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Author's note: Summer has a way of bringing changes, doesn't it?
I had just hopped off of that clunk of junk that takes all of us students up Coal Branch to school that adults call a school bus. It was the last day of school, and the bus was pretty wild that afternoon, with the people who actually attended that day, anyway. I held my little sister Sydney Lakey's hand and helped her out of the pile of metal we were riding in. Sydney's six, and if you have ever been on a bus, you would realize the terror in Momma's eyes each time the innocent child got on the thing. So I am basicallly babysitting her from the time the bus leaves the school to the time she steps off the bus. Her springy brown piggytails bounced as her smiling face, dimples and all, jumped off the bus. To her, it was officially summer. It was just May 28, but it was still summer. As I grabbed laughing Sydney into my farmer's tanned arms, I looked to our little rinky-dink trailer, run down, but clean, and expected to smell Momma with supper on, grinning, saying, "Well, kids, how was your last day of school?" But, instead, I saw a grim Momma standing barefoot in the front yard, arms crossed, on the virge of bursting out into waterworks.
"Seth, I need to speak to you in the backyard," she choked. Her long, brown hair came to waist, and her light blue eyes were misty. I swallowed. This didn't look good.
"Sydney, can you take Bubby's books in the house?" I asked, handing her my tablet, not to be used again until August.
"Sure, Bubby!" giggled Sydney, who appeared not to sense something terrible was going on, to my relief. She skipped inside the house. I turned back to Momma. She hadn't looked this upset since the day Dad died... the day Sydney was born. He wrecked on his way to the hospital, never getting to see his beautiful, only daughter.
"I got fired today," she choked. I caressed her back, trying to soothe her. To her I was probably a giant, since she only measured to five foot 3. I even felt awkward sometimes, since I was 6 foot 5, tall for 16.
"Why, Momma?" I whispered, trying to hide the stressed look behind my eyes.
"Because I was too short to brush the new horse's hair," she bursted out into a bitter cry. Momma worked on a farm up Cow Creek grooming horses. She didn't get paid much, but enough to help support us. Momma worked hard at what she did, and she was good with the horses. But the ornery old man she worked for didn't care. He was downright mean to Momma sometimes. She wanted to quit, but where else could a girl with nothing but a 10th grade education find work?
"Momma, I can try to find work.... who wouldn't want a strong teenage boy to help around a farm or a shop or something?" I said, trying to comfort Momma. "Or the Wal-Mart in Paintsville, they hire workers without a high school diploma."
"I'll go with Milly tommorrow to see if they can," Momma sniffed. Milly Gaines was our grumpy next door neighbor. She worked at Wal Mart. As I said, she is always grumpy, but would do anything to help out a friend. Sydney came bursting out of the house.
"Momma, I saw you were crying, I thought this might cheer you up." She gave Momma a drawing of her, me, Momma, and, hand in hand with Momma.... Dad. Momma smiled as a tear rolled down her cheek and she scooped up Sydney and whispered softly, "I love my children."
Sydney was basically Momma's mini- me except for the fact she had a bit of freckles here and there. She stood to Momma's thighs, kinda short I guess you could say. Milly, our neighbor, had sandy hair with chocolate eyes. She was about 5 foot 10, kind of tall. (Well, I towered above her, but you know what I mean.) My feet hung out over the full bed Sydney and I shared. Momma was saving up for Sydney her own bed, and told her she would get one at age 7. She could hardly wait. I turned with what little room I had in our bed at the thought of Momma losing her job. This was it, I had to get a job. I could find someone to watch Sydney. I don't know who, but I knew for sure I had to figure out something. What if Wal Mart wouldn't hire Momma? A chill went up my spine. Seth, no, you have to have hope. Stop thinking like that.
Tommorrow Milly would take Momma to Wal Mart, it's official, Momma talked to her this afternoon, while she was shouting at some dogs (grumpy old Milly.) As I lie there thinking these things, I thought for sure I wouldn't be able to sleep until the sunshine shone through the window beside my bed. But, somehow, I drifted off into a dreamless sleep into the cold, bitter night.
The morning sun shone through my window like a ray of hope the next morining. I jumped out of bed and ran to the shower. Momma wasn't up yet, so I decided to go to the kitchen and make breakfast myself. I had just got dressed and went to the kitchen when Jason Gaines came bursting through the door. I should have expected this. Jason Gaines is Milly's husband's nephew who spends half of his summer at Milly's. I would say poor Jason..... but he is a headache, too. He's 14. Annoyingly. 14.
"HI, SETH!" Jason giggled. I rolled my eyes.
"Jason, you're going to wake up the dead, be quiet, Momma and Syd are still asleep."
"Actually, Seth, for your information, that is why I was sent over here. To tell Ms. Lakey to get ready. Aunt Millie has to be over there at 9:00, and it is already 8:00," Jason rolled his eyes in the same manner I had. Sometimes Jason and I were like brothers.... fights included. I sighed, and went to Mom's bedroom. I crept over to her bed and shook her gently.
"Momma, Milly wants you to get ready for Wal Mart, I'm making breakfast," I whispered. Immediately Momma sprung to life and practically did a cartwheel out of bed and into the bathroom. I retired to the kitchen where Jason was there to accompany me with the world's most annoying game... 20 questions. All. About. My. School. Year. This kid is killer.
"Jason, do you want to stay for breakfast?" Momma walked in the kitchen. She had worn her best skirt and formal top (her only decent top and untattered skirt) and makeup, rare for momma, on. Her brown hair was neatly pulled back into a loose bun. Momma was ready for the big Wal Mart.
"If you don't mind, ma'am," Jason smiled at Momma. He was always curtious to adults and women, I have to give the kid credit.
"Of course not," smiled Momma. "Seth, why don't you wake up Sydney and I'll set the table?" It was more of an order than a question, for Momma whisked the food off of the stove.
"I will," I mumbled, going back into my bedroom to wake Sydney up. The door was cracked, and I could hear Jason talking to Momma.
"My aunt in Knott County needs someone to tend for her farm, she's getting well up in years," he began, "and would pay room, board, meals, and a little salary for extra work for a farmhand. I mentioned something about Seth, and she said that she would love to have him." It was perfect! One less mouth for Momma to feed, and I could send Momma and Sydney the extra money home! An abousloutely flawless plan. I was sure Momma would take up the offer.
"I couldn't ask Seth to do that," she replied,"And who would watch Sydney? I can't afford a babysitter, even with the Wal Mart job." My hopes sank. Momma was too afraid to ask me.
"Ms. Lakey, I'm 14, and wouldn't mind to watch her anytime for nothing if you wish," Jason pleaded. He must really love this aunt. Or really want me to get this job.
"I'll ponder it," Momma sighed doubtfully. I stopped eavesdropping and went over to Syd.
"Come, on, little Syd, time for breakfast," I whispered. Sydney drearily opened her eyes, a light sleeper. She yawned. Her nostrils flared when she smelt the delicious food in the kitchen. She wearily drug her arms up toward me.
"Carry me," seemed to be the mumble out of her mouth. I laughed and scooped her up and packed her into the kitchen.
"Oh, there you are Seth," Momma inquired, not taking her eyes off her table-setting work, "I was starting to think you tripped over the bedpost again," she added, for Sydney's laughing benefit. I had tripped over the bedpost when I was 14 and broke my leg. The only clumsy moment in my life, and no one would let me live it down. Of course, Momma's remark made Jason giggle. I just decided to ignore it, and we all (some, unconsciously, like Sydney, laughs) sat down to a hearty morning meal. Momma had just got done eating when Milly walked through the door and laughed at Jason, his mouth full of biscuits and gravy.
"Jason, I see Lora has abducted you to her breakfast table," laughed Milly, and Momma laughed too. (By the way, if you didn't know, Momma's name is Lora.)
"Well, Mills, you ready to hit the road?" asked Momma, a spark in her blue eyes.
"Let's roll," smiled Milly. "Kids, be good!" they both yelled, then laughed when they realized they had said it at the same time, disappearing down the road in Milly's old car.
A while later, Sydney, Jason, and I had somehow managed to end up outside in the front yard, teaching Sydney how to ride Jason's bike. Then Momma and Jason's conversation from this morning popped up in my mind.
"Jason, I overheard you and Momma talking about your aunt in Knott County," I casually mentioned.
"Yeah, and I thought it was awful nice of you to suggest babysitting Syd," I added, trying to brown nose him.
"Yeah, she really wants a really strong man, but, I'm 14 and wimpy, and you're 16 and....let's just say, not wimpy," he chuckled to himself. I will take that as a complement.... I think.
"You think I can talk Momma into letting me go work for her?" I asked.
"I hope so," Jason almost whispered.
As we watched Milly's old car joloppy down the road, all of our eyes watched in anticipation. Had Momma gotten the job? Mr. Gaines, Milly's husband, came rushing over to the house.
"I hope your Momma got that job," he choked, feeling the same anxiety as I had.
"Me, too," was all I could manage to struggle out of my mouth. As Momma stepped out of the car, my eyes darted to the ground, scared to death of her expression. I knew I had to face my fears. So, slowly, I looked up and studied Momma's expression--and knew not to ask anything. She was wearily dragging herself into the house, dragging her feet, head bowed. Everyone said nothing. Not even Jason or Sydney. Milly bowed her head also and a look of frustration shown. I decided not to ask. I just looked at Momma, and said,
"I'm going to Knott County."
Momma wrung her hands as I packed my things. I had the suitcase Momma and Dad had used on their honeymoon, not much and worn out, but it could hold all of my few possessions. I wish we weren't poor. I wish Dad wasn't dead. Then I wouldn't have to go. But we were poor. And Dad was dead. Stupid reality. I carefully folded my jeans and old t shirts. Then, when Momma wasn't looking, I slipped in my favorite picture: Me, 10 years old, Momma pregnant with Syd, and Dad with his hands around all of us. Then I tucked in neatly Dad's old Bible. It had been his father's. I zipped my package of belongings carefully and drug them out to Milly's car. I was Knott County bound.
Jason hung out with me in the backseat, informing me on his aunt. She lived in Pippa Passes, he said. Her name was Katlyn Barnett,.She was in her 40s, had pale brown hair, on the verge of turning grey, had chesnut eyes with a gold ring around the pupil, wore grey glasses with biofocials, and usually wore an old t shirt with a tattered skirt. Her farm was huge. This put a feeling of dread... and excitement... over me. Could I be any help at all on such a large farm? I clutched the Bible in my suitcase and gulped.
Finally, after what seemed almost hours of driving (only about 45 minutes, but, still) we pulled upon a little run down farmhouse and a huge weathered black barn with a couple of boards missing, and beside that, a wooden hen house. That would probably be some of my first jobs: repairing the barn and house. Also, if you squinted, you could see fields of corn and wheat behind the barn and a pond aside from everything. On the porch, sitting in a rocker, was what I believed to be Jason's relative; exactly the way Jason described her, not a detail wrong. In addition to Jason's rightness, her farm was huge; exactly as big as I expected.
The first time I met Mrs. Barnett I could tell this summer was going to be different than any other; I just couldn't tell how.
"Mildred! It's so good to see you!" Mrs. Barnett exclaimed, throwing her arms around her.
"I've missed you, Katlyn," Milly said to her husband's sister.
"You haven't changed a bit, Mildred," continued Mrs. Barnett. While Milly and Mrs. Barnett had their litttle reunion, Jason started showing me around the farm. We went over to the pond and stuck our feet into the refreshing, cold water. After a while, we heard a call in the distance.
"Jason! Come on! It's time to leave!" shouted Milly. I guessed that was a call for me, too. Mrs. Barnett and I watched Milly and Jason pull out of the driveway. When they were completely out of sight, Mrs. Barnett turned to me.
"Go ahead and put your stuff up in the guest bedroom, Seth, then come into the kitchen. I want to talk to you," Mrs. Barnett almost whispered, then turned and went back inside the house.
The guest bedroom was easy to find. There was only two bedrooms in the whole house. I could easily tell that Mrs. Barnett's bedroom was the one with pictures of her family in it. I wondered where the husband in the picture was.
I sat my suitcase on the twin bed. The quilt looked hand-sewn. The pillows were fluffed to perfection. There was only three other pieces of furniture; a dresser, nightstand, and a drawer, all walnut. The closet was pretty compact, but still big enough for my simple belongings. I kept my clothes in my suitcase, placed the Bible on the bed, and, last.... our family picture on the nightstand, then hurried off to the kitchen.
Mrs. Barnett was in her house slippers and an old cotton gown, for it was six o clock, and I knew she probably went to bed early. The kitchen was rather simple, like the rest of the house. On the far corner stood a lonely old stove, and beside it a couple of walnut cabnets (mental note: Mrs. Barnett like walnut) and a simple sink. The wallpaper had hen designs on it. It kind of reminded me of our kitchen.
I sat down at the walnut kitchen table and Mrs. Barnett turned dead serious.
"I bet you've already wondered where my husband is," she sternly looked me in the eye. I nodded my head.
"Well, he died a couple of years ago as a result of a murder," she spoke with bitterness in her tone,"And left me widowed to take care of our daughter and farm. Our daughter is now in college, which left me alone, needing someone to help me take care of this big farm," then she guestured toward me," which leads us to this moment." A moment of silence passed by. I hate those. They are so awkward.
"So, son, every morning you will wake at dawn and milk Clarabell, the cow in the barn. Then you will gather the eggs from the hens in the hen house, feed them, and take the eggs in here for breakfast, then take the remaining ones down in the cellar to be sold at the farmer's market. After you eat breakfast, you will take the scraps out and feed them to the pigs. Then you will ride horseback to the fields, and tend to the crops. Then ride horseback back to the barn, and take the three horses and cow out to graze in the pastures, then report back to the kitchen for lunch," she finally finished. I could tell Mrs. Barnett was a strictly buisness type person.
"Some of the extra chores you could do is take the weed-eater around the pond, mow the front yard, clean the barn, and so on. But you have to wait to do those in the afternoon after l you complete the chores you are required to do to pay your room and board here. After all the work you are going to do that day is finished, come back to the kitchen for supper. Any questions?" asked Mrs. Barnett. I solemnly shook my head no.
"Great, you start tommorrow. But, right now, help me get supper ready,'' ordered Mrs. Barnett. Then I thought to myself, "What in God's creation did I get myself into?" I really had no idea.
I heard a faint whisper in the dark.
"Seth, Seth, get up," I heard a voice whisper.
"Seth, someone is in the house, I know they are," Mrs. Barnett whispered to me. I immeadiately opened my eyes.
"Where?" I yawned.
"The front room," Mrs. Barnett was tore all to pieces. She handed me a gun and I tiptoed into the front room. I looked left. Nothing. I looked right. Nothing. I looked straight ahead. Still nothing.
"Seth! He's getting out of the kitchen door!" I rushed to the kitchen, but again saw nothing.
"Aw, Mrs. Barnett, it ain't nothing," I yawned, my eyes getting heavier.
"I know I saw someone," she sounded suprised.
"Well, if you hear or see anything else, you know where I'm at," I said, aggrivated. I was living with a hallucinated senile OCD middle aged widow. Wow. I went back into my room and plopped down on my pillow. Mrs. Barnett didn't come in my room any more that night.
I woke next morning to the sound of a faint rooster crow. I fumbled out of bed, tripping over the sheets and landing on the floor, making a loud thud. Quickly, I got into the shower then pulled on my clothes and hurried out to the hen house. Then I hurried out to the barn, where I met the famous Clarabell. I sat on a rickety stool and finally got that chore done, running into the house with the morning collections, smelling the welcoming aroma of a freshley cooked breakfast.
"Morning, Seth," Mrs. Barnett called as I walked in the front door. She was apparentley a morning person. "Breakfast will be ready as soon as you bring me the eggs, dearest." I walked as if in a trance over to Mrs. Barnett. Immediatetly she scrambled some eggs and poured them into the buttered frying pan.
"Go ahead and set down, Seth. Breakfast likes just a hair from being ready." Mrs. Barnett seemed to be gushing with happiness. As if last night hadn't happened.
I placed myself into the rickety walnut chair. Mrs. Barnett busied herself about putting food on the table and finishing up the eggs. She tossed me a plate.
"Get whatever you like," she said, returning to her fidgeting. I ate some eggs and poked at my biscuit then decided to go ahead and get the rest of my chores done.
"Thank you, ma'am for the meal," I mumbled, then got up and walked out into the barn, getting a horse to head for the fields. Man, I didn't know what I'd find there.
On the trip to Pippa Passes yesterday (which seemed like years to me now) Jason had informed me on a few of the characters who lived nearby. (Well, a couple of miles apart, but... you know what I mean.) He said that there were two teenagers around my age, Jamie Lauren and Derek Lykins. Derek, he said, is 18, and Jamie, 15. I asked him to describe Derek, and he said he was a little shorter than me, not by much, had curly brown hair and emerald eyes. I asked him to describe Jamie, and he laughed. He said that was a suprise he rather not spoil. Then he laughed harder.
I was tending to the crops when I heard someone cry in the distance.
"HELP! Help!" cried an angelic voice in the distance. I immediately hopped on the horse and gallopped toward the sound. We rode for a couple of seconds to find a short, slim teenage girl battle a wandering bull. I looked at the saddle on my horse to check for a leather bag. And, just as I hoped,
I pulled out a worn but sturdy rope. Hoping my rope skills that my father had taught me would come in handy right about now, I did my best to lasso one of the raging bull's horns..... and it fit perfect! The raging bull caught wind of me. I quickly knotted the other end to a tree and got the heck to the other side. Wouldn't hold long, but hopefully, long enough. I ran over and got the girl and ran until I was completely out of breath.
"Thanks," said the girl.
"Awww, it wasn't nothing," I smiled.
"If you would've given me a couple more seconds that bull would have been halfway to my cousin's farm!" she snapped.
"Thanks for the gratitude," I breathed sarcastically. I hadn't noticed until now how beautiful this girl actually was. She had shoulder length red hair, eyes the color of Mrs. Barnett's walnut furniture collection, a pinch of freckles here and there. Again, she was kind of short, coming about a couple of inches below my chest. Although short, she made me speechless as I looked into her hypnotising walnut eyes.
"What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" she teased playfully. I finally zapped back to reality.
"Nnn...noo," I stammered. She giggled.
"I'm Jamie Lauren," she smiled, reaching her hand out as a peace offering.
"I...I'm..." and I swear I forgot my name.
"The teenage boy that came to work for the widow Mrs. Barnett?" Jamie giggled some more, and it made me.... yes, me, Seth Lakey blush tomato red.
"Um... Seth Lakey," I reached out my hand and shook hers.
"Not from around these parts, are you, hun?" she asked.
"I'm from Salyersville, in Magoffin County," I finally got my memory back.
"Oh, you mean Magoofin County?"
"We could do without the teasing," I felt anger rise in me. You could make me forget my name, you can tease me, you can make me forget how to breathe, but you don't say a word about my roots.
"Sorry," she smiled.
"Who... do you live with?"
"My grandmother, Vera Schwan," she almost whispered. "Dr. Schwan, you'll hear the locals call her."
"What happened to... your... pp... parents?" her eyes made me stutter.
She turned serious. "Car accident. Long ago."
"My dad died in a car crash too." It turned silent.
"Are you okay?" I asked. That was the worst thing I could've asked. She smiled then walked in a circle around me, making me gulp. She stopped when she went around once and came just a couple inches from my face. Her breathing on my face made my heart rate increase, oh, just about 90%.
"Honey, I can take care of myself, thank you very kindly," she nodded her head at me, then stepped back.
"Now, if you don't mind Ol' Pal, I'll be heading to the haceinda," Jamie slipped through the thickets, disappearing with the sunset.
It was about 6:30 in the afternoon when I came galloping in on Mrs. Barnett's horse, who she failed to mention its name. The mare was exquisite; her midnight coat had glossed in the sun earlier that day. Coming down from the tip of her head to the tip of her nose was a thick white line which contrasted unbelieveably with her shiny black coat. As she trotted back into the farm, I rubbed her for a while then gave her some oats. I traveled at almost lightspeed into Mrs. Barnett's kitchen to find the pleasing aroma of fried chicken and some cold, heaven to the tongue, iced tea.
"You're home late," Mrs. Barnett said, pouring me a glass of the iced tea. "I guess you'll get better with time."
"Thank you, ma'am," I nodded in respect as Mrs. Barnett slid the cup over to me across the table.
"Anything exciting keep you late?" asked Mrs. Barnett, a spec of a glistening sparkle in her weary eyes.
"I met Jamie Lauren," I replied. Mrs. Barnett was beginning to sound like my mom when I came home from school.... when I was 9.
Mrs. Barnett seemed to already know. "Did she give you a hard time, young'un?" she asked, smiling. My blush gave me away.
"I reckon," was all I could mutter out.
"I'm going to warn you, she's wilder than a cougar's cat," she smiled. It's a little too late, Mrs. Barnett. I just wish you would have told me that this morning. I picked around and finally ate some of my scrumptious meal. I asked to be excused (I thought Mrs. Barnett was hardcore like that.)
"Hey, Seth," called Mrs. Barnett.
She giggled. "You don't have to asked to be excused."
I snuggled up in my bed, too warm for the blankets, so I just hugged myself. I skimmed through my Bible, wanting to read something that I could sleep on. When my father died, I kinda strayed from God. Although that was 6 years ago, I was just then getting close to him again. I looked down at the perfect verse...
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. - Deuteronomy 31:6
That really helped me shake off the day. Thanks, Dad, for the gift.
As a long hard week of farmwork passed by, the usual happened. The first Friday on the farm, I had the... pleasure, I wouldn't dare call it.... of escaping off of the farm.
"Good morning, Seth," Mrs. Barnett greeted in her morning voice as I walked through the kitchen. I was starting to get used to her.
"Good morning, Mrs. Barnett," I yawned, still have asleep.
"Won't you skip the farmhandin' this morning and go down to the Paintsville Lake Port?" asked Mrs. Barnett.
"I ordered a new part for the tractor, it hasn't worked in a while." I tsked tsked with my fork around my plate.
"What's the catch?" I asked. Mrs. Barnett smiled.
"Dr. Schwan is out of town today, and she doesn't want Jamie to stay by herself."
My mouth dropped open. "You want me to babysit Jamie?" I chuckled. "She'll kill me!"
"I trust you'll survive," said Mrs. Barnett, then she shot me a warning glance. "Oh, my, Jamie, you have grown!"
I glanced around. There was Jamie. Smiling. Looking at me. She heard, I know she did. That's why she's smiling.
"Thank you, Mrs. Barnett, for letting me ride along with Seth today."
"Oh, whatever you want, sweety. Alright, run along," Mrs. Barnett. I stood there, still stunned.
"Oh, c'mon, Seth," Jamie smiled, tugging me out the door to Mrs. Barnett's old truck. I got into the driver's seat.
"Let me drive," Jamie chimed.
"You're only 15," I argued.
"Soooooo," she stretched out. I rolled my eyes. She slipped into the passenger seat, then on my lap. My heart thudded faster. I'm sure she felt it. She giggled.
"Alright, alright, you take the driver's seat," I grumbled, scooting to the passenger seat. Biggest mistake of my short life. She drove 90. All. The. Way. To. Paintsville. It takes about 40 minutes to Paintsville. We got there in 20.
"Slow down, Jamie!"
Her eyes danced. She used the most velveting voice I ever heard. "Now, Seth," she smiled, stretching my name. I just sat there, my lips pursued in an arguing stature, but I couldn't make words come out. And that's why we got there in 20 minutes.
"I'm driving on the way back," I said as we stretched out of the vehicle.
"Suit yourself," shrugged Jamie, smiling. She threw me the keys. I was dizzy; I couldn't tell whether it was from Jamie's fast driving...... or her.
We got the part; no problem. Then I got the privilige to see Derek Lykins.
"Hey, Seth, over there is Derek," Jamie whispered.
"Jamie!" yelled Derek.
"Hey! This is Seth," she said as he neared closer.
"Hey Seth," he greeted, winking at me. I blushed.
I'm just going to say, before I met Jamie Lauren, I had never blushed. Wow.
"Seth's that farmhand that Mrs. Barnett hired for this summer," Jamie explained to Derek. Then Derek reached out his hand to me.
"I'm Jamie's cousin," explained Derek. For some reason, I found relief in this.
"Howdy," I greeted.
"Good luck son," he whispered when Jamie started skipping to the car. "Good luck, cause you're without a doubt gonna need some." Then he winked and whisked away.
"Where are we going to grab some grub?" asked Jamie, holding her stomach. "I'm starving," she complained. I smiled.
"McDonalds?" she suggested.
"You're a cheap date," I joked.
"Oh, so now we're on a date?"
"You know what I mean, smart alleck."
Jamie looked at be and smiled with those big brown eyes as I, (thank the Lord me and not Jamie) drove us to the McDonald's drive thru.
The trip home was much smoother, thanks to my driving. Mrs. Barnett stood at the front door waiting.
"You've got mail, Seth," she smiled, handing me an envelope. I took it to the kitchen table and sat down to read my mail:
My Dearest Son Seth,
All is well at the old homestead. I got a job at Dairy Queen! Sydney joined a free swimming class down at the town pool. Milly is pregnant! Can you believe it? Ain't it wonderful! We miss you, Seth. Sydney wanted to draw you something. Its enclosed in the envelope. I hope your doing fine. I love you and am very proud of you, son.
It had a drawing attached to it; the drawing of our whole family that Sydney had made right before I left. Tears ran down my face. Jamie walked in the kitchen. For once her wild look turned somber. She wrapped her arms around me and said in her archeangel voice, "You're brave, Seth."
After Jamie left, I slipped the picture with me and prowled to my room. I skimmed through my Bible for a helpful verse. Then I remembered a verse Momma had taught me when I was but a wee little thing; Matthew 28:20. I quickly skimmed the pages....
...and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
It was about midnight when I heard screams coming from the living room. Underwear and all, I basically jumped to the living room, to find Mrs. Barnett tied up in a rope, with duct tape covering her mouth, eyes swelled, tears streaming down her face, and a nasty scratch on it, too.
"Oh! Mrs. Barnett!" I started crying, rushing over to untie her. I looked around for the fiend who did this to such a genuine person. No one was in sight. Only an open front door.
"Mrs. Barnett, I am so sorry, I am so sorry," I muffled between sobs. I swiftly, but with great care, took one end of the silver tape over Mrs. Barnett's lips. She gasped for breaths.
"Oh, Mrs. Barnett, who did this?!"
She started sobbing. I untied her hands then rushed to the bathroom for a warm, wet towel. I dabbed it over the fresh wound on her delicate face. Mrs. Barnett started calming down.
"I... don't... know.... if... it... was... a man... or... a woman," she choked.
"I'll call the police," I said, springing to the phone.
"Seth! Are you all right?" asked a husky, familiar voice. Derek!
"You might want to ask Mrs. Barnett that," I managed to get out. Derek's green eyes grew large as he turned his head in Mrs. Barnett's direction.
"I'll carry her to her bed and stay with her until the police comes." Derek, with such easiness it suprised me, cradled Mrs. Barnett in his muscular arms and slowly carried her into her bedroom. Then, lo and behold, everyone's favorite redhead came bursting through the door.
"Is everything alright? I heard gunshots!" screamed Jamie, breathless. Had I really slept through gunshots?
Jamie's eyes widened at the puddle of blood on the floor.
"Where's Mrs. Barnett? Did you kill Mrs. Barnett?" she demanded. I, for the first time in a while, chuckled.
"No, Derek beat you here. He carried her to her bedroom," I pointed down the hallway. Jamie put her arms around me.
"Oh, Seth," she started crying.
I hated to ruin the moment, but the curiosity was killing me.
"What were you going to do if I had killed Mrs. Barnett?"
Jamie paused for a moment. "You'll laugh."
"You deserve it," I looked deeply into her walnut eyes, her face inches away from mine. I was trying hard not to let her see through me.
She cockily tossed her hair back over her shoulder then stroked her finger down my cheek. Man, how does she do it?
"What? Are you trying to get even with a little 15 year old?" She smiled coyly.
"Just tell me."
"You can't laugh," she looked into my eyes. I gulped.
She hesitated for a moment. "I was going to help you hide the body."
It took all of my willpower to keep from laughing.
I had a mental picture in my mind; Jamie and I dragging a body out the door and tossing it into Mrs. Barnett's truck's bed. Hilarious.
"Are you guys going to stand there all day and flirt or are you going to shut the front door?" laughed Derek. Jamie dropped her hand from my cheek, still staring intensly into my eyes. Then she gradually shifted her body to Derek, and shook it off. I just stood there in a daze staring at the confusing person in front of me.
She cleared her throat and smiled a devishely angelic smile. "Why would I want to do that when the cops are walking through the door?" I shifted my gaze to the front door; and, as stated, there walked in the sheriff. He had white hair and blue eyes, a slender build, but tall.
"Theft and attempted murder, you say? We don't get much of those," he mumbled, as if talking to himself, but it was clear that the sentence was meant for all to hear.
"Where's Katlyn?" his expression turned soft as he looked at the bloodsplatter on the carpet.
"She's fine, in her room," Derek managed to get out after the shock of Jamie's predictions.
"I'll go have a look, I called Dr. Schwan to come over and look, too," Sheriff Jordan called.
In case you're wondering, yeah, we're talking about Jamie's grandmother, Dr. Schwan. "What did you see?" asked Sheriff Jordan before heading to Mrs. Barnett. I told him the terrifying scene again, then he hurried to Mrs. Barnett's door, taking a deep breath. Here would come the gory details of the horrifying scene that had took place before I had arrived into the scene. I gulped as I walked through the door.
Mrs. Barnett was lying down in her bed, clutching the picture of her husband. Sheriff Jordan cleared his throat. "Can you tell us what happened, please, Katlyn?"
She breathed a deep breath. "I walked into the kitchen to get a cup of midnight coffee. I looked behind me. A man about Seth's height, slender, and had a ski mask on. Told me if I screamed before he left he would do awful things to me. He had white hair. It was sticking out of the mask a tad," she gulped. I looked over at Jamie's shocked expression.
"I'M COMING!!!" screamed a voice that sounded like the summer wind. I looked. I supposed, Dr. Schwan. She was an elderly woman, with sky blue eyes so light, they almost were white. Her ratty but clean hair came to her shoulders, I think, because she was wearing a ponytail. She wore.... teenage style clothes. Teenage style sixty clothes. She wore a leather bomber jacket, a big dark pair of sunglasses, a poodle skirt, and some big leather boots. Sixties with a biker twist.
"Oh, Katlyn!" she yelped like a helpless dog. I now understood that all of the... elderly.... adults called Mrs. Barnett by her first name. I guess she frightens us kids out of our wits; I don't know why, she's really sweet. My heart beat (almost) faster than the day I met Jamie Lauren. We would get a diagnosis of how bad Mrs. Barnett was actually beaten up.
"Let's see..." murmured Dr. Schwan, taking off her sunglasses (by the way, are youn remembering its nighttime?).
Something in my head must've turned a light on. "Sheriff Jordan! The first night I stayed here, Mrs. Barnett heard something. She said it was someone, but I didn't see anyone. Do you think....?" I started. Sheriff Jordan nodded his head.
"Most definitely connected," Sheriff Jordan nodded his head.
"Seth, are you a danger magnet in Magoffin County, too?" teased Jamie. I let that one slide. The thought if Momma knowing something terribly wrong was going on up here frightened me... she'd make me come home. It wasn't that I didn't want to come home, it was that someone needed to be here with Mrs. Barnett if this happened again. I would make sure none of it got back to Momma.
"Let's see.... a broken wrist and the deep wound on her face is all I could find," she sighed of relief.
"Coming, Dr. Scwan!!" yelled a voice from the hallway. Dr. Scwan rolled her eyes.
In the doorway stood a woman, about 5' 6'' and 28. She had wispy coal black hair with glasses pushed upon her nose. Her eyes where green. She was nothing but a beanpole, Momma would say. This girl was oridanary, unlike Dr. Schwan. Dr. Schwan sighed.
"Everyone, this is my assistant,Gemma McConnell. She's really quite good at what she does, actually." Although there was that annoyed look on her face, you could tell her voice was full of grudging admiration. Gemma smiled weakly.
"Sadly, Gemma, I have to say you're a bit late today. I've already examined Katie," Dr. Schwan nodded toward the weak Mrs. Barnett.
"Hi," Mrs. Barnett smiled weakly. Everyone burst out laughing. It was a nervous, relief sort of laugh. Why did we laugh? Imagine it; three terrified teenagers standing by a wounded elder, with her best friend, the doctor, which is also one of the teenager's grandmother, with her nerdy assistant and the county sheriff. It wasn't funny; it was hilarious.
"We'll look more into this in the morning," yawned Sheriff Jordan. Derek yawned in agreement.
"I'll sleep in the floor if you want me to, ma'am," I offered Mrs. Barnett.
"Awww, shucks, Seth, don't you worry your little head about me. Now, go on to your sleeping quarters and get to sleep," Mrs. Barnett smiled. "That goes for the rest of you, too." She motioned them out the door, while watching Jamie yawn. The big scene was over, and everyone was okay.
"Goodnight, Mrs. Barnett," I softly whispered as I walked out her bedroom door. Jamie stayed in Mrs. Barnett's bedroom.
"Mrs. Barnett, I could stay with you and Seth. After all, I did take that first aid class,"I could almost hear Jamie smile.
"Alright, you can sleep in the floor of Seth's bedroom," she said after a long pause, then I heard the bed creak. She must've shifted over. I ran to my bedroom then laid on the bed. When Jamie walked in, she had on her Miss America smile.
"Guess who's sleeping over?" she asked. I swallowed.
Finally, at 1:30, I got settled in the bed after playing 20 questions with Jamie (she reminded me so much of Jason, it shouldn't have been legal) . Then, drearily, with her eyelids half open, she popped one more question;
"Why do you sleep with your Bible?"
This question, though it should not have, made me stir uneasily. My heart pounded.
"It makes me feel better," to hear me talk I sounded 5.
"Oh," she yawned. I felt the corners of my mouth tug as I watched her head hit the pillow as her eyelids floated down over her sparkling walnut eyes.
I tried to wake up as early as I could to make breakfast for Mrs. Barnett. But, when I opened my eyes, while it was still dark out, my nose found the appeasing aroma of breakfast in the kitchen. One word came to mind.
"Jamie," I whispered. I rolled out of bed and scrambled into the kitchen to find the redhead cooking up a storm. It smelt good.
"Good morning, Seth," Jamie greeted without turning around. She's good. I jumped a little. She giggled.
"You need any help?" I asked, for the first time in my life, not stuttering.
As always it was the wrong question to ask. She took one of her arms and pointed her finger at me, the other arm on her other hip.
"Come here," she smiled smoothly, wagging her finger. I gulped and walked toward her. "A little closer," she whispered until I was 5 inches from her face (looking down, of course.) "I've said this once, Seth Lakey, and I know you've only known me for a week and some odd days, but you have to know that I can take care of my lil old self. Clear?" she spoke with such cofidence in her tone I almost trembled.
"Yes'um," I choked, unable to reply at first. She was using her coffee colored eyes again. The one that made my spine feel like it was frozen. The one that made my heart go thump, thump! until I thought it would pump out of my chest. This, to me, was no fair. She had an advantage.
"Now, go be a darling and get Derek and Mamaw (Dr. Schwan) to go ahead and get there hind ends ready for some breakfast." I obeyed, looking into those deep coffee eyes. We stood there for a minute, staring into another's eyes intently. All you could hear was the even sound of our breathing. My heart started thumping in my chest again. I didn't hate it, but was rather embarrassed. Jamie's giggle broke the silence, and the stare.
"Are you going to stand there making google eyes all day?" called Derek.
"Derek Lykins," called a familiar voice behind him. Dr. Schwan.
"Oh, hi, Mamaw," Jamie said quickly, brushing off our moment.
"You guys need to get hitched or something," Derek mumbled. Then, something happened. I thought I'd never live to see it. Jamie Lauren blushed.
"Aw, dang, Derek, cut that out," Dr. Schwan scolded.
"Yes ma'am," he mumbled.
"I'm going to take Mrs. Barnett her breakfast," I announced, taking a dish from the table and stocking it up with Jamie's homemade biscuits and gravy, sausage, and grits. Then I poured a cup of milk and dashed into the bedroom.
"Mrs. Barnett," I softly shook her.
"Good morning, Seth," she marveled, looking at the plate of food I brung.
"Jamie?" she asked, laughing. She didn't act a bit afraid as someone who just almost got killed would. But, then again, we're talking about Mrs. Barnett.
"Yeah," I laughed with her. Then I cleared my throat.
"Do you remember anything from last night? About the identity of the thief, I mean," I tried to make it sound brave, but when I said it aloud, my voice had cracks in it.
"Yes," she breathed. "He was about your height, but a bit taller. He was slim..."
"I mean, anything you didn't tell Sheriff Jordan," I choked.
Mrs. Barnett just stared into space.
"Seth! Them farm chores sure ain't gonna do themselves, you know!" yelled Jamie. I turned and walked out the door, walking with Derek and Jamie to do the day's work.
A couple hours later, me and Jamie and Derek where tending to the crops. Then Mrs. Schwan came with a piece of paper in her hand, waving it high.
"I've got a letter for you, Seth!" she called, smiling. I rushed forward to read the letter. It was from Jason this time. I creased my brow to read the writing better as I begin to read:
I have good news for you! June 7th we're coming to visit. By we I mean Aunt Milly, (and her little one in her belly!) Sydney, and I. Won't it be great? Have you met those teenagers I told you about yet? You know, Derek and Jamie? I want to know when you meet Jamie. Don't ask why. If you have already met her, you already know.
P.S. Sydney's tooth is loose. She said she wanted you to pull it....
At the last line, I chuckled. I also chuckled on the part about Jamie. Me and Jason might fight like cats and dogs, but totally got another....
"Who's Sydney?" asked Jamie, peering over my shoulder, on her highest tiptoes. I jerked the letter down before she could read any more.
"My little sister," I choked, not realizing Jamie was that close.
Jamie smiled at my reaction. Dr. Schwan coughed, and Jamie backed down flat footed.
"June 7, isn't that Monday?" I asked Dr. Schwan, trying to make them forget my nervousness I had felt a moment ago.
"Yes, yes it is.... two days from now," she answered. If you didn't know, today is Saturday, June 5.
"I'll get to see your little sister Monday?" Jamie smiled from ear to ear.
"What she like?"
"She's six, very sweet and lovable, thoughtful, and she laughs a lot," I smiled, thinking of my little sister.
"What she look like?"
"She has my color eyes, the cutest curly brown ringlets of hair...."
And Jamie Lauren and I spent the afternoon talking about Sydney.
That night as I crawled into bed, I opened my Bible and turned to the middle. I had stuck Sydney's drawing of our family in there. I clutched the picture as if my life depended on it. I traced over my father's face. When he had first died, I had been mad at him. How could he just leave us like that? Him and Momma got married when they were 16. They dropped out of school and got jobs, then Momma had me at 17. They were really young. I couldn't imagine getting married right now! Him and Momma had always had a ruff go at life. This is why Momma wants me to get a college education, or at least high school, she said. I flipped through my worn Bible and found a verse that reminded me of that little brown curly top back home.
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:4
The next day was Sunday. I didn't know if Mrs. Barnett and the obnoxious company she had (cough, cough, Jamie) went to Sunday School or church. But I thought I knew the answer when I woke up the next morning to see breakfast on the table and Jamie in her Sunday's best...
She wore a cotton sundress, plaid with gentle red and the shade of brown matching her eyes colored stripes. Her hair was up in a messy bun with a silver barrette. Simple, but stunning. I stood in the doorway for a minute, gazing at her.
A couple seconds passed by and she looked up from stirring the gravy, already sat on the table. She saw my gaze and blushed, which added to her beauty.
Wait! Jamie Lauren blushed. Wow.
"You...look....amazing," I finally managed to get out.
She smiled, and for the first time, I realized she had dimples.
"How are you lovebirds this morning?" asked Derek, streching and yawning as he came into the kitchen.
Jamie gave him a hard look. "I'm not in love," Jamie protested. Derek giggled. Not the girly sorta giggle, but the deep, husky giggle that matched his voice.
"I'll take Mrs. Barnett her plate," I murmured, jumping up out of bed.
"Good morning, Seth!" smiled Mrs. Barnett as I walked into her room.
"Good morning," I smiled.
"Vera is coming to dress me for church," smiled Mrs. Barnett. It took me a minute to realize Vera was Dr. Schwan.
I smiled. "Speaking of which, I better get ready." Mrs. Barnett smiled back.
"Jamie's awful sharp looking this morning."
I sighed. "Not you too."
Mrs. Barnett had a glow about her when she said this sentence. "You just wait."
I scrambled out of her room to get dressed.
An hour later, all of us (Jamie, Derek, Mrs. Barnett, Dr. Schwan, even Gemma and lastly me) stood on the rickety steps of Pippa Passes Church. As I walked in, I met the pastor and he looked delighted to see me.
"You're Mrs. Barnett's farmhand?" he asked, smiling. I nodded. I guessed that around here Mrs. Barnett is really popular. Everyone refers to me as her new farmhand at the first meet.
"Well, I hope you enjoy your stay here at Pippa Passes," he smiled, shaking my hand.
I was still shocked about Dr. Schwan in regular churchclothes, instead of her regular sixties-biking attire. There are some peculiar characters in Pippa Passes. The sheriff included.
The service went by in a blur. There were a million things jumbled in my head.
1. The mysterious person that harmed Mrs. Barnett2. Milly's baby.... I don't know if I have told you this yet, but every time Milly get pregnant she loses her baby.
3. My family's visit tommorrow. I coudn't wait to see Syd.... and maybe even Jason.
4. I've only been gone for a week...... how in the Good Lord's creation could I manage another week?
I only payed attention when the preacher said the closing verse.
"The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. This is what the Bible says in Deuteronomy. So, the weary people in this church, remember these words as you walk out the door today." The preacher finished and the Congregation began singing "Amazing Grace." Somehow, the Lord knows how to tug on my heartstrings. I saw Mrs. Barnett dab her eyes with her hankerchief, but quickly looked away, embarrassed. As Jamie and I started to walk out of the church, we talked a little bit.
"I thought that his last verse was a bit confusing," Jamie admitted. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms, I repeated in my head.
"I think it means God has open arms, no matter what we're going through," I said. Jamie smiled.
Later, back at the Barnett residence, we all sat down to a great Sunday dinner, compliments of Jamie and Dr. Schwan (they wouldn't let Mrs. Barnett lift a finger). As I layed in bed that night, I thanked the good Lord up above for the blessings he has given me.
The next morning I arose late. I jerked my clothes on and ran out of the bedroom in time to see a car pull up the driveway going 90 miles an hour. I would've sworn it was Jamie Lauren driving; but it was Milly's car.
Its Monday! I thought. That's the day Sydney, Jason, and Milly are coming! I could feel the corners of my mouth perk up immeadiately. Jamie came busting out of the kitchen to the living room, where I was located at.
"They're here! They're here! They're here!" she shouted. Derek came busting through the back kitchen door and through the kitchen to the living room. Dr. Schwan and Gemma followed.
"What's all this ruckus about?" asked Dr. Schwan. She was no longer in her Sunday's best; instead, she was in her usual.... very unusual attire again.
"Well, in case you didn't remember, Mrs. Barnett and Seth's kin are coming in today. And...." she said with her tan hands on her hips," they have arrived."
A smile (a scary one) came across Jamie's cherry red lips. Then Jason came busting in through the door.
"JASON!" I yelled, running across the room to hug him. I picked him up and swung him around, as if he were 6.
"I missed you too," he murmured.
"Bubby!" yelled Sydney, running straight for my arms as soon as I sat Jason down. I scooped her up and gave her a peck on the cheek, all the while she was giggling.
"You're cute as your Bubby said you would be," laughed Jamie, coming over to hug Syd. Sydney just blushed and smiled sweetly.
Dr. Schwan, Gemma, and Derek seemed to be in the background during all of this, so I called them over.
"I like your skirt," Sydney smiled, talking about Dr. Schwan's poodle skirt. I almost died on the spot, but Dr. Schwan just smiled back.
"My name is Dr. Vera Schwan, but you can call me Vere," Dr. Schwan told Sydney.
"I'm Sydney," Syd announced to everyone in the room. Mrs. Barnett came through the house as Milly entered. Milly had that glow....
"Well, come on in, take off your shoes," smiled Mrs. Barnett.
"We brought Dairy Queen for breakfast," Jason proudly announced.
"Great! I forgot to make breakfast this morning," Jamie seemed to be bursting with happiness.
Sydney seemed to like Jamie. "Have you ever made friendship bracelets?"
Jamie smiled. "We can make some after breakfast."
That afternoon, after I got done with all the farmwork, we were all sitting on the front porch. Mrs. Barnett was inside baking Sydney some cookies. Sydney was sitting in Jamie's lap ( I don't know if that's a good thing or bad.... Jamie can be a bad influence, you know), Derek was sitting on the steps, I was sitting on the floor with Jamie, Gemma was beside Derek, and Dr. Schwan was in a rocking chair. Milly was beside her on the floor.
"Sydney, would you like to hear a story?" asked Dr. Schwan. Sydney's eyes glistened.
"Before Katlyn owned this farm, my daddy did. And he told of a cave hidden somewheres about this farm. He said that during the civil war, his daddy used that cave to hide runaway slaves. His daddy's daddy was for the South. In other words, it means he was against helping runaway slaves..." I think this was the point in the story I closed my eyes and opened them again to find myself in the late 1800s, watching this story unfold...."He had heard that my grand father was hiding them there, so one night, he got his gun. He ventured into the chilly night, and found the cave. There, in the cave, were 2 runaway slaves: a mother and her 4 month old baby. Her husband had been killed by their master. Anyway, my great-grandpa had no heart for such things, so he shot them both, while they were sleeping. My grandpa heard the gunshots and woke up immeadiately. So did my dad. My dad left his younger sibilings in their bedroom to go see what was going on. Then he heard 2 other gunshots" She drew in a deep breath, then continued. "Next thing he knew he was outside, looking down at his father. He was shot on his chest, dead. He walked over to the other body lying on the ground. His grandpa. He looked inside the cave and found the dead slaves. My dad went and woke up my grandma. They covered up the murders. My grandma went crazy, and my dad and his 2 sisters and his younger brother raised themselves. My dad used to say that after that incident, every night, he would hear the cries of the runaway slaves and his father and grandfather and the gunshots. But, of course, he was kinda crazy," she added, seing Sydney getting scared. To help even more, Mrs. Barnett bursted outside with the cookies (with a broke wrist!). But, I still wondered about the cave.
Before Dr. Schwan went home that night (Jamie's bed was practically Mrs. Barnett's couch now) I caught her alone and asked the question that had been on the tip of my tounge for hours.
"Did your dad ever say where the cave was?" I asked. Dr. Schwan smiled.
"He gave me a map he'd drawn when he was a kid of the farm," she said. "He marked the cave on it. I could let you see it."
"Thank you very kindly, ma'am, I'd be much obliged," I told her. Dr. Schwan looked to the left, and then to the right, and pulled a yellowed paper out of her coat.
"Keep it safe," she whispered, then slipped away. I slid the paper down in my pocket. I ran into the living room.
"You look like you just seen a ghost," Jamie laughed. My face reddened. She walked over to me and whispered in my ear using her attractive, pure voice.
"Your face is as red as a Coke can," she whispered. "Now, why does it get that way every time you get around me?" I couldn't even mutter a reply. She smiled. She put her hand on my thumping chest.
"By this summer's up, your heart will have my name engraved on it," she laughed.
"It already does," I whispered. She smiled and removed her hand from my chest.
"Goodnight, Seth," she smiled.
"Bye, Bubby," Sydney waltzed in from the kitchen. Jamie immeadiately turned to face Sydney, backing away from my face.
"Bye, Syd," my voice cracked, as I whirled Sydney up in my arms, just like the last day of school. I gently kissed her on her little dainty cheek. I sat her down with a tear in my eye.
"Bye, Seth!" Jason came in straight behind Sydney. He looked from me to Jamie. Then he winked at Jamie and she nodded her head. What the hay was that about?
Jason winked at me then turned to Jamie. "Bye, Jamie," he smiled. Then Sydney blew me kisses as she walked out the door.
When everyone had finally left, Jamie and I were alone again.
"What was that about?" I asked.
"What was what about?" she smiled.
"You know, Jamie Lauren, what what was about."
She tried her best to look confused. But I wasn't buying it.
"Oh, you mean Jason and the nodding..." she gulped. I raised my brow.
"We made a bet. He bet that I could get you to fall in love with me after a week on the farm. I bet I couldn't. Sadly....." she gulped again," we know who won."
"So everything you've done, you just did it for the bet?" I asked.
"No.... I actually wanted to win the bet.... but now I'm glad I didn't," she smiled. Then she gave me a quick peck on the cheek and went to the couch. I stumbled into my bedroom, face flushed, with my hand over the spot I had recieved the kiss as I stumbled onto my bed and lay awake thinking about that crazy redhead asleep in the next room.
I looked at the map the next morning, early, in my room. Where did it say the cave was hidden? It showed it next to the pond. But there was just ground next to the pond. It was no use. I took a shower and pulled on some clothes and find my way to the kitchen, with Jamie in there. After last night's events, when I looked at her, my head started spinning. She sat down at the table and looked at me.
"Have you looked at the map yet?" she asked. My pulse went soaring.
"You know dang well what map."
I hesitated. "Yes."
"Where is it?"
"The cave?" I asked.
"No, your underwear." She looked annoyed. She saw the hurt look on my face. She calmed down a bit. "Sorry, Seth. Yes, Seth. Was the cave near the pond?"
"Wait, how did you even know about the map?"
"I found the cave, Seth. I'm just afraid to go in it."
This shocked me. "You? Afraid? Of Something?"
"That's happened a lot since I met you," she muttered.
"Because that's where all of the bodies are! The runaway slaves, my great great grandfather, and my great great great grandfather."
"Oh, Jamie," I whispered. I wrapped her into a hug. "I won't go down there. Not today. Not ever. I was just curious. I will never..."
Jamie pulled away from me. I gulped. "Yes you will. Someday, this summer, Derek, you, and me are going to that cave." She sighed. "Just not today." A tear ran down her cheek. She reached for me and I wrapped her tightly in my arms.
"I lov...." I started. We both didn't want me to finish that sentence. Then I heard a whistle behind us.
"Yuns are going to catch the kitchen afire!" Derek's voice boomed. Behind him was Gemma. She whistled, too. Shy little Gemma whistled. Or maybe not so shy. Jamie blushed, as usual. My face got hotter than a 2 dollar pistol.
"Oh, Derek!" Jamie scolded. Derek grinned. Dr. Schwan walked in, carrying a bowl.
"I've got gravy!" she smiled. Jamie pulled away from me, trying to make this look better. Today, Dr. Schwan had on a light blue poodle skirt instead of her usual light pink. Dr. Schwan's probably the best grandmother that Jamie and Derek could ask for..... in many ways, laughs.
Dr. Schwan sat the gravy on the table. Breakfast at Mrs. Barnett's house went from just her, to her and me, to half of Pippa Passes in 1 week. I guess you gotta expect that if Jamie lives close by.
"Someone go get Katlyn out of bed. We have been spoiling her rotten lately. Derek, you do that, and see if she's able to get out of bed better so she can come eat in here with the rest of civilization." Dr. Schwan ordered. She must've drunk an extra cup of coffee this morning.
Jamie put her hands on her hips daintly. She removed one hand and pulled a strand of her silky red hair out of her dark entrancing eyes. That devishley angelic smile returned.
"Mamaw," Jamie pleaded, looking from under her eyelashes. Dr. Schwan almost broke her neck trying to turn around to look at where the origin of that heartstopping voice was. Jamie's smile broadened. She was up to something. Dr. Schwan's really light blue eyes looked white as the sparkles of the bright kitchen lighting shown in them.
"Yes, dear?" she asked, smiling.
That sweet as honey but dangerous as a loaded gun voice came out of Jamie's cherry red lips again.
"May Seth come with me to the town summer picnic Friday afternoon?"
Was that all?
"Why, sure, Jamie!" Dr. Schwan sounded relieved.
"And may we drive your car?"
There's the kicker. I thought Dr. Schwan was going to fall over backwards.
"Have you asked Seth if he wants to come?" Dr. Schwan asked.
"He'll do whatever I say," she looked at me. I gulped. This could be dangerous.
"You better ask Mrs. Barnett," Dr. Schwan wouldn't give up.
"It would be perfectly fine if Seth went," Mrs. Barnett interjected as she stepped in and brightened up the kitchen. Dr. Schwan tried to hide her diasppointment. I had to hand it to her, unless she had really good life insurance on Jamie, I wouldn't let her drive my vehicle. Not even those pleading chocolate eyes could do that.
"Katlyn! You're feeling better?" Dr. Schwan exclaimed. We all sat down to a hearty breakfast. Dr. Schwan made great gravy, I had to hand it to her.
The day went by smoothly. It looked as if things were going to finally calm down at the farm. Well, calm down as much as it could with these crazy nuts.
Then, Thursday, the topic of the ride to the town picnic came back up at the breakfast table.
"Mamaw?" Jamie used the same sweet toxic sugary voice.
"Yes, dear?" Dr. Schwan sounded worried.
I didn't blame her.
"Can I take your car to the town picinc?" she asked.
She sighed. "If Derek and Seth can come with you, you can drive the car."
"Yay!!" Jamie danced around the table like a 2 year old.
Dr. Schwan just sighed again. I bet she's saying, I'll check the car insurance- and life insurance.
I was going to ride in a car with Jamie Lauren. I would write my will that night.
When everyone left, Jamie was doing the dishes, and I was about to walk out of the kitchen to go work, when Jamie stopped me.
"Seth," she whispered.
I raised an eyebrow.
"Do you still have the map?" she asked. I nodded. She smiled.... that devilishly angelic smile again.
"Tommorrow.... after we get back from the picnic.... we're going to the cave."
My heart thumped. What kind of mysteries would lurk in that cave that had been the deserted resting place of bodies of such a tradgedy?
When I thought about it that way, I found myself smiling.
"Okay," I smiled. Then I went off to my work.
That night, as I was reading my Bible, there was a soft knock on my bedroom door. I layed my well-worn Bible down and said, "Come in."
Dr. Schwan stuck her neck in, and whispered, "Seth, come here."
I didn't know what the hay was going on. I walked over to Dr. Schwan. She smiled when she saw I had been reading my Bible.
"I read my Bible a lot too," she told me. "It helps me deal with life and things that go on."
"You can come in if you want," I repeated. She smiled and shut the door.
"Tommorrow is Jamie's birthday," she whispered. "And I forgot to get her a thing. Can you sneak to Wal Mart and buy her something real quick? I'll pay you 20 dollars." She pleaded.
"June 11th is Jamie's birthday? The same day as the town picnic?" I asked. Dr. Schwan nodded.
"Her 16th birthday at that. I have to get her something special. And you're going to pick it out." She smiled.
"Dr. Schwan, ma'am, I wouldn't know what to get her," I choked.
Dr. Schwan gave me a 100 dollar bill and a twenty out of her pocket and stuck it in my hand.
"The hundred's for Jamie's present," she said. "The twenty's for you. Keep the change." She smiled then slipped out the door. So, as crazy as it sounds, at 9:03 p.m., I was on my way to the nearest Wal Mart in Whitesburg.
I had no idea what the hay to get that redhead in Pippa Passes. From Dr. Schwan OR me. Yeah, that's right. I was planning to use my 20 dollars on Jamie. But I had not a clue in the world what to get with either person's money.
It was a long drive. When I reached the lights of Wal Mart, I felt like I had just made it through a raging thunder storm. My eyes were probably "Coke can red" as Jamie would say. The store was dead. Not a soul in there.
I passed by the books. Jamie Lauren, a book worm? I laughed at that thought. She was no book worm, I figured that out mighty early. But on the shelf, there was something that particulary caught my eye.
Holy Bible for the Teenage Girl. I bet Dr. Schwan would like it if I got Jamie that. Hay, I bet Jamie would like it. I picked it up and carried it in my hand. I traced the letters Holy Bible and felt a chill go up my back. Who knows how old this information was? It was fun to dream. I looked on the back cover. $14.95. I had spent 15 dollars so far. This was going to take all night.
I passed the sporting goods, where the guns were. That would be funny. If I got a a gun for Jamie. That's exactly what she needs. But then again, I'd like to live past 16.
Then I passed the electronics. They had iPod shuffles. I bet Jamie would like that. They were $53.54. I think Mrs. Barnett had a computer in her basement. What color should I get her?
"Excuse me?" I asked a woman behind the counter. She looked up from her magazine,
kind of startled. I guess she wasn't expecting anyone out at 10 o clock at night. I wouldn't either.
"Could I buy that i... iPod thing?" I asked, embarrassed. I forgot what they were called....
"Sure honey," she yawned. I just stood there patiently.
"Red." Coke can red.
"Can you ring this up, too?" I asked, handing her the Bible.
"Sure, honey," she wasn't very talkative.
"That'll be 69.80," was just a mumble I heard escape from her lips (remember, tax). It was a funny picture, you see, because here she was all sleepy acting and I was jittering like I was walking on hot coals.
I quickly handed her the money and practically ran with the change. 30 dollars and 20 cents left of Dr. Schwan's money. What the hay could I get her?
I scanned through the Wal Mart shelves. I saw absoulutely nothing.
A card and a gift bag, duh, Seth, I thought as I passed the cards. I put her in reverse and went back to the cards. I quickly grabbed one with something about getting older on it.
I had no idea what it said. My eyes were swollen together and I could barely keep them open to read.
I picked out a medium gift bag with some flowers on it. The handle was silky. I thought she'd like it.
The card was 99 cents (a dollar) and the gift bag was 2.99 (3 dollars). Now I had 26 dollars and 20 cents. Getting closer, I suppose. Then I had the best idea I had all night.
What girl didn't love perfume?
I practically did cartwheels to the perfume aisle. This aisle always messed with my nose when Momma made me get her her perfume she got, Eternity Ralph Lauren or something like that. I picked up and smelt this one kind. I thought it would smell good on a girl. It was pretty expensive stuff, too. Twenty dollars for a small bottle. I grabbed it. I had Dr. Schwan present to Jaime. Now I just had to find Jamie's present from me.... a 20 dollar present.
I walked over to the jewelry. The first thing that caught my eye was a silver locket that said,"Ask clerk to put a name on me!" It was 15 dollars.
There was a man, half dead, over at the other side of the counter almost asleep.
"Sir!" I yelled. He jumped up.
"Can I get this locket with a name on it?" I asked, pointing to it through the glass.
"What name?" he asked, pulling his beard.
"Jamie," I choked. Her name tasted like the honey Momma used to get from Milly as it passed through my lips.
He dug out a cardboard box underneath the counter and plundered through it, getting out a locket.
"You're lucky boy, it's the last one we had," he smiled, heading toward the register.
"Who's Jamie?" he asked, as he rung up my things.
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Girlfriend?" he asked. My face turned red. I shook my head.
"Sister?" he asked. Once more I shook my head.
He smiled."That'll be 39.21." I got all of the money out of my pocket and gave it to him. He gently tucked the locket in a jewelry box and gave it to me. I turned to leave.
"Hey, buddy," he called to me. I turned around.
"Good luck with that Jamie," he smiled. And, with a smile on my own face, I rushed out to the parking lot and headed back to Pippa Passes.
And you know what song came on in the truck? Momma's favorite song.
"So now I come to you, with open arms, nothing to hide, believe what I say, so here I am, with open arms, hoping you'll see what your love means to me... open arms."
It kind've reminded me of that preacher's sermon Sunday..... I guess sometimes God says that to us but we're too lost in our own self pity to realize it. So, I prayed real hard, while driving, and uttered out loud,
"Oh, Lord, I'm coming to your open arms."
The next morning... I wouldn't tell anyone else this.... but I couldn't wait to show Jamie her unexpected gifts.
I sauntered to the kitchen, half dead, to suprisingly find Mrs. Barnett cooking.
"I'll be right in with the eggs and milk," I called, opening the door.
"Wait! Seth! Vera did it for you," she said. I smiled. She knew how tired I would be after last night, I guessed.
"Now, come in here and get you something to eat. You look like death warmed over," she complained, looking at the bags under my eyes.
"Thanks for the self confidence boost," I murmured. She smiled.
"Teenagers," I thought I heard her whisper.
"Good morning!" exclaimed Jamie as she burst into the kitchen.
"Guess what today is?" she smiled.
"My 16th birthday!" she exclaimed, taking my shoulders. It was kinda funny how much she had to look up in order to talk to me.
"Oh wow," I said, heart thumping. I couldn't wait to show her her gifts!
"Seth!" I heard Dr. Schwan call from somewhere in the house. "Come here!"
"Coming!" I yelled. I ran to her voice. I found her in my bedroom.
"Where'd you hide the gifts young'un?" she asked. I smiled and pulled the gifts out from under the bed.... and decided to keep the locket for the picnic tonight.
"Thank you very kindly," she whispered, then gave me a motherly kiss on the cheek.
"Jaaamiieee!" she yelled, disappearing into the house. I chuckled to myself as I heard Jamie say,"How'd you know?"
Seven thirty. Just got done eating dinner. In the private confinements of my room... I fell asleep.
"Seth! Wake up!" Jamie screamed through my dreams. I looked up from my pillow. Just as I was about to get up, a man, about my height, with white hair coming out of the side of his ski mask aimed his gun at Jamie.
"Oh Lord, please no!" I screamed, knocking her out of the way... only to find the bullet had found its way to her heart.
"Lord, no, save her, please, Lord, no......"
"Seth, Seth, what's wrong?" I heard Jamie's voice. There were hot tears on my cheeks. I had a cold sweat going on.
"Jamie! You're okay!" I exhaled.
She looked at me oddly. "It was just a nightmare, Seth. Now, come on if we're going to the picnic." I finally opened my eyes. Jamie was defintely more than okay. She had on a brown button up top, fitting rather snuggly I might say. Her blue jeans were the hues of the ocean, which contrasted greatly with the beautiful flowing locks of her light crimson hair. Her brown eyes glittered; her cheeks were almost as lively as her personality.
She was very attractive.
"Are you going to lay in bed and oogle at me all day or are we going to the dadburn picnic?" she smiled, sounding rather pleased. She took a hold of my shirt and dragged me out to Dr. Schwan's car, and before I could utter a word, she pushed me into the driver's seat. Derek was already in the backseat and Jamie called shotgun.
"Where is this picnic at?" I asked.
"Less talk more driving. I'll tell you the way there. Step on it, buster." And, like we were speeding from the scene from a crime, Dr. Schwan's four tires screeched in my ears and we were on our way.
"Shhh, Seth, it's about to start," Jamie whispered, putting her finger on her lip. It was now dark out.
"Why do we need to be quiet for fireworks?" I raised an eyebrow. Jamie.
"Are you questioning my reason?" she asked, looking at me with those big brown sardonic eyes.
"Oh, of course not, Know-All-Jamie.'' I smiled. But her response to that was a punch on the shoulder.
"Seth, Seth! The first firework!" she smiled, and I watched her eyes light up in excitement. I laid my hand on my pocket. Then I smiled. I had forgot about her locket in there.
"Jamie, I've got something for you," I choked, gathering up my courage to say those words.
"Here comes the cheesy part where the moment is so magic when you give the girl her birthday present." The second firework.
''I swear to goodness, Jamie Lauren, someday I might have the overwhelming urge to slap you.''
"Enough talk. Give me the present."
I fumbled around in my pocket and handed her the gift.
"Will you put it on for me?" she asked, smiling. "It's beautiful, Seth. Thanks."
I put it around her neck and sighed. "It is your birthday." She leaned in towards me. I leaned in towards her. The seconds passed as I looked at her eyes... her beautiful eyes...
Where is Derek? I thought. My heart pounded. The seconds ticked by...
"Are you going to kiss me or not?" were Jamie's exact words. I stared at her for another second, then took her face in my hands and pressed her lips against mine.
I had never kissed a girl before. Might sound crazy but I hadn't. I don't know what I expected, but the moment our lips touched together I heard the 3rd firework go off.
Derek appeared out of nowhere.
"Hey guys, I'm back with-woah," he said. Jamie and I quickly reassumed normal postitions and Jamie words were-"If you say one word, Derek Lykins, regarding the little scene you just saw, they'll be your last words." And Jamie made that clear.
"Hello, Sheriff Jordan!" exclaimed Derek. Jamie smiled. I was still speechless.... the effect of the kiss, I guarantee.
"Why,uh, hello, Mr. Lykins," Sheriff Jordan struggled for words. Or was it just my imagination?
"Have you got any leads on who tried to kill Mrs. Barnett?" asked Jamie.
"We sent the evidence we, uh, collected at the scene off to a lab," he explained.
"Oh," she was her reply."Okay then, see you later."
"Now, I know how you teenagers are, don't go getting into trouble tonight," he said, winking. He shook my hand. That's when a major clue to the mystery I collected-although I didn't know it at the time-there was this white powdery stuff on his glove.
"What's that on your glove?" I asked, curious.
"What stuff? Oh, uh, that. Baby powder. Well, see you younguns." Jamie and I exchanged glances. Sheriff Jordan definitely had something to do with this mess.
The next morning I rolled out of bed and scrambled to do my morning chores, as usual, and came in to eat breakfast with my Pippa Passes family, I guess you'd call them. Mrs. Barnett is like my mother. She knows EVERYTHING.
"You kids looked a little refreshed this morning. Did you have fun last night?" she smiled.
"Yeah, I loved the fireworks," Jamie commented, making small talk.
"She loved more than the fireworks," Derek mumbled.
I saw Jamie step on his foot underneath the table. Hard. Derek bit his lip. Mrs. Barnett seemed to notice this and smiled. Dr. Schwan looked curious.
"What she love more than the fireworks?" Dr. Schwan teased.
"We saw Sheriff Jordan," I quickly changed the subject. I saw a sign of relief flood from Jamie.
"Oh really? He got any more details on.... my case?" asked Mrs. Barnett.
"No," Derek replied.
"He acted sort of suspicious," Jamie commented. So I wasn't over-analyzing things.
"Oh, now guys, I've known Bob for years, he wouldn't do that kind of thing," Mrs. Barnett scolded us. So we kept quiet.
I was out in the fields hauling hay when Jamie came running.
"Let me on the back of your tractor!" she screamed, holding something behind her back.
"Why?" I asked, turning it off.
"Because I have a glass of iced tea," she smiled, handing me the glass and climbing on.
"Jamie, how long ago was Mrs. Barnett's husband murdered?" I asked.
"Hmmm.... every bit of 10 years."
"What did he do for a living?"
"Well, he was a deputy. Sheriff Jordan's..... wait, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
I nodded my head.
"He had something to do with his murder. And Mrs. Barnett's attempted murder. And theft....wait? What did they found stolen anyway?"
"A map of the barn," she shrugged.
"Do you think they were looking for...."
"The map of the farm that showed the cave?"
I smiled. We were on the same track. "But why on Earth would they want that?"
Jamie looked at me from out under her long, dark eyelashes. She used her most persuasive angelic voice I had ever heard a human being used.... and my natural instinct told me to be weary. "Why don't we go to the cave tonight....."
"Absolutely not! It's dangerous. We could get killed, get eaten alive by bugs, murdered by zombie corpses from a hundred years ago...."
Jamie stopped my protest about halfway through. She grabbed me and kissed my lips. I was silent.
"That' s not fair play," I sighed. "Fine. But why night?"
"Do you think that Mamaw would let me go around a century old cave with you? We sneak out after dark," she said.
"Alright, then, how are we supposed to find this cave anyway?" I asked. She smiled.
"We'll find out when we get there."
I snuggled in that night, reading my Bible, and about fell asleep until a heard my door swing open.
"Seth Lakey! Come on!" whisper-screamed Jamie. I jumped out of bed.
"What?" I asked.
"You know what! Do you have the map?" I reluctantly got the map out of my Bible. We slipped out the door and raced to the pond. I looked on the map.
"According to the map, the cave is... inside the pond," I gulped.
"Guess who's taking a late night dip?" she asked, letting her hair down.
"Oh no," I said.
"Oh yes," she smiled. She pointed at my arms.
"Up," she commanded. They flew up.
"Why?" I asked. She yanked off my shirt.
"Come on," she motioned.
"The map will get wet!" I objected. She jerked the map out of my hands and wrapped it in my t-shirt and laid it beside the pond with her hair bow.
"I could've pulled off my own shirt, you know," I complained.
"But you wouldn't have," she smiled, pushing me into the pond. Splasshh! As I went underwater, I heard another splash and Jamie was beside me. She took my hand and my heart started pounding. She pointed to something over far... and who would've believed it was an underwater cave.
We swimmed over and lifted ourselves up to the air pocket in the cave.... and gasped for air.
"How in the world did the mother slave get the baby slave down here without drowing it? Surely there is another way into this cave," I pointed out. But Jamie wasn't listening.
"Seth," she whispered,"look."
Crates lined a whole wall of the cave. The crates looked new; someone besides us had been here recently.
"Let's go see what's inside them," I said, and we ran to the crates. Jamie and I lifted, tugged, and lifted-and a white, powdery substance was inside.
"I've seen this stuff before," I said.
Jamie's voice softened. "Me too."
"Sheriff Jordan's glove?"
"Yes and no. They found this by Mr. Barnett's bed. He was forced to...sniff it. It's cocaine."
I stared at her in amazement. "How did they know he was forced?"
"Because he had bruises on his body where he was beaten. Mr. Barnett wasn't exactly in perfect health and whoever did it must've been at least 10 times stronger."
"You mean Sheriff Jordan."
"Exactly." We looked to another corner. There.... was an old bag. A really old cotton bag. A REALLY really old bag.
"Do you think...?" she began. I nodded my head. The bag was big enough to hold all 4 bodies....(and stinky enough)..... including the small body of the life that had just begun and suddenly ended. That poor slave baby....
"We should do something." Jamie looked at me.
"I don't know. Just something."
"I got it." Jamie picked up two stones and wrote on one with the other stone,"Gone but not forgotten." She placed the rock in front of the bag.
"Let's get out of here," I said.
"Let's try to look for that other way out like you suggested earlier," Jamie smiled.
"You were actually listening?"
"A little less talk and a lot more action, Seth Lakey." I obeyed. I looked behind the crates and...
"Jamie, come here, I've found something." A door. I opened it and there were old stone stairs... going up.
"Come on!" she motioned, grabbing me by the hand. "I wanna see where it lets out at."
I followed her up the stairs. Where it let out suprised me....
"Underneath the porch?" Jamie said the next day. I was feeding the hogs and she was with me... for moral support, I guess.
"I know. To think that it was right under our noses the whole time."
"I've got a theory.... why Sheriff Jordan killed Mr. Barnett. He was one of his deputies, right? Suppose he found out that he was stashing cocaine.... on his property. That would send him to jail and destroy his chances of ever getting re-elected as sheriff ever again. He took care of that."
"But why is he coming back to kill Mrs. Barnett?" I asked Jamie. She shrugged her shoulders.
"Someone is not telling us something."
"I think I know who it is."
"Mrs. Barnett," I said.