Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Thirty

Chapter 30

June 27th – The day has been full but full in a good way up ‘til the end.

I set the alarm and actually managed to wake up before Rand did. I thought it all out before I went to sleep last night. My plan was to save the propane for emergencies-only but I figured the tree and everything else was pretty close to that. I also wanted something special to celebrate … well celebrate that Rand and I … wow, this is hard even to write in my own journal which is uber stupid. I wanted to celebrate that Rand is my boyfriend. There. See, I can say it … write it … whatever, I know what I mean.

I pulled the stove out and took it to the summer kitchen door that I rarely use. Daddy almost didn’t put a door in there because that would have made three doors but Momma asked for one and Daddy hardly even told Momma “no” about something ‘cause she so rarely asked for anything. Eventually he was going to build her a covered patio out there so that she could do the messy stuff outside and then just walk it straight into the summer kitchen and do whatever she had to do like canning and stuff. He never got the chance. Sometimes, if I really think about it, I know that it was a good thing that they went together ‘cause I don’t think either one could have made it without the other. They were like two peas in a pod, two sides of the same coin, all those clichés that sound silly until you realize there is a lot of truth to them.

So I didn’t have a patio but I did have the outside AC air handlers. The big unit that was for the downstairs came up to my waist and made a pretty good table to sit the propane stove on. It gave me a whole big cooking area and boy did I cook. I fixed pancakes, hash browns, and grits with sausage TVP mixed in. While the last pancake was puffing up I fixed Tang – or whatever that “healthy” powdered orange-flavored drink is supposed to be. I put everything on a tray and was taking it to Rand right as he came stumbling out of his room.

The look on his face made me start laughing and I nearly dropped everything. He caught it and carried it to the breakfast nook while I opened a couple of windows and then opened the screens just enough to open and push back the shutters to give us some light. He thought it was for both of us and I told him that I’d eaten while I cooked. He wanted to know how he was supposed to eat it all and I told him, “Ha! Don’t forget, I’ve seen you eat.” He grinned and ate every last crumb.

I know it was silly but something about it made me smile almost all through him eating breakfast. I had to get up and clean the pans so he wouldn’t catch me staring. I bent over to put away the pans and when I stood up Rand was right there close; it’s like I stood up right into a hug. Rand wanted to know if it bothered me and I said no, that it just made me feel funny. He said, “Good. Look, I’ve kind of got a suggestion but I don’t want you to get your feelings hurt. OK?”

I thought I’d messed up the food somehow but I wasn’t going to let that show but all he said was, “Look, I really like … Kiri it would help if maybe you could make breakfast thirty or forty-five minutes later. That way I can get up, make sure the animals are taken care of and then wash up.”

I was so relieved that it wasn’t anything bad that I asked him why he thought that would hurt my feelings. “Because whether you realize it or not you … I worry about saying something that you might take as a criticism. You’re sensitive which makes me think that maybe you’ve had a lot of that and I don’t won’t you to think that I’m like everyone else and picking on you.”

I think maybe my crying like a baby so much has him thinking that I’m soft or something. I tried to be real diplomatic – a novelty for me - and said, “Rand, if I thought you were like everyone else I wouldn’t have thought twice about you after your family took you home the first time we met. I knew right away that … look, I just don’t know how to explain it. I care about what you think because I knew you were different; I knew it right from the start for some reason. I care about what your family thinks because they are your family and … well, I know that is important to you. There are some others too … like Mr. Henderson and Pastor Ken and maybe even Momma O … but only kinda sorta, unless it has something to do with you then a lot sorta. I know that this doesn’t sound very nice Rand but … well … I don’t have a lot of use for people. Too many have … oh, it doesn’t matter why but all I know is that you’re completely different, that’s all. And like you said you weren’t a mind reader, we’ll I’m not either. I’d rather you tell me stuff like this up front and not worry about hurting my feelings. I know that … well, I know I don’t know everything and that we’ll have to compromise. Is that OK? Do you understand what I mean?”

He looked at me real hard and I wanted him to understand more than anything what I was trying to say. Then he said, “I think I do. You may have to remind me a few times but I think I see what you are trying to say.” He must have liked the smile I gave him because he hugged me again, which I liked, and then he left real quick to go take care of the animals and mumbled something about being back in a little while.

After Rand came back in and washed up he caught me working on my to do list which included going over to the salvage houses and looking for a grill, hangers, and looking around to see if I could figure out some magical way to fix the lanai so that there was some place to go to get away from the mosquitoes without getting stuck inside.

He said, “You know, it would be a good idea to go over those houses … four of ‘em right? … with a fine tooth comb. I know you said you did but … you’ve got the room here to store stuff and you might as well take advantage of it. If someone else finds those houses I doubt they’ll care that you found them first.”

“Well, technically I didn’t find them first, someone took the food and stuff from the first three and I just sort of lucked out on the fourth house.”

“Maybe but that last place especially is so full of stuff … Do you mind if I come along and look around again?”

I gave him a look that told him he was being silly again. Instead of climbing the fence we took the long way around through the gate at one end of the utility easement and road the mules – whose names are Bud and Lou – across the unfenced “yards” of the houses closer to US90. While we road he answered my questions about Bud and Lou.

I asked him how come they were bigger than Hatchet? I thought mules were smaller than horses. “Bud and Lou’s dams were draft horses on a Mennonite farm outside of Valdosta. The stallion that sired them was on the tall side for a donkey. Uncle George thought I had lost my mind when I told him what I’d helped do and that the Mennonite agreed to let me work for them instead of paying cash. I worked my butt off that summer but at the end of it I had Bud and Lou and they’ve been faithful ever since. Bud is the straight man of the team and Lou is the comedian. Watch your braid around Lou, he’s fond of chewing on them. Janet has stopped wearing ribbons when she is around these two because she swears they snatch them and won’t give them back.”

The first house smelled so nauseating now I could barely stand to go in it and the heat made everything smell rancid. Had there been something in there I desperately needed I don’t think I would have taken it anyway. Rand made me stay outside but came back pretty quickly heaving and hacking and with his eyes watering. He said that the ceiling had fallen in the boy’s bedroom and there was mold and mildew growing everywhere. “There’s even mushrooms coming up in the carpet in what looks like the mom’s bedroom.” The outside of the house wasn’t much better. Time and the weather and the fact the house hadn’t been in very good repair when I found it were all taking their toll.

The second house I told Rand was what I called the “neat house.” He showed me though that the house was primarily just for looks and really wasn’t as solid as what Daddy had built. “See what you are calling built in cabinets? They aren’t really. This is just a drywall alcove that they put shelves in and then used wood trim pieces to make it look like a cabinet. The trim pieces are stained nice but they’re the cheap stuff, probably something they picked up at Lowe’s. And the shelves? They’re particle wood. Someone knew how to make something look nice but it would have taken a beating after a few years.”

He also showed me what I thought was expensive furniture really wasn’t. The drawer facings were wood and plastic trim but the drawers were pressed board. “You can tell this was a house that didn’t have kids in it. Stuff like this is something that adults can keep nice but kids would be so rough that the new would wear off of it real fast. Aw, don’t look at me like that. I’m sure they liked it and were probably nice people just trying to have nice looking stuff but I’m trying to think about what is going to last for a long, long time. My dad was always on my mom for buying new furniture every couple of years. He told her it would have been cheaper if they had paid extra and bought the good stuff in the first place instead of replacing stuff several times. It was an argument he never won. Aunt Rachel was even worse. She had the good stuff – it was just an older style – and she was always on Uncle George to buy new furniture but he wouldn’t because he said there was nothing wrong with what they had that a little polish wouldn’t fix.”

While we were in there I asked him if there was anything he needed and he said, “A few things.” Since he didn’t tell me what they were I don’t know. But I think he was looking for razors and shaving cream because he kept looking in the nightstands and bathrooms of the houses we went into. I guess he found some stuff because I saw him put something in his pockets. He jumped when I asked him if he’d found what he was looking for. I didn’t know guys got embarrassed about razors and stuff. Of course, I didn’t exactly want him seeing me looking for new pajama bottoms either.

I also saw him looking through all of the men’s clothes but nothing fit right. I told him if it came close but was too big or a little too short I could maybe alter it for him. That’s when we got off to talking about the fact that I could sew and when I told him I made the skirt I had worn to Laurabeth’s wedding he acted like I had done something like walk on the moon. Honestly, who would have thought that he’d make such a big deal about it and then want to see the treadle sewing machine when we got home.

The one thing that the second house did have is a screened in porch. Rand says that if he can take some of the parts off of it he might be able to splice them together and fix the lanai a little better than putting plywood or sheets of aluminum siding over where the tree had taken everything out. “It won’t be a perfect match but it will do the job.”

I made him laugh when I told him, “You’ll never notice it on a galloping horse.” It’s one of the things my grandmother used to say, especially if something wasn’t a perfect match. Mom said she used to tell them that a lot when she was a little girl when they finally noticed that they didn’t have quite the same kind of new clothes the other kids had. My mother started school in her brother’s bib overalls that he’d outgrown several years before and a shirt that had been patched a couple of times that used to belong to her sister. My mom was one of those people that understood what poor really meant. But she always said that while they were poor in the pocket book they were rich in the Spirit. My dad always said that that attitude is one of the first things that attracted him to her. When I asked what were some of the other things he said, “Never you mind. I’ll tell you when you’re older.” I think I know what he was referring to but no one likes to think of their parents like that … it’s a little on the freaky side.

Rand made a pile of some other stuff out of the house and shed under a shade tree then we went on to the third house. There he piled a bunch of tools and stuff that I hadn’t bothered with because one, Daddy has enough tools in the barn to last a life time and two, they were too heavy for me. When I shook my head and told him he was as bad as Daddy had been he looked and said, “How?”

“Daddy was forever going to flea markets and yard sales and picking through the tools. The only thing that Momma ever asked was for it to be kept out of the way so that my brother and I couldn’t get into it. She said we got into enough as it was and he was as bad as we were about dragging out toys and not putting them away.”

That made Rand laugh and we went over the rest of the house with him agreeing that there really wasn’t much else worth anything except he did find some flannel shirts and a couple of work-alls that will fit him once I take them up in a couple of places. Rand’s tall, he says 5’11”, but whomever these belonged to before must have been as thin as Rand but at least as tall as Major Sawyer.

That reminded me to ask him about Missy and how his uncle was taking her getting married without his permission. “Well, technically she didn’t need his permission. She’s … 25, 27 … I can’t remember which. She’s several years older than Laurabeth anyway. Uncle George was just getting comfortable with the age difference between the two of them … he still sees Missy as his little wild child. It was easier for him to see Laurabeth get married because she was always the “good girl” and the steady one and you’ve met Jonathon. He’s better now that the shock has wore off and it didn’t hurt that Sawyer came bearing gifts.”

When he saw I didn’t understand, “I forget with everything at sixes and sevens you haven’t heard. They closed the Supply Depot and there was a major pull out of the military. No one knows where they went or why just that the message came down to make it so. But the National Guard was completely put back under the control of the Governor who pulled them to Tallahassee and a couple of other strategic locations. That left Sawyer in a bad way; he’s injured and not ready for active duty and so close to retirement that he didn’t want to redeploy. They let him go; they are calling it terminal leave but if things were normal he’d probably qualify for disability. It’ll be weeks, maybe months before he is one hundred per cent. Things were going down so fast that … don’t say anything to anyone … there was only one shipment left to be picked up … some food, ammo, and that sort of thing. The Colonel that was Sawyer’s boss left him in charge of it but when no one showed Sawyer tried contacting someone to find out what the hold up was. Before he could get it all out this Colonel gets on the radio and says that every item that was supposed to be picked up was. There was a kind of wink-wink-nudge-nudge thing going on so Sawyer thinks it was this Colonel’s way of making sure that Sawyer wasn’t just dumped down a dark hole in the middle of nowhere with nothing for his twenty.” I didn’t ask what it all was because I figured if I was supposed to know he would have told me.

We had lunch on a bench at the fourth house. It was just some granola and dried fruit with water to wash it down but Rand said he didn’t mind because breakfast had been filling. While we sat on the bench he put his arm around me. I didn’t know what to do and when he realized I wasn’t relaxed like him he asked me if I was OK. We’d agreed to be honest with each other so told him I didn’t know what to do he said I didn’t have to do anything; we were just sitting there resting before we headed into the jungle. Actually what he said was just as silly as the way he said it. “Before we head off into the wilderness with mountains of lace covered furniture, valleys of John Deere décor, rooster wall papered cliffs, and to wade through rivers of wall-to-wall stuff.” I laughed and everything was easy again. I don’t understand how he does that.

But to be honest his description may have been silly but it wasn’t all that far from the truth. There were a lot of little things like paperclips, post it notes, pencils, picture wire, clothes hangers, and stuff like that so Rand said to gather up the pillow cases off of the beds and we’d use them as bags. I was grabbing about the fourth pillow when all I could do is holler, “Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew!!!!”

Rand nearly broke his neck running to find out what the problem was. I pointed and he gingerly lifted up the pillow and then just about fell down laughing. It’s not funny! How would you like to be going about your business and pick something up to find a bunch of wriggling, squiggling, pink baby mice. Yuck! And I am so not scared of mice I just happen to find them absolutely disgusting. They poop every place and they eat stuff and they make incredible messes that are totally unhygienic and gross. Bet if he had worked in a restaurant he would have hated the very thought of mice and rats too.

I told him we had to check absolutely everything again because I didn’t want any mice in the house. He said he checked it before he loaded stuff into the mules’ carriers. I told him I didn’t care if he wouldn’t check it here it was gonna go in the barn until I could check it there. He finally gave in when he saw how freaked I was.

It was getting passed time to go home and I was checking over things one more time (and trying to hide the sweat pants I found to use as jammies) and when I came out with my mouth open to say “all through” Rand shushed me with a hand up. I could tell that Lou and Bud were nervous and how quiet it had gotten. Then I heard them … the whuffling and the quiet snarling and snapping, the low growls.

I got my rifle off of Lou and walked over to where Rand was standing looking. He pointed off in the distance … maybe three-quarters of a football field away. About six dogs were going at something on the ground. Rand carried one of those kind of pirate glasses in his BOB and when he looked he got a look on his face I’d never seen. Without saying a word he pushed me back towards the mules, looked me straight in the eye and pointed at me and then to the ground. That’s about as close to a “Stay!” command as he’s ever given me. I might have cut up a fuss if I hadn’t seen the look on his face.

He stepped to the other side of the drive way and then started shooting. He got the first five dogs with five shots but the sixth one took two shots as it took off at a fast dash to the bushes. Rand turned to me and said, “You stay right here. You see any more dogs then fire a warning shot for me but don’t you move or come out there.”

He walked out there real slow. He went to the pile that the dogs had been messing with and then walked to the left of it several feet and to the edge of more bushes … ones on the other side where the last dog had run. When he walked back he was pale and his eyes looked strange. “Let’s go home. Can you get up on Lou? You need to practice so you can do it more quickly.”

It wasn’t until we were half way home that he told me. It wasn’t a pile of whatever I thought it might be. It was some guy … probably a gangbanger. “There was lots of fresh blood so I don’t think he was dead until the dogs … until the dogs got at him. The blood on the grass coming out of those bushes was still tacky. I didn’t notice anything when we got there … so it may have happened while we were inside. Don’t think the guy even had anything left to scream with … or he fainted … I don’t know. Mr. Henderson cleaned out that dog pack you told him about all except for three puppies that Cassie is hand raising that are some kind of terrier mix. Once a dog has gotten … I just couldn’t take the chance Kiri.”

“You don’t have to tell me. I got cornered inside a house once by a dog remember? I’m just glad you are such a good shot and took them out mercifully rather than take it out on them for being the animals they are.”

He turned around and looked at me like he hadn’t expected the reaction he got. "What?! Did you expect me to go all tree hugger anti-Bambi killer on your? They were dogs Rand. Big … bad … dogs. It’s a shame they had to be put down but sometimes that happens I guess. Like I said, at least you were merciful. I couldn’t have made those shots for love or money.”

He was quiet all the way home and I thought I’d put my foot wrong. We were coming up the utility easement when riders ahead of us stopped. Rand whistled and they turned and waited for us to meet them. It was Mitch Peters and Hoss and Bradley.

“Was just riding by to check on things, heard some shootin’. Everything OK?”

“Kiri, head on back to the house, I’ll catch up. Just tie Lou off on the ring on the side of the barn.”

As I left I heard him talking to the other three men in a low voice. I pretty much knew I’d stepped in it somehow but I didn’t know how to fix it. I got to the yard and nearly fell getting off of Lou. If he’d been a horse I probably would have gotten hurt. I think I like Lou even better than Hatchet. Lou seems to tolerate the fact that I don’t know a thing about riding. Hatchet always acts like he is laughing at me. And Lou stands still. I found out that Rand wasn’t kidding about him liking to pull on braids though. It took me a couple of minutes to convince him he’d like to chew on grass a whole lot better. I wound up rinsing out my hair because of mule spit.

Lou let me unload him too. He did laugh at me a little bit when I tripped over a root carrying stuff to the porch but what can you expect from a mule? I had the house open and was holding a bucket of water for Lou when Rand rode in on Bud. He didn’t look like he felt quite so bad so I didn’t say anything. Bud wanted his share of the water and I wound up wearing about half of what they were trying to drink.

Hatchet was happy to see his two friends and Rand picketing them all near enough to gossip but not near enough to get into trouble and followed me inside. I didn’t find a grill so I had to use one of my metal buckets to make coals in and that’s what I did and we had the rest of the can of chili mac and it wasn’t bad. I guess sealing it back up the way I did let it last longer than a week.

Rand was preoccupied so I went to go put the stuff away that we brought in. The last bedroom has a bunch of tubs in it and I’ve been trying to put like stuff with like the best way I can. I need to take the office supplies up to the dormer room to put them away but I haven’t found the right time to tell Rand about it. I was gonna show him after dinner but he’s been so quiet I didn’t want to disturb him. And my foot has been bothering me for some reason. I’m about all wrote out anyway. I think I’m going to make a cake for Rand tomorrow and see if it makes things better.

June 28th – I’m sitting here with my foot propped up and Rand threatened to sit on me if I don’t stay put for the rest of the evening. The only thing he hasn’t growled about is when I asked for my journal so I could have something to do.

I woke up real early with my foot more than just bothering me. It felt like someone was poking it with a hot poker and even wiggling my toes felt bad. What scared me was that my foot was kind of puffy and warm, especially the bottom. I knew I needed to soak it right away. I hobbled to the summer kitchen and was pumping some water by feel when Rand came in with the lamp … he’d gone to sleep after I had again.

I was caught red handed but we went back and forth over him looking at my foot. I don’t let anyone look at me … feet, legs, the rest of me, nothing. For some reason I hadn’t thought about any of that. All I had thought about is that Rand was my boyfriend. Even when Rand talked about waiting on “benefits” I didn’t think about it. I didn’t want to think about it I guess. My scars. They’re so ugly I still don’t see how …

Anyway I was so upset that I was getting mad but he wouldn’t let up. I wanted to avoid a fight so I tried to walk away only when my foot touched the ground all the way it felt like I’d stepped on a giant needle. I started to fall but Rand caught me and I just reacted and went all stiff trying not to push at him.

“Kiri … trust me.”

“I do. I can do it myself. Just let me go. I’ll be fine.”

He didn’t let go though. He picked me up and carried me over to the counter top and set me down. I tried to jump down but he just caught me and put me back up. “Kiri … I’m not going to hurt you. Are you really … you don’t think … Kiri, dang it stop squirming. Is it because of your scars?”

I could have just died right there. “So that is it. Alicia said … “

“How would Alicia know?! And … and … she didn’t have any right to tell anyone else! Who did she … well … I don’t care … I … “

“Take it easy. It only came up casually and it was only to me. It was when she was telling me about when you two were trying to … I said stop squirming!”

I stopped but I just … if a hole could have opened up I would have jumped in and gladly. “It came up because it was something you two had in common.”

It took a second for it to sink in. What he had said … Alicia … she couldn’t have scars. At least I didn’t think so. I know different now.

“Alicia’s dad was an abuser. Where your aunt and uncle … “

“No! It was the accident.”

“Oh. And it bothers you.”

“Yes. It bothers me. A lot. Because I didn’t think about this part.”

“By ‘this part’ you mean me seeing them.”


“Kiri, don’t you trust me?”

“You keep asking me that. Of course I trust you. I told you that if I didn’t … “

“Well, it sure doesn’t seem like it. In fact, if you want to know the truth, I’m beginning to think maybe you don’t trust me.”

“That’s not true! It’s just this is different. This is .. this is … “

“Kiri, you either trust me or you don’t. Which is it going to be?”

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt whatever I did or said was going to be important to me for a long, long time. Maybe forever. So I stopped squirming and let him look.

“Serves you right if you get grossed out. I haven’t even shaved my legs in over a week.” I know I was being a pain in the butt but I was scared and I was really sure he was going to get grossed out.

But he laughed and said, “Laurabeth hasn’t shaved hers in a couple of months. She calls it going au natural.”

He was poking and it was really starting to hurt. “Kiri what have you done to your feet? They’re all scratched up and it looks like you have something stuck in the bottom here.” When he said “here” he touched a place on my foot that hurt so bad I grabbed his arm.

He carried me out to the sofa and by the light of the lamp dug out two metal shavings that I guess I picked up while I was outside after the storm, barefooted. He said all sorts of pus and dirt came out too. It hurt when he was cleaning it out but not as bad as when he asked, “Kiri, why don’t you trust me?”

“I told you I do. I let you see my ugly legs.”

“Your legs aren’t ugly. The scars aren’t all that bad from what I can tell.”

I told him it was because the light was dim. He finally let me sit up but he was on one end of the sofa and I was on the other. If I wondered about the things I said about the dogs I knew for a fact I’d hurt him this time. We sat there and I felt the hurt getting to be a bigger and bigger thing between us until I felt like screaming. He sighed and was getting up when I knew for sure that I only had one more way to show him that I trusted him.

I grabbed his hand and took him over to the coat closet. “Kiri I’m tired and … “

“Rand, I’m trying to prove to you that I trust you. Open the closet. Now, push those coats to the side. Run you hand down, yeah, you feel the leaver? Push it down.”

I heard the click I always hear and then went passed him grabbing his hand again. “Watch the stairs they’re narrow and steep.”

We got to the top, I pulled him into the room and ahead of me so he was kind of in the center and then flipped the switch. The suddenness of the LED lights caught him completely by surprise and he just stood there gawking. “I kept trying to figure out when to tell you about the dormer room. I was going to tell you the first night but you were so tired and … then last night you were upset with me … “

“OK, first I wasn’t upset with you and we’ll talk about that in a minute but … this … “

“It was Daddy’s.” I hobbled over to the filing cabinets. “These are the rest of Daddy’s files. I wanted to show them to you when you seemed so interested in the stuff in the bonus room but I didn’t know how to bring it up. And here is where I sleep when you aren’t here. When you are here I feel safe enough to sleep downstairs but when you aren’t here … I prefer being up here. And … and this other I wanted to show you but … “

I went over to the gun safe and unlocked it and then went over to the cubby hole door, opened it and pointed. There is stuff for the guns … bullets and stuff … in there. Lots of it. I don’t know how much. And in the second bonus room there is another cubby hole with some big cans of stuff from places like Honeyville, Emergency Essentials, and Provident Pantry. I just … I wanted you to be my friend because I’m me, not because of all this stuff. By the time I figured out you weren’t like that I didn’t know how to tell you. But this is it … this is … “

Rand was just staring and then looked at me and his face was kind of blank and I knew I’d have to do it all. “I was wrong. There is more but … I don’t like this part and you won’t either. The scars on my legs aren’t all. I’ve got scars all over Rand. No one but the drunk walked away from the wreck that killed my family. I was in a coma for over a week and it was a while after that before … before they could even tell for sure that I wasn’t brain damaged. I’ve still got problems. I get sensory overload real easy. I have APD, I’ve told you about that. But … the worst part has been that no matter what I can’t ever forget what they had to do to put me back together. I had rods in my legs for a while. I had all these tubes and wires … I was tore up inside. I had three operations to try and fix things if you don’t count what all they did just to keep me alive that first week. They would have been kinder just to have put a zipper in. I’ve got a scar on my lower back that people used to call a tramp stamp and … “

I had closed my eyes because I didn’t want to see the look on his face. I couldn’t have handled it had he been angrier still, I think I would have died had I seen pity. I didn’t get either. I got hugged. I felt so bad I couldn’t even cry because I knew I owed him all of it. “No. Look. This is what I look like and it’s never going to get any better. I’m never going to be pretty like Julia, not even in the dark. There is no way to pretend this away. I’ve got the wrong kind of skin, they couldn’t … they couldn’t fix any of it. Some of it puckers and some of it has ridges. It’s just … ”

I figured he could think I was a huzzy as well as everything else but I wanted to give him the chance to make a break for it and count himself lucky or at least leave so I wouldn’t have to feel his pity. So I lifted up my shirt and let him see.

I just stood there, not looking at him because I didn’t want to see him looking at me. Then I felt him push my shirt down really gently and lean over and flip the light switch off and then I could open my eyes. We sat on the floor side-by-side. I hurt too bad to cry. Then Rand said, “We’ve really got to work on this trust thing. Both of us.”

That’s the last thing I remember after that until I woke up to something bothering my nose. I was so groggy headed and then when I opened my eyes and saw he was tickling my face with a fern it all came rushing back and I sat up so quick I hit my foot against the floor and was almost sick.

“Whoa! When you finally wake up you wake up fast. Let me see your foot. Kiri, this is really infected. I need to clean it out again.”

I endured it all again only in freaking HD this time. “It gets hot up here during the day.”

“Yeah, and cold in the winter probably.”

“We can swipe the insulation out of some house and that might help.”

“It has insulation. The hot air is getting trapped up here somehow. I don’t think something is working right. I can’t make heads or tails out of Daddy’s schematics.”

“If you want I’ll take a look.”

“Rand, I don’t .. look, just how badly is this all going? I … I just can’t … I don’t know how to say I’m sorry enough and … “

“Shhh. I didn’t realize about … about everything else and … “

“Yeah, about that. Look, it’s OK. I understand. I wasn’t upfront with you and …”

“Kiri … no, look at me … when I pushed you last night … I have my own hang ups. I could blame Julia but I had a choice last night and I … I just pushed. I didn’t know how bad you had been hurt but if you think that I’m going to take off or that you have to bribe me with all of this to get me to still like you … that will make me angry. We … we both messed up. But let’s work on that … I didn’t like the way it made me feel last night when … when … look, I’m not sure how to handle this either but the only thing I saw when I saw your scars was the fact that you are lucky to be alive … and that I’m lucky that you’re alive. We’ll work on the rest of it as we go. OK?”

I couldn’t believe my ears and I still think that maybe, while he means what he says now, one of these days it is all going to be too much. It was passed breakfast and I apologized and told Rand that I’d get something fixed right away and then Rand got upset and asked me if I’m going to keep feeling like I have to bribe him to stay. Then we had another back and forth about I like cooking for him and I had meant to feed him up so that … yeah, so he would want to stay. I hobbled to get dressed and when I came back he was gone.

It was like that off and on until late afternoon. I started a veggie stew with dumpling kind of thing for lunch and then while we were eating he kept saying I felt like I had to bribe him and I said no that I had to eat too but that I liked to see him eat, it made me feel good.

Rand had never cursed at me before but when I asked him if he wanted me to fix him blueberry or blackberry dumplings for dessert he said, “Damn it! Why do you even want me around anyway?! To chop wood? You don’t need me to do anything. It’s your land, your house … hell, you don’t even need me to hunt or anything else. You need a pack mule?”

My heart felt like it was breaking, “You … you … make the world feel like it isn’t flying apart! You make me feel safe! You’re there … right when I don’t think I can go another second you show up and everything is just … just … it’s better! I can breathe when you’re around and I’ve laughed and laughed and half the time I don’t even know what I’m laughing at. It’s never been like that for me. I just wanted all of that. But all I seem to be able to do is hurt you and make you crazy. That’s all I’ve got to give you and it’s not fair!!!”

I was not going to let him see me cry again. I tried to run to the house but it was more like a skip hop sort of thing. I got in the door and slammed it. Slamming the front door felt so good I went to my parents’ room and slammed that one too and I would have slammed their bathroom door only it was a pocket door and there was no way to do it with any amount of satisfaction.

“Well, at least you didn’t lock the door this time.”

“Rand I can’t take any more of this. I know I’m doing it all wrong just … just … just go … “

“No. Don’t want to and I’m thinking you aren’t in any shape to make me right now.”

And he sat down on the floor beside me and put his arm around me and we sat there for a couple of minutes before he said, “You really aren’t holding all this stuff over my head are you.”

“What stuff?”

“This stuff … your house, your land, your food, your … your everything.”

“You said we were together. That we were working things out.”

“And you’re prepared to share all of this just because I said.”

“Yeah. Wasn’t I supposed to? You always share stuff with me.”

Rand just looked at me and then he laughed only it wasn’t a good ha-ha laugh but a laugh that said it was either laugh or cry.

“Kiri, guys … guys like to think they bring something to the table in a relationship. One of the problems … look, I didn’t like it when Mr. Winston used to go on about the fact that I lived on Uncle George’s charity but I also had the sense to know that it was pretty well true. That’s one of the reasons that I always worked so hard … I got to the point I was tired of owing people for every little thing in my life. I’m not sure what to make of all of this now. Maybe I didn’t think things through either.”

“I know it’s a burden Rand but please … give me another chance. I warned you I’m no good at this stuff. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say most of the time. Things just come out of my mouth and it’s just … “

“Kiri, you still don’t get it. I’m not … I don’t have anything … “

“I don’t understand. Any what?”

“Kiri, a guy has to have some pride. I don’t know … Kiri the sum total of what I can call my own is picketed out there eating all of your grass. What am I supposed to bring when you already have everything?“

“You mean this? All the stuff like in the dormer room and everything? But Rand, I wouldn’t have it if my parents were still alive … this was theirs, their retirement home. I’d give it all up to have them back. Now, now it’s … it’s a place Rand. And it didn’t do what I thought it was going to do for me when I got up here. It was a … a break … a chance but what I do with it from here on out is going to be what is important. You’ve seen me … I can’t even hit a tree with an ax in the same place twice. The only things I know about are what my parents taught me and what’s in the books they left behind… you know lots already … about animals, guns, building things … all that stuff. And you know about people … I know doodly squat about people.”

“Doodly squat huh?”

“Don’t make fun Rand, please. You know what I mean. I just don’t know how to do the people thing. My mouth is always going off at the wrong time or won’t work when I need it to. I don’t understand people. I do when you explain things. Maybe I am brain damaged and … “

“Don’t. Don’t you ever say that again.”

“Well, it’s true. I’ve told you about … “

“Yeah, and I’m beginning to think that you weren’t exaggerating as much as I thought you were and haven’t told me half about others. So it’s not about things to you.”

“Things, things, what things?! Anybody and their mother can go salvage a house and have things. You’re not a thing Rand. I don’t know what all of this is supposed to be called but I want it and I am soooo scared that I’m already losing it and I won’t even be smart enough to understand what I’m missing when it’s gone.”

And then … and then … he kissed me. I mean it wasn’t a big suck your face off kiss like in the movies but it was still a kiss, right on the lips. And it was so nice I almost cried.

“So what you’re really saying is that it isn’t my body you want but my brains.”

And I was still so shook by the kiss that it took me a second to realize he was playing with me and then we both laughed a lot harder and longer than the joke deserved.

This whole “relationship” and “trusting” is so much harder than I thought it was going to be. I thought we’d be able to go on just as we had before but … it feels like the world is speeding up and we aren’t going to get a change to do things slow and easy.

We are up here in the dormer room and just like I figured he would, Rand has lost himself in Daddy’s files. Fraidy is happy to sprawl across the top of the metal cabinet watching us both. We’re going to sleep up here because we can leave a window open and have fresh air. But Rand said that after everything he couldn’t handle any more temptation so he drug up one of the mattresses and has put it on the opposite side from where I’m sleeping.

We can hear the big engines of some trucks on US90. One of the things that Mitch told Rand yesterday is that the word has gone out to stay away from the highway if a convoy comes through. They have orders to shoot to kill because right now they can’t tell saboteurs from gangbangers from innocents. We’ve heard their guns several times. It makes me jump every time because I know it means that someone has died.

I hope they stop soon. I’m tired and so is Rand … after a day like we’ve had we both need rest.