Authors: Shannon Dermott
“No,” she claimed, but there had been hesitation before she answered. Deep shadows lived in the hollows under her eyes. If she didn’t tell me, I knew I would have to go to Mary for answers. She would be gleeful to tout information that she had and I didn’t. I never understood her jealousy of me. Thus I just ignored it most of my life, pretending it wasn’t true. But hearing it from Turner and Violet forced me to face it.
A righteous indignation crossed over my sister’s haunted features. “Why are you back here, Bailey? Why are you getting Turner’s hopes up? He deserves better than that.”
She’d always been my champion. “Why?” I asked. “Just so you can have him?”
If she’d been unsure whether or not I heard, I just confirmed it. A horrified look graced her features.
I asked, “How long did you wait for me to leave town before you pursued him.” This was a fight I hoped I wouldn’t have with Mary after all I heard this morning.
“It wasn’t like that. Remember we’re the same age. I started crushing on him once I realized boys weren’t gross.”
“You never told me that,” I spit out, even though I’d known. The hurt I felt flowed through my words.
Her look was now pleading. “You followed him around like a puppy and wouldn’t have understood. You would have told him, thinking it was a joke.”
“I didn’t follow him around.”
She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Okay, but I followed you too. I worshiped you both,” I confessed.
“I thought he hung out with you to be around me. Then it turned out you were the glue to his being around me. I don’t know when he fell for you. But it was you two that clicked. You were too young, and he never treated you any different than just a friend, so I let it go. Then more and more he came over to hang out with just you.”
I sat. No, I flopped down on the bench in front of the table. My eyes were heavy with guilt. Had I known her feelings for certain, would I have done anything differently? Would Turner have been with my sister and happy if I had backed off? These were questions I would never get answers to. I had part of an answer. If there had been a spark, why didn’t he pursue her after I left and she made herself available?
“What you’re just going to sit there?” she said.
“What do you want me to say?” I hedged.
“Tell me you’re not going to break his heart.”
I couldn’t tell her that. My mouth parted and I confessed my sins. I told her all about Scott, Kalen and my job and how it landed me here. I told her that I’d confirmed my break up with Kalen, but that I still had feelings for him. And finally, I admitted that I still loved Turner. I just wasn’t sure yet if I was in love with him.
As I sat there I wondered how this had become all about me. I was staying in my sister’s house because I was worried about her and that man she called husband.
She had sat down somewhere along the way of my telling. “If you’re in love with this Kalen, you need to let Turner go. He was a wreck after you left. Then he left and went to college too. He came home hopeful every holiday, only you never showed up.”
“I did come home once,” I said in my defense.
“And look how that turned out.” Her face held the expression that said
need I say more
. And no she didn’t. He’d broken Elizabeth’s heart. “Beth still thinks she has a shot. She’s not going to be happy about your return.”
It looked like many people weren’t happy that I was here. I began to wonder about the saneness in my decision to come home as a safe haven.
“You’ve dodged the question, but what is up with this Mike,” I asked ready for the heat to be off of me.
She exhaled a breath. “Fine. It’s not like the pickings around here are plentiful. They don’t grow multiple Turners in this place. Most guys who are easy on the eye like the backwards lifestyle of
man beats his chest and woman listens
I wanted to tell her I thought her relationship sounded much like that.
“Mike showed up about two years ago looking like a cowboy. He was ruggedly handsome.”
I could agree with her on that point.
“And he passed all the tests. He even courted me. All the girls were jealous because he took one look at me and didn’t look any further. It’s hard not to fall for that.”
It was starting to make sense. If Turner had bruised her ego or if any other guy had afterward, she would have been primed for Mike.
“I don’t know. He just kind of swept me off my feet.” Her eyes were dreamy. The nostalgia was evident.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I can’t say for sure. It was gradual. It wasn’t overnight. Then he started coming home drunk.”
“How did he get booze?” Our community was a dry one. No alcohol was sold here.
“And that’s it.”
I rubbed my face not sure what to say next.
“We should probably head in for chores before they come find us.”
This was true, but I had one more thing to say. “You need to get out.” I meant to end that sentence with
of this marriage
, but her fear stopped me.
“And do what? Where would I go? You know divorce is not tolerated. I would be excommunicated. I don’t have any skills like you do, Bailey. All I know how to do is to be a wife.”
“That’s not true,” I hurriedly said.
She stood with a frown plastered on her face. Clearly we were done. She crossed over to the front door and held it open. Getting the message, I stood and followed her out. We walked with silence between us and ended up parting ways. I needed to find Emma and Lora, my little sisters. I would be sharing chore tasks with them until I was given a different one. And Vi had to go do whatever she was responsible for. I assumed she went to work with the baker. We also sold home cooked goods at market. I pondered what Mike did all day on the walk back home. Vi had not mentioned a specific duty. Why was he in our community? What was he hiding from?
Some say your life comes full circle. Sitting with my two younger sisters while we prepared fruit for canning for use over the winter, I thought that might be true.
At twelve and nine, their conversation consisted mainly of talking about dolls. Lora, in the early stages of preteen, didn’t want to talk much about them. But Emma, still just a girl, kept steering the topic of conversation back to a doll she wanted for Christmas, when she wasn’t peppering me with other questions about my life. I didn’t mind. She barely knew who I was. She was really young when I left for college.
“Did you have a doll when you were little?” Emma asked.
“I did.” I struggled to remember it. Dolls had been okay in my book, but I had much rather gone out and followed behind Turner. My conversation with Violet reminded me of that.
Out of nowhere, Emma said politely, “Are you going to kiss Turner?” I didn’t have time to be shocked before she continued on. “Because I heard Father tell Mother that you and Turner were going to get married.”
Okay, there were two problems with her question and subsequent statement. I met Lora’s eye before she studiously looked away.
The bell tolled from outside, and the girls got to their feet. “School time,” Emma said with glee. She was still at the age where school actually seemed kind of fun.
They gathered the fruit they hadn’t yet touched and put it back in the basket. The jars they finished were neatly placed on shelves that lined the kitchen area. And I watched as they gathered their bundle of books, clasped in what looked like straps, and headed out of the house. I wiped down the tables and straightened the chairs and benches. Then there was really nothing to do. I checked the girls’ room but all their clothes were washed, folded and put away.
In the boys’ room, there was a different story. And in the interest of something to do, I considered washing their clothes. When I came across a pair of what I’d like to call
. I put everything back the way I found it. Something told me they wouldn’t appreciate the intrusion.
With nothing else to do until afternoon chores, I headed to the school house to plow through the books. I needed to talk to my mother, but she’d been conveniently gone this morning. And the girls hadn’t known just where she was off to. I figured she’d gone with some other women in town to market, selling our home grown fruits and vegetables.
It was in the numbers I found some peace. I wasn’t sure why, considering it was my work that had unraveled my life. A part of me stared at the phone a long time considering. It would be so easy to call Kalen.
By lunch, I was hungry and tired. My day had started at the crack of dawn, and I’d been at it almost as long as an average work day. My sister popped her head in.
“I thought you might be hungry,” Mary said.
I was able to school my features and not show any surprise. I took the basket of food from her. There was some dried meat, fruits and a bit of cheese. A minute later and she returned with a glass of lemonade.
She smiled and gave a tiny shrug. “I wondered when I’d see you. You were supposed to stay at our house.”
And there it was in her mind, betrayal.
My opening presented itself. “Do you know what’s going on with Mike and her?”
If I’d hoped for some sympathy for my sister, I’d come to the wrong place. She shrugged again, this time a bit more exaggerated. “She made her bed.”
“And that’s it,” I said slowly, enunciating each word, hoping she’d hear my dismay at her lack of care for our sister.
“What can I do? The pair of you made bad decisions when it comes to men. You left a good one, and she chose a bad one.”
Her statement may have been true but hearing it from her pissed me off. She was just like Miss Goody Two Shoes. “Oh, like you marrying the boy who wanted me is any better.”
So that might have been mean, but Mary wasn’t a saint.
Her eyes narrowed. Her lips pinched. “You could have had him, but you didn’t want him. You wanted Turner. Or so you told everyone, only to leave him. And now he’s destroyed Beth.”
Beth was Mary’s best friend. “They would have been married if you hadn’t come back that Christmas.”
Mary had a way of stretching the truth to suit her purposes. According to Turner, he hadn’t even talked to Beth until he found out I’d come back. None of this mattered. “I didn’t make Turner do anything.”
“No, you didn’t,” she said with a sneer. “You just have a way making the boys lose their heads over you.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked because the hate in her tone was off the charts. This was beyond petty jealousies.
“What’s going on in here?”
Mary and I turned to find Turner standing in the doorway. My sister morphed into something sweet and her quick changed bordered on something that bordered on psychotic. “Nothing. Bailey here hasn’t even bothered to see her nephew, our parents’ first grandchild.”
Oh she couldn’t have gloated any harder. She pulled the bundle of joy out of the sling across her body. “Can you hold him while I go outside and check on the kids? He’s a heavy sleeper. He shouldn’t be a problem. I know you never wanted kids.”
She strolled out leaving me holding the sleeping baby who hadn’t stirred. No wonder she could bring the kid to work. I cradled the tiny bundle in my arms feeling a love that only comes from family. It was instant but sure. He was perfect and a little darling. Turner got on his knees to kneel close to me. With gentle fingers, he brushed the wisped of hair from the baby’s forehead.
“What’s this about you not wanting kids?”
My hope that he’d overlooked the dig my sister got in was squashed. That had been something I’d told to Mary when we were younger forced to babysit, I’d resented the duty.
“It was just something I said in anger one of those time when we had to babysit instead of hanging out with everyone else.” I didn’t say that everyone else really just meant him.
“Oh,” he said looking up at me. “Do you want to have kids?”
Mary’s hope had been for Turner to see we weren’t compatible. And now I wondered if she was right. Turner wanted to save the poor and live out his life in service of others. It was grand, and I love him all the more for it. Could I do that? And would I want to bring up my kids the same way. Did I even want the responsibility of it?
I raised my arms to kiss my nephew on the forehead. The way Mary was acting I didn’t think I’d get another shot of being this close, because I didn’t want to be around her. As I gently lowered the baby, he stirred. His coo wasn’t that loud, but a mother’s instinct is apparently powerful.
Mary came back in the school door. With the door to the office open, I saw her return. “He’s probably hungry.” Then she proceeded to unbuttoned her shirt. Turner looked away. And I watch him not comfortable with the natural state of being a mother. As a kid, it was just a way of life. As an adult, she was my sister baring her breast to the world, too weird for me.
“We should go and give you privacy,” I stated, getting to my feet.
Turner did the same facing the wall, although my guess was that Mary wouldn’t have minded one bit if Turner saw her. I headed out the door and drew in a heavy breath once outside.