Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Life is absolutely never as easy or as fair as we think it should be. Part of the problem is that everyone’s definition of “easy” and “fair” is different.

The night that Mark and Calvin left Daddy took another bad turn, the worst he’d had up to that point. I nearly got sick myself from fear alone. There is nothing as horrible as watching someone you love writhing in pain, knowing that you’ve tried everything and there is nothing left that you can do but pray God puts an end to it without putting an end to the person you love.

Micah turned on me as well, blaming me for everything he could think of including allowing Mark to take my attention away from tending Daddy. It was Mark’s fault. It was my fault. It was everyone else’s fault. All of it. Daddy getting sick. Daddy not getting better. Him having to work so hard which took time away from him being with Daddy. We were being “selfish” and thinking with our hormones.

At first the things he said hurt; I mean really hurt, like the I-had-been-kicked-in-the-teeth-for-no-reason kind of hurt. Then I got a little hot at the hypocrisy of it; who was he after all to talk to me about how hard he had to work all of a sudden. Then I got really angry. And then I just plain wanted to slap the snot out of him.

“Could you … I mean I know you’ll have to try really hard … could you please be a little more insulting Micah? It’s obvious I haven’t proven myself to this family enough. Oh no. I’ve given and given and given … especially for you … and it still isn’t enough. Of course not. It doesn’t matter that I worked my butt off even before the first attack of terrorism to help Daddy to keep a roof over our heads. He paid the majority of the bills but I help to pay for a lot of stuff too – you do remember who had to ride the bus for two months when the money I had saved for insurance had to go to pay off that stupid speeding ticket you got – and I also put in a lot of work to keep the roof Daddy paid for organized and under control and looking nice. I mean, who cleaned up after you and your ignoramus friends when you had your stupid Xbox parties?”

I drew breath to keep going but Micah interrupted me with, “That was then and this is now. Now you’ve got some guy and …”

“Whoa. You better stop right there little brother. I haven’t been shirking my responsibilities. I’ve been sleeping three and four hours a night, maybe five hours if I’m being lazy. I’ve trudged miles around on this ridge foraging. I’ve worked hours on the farm to do whatever I had to do to make sure …”

“So you’re complaining about doing your share now too?!”

And despite knowing deep down he was only being nasty and looking for a fight because he was hurting I couldn’t help but let some of my own fury at the unfairness of it all leak out. “Have … you … lost … your … mind?!! I have not been complaining, never, not even once. You … you …” I had to stop or I was going to say something I would not be able to take back. I sucked in some wind and tried to calm myself down. I finally ground out in a deep growl, “How dare you act like you are the only one grieving here Micah. How dare you. If you are mad at me for not telling you from the very beginning then fine. I wanted to but didn’t. I could have used someone to share the burden and my fear with. But I was trying to honor Daddy’s wishes. He’s my father too. Don’t you ever … ever … presume to tell me how I’m grieving or if I’m grieving. Don’t you ever presume to tell me what I have and have not done for this family and for Daddy. Don’t …” I had to stop again because I was just that furious. I was breathing heavy and in that moment I could have smashed something over his head just for being the donkey’s behind that he was being. I’d been angry at Micah before but never like this. I don’t think I’d ever been angry like this before.

I needed time alone but Jessie chose that moment to wake up from his nap so instead of heading straight outside I detoured to pick him up first so he wouldn’t wake Daddy from his much needed and overdue sleep. I took the little boy onto the porch and started rocking him and let him look around to get his attention away from the crankies. Instead of Micah having the good sense to leave me alone and let me cool off he came out on the porch and started poking the bear all over again.

“See, instead of taking care of Daddy you are taking care of this kid. He’s not even kin to us. Daddy isn’t getting your first attention.”

“I’ve already done what I can for Daddy at the moment. He is finally resting and I want him to be able to stay that way. When I ‘check on him’ he wakes up and right now that is counterproductive. Jessie is a baby. Mark is away taking care …”

“There it is. It’s all about Mark.”

I was trying to stay calm because I was holding Jessie but it was a hard fought battle. “Do … not … be … an … idiot. Mark spoke to Daddy, asked his permission, before I even knew about what was going on. But he laid it out … Mark, not Daddy. Mark said he wouldn’t even try to have anything other than friendship with me until after Daddy …”

“Don’t you dare say it,” Micah said and he looked like he wanted to hit me.

I stood up and put Jessie in the rocker. “Micah. You wanted to grow up … wanted to be allowed to grow up … to be an adult. Well this is what that means. It doesn’t just mean being a kid only with more privileges. It means whether you are big or not you stand in the breach for other people. It means taking personal responsibility and being accountable for all that you do and say, and what you don’t do and don’t say. I have and will continue to do everything for Daddy that I can and that is a fact but at a certain point you have to accept reality. Daddy is too sick. I can’t fix him. We spent over two years going to doctors, specialists, trying all the treatments that modern medicine had to offer … and he is still going to die.”

Wham! Micah pushed me with the flat of both hands. Even though he had looked angry enough to lay a hand on me I hadn’t really thought he would, not really. He’d never done anything like that even when he was at his angriest because we had moved. Because I hadn’t expected it, not from my own brother, I wasn’t braced at all. I went backwards, tripped over the rocking chair and hit the porch railing. I remember hearing a crack but that’s all I remember.

The next thing I heard was, “Dad, I … I swear … I didn’t mean to! It just happened!”

“What in the Sam Hill do you mean it just happened?! Look at your sister!” Daddy said sounding as angry as I have ever heard him.

I knew something was wrong. I could hear Jessie crying so hard he was hiccupping. Daddy and Micah both sounded hysterical.

“What … knock it … stop already,” I finally managed to croak out though I was having a hard time putting a sentence together that made sense.

I opened my eyes … actually I opened the one eye that seemed to be obeying my commands and tried to sit up despite Daddy’s weak attempt to keep me down. Bad idea. Really bad idea. Everything spun including my stomach and I had to roll over and retch the bit of lunch I had left in it.

“Baby Girl … “

“Daddy … just give me a sec.” I took stock. I was sore and my head felt like someone had tried to knock it off. In the background I could hear Micah keep saying, “I didn’t mean to … I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to …”

Finally, just to get him to stop sounding so pitiful I said, “Micah, that’s enough. I know you didn’t mean to.” I was trying to remember what he didn’t mean to do but obviously it had something to do with me and then it clicked as Daddy went ballistic.

Daddy cursed one of the few times in my presence when he lit up like a Roman candle and said, “Like hell he didn’t. He told me he got mad and pushed you. That’s intentional. What he didn’t do was think of the possible consequences. My God … my own son … how many times have I told him men do not touch women in anger … ever … under any circumstances … regardless of who they are or what they do.”

Even in my state I could tell this was bad … really bad. I pulled myself together … or maybe I was just in shock so my feelings were being repressed. “O…k …. We are so not going where this is taking us. Daddy is upset. Micah is sorry. And Del is just fine. Just give her a sec to get her feet under her.”

Micah whispered, “Dad, why is she talking about herself like that?”

I could hear the anger in my father’s voice sizzle as he answered, “She got pushed by a guy twice her size, fell off a porch that is four feet off the ground and her head landed on a rock. What the blippity blanking else is she going to sound like?! Just be feeling blessed she is talking at all! Run down and get Cheryl or Ali and …”

“No. Absolutely no. I banged my head, that’s all. If everyone would just calm down …”

“Delilah Jez …”

“Not all of my names Daddy. That’ll just turn my stomach again. Micah, give me a hand up. God, I’m disgusting,” I said referring to the fact that there was blood on my neck, shirt and on my face that had yard debris all sticking in it. “I need to see if I need butterfly strips or something.”

Instead of giving me a hand up Micah tried to pick me up. “I will hurl on you if you do that again,” I warned him. “Just give me a hand.”

Micah and Daddy were worse than I was about the whole thing. Now really, I’m not Mother Teresa or any kind of saint, I wasn’t then and I’m still not now. And I sure wasn’t happy when I finally got a look at my face in the bathroom mirror, but I was ready for the whole sorry situation to be over with and forgotten. But I wasn’t to get my wish.

Daddy tore into Micah like he had never torn into him; chewed him up one side and down the other like Grandpere Gator. And made Micah feel even worse when he had to do it from a sitting and then prone position as he used up what little energy he’d left had that day. I can at least say that Micah stayed for the chewing out when he could have easily run away … where he would have run to I have no idea but he could have, Daddy wasn’t exactly able to chase him and frankly at that point I wouldn’t have.

I was so not pretty to look at the rest of that day … nor the next. Contrary to what I had pleaded with him not to do, Daddy radioed down to the farm and had Rudy bring up Aunt Lilah.

“Well Hy, she may have a scar and she may not but if she does I don’t think it will be a bad one. But Lord, Lord what was that boy thinking?”

I was tired of being spoken around like I was either in a vegetative state or off on vacation someplace else. I said, “He was thinking that he was hurting and like most boys his age he’s stronger than he remembers he is a lot of the time. It didn’t help that I tripped and then hit the railing. I just want this done and over with.”

Daddy sad sadly, “Don’t cover up for him Del. I still can’t believe that a son of mine …”

“Daddy, don’t do that to him please. There may not be time to get over it and it isn’t a scar he needs to carry around for the rest of his life.”

“What about the scar you are going to carry?”

“May carry Daddy … may carry.” I sighed. “It wasn’t good that it happened but maybe it had to … to air things out. Micah is hurting and he’s … he’s done ok up to this point if you think about it. The whole world has gone to Hades in a hand basket. We need each other while we have each other, not let all of this tear us apart.”

Aunt Lilah patted me on the shoulder. “Hy, if she is prepared to let it go, you need to as well. Neither the boy nor you needs to carry something like that around. He’ll have it on his head the rest of his life if you do.”

“He needs to have something on his head. I still don’t understand how he could do it in the first place, especially to his own sister. And I don’t want to think that it will ever happen again, but what choice do I have? How can I find any peace if I go to my grave having to worry about this happening again just because Micah is angry that life is unfair?”

I looked over and could just make out the hall way mirror on the opposite wall … and the reflection of Micah’s stricken face. They say you never hear anything good about yourself when you eaves drop but I was sorry that Micah had to find that out the hard way.

“Aunt Lilah, I’m fine. Why don’t you and Daddy sit a spell and I’ll be back in a minute.”

By the time I got to the hallway Micah was gone but I heard him down in the basement and followed him there. “Go away Del.”

“Well I’m not gonna. When my little brother hurts I hurt for him.”

He looked at me like I was nuts. “You just don’t quit do you?”

“Depends on what you mean. Until I know what you mean I can’t answer.”

He flopped down in a chair as only a teenage boy can and put his head in his hands. “I didn’t mean for you to fall and get hurt Del. I didn’t.”

“I kinda figured that. You were just mad and it got away from you. Ask me if I’ve ever let my anger get away from me,” I said rolling my one good eye at several memories of my own far too regular stupidity. “I’ve got a log in my own eye, I’m not going to pick at you for the splinter in yours.”

“Aw man, don’t start sounding like the Aunts.”

I bent down beside him and said, “I sound like me Micah. This is who I am. I’m sorry if you don’t think that is enough but I’m not perfect and I don’t have all of the answers.”

“I never said you did or had to.”

“That isn’t how you’re acting. I’m twenty-one years old Micah, feel like I’m eighty-two, and I’ve never had the freedoms you’ve had access to. I know some of it is that I’m a girl and Daddy had different rules for me when I was your age but some of it was rules that I set for myself. I’ve spent my whole life with you and Daddy taking priority over everything else in my life. I’ve worked three and four jobs at a time to help out. I never went to school like you did …”

“Don’t blame me for that.”

“I’m not blaming you for anything. I liked being homeschooled and the control it gave me … not having to constantly be at someone else’s beck and call, telling me what I had to learn and when. The few times the Aunts made me go to public school weren’t fun for me, I was constantly ahead of their games and bored out of my skull and angry at all the wasted time. I also admit that when presented with a choice I willingly made the choice to put you and Daddy first. And I’m still making the same choice. But you have to understand that I’m doing the best I can. I’m running a hard race and I’m still losing. I can’t fix Daddy. I’ve had to come to terms with that and so will you. The real doctors couldn’t fix him either. It hurts. It is going to hurt worse and then … then we’ll learn to live with it. You know what we believe Micah. Parting will only be temporary, we’ll see him again … and Momma. I’ve missed Momma every single day that she has been gone and so has Daddy, but you learn to cope and live with it. And you live to prove that you love them because we know they wouldn’t want us to just lie down and die of sorrow and grief; that would only negate their sacrifices and love.”

“So what happens … what happens when Dad is … what happens when Dad is gone? Where does that leave us?”

I shrugged. “The same place we are now. The world has still gone crazy. Food still has to be put on the table. The earth is still gonna turn on its axis. Life is still going to be as unfair as it always has been. And we are going to miss him. But the sun will still shine, the stars still twinkle, the birds still fly … we just won’t notice for a while.”

“Yeah, and what about you and Mark?” he asked getting angry again.

“What about Mark and I? Nothing is going to happen there until I’ve got my head on straight. Mark talked to Daddy and promised not to pressure me for as long as it takes. He also talked to Daddy about the fight you and he had.”

“What?!”

“Did you expect anything else? You ought to know how Mark is by now. He is a very upfront and on the table kind of guy. He doesn’t hide things too well, never has.”

Then the real reason started coming out, “When you have Mark and Jessie you won’t need me. You might not even want me around.”

“I can say that isn’t true but until you are willing to believe it it won’t matter how many times I say it or how much I mean it. I already told Mark, and he knew it even before I said it, that you are a priority in my life and Daddy passing isn’t going to change that.”

He winced and then said, “I’m not a little kid. Stop treating me like one.”

“I didn’t think I was. I gave you credit for having more sense than to believe that just because there might be a chance that Mark and I could make something of our friendship that it didn’t meant that I wouldn’t have room in my life for you too.”

He didn’t want to admit I had a point so I said, “Micah, what happens to me one of these days when you meet some girl, fall in love, and go on to have a family of your own? Do you expect me to live the same kind of life the Aunts did?”

“Yes. No. I … I guess not.”

I understood his first response had been the truest one. He did see me as an old-maid aunt in the making but I glossed over it and kept going rather than laugh in his face. “Do you expect me to get all freaked out because you have the potential for having a family?”

“No.”

“Then why should I have to worry that you are going to freak out just because Mark and I might … might, not for sure that we will … have the chance to have something more than friendship?”

In frustration he jumped up and said, “I know. OK, I know. But I can’t help the way I feel.”

“Maybe not totally but you can more than you are trying to. You can certainly control the way you act. All I’m asking right now is that you behave in a civil manner with me and with Mark … and don’t let me catch you taking anything out on Jessie, he’s just a baby and will no more let harm come to him than I would have let harm come to you at that age. Once we get that worked out, just … just keep an open mind. Nothing is going to happen for a while. Mark only mentioned it because he wanted me to know how he felt so that I could decide how I felt and we could then decide what to do about how we feel at some point down the road.”

Micah made a face. “That sounds stupid. You are either in love or you aren’t.”

Shaking my head and realizing just how young my brother still was I answered, “Yeah, right. It isn’t as easy as you think it is Little Brother. I thought I was ‘in love’ once and I got my heart shredded and handed back to me. But here’s the thing, Mark isn’t like the jerk was. Mark is … Mark is dependable … and honest, maybe to a fault if that’s possible. And he understands how important taking care of the people you love is. Look at the sacrifices he made for Dee and Cici, not to mention Jessie. He also understands putting others before yourself. He understands duty and honor and things that most of the guys I have met up to this point haven’t.”

“But Del, he messed up bad. He’s been married and divorced and has a kid and he’s kinda young still. He didn’t finish college. He’s dirt poor. Is that really the kind of guy … I mean … you know … you never went for that kind of guy before. What if he is just out for stuff … you know, the cabin, food, a place to live … stuff.”

Not really feeling like it was the time to go into lengthy explanations all I could say was, “I don’t know what to tell you Micah. I don’t see Mark as a ‘type,’ I seem him as Mark. I’m not settling or whatever else you seem to think. And I’m not doing it ‘for the family’ like Daddy is worried about. Frankly right now I’m not doing anything about it at all. It is just a possibility … and I feel like it is a good possibility. Micah, please try and understand … I need this, but not right away. Mark and I just wanted to … to let each other know that we recognized the possibility. The rest can wait after our priorities are taken care of.”

I still wasn’t sure that Micah understood. On the other hand after the porch incident I’d come to understand that I’d have to accept it whether he never understood or not … and do what was best for me in the long run anyway. I loved my family but sometimes you have to do what your instincts tell you to do, what your conscience tells you to do, and not makes everyone else happy and comfortable.

On top of what was going on with Micah, and Daddy’s turn for the worse, Mark and Calvin were late getting back. Since they were walking no one was supposed to start getting concerned unless they were longer than 48 hours. After that second night I was never far from the radio. I didn’t forage, choosing instead to work on my fading herb beds while allowing Jessie to toddle around in the yard, and trying to piece out and lay the grid for some raised vegetable beds I wanted to start in the spring.

All of us at the cabin and the farm were very concerned by the fourth day. Rudy and John were talking about fueling up one of the trucks and going to go look for them. Even Micah seemed to finally understand that “walking to town” was not the same thing it used to be. On the fifth day I was sitting on the porch while I tied together some more herb bundles, thinking that maybe it had been a poor choice to insulate Micah so much from what was going on, when the I heard Micah come stomping up the steps from the basement on a run.

“Del!”

“What’s wrong with Daddy?” I said turning to go inside.

Micah looked at my face and winced. The swelling had finally disappeared but my eye was a glorious rainbow of color from where the bruise above my eyebrow had spread. “Mark and Calvin … they’re back. Calvin has been roughed up and Rudy wants you down there like right now.”

“Stay with Daddy,” I told him as I ran into the house to grab my medical pack and Jessie. I was sure that Mark would want to see his son. I was also sure that I wanted some distance between Mark and Micah until I could explain things.

I wanted to jog down the road but I knew that would be stupid with both Jessie and the large pack to handle. Then I heard a motor start up and after a minute Sam showed up with one of the four-wheelers and wagon. “Throw the pack in the wagon. I forgot you’d be carrying Jessie but I’ll go slow.”

“Calvin’s hurt … what about Mark?”

“Uh … well, he’s been in a fight for sure but he don’t look so bad as Calvin.” Then he added in a disgruntled voice, “And don’t ask me what happened because Dad made me come up here before I could hear.”

“Well I appreciate the sacrifice,” I said in his ear to be heard over the engine. I could tell from the look on his face he wasn’t sure whether I was trying to be funny or not and I wasn’t going to enlighten him.

Sam drove me straight up to the barn where I saw a strange truck parked. I hoped off the four-wheeler and went to go look at what I was going to have to deal with when Mark met me coming around the other side of the truck.

He had a full growth of beard, didn’t look like he’d changed clothes since he was gone … and smelled like it too … and had obviously been in a fight of some type. His eyebrow was split and his ear looked pretty bruised up. His lip had been busted and his chin was scraped up. Jessie had already seen his father and was bouncing up and down on the carrier so hard it made my knees and ankles hurt.

“Daaayyyeeeeee …. Daaayyyeeeeeeeeee … awnt Daaayyyyeeeeeeeeeee!!!!” That piercing little voice was right in my ear.

When Mark went to grab his son out of the carrier I saw his knuckles … most of his hands … looked they’d been doing hard labor. When Jessie continued to have a fit because Mark hadn’t taken him out of the carrier I looked at him and realized he was staring at my face.

“I fell off the porch, tell you about it later.”

A weird growl came out of his mouth that turned into the words, “Ali has (growl) already (growl) told me (growl, snarl).”

“Well obviously I need to thank her,” I said in a growl of my own. “But this isn’t the time or the place and I want to talk to you about it before we go back to the cabin. I mean it Mark, there are things you need to know. OK? Trust me to have been handling this my way?”

He finally took Jessie out of the carrier … and my back thanked him very much … and after a moment muttered, “Rudy said something similar. I want your side and … and I’ll wait for it … but …”

“No buts Mark. Let me tell what has been going on before you draw a conclusion.”

I heard a pitiful moan from the barn and I looked at Mark who just shook his head. “He did get pummeled but I swear he’s making as much of it as he can now that he is home to be tended by his mother and sister,” Mark said so that only I could hear.

Rudy had his own opinion on the subject, not far off from Mark’s. “Del, there you are. Will you please come do something with this boy so his momma will believe all that noise is just for show?”

Mark was right, Calvin had been pummeled. And he was in pain. But it was also true he was … um … embellishing it just a bit.

“Calvin, I’ll give you a hanky if you are going to start crying,” I told him which caught him in mid moan.

“You are a mean woman Del Nash. I swear you have to be one of the meanest women I’ve ever met in my life. Don’t you care at all how much this hurts? I’m in pain here.”

I’d had just about enough, “Yeah and my Daddy is in pain every minute of every day and he doesn’t act like this. Now, you’re bruised and battered but there is no need to make yourself feel worse by wallowing in it. I don’t see any blood, not even in these scraps here …”

“Ouch!!!” he nearly screamed in complaint at my light poke.

“Sorry, but they’re only on the top layer of skin. Soap and water will take care of everything that ails you. I wouldn’t just sit around either nursing the bruises … you’ll stiffen up and do worse harm.”

I noticed that Cindy covered her mouth with her hand and turned away. Rudy wasn’t quite as polite about it. “Hear that John? You’re son is just fine and can get back to work right away helping you with that fuel brewer of yours.”

Esther came out to the barn and after only flaring her nose once told everyone to come up to the house and get out of the dirty barn. “Mark Griffey get on that porch and sit down with that baby before you fall down. Cheryl has something to drink for everyone so come on.”

Mark whispered in my ear, “Wow. I think Miz Esther actually spoke to me instead of at me. I don’t know if that has ever happened before.”

I nearly elbowed him in the ribs but remembered just in time he was probably as bruised as Calvin.

After everyone was sat their story was told. When they were finished the first biting bugs started to make their appearance. Rudy looked at Mark and asked, “What do you want to do with the truck?”

“Strip it for parts so you can fix those that were damaged by the raiders. The suspension and power steering on this one is shot but everything else under the hood looks to be running sound. I don’t want to ever see the thing again. I just want the stuff that is in the back. I’ll drive the truck up tonight and then bring it back down in the morning.”

After hearing his story I couldn’t say I blamed him though I could tell Rudy thought he was being short sighted. He opened his mouth to say so but closed his mouth when I gave my head and small shack and gave him “the eye.” He, in turn, rolled his eyes at me but didn’t say anything for which I was grateful.

I had Sam radio Daddy, who’d just woken up and found out that Mark was back, that we’d be back shortly and Mark could tell him everything then. We got in the truck, Jessie in my seatbelt with me, and headed up the road to the cabin.

About half way up I said, “Mark, stop the truck for a minute so we can talk.”

He put it in gear and said, “I was wondering when you were going to get around to it.”

“Mark, right after you left …,” and I proceeded to explain everything that had happened while he was away.

“Ali didn’t tell me about your dad. Is he … is he real bad?” he asked going from angry to concerned.

“I’m resigned Mark. I’ll … I’ll fall apart at some point and I might even get nasty about it. But for now I’m holding up better than Micah is. I was scared for a few hours there; Daddy was in so much pain. I think … I think the cancer has spread, or gotten bigger, or something. There aren’t any store-bought drugs that will take it away. All I’m left with is my herbal stuff … wormwood, mullein, skunk cabbage, jimson weed … and Lord, don’t tell anyone but a couple of weeks before we moved here I even bought a bag of marijuana from a guy I was working with.”

“You … did … what?” Mark didn’t know whether to laugh or be scandalized.

“Don’t look at me like that you rat. I was doing it for Daddy. Only problem is the next day he was watching some show from out in California and Daddy got it into his head that no matter what he wouldn’t do that because he said it would be too much like losing control.” I shook my head. “Mark I … I’m getting to where I don’t know what to do to help him. And I think Micah is picking up on that.”

Mark was angry all over again. “That doesn’t give him any right to strike out at you like that. No … let me finish. I know he is a kid. I know … heck I remember … how hard it is to watch your father die. Dee made me sit there in that hospital while my old man was all hooked up to those tubes and wires and slowly stopped being Dad and he became just some body in the bed I didn’t know or recognize. Her reasoning was that I’d regret it if I didn’t. So I know how racked up it makes you feel. And I know how easy it is to start striking out at people but … that don’t make it right.”

“I know that Mark … and so does Micah. He’s ashamed. I can’t even get within a couple of feet of him without him practically dancing to get out of arms reach. It’s almost as if he’d feel better if I wouldn’t forgive him which makes no sense to me. All I’m asking is that you … you wait for a bit and just see how he is before you do something. OK?”

Mark looked away and shook his head, “Boy, you sure don’t ask for much do you?”

“I know it’s …”

“Hard? Dang right it’s hard. Hard enough that I have to keep my feelings under control. Hard enough that I made a promise that I’m wondering if I’m going to be able to keep. Hard enough that I …” He shook himself like an old dog. “And now you want me to control myself even more and cut your little brother slack that I … don’t really want to right this moment.”

I put my hand on his arm. “Thank you.”

“I didn’t say I would,” he said dissatisfied at not getting to act out the way he wanted to.

“But you will,” I said quietly, sure that he’d do his best.

He nodded silently, in an irritated fashion, put the truck in gear and we continued up to the cabin. As soon as we pulled in Mark took Jessie back in his arms and held his son like it’d been a year since they had seen each other. I guess this had been the first time since he’d regained custody that they’d been apart.

I heard Mark’s quick intake of breath at Daddy’s frail appearance when we started toward the porch. He nearly stumbled from the shock of it but he quickly recovered and we continued on.

“Well boy, you don’t look like it was good trip.”

Mark paused, “To be honest Mr. Nash … I can say it … well maybe you ought to just hear it for yourself ‘cause it won’t make much sense telling it out of order.”

I said, “Let’s do it inside and away from the bugs.”

“Speaking of,” Mark said as we moved to the kitchen table. “There’s several rolls of scheen in the truck bed. If you want, we can use it to screen off the back porch. Might be enough for the front too.”

Suspiciously Daddy asked, “Where did it come from?”

I tried to shake my head in warning but Daddy could be that way sometimes. I put my hand on Mark’s shoulder and even Micah’s suspicious look got serious at how sad Mark’s eyes got as he looked away. “Dee’s basement.” Mark’s voice was strong but the look on his face must have warned them what he’d found in town.

Whether he really felt sorry for Mark or was just trying to be helpful I don’t know but Micah was the one that said, “Mark, maybe you better start at the beginning after all.”

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