Monday, June 22, 2015

Chapter Twelve

Several days later I was still trying to get my head on straight and deal with how quickly things had gotten out of control again.  Despite having tried to keep the two incidences separate the attack at the butcher’s shop brought back some of the old nightmares from what happened to me at school.  Most of the time I did a pretty good job of not making everything about me but it was harder than I care to admit.  And then there was Aunt Rachel.  She wasn’t in the hospital long but it was obvious to anyone with eyes that she was a lot worse off than when we’d left that morning to get thick sliced bologna. 

I was sitting on a stump watching Cliff and he asked, “How’s your hand?” 

“Good enough if you need a break.” 

“Huh?  No.  That’s not what I mean.  I just saw you rubbing it earlier.” 

“Oh.  Uh … I wracked it carrying the laundry basket out the door.”  I stopped then rushed on.  “Thanks … for … for all you did, are doing.  You … uh …” 

Cliff looked at me then grinned.  “Stop trying so hard Gypsy.  You’re gonna break something.” 

Not the least amused I almost stomped my foot and walked away.  Instead I told him, “You don’t get it.  This is my job.  All of this is supposed to be my job.  What good am I doing if you are doing it?  Why even have me around?” 

“You do enough … you do the laundry and cook.” 

“Yeah right.  You can’t cook, Aunt Rachel isn’t safe in the kitchen right now, and I’d have to be on my death bed to let you do the laundry and handle my … er …” 

He chuckled, “What’s the difference?  You handle my ‘er’.” 

“Not funny Cliff.  And definitely NOT the same thing.” 

“Whatever you say Gypsy.”  He continued to smile like … well like he never had in my memory.  It was weird.  I wasn’t sure that I cared for why he was smiling but at the same time I didn’t want to break whatever new mood he was in. 

“Yeah … anyway … thanks.” 


“No buts.  I’m just glad that I’m not completely useless on top of everything else.  And … and thanks for not rubbing my face in stuff.” 

“I thought you were getting over that.  The reporters are off on some new story since they can’t get one out of you.  I thought it was pretty cool that that Wilhelm guy started that new farm road making it so you need a 4x4 to get back this far off the county road.  That’s one way to slow down the traffic.”  At the look on my face he shook his head.  “C’mon Gypsy, you aren’t …” 

“A pariah?  Oh sure.  I’m totally over all of the crap they’ve been saying about me.  Just like that,” I told him with a snap of the fingers on my hand that wasn’t still the color of moldy grapes. 

Changing the subject Cliff asked, “Talked to your uncle today?  I did.  He said everyone has been cool and asking how you were doing.” 

“Knock it off already.” 

“No.  ‘Cause it’s getting old watching you feel sorry for yourself.  Face it.  Some people are just going to go to the dark side.  Sometimes helping them … enabling them … only gives them a mode of transportation to get there faster.  I think what you said to that last reporter set a few people straight on where you stand.” 

“So?  It’s true.  It’s not about the color of your skin or the contents of your wallet but about the content of your character.  That’s not exactly a new concept and I’m sure as heck not the only one to have ever said it.” 

“Probably one of the reason some of them went looking for a new drama to report on.  Although there has been some good arguments from the other side.” 


“You gotta admit culture and community play a role in how people turn out.” 

“Sure but that still isn’t what some dumb people try to turn it into.  And I’m honestly just ready for it to be over with so we can all get back to normal.  I’m so tired of the fighting and everyone justifying it one way or the other.” 

As nonchalant as if we were discussing the weather Cliff said, “And you complain about Christine wearing rose colored glasses; you're as bad as she is."  He shook his head slinging sweat droplets every which direction.  "For better or worse the cat’s out of the bag if it was ever really in there all the way.  Too many people on both sides are making money off the race baiting and law suits.  Sure, most people still have their heads on straight and know it’s all just stupid-in-motion but the scale is tipping the wrong direction as more and more act like they’ve got liquid heat in their jock strap.  Now let’s get this to the spring house so we can get inside.  Dad said I should keep up with the news.  It isn’t just our little corner of the world that can’t keep their heads out of their butts.” 

“Charming Cliff.  Really, really charming.”  I rolled my eyes when he grinned unrepentantly.  “I’m not against keeping up with the worldwide crazy but can you listen to it upstairs?  I don’t want Aunt Rachel to get as agitated as she was earlier today.  She got so fired up over something that she used her new cane to knock one of her radios off the table.  I’ve never seen her get like that.  Threaten to yes, actually do it, no.  And I can’t figure out why.  When I tried to ask her it was like … well she … oh you’ve seen her.” 

Cliff nodded in understanding.  “Might be one of her meds.  Mom’s get out of whack when her weight changes too much and according to you your aunt has dropped several pounds.” 

As we put the fresh milk into the separating pans, and I turned the cheeses we were keeping on the shelves until Cliff could finish some of the renovations to the basement pantry that Uncle Carmichael had ordered, I asked carefully, “When you talked to your dad this morning did he mention your mom?” 

“Yeah, he keeps me up.”  He glanced at me then looked away.  “She’s still refusing to go back to the treatment facility.” 

“I’m … I’m sorry.” 

Cliff shook his head.  “Don’t be.  She’s gonna bring it on herself.  She’s not so bad she can’t make better decisions.  She’s just … just making selfish choices, choices that she knows are going to hurt other people.” 

“But if she loses her job …” 

“The shape she is in she shouldn’t be teaching.  I’m just glad that Cev is out of the house.  All she used to do is point out the things he couldn’t do or would never do.  I thought when I moved out that would stop but it didn’t and it was really starting to hurt his progress.  Cev feels things deeper than most people give him credit for.” 

“I … look I know you know your mom isn’t well … healthy … geez, you know what I’m trying to say.” 

“Of course I do but I also know she doesn’t want to do what she needs to do to get well and stay healthy.” 

“But …” 

“No buts Gypsy.  Let me see if I can explain it so you don’t get sucked into it the way the rest of us used to.  See it used to be that even though Mom and I … couldn’t connect … she was still invested in staying well as she could stay.  She exercised, watched her diet, took her meds the way she was supposed to, saw her counselor regular.  When she got out of whack it wasn’t because she meant to or wasn’t trying.  But about the time I started high school she .. well she stopped trying so hard.  To get back at Dad or Carl she’d stop taking her meds, kinda have a pity party like no one wanted to understand how hard it was on her.  When Con didn’t get perfect scores she’d get mad and go into a spin – sometimes real, sometimes not.  When Cev started going to the high school instead of going to a special school like she planned you would have thought she’d be happy but it was just the opposite.  Chris has it worse in a way ‘cause he can’t do anything wrong and by extension neither can Christine because Christine feels the same way about Chris that Mom does.” 

“And … um … you?” 

He snorted but it sounded like something had changed in how he was dealing with things.  “You know how it is but Mom has pretty much started treating me like I don’t exist since the school fire.  She's stopped even bothering to act like she is willing to hold out a bone to me if I will just be something or do something.  But that’s separate from what I’m talking about and it’s stopped bothering me unless it’s in my face for days on end.”  He shook his head.  “It … look … Mom … I don’t know all the terms a counselor would use but boiled down to a few words it’s that Mom has gotten addicted to the drama-high.” 


“Drama, stress, whatever, triggers the release of … of these hormone/chemical things in your brain.  It makes your heart pump, head spin, etc.  It kinda gives your brain a … a sort of chemical high.  Mom’s meds are supposed to, you know, help her stay balanced … no spikes, no drops … this way she can manage her depression and anxiety.  Only …” 

“Only what?” 

“Only Mom has started to think – or has talked herself into thinking – that staying balanced is a bad side effect rather than the purpose of her meds.  She’s convinced herself she feels better when she isn’t on her meds ‘cause she thinks the meds make her foggy, colorless, and that life is boring.  She’s got it backwards, not taking her meds right is what is causing the problems and then she self-medicates with drama.  That’s a lot of up and down.  Mom’s psychiatrist – and the treatment team for her case – think she’s developed some kind of personality disorder and is trying to talk her into seeing a behavioral therapist.” 

“Is she worse than the few times I’ve seen her since the school fire?” 

“Yeah and it is starting to really wear Dad down though he won’t come right out and say it that way.  He needs some back up with Mom.  I’d give it to him but … we all agree that might not be the best thing as it would confirm to Mom that … that the … things … she thinks are the truth instead of … well, it just wouldn’t be the best thing.” 

“Your dad is in a rough spot.” 

“To say the least but from what I heard from Chris and Connor both, Mom took her latest hissy fit out into the yard and there was a big blow up.  Carl got in Mom’s face the other day and basically told her that she was either going to take her meds like she is supposed to and start going back to counseling or he’d do what it took to get her admitted to a residential facility whether it was against her will or not.” 

“Uh … how big a blow up?”

“Big enough that some people that hadn’t known about Mom’s history do now and big enough that Mom embarrassed herself and realizes she went too far in front of the wrong people.  She’s trying … for now.  We’ll have to see how long it lasts this time.” 

“Cliff … isn’t … isn’t that cynical?  I know she hasn’t treated you right but your mom isn’t totally useless.  I mean if nothing else you can’t fake the love she has for your dad.” 

“Or my brothers.  Or my grandparents.  I just … I have to be realistic.  I know she’s my mom and all that, I just can’t feed into the drama anymore.   I’ve got to pick my battles and the one with Mom is one I’m never going to win.  I don’t even care whose fault it is anymore, I just … I just know I don’t want to keep living like … like … I just don’t want to wind up like Mom.  Dad and I really don’t fight much but during one of the biggest ones he said … he said he worried that … that …”  He stopped and shuddered.  “It was like a turning point or whatever kind of crap you want to call it.  It made me look at things.  And then moving out gave me a chance to … think about stuff.  Mom … she makes things harder than they have to be and hurts herself and other people.  I was making things harder than they needed to be and was hurting me too.  One of us had to stop.  Mom can’t.  I can … and that’s what I’m doing.  And that’s what you need to do too.” 

“Excuse me?!” 

“Don’t turn into a porcupine Gypsy.  I just mean you can’t control other people and the things they do that hurt you … and you know good and well it hurts your feelings for those people to think you are some kind of a racist a-hole.  So since you can’t control what they think you have to learn to control how you react to it.  Neither one of us is ever going to figure out what we are going to do with our lives if we are always dancing to someone else’s tune.” 

Easy for Cliff to say.  Or maybe not.  Guess we both have issues.  It kept us from being friends for a long time and now I can’t imagine not being friends with him.  Life is way too complicated.  Why do people have to make it so complicated?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Chapter Eleven

“It’s all right Uncle Carmichael.  You know all the little circles have to be colored in with a #2 or some paper pusher down the line is going to go bonkers.  I’m fine now that I know Aunt Rachel’s hip isn’t broken.  I like to have died ten times over when I saw her fall.  It was like Grammy all over again.” 

“I’ll be right outside here if you need me Prissy Britches.” 

“I know.” 

Uncle Carmichael left the room but on his way out he let those interviewing me know that he wasn’t going to be real tolerant of anything out of the ordinary.  As the door closed I saw Cliff skulking out there as well.  And even after my uncle had left the room was far from empty.  In addition to several different investigators from different agencies there were a bunch of lawyers too from all of the interested parties … the county, the state, the insurance people, the hospital, Aunt Rachel’s lawyer, and some I don’t have the foggiest idea who they were. 

“Your uncle is very protective.  Why would that be?  Hmmmm?” 

“That’s what a real man does.  When my parents died I never had to wonder who was going to take care of me.  So … you want me to tell you what happened one more time?  Think you can remember the correct sequence of events this time?” 

She didn’t like my snark but I hadn’t enjoyed hers either.  She opened her mouth but someone else in the room asked politely to start at the beginning for their benefit.  And that’s what I did. 

Aunt Rachel was chuckling when we made our way inside the butcher shop.  She wasn’t very fast so I stood there with the door open to help her over the threshold.  When the door closed behind us I noticed the place was awful quiet despite all the cars in the parking lot.  Then my eyes found the people sitting on the floor and another visual sweep showed a guy heading our way with a pistol aimed right at us. 

It is strange; my memories at that point are like a movie with most of the sound turned off.  Everyone keeps asking if I was thinking of Tamika and those other girls and I can say honestly that I wasn’t really thinking at all for a while.  The barrel of the gun seemed like the only thing I should be focusing on so that’s what I did, even after he pushed me down.  At least until … 

“Until?” they prompted as I faded off from telling the tale. 

I sighed.  “I realized he was shouting at Aunt Rachel, telling her to get on the ground only she’s got real bad arthritis and moves slow even on her good days.  Making her get on the ground wasn’t going to be easy for her.  Then he kicked her cane away and swept her legs out from her making her fall.  I mean it was free fall.  She didn’t stumble, she was airborne for a moment before coming down.  I was scared to death she had broken her hip and when I tried to crawl to her he stomped my hand.  It didn’t hurt at that point but it shocked the rest of my senses back online.  I heard him screaming curses at everyone, shouting that the money better get in the bag or the old … er … lady would be the first one to take the hit.  Then Aunt Rachel moaned and he kicked her and was bringing the gun down to point at her and I don’t know … I just knew he was going to kill her like he said and I grabbed a can of Chunky’s Campbell soup that was on the shelf I had fallen by and came at him.” 

The female federal agent gave a derisive snort and asked, “Did you think you were being brave?” 

I shrugged realizing she was someone that was going to push me regardless of how it made her look.  “Brave had nothing to do with it.  He was going to kill my aunt.  Could you sit there and do nothing for an old lady that had done nothing but love you your whole life?” 

“That’s irrelevant Miss Baumann.” 

“No, it isn’t.  See if you could sit there and let something like that happen then there is no way to explain to you what I was feeling.  I didn’t aim.  I didn’t think about hurting him or revenge or anything close to that.  All I was thinking was that I had to stop him.  That’s all.  He was going to kill her and I had to stop him.” 

“Like those girls that wanted to kill you needed to be stopped?” 

“Huh?  What happened then and what happened today have nothing to do with one another.  Besides Tamika and her crew only wanted to teach me a lesson for something they thought I had done … which if you read the report everyone agrees that I didn’t do.  The girls’ emotions got out of hand and they didn’t stop or couldn’t ‘cause they were so jacked up and in the moment.  I don’t think that Tamika really thought I’d die.  Get maimed and scarred up yeah, but not get dead.  If they had meant to kill me outright they would have caught me outside school where they could hide the evidence or whatever.  A couple of the girls admitted they’d talked about doing it that way then decided they wanted to make a statement instead to prove how right they were.” 


“Hmmmm all you want but trying to make me look like Tamika won’t wash.  I hit that guy once and only once.  I just wanted to stop him from killing Aunt Rachel.  My one hit made him stop so I stopped.” 

“Your ‘one hit’ shattered the boy’s face and put him in ICU.” 

“He’s not a boy, he is a couple of years older than me.  He’s also bigger than me and Aunt Rachel put together even if he does look young and skinny in those pictures you showed me.  He’s older than that now.  Plus he had the gun to make him even more powerful.” 

“You …” 

“I didn’t aim.  I don’t think I could have hit him if I was aiming.  He had stomped my hand – I’m a righty – and I suck doing much of anything with my left hand.  I just swung my arm and the can connected with his cheek.  When he fell back I dropped the can and rushed to Aunt Rachel who was going into shock.  Next thing I can honestly say happened was when this woman started patting my shoulder and asking how old Aunt Rachel was because the 9-1-1 operator was asking.” 

They went back over what happened again and again trying to lead me one place or the other, asking for details I didn’t know and refused to guess about.  At three hours I was ready to cry again but didn’t this time.  At the four hour mark some really important looking guy from the back of the room got a call startling everyone because all cell phones were supposed to have been confiscated at the door.  We all looked at him when he snapped at the federal investigators, “Enough.” 

The female fed of the dynamic duo tried to run her mouth but the important guy put a sheaf of papers in her hand and said something like it couldn’t be contained and had already started to go viral.  She got a poisonous look on her face as she read over what he had handed to her.  When she flipped a page a couple of the lawyers saw what they were and started squawking and asking if they were being played and that they weren’t going to risk their necks and reputation “this time”, that it wasn’t worth the damage.  Then one of the lawyers started barking at the feds and asking them if they’d been in on it from the beginning.  I thought for sure there was going to be a brawl with the female fed being the one to throw the first punch at the important guy for “setting her up after all she’d done for him.”  Or that’s what I heard anyway. 

The male fed – the supposed good cop of the duo – pushed his way over to me and suggested, “Why don’t you take this opportunity and leave?” 

Being much less of a fool the second time of experiencing a full blown crap storm I stalled and said, “And walk through them?  Uh uh.  They look out for blood and I don’t want to set anyone off.  Plus, don’t I need to sign something?  I had to sign a gazillion papers last time the feds got involved.  Y’all have like a fetish for that sort of thing.” 

At that moment Aunt Rachel’s lawyers showed up and said calmly, “I’m sure it was a momentary oversight Winifred.”  He turned to the rest of the room and called, “Which of you need signatures from this young lady?  The investigators seem to have completed the deposition and are releasing her.” 

He hid it fast but I realized that the “good cop” was just as big a crap head as his female partner and his goal had been to get me in trouble.  Dirty rotten jerk.  I also soon found myself bracketed by Uncle Carmichael and Cliff.  I felt like an abridged copy of a few Mother Goose poems being smooshed by a couple of copies of “War and Peace.”  I didn’t even have my hips anymore to bang them with to get some space. 

Another hour and the sun long set and my hand – badly bruised but not broken – was throbbing again after the little bit of pain med I had been given wore off.  Also, both of my thumbs were black from putting my thumbprint by my signature to prove that the chicken scratch was actually mine. 

“Is that all of them?” Uncle Carmichael asked the assembled crowd of suits. 

It was and I was finally able to leave their “custody.”

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Chapter Ten

“Could you start at the beginning again Miz Baumann?” 


“Excuse me?” 

“I’m not a Miz, just a plain ol’ Miss.  Or Winifred or even just Winnie.  Miz makes me sound like something I’m not.  Do you know where my uncle is?  He’s supposed to let me know what the doctors say.” 

“He’ll be back when we finish getting your statement.” 

“Huh?  Wait.  You mean … you mean I can’t see him and find out about Aunt Rachel?  But you’re like, I don’t know, the fifth or sixth policeman I’ve given a statement to.” 

“Miz … Miss Baumann, things will go a lot smoother if you would just cooperate.” 

“I’ve been cooperating.  I just need to know how my aunt is.  Are you like saying I need a lawyer or something?” 

A woman in a business suit broke in and said, “No one has said that.  Do you think you need a lawyer?” 

“Oh geez, not this routine again.  You gotta be feds.  Look, you know who I am.  I told everyone who has asked me.  I guess my name is on some dumb list because of the riots.  Fine.  Whatever.  Just instead of assuming I’m guilty of something ignorant could you just ask me straight out instead of going in circles?  I’m tired and I haven’t even had a glass of water since we got here.” 

The woman got a very shark like grin on her face and said, “Oh you’re good but your little innocent act won’t fly.  I know all about the football team Sweets.” 

Getting irritated I said, “Ok, that’s it.  Get one of those women’s health doctors … a gynecologist.” 

“You got an STD or something?  You pregnant and gonna try and use that as an out?” 

“No.  I’m gonna settle that stupid rumor once and for all because I … have … had …it.  None of those jocks would have touched me with a ten foot pole anyway.  Why would they?  They were all getting it regular from multiple other sources.  Dinah Huffstetler just got mad ‘cause her boyfriend’s tutoring meant he was no longer available to drive her home from cheerleading practice in his new Camaro.  I don’t care how much it embarrasses me at this point.  I just want it over with.” 

I stood there tapping my foot. 

The man chuckled like some fuzzy kitten had just hissed.  “Ok, let’s assume you’re telling the truth.  What about the smoke bombs at the football game?  Why get your revenge if you weren’t guilty of anything?” 

I shook my head.  It was all just a repeat of the crap from last time.  “First off they were smoke – or smudge – pots.  POTS … not bombs.  They were placed on either side of this paper banner that was a back drop for our pep squad’s dance routine.  Our pep squad had to buy new uniforms that year because of the dress code change in the district and they could only afford really wimpy special effects for their routines and they wanted to go to competition so were saving what money they had in their budget for that.  Well one of the girls on the squad had a brother in our AV club and she asked if we could come up with some stuff to help out since we always did the special effects for the drama club.  The guys really … I mean stupid right? … thought if they helped the girls they might get a date.  Not just stupid but royally ignorant but that’s guys for you … even the smarts ones have a one track mind when it comes to long lashes and short skirts.  So we played with some formulas … had to smoke but no flame ‘cause of the paper banner … and we found a great one.  It gave out tons of cool colored smoke, no flame or even heat, and it wasn’t even toxic to the environment.”   

I sighed and slid into the chair I had vacated a moment before.  “Only we hadn’t figured on the wind … or the fact that it would blow the smoke right into the opposing team’s varsity cheer squad.  Please note I said the other team’s cheer squad, not ours so there is no possible revenge factor.  And even that might have been ok except they were in the middle of taking pictures for their yearbook and had this sticky, sparkly crap in their hair and … well the tempera powder that we used to color the smoke hit sticky and got stuck.  Then everything went totally crazy.  They started screaming … not ‘cause they were scared but because they were mad.  But their moms don’t know this and for some dumb reason automatically assume terrorist attack.  To make a long story short …” 

“Oh let’s do,” the female agent said snidely. 

I gave her the look her comment deserved and continued.  “To make a long story short the whole AV club got sentenced to 80 hours of volunteer work each and that was in addition to having to scrub both the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms at their school.  And rich they might have been but they were still disgusting little skid marks with BO.  So thanks for making me relive one of the most humiliating chapters of my life … make that two of the most humiliating chapters of my life since you brought up the rumors that I did the wild thang with the football team.  Especially considering you could have found all of this out by reading the court minutes of the trial of the girls who almost killed me, which according to a bunch of dumb reporters is what sparked the riots around the country.” 

I sat there looking at them and they continued to look at me until the woman’s cell phone went off and she looked at it.  After listening for a moment she closed it with a snap and turn to her partner and told him, “The kid is going to live.” 

She sounded so relieved I got furious all over again.  “You’re more concerned that a man …man, not kid since he’s twenty-one and older than I am … you’re more concerned about a criminal that had a gun pointed at an old lady, then kicked her cane making her fall, than you are about the old lady?!!” 

A voice behind me said, “I’ll take that statement.  Great sound bite.” 

I didn’t even have to puzzle out who the guy was.  “What is this?  A reunion?  I told you when you snuck into my hospital room the last time I didn’t’ want to talk to you.  And I don’t want to talk to you now either.  Go away.” 

“No.  If these officers …” 

“They aren’t cops; their feds.  So stop doing whatever you are trying to do.  I’m no martyr to your stupid cause!  And I don’t want trouble!” 

A couple of real police officers hustled the guy out.  I said to no one in particular, “I just want to know how my aunt is.  You tell me and we’ll go over the stupid statement again.” 

“You use the word stupid excessively.” 

I told the woman, “Because the whole world has gotten excessively stupid.  Nobody can seem to get along and just keep their noses out of other people’s business.  Not countries, not governments, not religions, not people.  Everyone is growing a giant cancerous tumor of stupid.” 

The man, who seemed to be playing the “good cop” since his partner did “bad cop” so well said, “Why don’t you come sit back down and write out your statement for us?  Then it’ll be over with?” 

I lifted my right hand out of the pocket of the scrubs that I was wearing because my clothes had been taken for evidence and said, “I would except as you can see I’m kinda taped into a splint here where the guy stomped on my hand when I tried to crawl over to my Aunt.” 

Both of them blinked and looked through a couple of sheets of paper on the table before the woman asked suspiciously, “It’s broken?  There’s nothing in the report.” 

“I haven’t got the foggiest,” I snapped.  “Every time someone tried to take me to x-ray one of you guys wants another statement because apparently no one can read each other’s handwriting.” 

“We can’t take a statement until the drugs are out of your system.” 

“What drugs?!” I shouted, then yelped as I banged my hand on the table.  “I havent’ even taken a Tylenol.  My hand is thumping like crazy except for my fingers which I can’t feel anymore because the tape on the splint is too tight and they’re all a funny purple color … and … and …” 

I was not going to cry.  Was not.  But then I did.  Things got kind of confusing after that as Uncle Carmichael and Cliff who had been standing out in the hallway burst in when I got kind of loud.  Uncle Carmichael alone can be pretty imposing but pair him with Cliff and imposing goes up several notches.  Plus they both had practice from where I’d basically been held captive in the hospital before.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chapter Nine

It’s not that I didn’t understand because I did.  It’s not that I didn’t think that Aunt Rachel has the right to order her life as she sees fit because I did.  It’s just that, like always, things came at me from left field and I had to argue with it a bit until I could accept it. 

“Haven’t I been doing a good job Aunt Rachel?!!” 

“Oh for land sake Winifred don’t shout.  I thought you liked the boy well enough.” 

“I do.  Just not the way Uncle Carmichael and Mr. Montgomery are trying to make things work.  They’re finished up with Christine and Chris and must have gotten bored so now they’ve decided to try the same thing with Cliff and I.” 

“Pay attention to your driving.  You wanna borrow my glasses?” 

“I’m serious Aunt Rachel.” 

“I know you are and I understand some of why your feelings are hurt.  But before I make my final decision I wanna know what you got against the boy.” 

Sighing I admitted, “I don’t have anything against Cliff; not really.  It’s just … they’re meddling.” 

With a slight grin she said, “Ah, so you do like the boy.” 

Sometimes Aunt Rachel sees too much.  “I … no.  Ok, I could like him but I’m not stupid.” 

“And what may I ask does that bit of nonsense mean?” 

Irritably I ticked off my reasons.  “One, guys like Cliff go for the high maintenance girls … girls like Mr. Derringer’s granddaughter Penny.  They do not go for girls like me.  Two, even if he did ask me out I’d never know if it was him asking because he wanted to or if he was doing it just to get his dad and Uncle Carmichael off his back.  Three, even if I lost all commonsense and thought he might ask me out for my own sake I’d still run hard in the other direction because I don’t ever want to be a checkmark on someone’s list of things to do.” 

“Little young to be so cynical Winifred.” 

“Ha!  He’s got a lifetime habit of sampling a flower then just passing on.” 

“Boy’s barely twenty, he’s not old enough to have a lifetime habit.  And child, women are not flowers and I shouldn’t have to explain that you can only be sampled by putting yourself out there.” 

“Exactly.  I refuse to put myself out there to get hurt.” 

“You can only get hurt if your heart is involved.” 

I sighed.  “Cliff could be a good guy, maybe a great guy, if not for the …”  I shook my head.  “I don’t think he means to hurt them, he just doesn’t want to be hurt either.” 

“You sure he hurts them?” 

Honestly I told her, “Some of them, but I know some were just … out for a good time too I guess.  I just know I’d be hurt if he did me the way he’s done the others.” 

“That all?” 

“I know it sounds selfish but with Christine going off and being all wrapped up in her life … Cliff is just about the only real friend I have left and … and he’s at least honest with me.  And if we … dated or whatever and things ended the way he normally ends things I wouldn’t just lose a date, I’d lose friend.” 

“Hmmmmmm.  Doesn’t sound selfish so much as you got a bit of the same problem Cliff does … only it isnt’ ‘cause your momma can’t find no love for you.” 

“Uh …” 

“Don’t stutter and pull in here.  It’s as obvious as the nose on your face the boy ain’t got the kind of mother love a boy needs.  Since the other brothers seem just about smothered with the stuff she must have rejected him early.  But that ain’t my business unless he makes it my business.  Now I’ve got me a taste for a bologna and mater sandwich.  This butcher cuts it extra thick just the way I like it and we might as well get enough to feed that bunch fried bologna sandwiches for lunch.” 

I pulled in as instructed and then ran around to get her cane out of the back seat.  She asked, “You remember to hang my tag on the rearview?” 

Since it stayed there all the time I just said, “Yes ma’am” rather than upset her by pointing out her faulty memory. 

“Now before we go inside I want to tell you I’m leaning to letting the boy stay.  Uh uh uh …let me finish.  There’s things that need doing that we can’t.  Not much but some, and what those things are make a difference.  Boy has proved he knows engines … my truck, the lawn tractor … even the big tractor.  And Carmichael says he’s a gifted carpenter and I’m ready to believe him after I saw him fix your great grandmother’s brick-a-brack cabinet.  You can’t even see where he cut out the rotten wood and mended the cracked spindle.  I’ve a mind to give him some scope to build those skills he’s showing even more.  Plus the boy has some muscle and size to him.  I’d like to see the storage barn cleaned out and it’s gonna take someone like him to do all the lifting and tugging and pulling it’s gonna take.  And if that get’s done before he has to go on back to school I’m thinking on the attic and basement as well.” 

“You could hire someone local for that.” 

“True, but I’m not of a mind to have too many know the straights I’m in.  They might get ideas that I need to move into an old folks home.”  It was a common theme since the storm so I let it pass rather than agitate her and spoil her mood. 

“It’s your place Aunt Rachel.  I won’t let anyone push you around.  They don’t have the right to.  And since it is your place I won’t make a bunch of noise about Cliff staying.  I just don’t want Uncle Carmichael and Mr. Montgomery to think they’ve won this round.”
She cackled a laugh and we walked into the deli and oh Lord I wished we hadn’t as soon as I figured out why the place was so quiet.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Chapter Eight

Third day was turning out to be the charm.  We got an amazing amount of work accomplished but just like always nothing stays absolutely smooth all the time and all the “family togetherness” was making certain people know-it-alls and some people prickly.  You can guess who the Prickly Puss was. 

I watched Cliff stomp around looking for limbs to break into kindling for the wood pile as long as I could stand it.  I looked at Aunt Rachel who was holding court with Cevin and Christine for an audience and picked up the bucket I had just sat down and headed out.  Reaching him I gave a deep sigh and said, “We need kindling not toothpicks.  K?” 

Cliff growled, “Con needs to shut up.” 

“Aw, he didn’t hurt my feelings but thanks for being on my side.” 


“Uh … weren’t you thinking that Connor was acting like a dork?” 

“Uh … yeah.  Yeah I was,” he said though I got the distinct impression he actually hadn’t been.  “So you thought he was being a dork?” 

“Hmph.  I know he’s your brother but you gotta admit for a brainiac he can be supremely stupid at times.” 

“Well,” he said judiciously.  “Dad says his smarts don’t leave much room for commonsense.” 

“You can say that again.  Even Christine said not to let him near any of the tools and just to have him work on putting the old farm records in order.  And you know she’s got like these thick, ginormous rose-colored glasses glued to her face 24/7.”  I flipped my pony-tail back off my shoulder and told him, “I think I’ve finished here if you’ll help me poor the milk through the strainer and take it over to the spring house so I can pour it into the separating pans.  Tomorrow is churning day.” 

“Er … and that means what?” 

I laughed.  “Fresh butter and cheese.  Now c’mon.  I want to check to make sure the coop is closed up good and padlocked righteously.  Mr. Wilhelm – and I can’t believe it was him of all people who finally thought to come out here and check on Aunt Rachel – anyway he said he heard that a bunch of people are getting their barns and sheds broken into.” 

“I heard him.  He said it was the migrants.” 

“He would.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” 

“It means that the migrants aren’t well-liked around here.  They drive from farm to farm by the truckload looking for work, undercutting local laborers, and last year about this time they were getting pretty aggressive about it.” 

He stopped me with a hand on my arm and said, “Define aggressive.” 

I shrugged.  “Similar to those homeless people that stand on the street corner with their buckets banging on the car windows and the spitting at or keying the cars that refuse to drop their windows and toss out some change.” 

Cliff got a disgusted look on his face before saying, “One of those **** heads kicked the tail light of Chris’ work truck and broke it.” 

We started walking again and then I unlocked the spring house.  As I carefully poured the raw milk into the separating pans Cliff inspected the interior. “So this is the way they used to do it in the old days.” 

“Around here they did.  I’m not really sure how they did it in places were there aren’t any springs.  Almost didn’t have this one to make things easier only I got curious when I moved out here and figured out how to fix it by listening to some of Aunt Rachel’s stories.  It gave me something to do.” 

He gave a rude snort.  “Isn’t curiosity the same excuse you gave when you and the nerdettes tried to improve the smoke pots they used during the half time shows?  They almost called the fire department.  If it had been anyone besides mousey Winn Baumann they would have called the cops and Homeland Security.” 

“Trust me they did call the cops and wanted to take it further … until they found out Richleau was in on it too.  His mom tore a strip off of all of us in front of God and everyone and I think even the cops started to feel sorry for us.  She never had much use for me – and this was right after those rumors started – but if I went down she figured the chances of her precious one going to Harvard would go down too.  So she put a fix in for us … but we still paid for it.” 

From left field Cliff asked, “Did you hear Richie’s older brother got killed in a drive by?” 

Shocked enough that I nearly dropped the bucket it took me a second to draw breath to ask, “Oh my gawd, which one?  Morris or Terrance?” 

“Don’t know … the oldest one.  Richie got weird after that.” 

“Morris was the oldest.  And if you want to know the truth Richie already qualified for weird.  He wasn’t always with us when he said he was.”  I glanced at Cliff in the dark and said, “You know his mom was making him date that girl.” 

“Relax Gypsy.  You don’t need to talk around it.  That was out of the closet back in middle school.  Why do you think he got beat up on so much back then?  I thought you would have known.” 

“Er … I guess I’ve got blind spots on that stuff.  I just figured it was because he was such a nerd.  So … change of subject.  I need to walk around and make sure the gates and stuff are locked.” 

“I’ll come with you.” 

“You don’t have to.” 

“Maybe.  Maybe not.  I still think it’s crazy for you to walk around out here in the dark by yourself.” 

“You said that last night.  I’m not helpless,” I said patting my belt to remind him of the revolver I carry.  “And I don’t jump at things like bullfrogs or owls swooping down for a meal.” 

“Ha ha.  Look, all I need to do is get used to things.” 

“You don’t need to get used to things.  You’re leaving in a couple of days.” 

“Yeah.  About that …”