Frienemies Chapter 46 excerpt

While Fawn and Nana talked about furnishings for the new house Angel sat in the office section of the barn at the Browning residence. She was not alone.

The oak chair in which she sat creaked as she sat hunched over her father’s ledgers. The entry that caught her attention was for an account labeled “Jackson Holdings.” The beginning balance figure was astounding. How was it that a poor farmer in a hovel of a house could have such a large sum of money? Was Fawn holding out on her? Either Fawn was very good at keeping things close, or she was not as naive as Angel had always believed, or, and this was probably the truth: the poor ninny had no idea how well off she really was. All the better for Angel. She turned the ledger toward her companion.

Her companion stroked his neatly trimmed beard. “Interesting,” was his only response.

“This explains a few things,” Angel considered. “This is why my father is always giving the Jacksons nice things. It’s their money, not his. I have misconstrued everything. Oh, well. It doesn’t change my plans. Is everything ready?”

Her companion leaned his chair back against a wooden supporting beam. He re-positioned the toothpick in his mouth and spoke around it.

“Just a few loose ends to tie up to avoid complications. Some of that is being done as we speak. Once that’s done, we are set to move. Just don’t try to double cross me. You think you hold all the cards, but I’ve got an ace up my sleeve.”

Angel didn’t blink. She reached across the table, grabbed his wrist, and said, “You think you do. You may think I’m a wild, crazy, brazen harlot, but there’s more to me than that. It is you who had better think twice about stabbing me in the back.” Her next words were spoken through clenched jaws: “I’m not fragile and I don’t break.”

##

A nicer-than-average brougham pulled up in the yard of the Gardner’s house. The driver looked around and noticed the well-kept yard, vegetable garden, and white wrought iron table and chairs. A hand-carved oak plank hung from a tulip tree by two long lengths of rope. He nodded his head in appreciation. But what really caught his eye was Fawn Jackson playing ring-around-the-rosey with two young girls. They were far enough away, and making enough noise they probably had not heard the plodding of the horses nor the wheels of the carriage. He remained where he sat for some moments, considering the report he would take back to Pipestem.

At length he dismounted the conveyance and approached the front door of the neat two-story farm house. His hand was poised to knock when the door was hastily opened from the inside, Jason Gardner nearly running into him.

Jason took a quick step back as he asked, “May I help you?” It took mere seconds for him to notice the sheen of the sleek black slicker, obviously well cared for. The man’s hat sat perfectly atop a thatch of dark brown hair, neatly trimmed in front while long enough to just touch the shirt collar in the back. The back hair curled slightly below the visitor’s ears.

“Begging your pardon, sir. My name is Justin Forbes. I was told that Miss Fawn Jackson is temporarily housed here.” He removed his hat and held it in his two hands in front of him.

“May I ask the nature of your business with Miss Jackson?” Jason wasn’t about to divulge any information without a good reason.

“Mr. Wiley, the minister of our town, sent me with a message for the young lady. I have not read the letter, but was given to understand that the people of the town are ready to accept Miss Jackson as their teacher.”

Nana took one step at a time as she came down the stairs. “I heard voices and Fawn’s name,” she said.

Ellen rose from her seat as did the visitor. “Indeed you did, Nana. This gentleman is Mr. Forbes. He has come with a letter for Fawn. She. . .”

Jason and Fawn came in at that moment. They both stopped in front of Mr. Forbes. Melanie and Sarah Beth were told to stay outside and play. Mr. Forbes handed Fawn the letter. “I am supposed to wait for a reply,” he said.

Fawn opened the letter as Nana, Jason, and Ellen gathered around her. She read in silence, then handed the letter to Nana. “What should I do?”

Nana sat in the rocker behind her. She read slowly while it seemed the other family members held their breaths. A heavy sigh escaped her lips as she handed the letter to Ellen. “What do you think?” she asked her closest friend.

Ellen read the letter and looked at the young man who had brought it. “Excuse us for just a few moments, please. We need to discuss this.”

The two women and Jason exited to the kitchen and sat at the table, the letter face up on that piece of furniture. Nana spoke first.

“Fawn, you need a job. We got ta have money for food and rent. I know ya want to stay here. I know yer worried about leavin’ me. But this would be good for ya, too.”

“But Nana,” Fawn started.

Ellen looked between the two and saw Nana’s set jaw. “Nana, you are most welcome to stay here. . .”

An Integrated Chapter

This is a rewrite of Chapter Six of Frienemies.  Well, actually, it’s an excerpt.  Please remember that everything under the “Works In Progress” is copyrighted, and is not available for sharing on your blog or website.  However, I would love to have your opinions.  Thank you for visiting and have a blessed day.

 

Chapter Six Rewrite

It seemed to be a week for visitors.  Angel Browning came by the following afternoon.  In typical Angel fashion, she galloped nearly all the way to the door before she jerked her horse to a halt and dismounted as if a pack of coyotes was after her.  Fawn was already opening the door for her friend.

“Angel, what a great surprise to see you.”  Fawn stretched both arms forward to clasp Angel’s hands in greeting.  “Come in.”

Angel dashed strands of loose hair from her face.  “You didn’t think I would stay away did you?” She gave Fawn a sisterly hug.  “I just thought you and Nana needed some time to adjust to life without your mom.  May I have a drink of water?”

“Certainly.  The tin cup is hanging on that nail by the rain barrel.  Help yourself and come in.  Nana is sitting in her room with her memories of Dad, Mother, and Gray.  She may not come out today.”

“I’m sorry you two have to go through this.  It’s part of the reason why I came.”  She took a long drink from the cup.  “Do you remember Mr. Bailey?”

Fawn’s brow furrowed.  “I think so.  Doesn’t he live in Sun Valley? If memory serves, he has a little girl.  Dad liked him.”

Angel nodded her head.  “That’s right.  He and your dad were friends.”  She took another sip of water.

“I remember them,” Nana chimed in from her bedroom.  “He was in the war, fought alongside your dad, Fawn.”  Nana’s eyes brightened as her smile widened at the memory. “He had a fine family.  Wouldn’t expect rich folk like that ta be so nice.”  She got off her bed, grabbed one of her canes, and came back to the living room to sit the side of Fawn not occupied by Angel.

Angel leaned toward the couch where Nana and Fawn sat.  “He’s a widower now and looking for a teacher for his little girl, Victoria.  Fawn, you would be perfect for the job.”

Fawn almost dropped her tin cup as her mouth dropped open.  “I can’t go to a stranger! What would happen to Nana? Surely you don’t expect me to leave her here alone after all that has happened!”

“I’ll be alright, Fawn.  You need to go talk to him.”

Fawn ignored Angel as tears of fear pooled in her eyes.  “The only children I’ve ever been around are Jason’s sisters.  They are familiar with me, and they are older than Victoria. She’s what, seven years old now? Melanie is ten and Sarah Beth is…”

“Eight,” Angel finished for her.  “One year older than Victoria.  Come on; you can do this. You were almost finished with school.  I’m sure headmistress Nolan will give you a recommendation.”

Fawn’s palms were sweaty.  Her insides were shaking,  her stomach threatening somersaults.  “What about Nana?” she repeated.  “Someone has to be with her while I am away.”

“Fawn, stop being a ninny,” Angel’s tone was firm.  She checked herself and softened her tone.  “I would be only too happy to stay with Nana during the week and you could come home on the weekends.”

Fear warred with anxiety.  A dark green rim outlined the irises in Fawn’s hazel eyes.  Leave Nana? Would Angel, her reckless and wild best friend, really be able to be still enough to stay with Nana for a week at a time? How would Nana cope with Angel’s restless spirit? There had to be another way.

“Well?” Angel prompted while she tapped her foot on the floor.

“I appreciate you wanting to help, Angel.  I really do, but I just can’t…”

Nana rose from the threadbare couch on shaky legs and leaned on one cane.  “I don’t need a babysitter!”  She turned and hobbled toward her room again.  She spoke without turning her head as she neared the door.  “I kin take care of myself.”  She slammed the door behind her. Fawn heard the muffled weeping as she pictured her dearest relative lying on her bed.  Tears formed in her own eyes.  What was she to do?

##

 

Nana rocked in her chair.  Peace settled on her face as she watched the sky and enjoyed companionable silence for a few moments.  Lord Jesus, thank You for Your many blessings, for kind neighbors, for health, and for what family I have left.  Thank You, too, for this lovely weather. Amen.

Jason watched Nana’s expression.  If only Fawn would ask Jesus to be her Saviour, they could marry and he would be able to take care of her and her grandmother.

The back door slammed shut and the two people on the front porch jumped.  “That you?” Nana called through the open front door.

“Yes, Nana.  The door handle got away from me. I was just pulling weeds in the garden.”

“Come on out here,” Nana called.  “We got comp’ny.”

Fawn noticed the bread, butter, and honey on the table and knew who had brought them.  She quickly tucked loose strands of hair back into their coil and briskly went to the front porch.  She chose a rocker to Jason’s left. Two of the rockers were placed on the left side of the porch, their backs to the east.  The back of Nana’s chair faced west as she sat across from them.

Jason cleared his throat.  “I told you I was going to do some snooping to try to find out what’s been going on in this holler.”  He took a sip of water and drummed his thumb against the tin cup.

“I don’t have any proof of who is behind any of this. What I do know is that more than one person is involved.  It seems that there has been a lot of fracking going on to determine if there is any natural gas in the area.  That may or may not have anything to do with homes being vandalized.”

Nana banged the tip of her crutch on the porch.  “That don’t give nobody the right to start attackin’ folks in their own homes.”  She stomped the crutch again.

“We have to find out if all of this is related, Nana,” Fawn said.

Deputy Dewey Finds More Clues

Dewey came rushing back to the sheriff’s office. He jumped off his horse before it came to a full stop. He slapped his hat against his thigh as he entered the door.

“What’s wrong?” Clyde bolted to his feet and dropped the newspaper he was reading.

“It’s what’s right.” Dewey was grinning. “You won’t believe this. That Hilliard fella was into some shady dealing. Got to hangin’ around somebody named Bobby. Whoever he is, he’s done got up and took off in the middle of the night about ten days ago.”

Clyde rubbed the back of his neck. “You don’t say. Any idea who he was hangin’ with or where he went?”

Dewey sat on the three-legged stool and leaned forward as Clyde sat back down. His forearms rested on his legs, his hands cupping his knees.

“Couldn’t get his last name but some folks lived by him said that young lawyer was lookin’ for him. Maybe this here Bobby character was in some kinda legal trouble.”

“Did you try to find the lawyer?”

“Yeah, but he ain’t been to work in a couple days. His boss ain’t too happy with him but he wouldn’t tell me why.”

Clyde got up and found the container of toothpicks. He had never been a smoker but he was trying to curb his sweet tooth. He found a toothpick and stuck it in his mouth.

“Did you get the young attorney’s address?”

“I asked. His boss just said he lives in the rooming house. I went there and everybody there was pretty tight-lipped.”

Clyde switched the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “Seems pretty strange. Maybe I ought to go rattle some cages.”

Joel’s Trouble; Jason’s Worry

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Joel sat at the bar drinking his sarsaparilla and watching the men at the poker table. Toby, the undertaker, sat next to him.

“Ain’t seen you around much lately.” Toby sipped his beer.

“Nope. Been busy visiting a young lady.”

“Yep. I heered ‘bout that. It’s that copper-headed girl that thinks she’s Injun, right?” He elbowed Joel in the rib.

“Don’t know anything about that, but if you’re referring to the young woman that lives up in the holler near the Bluestone River, that’d be her.”

“Whatcha want with a white girl that ain’t right in the head?”

Joel came off his stool and pulled Toby off of his. “I’ll hear no more of that talk from you or anyone else.” He looked around the room and was met with laughter.

“You’re crazy.” Toby paid his tab and left.

Joel walked to the poker area and stood between the tables. “I’ll brook no slander against the lady. Anybody here got a problem with that?”

Most of the men ignored him, everyone but Kyle Gordon. Kyle stood at six feet, three inches tall, wore bib overalls, a plaid shirt, two weeks of beard growth, and a dusty slouch hat. If he had stood up Joel would have had to strain his neck to look up at the man.

Kyle looked at Joel, nodded toward him, then looked at his cards. He had three aces and two kings, a full house. He studied his opponents briefly. Two of the others had folded. Only T.J. and David were still in the game besides him. T.J. was good at bluffing; David wasn’t. David had raised T.J.’s bet by ten dollars. Kyle called the bet and finished out the hand before he acknowledged Joel.

“Way I hear it,” Kyle began, took a drink of whatever he had on the table, and resumed, “she’s just a decoy. Way I hear it, the senator’s girl is the one you’re really after. So why are you so fired up about that Jackson girl?”

Joel’s eyes narrowed. “Who have you been talking to?”

“Don’t matter who I been talkin’ to. Fact is you’re lyin’ to one of ‘em.” Kyle turned back to the table. David was dealing.

Joel pointed his finger at Kyle’s face. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?” Kyle took another swallow of his drink. “You come home a few nights ago strapped to your horse’s back. Saw someone carry you into the roomin’ house, then put your horse in the barn out back.”

Joel backed up two steps, thought better of it, and stepped right next to Kyle’s chair. His face had turned crimson, then paled to ash gray. “What else have you heard?” His voice was barely a whisper.

Kyle turned directly toward Joel. “I hear lots of things. Then I ponder on ‘em and decide if they’re any of my business. So far I ain’t heard nothin’ that affects me, but if I do, you’ll be the first to know.”

Joel could feel the blood pounding in his head, his heart hammering in his chest. Obviously he had not been as careful and discreet as he had thought. How close were things to unraveling? How could he protect himself from whatever was coming?

#

Jason rode his paint gelding first to the Jackson place, thinking Fawn may have gone back to her barn, a place of familiarity. He dismounted, dropped the reins so Nomad could graze, and opened the barn door. It was dark inside. There was no smell of manure or fresh hay so she obviously had not been there in a while. Midnight Sun came from behind the barn where he had been grazing. He nickered as he approached Nomad and rubbed noses with him.

Jason came out of the barn and rubbed Sun’s neck. He was dirty and had leaves and twigs stuck in his mane. So, if Sun was home, where was Fawn? And why was the halter still hanging from Sun’s neck? It wasn’t like Fawn to leave her horse unattended. His pulse quickened. His heart disquieted.

He walked to the creek to see if there were any fresh hoof prints or footprints. There were none. He scratched his head, perplexed. Where could she be?

The house was nearly finished. All that was needed was the inside walls, doors, windows, and furnishings. Jason smiled as he considered how all of the neighbors were working hard on making new furniture. A couple of the men were even buying paint to make the place homey and appealing once it was done. He and his father were making the kitchen table and chairs.

He reeled his thoughts back to finding Fawn. Where could she be? He prayed. “Lord, You know where she is. Please help me find her,and please let her be okay. Most of all, please show her that You are the answer she’s been looking for all of her life. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

He mucked out Sun’s stall, removed the horse’s halter and hung it on its peg. Then he went back outside and swung his leg up and over the saddle and turned his horse toward the river. “Lord, I’m depending on you to guide me.”

The First Skirmish For Fawn’s Soul

Fawn awakened to the sound of thunder. She arose and stretched out the kinks in her legs and back. Sleeping on the ground with nothing but pine needles and leaves from the previous autumn did not create a comfortable bed. She brushed the dirt and debris from her clothing and combed her fingers through her hair, trying to get out the tangles and leaves. Midnight Sun grazed nearby.

A flash of lightning near the opposite bank told her the rain was not far off. She dashed to the water to see her reflection. The paint from the day before was still evident. Good.

Midnight Sun began to prance as the thunder clapped overhead. Fawn grabbed his lead to keep him from running off. “It’s alright, Sun,” she spoke gently as she stroked his head. “We will go home now. This is not a good place to be.”

The sky dumped its buckets as large drops of rain pummeled Fawn and her horse. She led him to a thicket where some maple and tulip trees made a canopy overhead. “Thank you, earth spirit for providing shelter.” She shivered in her wet clothing while worshiping her ancestors and their gods. She knew they would take care of her.

Lightning struck a tree a few yards away. Midnight Sun spooked, jerked his lead free from her hand, and bolted. He galloped off, leaving Fawn alone under the tree.

She ran after him. “Sun, Sun. Come back.” She couldn’t keep up. She dropped to her knees and wept. Great Spirit, where are you? Earth spirit, why have you left me? Despair gripped her soul, the demon squeezing tight. He whispered in her ear. “Your gods have left you. You’re all alone. We have you.”

She shook her head. Was she losing her mind? Where did that evil voice come from? Why is this happening to me? Why are my ancestors abandoning me? Have I not done what they wanted? Did I not fast, and pray, and worship them? There is no kiva anywhere near here. Our tribe is scattered. What else could I do? What else could I do? She wailed.

The rain slackened and slowed to a drizzle. A gentle breeze sloughed through the trees. Fawn did not see nor hear the battle between Despair, Slither, and God’s warriors Toth and Kenya.

Cryer and Morror sat each one on a shoulder, hissing in her ears. Cryer was the smallest demon. He could almost squeeze one tiny wing into Fawn’s left ear. “You’re all alone. No one knows where you are.”

Morror moaned in Fawn’s right ear. “Your ancestors have left you. You don’t fit into their world. You could just…”

A gleaming gold sword slashed at him. He tumbled to the ground in fright but was not harmed. He was brushing himself off when a giant silver being stood over him with its sword drawn and pointed right at Morror’s throat. “What is your name?” the being demanded.

Morror rose to his full height of two feet and found when he stretched forth his wing, ever so slowly, he still could not quite reach the giant’s knee. His voice quavered though he tried to sound tough. “Morror. What’s yours?” He tried to laugh but it came out as a squeak.

“I am Kenya.” He continued to point the sword scant inches from the demon’s throat.

Morror laughed. “You are called after the great warrior who led the children of Israel into the battle of Jericho. I thought you had been beaten there.”

Kenya moved his sword a fraction of inch closer to its opponent. “You were obviously misinformed. You have two choices here. You can leave this young woman alone, or you can be killed and cast into outer darkness. Which shall it be?”

Morror squeaked, “You may be a giant but you cannot kill me.”

Kenya’s sword touched the demon’s throat. “I’ll happy to demonstrate my skills, little morose one.”

“Don’t call me that.” Morror shrieked. Cryer landed beside him at the same instant.

“No,” Cryer wailed. He looked at Morror. “Let’s go. We’ll report back to Ashtaroth. He will send the troops to take care of this one and the other. It isn’t our job.”

Morror leaned over to help Cryer to a standing position. Toth arrived at that moment.

“What took you so long?” Kenya asked him.

“I was watching to see if our enemy had any other minions enroute to the girl. She must be pretty special to the Master if Ashtaroth is sending these two. They’re supposed to wear her down so the next antagonizers can destroy her. That’s why our Master sent us.”

Cryer and Morror were whispering. The sky turned an eerie blackish green with darker splotches swirling in it. Toth and Kenya turned their attention to the imps before them. Toth used his sword to bat Cryer through the air while Kenya slashed Morror’s leg, disabling him. Morror limped away, wailing as he went, seeking to hide in a tree.

The two angels then stood ready to fight as they sent out a signal for reinforcements.

Frienemies: Fawn Sleeps While the Battle Starts

This is just the second half of the chapter.

Fawn had been gone for three days. She had fasted, drank little water, and was getting feverish, delirious, and weak. Wrapped in a blanket she had taken with her, she sat on the ground, propped against a tree trunk. Black carpenter ants crawled under the blanket, into her clothing, and began biting her. She jumped up, sweeping at them, stripping her clothing off. She stumbled into the icy river, which had not warmed up much as it was still early May, until the only thing above water was her head.

Time seemed to fade away. She had no idea how long she had been in the water, but her fever grew weaker. She became aware that her body needed nourishment and water. The river was a clear stream and she scooped some of the cool liquid in her hands. She choked on the first gulp and reminded herself to slurp instead of gulp.

Still standing the river, her gaze traveled the shoreline. There was no sign of anyone near. Energized by the cold water and her shivering body, she bolted back to where she had dropped her clothing, made sure everything was free of ants, dressed, and went searching for food.

There were places along the river where cattails grew in the shallows. They were about six to eight inches tall she guessed. She picked three of them, peeled the bulbs and ate them. Perhaps she would save the heads and take them back to the Gardner place to be roasted and eaten later, like corn on the cob.

It was not the best thing she had ever eaten but it would do. After the third bite her stomach rebelled at the raw roughage. She gagged and retched.

Defeat and discouragement bowed her back, causing her head and shoulders to stoop as she trudged back to her horse. Her feet dragged and stumbled as she led Midnight Sun away from the river and into the woods. She found a spot that still had a layer of pine needles and leaves from the winter. After checking the area for any kind of ants and seeing none, she removed the blanket from the horse and laid it on the ground.

As she drifted into a troubled sleep her only thought was I’ve been abandoned and I’m all alone.

The angel bent low and gently brushed her brow. “Sleep little one,” he whispered. Fawn heard nothing but the screaming in her head.

“Is it time yet, Lord?” the gleaming white being asked. There was no time for an answer.

A sulfurous black shape drew its machete-like sword. “You will die now,” the shape hissed at Tal.

Tal waited for the command, then shifted his position as he drew his gleaming sword. “On the contrary, fowl spirit; it is you who will die this day.”

The dark shape raised himself up at the same moment Tal struck. The loathsome demon ducked and tumbled through the air, positioning himself for a rebound.

Tal changed his stance and awaited his chance. “What is your name, foul spirit?”

The demon smirked and stuck out its tongue, licking its lips as if in anticipation of a good meal, or a good fight. “Slither” was his answer.

Tal laughed. “Yes, I can see why. Slither toward me if you dare.”

Slither jumped forward,lurching at the same time, arm outstretched, slicing the air with the machete. He missed. Tal did not. With a screech and an ebbing wail, Slither tumble away in a fog of sulfuric vapor.

Tal knew others would come. He stood guard and waited for reinforcements.

Frienemies: Chapter Thirty-Nine

“This has got to stop,” Nana shouted. “She can’t keep running off like this.”

Ellen hugged her friend. “I know you’re worried, but she probably just needs some peace and quiet. Fawn isn’t used to all of this commotion. Give her some time.”

Nana wasn’t convinced. “Maybe, but Ellen, this is the second time she’s taken off and disappeared, not tellin’ anybody where she was goin’. I’ve a mind to take her over my knee; I don’t care how old she is.”

“Come on outside to the garden with me,” Ellen said. “You can sit on the bench and tell me where the weeds are. It will do you some good to get outside in the sunshine. We can pray out there where no one but the birds and squirrels will hear us. God knows exactly where Fawn is. She’ll be alright.” Her voice was gentle as her lips parted in a half smile. Then she took Nana’s left elbow and helped her toward the back door. Nana held her cane in her right hand.

Nana’s expression warred between anger and worry. I know worry is a sin, Lord. I know I can trust You, but I don’t know what you’re gonna haveta do to get Fawn’s attention. I don’t wanna see her hurt anymore. Her chest heaved a heavy sigh as pain stabbed her back in her effort to straighten her spine. She quickly remembered her arthritis and gave up standing straight.

#

Joel awakened disoriented with his head splitting and his eyes aching. Where was he? He tried to sit up by using his left elbow to prop him up. He seemed to be in his own bed. As soon as he was halfway to being in an upright position his stomach lurched and he fell back into a prone position. He rolled over toward the side of the bed and retched. When his stomach was emptied he wiped his mouth with the blanket, laid back, and covered his head with his pillow to block out the light.

Two hours later he awoke again, thirsty and anxious. He tried to recall the events of the previous day. How did he get home? The last thing he remembered was arguing with Angel in the barn when someone hit him from behind. If he didn’t know how he got home then he obviously didn’t know how he got in bed either. What day was it? Was he supposed to be at work or was it a weekend? His head pounded with each unanswered question. He needed to find Angel. She surely knew what had happened. He sat up slowly and put his feet on the floor while he continued to sit on the bed. Pushing himself gently to a standing position with his hands, he found his feet would not support him. He slumped back onto the bed.

I can’t even get myself a drink of water was his last thought before drifting back to a troubled sleep. His dreams were filled with vague scenes of fire, property destruction, and being pulled in opposite directions by faceless people. He awakened some time later to find himself tangled in his sheet with his head at the foot of the bed and his feet at the top.

The thunderous rapping at the door sobered his mind somewhat. He fumbled to put on his pants while mumbling for the caller to wait a minute. Yelling was out of the question. It would have produced a whopping headache.

He opened the door to a retreating back. “May I help you?” he croaked.

His employer turned and came back. “Been drinking have you?”

Joel’s right hand attempted to comb his hair as he spoke. “No, sir.”

“Looks like it to me. If it’s not the drink then what is it?” He was a short man with thin brown hair, a graying mustache, and a paunch that mocked his otherwise reedy frame.

“I got attacked from behind while at a meeting. Got knocked out and somehow ended up here and in bed. What day is it?”

“Two days since you last graced the office with your presence. You were not scheduled for any meetings since then. What have you been up to?”

Joel realized they were still standing at the door. He opened it and waved his employer into the room. He motioned to a chair against the wall while he himself sat back on the bed in his boardinghouse room. With his head held in his hands, elbows on his knees he tried to think of a reply.

“It was an unscheduled meeting, sir. A lady in distress wished to speak with me privately. Apparently it turned out to be an ambush.”

His employer tapped his left foot on the floor. He was not a man who liked to raise his voice. It mattered not. His tone was full of ice, his words like shards of broken glass. “This is your last chance, young man. You either come to work as scheduled or you seek other employment. If you do not show up tomorrow, do not come back at all. You will not get a recommendation from me. Good day.”

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Fawn still sat by the river with Arctic Sun drinking from the water’s edge. Memories assaulted her spirit. When she was ten years old the year was 1868. She, her mother, and Nana visited the graves of their fallen men. The journey had been arduous. The roads were nothing but mud tracks from the early morning rain. Wagon wheels slipped and spun causing the horse to strain forward and sometimes misstep. Along the way they still passed broken muskets, canons, canteens, and pieces of uniforms from both sides of the conflict. Tears could not be contained as grief gripped their hearts.

Burned out cabins and clapboard houses dotted the countryside. Some of them had blood stains on the doors and house exteriors. There were blood spatters still on the ground in some places, a constant reminder of the war that divided families and pitted brother against father, neighbor against neighbor.

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She did not understand why the war had been fought. Why could people not just let each other live as they pleased? She asked her mother.

Lottie was distraught herself and wrapped in her own thoughts and grief. She looked at her ten-year-old daughter and saw a weak and frightened little girl, a Shawnee who should be more mature than to ask such a question. “What a stupid question. Our decisions all affect each other. You need to learn this. Like when you wear your Shawnee clothes to a white school. Then you come home crying because they were mean to you. What did you expect? You as much as told them you wanted nothing to do with them.” Lottie turned her head away from her daughter and looked at the passing countryside.

Silence reigned for several minutes as Fawn sat and wept in silence.

But Lottie heard her sniffling. “Stop that right now. You have nothing to cry about. Save your crying for the families who have lost everything in this crazy war.” She again turned to watch the countryside.

Fawn stole glances at Nana who sat on her right in the wagon. She had remained silent but Fawn noticed Nana’s soft expression as she patted Fawn’s hand. Nana usually managed to make Fawn feel better but not this time. What was wrong with the question she had asked. Was she supposed to understand war? She had just returned last week from spending two years with her white cousins in Harper’s Ferry. The gory details of the hanging of Frederick Douglas still made her feel ill. Her cousins had laughed and mocked her about her squeamishness.

Fawn’s habit was to retreat to her Shawnee heritage whenever she felt nervous, frightened or upset. It always seemed to make things worse but she couldn’t seem to help it.

As she sat on the rock ruminating, it occurred to her that maybe she didn’t respect her heritage enough. It wasn’t enough to dress in the clothing, which had all been destroyed in the recent fire; she needed to live Shawnee. That had to be why her prayers weren’t being answered, why her ancestors were not answering her or helping her. They felt she was not sincere in her devotion to them. She would prove them wrong.

She wandered the woods along the water looking for wild onions and other plants she could use as dyes. She would paint her face and pray. She would fast and seek the wisdom of her elders. She would sacrifice her own comforts, forsake her friends if necessary, if that would bring her the peace she craved.

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Frienemies: Chapter Thirty-Seven

Fawn took Arctic Sun out for a ride. It had been three days, or had it been longer? She had lost track of time. They both needed exercise. Melanie and Sarah Beth had wanted to join her but she really needed to be alone. Two weeks crowded in a house with five other people plus her grandmother while waiting for their house to get finished. Sure they were friends, and they were kind, but the close proximity put her in a position to hear conversations that were none of her business. She felt like an interloper and an eavesdropper. She was a burden, an intruder upon the lives of her friends. The thoughts crowded her mind, pushing against each other, then seemed to race around each other. She leaned forward, clinging to Sun’s neck as he galloped, his mane and forelock flying in the wind.

The late morning air was crisp. The scents of pine, lavender, and wild hyacinths wafted on the breeze. Sun slowed to a canter, then a trot, and finally a walk. Now and again he would stop and munch on the grass and bushes that lined the path between the Gardner place and Pine Trail Road. They rode down Pine Trail Road and turned down River Trail Road toward the Bluestone River.

Once on the River Trail they stopped and Fawn dismounted. She had ridden bareback with not so much as a halter. Now she walked beside him, patting his neck and combing his mane as she talked to him.

“You’re lucky, Sun. Your routine doesn’t change much and you don’t have to feel like you are a burden to other people.”

The horse nickered and bobbed his head.

“You don’t have turmoil around you. No one treats you like a charity case. You are accepted for who and what you are.”

He munched more shrubbery. Nothing seemed to daunt him or give him any cause for concern. Envy filled Fawn.

“I know the Gardners don’t think of us a burden. Neither does Mr. Browning, but that doesn’t change the way I feel. Now we’re getting a new house built that we cannot pay for. And I contribute zero to this world.” She hugged Sun’s neck and jumped back on. With no one around to see her skirts fly up in the air as she straddled his back, there were no opinions to worry about. They took the rest of the trail to the river where Sun could get a fresh drink of water and Fawn could find a rock to sit on and muse.

 

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Bluestone River, Mercer County, WV

Photo by Thomas E. Dye

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Angel sat on a bale of hay in the barn. Joel stood across from her,his blood pressure rising.

“I don’t know what you expect. I’ve done all of your dirty work and nothing is going right. You have the deed, which you already knew about. I am done. I will not forge a legal document. You are not worth my career.”

Her chocolate eyes bored into his blue ones. She leaned back with a beckoning look and reached out her hand. “I told you, Joel. I own you. I know things and I can ruin your career. There is nothing you can do about it.”

He reached out to strike her but drew his arm back. She would relish it. The vixen thrived on conflict and being in control. Yet she was not willing to risk her own pretty neck.

“It is true, you can ruin my career, but not without Daddy Dear finding out what you have been up to. You are as much at risk as I am. If I go down, you go down.” He snapped a twig he had picked up. He wished it was her neck.

Angel smiled as the door opened and Hank came in. “You silly boy. Did you think you were only working for me?”

Joel didn’t get a chance to see who hit him from behind before he was knocked to the ground, dragged out of the barn and tied across his horse. The animal’s reins were loose enough to let him move his head. With a thump on the rear Joel was on his way home.

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Frienemies: Chapter Thirty-Six

A Gloom Reflected

Rain had stopped progress on the Jackson house for three days. The relentless deluge took its toll in a landslide that blocked Route 20 between Lerona and Pipestem. Work on the railroad between Athens and Hinton had come to a screeching halt. Tempers flared and fists flew at the tavern. Joel wasn’t hurt badly. He gave worse than he got, and it had been worth it to get away from Angel. There was nothing in life more irritating than a bored woman. And Angel was bored. She was the reason he went to the tavern in the first place. Well, that, and he was in the mood for some arm wrestling and dart throwing.

Angel paced her room, wearing a track in the braided rug her grandmother had made. Frayed threads poked up between the once neat rows of coiled scrap material. She looked around her room, stopping in mid stride.

The heavy brocade drapes did nothing to elevate her mood. Gloomy clouds and gloomy surroundings created a morose atmosphere. She walked to the window and yanked the drapes open. As the rain pounded the roof and pelted the window bolts of lightning split the sky and stabbed the ground. Two bolts collided and struck the Virginia pine that stood in the center of the six-tree border twenty feet from her window.

The tree split as it smoldered but did not catch fire. She jumped back in shock and stared as the electricity from the strike tingled through her body and made her raven black hair stand straight out. Yet she could not make herself move. Never had she seen a storm like this one.

Conscience pricked her. I deserve to die. God is giving me a warning because I killed my little brother. But I didn’t mean to, God. You know I didn’t.

Yes you did, her soul answered back. You hated him because your mother loved him more than you. Admit it.

Laughter bubbled from somewhere deep within, but it wasn’t funny. Was she a monster? Was God really giving her a warning? She had heard people say that God punishes the wicked, and she knew in her heart the adjective applied to her.

But if my parents loved me I wouldn’t be wicked. I would be sweet and nice. I would not have to find ways to punish myself and hurt others in the process. But I have a right to happiness. I have a right to be loved. But no one has ever loved me. I am too evil to love. So I will do my worst.

She reached up to close the drapes again. A figure stood outside, its back to her, looking up at the sky. The person wore no protective coat or hat; he seemed to be welcoming the storm. Then the figure disappeared. Was it real or was she losing her mind?

She closed the drapes and lit the lantern beside her cherry four-poster canopied bed. She took off her dress and put on her night clothes, then burrowed under the covers and hoped morning would bring sunshine. Another day of this rain may prove to bring huge problems for someone.

Picture 415

Photo by Thomas E. Dye