

"Well at least you're honest enough to admit that I'm right. But you're wrong about the rest of it ... it is very much a matter of trust."

"Now Sweetheart ..."

Letting some of my irritation show I asked, "Is that what you fall back on every time? Trying to sweet talk me ... and everyone else too? I'm not a customer Sloan. I realize now you don't think much of my intelligence but doesn't it ever get tiring trying the same old thing that never gets you anywhere? Why don't you try something new ... like giving me a little credit. It doesn't have to be much ... but just a little might be all it takes."

Obviously affronted as my words Sloan said, "Well you're in a hell of a mood."

"Yes I am. And unless ..." I bit down to shut myself up.

"Unless what?" he snapped obviously hearing the run up to a threat.

I shook my head. "Nothing. I don't want to go there. It's bad enough I've got to live in this cage, I don't need to make things worse for myself by acting in a way that I'll be ashamed of later."

"A cage is it? You're free to leave any ... time ... you ... choose."

I looked at him in the dark. I sighed. "Your copper hair is showing. But I suppose if that's the way you feel I don't have much choice. It's not like I've ever had much choice. Not really."

"No you don't," he snarled and with no doubt as to what he meant.

He slammed down the stairs leaving me pretty numb and heartsick. I had known that my connection to the farm was pretty much gone in all but the most practical sense. I worked, cooked, kept house, played wife ... but whatever that tangible something was that had connected me to it seemed to have disappeared. And the artificial connection that had been my marriage seemed to have disintegrated as well if it had ever been there to begin with. I got up off the trunk and walked down the stairs.

I knew taking off in the middle of the night was a childish thing to do and would get me nowhere but I definitely needed some air; and I needed neutral ground where I could think, plan my next move. And then I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I put on my holster and grabbed my jacket because the nights were turning cool. I was putting some extra ammo in my pocket and then I felt the buzzer. I took it out and looked at it and tossed it onto the table. Apparently he didn't care so neither did I. I grabbed a canteen, filled it, then eased quietly outside. I had no idea why I had to go there so badly all of a sudden but I just knew I did.


I know the lay of the land on the farm like I know my own hands and feet. I could follow my brothers and they never even knew I was there, even after they'd grown in experience and training from being in the military. If the land was an animate and living object then I think it liked me. I always felt safe, somehow grounded, protected. But I was losing that. I sensed a change. It had started the day the mob had come to the farm. Something foreign had invaded and started an infection. Having managed to string a few things together, I gave into a brief moment of pity wondering if I was the infection.

Then I shook myself. I was being ridiculous. I kept walking to burn off some of the pity party and to think. On the other hand I didn't just plow through the trail I was following. It took me about a half hour but finally I reached my destination. The three newest gravemarkers clustered around the others that were also new but starting to show some weathering. I cleaned up the family cemetery for about an hour until my fatigue and the dark finally breeched the dam I had put in place to hold back my emotions. I gave into a few tears but that's all I allowed myself. I knew it was time to head back and I decided to do so on a different trail. I also thought I had finished figuring out what was going on. I was both shocked at my conclusions and shocked that I hadn't come to the conclusions earlier. The final connections had come as I thought about who all had died with my family that day, and who had done the killing, and who ultimately had been left in power afterwards.

I was cutting across the creek when I heard the engines. I wasn't much further along when I heard the nasty laughter and the shouts. Suddenly it was like my brothers were by my side. "Quiet Tea and stay low. Don't walk in the moonbeams Dodo Bird, you'll make yourself a target. Be as quiet as you can ... quieter. Be like Watchit and glide ... don't clomp along the trail." I crawled along the fence line until I could see what was going on.

"Send out the woman! You've had her long enough! Time for the rest of us to have a turn!!" Lot's of nasty laugher followed.

Someone else shouted, "Give us the woman or we'll take the boys ... don't make no difference!"

There were other nasty things said but they amounted to the same thing. I wondered where Sloan's men were because there was no way I was going to be able to deal with this on my own. With all eyes focused on what was happening around the house it was easy for me to make it over to the barn.

There were men guarding it and I could see cans of fuel sitting near the door in the headlights of a parked jeep. Jason's voice whispered, "They didn't set a guard. They were all asleep inside to stay out of the weather. It was too easy for these men ... but maybe that'll work in your favor. They are too confident. Look at the mistake they've already made ruining their night vision with those highbeams."

Jeremiah's voice snickered, "Remember how you and ol' Boone would sneak up on us no matter how we tried to hide to have a smoke? Figured no one could tell in a tobacco farm but you, Dodo Bird, you caught us every time even with us watching the road and the barn door."

I didn't smile but I nodded. Boone and I had been good at getting into and out of places. I guess it is true when you get to Heaven you get all of your questions answered because while they'd been on earth the boys never had learned how I did it. I went to the back corner and belly crawled to the place that Boone had dug out. It wasn't quite as easy to get to as it used to be but I got an eye full nonetheless. Two men were inside the barn with rifles that looked similar to what my brothers had brought home from the war and they were aimed at the men who all sat with their hands on their heads. I was trying to decide what to do when I heard the men told to get outside, that they were gonna take the house.

I heard Jason and Jeremiah both say, "It's now or never Tea. Get the men out, they're gonna light the barn the same time they try to take the house. The shutters will stop them for a time but you need to get moving."

I popped up and hissed, "Josiah!"

He had gotten used to me appearing suddenly but he still jumped a mile and so did the other men. But they got the message real quick when they heard sloshing and smelled fuel. When everyone was out I said, "Grab a tobacco stick and go whale the tar out of those men. Don't let 'em set the barn on fire, we'll lose the tobacco and we need it to cover winter expenses. When you're done come on over to the house and lend a hand."

I sped off into the night knowing I didn't have much time. I was flanked on one side by Josiah and on the other by a man called Denton. Josiah shook his head when we stopped and I tried to open my mouth. "Boss will have our heads if something happens to you so don't try and tell us nothing but what you've got for a plan."

Bluntly I said, "Kill 'em. Kill 'em all."

Denton looked shocked but Josiah just nodded. "Good idea but we ain't got a gun."

Gun fire erupted from those surrounding the house and the need for quiet no longer existed. "Hang on and I'll get you some."

Jeremiah's voice tsked, tsked in my ear. "Fools, the lot of them. You don't attack on a bright moonlit night. Idiots that big deserve to meet the Maker." I agreed and every bullet from my revolver hit its mark with a great deal of surprise and consternation from both the dying and the ones still standing.

I would have preferred had Josiah and Denton help me to put the enemy in a crossfire but they stuck to my side like annoying burrs. Then the rest of Sloan's men joined us. Not a single one of the enemy was left standing when the shooting was finished.

About half way through Sloan and Dan had come out of the house to help when they realized what was going on. As the sound of last shot faded and quiet descended on the farmyard I said, "Josiah, get the tractor and put the bucket on it. Get it over here now so we can get this cleaned up before anyone else shows up."

Sloan limped over as fast as he could and said, "Where the hell have you ..."

I rounded on him and shouted, "I have had it! We are going to have a talk about you constantly getting almost killed! Just where do you think the boys and the farm would be if something happens to you?! And look at you. You look like hamburger! I wanna know right now who did this to you!"

Sloan just stood there staring at me. I'd completely knocked him off his pins. Dan walked over and said, "He tried to give himself over when they threatened to burn the men up."

I shook my head in disgust. "Figures. Men."

I turned back to the rest of them. "Don't just stand there. Start stripping the bodies down ... weapons, ammo, clothes, all of it. Put it all in crates only label them something else like women's lingerie or pickled eight-legged hairy monsters... something, anything. Those that aren't doing that go to work on those trucks. Strip 'em down just like the men. I suspect they've already disabled the black boxes but make sure."

One of the men whistled and said, "Look lively boys, Captain is on deck. Put your backs into it and heave ho."

There were a few more comments like that from those that were former soldiers but I noticed I didn't have to say anything else as the whole of it took on what I imagine the feel of a military operation would have.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chapter 23

I was back in my overalls and carrying the dress back to the attic as fast as I could. I'd managed to go through a few things up there but I'd made the mistake in keeping a couple of what I had thought were Gram's prettier dresses out to use just in case. The dresses were still pretty in my mind but they'd have to show their prettiness while packed in cedar chips and lavender from here on out. Making a fool out of myself once was once too many.

Dressed more appropriately I continued my chores and fixed supper. The boys were both tired out from having extra play time with their cousins. They were also a little shocked to find out that there would be no school the next day and starting Monday they'd be homeschooled. Internally they warred with themselves trying to decide whether they were happy they'd never have to answer to those teachers again or upset that they wouldn't see the other boys. I planned on them staying busy enough that they wouldn't notice either one too much.

The boys headed off to bed a little early and Sloan and Dan headed to the office. Sloan still hadn't said a word to me. Of course I hadn't said a word to him either. I'm not sure it was a battle of the wills to try and get the other to bow or just both of us being hard headed and being determined to be right regardless of what the other did. Pride was wound up in there too I'm sure. I can claim I had inherited my hard headedness but that is still no excuse. Maybe if I had expressed my anger - and yes jealousy - better but I'd never felt jealous before; at least not like that. But as jealous as I was I was also angry ... and it wasn't at Sloan but at myself. I felt ten kinds of fool and not just over the way I had dressed.

None of those papers had said anything about Sloan having to have any fidelity towards me as far as sex went ... financially yes, and a few other things but not where sex was concerned. I had to be to him - which wasn't a strain regardless of what people have thought - because frankly I simply haven't considered anything else possible. I made a bargain and I intend to keep it to the bitter end. To me breaking that would not just be immoral but completely gross and disgusting.

I was angry because I had - despite swearing that I never would - built up some kind of fantasy where Sloan and I were concerned. I didn't call it love, I wasn't daydreaming enough for that. But I had thought there was something there ... something more, even if I couldn't put a name to what the more was. Yet my first time off the farm in years and all I saw was just how unlikely that was. I'd been painting a pretty picture in my head and ignoring the facts. Me who prided myself on being practical and nothing else. It wasn't Sloan admiring a woman that bothered me ... Hattie was a beautiful specimen and on top of that held similar business interests as Sloan, was someone he could talk to. It was the fact that I had allowed myself to believe in a fantasy.

As was the habit of the household I put a pitcher of tea together and took it to the office. I was turning to leave when Dan stopped me. "Teaghan, I didn't get a chance to ask but are you OK? You ... seem a little quiet. Those men ..."

"Oh that. I'm fine. It was Sloan that almost got hurt when they slammed into his side of the truck. He's a good driver and tricked them into going into that speed trap thingy the Highway Patrol has."

"How did you know about that?"

"I just figured. I've heard you and Sloan telling the men not to get in trouble and to watch out for certain places. Then I heard Sloan telling one of the Patrolmen that he'd been hoping they were there since he'd seen them in the area a couple of times. I don't know ... two and two I guess. Did I get it wrong?"

"No," he said with a smile. Then he glanced at Sloan from the corner of his eye. I guess Dan figured something was going on and was trying to figure out what. He asked me, "What's your take on what happened?"

"What do you mean my take?"

"What do you think they were after?"

"I don't know," I told him thinking he was asking a weird question. "It's not like there was anything valuable in the truck besides Sloan's wallet."


"No. I mean I guess they could have recognized his truck and thought he was carrying something. I know they were yelling something about sharing. Did you have trouble last time you went to the market?"

Dan turned full to look at Sloan who was looking at me like I'd lost my mind or something. "Well," I told him not liking being thought a fool. "How am I supposed to know? It's the only thing I can think of to account for what they were yelling. What surprised me was the way Mr. Burdock was acting. Of course maybe he was surprised they'd behave that way since they were the sons of some men he obviously knows. I know he wasn't happy that's for sure."

Sloan finally spoke, his voice cracking. "Why do you say that?"

"I guess you didn't hear but as he was walking away to get back in the car so his driver could take him wherever next, he told those two other men - the fathers of some of the young men there - that what they had been doing was ill advised ... like maybe they had already been given advice not to act like a donkey's back end ... and that he wanted a full accounting of all of the other warrants out for those men from the places outside the county. That was what he seemed surprised at the most ... that they'd gotten in enough trouble in other places to have warrants ... and what he seemed most angry about ... the not knowing about that part of it." I shook my head. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say? It just seemed ... off ... in a way I'm not sure how to explain."

They both just kind of looked at me so I shrugged and told them if they needed anything to push the buzzer ... a handy dandy little set up that Sloan rigged up because he got tired of bellowing or hunting all over when he was looking for me. Sloan said it was like an old time pager and worked through the comm waves. He could push some numbers on his phone which had full comm capabilities, and I had this little key pad that would buzz when it got the signal. I could then push a number on the key pad and it would let him know where I was. And where I was going to be was the basement putting away the stuff that Sloan had bought that day.

I hadn't been down there long when I heard Dan and Sloan up in the kitchen and they were arguing. "What the hell Sloan? Don't tell me that's not what you were doing. I've seen you do it a million times to make a deal."

"I wasn't making a deal. I was gathering information."

"Yeah, and I've seen you do that to."

"You gonna tell me it doesn't work and that I shouldn't do it?"

"Hell no, that's your business. But in front of Teaghan?! She's your wife man. Why do you think Sally and I got a divorce? She said she was tired of wondering and getting her face shoved in it all the time."

"I thought you told me you didn't do anything."

"I didn't. But after three years I've finally managed to cool down enough to see it from her side ... at least some of it. Look, I'm the last one to be giving marital advice and we both know it but at least listen to what I'm saying. You take her off the farm for the first time since God knows when, you do it because you say you want to give her a treat, you nearly get killed by those idiots - and you are going to have to explain a few things to her before too much longer and you know it. And then instead of using sense and coming back here you go on ahead and keep going 'cause you had a plan and wanted to get some research time in and use Teaghan as a distraction."

"That sure worked didn't it?" Sloan said sarcastically. "The woman knows absolutely nothing about shopping."

Dan laughed though I didn't see anything funny about it. "You mean she just didn't shop the way you expected her to, all giddy like a kid in a toy store. You know, you gotta get it out of your head. Teaghan isn't Tinsley and she isn't Chaundra ... and she isn't some kind of crossbreed of the two either so you need to stop expecting her to act like either one of them ever did. And as for that, did you even ask her to help or were you just going to use her?"

"I just wanted her to have a good time."

"That sure worked didn't it?" he asked throwing Sloan's words back in his face.

"I didn't mean for those idiots to get things into their heads and chase us!"

"I wasn't talking about them. I'm talking about you used that poor kid as an excuse to stop at that strip center to make it seem like you were there doing family shopping so you could do your research without the stores' security getting wind of it."

"I got the boys new belts."

"Uh huh ... and what did you get Teaghan?"

"I tried dammit but all she wanted was lemon drops."

"Did you get 'em for her?"

"Shut up."

"Yep, that's what I thought. You got busy doing your thing and she got hung out to dry."

"What the hell man? I thought you'd be on my side."

"I'll tell you what the hell. You claim you're taking Teaghan out as a treat but we both know it's just an excuse and you're lying to her right off the bat. In the process you nearly get run off the road. Teaghan is clueless about why. All she sees is that 'you're a good driver' and she seems to be satisfied with that. She doesn't pitch a fit like most people - man or woman - would under those circumstances. You blew it off 'cause you figured that was a good thing, if she doesn't understand all the easier on you. You went on and used her to do your research because it was more convenient. Then as icing on the cake you flirted with a woman in front of your wife you jackass and she hasn't had a hissy about that either. And all you can be is pissed off at her because she doesn't know how to shop? Get your head out of your back end Sloan and look at it for what it is. You screwed up ... six ways from Sunday you screwed up. What all progress you've made is gone. Even I can tell her walls are back up. Oh she's polite and everything else but it's back to like there's nobody home on the inside ... she's just playing at being a real person but she's back to being a robot. Maybe one that's had some practice but there's no life to it. You telling me that's what you want?"

"She'll get over it."

"Dumb ass. She's barely more than a kid although I suspect her head is screwed on a lot better than we think it is. She picks up on things so damn fast I don't know whether to be furious at her family or admire them for being able to actually keep her out of it as long as they did. When she gets a little older she's going to be a damn fine woman ... assuming you don't destroy her."

"I have never ..."

"Aw shut up Sloan. I might work for you but we're friends first and I'm telling you ... as a friend ... fix this because I do not want to see you as unhappy as you are going to wind up being if you do not. I had my doubts about this working out ... serious doubts ... until I got to know the girl. You got a bargain Sloan ... sure she's a diamond in the rough and she will never be what you seem to think you need, but she's still a diamond. Instead of appreciating her for who she is and how little trouble she causes you you're mad because you keep finding out how much she's worth and it looks like you're worth less to her in the process ... like that hemp deal you have going. You could have saved us some work if she'd been in on the planning."

"I already tried to tell her today that she was welcome to sit in with us."

"I didn't see her do it. I didn't see you offer or remind her either. You were too busy being pissy. And if you're gonna start feeling sorry for yourself let me help you along with something else for you to think on. She could have kept this farm and run it if she'd had some help with the labor. She knows it inside and out. She'd have had to lose some innocence along the way but that's gonna happen one way or the other. Winds up it doesn't look like she really needed you for that. She had enough cash to keep the farm going which she turned over to you without a squeak and without being asked ... I don't know anyone else living that would have done that, I sure as hell wouldn't have. And what's more she ain't in love with you either boy so get over yourself and deal with it. You can't work her and charm her ... not unless she lets you."

"You don't know what the hell you're talking about. You know how hard it is to get her to warm up? Damn. I've never had so much trouble in my life. She acts likes she's never ..."

He stopped and Dan gave a nasty snicker. "Dumb ain't the word for you Sloan. Of course she's gonna act like she's never. My guess - and you don't even have to tell me - is that her Dad and brothers kept her locked up so tight St. Peter himself would have had to provide certified credentials from God before he got near her. You think she'd still be this clueless of what is going on in town if they hadn't completely isolated her out here?"

Sloan sighed. "Yeah. Yeah she'd never ... until our wedding night. But she ain't exactly ..." Whatever he was going to say he didn't. I still wish he had. I'm still curious.

Dan snorted. "Wake up man. You've had it too easy with women. You need to come join the rest of us that actually have to put some effort into getting what we want. I know this isn't what you're used to but I haven't exactly seen you try all that hard to get her to feel something for you either. You probably put more effort into flirting with that candy woman than you ever have with Teaghan. You married her, like it was some huge sacrifice, and now you just expect her to be all you want. How about you turn it and look at it from her side. You know how I see it? I see she compromised because she looked at her choices and you just happened to be the best one of the lot but I bet if she'd had a little more time that maybe she would have come up with a different option for herself and been able to tell Burdock where he could shove it. And hah! I can see you don't like that idea one bit. You thought she'd come to think of you as her knight in shining armor ... and it turns out the last thing that Teaghan wants is a fairy tale."

"I don't need this hassle Dan. I got a lot of damn important things on my plate right now."

"Have it your way man but don't say I didn't warn you. But if I was in your shoes ... because I have been and screwed it up and wish I hadn't ... I'd put a little more thought into what your wife sees when she looks at you and what you're doing. And I'd knock off flirting with the customers when she's around. Good way to find yourself sleeping on the sofa. Where's she at anyway?"

"How the hell should I know?"

"Did that glass of JD go to your head already? The buzzer man ... give her a call. Check on her. Let her think you care."

"Hell no .. no chance. She's probably just outside hanging out with the animals."

"Better hope she ain't thinking about hanging out with the men. There's a few of 'em that wouldn't say no."

"What?! Teaghan wouldn't do that. She has to make herself be around any of them."

Dan gave a frustrated sigh. "Sloan I say this as a friend ... you're an idiot. Let's go find your wife so you can stay out of trouble."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chapter 22

"You can't be having any fun doing this. I remember Mom saying Dad hated shopping."

"I'm not your Dad," Sloan said thoughtfully as he looked over racks of things in the third store we'd been in. "For me this is research. Better research means better profits." I just looked at him waiting for him to explain. He glanced my way then stopped and told me, "I'm checking what the mark up is and what is moving and what isn't. Gives me a better idea of what to sell my inventory for." Turning back to the merchandise in the store he muttered, "Damn ... the prices of some of this stuff. Either I'm getting ripped off or the customers around here are ... I know this stuff is reclaimed so someone is making a killing."

Curious I asked, "How do you know it is reclaimed?"

"See the sku ... the inventory tracking number? See that code there? It's required by law on re-sales which is what reclaimed property is considered even if it was brand new to begin with."

"Oh ... I can help with your research."

Sloan snorted then thought better of whatever sarcastic answer he was about to give me. "Don't take this the wrong way Sweetheart but you are the kind of customer that stores hate to see coming." He said it like it was a new discovery. "You're too practical and you're holding onto my wallet like you dare anyone to even think about asking for money out of it."

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. "I'm not that bad ... and even if I am what's so horrible about it? You work hard for your money. I see you sweat buckets every day and stay up late working with Dan. It would be a sin to just waste what you work so hard to get."

He grinned and said, "But I miss being objectified. Didn't you get the memo? Women are supposed to be after men for the presents they can give them."

I frowned. "You are in a silly mood. Shopping is serious business. You take inventory at home, have a plan, make a list, and keep to your budget. If you don't do that today then you might not have any of that to do tomorrow."

"Ok, that's it," he said with a wicked glint in his eye. "You are now going to pay the consequences."

"What are you doing?" I whispered in horror as he started taking a bunch of women's lingerie off a table. He'd pick something up, look at me, shake his head and put it back down. "Stop it! People are starting to look."

"Let 'em. On second thought maybe not. I'm the only one that gets to look at you."

"Oh my gawd what has gotten into you? We're in public!" I hissed trying to make him stop as he went over to a rack of even racier items. I finally pulled him away and got him calmed down. "You are just ... I mean ... you better be glad I like you too much to bash you like you deserve."

He blinked like he was surprised and then grinned. "I'm a baaaaad boy."

"You sound like a goat, now behave."

For the next couple of shops he kept to his research. He wouldn't pester me about buying something so long as I didn't pick anything up so I made sure to keep my hands off no matter how tempting it might have been to touch. He was going to bypass a store until I saw what it was. He asked, "You wanna go in there?"

"I just want to see what the prices are."

"Teaghan ... if there is something you need."

I cringed then admitted. "Female ... stuff. I've only got a couple of months' supply left."

"How did you handle this with your father? From the sound of things ..."

"Ohhhh don't. It never came up so you just drop it."

"If it didn't come up then ..."

"Mom always had a lot laid in because with the three of us at home ... well it isn't like we could just go running to the drug store you know."

"Actually that's a good idea ... anything else you're running low on? Even if we don't get it today I can stay on the look out for it at the job sites."

I mentioned a few things and he wrote them down on his note pad but I was happy to see that the pharmacy actually had several items on my wish list ... mineral oil, citric acid, peroxide, epsom salts, and such. I nearly passed out when it was time to check out but the guy behind the counter looked overjoyed as he kept ringing things up. And when Sloan paid in certificates instead of scrip the guy looked like he wanted to reach over and kiss him. I had to bite my lips to keep from giggling at thinking what the look on Sloan's face would have been if it had actually happened.

The stores weren't busy so we drew more attention than I would have liked. Apparently Sloan started to feel the same way but he seemed determined to find lemon drops. He asked the man in the next store where Sloan bought the boys new belts and he said, "Sure ... Hattie down at the end. And since it's Thursday you might get some good deals if you have certificates. She always starts her new batches on Friday and gets rid of what stock she can before hand."

We walked down there bypassing several stores that might have been interesting to go in had I really needed sewing notions, house linens, or working in a store or office kind of clothes. But when we got to Hattie's I wasn't at all pleased by the prices ... even the so-called discounts. I also wasn't too happy with how snooty Hattie herself was. I don't know what I had imagined but it certainly wasn't what she was. With a name like Hattie and operating a sweets shop I would have thought she would be a granny or motherly type and as sweet as her confections. Try just the opposite. She was dressed like a professional lady in a magazine. Long legs, long neck, and a long nose she looked down at me with.

She sighed like she knew she was wasting her time and asked, "May I ... help you?"

"No," I told her succintly. I turned to leave but found Sloan looking around. The dollar signs must have been showing because Hattie's shop guard was bearing down on him ... until he spotted the bags that Sloan was carrying, then he stopped and signaled Hattie who said without even looking at me, "I'll be back in a moment."

I thought sure you will and just stood back to watch the show. I'd seen Sloan schmooze a couple of people that had come to the farm to look over his inventory and had learned to enjoy following him as he did his job. In short order he had Miz Hattie conversing with him as an equal, discussing inventory, cost of delivery, mark up, overhead costs, and all those other things that I had listened to Dan and Sloan discuss at night at the supper table before slipping off to the office where they discussed it some more.

From behind me a voice said, "Hattie is good isn't she?"

I turned to find a guy about my age - he would have been draft material if they'd still been doing it - and I shrugged. "Sloan is better."

"No way. Hattie can sweet talk anyone."

"We'll see. Is she your sister?"

"Sister? Are you kidding?! She's my boss. My job is to clean the shop and back area and there's a couple of other guys back there that make all the junk for out here." He got an extremely admiring look on his face, one that bordered on lovesick, and said once again, "She's great. The best."

I chuckled like I was going to let him go on thinking what he was thinking. Of course I didn't feel like chuckling but I wasn't going to let anyone else know that. Hattie was good. Yes Sloan was better, no doubt in my mind, but I'd finally gotten my first glimpse of "sophisticated" and it made me sick to my stomach. I also got a glimpse of how much Sloan liked sophisticated. I continued to smile when I shrugged and moved to leave the store. I saw the guard give me a hard stare - probably checking to make sure I wasn't walking off with anything - and then I slipped out the door.

Out where no one would notice I looked at myself as I passed the plate glass windows of the empty store next door. I was wearing one of Gram's dresses. I had thought I looked nice - or at least considerably better than I normally did in my work overalls - but compared to Hattie and the other women that were walking around in clusters or with a man I looked ... well I looked pretty awful, like someone playing dress up out of the attic boxes; which was pretty much exactly what I was doing.

I guess I stood out there almost an hour when finally Sloan came out in a hurry. He looked all over before he saw me and stopped short appearing relieved. He cleared his throat and said, "We need to go pick up the boys."


We got in the truck and after Sloan put the the bags he'd been carrying in the storage area we took off. We were silent for a while then he said gruffly, "She was out of lemon drops."

"No she wasn't. I saw them behind the counter. She wanted an arm and a leg for them though and it wasn't worth it."

Aggravated he asked, "Well why didn't you say anything?"

"You were talking business with her. I never interrupt when you're talking business."

"Business? Oh ... uh ... yeah. Actually ..." Then he fell silent before saying, "I lost track of time. Talking with other business owners who sell to the public lets me know what they need. Then I keep it in mind when I'm looking for reclamation sites to bid on. Easier to have a good potential customer than to hunt one up after you already have a boat load of stuff to get rid of. Anyway I looked at the clock and ... how long had you been standing outside?"

I shrugged, "Pretty much as soon as you two started talking."


"I told you ... I don't interrupt when you are talking business."

"What were you doing all that time?"

"Standing. Trying to stay out of people's way. Trying really hard to not look like the fool everyone must think me."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means I wished you would have told me that I looked ... like I look before we left the farm. I didn't mean to be an embarrassment."

His tone of voice said he knew exactly what I was talking about. "I ... Teaghan ..."

"Whatever it is, don't say it; I don't need the excuses. You keep thinking I'm ... I don't know ... some brainless ninny that you have to baby. Maybe I'm not sophisticated but that doesn't make me stupid Sloan. And it doesn't mean that I don't have eyes in my head. Or that I can't read the expressions on other people's faces. Or that I can't recognize sophisticated when I see it." I stopped and shook my head. "There would have just been less trouble all around if I had stayed on the farm where I belong."

"Don't start feeling sorry for yourself."

"See that's the thing you don't understand Sloan. I don't. I'm fine with me being me. I'm not so fine however being measured against sophisticated and feeling humiliated. Next time ... don't pretend or omit the truth or whatever you want to call it for whatever reason you did it." Looking at what appeared to be a ramp up to a fight to distract me from what I knew to be a valid point I told him, "And you might as well give it up. My brothers would get in a mood like this, try to cause an argument because they didn't like when I got something right for a change ... and I learned how not to give them one. I'm not going to fight with you. The facts are the facts."


We were silent all the way to where Uncle JS lived. Apparently the family owned a cluster of houses in a cul de sac. When we pulled in the boys came running then stopped short when they saw the damage to the truck. I got out and told them, "You're uncle is fine. He's a really, really good driver."

They looked like they wanted to fire a bunch of questions at me then stopped and said, "You look funny."

"I know. I made a mistake. It won't happen again."

"Good. 'Cause ... you look funny."

A couple of older girls were there and were starting to squawk at their cousins for being so blunt but a handsome woman came walking off the porch of one of the houses and barked a laugh and said, "Well boys, you certainly hit the head of that nail."

"Aunt Chaundra," the boys said suddenly moving to stand in front of me.

"What's wrong boys? Aren't you going to introduce me?"

I was in a rotten mood and it had just gotten more rotten but I tried to remember what Mom had taught me to do when faced with someone being intentionally nasty. I smiled. "Oh that's alright. No one needs to introduce you. You're Chaundra ... Jay's wife. Right?"

She blinked.

Jay walked over in a hurry like he was too used to having to clean up after her but I just gave him a smile, this one as real as I could muster in the mood I was in and said, "Hi Jay. How is Uncle JS?"

"Oh ... er ... he's fine." He looked over my shoulder and in some relief he called, "Dad! Teaghan is asking how you're doing."

I turned around and heard Jay telling his wife to behave and not cause trouble. I walked over to Uncle JS who was looking rather serious. "Are you OK?"

"Yes sir. Sloan is a good driver."

"So I heard you tell the boys."

We couldn't stay much longer. I only got to get nods from the rest of the family as Sloan hustled us into the truck. I sat in the back of the extended cab earning a glare from Sloan. Calmly I told him, "The boys are upset. They need to see you are ok."

The boys peppered him with questions all the way back to the farm but finally calmed down as we drove in the dirt road. Dan and several of the other men were on him as soon as he opened the truck door and while Sloan went over the story again I ushered the boys inside, got them a snack that would hold them until supper, and then went to change.