Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chapter 18

Uncle JS and Jay left midmorning after being shown around. Josiah eventually had to come get me to answer all the questions that were being asked about things. It wasn't just Uncle JS that was interested, Sloan and Dan asked a fair number of questions as well. I could tell when Jay started getting antsy as he kept looking down the road. His father sighed and admitted that it was likely time to leave.

"Well Teacup," Uncle JS said having taken to that silly name that Dan called me. "Welcome to the family, sorry lot though we may be. Hopefully next time I see you it will be under better circumstances and we can spend a little more time getting to know one another."

My uncles had been the same way only bigger and louder about their comings and goings. Hard headedness ran in the family. Uncle JS reminded me more of Gram's brother who used to come to visit before his arthritis made him bed bound. I whispered to Sloan, "Can I give them a bushel of apples or something to take with them?"

"Of course," he whispered back, pulling at a sweaty curl that had escaped from under the bandana I had tied to keep the dirt out.

I nodded at Josiah who brought a basketful that he'd been picking. He was grinning as he put them in the camper of the pick up. The reason he was grinning was because Sloan was being silly and making me blush again. All I had done was run to the house and bring back a couple of jars of apple preserves and a jar of sorghum to go with them since his uncle had seemed so partial to it at breakfast.

"See I told you," he said to his uncle.

I looked at him suspiciously and asked, "You told him what?"

"Nothing," he said with an all too innocent grin.

Refusing to rise to the bait I stepped back and then had to grin myself when the boys very importantly presented their uncles with a bag of worms to take home as well. "We wrote down the 'structions for Joey to have a worm farm too. We'll compare notes when school starts up. Bet we have more worms than he'll have. Bigger and juicier too. It's this clean, country living. I think town worms aren't going to be able to keep up."

Joey was another cousin similar in age to them by Jay's sister Rhonda.

After the two men left everyone scattered back to their respective chores and I was contemplating the state of the pantry and what would be needed if I was going to keep doing my job.

"There you are." Sloan had caught me staring.

I blushed and asked, "Did you need me to do something?"

"Yeah I do ... but I guess I've got a few days yet to wait." As soon as I puzzled out what he meant my face got even rosier. Then he sighed. "I was hoping Jay would apologize for upsetting you but ..."

"Upsetting me? That's not worth apologizing over. I just hope he was sorry for misjudging you." I shuddered not wanting to think about it again. "I guess lovesick people just do stupid things. I hope he has a contract though that says she can't take things from him if she decides not to come back. And what about the baby you told me about? Not that it is any of my business."

"The baby isn't a baby so much these days. He should be starting school in the fall. And marriage is a contract but it doesn't protect you from having to pay if things go wrong."

"The new ones do."

"New what?"

"Contracts. 'Cause the one I signed that married me to you has all that stuff spelled out. Didn't you read that part?"

He looked at me a moment then asked, "Teaghan, would you mind if I looked at what you signed?"

I shrugged. "My copy is in the contract file ... in the drawer marked LEGAL ... in the office. Didn't you get your copy of what I signed?"

He looked at me strangely but didn't answer before going to the office. I slipped my tablet from behind some of the jars - I'd rescued it from the waste bin where I had chunked it but didn't want Sloan to know - and opened it to a blank page and was counting up jars when Sloan came back. I tried to hide the tablet behind my back but I never was any good at getting away with things like that.

Slowly I held it out to him. He looked like he had a head of thunder and I was just hoping that I wasn't going to get struck by lightning. He took the tablet and then said, "Teaghan ..."

I looked up but he was aggravated at something but realized it wasn't at me still I told him, "I need to keep track of things Sloan. It's ... it's comforting."

"Don't beg like that Teaghan, it makes me feel bad. When I tweaked you about it I was just feeling unreasonable and foul and you got in the way of it. If you need to write things down then do it. I'll try and not give you so many things to feel so bad about you have to write them down."

"Ok. Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet. We need to talk. And don't ask what you did now because frankly I'm not sure yet that you did anything. I'm just confused as hell. C'mon."

He was confused?

I followed him back to the office were I saw Dan going over two sets of papers. Sloan pulled a chair out for me and I sat while he seemed to need to pace. "I've been hearing you talk about the papers you signed and what they said. I've heard you ask if I thought you were too stupid to read something before you signed it. I've heard you go on about those papers spelling things out for you. But I don't think I've actually been listening to what you've been saying. Teaghan ... those papers ... that contract ... my God ..."

I had no idea what he was going on about. "They're pretty self-explanatory. I ... I didn't sign them in the wrong place and mess something up did I? Mr. Burdock was right there ... he looked at them and made sure ... I mean I think he did ... oh no ... Sloan," I took a big gulp of air. "Aren't we ... aren't we married for real?"

"Huh?" At my horrified expression he came over and finally sat in the chair beside me. "We're married Teaghan. You're safe."

I relaxed but then tensed right back up. "Then I don't understand. What's wrong with the papers that has you so angry? Did you not get the farm after all?"

That idea bothered as much as the possibility that Sloan and I weren't legal had. Sloan nodded, "I've got it all right. I told you I had a lawyer look at it. But Teaghan ... Sweetheart ... I ... I assumed what I was signing was the same thing that you were signing. I never even thought to ask if there were addendums to the proxy because I didn't sign any."

I finally understood. "Oh. Well. Of course you wouldn't. You're not female."

"Excuse me?"

"Well I mean I thought you would have gotten a copy of it but I guess not. But it's ok ... Mr. Burdock explained everything. See I'm seventeen. I could get married without a legal guardian's consent but technically I still need a guardian of sorts for all the other legal stuff because I won't be eighteen until next month. I had to decide if I was going to marry you or go to the orphanage until I was eighteen and then have to start from scratch. As for the rest of it ... well ... because the husband - that is you - would be taking on such an extra responsibility and risk everything had to be spelled out so I wouldn't take advantage of the situation or, maybe not take advantage exactly, but so that I would know exactly what my duties and responsibilities were and so that I wouldn't ... you know ... get ridiculous and think I had rights that I don't anymore as far as the farm and things go."

Both Sloan and Dan were just looking at me. "What? Did I not explain it right? Did I miss something after all?!"

Sloan looked at Dan and then took my hand but it wasn't because he was mad or even because he thought I was being ignorant. "Teaghan ... those papers ..."

"Oh I know, it's embarrassing. Mr. Burdock ..." I shuddered. "Don't get me wrong. I think he was trying to be ... not kind exactly, or nice either, but he was making sure I knew down to the crossed t's and dotted i's what was expected of me in exchange for getting to stay with the farm."

"You signed all of that just so you could stay with the farm?"

"I ..." Then I stopped and thought about how to explain it to him. "Please don't take this the wrong way Sloan because I am really glad you turned out to be who you are. I was scared sick there for a while but mostly I couldn't think about it because I didn't have much time to decide and because my head was so full of what had already happened. I had a choice to make. I could either stay with the farm - and the only way to do that was to marry you - or I would be sent to the orphanage. I know this isn't my home anymore but even if does belong to you now it is the only home that I've ever known ... and it was in my family for generations. I'm not sure if I can explain it. I ... this ... gosh!"

"Take your time Sweetheart ... I need to understand."

"Understand? You can't. You ... you aren't a girl. I never got much news from town but I got some. And though I know it was wrong I also used to eavesdrop on Dad and the boys because I knew they kept things from me for ... for because they thought it was best I suppose, their way of protecting me, not scaring me with things they didn't think I was old enough to understand yet. All three of them had seen so much of the world, been in the war and all that, but the stuff in town still managed to bother them. They said the way the men were acting was wrong and they didn't always agree with how Mr. Burdock was trying to manage things and get things back to normal. But I can put two and two together. Being female isn't ... in some places it just isn't safe. Bad women ... women that keep choosing to lead certain ... I mean do certain ... things ... and don't straighten up ... well they are told to leave town or ..."

"Or what?"

"They go to work down by the river. And please don't tell me I'm going to have to explain that too."

Grimly Sloan said, "No. Are you telling me Burdock threatened you with that?"

"No! But he did explain how some women that didn't have the option that I was offered might wind up so desperate that they chose that life." I shuddered. "I'd rather die." I shuddered again. "And when you go to the orphanage, the day you turn eighteen you better have made some options for yourself because you get handed a bag with a change of clothes, a sack lunch, and a bus pass to the nearest big city so you can go look for work and start supporting yourself. That might work for young men ... but I couldn't see that working out too well for me."

"Hell no," Dan muttered earning a sharp look from Sloan.

"Sloan? Are ... are you ... mad at me? Or ... or disappointed or something?"

Sloan looked at Dan and with a toss of his head wordlessly asked him to leave. Dan closed the door behind him and I thought, "Oh no, here it comes."

"Don't look like that Teaghan. Hell, this is such a mess."

"Can I ask why?"

"Stop asking permission for everything." I sat there and just waited him out. Finally he got up and started pacing again. "Teaghan whether you believe me or not I honestly had no idea what was in that addendum. Dammit. I wanted the farm ... I didn't mean to get a slave to go with it. This is just a damn shame."

I didn't know what to say to that but apparently I wasn't supposed to say anything. "Dammit. How the hell do I untangle this?"

I gathered my dignity as best I could and squared my shoulders. "Those papers say that you can tell Burdock you ... you found me unacceptable. You ... you can just go tell him that."

"What?! Aw hell no." He sat down again and took my hand. "Hell, I forgot how literal you are. Look at me Teaghan. I'm not saying you made the mess or that it is your fault. But I'll be damned if it isn't my fault either. We've both been played. I knew some of the men on the BOCC had leanings and sympathies but I had no idea they were acting on them to this extent. I sure as hell didn't know Burdock was one of them. I've met the man's wife and daughter ... I never would have guessed."

"Guessed what?"

"Teaghan ..." He shook his head. "I've seen something like that contract you signed. But never seen it put to use in this country. And even at that the original contracts sure as hell weren't as restrictive as what Burdock forced you to sign."

"Nobody forced me to sign anything."

"Forced, coerced, used undue influence, scared you half to death with half-truths ... however it started the result is the same. You may have signed it without a gun to your head but if I had to guess you didn't feel like you could do much else and still be left with any kind of life. Am I right?"

I gave a single nod.

He got up and went to stand by the window. "Teaghan ..."

"Do you ... do you not ..." I stopped. "You know you have got to be the most complicated person. Look, I signed the proxy. I knew what it said when I signed it. I understand what all that jargon means. But if you don't want me anymore just say so."

"What I want to know is if you want to stay married."

I couldn't do anything but look at him. Finally I stood up. Then sat down. Then stood up again. Then just fell in the chair. "You make me want to pull my hair out. Why would you want to know if I wanted to stay married to you?! I just about killed a man ‘cause he had a knife on you! If that don't say I don't have a problem with you being the husband part of this equation what the heck will?!"

Sloan stood there with his mouth open, then he started chuckling which turned to relieved laughter. I swear I was ready to chuck something at him. He irritated me more than Jeremiah and Jason ever had. Finally he came over and sat back down and took my hands even when I tried to pull them back. "Teaghan ... when you're right you're right. Nothing says forever like threatening to shoot another man in the head and splatter his brains all the way to the highway. Now c'mere."

He pulled me up and kissed me full on the lips, like if I hadn't been on my monthly he'd have been shortly doing other things too. He came up for air before we both passed out and said, "This is going to take some time to wrap my head around. But I don't want you to worry. You'll always have a home here, that won't ever change."

Much to my sorrow I believed him.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the new chapter Kathy, I'm really enjoying this story. Thank for your time and for sharing your gift with us.