Thank you for much lassie.
thanks for the new chapters
I wonder why I always give a big sigh of relief when I finish reading one of your chapters Kathy?
I'll just be glad when they are all three home and safe. Thanks!
Don't know if I want to smack Matt & Marty or cry for them? Matt ought to know better. Maybe he wasn't as grown up as was thought and Jax seems to be the one that was. He seems to be the better deal for Lydie if she is really wanting a ready made family Okay, I'm already getting drawn into this one....moar please???
Being PC will be the death of us all yet!
"But we've got to have faith or we have nothing. We have to have faith in our God, our resolve, our cause and our brother patriots."
Black, Leo - The Last Stand on Earth.
The New Geek Empire
“You didn’t tell me we had to go back to the school,” I whispered more because Kelly was asleep than because I was afraid someone would hear me.
“We aren’t going back to the school, just near it. I put some stuff in the storeroom at the Watt-a-burger down the street,” Jax answered.
“Close enough,” I insisted. “I’m likely persona non grata right now.”
It had taken us about twenty minutes to get close to where we were going. “Don’t sweat it. The reason I brought us this way is so that they couldn’t see us.”
“And how do you know that? There’s windows all across … well nearly all across … hey … there’s hardly any windows on this side. I never noticed that before.”
Jax chuckled. “Yeah, well the dumpster and all the electrical stuff is back here. The loading dock is too. All nice and neat behind that concrete block wall. You don’t think anyone wanted their little darlings being blinded by the blight do you?”
“Blinded by the blight? Cute Jax, real cute.” Looking around I wondered, “This close to the school though, shouldn’t someone be watching from the roof or something?”
He nodded, “That’s what I told Matt. He ignored me. So I told Sas who told me that if Matt told me to shut up then I better shut up.”
“I swear, what has gotten into Sas? He used to be such a teddy bear.”
In a voice colder than I thought it needed to be Jax answered, “Inability to deal with reality. In real life he’s a big goober that can barely bend over and tie his own shoes. In fantasyland he’s Hotsnot War Hammer and all the women love him.”
I almost laughed … almost. “OK, I take it Sas stepped on your toes a few times.”
“Jerk took a swing at me and I was holding Kelly at the time.”
Shocked I yelped, “What?!”
He shrugged. “That’s when I realized how many of the kids were starting to really slip off into the Twilight Zone.”
“But what did you do?” I asked.
“I caught him when he was alone and decked him. Told him if he ever put my kid in danger again he wasn’t long for this world.” He shook his head. “He nearly wet himself. But now he acts like I don’t exist. Honestly don’t care so long as … dang this thing is jammed up. Bless it! The key broke off in the lock!”
“Take it easy. Just cut those fence ties and we’ll get in that way. Unless that key was supposed to work the door too?”
He turned to find me handing him my leatherman and smart mouthed, “You’re more than half useful, you know that?”
I snorted at his attempt at backhanded flattery but didn’t have to wait long before he had the fence pulled back so that we could roll the bike through and load up his stuff. After we got in and I saw how much stuff he was talking about I said, “And how do you intend on getting all of that in those saddle bags?”
“I don’t. Help me load it into this thing … uh … please.”
I looked at what he was dragging out of another room and it was one of those wagons you attach to a bike and can pull two kids in it while you pedal along. “Smart,” I told him.
“I hope so. There’s another one in the other room and another bike too. Your dad taught me that redundancy was a friend to cultivate at work … and in regular life it isn’t bad either.” He was tightening a bolt down when he said, “If you don’t mind pulling it I want to try and take a few things from my parents’ place.”
It was all good and pretty soon we were pedaling away. It took us another fifteen minutes to get there and then he came out with a couple of bags in under five minutes. “That was fast!”
“Like I said, I’ve been trying to think ahead.” He put the bags in the trailer on the bike I was using and then said, “Thanks.” I had been making sure Kelly didn’t wiggle and knock the bike over. “Look, if it gets too heavy …”
“It’s fine. Let me build up some steam so I can keep up. Just glad we don’t have to go up Look Out Mountain hauling this stuff.” He chuffed a laugh and we were on our way to the mill.
Summer was coming to an end but that didn’t mean fall weather had arrived. We didn’t see another person while we were out but we kept of a fast pace and we were both sweating by the time we pedaled into the employee parking lot of the mill. He said, “Let’s keep going over to office. I wanna check something out.”
I’d come this far with him so I figured why the heck not. It had been a while since I had been to the mill and it felt eerie and a little haunted. I hadn’t been there since some ceremony or other they had for my family where they planted a few trees in their memories. I asked, “How long are we going to be here?”
“Probably not long, hour at the most.”
He shrugged, “At most.” He looked at me and when he realized I was a little upset he asked, “Bother you to be here?”
I admitted, “Kinda. What are you looking for?”
He got down off the bike and pointed, “That.”
“That” was a funky looking panel van. “Wait … is that what I think it is?”
Jax nodded his head. “Yep, the Edison Electric van that the mill owners bought to show how ‘green’ they were. Most of us just thought it was to show off how much ‘green’ they had.” We both chuckled at the pun. “I tried to tell Matt we needed to get out here and check this place out but you know what his opinion was.”
“You mean his Dad’s opinion.”
Jax nodded. “Both of them and you know it. Matt is a snob … at least about stuff like this. You know how he talked.”
“OK, so I know it. It is one of the few things that was guaranteed to get us in a fight so we never talked about it.” Matt was a tree hugger. A great big flaming tree hugger. To him the mill was like the devil incarnate. They were killing Bambi and Thumper’s habitat, they were killing the trees, ruining the water, poisoning the land, yada, yada. Granted they used to do a lot of that in the old days but he never would give the mill owners credit for having joined the 21st century. The water coming out of the mill had gotten to where it was probably cleaner than what went into most of the town’s houses. And they planted way more trees than they ever harvested. They also helped to manage the local hardwood forests using selective harvest which made the ecosystem a lot healthier in the long run. But Matt wouldn’t have believed that if God Himself had written it on stone tablets.
I looked at Jax and told him, “But we don’t have a way to charge it up.”
“Shouldn’t need to I hope. This baby has a lithium ion battery. And …” He reached under the bumper and pulled out a little box. “A ha!”
“A key box? For real?! That’s like sticking a sign on the bumper that reads steal me.”
“Not around here. Besides, I have to rehook the … got it.” Jax had used the key to open the van and pop the hood and had reattached some wires. “Now let’s hope she starts.”
It only clicked at first but then it gave this weird buzzing noise and cranked up. “Well yippee skippee,” I said with my mouth nearly hanging open in shock.
Jax hopped out of the van and told me, “I’m going to turn it off to save the battery now that I know it will crank. Let’s load the bikes and the trailers and then have a look around to see if there is anything else useful.”
Feeling uncomfortable I said, “I don’t know Jax … I mean … isn’t that stealing? What if the owners come back and …”
He gave me an incredulous look. “Are you telling me you haven’t …?”
“How have you been living all this time if you haven’t been scavenging and stuff?”
I suppose it sounded a little self-righteous when I told him, “I haven’t needed to.”
He looked at me and then got thoughtful. “You really haven’t have you.”
“No,” I told him defensively. “So what?”
He sighed. “So, that puts you head and shoulders above everyone else probably. Are there any groups out by your?”
I shrugged and told him, “Just the Houchins.”
When I got a troubled look on my face he said, “What?”
“Well, I guess I just never thought about it but … but they took over the two farms on either side of them. I just … I don’t know … thought it was because they didn’t want the animals to die.” I was feeling pretty stupid.
For his part Jax just shook his head the sighed. “Look, we can discuss this stuff later but right now just try and get over your … your scruples. The owners are dead, trust me. I helped carry them out of their big old house out on River Road myself … they are definitely NOT coming back. And I don’t know for sure what is out here, if anything at all, but let’s just give it a quick look. No way I can bring back all the tools and stuff I want in one trip anyway.”
“Why do you need tools? Dad’s shop must have every kind known to man and a few that look extraterrestrial too.”
He blinked a couple of times and then said, “And … that’s a good thing. So one less worry for me to think about.”
As we walked into the building that housed the employee break room I said, “Kelly isn’t making a fuss or anything. I thought kids cried all the time.”
“She has her moments,” he admitted. “But usually she is pretty good. She’s used to going with me all over the place so it isn’t like something she hasn’t experienced before. She knows if she gets tired she can just fall asleep in the carrier and I’ll keep going. If she gets thirsty she has her sippy cup.”
“I take it the only problem is f-o-o-d.”
He gave me a grateful glance that I had spelled it rather than said it out loud. “Yeah, pretty much. I ran out of a lot of stuff for her that she was used to having and she’s having a hard time learning new habits. It’s hard on both of us. Nothing is easy anymore. All I can say is I’m glad she doesn’t need diapers anymore.”
It was dim in the break room but enough light came in through the windows placed high on the wall that we could see what we were doing. The first cabinet I opened I nearly screamed and then slammed it shut. Jax came running out of the back office and saw me throwing a hissy.”
“What’s the problem?”
“If you laugh I’ll brain you.”
He face slowly transformed into a huge smile. “The bug spray is in that cabinet over there or do you want me to spray the bad ol’ spider for you.”
I was tempted to flip him a rude gesture but decided to ignore him instead. I’m allergic to spiders … not I’m gonna die in a matter of seconds allergic, just the bite swells up and tries to get infected kind of allergic. Spiders are about the only living creature that will freak me out and all my friends thought it was hilarious. Every Halloween I donated all the plastic and rubber spiders that I had collected all year long from their pranks and there was normally enough to decorate the school’s haunted house with some left over. The jokes got old fast but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
In the cleaning cabinet I found some of those blue nitrile gloves that you wear if you are allergic to latex. I checked them out to make sure nothing was hiding in the fingers and then put them on and went back to searching the rest of the break room.
“You drink coffee?”
“Sometimes, why … wait, did you find any in the break room?
“Yeah, like a couple of cases of the stuff. The bags are still sealed and the filters look ok too. Is this the kind of stuff you want to try and take?”
He walked back in and I saw he had suddenly started looking like Pancho Villa. “Uh …”
He sighed. “You don’t have anything against guns do you?”
“No, of course not … uh … just … where did … I mean … look at yourself.”
“I know. It was easier to carry like this than try and pack it all in here in my hands. Is there an empty box over there? There’s a bunch of shotgun shells and .22lr in Mr. Lachlan’s office. I don’t know what happened to all of the guns that were supposed to be in there.”
“Did you check Mr. Harmon’s office?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s where I found the key’s to Lachlan’s safe. I guess DHS might have confiscated them but I would have thought that they would have taken the ammo at the same time.”
He was starting to look frustrated and I told him, “Dad’s guns are at the house. If you feel you gotta have one then I suppose … you know …”
He looked momentarily relieved and then shook his head. “I didn’t even think to ask if you were armed.”
“With a gun no.”
I waggled my boot at him and he snorted, “That knife’s not gonna do you a bit of good in your shoe. You need to start packing … all the time. You still know how to shoot?”
Facetiously I asked, “Do spring traps launch orcs into flaming pools of lava?”
He looked at me like I’d lost my mind and asked, “Say what?”
I laughed, really laughed, for the first time in a long time. “It’s just a game called ‘Orcs Must Die!’ See there are these pressure plates …”
He shook his head in a hurry and said, “Never mind. I don’t want to know that bad.”
I laughed again and it felt good. “Yes, I can still shoot. I was actually thinking of going hunting once I got Matt and … and Marty … and …”
I sighed then said quietly, “I can shoot. Not a problem. And I usually hit what I’m aiming at too.”
Jax came over and helped me to dump one box of coffee into the other so he could have the empty one. “Look Lydie, it’s … it’s going to be ok. I … uh … know you’re hurting right now and …”
I looked over and realized that Jax could be sweet when he put his mind to it but I also realized sweet wasn’t what I needed right then. I shook myself and said, “They’re loss. Right? We’ll build what they … what they …”
I had to stop talking. I had started to breathe real heavy and my eyes had gotten almost too watery. I turned away from him. “Um … just go back to doing whatever you were doing. There’s the box you wanted.”
Instead of him going away he came in behind me and put his hands on my shoulder from behind. “It’s going to be really great Lydie. You’re right … they’re loss. You’ll see too, just like they will.”
I was biting my lip but one stupid tear still managed to roll down my cheek. “I’m not normally like this you know. I …”
“Hey, you don’t need to explain. Just try and keep in mind that they’ve got some damage to sort through.” After a minute he asked, “Are … are you interested in you and … uh … Matt getting back together?”
I shook my head. “No, and not because he just acted like Carth Onasi.”
I sighed, “A male character in Knights of the Old Republic. Don’t worry about it. Basically token male love interest with personal issues.”
He snorted, “OK.” He made me turn around and look at him. “If you can spout that gamer stuff you can’t be too bad off.”
I huffed and then sniffed the last tear away. “I’m just mad … mostly at myself.”
He corrected, “Your feelings are hurt.”
“And what if they are?” I asked belligerently.
He grabbed a napkin out of the pile of stuff I had put on one of the tables and surprised me by wiping my face with it. “It’s OK Lydie. It’ll hurt for a while and then one day you’ll wake up … and it won’t hurt as much.”
I took the napkin from him and blew my nose with it. “Experience speaking?”
He smiled gently, “Something like that.”
I blew a breath out and said, “OK. So if I’m not going to fall to pieces I guess that means we need to finish what we’re doing.”
He gave me an approving grin and said, “Right.”
In the end we didn’t go too much off of the break room and employee lockers and we still wound up with a van load of stuff. “Jax do you think we really need all of this? Not to brag or anything but I’ve got anything you could want.”
“Well, you might be bragging a little but …” He grinned to take any sting from his words but there was also curiosity there. “You know, that could be taken the wrong way.” At my blush he grinned even bigger. “Don’t sweat it, I know what you mean … I think. But no matter how much stuff you have you need to understand they aren’t making any more ‘stuff’ right now so anything we can pick up that doesn’t already belong to someone else will be something we hopefully will not run out of before they start making ‘stuff’ again.”
I gave that a thought and it made my heart thump hard. I hadn’t given very much serious consideration to how long my world was going to be neutral. A different view of things was trying to creep in and I didn’t like it. I said quietly, “Play time is over I guess. Time to get serious.”
He heard me and the look on my face had him asking, “Hey, you OK? You don’t look so good.”
I shook myself to regain control. “I’m fine. Let’s just get this stuff loaded. And …” I gave him a serious look. “I’m glad you’re around. I … uh … Matt never had much patience when I didn’t get his ideas right away. You … you do it differently.” He was surprised and tried to not show his pleasure but he’d won that point so I was more than willing to give it to him.
The van wasn’t huge and Jax warned that it wouldn’t haul more than 3,000 pounds. “We should be OK. I wish the GEM truck was working.”
“GEM truck? That’s a new one on me.”
He nodded. “It was delivered right after your dad … uh … died. Or maybe it doesn’t really matter whether it is working or not. It uses nine 8-volt gel batteries and only gets forty miles per charge, if that. Plus it sucks going uphill; the more uphill you go the less battery time you have. It was great for moving stuff around the flat areas of the plant but not for getting anything out to the guys in the field. Doubt it would even still have a charge at this point.”
“Well then don’t waste time thinking about it.”
He said, “It isn’t a waste exactly. It might be useful for something at some point I just don’t know what yet … or how we could transport it to your dad’s … your … place.”
“Easy,” I told him. “We’d just tow it.”
He looked at me sharply. “You still have gas? Is it stabilized? How much?”
I shook my head. “Only partly correct; I still make fuel. Yes, it is stabilized. And how much depends on what raw ingredients I have to work with. I’ve also got a steam powered tractor but that thing makes way too much noise … same with the other steam engines Dad and I used to play around with. But there’s plenty of charcoal for them if we really do need them.”
He gave me a blank look then said, “We really gotta talk. How many other people know you’re kin to Midas?”
I rolled my eyes and passed him another case of bathroom paper products. “I’m not kin to Midas. Dad and I just liked to tinker around and build stuff. Will would join us sometimes but usually he was playing catch up with living when he wasn’t sick.” Jax nodded his understanding. “As for who knows … me and … well there’s you … and then you … and oh yeah … you.”
“Not Matt?” he asked.
Sighing I said, “No. You know your uncle and my dad didn’t exactly … er … see eye to eye on a lot of stuff. Dad never held that against Matt or vice versa but it kinda forced me to keep my life … segregated I guess you would say. For me there was school and friends and then there was home and family.”
“And the two didn’t overlap much?”
“Not much except where Will and I had mutual friends.” To myself I added, “Or at least who I thought were my friends.”
I must have said it where Jax could hear it because he said, “They were your friends Lydie and might still be; I don’t know, I can’t speak for them. But life happens and things change. It doesn’t mean you throw out the good stuff of the past, it just means you have to get on with the living of today. But I am glad for your sake that people don’t know about how much you have. You’ve already had a target painted on you by being female and alone, no need to make it worse.”
“Geez, thanks for the warm and fluffy feelings there Jax. Makes me feel all comfortable and happy,” I told him sarcastically.
Suddenly sounding older than I had considered he told me, “I’m not saying it to make you comfortable. I’m saying it because someone needs to say it. You need to be more careful. First thing I’m going to check the locks and stuff and …”
Not prepared for his sudden overprotectiveness I responded, “Don’t go getting testosterone poisoning on me. I hear there’s no cure.”
He put the box he was holding down with a thump. “Lydie …,” He stopped like he was searching for words. “Lydie listen to me. I’m not trying to scare you, not really. And I’m not trying to come over all king of the hill and stupid. But the world has changed. It is a different place than it was a few months ago. Like it or not, you are a girl and you need to be more careful because there are guys out there that are just animals. And I know you’re going to say that it has always been like that and it’s true. But think on this … there’s no one out there to stop them anymore. They’ll take what they want from whom they want and if they decide that you are what they want, even if it is just for a minute, there isn’t a whole lot to stop them. Now I don’t want that for Kelly … or for you. It scares the crap out of me to think Kelly could …” He shook his head both mad and sick at the same time. He grunted, “But it is this way, at least for right now and if I’m going to be worth my place – for Kelly’s sake and yours – I’m going to do it the best I can and if that means sounding like a … like a …”
I stopped him. “I get it Jax. I was just making a joke for Pete’s sake.”
He calmed down a little but not all the way. “Well it isn’t a joke. Before so many people were poisoned and died town had gotten to be a dangerous place to be. The cops had their hands full with emergencies and all the new people coming in and not knowing how things were done around here … normal things like domestic calls and stuff like that became a low priority.” He looked at me and said, “Did you have a chance to see how everyone had paired off with Matt’s gang? There’s not a single female in the bunch. That’s going to cause problems before too much longer if I don’t miss my guess. That’s probably why some of the guys play games so much, to keep their mind off of what they aren’t getting on top of everything else they don’t have.”
“That’s a little crude,” I snarked at him.
“Crude maybe but it’s true. It isn’t easy being odd man out. Especially at night when sound carries.”
“Ew … TMI!”
“Maybe,” he snorted. “But just because I swore off making the same mistake I made that brought Kelly into the world doesn’t mean that I don’t still think about it.” He must have realized how that sounded because he got beet red and said, “I … uh … didn’t mean …”
I was blushing too and told him, “Well, you did … but not the way it sounded I guess. Just remember … you’re not Adam and I’m not Eve. If … you know … it does happen it won’t be because I’m being backed into a corner or that you can make me feel sorry for you.”
Looking indignant he said, “I wouldn’t want it like that anyway.”
“Good,” I told him and decided to change the subject. “Do we really need these cigarettes and cigars? Or did you pick up the smoking habit and I didn’t know it?”
“Trade or barter goods.” When he saw me looking the question at him he explained, “At some point we’ll likely have to trade for something we need. I read someplace that during war time cigarettes and liquor make good trade items.”
I laughed, “Well, this is a paper mill … maybe we should stock up on paper.”
Jax took the suggestion more seriously than I had meant it. “Actually what this plant makes for the most part is commercial packaging and corrugated products. The other types of paper products were shipped in from the other plants in other parts of the country. Don’t get me wrong, there’s probably enough toilet paper and paper towels to clog up the dam with but the supply isn’t endless. Neither are the reams of paper in the office. Geez, there’s so much stuff we should be taking with us.” He shook his head. “If I can figure out a way to charge … no … use a truck to … no … someone will see … maybe …”
I let him think, it seemed to keep him busy and relatively happy which was more than could be said for Kelly who was starting to get bored. I made her another half a peanut butter sandwich and Jax smiled. Made me feel weird but good too. Maybe this clan thing didn’t have to be as hard as I was afraid of it being.
Finally Jax said that we were as loaded as we could afford to be and we finally headed for home. We weren’t on the road five minutes before it started to rain again. “Sure feels strange driving again,” Jax muttered as he navigated the pot holes and pointed us towards the farm.
“Yeah.” Then I had a thought of my own. “I know I said I wanted to get home before dark but I don’t think we are going to make it. Either way, let’s take the scenic route and go home the back way to avoid the Houchins’ place. If keeping stuff to ourselves is that important then announcing our arrival driving this green monsters isn’t going to be a good thing.”
He nodded and I told him the basic route to take and without further delay we got pointed in the right direction.
Now it is coming together for me.
I look forward to the rest of the story!
What new twists and turns will show up?
thanks for the new chapter
Getting to be quite interesting. Did I miss where this is all located?
Thanks for the new story.
Thank you Kathy!!
As usual,another example of your exceptional weaving.
Yes, very interesting. Thank you.
What a nice Sat. afternoon treat. Thanks Kathy.
Lookin' Good Kathy!
This looks to be another very engaging story to come....
The New Geek Empire
“Hold onto her tight; we’re coming up to another curve.”
What I really needed to hold onto was my temper. “Jax, you’ve told me to hold onto her about a dozen times already. I’m not going to let her bang her head, bump her mouth, fall out of the window, or any of the other horrors you apparently think I’m stupid enough to let happen. Just pull over already and switch places with me; I’ll drive, you can hold the wiggling wonder instead.”
He slowed and pulled over. “Look, maybe we better.”
I shook my head. “Suits me but more than likely as soon as I pull out you are just going to start back seat driving.”
Instead of moving so that I could get behind the wheel he turned to look at me in the late afternoon light. “I … I just can’t stand the idea of anything happening to Kelly. She’s all I have and all I’ve really had in a long time. She’s … she’s my kid.”
I sighed and told him, “I get that. I don’t have a problem with it either. I don’t really have a problem with you telling me a couple of times to be careful but … after a couple it kinda makes me feel like you think I’m an idiot. I may not have a kid of my own Jax but I do understand they’re precious cargo. You’re nearly as bad as my parents could get over Will.”
Jax drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and then sighed and pulled back onto the road. “I’m not used to trusting people.”
“You let Ashley, Ginger and the other girls babysit for you.”
He shrugged and said, “I didn’t have much of a choice and I only did it when I absolutely had to for as short a time as I could possibly get away with.”
“Fine … but I’m not going to hurl Kelly out a window, off the roof, or throw her down a well. I do have some commonsense you know.”
After a moment he chuckled. “Sorry. Guess I was being a little crazy.”
“Not much as you could have I guess, just give me some credit. I did volunteer at the school day care center in case you didn’t know.”
Not overly impressed Jax said, “Yeah, a lot of kids volunteer there to get their hours for graduation there. Last I heard they did it because it was a coast.”
I snorted. “Obviously your news was out of date. Mrs. Lemmin took over the DCC; volunteering there was work and you got a grade at the end of every week. If you didn’t pass the grade then you didn’t come back and you didn’t get your recommends letter for your next volunteer opportunity.”
“Ouch,” he said. “She sounds like she was a real battle ax.”
“Yeah but a lot of it was the new state regs she’d been hired to implement. I already had all of my first aid and CPR training but I still had to get recertified before I could start. I also had to participate in the parenting classes and afterschool training for the paid workers. It convinced me that while I like kids, I didn’t want to work with classrooms full of them at a time as a career. So no offense, but Kelly here is a piece of cake compared to all those monkeys at the DCC. They practically swung from the lights the first couple of weeks after they would start the program.” Shuddering at the memory of some of the kids I noticed we were getting close to the turn off. “Up there, you see those three bashed in mail boxes? Two entrances after that is the road that leads back to the house.”
He was concentrating on driving but he was also looking around with interest. “And you say town is spooky. I didn’t know there were so many houses out this way. And you say they are all empty?”
“Most of them area only facades; if you go beyond the front door all you’ll find is partially finished rooms and some are even empty shells that only have the stud walls up. My dad called them spec homes and no one has ever lived in of them. If you take the road opposite ours you’ll go to a small circle of houses that people did live in but I haven’t seen anyone in them for a while. I road my bike down there a couple of times but it’s like they just went on vacation and never came home. There are some houses over by the Houchins place too but those are what’s left of a foreclosed subdivision. There’s also some trailers if you keep going down this road but they’re abandoned too. I spent a lot of the summer running around picking fruit and stuff before it could fall and bringing it home to take care of just to have something to do. The deer got most of the gardens that had been planted that I could find, though I did manage to get some tomatoes but that’s about it unless some of the squash survive which I kinda doubt.” As Jax tried to come up with a response I told him, “Here … turn here. There’s a couple of good sized dips in the road and some annoying acute turns but Dad put them in that way so that no could use our back road for playing Dukes of Hazard or Burnout Paradise. There is one really narrow piece coming up … yeah … right up there.”
When we came up to the final mile long drive I told him, “Let me out here. There are two gates I’m going to have to unlock.”
“Dang, you are on the back side of nowhere aren’t you?”
“Is that your way of trying to tell me you’re having second thoughts?” He shook his head though didn’t talk as he negotiated around some oaklings that had grown too tall before their width could keep them completely upright. I told him, “We aren’t really that far out, it just feels that way sometimes because of how slow you have to go to get back the final couple of miles.”
Finally we pulled into the homestead lot and I directed him to pull over to the tractor barn. “Let me take care of the animals while you take care of Kelly. If you don’t have a problem with soup, dinner won’t take that long to fix. We’ll save what’s left of the bread and I’ll make French toast for breakfast and you and Kelly can have crackers instead.”
Kelly gave her vote by yelling for “Kackers! Kackers and Pea-buts!!”
For some reason that struck me as hilarious but I still told her, “If you eat all the pea-but now there won’t be any for tomorrow. Tell you what, you eat all your soup and I bet I can find a surprise that you’ll like.”
She still really wanted the pea-but but I told her to hush or she would scare the chickens and rabbits and then she wouldn’t be able to help feed them. That shut her up for a moment then she wanted to see the “chickies and babbits right now.” I was trying to figure out a polite way to tell Jax to stop dancing, that there was a bathroom in the barn but he figured it out for himself when I just pointed and walked off with his kid.
He followed the sound of his daughter’s squeals at the chickens pecking at the cracked mixed feed I had put in their feeder. I handed her over telling him, “The rabbits are a little more temperamental. They’re cute and fluffy but they’ll bite if they get startled, especially King Kong.”
I walked into the barn and turned up the gas lamp so I could see. Jax was watching the lamp for a moment but when he turned back around he jumped about four feet and just about yelled, “Holy … that’s got to be the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen in my life. You sure that ain’t a dog in there?”
I laughed. “No, that’s King Kong. He’s a Hungarian Giant. He’s got unusual coloring and is darker that most of his breed is. He likes to hide in the shadow and sneak up on me sometimes when I go in to clean his cage.”
“Is that I mean … what do you do with a rabbit that big?” he asked finally coming over to take a good look at the nearly eighteen pound animal.
“King Kong is a novelty breed and basically a pet in this country. You see the ones with the long hair? Those are angoras and you shave them or just keep their combings and use it to make yarn with. Those regular looking rabbits in the hutches between those two posts are the ones that are for meat.”
“Uh … meat? As in you … er … eat them?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, I feed all these animals just to give myself something to do a couple of times a day. I mean cleaning cages is just really, really fun.” When he got my sarcastic point I told him, “Yes I eat them, and you will too but if you don’t want me to tell you when I’ll just …”
“No … uh … no, that’s not what I mean. I’m not squeamish. My grandmother used to fix rabbit, squirrel, frog legs, goat, you name it. I just have a hard time believing you expected to be able to bring Matt … and Marty too … out here and expect them to eat Thumper.”
I turned away and bit my lip. Quietly I admitted, “I’ve figured out I didn’t have all the kinks worked out of my plan.”
He sighed. “You know, I’m not normally this bad about sticking my foot in my mouth. Maybe that mouth guard is a good idea.”
I relaxed. Jax was a lot easier to be around than I had expected. “No, but I tell you what. You don’t twit me about being stupid and I won’t twit you about having mouth-in-foot-itis. Deal?”
He chuckled. “Deal.”
Then I got more serious. “I do have one suggestion though and I hope you’ll understand. Don’t let Kelly start thinking of the animals as pets. King Kong is a pet but he’s already five years old and I really don’t know how much longer he is going to live. Most rabbits don’t live much beyond seven years though some have been known to live like fifteen or so. The angoras are a lot of work and they are used to being handled – some will even hop right to me to be brushed out – but they aren’t what you would call especially friendly. They will snap if I hit a knot in their fur unexpectedly. The other rabbits are like the chickens, they serve their purpose and I treat them as well as I can … but I don’t give them names or bring them in the house.”
“Especially those feather dusters,” I answered. “Even the specialty breeds serve their purpose without being turned into pets. I keep the hens until their egg production drops off due to age and then it is time to turn them into fryers. Roosters I’ll cull when they are still young and tender so we don’t get a lot of fighting which can make them all a little crazy. Anyone of them gets mean and I don’t care how good they are, I’ll wring their necks and put ‘em in a pot as fast as I can. Getting pecked is part of the job, getting spurred or having them fly in my face at my eyes is not.”
He nodded. “I don’t want her to get hurt. Better for her to learn it now when she is little so that it is more natural than have to unlearn bad habits later. Do you have any other animals?”
I nodded my head then shook it. “Well, they aren’t my animals exactly. There are some goats that live in the kudzu that is growing into some of those abandoned track homes and they’ve gotten where they’ll let me milk them if they are in the mood. The Billy is a smelly ol’ beast but he took out a dog that tried to sneak up on me and now thinks he owns me or something I think.” I laughed. “Of course it doesn’t hurt that I always come with a bucket of feed to sweeten his nature a bit. And speaking of feed, how about I go fix the soup and you can pick the rooms you want for you and Kelly.”
“Uh … ok. Let me get her stuff … aw nooo.”
I looked sharply at him wondering what was wrong. “What’s up?”
“I can’t believe I forgot … no high chair or playpen or nothing. I’ve got to … to figure out … let me think.”
I tapped his shoulder and then when I had his attention I tapped my forehead. “Already thought of it. Will’s old stuff is in the attic; Mom never got rid of anything that might be useful later on. I know right where it is at too because I was up there last week looking for a lantern mantle.”
In short order I’d washed my hands and opened a quart jar of bean and bacon soup and set it to warm and then took Jax upstairs trying not to feel strange about having someone in the house after being alone for so long. After all I was the one that had wanted a “clan” of my own. I might have been covering it up but Jax wasn’t as good an actor. I showed him where my room was and suggested that he use the guest room that had been reserved for family when they came to visit. “The small room off of it used to be a nursery before it was turned into a sitting room. Might as well turn it back into what it was originally meant to be. Or you can put the crib in your room; whichever way you want to work it.”
“Uh … ok.”
It was dark going up to the attic so I clicked on the lights and not for the first time Jax jumped. “What the …? You’ve got electricity?!”
“Solar. We can’t be stupid about it but it never let my family down before although I think one of the batteries might have died on me. I can’t get a meter reading out of it.”
Uneasily he looked around and said, “Someone might see, come to investigate.”
“Black out curtains.”
I turned around and tickled Kelly rather than punch Jax. “I told you I’m not completely stupid. We started out using the blackout curtains just to keep the sun out during the day to keep the house cooler – they’ve got this film on them that keeps out the light rays that cause heat – but after my family was killed it took time for me to get used to living out here by myself and I kinda pretended that the black out curtains made me invisible. In a way they do. During the winter I’ll reverse the curtains. It will reflect the heat back inside the house but still not let any light out.”
We didn’t talk much after that. We brought the baby stuff out of the attic that seemed useful and he wiped it down while I finished up dinner. By the time we were finished eating Kelly was nodding off so Jax got her ready for bed while I cleaned up the dishes. I was putting the drainer away when I heard him come down the stairs. As soon as I turned around I could tell he wanted to talk.
Before he could say something I asked him, “Be honest with me Jax, are you having second thoughts? You keep getting these looks on your face. I don’t blame you if you are and I won’t hold it against you. You’re used to having all those people around and …”
Startled he blinked a couple of times and then said, “No … no not at all. Actually I was wondering if you were having second thoughts. I mean, seriously, what do you need me for out here? It seems like … man, I mean look at this place … it seems like you have all you need.”
Then it was my turn to blink. Trying to explain I finally just said, “Let’s sit down. Looking up at you gives me a crick in my neck.” I split the last of the apple juice between two cups rather than putting it back in the cooler and then pulled out a chair and tried to find the right words.
“Jax I imagine you have felt alone before, but have you ever really been alone? I mean after Kelly was born and stuff?”
He shrugged, “I lived out of my car for about a week after Mom told me that if I chose to be Kelly’s father then I was choosing to be an adult and if I was choosing that that I had to go all the way with it … get my own place and everything.”
“Oh … oh wow. I never heard that.”
He gave me another careless shrug. “She did it while my dad was out of town. He wasn’t happy that she’d basically kicked me out without his say so. The family kept everything quiet. My dad found me out at the truck stop and arranged for me to live at his brother’s place and helped me to get a job at the mill but that’s about as far as he felt he could go. He didn’t disagree with Mom … he just didn’t like getting left out of the decision making process and having it play out like it did. One of the reasons I never moved back home is because they started to have marital problems right after that and having me around too much made it worse. Visits and stuff like that got to be where it was OK but anything more than that and my folks would start bringing crap up from their pasts and then it went right back to Mom making me move out.”
Hesitantly I said, “I’m … I’m sorry. Dad kinda said you’d had it rough but he didn’t really give details.”
“Yeah well … nothing I can do about it now and mostly I’ve learned to deal with it. But if you are talking about being alone, I … I kinda see what you are getting at.”
“Maybe,” I told him. “You were alone for a week and then I can see how having Kelly would be a huge responsibility and junk but at least you had her. After my family was killed and all the family went back to their lives I was in this house all by myself. It was my choice, what I wanted, and it was OK so long as I had something to take my mind off of things like work, school, and church; but then when things really fell apart the world kind of … shrunk. And even then I was OK until Mr. Houchins basically told me to stop coming around.”
I explained what had happened. He surprised me by saying, “I can see where he’d be afraid of the distractions you caused. You coming around told his people that there was something more out in the world besides his particular rules. But I am surprised you didn’t have trouble with the guys more … maybe even the older men.”
I made a face but tried to think about what he said. “They were all matched up … married or as good as. Lots of younger kids but only a couple my age and all but one of them were girls. But enough of that, it gives me the heebies. What I mean is that being alone was OK for a long time … then all of a sudden it wasn’t.” Shrugging I tried to make it as simple for him as possible. “Things I have. Things I don’t have I can either live without or build. People though … people I don’t have and can’t make. I got tired of talking to myself or the rabbits and chickens. I was worried one day they would start talking back, you know?” He chuffed a laugh and then I closed by saying, “I never thought of myself as a super social person, never thought I needed people but that’s because someone was always around. But then there wasn’t and I find … I want at least a person or two. It keeps me feeling human … keeps me from feeling crazy. I … uh … Jax … I really want you … you and Kelly … to stay. Please.”
I hated to feel like I was begging but I was willing to if it helped my case. He just kept looking at me and I was beginning to get the idea that I was losing then he surprised me. “You’re serious … this isn’t just some kind of gamer thing.”
“I mean that it isn’t some fantasy you are trying to create. You’ve thought it through. It isn’t that you want somebody to help with the work – tote that barge, lift that bale sort of stuff – but that you really mean you want someone to … to talk to, share all this. Am I right?”
Still tense and worried I told him, “Yeah. I know I’m probably not saying it right. It … it’s just …”
Tentatively he asked, “What … what about that other stuff we talked about?”
I was tempted to get up and pace the kitchen but I forced myself to stay calm. “Honestly? Jax I … I wasn’t even thinking about that even when I thought about Matt coming out here. That … uh … never factored into … the equation with him if … uh … if you know what I mean.”
He nodded. “Kinda got that feeling but I’m still glad you told me. Matt let his alter ego Maestro bleed off so many of what most people would call normal urges in those games he played that there wasn’t any left for real life.”
I blinked at how perceptive he was being and then blushed thinking of some of the stupid ways I had behaved online and how I was glad I’d never acted that way in the real world. “Jax … I … uh … I need some time … I mean … I know you but … but I don’t really know, know you. And this is real life not gamer land. I … uh …”
He smiled and said, “Relax Lydie. I told you, I don’t want to make a mistake either. I have Kelly to think about. I just … I just thought you should know that I’ll … uh … probably be thinking along those lines when I think about staying here and if you get to the point where that isn’t a possibility you need to be upfront and let me know so there aren’t any misunderstandings.”
I blew out a breath in relief. I mean I was still uptight and embarrassed but I didn’t feel like a cornered beastie anymore. “OK. And … and for the record … I think … I mean … look I can’t promise but … at some … you know … point … I … uh … probably wouldn’t mind if you … I mean … we could talk about …”
He laughed, “Wanna borrow my mouth guard?”
“Huh? Oh … oh yeah. This is just … it’s just not as easy as they make it look in the movies. I mean boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall in love and … I mean … oh brother.” I must have turned ten shades of red after realizing I had started to talk about love. “I didn’t mean that … about falling in love. I don’t expect … I mean …”
Instead of laughing at the fool I was making out of myself Jax looked at me thoughtfully and said, “That’s not as hard for me to imagine as you might think.”
Suddenly the room got really, really warm and I jumped up and took our glasses to the sink and rinsed them out. “Uh … uh would you like to see the rest of the house?”
“Actually if you don’t mind I’d like to get the stuff out of the van and then hit the hay. It’s … a … been a long day.”
“Sure!” I said a little over eager. “I wanna check on the animals one last time and then I’ll help you carry everything in.”
We stayed away from deep topics after that and we both finally relaxed. He was right, it had been a long day. When we came in with the last box I showed him how things got locked down and told him I’d give him one of the spare keys in the morning. After we got upstairs I showed him where the emergency ladder was in case he had to exit by the window and then showed him where the bathroom was upstairs. I told him, “You can go ahead and use the hot water in the morning. I usually shower off in the afternoon before I start cooking dinner. I use … oh …”
“Oh what?” he asked.
“Uh, I use the outside shower. I mean it has walls up but …”
He groaned but laughed at the same time. “You are not helping Lydie.”
Feeling a little wicked I gave him an innocent face and said, “Well, at least here you don’t have to worry about sound carrying.” I scurried off to my room and when I turned and peeked at him before going in and closing the door I saw he was shaking his head but still smiling.
I quietly I picked a chair up and put it under the bedroom doorknob, not that I really felt any kind of threat from Jax. But good sense is good sense. I also realized that maybe, just maybe, things were going to turn out all right after all.
What a nice way to end the evening. Thank you Kathy for entertaining us so well. At least you did not leave Cliff out for us to trippppp over tonight.
Awww what a sweet thing this could turn out to be...for all three of them! Thanks for the new chapters, they were great as always!
Being PC will be the death of us all yet!
"But we've got to have faith or we have nothing. We have to have faith in our God, our resolve, our cause and our brother patriots."
Black, Leo - The Last Stand on Earth.
Very entertaining chapter Kathy. Thank you.
Another good story and as always, need more. Thanks Kathy
I like it!
If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under... Ronald Reagan
good stuff, thanks for the new chapter
Thanks, Kathy you really have a way with words.
I am so thrilled to see a plan to move forward happening albeit slowly and cautiously, just as it should be.
This story is absolutely phenomenal! I think that it is almost nothing like the first shot at a story with this title, and while I loved the first story arc this one beats it by an astronomical unit. I can't wait to see how this story develops.
This is the 3rd story of yours that I've read. Your stories are very addictive. You're the best writer I've seen in a long time. Thanks for your effort and time.
Last edited by Browncoat; 03-12-2012 at 03:24 PM.
The New Geek Empire
“Lydie? Got a sec?” Jax asked rather tentatively.
I wiped the sweat off my face with a bandana and said, “Sure. Just let me push this wheelbarrow to the compost pile.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Naw, it’s full of rabbit poop and you’ve got Kelly.”
He sighed. “Let me do something Lydie. It’s almost been a week and I’m going crazy.”
I started to panic. I’d sensed he’d been dissatisfied with things. I’d asked what his favorite foods were. I’d showed him how to hook up the TV and game consoles. I’d shown him the computer … no internet access but there were sim games and stuff like that he could play and Dad had a gazillion files saved to disc. He still just didn’t seem happy. “I’ll show you Dad’s movie collection. There are all sorts in there … no chick fliks though, for that you’ll have to get into my mother’s movies.” I was trying to make a funny but he wasn’t laughing.
He snorted instead. “Lydie, stop. I don’t mean I’m bored, at least not the way you’re taking it. I just mean I don’t like sitting around on vacation while I watch you do all of this work. It makes me feel crummy … like a lazy bum or something.”
I stopped and set the wheelbarrow down. “Oh … But you have Kelly to take care of.”
He nodded. “I know but I can do other stuff too. I’ve been thinking about it.”
Sighing I said, “This isn’t working for you is it? You’re thinking about leaving.”
He bumped me just enough to move me from the wheelbarrow and then put on a pair of work gloves that had materialized out of his back pocket. Grabbing the wheelbarrow handles he said, “See? I can have Kelly in the backpack and do other stuff at the same time. We’re used to working this way aren’t we Bumble Bee?”
Kelly giggled and kicked her heels into Jax’s sides and said, “Getty-yup horsie!”
It was hard not to smile so I didn’t bother trying. Kelly was a cute kid and said funny things all the time. It was like living down the hall from a miniature clown. Jax pushed the wheelbarrow but when we got to the compost pile he did let me fork the mess out since I already had the manure shovel in my hands. While I scooped the poop Jax said, “I’m not talking about leaving so stop freaking out about that. I just want to be part of things. I don’t like feeling useless.”
“I’m not freaking out,” I denied but when I looked at him and put myself in his place it actually clicked. “I … uh … I just wanted you to know I wasn’t just after extra muscle.”
He smiled slightly and told me, “Yeah, I figured that out. But I’m a guy Lydie … not a kid. I need to be part of what is going on … allowed to swim in the deep end without floaties on. I don’t want to just wade around in the shallow end of things.”
I gave him an apologetic glance. “I guess I’m not used to that. Dad was like that sure … but he was just Dad. Everyone said he was different. I guess I just figured … I don’t know …” Unable to come up with a good excuse or explanation I shrugged.
“What about Will?” he asked as he took the wheelbarrow once again, this time to roll it back to the tool shed.
“Will had the desire but he was sick so much. Even when the doctors suspected he was going into remission he was still recovering his strength and health and had to be careful not to overdo it. That’s why my parents decided to homeschool him that last year. His immune system was shot after the bone marrow transplant. Dad wanted to homeschool me too but I was already dual enrolled at the College so it wouldn’t have helped anything really.”
“You were the marrow donor weren’t you?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me but it could have killed Will and nearly did in the beginning. As bad as the donor thing was – and it wasn’t really all that bad – it was a lot worse for my parents. It killed them to leave Will in the hospital as much as he was there for a while. That’s why I did so much around the house; so my mom could stay with Will as much as possible.”
He nodded. Our story was commonly known and I supposed he knew a lot of it from work for Dad out at the mill. I closed and locked the shed and he asked, “Can you sit down for a while?”
Instead I asked him, “Want to help me get the tomatoes put on the drying screens? We can talk and work at the same time right?”
He nodded, understanding I was trying to include him but really needed to get work done too. We went over to the screened in patio area that Dad had built for Mom to use as her outdoor kitchen. The “counter” space was made from old granite pieces that he’d scavenged from houses that were being remodeled.
Jax asked, “Did your Dad build this?”
I nodded. “Dad and I did together … about … yeah … about seven years ago. It was the year I turned ten. Remember when the mill owners bought that crummy apartment complex and then converted it to condos? Dad got permission to dumpster dive and brought back a lot of stuff. They let him do it for free because he gave them the idea of recycling and selling a lot of the copper wiring and piping that was being torn out and upgraded. Dad said as much as they replaced, they probably recouped the cost of one of the rehabs at least.”
“Cool,” he said, wandering around inside looking at things while I got the tomatoes prepped.
“I know the counters are all mix-n-match but Mom liked it. Dad had wanted to make them stainless steel but he lost the bids he kept putting in at auctions then when the granite didn’t really cost anything except paying someone to help him uninstall them, load, and then reinstall them here it was like a no brainer. The roof is new though … only about two years old anyway. Dad and I did it, the sheds, and the barns the same summer we did the roof on the house. One of Dad’s whacky auction bids finally came in and it was for the contents of an old manufacturing building. Turns out it was used as a storage location for this roofing contractor that went belly up. That’s why all the roofs are that strange green instead of regular roof colored.”
He smiled and said, “Hey, it doesn’t look bad. What’s ‘regular roof color’ anyway? So it isn’t shingles but who cares? A lot of those expensive places along River Road were starting to replace their old shingles with the metal panels.” He looked at all the tomatoes and said, “So tell me what to do.”
I shook my head. “I’m not gonna tell you, I’ll show you. What we’re doing here is making dried tomatoes. First we need to cut all these tomatoes in half, cut out the stem part and any bad spots, then we’re going to put them on these trays and put them into the dryer.”
“That metal drum thing?” he asked pointing to the fifty-five gallon drum that lay on its side.
“Yeah, it’s a wood-fired dehydrator. Dad made it when the solar ones either wouldn’t work because of the weather or they didn’t work fast enough for the amount of produce Mom was processing. He got it out of a Backwoods Home magazine (http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles/hooker41.html ) and it is a lot more reliable than a solar dehydrator and is meant for large quantities. Not even my mother’s electric Excalibur can keep up with this baby once it gets going.”
I handed him a sharp ceramic cutting knife. “Don’t drop it; you can’t sharpen those once they are chipped or cracked.”
He looked at it then started slicing tomatoes. “Then why use it? Why not use a good ol’ metal knife?”
“Mom always said that ceramic knives didn’t make the food brown around the cuts and it bruised them less so that they’re prettier. Mom liked pretty stuff … including the food she prepared.”
He laughed, “Your Dad used to get kidded a lot about it at work, especially when she would cut his food into shapes … like those curly carrots.”
I smiled glad that someone besides me remembered that sort of stuff. “Hey! I happen to like curly carrots.”
Kelly asked, “Tarrots? Can I has some tarrots?”
Jax groaned, that kid could graze all day long just like a goat if you let her. Instead I told her, “I’ll make some curly carrots for tomorrow’s dinner. For now just drink your sippy. If you are a good girl you can help feed King Kong in the morning.”
Easily pleased, that made her happy and she babbled away about “babbits and chickies” just long enough to go to sleep as Jax and I cut all the tomatoes. I showed him, “I cut an X all across the top of the tomato halves – these are plum tomatoes by the way – so that they don’t curl so much as they dry. Then once we get them on the trays I’ll sprinkle them with a little salt and some Italian seasoning, pop them in and let them go; I’ve already got the dryer warmed up.”
“I can feel it,” he said wiping his upper lip with his shirt sleeve. Then he seemed to sigh in contentment. “See, now this is what I’m talking about. We’re working together instead of me sitting on the porch like a lazy hound.”
“Jax I never thought of you like that,” I told him. “I just figured you would need some time to settle in and get used to things. You’re a townie after all.”
He grunted. “Only half townie. Every summer and most of my spring breaks I went to live on my Granny’s farm. Did that right up until the family put her in that nursing home; she got MRSA and died a couple of months later. That was the winter before I started going with Darlene and you know the rest of it from there. None of this is new to me except for your dad’s gadgets and gizmos.”
Thinking back I realized I did remember that he was usually gone all summer long. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Seriously though, I never meant to make you feel bad.”
“I know and I hope you’ll understand that what I want to talk about isn’t meant to make you feel bad either.”
Cautiously I said, “Ooo … kay. But you don’t expect me to like it.”
“Maybe, maybe not; I’m not sure. Some of it might sound like criticism but I don’t mean it to be. And part of it is just going to make more work which I think needs to be but which probably isn’t going to sound very fair to you.”
When he stopped talking and just looked at me I finally said, “Well say it already will you. The suspense is killing me.”
He snorted but did finally get down to it. “I’ve had plenty of time to look around and have the surprise wear off. I’m sure there are things I don’t know about and that’s fine but I mean the major stuff. But as pretty and as shiny … and useful … as it all is, I think there are some things that can be improved on.”
“What … what things exactly?” I was trying to keep an open mind but I felt defensive at the same time.
“You admitted you haven’t done any scavenging.”
I shook my head. “No. To be honest it just never … I guess it never really occurred to me. It seems wrong somehow. I felt guilty just taking things from the fruit trees and gardens without permission; like it was stealing.”
“Well, if you were able to go that far then you need to go a little further. We need to go back to the mill. There is still a lot of stuff there that could come in handy. And I’d like to have a look at those houses and those trailers you mentioned.”
Trying to play along I said, “Let’s start with the mill. Just explain the why of it to me.”
“First off, that battery in the shed you asked me to look at is bad … I put the meter on it … and you’ve got a couple of others out there that don’t look like they are charging and discharging properly. Spares need to be found pretty quick. Best place to do that is going to be the mill. We can take the ones off of the company equipment and off the few vehicles that are still in the parking lots.” At my nod of understanding he continued. “I also looked at the schematics in your dad’s shop. I can hook up the water wheel but we need a different kind of wire than what you thought … it needs to be a heavier gauge. They’ve got huge spools of the right type at the mill. Now here is the big deal. I also found in your dad’s notes how he was thinking about using tall oil to make biofuel with.” (http://www.motherearthnews.com/Renew...Biodiesel.aspx )
Trying to keep up I said, “Tall oil is that stuff they collect out at the plant when they use pulp from pine trees.”
“Exactly. They’ve got huge storage tanks of the stuff. I’m pretty sure I understand the process because they were thinking about making a small biofuel production plant right at the mill to cut down on regular fuel costs within the mill itself. I heard that was another suggestion your dad made by the way, they just never got around to the start up. Your dad’s set up here is sweet but still lo-tech enough that I don’t think I’ll kill it by experimenting but I swear I’ll be careful. We’ll have to figure out storage and all of that …”
“We have underground tanks for the biofuel because it gels at a higher temperature than regular fuel. But here’s another think to think. I use biofuel to heat with during those times a fireplace or wood stove isn’t enough. That usually means most of the winter nights for the furred and feathered out in the animal barn. That reason alone is why I’ve kept things up and running as much as possible. But the chemicals won’t last forever. I ordered more right before things fell apart but only half the order came in.”
“Not a problem. Your dad got most of the chemicals at the mill and I know where those are stored so that’s another thing that should be on our list. The problem is going to be transporting this stuff so that no one notices.”
“That’s not the biggest problem,” I told him. “We can move it at night if we have to. It is getting it down the last bit of road.”
“I’ve already thought of that and think I’ve figured a way around that. First we have to set up a storage container. Then if I bring the small tanker trailer we used to empty the vats with when the pipes clogged or for inspection, we can park that off the road, camouflage it, transfer it a little at a time … it won’t be easy but it is doable and the payoff makes it worth all of the effort.”
I thought about it for a moment and then said, “Alright. I’ll even give when it comes to taking things from the mill since you know for a fact that the owners and their families are gone … I mean dead. But … do you really want to go pawing through people’s houses? What do you need that we don’t have right here already?”
In less than half a second he said, “Clothes for Kelly for one. I hadn’t thought of that until a couple of days before you showed up in town. She’s already grown out of everything I bought for her before things fell apart and she can’t wear just socks once the weather turns.”
A little hesitant to offer I said, “There’s things up in the attic. They … uh … they used to be mine. Mom sewed all of my clothes and they never wore out before I went to the next size. Most of them are denim and cotton jumpers and things like that. I know my old winter coats and boots are still up there. Mom was a labeling fanatic … well you saw what it is like up there. And … um … oh geez.”
“What?” he asked as I sputtered to a standstill.
“Look, I know it isn’t cool but I can sew and quilt and all of that. Mom was on fire about me keeping up with the skills she taught me. It was just easier to give in and sew my own clothes than it was to listen to her lecture about economics and poor quality if I bought something at the store; she’d go over it and point out every little flaw and tell me how much time and money I wasted having to make repairs or alterations.”
He stopped putting tomatoes on the screens and really looked at what I was wearing. “You sewed that?” he asked referring to the shirt and capris that I was wearing.
Nonchalantly I said, “Yeah. What of it?”
Before I knew what he was doing he had stepped over and pulled the collar of my shirt back and said, “There’s no tag.”
I jerked away from him, “No kidding. My mom had these ‘made by’ tags she sewed into her stuff but I never bothered.”
He was still standing too close and when he started looking at my capris a little too close and then reached out a curious finger to touch the flat felled seam that ran along the outside leg seams I popped his hand and asked, “What are you doing?!”
“Huh? I was looo … oh … uh … oh boy.” He stepped back and looked a little bashful but not especially embarrassed. “I really was just … looking. I remember my grandmother making my Easter clothes when I was little and the spare bedroom had boxes of unfinished projects she kept meaning to work on but … I don’t know … I just thought it was …” He cleared his throat and said, “Anyway, next time I’ll warn you when I mean to touch.”
“When you mean to touch? Well, that’s some ego you got there Ajax Remington. I mean really.”
He wasn’t sure how to react at first but then he grinned and stepped back and started putting tomatoes on the screens again. “Did you think I was kidding when I said I would probably think about it?”
I’d never dealt with anything like Jax, at least not in real life and that was a whole lot different than dealing with the make believe gamer world. “Well … I guess now I know for sure don’t I.”
He got quiet when he saw how uncomfortable I was. “Ok, on to other topics. This looks like a lot of food.”
Well, I had to admit he was trying … in a weird guy kind of way. I smiled just a little and said, “I’m not totally against the idea Jax … just not used to you … anyone … being up in my personal space like that.”
“You sure that’s all?” he asked.
I looked at him and then had to smile a little bigger. He had a baby back pack on and his kid was in it dead to the world asleep. Her sippy cup had drenched his shoulder and he hadn’t even noticed. His hair was going every which direction where Kelly had been using it like horse reins. There was a smear of “pea-but” on his shirt where she’d wiped her mouth across his chest at lunch. And this was the guy that used to be too cool for words. “Yeah, I’m sure. Just … uh … just kinda figure into the equation I … I don’t know how I’m supposed to react to that stuff in the real world. Gamer land I would have shot you or thumped you with my sword or something … here … here I don’t know what to do. I really don’t want to thump you but, I don’t know how else I’m supposed to act without looking like a sleeze queen.”
He gave me a lopsided grin. “Just be yourself. And I’ll try to be less … uh … hands on … until you can figure out what that means.”
I looked away and made a face. “This is soooo strange.”
He admitted quietly, “Yeah, for me too. I tried to date a couple of times after Darlene but after a while it just wasn’t worth the challenge. And people kept watching me to see if I was going to ruin Kelly’s life or if I’d wind up like those crazy dads from hell you’d see on the news; shaken baby syndrome, leave the kid in the bathtub to drown in three inches of water, starve her to death or feed her until she weighed as much as a baby elephant. It got old real fast. The guys at the mill, they were about the only ones that didn’t treat me like I was brain damaged. A lot of them only got to see their kids every other weekend so understood where I was coming from. Geez, I sound pathetic.”
I shook my head. “No you don’t. I should have listened more when Dad talked about you to Mom. Sometimes it just felt like he was warning me about what could happen if I didn’t stay focused. But maybe that isn’t what he meant. Maybe he was trying to tell me that there were guys out there that were … were different from Matt.”
He laughed. “Your dad would have fed me to the pulping machine if I’d even thought about asking you out. And he’d been right. I didn’t have my head on straight back then and was barely keeping it together.”
“You don’t seem that way now,” I told him quietly.
He was going to say something cocky but then just gave me a quiet, “Thank you.”
Then I said, “So anyway … about the food. I know it looks like a lot but this is the beginning of September. Harvesting will be over by the end of next month and everything will have to last until next April and May when the next harvest of fresh stuff starts up again.”
Happy to change the subject Jax nodded. “For a while I bussed tables out at the truck stop diner while I was still in highschool; I know how fast food can go. It just seems like a lot for the three of us. My grandmother always had a big garden but she gave stuff to all the family and still had some left over.”
I told him, “We gave stuff to the food pantry and traded with the Mennonites. I’ve just kept gardening like Mom out of habit I guess. I know technically it’s too much but this way if the garden doesn’t make it for some reason, or there’s a hail storm, a drought, a swarm of locusts, or something like that we’ll still eat because we’ll have some left from previous seasons.”
He looked thoughtful. “OK. And on that note one of the things I was wondering about was if you still want to bring in other people.”
His question caught me off guard. I hadn’t thought about it at all since we left town. “Are you?” I asked.
“Technically this is your place and I can’t invite people here.”
“Don’t avoid the question.”
“You just did,” he pointed out.
I rolled my eyes refusing to admit it. Instead I told him, “I honestly haven’t really thought about it. It isn’t on my high-pri right now.”
He seemed to relax. “Ok. Could I ask you something else?”
“Stop asking like you’re some kind of supplicant. It makes me feel … I don’t … creeped out.”
He smiled. “Look … I’d just like to suggest that we focus on some other stuff first and let the idea of more people be put off for a while; at least until we see how the kids shake out in town. How do you feel about that?”
A little exasperated I asked him, “Why do you keep asking me how I feel about stuff? You sound like the school’s psyche counselor.”
It wasn’t the answer he was expecting and he closed his mouth and blinked a couple of times figuring out how to respond to the way I had phrased it. Finally he sighed and said, “One of the conditions my Uncle set for me renting the garage apartment was that I had to go to family counseling with them. You know they had started attending that new age-y church that went into that old car dealership’s building.” At my nod he said, “I guess more of it stuck on me than I expected. Matt’s mom was a bi … uh … bear about things being phrased just right.”
Trying not to show that I’d noticed what he had almost called his aunt I said, “OK, that’s cool. I was just wondering if you thought I was gonna have a melt-down if we don’t exactly think in lockstep. And can I ask you why you and Matt have different surnames if your fathers were brothers?”
He looked at me and then a grin of relief grew on his face. “Thanks for not saying anything about how I should have been grateful for the place my aunt and uncle gave me in their home. I was … am still ... just it wasn’t perfect for any of us. My dad and Matt’s dad are half brothers. My dad was older and when his dad when he was a baby. He had three older half-sisters from his father first marriage that Granny raised like her own. Then a year after he died Granny remarried and had Matt dad. Granny was that man’s third wife and he had kids that Granny raised also. When Matt’s dad died in the war she married a widower that had four kids of his own from another marriage and then they had two daughters together. You think you had to be careful of who you were related to? You should have seen my family reunions. You had to work it backwards to find out if you were blood related or related by marriage … people really did go to our family reunions to find dates sometimes.”
I whooped a surprised laugh then slammed my hand over my mouth to keep from waking Kelly. “Oh man, Dad could tell the same kinds of stories. He always joked that he kept expecting the local schools to be full of three headed and seven toed kids just from all the intermarrying that had to be going on. You are just too funny. It’s nice that someone actually gets that concept without thinking I’m from some redneck hell on earth.”
Matt laughed too and then grinned and it held something I couldn’t really define. Then he had to go and spoil it by embarrassing me. “Matt’s an idiot. I would have come over here even if I had to crawl the whole way with Kelly on my back.”
I blinked, then blushed. “Oh.”
“Yes. Oh.” Making another quick subject change he said, “Now you don’t seem to have a problem with the mill. And you seem like you can be persuaded about checking out the empty houses and trailers around here. I’ve got a few other things in my head but now that I’ve told you some of my ideas, do you have any of your own?”
It didn’t take me but a moment to say, “The goats.”
“Yeah, you mentioned them the first day we got here. What do we need for them?”
“Fencing and feed. Those goats are used to surviving on forage but they’ll need more than that when the weather turns.”
He pulled out a folded piece of paper and a broken pencil. “Anything else?”
“For the goats? Not off the top of my head. But … but I have a list of other stuff.” I explained about reading those books and how I’d thought of things here and there.
When I was finished he said, “What stuff is on your list?”
I grinned in spite of myself and told him, “Well I scratched off cannons and Holy water.” When he grumbled and gave me a look that told me his question had been a serious one I said, “Well … a … a few … personal items.”
“Per … oh … uh … you mean feminine stuff. I heard the girls talking about that back at the school.”
I shrugged and said, “I hope they were smart enough to talk about birth control pills and condoms at the same time.”
He almost choked on his own spit at the way I’d just thrown it into the middle of the conversation. After clearing his throat he said, “Not in so many words.” But then even more serious than he had been before he told me, “They don’t need the kind of trouble they were making for themselves so I started talking about dirty diapers, spit up, and formula for a little bit. The guys gave me dirty looks because apparently it was spoiling their fun but they still weren’t taking me very seriously. One night I simply threw a laundry basket condoms in the middle of what they called the play room and told them all to wear ‘em or wind up like me. That babies couldn’t be turned on and off like their game consoles, they didn’t come with extra batteries or volume controls, and if they killed their kid there wasn’t enough points in the world that would bring them back to life.”
Trying to envision it I said, “Oh … my … gosh! What did they say?!”
“I think a couple of them got the message but most of them just laughed at me and started calling me Father Goose. Matt however got all pinched up asked me not to be so … how did he say it? Oh yeah … not to be so crass about it. That he would speak to each of his ‘men’ privately and impress upon them the importance of things like personal hygiene and protection.”
I shook my head kind of disgusted. “You know, sometimes I wonder what I ever saw in Matt.”
He told me, “You were just doing what everyone expected. Heck, even I expected the two of you to date until highschool was over then as soon as the two of you went away to college the spell would have been broken.” I didn’t want to agree with him but I was starting to think maybe he was right.
We got quiet after finishing the tomatoes and getting them loaded into the dryer. Jax took Kelly to do the daddy thing with the potty and all that and by the time he came back out I was finished with the remainder of my outside chores that were on my list for that day. The problem was one of those chores had been to get another bale of hay out of the stack that was covered with a tarp. Getting it out had been easy. Putting it on the dolly to wheel it back to the barn had been fine. But I’d tripped over something in the animal barn, I never did figure out what, and when I went down it was hard and I scrapped my back on some empty cages that I’d had stacked off to the side.
The New Geek Empire
I didn’t cry but it hurt. Had I been by myself I might have cried just to vent some steam but no way was I going to let Jax think I was a wimp. The thing is that scrape tore my shirt on the back of my left shoulder and also tore off some skin. I was trying to get a look at it but since my neck didn’t bend like a giraffe I wasn’t having much luck. That’s when Jax came in.
“Hey! What happened?!” Kelly said the obvious. “Widdie gots a boo-boo Daddy.”
Smiling for her sake I said, “I tripped I think. One of the rabbits must have pulled a fast one or …”
Jax interrupted by pushing my hand out of the way. “Don’t touch it. Geez … you look like you slid into first on your shoulder.”
I tried to laugh it off and say, “Better than sliding in face first.”
Jax was not amused and said, “I promise to not go all pervert but you’re going to need to lose the shirt so I can clean this. You broke your bra strap too.”
I stared at him. He just stared back and then said, “You’re going to need to trust me at some point Lydie and this might as well be it.”
Not ready to just strip right there I told him, “If you weren’t here I’d have to take care of it myself. I’ve had worse. Back in July I fell off the porch roof getting rid of a wasp nest. I don’t know which was worse, falling into Mom’s rose bushes or getting stung by the yellow jackets that survived the spray.”
“Am I supposed to think that’s funny?” he asked calmly. “Because it isn’t. You could have broken a bone … or your neck.”
“Ok, ok. Let’s just … go to the house. I don’t need eleventy dozen little eyes staring at me while we get this done.”
“Fine. And I’ll put Kelly in her highchair. She can play with those stacking cups you found for her.”
After we got inside and he put Kelly to play he told me to sit in a chair backwards and to just tell him where the first aid supplies were. “The big tub of stuff is in the laundry room above the cabinets that hold the cleaners.”
He got it down and whistled when he opened the top. “Man … you could do surgery with some of this stuff.”
“That’s the point,” I told him. “Farms come with farm injuries and it is too far to the hospital for some emergencies. I really need to show you where all of the stuff is just in case. There’s a matching tub like this one in Dad’s office out in the main barn and a smaller one in that closet back in that corner where I keep the stuff for the animals in the animal barn. The heavy duty stuff though that doesn’t need refrigeration is in my mother’s closet. And down in the cool cellar in that little locked cabinet in there is some real drugs.”
“Yeah … antibiotics, heavy duty pain killers, sedatives, that sort of thing. Hey, how do you know what to use?” I asked noticing how efficient he was.
“I started taking classes to be an EMT after I realized it would take me forever to get a degree in nursing. I was still going to go nursing school after I saved up the money but figured I might as well have some useful training just in case I got laid off from the mill. They’d made noises about it a few times and I was definitely pretty low on the totem pole. If nothing else I figured I was preparing in case Kelly got hurt or something like that. It is one of the few things I did that didn’t seem to chap the butt of the social worker that the county assigned to Kelly.”
I was slowly unbuttoning my shirt and I told him, “Yeah, I remember that. Dad was pretty bent that someone had made an anonymous complaint against you.”
“So much for anonymous; I found out it was Darlene’s parents. They just couldn’t seem to stand that the judge gave me full and sole custody of Kelly after Darlene said she wanted to end her parental rights; they’d had someone all picked out to be Kelly’s adoptive parents that lived several states away and I think it embarrassed them that it fell through. That’s another reason why I stayed in the garage apartment rather than moving out on my own all the way; I didn’t want any trouble with child services.”
I looked at him then sighed. “Look … just …”
He pulled up another chair and sat beside me and tried to calm me down. “Lydie, I’m not a jerk. I’m not going to make a move on you when you are hurt or go crazy just because I see a little skin. And the sooner we get this done the sooner you can stop worrying about it.”
I figured I was being stupid but it was still embarrassing. He had to help me get the shirt off because the blood had already dried in a couple of places and the material was sticking. Then I held the shirt to my front because the bra strap on that side really was toast and the whole thing tried to go lopsided. He cleaned the area that was scraped pretty fast and then put cream on it and a gauze pad to keep the scrape from oozing all over the place.
“I’ll clean it before we go to bed. And … uh … I’m really not a jerk but maybe you should go put a different shirt on. Your skin is really … uh … nice and smooth.” That just about did me in and I took off up the stairs almost at a run so that he wouldn’t realize I was trying not to act like I might want him to be a jerk.
What to wear was a challenge and took longer to figure out than I had meant it to. I couldn’t manage a regular bra because of where the straps rubbed so I picked a strapless one that I had bought to go under a party dress. A shirt wasn’t that easy to find either, so I settled on a tube top and just threw a camisole shirt over the top to keep me from looking like I wanted the wrong kind of attention. I came downstairs slowly but was surprised to find Jax in front of the stove.
“Hey! That’s my job,” I told him. “You think I’m made of glass or something? It’s just a scrape.”
He looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Don’t get so defensive. It’s just noodles for the spaghetti you said you were fixing for dinner. I didn’t touch your precious meat sauce in the slow cooker or your bread in that shiny box thing.”
Snorting in an unladylike way I told him, “That shiny box thingy is a solar cooker. Dad built it …”
“Using some plans he got off the internet,” he said laughing. “How many times have I heard that?” (http://www.omick.net/solar_ovens/current_solar_oven.htm )
“Laugh all you want buddy boy … but you’ll be glad that it is that much less wood to cut for this winter. I mean you did say you wanted to share in the chores did you?”
“Awww maaaaan,” he groaned with a laugh which then had me laughing.
My shoulder was still sore but I was no longer embarrassed and the rest of dinner went really well. The spaghetti and soft breadsticks were delicious if I do say so myself. For dinner we had homemade apple yogurt parfaits. Kelly nearly wore hers so Jax fed her rather than let her feed herself. Pretty soon she was finished and while they had their nightly “tickle fight” and general mess fest with the toys we’d cobbled together for her I did the dishes and put away the leftovers that would be used for the next day’s lunch.
The two of them came galloping into the kitchen as I was scouring off the stove top. “Somebody wants to give you a hug goodnight and won’t go to bed until her demands are met,” Jax said playing it to the hilt.
I put my hands on my hips and said, “Is that so? Well does the noisy bumble bee promise to go to sleep if she gets a hug?”
Kelly giggled and something tugged in my heart. I started to realize I really like the little kid even if she was loud and messy. I gave her a clumsy hug … I was way out of practice … and then he was zooming her up the stairs like she was a plane for her nightly story then bed. It wasn’t ten minutes later when he was coming back down.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
“Uh uh. She barely made it into her PJs before she was nodding off. I got two pages into the story and she was out like a light. Got anything left I can help with?”
I shrugged and then regretted it. “Ouch. You can take the table cloth outside and shake it off for me if you don’t mind.”
“Sure,” he said. He even managed to get it off without dumping all the crumbs onto the floor; but I still had to sweep. If Kelly had been shooting to get pieces of noodle, sauce, and crumbs all over the place she had great aim.
Jax came back in and put the plastic gingham checked cover back on the kitchen table. “I wiped it off outside with that spray you used to clean up her highchair. I’ll bring it in too. How’s your shoulder?”
“Sore but I’ll live. It’s a little early but I think I’m done for the night. I’m just gonna sit in the living room and work on my notes unless you need me to get a load to soak overnight.”
“No. Putting that bag over Kelly’s clothes while she ate was a good idea. You mind if I sit in there with you for a while? I don’t feel like going to bed yet.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “I wish you would stop acting like I’m your keeper or something. Why should I care if you want to stay up or where you want to stay up at?”
“I just don’t want you to think I’m stalking you. Besides, I’ll need to check that scrape before you go to bed.”
“I suppose,” I said. Then added, “And I don’t think you are stalking me. You live here too.”
He gave me a relieved nod and we went into living room and I climbed onto the end of the sofa, criss crossed my legs and started trying to rework my schedules. Looking over my shoulder he asked, “What are you doing?”
I explained, “You want to go to the mill and go to those empty houses. I have to make room in my chore times to get it done. I finished harvesting all the berries and cherries last month but I’ve still got apples and pears coming in out the wazoo, the peaches need to be finished getting cleaned off by the end of this week, the watermelons will be ripe pretty soon, corn needs to be picked …”
“Whoa … you’re going too fast for me to keep up. Go slower and tell me what needs to be done.”
I realized that if we were going to share the workload he needed to understand what was involved so I tried to explain without sounding snotty about it. “OK. I’ve already told you about the apples, pears, peaches, corn, and watermelons. I’ve got enough dried apples and pears and I’ve already canned a bunch of stuff out of them so what I’m going to make with most of what is left is apple juice and cider and pear nectar. If you want we can even make some hard cider; Dad did nearly every year (http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-...ard-Cider.aspx ) and he and Mom would enjoy a glass ever so often. He didn’t mind if I had a sip at the holidays but it is really strong stuff. I’m not sure how you feel about it.”
“Granny used to talk about my grandfather making it … the man my older cousins called Pap. He died before I was born though so I don’t remember him. Is it difficult?”
I shook my head, “No worse than anything else I guess. I wouldn’t mind trying pear hard cider. Dad used to say his grandparents did it and I like the taste of good pear nectar almost better than apple juice (http://www.hipchickdigs.com/2009/09/making-pear-cider/ ). I could make peach nectar too but to be honest the trees gave so early and well this year I’m just about peached out. I think I’m just going to dry what’s left … at least what you don’t eat first.”
He grinned, “You sure you don’t mind? I love fresh peaches.”
I grinned back at him, “Go ahead, less I have to worry about. Besides, the fuzz gives me the shivers. I like nectarines better but they finished out early last month.”
“Good deal,” he said. “So what else?”
“Yeah, I had a gap in the pole beans when a few rows didn’t make for some reason and I had to replant them but I need to start picking the next crop tomorrow. I’ll cook us up a couple of big pots then I’ll dry the rest into leather britches. I’ve got a bunch of dried pods to pick on the bush beans by the end of this month which are both next year’s seeds and the dried beans I’ll cook over the winter.”
“You don’t … you know … can the beans like at the grocery store?”
“Some I will. Some I’ll go ahead and fix into soups. I’ll even can some chili if we can get a deer or two. I took one over the summer that kept getting into the corn but I don’t usually like to hunt before cool weather sets in because processing the meat is too much in warm weather.”
“The meat spoils right?”
“Yeah, if you aren’t fast enough. Do you hunt?”
He shook his head, “A few times when I was a kid with my grandmother’s brother when he was still alive. I helped my grandmother cull her chicken and geese flocks; she always had a couple of turkeys too. Her neighbor would trade pork for chicken and a Thanksgiving turkey at the holidays but I didn’t get to see it because I was always in school.”
“Almost don’t need to keep hogs these days. There are wild ones that run loose and make a mess and Dad and I used hunt them and take a couple after the first freeze. When the people abandoned the land around here the wild pigs moved in. The boars are dangerous so watch out if you see any.”
“Yeah, guy at work got treed by some that had come onto his property.”
“Exactly; being gored is no joke. Anyway back to the garden stuff. I cut the broccoli and greens as I want them though next month I’ll probably start drying whatever is left.”
“Broccoli? Kelly calls it trees. Broccoli and cheese is like her favorite all time food next to peanut butter.”
I smiled, “Trees? That’s funny. Will used to call them that …” I stopped and looked away. Sometimes the hurt still caught me when I wasn’t prepared.
Quietly Jax asked, “You OK?”
I answered a watery, “Yeah. They lie when they tell you it gets better after a while. It just gets different.”
“I’m … I’m finding that out.”
I looked at him in understanding but we both knew we couldn’t do anything but keep going because those that left us behind weren’t coming back. “I also need to clean the root cellar out and make it ready for stuff to be put in there. I’ll save the best storage apples and pears to make them last as long as I can. Carrots and potatoes will be put in crates and set in their places down there. Cabbage, that I don’t intend to turn into kraut or canned slaw, have a shelf down there too. Cucumbers will go in the pickling barrel. Grapes that we don’t eat fresh I will dry into raisins; I’ve got enough grape jelly to sink the titanic and enough grape juice that I’m afraid it will turn into wine or vinegar before we can drink it all. I’ll dry or pickle the peppers you see all over the yard … don’t let Kelly put any of those little orange ones in her mouth you will have a flaming baby dragon on your hands. I should probably put chicken wire or something around them. I’m really sorry she got that jalapeno the other day.”
He shook his head. “That was my fault. She saw me pick one and eat it. I should have watched her closer. She spit it right out. I doubt she’ll do it again but just to be on the safe side I will put up that fencing if you don’t mind.”
“We’ll do it together. I’ll also stick labels near the plants so you’ll know what they are until you can identify them by sight. Mom said she used to fence everything because Will and I would graze like goats when she wasn’t looking. That’s why nearly all the landscaping around the house, barns, and pond is edible instead of mixed. She used to have to put Will in a harness and have him on a leash line because he was prone to wander away really fast and then Mom would panic and we’d be looking for a long time before we’d find him hiding in a bush or something.”
Jax shuddered. “I’d have a heart attack.”
“Yeah well Dad paddled Will a few times and after a while he got the point even if he didn’t agree with it and the running off stopped.” Jax was still looking cross eyed at the idea of Kelly wandering off so I just kept talking. “We’ll probably eat the last of the summer squash – I like it fried like I fixed yesterday for lunch – and the pumpkins and winter squash will get canned, dried, or put on their shelves in the root cellar. We finished off most of the tomatoes today except the ones that I want to turn into more juice and spaghetti sauce. The sauce is an all-day activity so I’ll try and do the juice while the sauce is cooking and kill two birds with one stone. I use Mom’s really giant pots so I’ll have to do it on the outdoor gas burners and you’ll need to keep Kelly with you most of that day. I’m just gonna tell you, the one thing I’m not good at is having kids around big cooking fires outside. You remember Julia Quinn?”
He nodded right away. “I worked with her older brother.”
I told him with my own shudder, “I was there that day. Our family and the Quinns used to get together and boil sorghum. She was old enough to know better than to play in the fire but no sooner had her brother told her to stop twice and then threatened to go tell their parents than she did something that shifted the cradle under the sorghum trough. We started screaming and got her pulled out … her brother got his hand all scared up too … but … you know how it went.”
“I had no idea Lydie. I knew that Ray and your Dad used to talk about their families but I didn’t know what the connection was. Your dad always said he was related to most of the county so I just assumed that was it.”
“Yeah, we were some kind of cousins but mostly it was they used to own that fallow land on the other side of Herman’s Creek and that’s where we made the sorghum. They moved away and I heard that Julia got out of the wheelchair after a couple of years of therapy but that she wasn’t ever really the same. She was in the burn center for a long time and Mom said the pain turned her mind a bit.”
“Don’t know, Ray didn’t talk about it much. I just knew the story. But you don’t have any trouble around fire yourself after seeing that?”
I shook my head. “No. It’s just watching kids around fire. I couldn’t even stand for Will to be around it much. I used to get so mad at the boys in his Boy Scout troop. Some of them acted as dumb as stumps,” I told him disgruntled even at the memories.
To distract me he said, “I’m afraid to ask if this chore list is any longer.”
I snorted. “What do you think?” I showed him the paper. “I’ve got herbs to hang to dry, sweet potatoes to dig and put in the root cellar, sun chokes to mulch so they’ll over winter, and count the jars and lids I have left. There’s all the beets to deal with and I need to can the sweet corn … and cut some off the cob to dry … and the dent corn out in the field that needs to be stacked to finish drying and then next month I have to bring it in, cut it from the stalks and tie it together for curing.”
“You don’t combine the corn?”
“Uh uh. I mean I suppose I could because Dad converted the tractors to run on the biofuel but I didn’t plant enough this year to make it worth it. I still have a bunch of corn in the corn crib that will need to be cracked for the animals as we go. Next year I’ll have to …” He gave me a look and I corrected it to, “… we’ll have to plant more corn. The corn combine is that big toothed thing at the end of the vehicle row in the tractor barn. The wheat combine is the one with the thing that looks like a rolling beater on the front.”
He nodded. “I know. Like I said, I worked on my Granny’s farm. Did you plant wheat this year?”
“Yeah, about five acres that I harvested in June; enough there was no way I was gonna try and bring it in by hand that’s for sure. I only got 40 bushels an acre though because I set the spreader too thin. Mr. Houchins’ was a lot prettier from what I could see but he has a monster irrigation system, we don’t. I did put in soybeans behind the wheat but I might wind up just deciding to let them go; the deer have already grazed the heck out of them anyway. I know the perfect spot to set up the stand if you are serious about hunting with me … we’ll need ear plugs for Kelly though and hope the deer are so numerous she won’t scare them all off before we can get a few.”
Scribbling away on his piece of paper he said, “I’ll figure something out.”
We talked back and forth but then it came down to going to bed and he said, “Let me have a quick look at your shoulder.”
“It’s not …”
“Lydie … did I jump you when I looked before?”
Giving him a look that told him not to be stupid I said, “That’s not what I’m saying. I just mean that you don’t have to.”
“I know I don’t. Now take your shirt off, I want to check you out. Uh … I mean … Dang it Lydie, you know what I mean.”
I wound up laughing at the irritated look on his face and giving in with a clear conscience. It was still hard to see the super cool guy I remembered in the one sitting behind me being so careful as he pulled the tap back to “check me out.”
“It looks ok,” he said. “It isn’t oozing anymore which is a good sign. I’ll change the bandage again in the morning.”
We went up the stairs together after checking all the locks. I turned to go to my room when he stopped me. “Lydie?”
Turning back I said, “Huh?”
Confused I asked, “For what?”
“Understanding about me needing to be part of whatever it is we’re doing. And … uh … trusting me … in the beginning and … uh … tonight. I … uh … appreciate it.”
I smiled inordinately pleased for some reason. I felt compelled to tell him, “And thanks … for not … you know … constantly ragging on me. I’m really glad … I mean … that you and Kelly … not … uh … not Matt and Marty … I mean …”
I was starting to feel stupid and tripping over my words. He closed the few steps there was between us and I had to look up into his face. He said quietly, “Me too.” Then he kissed me lightly on the lips and turned me back around and pushed me gently towards my room while he walked towards his and Kelly’s. I was still trying to figure out how to make my feet actually move when I heard his door close quietly behind me.
The two preceding sections were supposed to be one but they exceeded the posting limit. I decided to post them back to back rather than spread them out. The section did turn out longer than I expected but I couldn't find a good place to transition.
The other thing I've started to do is include links when I mention a gadget or gizmo that someone might be able to make at home. If I could do it by footnote I would but it doesn't work for this particular forum's format. Hopefully it doesn't take too much away from the story. If it does bother anyone just let me know and I'll leave it out.
Nice story, the links are a nice touch.
I like the links. I love the story. Looking forward to more.
Excellent chapters! That was worth the wait. Thank you Kathy.
Just loving this - Thank you! And thank you for the links that is a very nice touch!
All that is gold does not glitter....
Love the links, don't loose them. This story is a really good one. Looking forward to the next installment.
Kathy, don't worry about the transitions or footnotes................it's coming across beautifully. I love your links to ideas and suggestions that all of us could use. Thank you!
Very good as usual Kathy. Thank you.
I love the links! That was one of the best aspects of TOM's stories. Glad someone else is also giving links for us readers. In some of your other stories I had to google to find the gadgets and gizmos.
PS loving this story so far.
In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.
--Proverbs 21:20 :ld:
Hey that rhymes! Neat, huh.
Nice story Kathy. Really liking it so far.
I think I hear a mountain lion, I better go
"How big a boy are ye?"
So say we all. . . .