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."