"We've rolled Jay into one of the upstairs bedrooms to sleep it off," Dan told me. "Sloan would like it if you could meet him in the office."
I nodded but felt like I had when I'd had to go confess something to my father
when he was working. It always made me miserable to think I'd disappointed him.
I was dusting the shelves when Sloan came in and shut the door. "Teaghan
you don't need to do that right now. I'm not going to yell at you or whatever
it is you have rattling around in your head to put that look on your
face." He reached out and took my hand and said, "Come here. We need
My stomach dropped but I sat in the chair in front of the desk. Instead of
sitting behind the desk as I expected he pulled the chair around so we were
sitting side by side. He took my hand again and I just kept waiting for him to
tell me I was a nut case and too young and that this morning had proven that it
just wasn't working.
He lifted my hand and kissed my fingers and I wasn't sure what to make of it.
"Teaghan I told you I was married before."
"When you were young."
He sighed. "Very young. We'd both just graduated high school and were
barely eighteen. And don't tell me that's older than you are now because I
don't need to hear the obvious and it already gives me indigestion." I
nodded to let him know I wouldn't and he started over. "It never should
have happened. I had just gotten my draft notice and we both thought I was soon
to ship off so we jumped the gun for all sorts of idiotic, romantic reasons and
against family advice on both sides. Tinsley was a sweet girl and we were in
some serious puppy love and heat but neither one of us was mature enough for
what we thought we wanted. Other people could see it but we couldn't. Then when
I failed the health screenings ... not once but several times for each branch
of service ... I had to come home with my tail between my legs and figure out
things I hadn't anticipated having to ever figure out. It was a lot of stress
... on both of us. We were forced to grow up ... we just weren't able grow up
together and in the same direction. We tried but in the end it was part while
we still had some respect for one another or get bitter and nasty and as bad as
some things would get, neither one of us wanted that. I harbor absolutely no
hard feelings against her. We both made a lot of mistakes we shouldn't have.
She died during the pandemic leaving a little boy and a little girl for her
sister to raise."
"That's sad," I told him still unsure what I was supposed to take
away from it and where the woman Chaundra fit in.
Sloan looked at me and then said, "You remind me of Tinsley a little
bit." That I didn't like. "Not a lot, but some. I've made the mistake
in thinking you were more like Tinsley though than I should have." I
didn't know quite how to take that. It could go either way.
I almost opened my mouth to ask but stopped when Sloan said, "My next
great lust was Chaundra Fitzpatrick. She was as different from Tinsley as night
from day. Chaundra was ... let me be blunt, Chaundra knows her way around a
man. She was a sweet girl when she started out but she'd had a bad marriage too
... much worse than mine had been ... and from that she decided that if she was
going to get anywhere in life that she'd have to make the way herself. When I
met her she definitely knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to do what it
took to get it. That was what I was in the mood for at the time. Probably a lot
like your brother Jeremiah."
"Ew." Then I cringed at how that sounded. "Oh my gosh ... I'm
He chuckled sadly. "Don't be. I look back at that time of my life and
think 'ew' a few times myself. I was running wild and doing crazy things and
taking chances I had no business taking. I felt bullet proof and liked it.
Chaundra did quite a bit to keep me feeling that way ... only it's a good thing
God looks out for fools because as it turns out that's what I was. Then my
brother died and my mother got custody of the boys. She needed me around more
and it took me a while to figure out how badly. Chaundra on the other hand
liked me gone ... bringing her back things for which she expressed her
gratitude for in ways I found wild and exciting. But I started growing out of
needing wild all the time ... to be truthful wild started getting a little
boring and ... well bothersome because it was getting in the way of other
things I realized I wanted which was a more stable income stream and less
running around from one end of the country to the other ... or at least less
running around so far from home. Then I got shot ... in my cheek."
At his look my mouth fell open. "The one you don't smile with," I
said remembering his words.
"Exactly. It tried to get infected and I got laid up. I expected to
relieve the boredom with Chaundra's company one way or the other only she came
by less and less and then suddenly she stopped coming at all. When I finally
figured that out - and yeah, I know how that sounds - I got up, got dressed,
and limped around town to find her. When I did it was in the last place I would
have ever thought to look. See I'd kept Chaundra a secret from the family ... I
didn't want to hear what they would have had to say about it and besides I was
in town so seldom there for a while it is doubtful too many people would have
known anyway. Do you know where I found her?"
I shook my head no.
"In my aunt's sitting room dressed and acting like a proper southern lady
like the rest of that gaggle my aunt hangs out with. I thought she was playing
a prank at first and was furious that my family was going to be the butt end of
it but when she finally agreed to meet me afterwards I found out it was much
worse. Seems she had gotten a taste for being respectable, had considered
making me get respectable, but decided I wasn't the full package she was
looking for. She set her sights on Jay and he'd already fallen for her hook,
line, and sinker. She said if I messed it up for her that she'd let a few
things out that could have destroyed my business ... I'd been fool enough to
drop a few names of certain persons I did business with back then. What we were
doing wasn't illegal but it wasn't exactly straight up either. We were working
together in the bidding so that the price of the contracts on goods would stay
low and then sell at the market rate to the public. Not being completely
worthless I still tried to get Jay to see reason but he wouldn't listen and in
fact took a hate on me. I probably would have done the same thing in his shoes.
Then someone else came along and Jay found out I wasn't just talking but then
Chaundra got pregnant on purpose and that was all my aunt and uncle needed ...
there was going to be a wedding and Chaundra was going to be respectable."
I bit my lip to keep my mouth shut.
"It doesn't take a prophet to predict what a potential mess things were
going to turn into. For a while Jay and I tried to keep things quiet between us
for his parents' sake but Chaundra being Chaundra got bored and tried to stir
trouble Apparently me moving on irritated her and the ... er ... confines of
her respectability were beginning to wear on her nerves. Chaundra likes her
excitement she does. She started pouring acid in Jay's ear ... alluding to but
never outright saying that she and I had taken up again. I think Jay knew even
then she was lying but at the same time it ate at him. Yesterday the hussy left
him saying she had some thinking to do. I read the letter myself as the
lovesick fool brought it with him. She didn't outright say that she was meeting
me to do some thinking with but she did write it so Jay would think it."
I made a face. "That's not nice at all. Look what could have happened. I
take responsibility for my part but your cousin would have never been here in
the first place if not for his wife doing what she did."
"Yep ... ripples. But I don't want you to blame Jay." The look on my
face must have been enough because Sloan said, "I know Teaghan but the
truth is, I have some responsibility in this too. I'm the one that made a fool
of myself over Chaundra first. And I was wild as hell at one point and Jay has
been making assumptions that might not have been too off the mark a few years
back. I hung out with a rough crowd and led a wild life and ... well ... it’s a
damn shame I didn't have more sense to stop earlier than I did. On that there's
no one to blame but myself."
"He hurt you."
"And scared you."
"No ... made me angry."
"Ok ... he did scare me but I was angry too. Don't ask me to explain it.
But you would have been gone Sloan. Just ... just gone."
He reached for my hand again and said, "But I'm not and let's just go from
"I'll ... I'll try hard but don't do that again."
"Don't do what?"
"Don't ... don't almost get killed. And don't smile about it. I promise
you it isn't the least bit funny from where I'm sitting."
Sloan's uncle arrived late that afternoon and the three of them spoke so long
that I served them supper in the office and then made up another bed so he
could stay the night. The next morning both men came down to breakfast which I
served in the dining room because there was company. I had a platter of
biscuits in one hand and a platter of sausage patties in the other and had to
stop almost too suddenly when I all but ran into the boys who were looking for
"Please don't be foul this morning and mind your manners," I told
"You're always hungry. Did you wash your face and hands?"
"Of course. You won't feed us if we don't."
"Hmm, seeing as how much you like to eat I'll take your word for it. Do me
a favor and take this to the table for the men so I can go get you something to
drink. Milk or apple juice?"
"Milk," they both said. "And apple juice."
"One or the other not both. Whichever one you pick you can have the other
with your snack later on."
The both agreed on milk and I went back to the kitchen. I set the pitcher of
milk on the tray with the sorghum and preserves and gave one last look around
to see if I had missed anything. The eggs were already on the table as were the
grits and the butter. I almost stomped my foot when I spied the sliced apples I
had cooked and made room for them on the tray after pouring them into a serving
bowl in a hurry.
I was ready to take off at a run when Sloan filled the kitchen door.
"Where are you at?"
"I know. I'm coming. I forgot the apples. I swear it is one of those
mornings. Move so I don't drop this."
He took the too heavy tray from me and I turned back to start the dishes.
"And now where are you going?"
"If you take the tray I can start the dishes and ..."
"Teaghan. Come. Eat. Breakfast. Now."
His tone said he'd make a scene if I didn't mind so I sighed and followed him
feeling foolish not to be carrying something when he was doing all the work. At
least when we reached the dining room I could busy my hands passing things
around. Then I sat and tried to stay out of the way of the conversation.
No such luck. Sloan's Uncle JS - stands for Jay Sr. - immediately said,
"It seems that there has been a bad misunderstanding."
Carefully, not sure Sloan would appreciate me saying anything at all I told the
older man, "Yes sir. And I'm sorry for my part in it."
I'd lost my appetite, what little bit I'd had, and carefully pushed the food on
my plate around until Sloan must have caught onto what I was doing. He reached
out and covered one of my hands with his. I looked at him and doggone it I
blushed. He smiled, patted my hand and said, "Eat. Uncle JS isn't mad at
you. He's the only person living that could probably match you in being
I heard the older man clear his throat and I kicked Sloan under the table but
instead of getting the message he asked, "Ow! What was that for?"
I felt people staring so through gritted teeth I told him, "You aren't
supposed to get sassy with your elders."
Sloan's eyebrows went up and Dan had to cover his mouth with his napkin. I
heard the boys snicker and I rounded on them. "One of these days if you
actually manage to outgrow your orneriness, you might just be in a position of
being an elder and if you ever are there may come a time when you wish you'd
been a little nicer to yours. Cause what goes around comes around."
Suddenly there was a big belly laugh that made all of us at the table jump. It
was Sloan's Uncle JS. It took him a moment to contain himself then, wiping his
eyes he said, "Welcome to the family Honey. And if you can teach any of
them manners it will be more than their aunt and I ever managed. All of them
are rascals. And these are some gooood biscuits. Is that sargum by any
"Yes sir," I answered passing it to him. "It is from last year's
squeezing. It's a little strong though."
He nodded. "Like it like that. My grandfather used to make his own sargum.
You go in shares or have your own set up here?"
I was careful to answer, "Dad and my brothers did it the same way the
family always did it ... there's a sorghum mill on the property. We grew both
cane and seed sorghum so that is what is in the ground now. Sloan will have to
decide how he wants things done."
Sloan and Dan looked at each other then Sloan asked, "How much work is
"In which part?"
There was a snicker at the end of the table and I slowly turned to see Jay
looking as surprised as his father at the sound that had escaped him. He
mumbled, "Sorry 'bout that."
Uncle JS harrumphed and said, "Well if people would be more specific it
wouldn't be necessary to always ask follow up questions just to figure out what
you want to know."
Sloan chuckled and explained to me, "I meant in general."
"From beginning to end?" I asked. At his nod I said, "Well
planting is no worse than planting any other kind of field crop. The seed
sorghum is a shorter plant so harvesting is easier. The cane sorghum is taller.
If you are using it for silage it isn't any more or less work than the seed
type but if you are going to make sorghum molasses then you have some work
ahead of you." I explained the process as I'd grown up with ... cutting
off the seed head, stripping the leaves, cutting the cane, feeding it into the
mill, then boiling the resulting green juice to where there was less liquid
than sugar. "Once you start the boiling part it’s about the same as making
"Let me guess," Dan said scratching his head. "You did that
"Sometimes, but not every year. It depended on the weather."
"Sure does and that's just more work than I ever wanted to deal
with," Uncle JS said agreeing. "I loved my cows, it just got so it
was too expensive to run 'em. And now I've lived in town too long and gotten
too soft to ever move back and farm full time." To Sloan he asked,
"You sure you know what you're doing Son?"