Monday, November 28, 2016

#Historical Chapter Ten - Loving the Enemy



Emily was glad for butchering day because it would keep everyone busy, and she wouldn’t have to actively avoid Isaack.  It might have seemed callous for them to go on with life so soon after hearing of a tragedy, but she knew better than most that their own lives depended on it.  With the corn sprouts coming up and the promise of cooler days ahead, they needed to get the calf butchered while they could before it was time to harvest the corn.

They’d let the milk cow and the chickens out of the barn shooing them out to the pasture so the gun-shot didn’t spook them.  Spooked animals didn’t produce milk or eggs, and they needed those.  When Rachel dispatched the calf, Isaack and Nathan went to work, dispassionately hanging the steer up by his hind legs and cutting his throat to drain the blood. 

It was a full days’ work, and by the time they were finished scraping the last intestine and hanging the last piece of meat in the smokehouse, everybody was exhausted, even Breck.  As squeamish as some of the Yankees had been in the beginning, they all ate bowl after bowl of the rich head soup that was ready for them when they were finished.

Emily wasn’t going to pretend that she hadn’t been hyper-aware of Isaack’s proximity to her all day.  He’d been one of the men cutting the carcass, his quiet efficiency reminding her of her father.  But so many other aspects of him made her think of things her father had nothing to do with.

And that scared her.  And made her wonder what was wrong with her.  She hadn’t spoken to him since he’d followed her to the creek after finding out about Jakob’s death, but she couldn’t forget the kiss they’d shared before she knew she wasn’t engaged to be married anymore.  And she knew he was still following her.

Never mind she hadn’t seen or heard from Jakob in almost a year.  That shouldn’t matter, and the guilt at her actions was eating her alive.

Isaack was a presence she couldn’t ignore.  Well, she could and she did, but it was entirely too exhausting to pretend she couldn’t see those gray eyes, boring into her insides. 

So when she woke up the next morning, stiff and sore from the previous day’s exertions, she was anxious to get her day going so she could go into town and replenish supplies.  She’d never made it to the mill with the corn, and that needed to be done before the next harvest was ready, so she could do both, and manage to stay gone most of the day.

After her morning ablutions, Emily sat on the squat three legged stool next to the milk cow and began squeezing the udders in an automatic downward motion.  She got lost in the rhythm of the repetitive motion, waiting for the bucket to fill with her mindless chore, entertaining herself by occasionally aiming an udder at the waiting cat, who caught the stream of milk in her mouth. 

A filthy, calloused hand clamped down on hers, the grip tight and unrelenting.  A fission of fear raced up her spine, until she realized it was Abe and he was on the other side of the cow.  He couldn’t hurt her from over there.

“You got some real pretty hands, Miss Emily,” he drawled at her thickly.  Out of all the men still here, he was her least favorite, because he seemed to relish the idea of making her uncomfortable.
Twisting her grip out of his, she sat back on the stool.  “I’m sorry, did you want to milk her?”
“Naw, you’re doing a fine job.  I just like watching you.”

“Then, please, allow me to do my chores,” she said shakily.  Emily hated that she sounded so weak around him, but he made her extremely nervous.  And today was not a day she wanted to deal with him.  Or Isaack either for that matter.  His quiet watching was getting to her for altogether different reasons.

She finished milking the cow and stood to take the milk inside the house, where Rachel stood rolling out biscuits.

“I’m taking a trip to town, Mama.  We’re running short on some things.”  She needed to get away from the farm for a few hours.  “And I’ll take the corn to the mill, too.”

Rachel shooed her on, and Emily was relieved she wasn’t assigned to take Louise or Irene with her.  They made trips to town more of a production than necessary.

After hooking the old bay mare up to the wagon, Emily drove the hour and a half to town, about eight miles.  It was a blessedly quiet trip which only served to enable Emily to think about things she didn’t particularly want to think about.

Abe was turning into a problem she didn’t know how to deal with.  She had a difficult time avoiding his lecherous smiles, malicious glares, and the thoughts written all over his face.  It was plain he wanted something wholly inappropriate from her, and he made her more than a little nervous.

On the other hand, there was Isaack.  He was everywhere she went as well, but it was different.  He represented so much to Emily, not the least of which was the enemy who’d killed her future.  But it was plain he didn’t want to frighten her, like Abe did.  His steely gray gaze was everywhere, watching her, but he watched out for her, protection, safety.

She shook herself, feeling a chill in the air.  Yes, Isaack was definitely watching her.  More than Abe which was small comfort.  Because she longed to let him in and see what would happen.
Except it would tarnish Jakob’s memory, and the memory of her brother, wouldn’t it?

**
At the mill, Mr. Sherman met her wagon as she pulled it up.

“Miss Evans.”  He pulled off his hat and wrung it in his hands.  “I’m real sorry to hear about your brother.  It’s a damn shame, pardon my language, what this war’s done to the families around here.”

She swallowed past the lump in her throat and pasted a smile on her face.  “Thank you, Mr. Sherman.  I’ll pass along your condolences to Mama.”  She should get used to tamping down the grief.  The townspeople were liable to all have kind words of remembrance for her.

He continued his apologetic look as he shuffled his feet.  “Corn prices have gone down, I won’t be able to pay as much this time.”

She remembered the leak in the corn crib, and downplayed her relief.  She’d been afraid she wouldn’t be able to get anything for the corn they’d salvaged from the disaster.

Managing a smile, she replied, “That’s alright.  We’ll take what we can get.”  Usually, they haggled prices, and she managed to get a little more than his initial offer, but with the roof being torn off the corn and it getting so wet, she was grateful for anything.  She could just play off her lack of argument on grief.  Guilt consumed her at the thought she was using her brother’s death for gain, but it mingled with relief Mr. Sherman didn’t question her too much.

After the mill, Emily walked into town, since Mr. Sherman had graciously offered to take her wagon to the store for her after his man unloaded it.

“Hello Caitlyn, how is Mr. Stephens?”

The woman behind the counter wiping down shelves was Emily’s age, and they’d gone to school together, as long as Emily had been in school.  Emily had stopped going after learning to read and add, so she could help at the farm, but Caitlyn had stayed through to the end, learning far more than Emily.  Caitlyn didn’t hold it over her though, they were friends, as much as could be.  Caitlyn had played with her brother and Jakob whenever she could.

Her friend smiled at her, sadness taking over her features.  “Hi Emily.  Grandfather is fine.  He’s busy in the back, but I can get him if you need?”  Softening her voice, she continued, “I’m so sorry about Jakob and John.  This town won’t be same without them coming home.”  A tear leaked out of the corner of her eye, and Emily reached over to hug her.  She hadn’t realized how much her friend would miss them, too.  She allowed the pangs of sadness to mingle with her friend’s, enjoying the brief moment of camaraderie as she held Caitlyn’s trembling frame.

“I think you can help me just fine,” Emily smiled at the woman, trying to both reassure her and change the topic of conversation.  She ticked off her list of salt, coffee, sugar, and other sundried items while Caitlyn went to the shelves gathering what she needed.

When she had an enormous pile of food on the counter, Mr. Stephens came from behind the curtain that separated the front from the back.

“Miss Evans, so nice to see you this morning,” his use of her surname was not lost on Emily.
  
Straightening her shoulders, she turned to him.  She used to be just plain Emily.

“Mr. Stephens, I hope all is well with you.”  She continued the formal tone, warily.

“Actually,” he rubbed the balding spot on the top of his head, then wiped his palm in his apron.  “Mr. Stein has been in to see us and given a list of customers who won’t make the yield this year.  We’re unable to give you items on credit.  I’m sure you understand.”

“But we will make yield this year, Mr. Stephens.  This is a mistake.”  Her stomach plummeted and shame raced to her face.  It flamed red, and Emily was helpless to stop her mortification.  She had money from the mill in her pocket, and had been planning to take it to Mr. Stein.  She couldn’t afford to buy groceries with it as well.  Futility washed over her.

“I’m terribly sorry.  I can’t do any more credit if I can’t make sure to get the money at harvest.  I have payments to make as well, you see.”  Clarity dawned on Emily.  Mr. Stein had threatened the general store owner as well with those infernal interest payments.

“I will go speak to him myself.”  Grabbing her skirts, Emily turned with a huff and stomped out the door making her way down the street to the bank.

Only to be stopped by George Nolan and his brothers, blocking her path down the sidewalk.  “George, it’s so good to see you home again.”  She choked back the sorrow that her brother wasn’t returning to visit with him about his war experiences.  They would never get together.

“I heard you got a mess of Billy Yanks up at your place, Emily.”  His tone was accusatory, and if she didn’t understand his feelings from the tone of his voice, the look of disgust on his face was plenty to go by.  A sinking began in her stomach, and she pressed her hand against it.

“Yes, they came in a passel, all sick.  We did our Christian duty by giving them shelter on their way.  The ones still there are returning the favor by helping us with the harvest until Papa comes home.  If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go see Mr. Stein.”

She moved to push past him, possibly a rude move, but she was still seeing red at the thought that Mr. Stein was keeping her from buying supplies to feed her family and the men on the farm.
“I really wish you wouldn’t, Emily.  See, we here in town don’t like the fact that there are so many of the enemy just lollygagging up at your place.  It makes the whole town look like sympathizers, you see?”  His hand on her shoulder initially kept her from moving forward, but as he spoke, his grip tightened painfully.

“George, please.”  She started to roll her eyes, but a voice that she didn’t hear often spoke up behind her.

“Take your hands off Miss Emily.  If you have a problem with the Billy Yanks, talk to one.”  Isaack’s smooth low voice sounded from behind Emily, and George’s eyes snapped to the interloper.  Instead of releasing his grip though, he gave a shove, and Emily, shocked at the aggression, stumbled over her skirts and fell to the ground.

The smoothness of Isaack’s voice gave way to a low growl, and before she knew what was happening, he stepped forward and punched George square in the jaw.  “I told you to release the lady, not push her.”  George sprawled back in the dirt, a look of pure shock on his face.  His brothers started to step forward, all burred up and ready to fight, and Isaack stepped forward, ready to take them on.  “I’ve got plenty more for the bummers, if you’re wanting some.” The leer on Isaack’s face spoke the truth.  He would take these boys on.

A thrill of awareness coursed through Emily as the ramifications of her predicament seeped in.  “It’s okay.  Let’s just go.”  She stood and swept the dirt off her skirts.  “I’ll figure out something else for Mr. Stein and the supplies,” she grumbled, not willing to see any blood spilled on her account.
As stirring as it was.

Back at the general store, the empty wagon jeered at her.  She really didn’t have time in her days for a wasted trip into town.  First, they hadn’t made enough off the corn they’d worked so hard for, and now she couldn’t get credit at the store.  Isaack gripped her elbow, gently.

“Let me go in for a while.  I’ll be back.”  His soft gentle voice was back, as if he hadn’t just punched a man in the nose for besmirching her.  Speechless, she watched him stride into the store and up to the counter.  She was entirely too nosy to not follow.

“Can we please have Miss Emily’s supplies?”

Mr. Stephens was in the front of the store, surely having seen the altercation on the street.  “I don’t think that’s---“

“Do you take gold, Mister?”  To everyone’s astonishment, Isaack pulled a gold coin from a pouch around his waist and flashed it to Mr. Stephen’s suddenly wide eyes.

“Er, um… Yes.”  He reached out his hand for the proffered coin.  “Caitlyn, get Miss Evans’ goods, will you?”

“And I’ll take a bolt of that denim and the blue calico, as well, please.  And apply the rest to the Evans’ credit.”

Emily watched, speechless, as Mr. Stephens and Caitlyn huffed and puffed to cater to the patient man standing in their midst.  He suddenly didn’t look like a tired, sick soldier anymore.  As his shoulders squared and he looked down his aristocratic nose at the man behind the counter, Emily realized he’d been somebody before his soldiering days, as all the men had.  But Isaack had been a man of good standing—a gentleman.

When the wagon was loaded, Isaack held out his hand to help her into the driver’s seat and then stood next to the wagon.

“Aren’t you getting in?  Surely you don’t intend to walk back to the house.”  Her anger at him was fading.  Sure, she had come into town initially to escape him and the others, but his generosity and her new vision of him gave her fodder to think about.  She couldn’t sit in judgement of him anymore.
He just looked at her, with those piercing gray eyes that twisted her insides, waging an internal war.  Then, silently, he hoisted himself up next to her, and took the reins, snapping them lightly to jolt the horse into action.

“You didn’t have to pay for our supplies.  That was really too much.”

“It wasn’t enough.  We’ve been eating all your provisions.  It was the least I could do.  We should have been pulling more weight.”  He shrugged his shoulders and Emily was once again drawn to how healthy he was looking.  His skin had tanned, and his muscles filled out.  He was a rather large man, his frame filled with lean muscle, and he was altogether not unattractive.

Memories of the kiss they’d shared came back.  Emily felt her face flush with the heat that was quickly coursing through her body, settling into a pool somewhere just below her belly.  She shook herself to try to clear her head of the traitorous thoughts.  “Well, thank you anyhow.  We appreciate it.”

A soft sigh escaped her at his lack of response.  This would probably be an incredibly long ride home.
Emily desperately tried to ignore the strapping Yankee in the seat next to her.  But the sudden strength he’d exhibited today had left her with feelings she didn’t entirely understand.  As she looked at him, she tried to reconcile his current health status with the sickly man she’d nursed.

And couldn’t.  This was an entirely different Isaack.

Wearing her Papa’s clothes, he filled them out nicely.  And Papa was a large man, but large in a different way than Isaack was.  Isaack had broad shoulders, thick upper arms that were solid as the barn he’d been patching up, and a narrow waist that lead to strong legs she could see through the thin material of her Papa’s pants.

When had that happened?  It had only been a matter of months since the rag-tag bunch of men had staggered into their yard and collapsed in the barn.  Since then, a number of them had gone on—either in death, or moseyed on home.  Only Isaack and a few others stayed to help with the harvest, she supposed as repayment for their health, or because they had nowhere else to go.
Isaack broke the silence by taking in a great gulp of air.

“I was married once.  I had a beautiful daughter, as well.  We lived in New York, verily untouched by the coming war, it seemed.”  His voice took on a formal tone Emily wasn’t familiar with, but she let him talk, ignoring the stab of jealousy at the mention of another woman.

Silence took over, and Emily wondered if he meant for her to speak now.  But she didn’t know what to say, so she watched the goat weed on the side of the road, as it faded into the pine trees, consciously ignoring the jealousy streaking up her spine.  Of course he was married.  Even though he’d kissed her, he probably hadn’t seen his wife in years, and just longed for female company.  Emily had a vague understanding of men’s urges.

“One morning, we were all about town.  I had an errand at the bank, and Marie wanted to go to the dress-maker for a new frock for little Bess.  They were struck by a carriage, trampled by a wild horse.  In that instant, I lost my world.”  Isaack’s voice cracked on the last word, and Emily’s jealousy turned to something deeper, more visceral.  She felt his pain, because she knew grief.  She knew the sadness.

“I had no reason to live anymore.  They were my life.  So I joined the war.  I volunteered to fight and die for something, anything.  Because they died for nothing but the lack of concentration of a youthful driver.”

Still at a loss for words, Emily just sat there, until she realized they were almost to the curve of their drive.  Just out of sight of the house, Isaack pulled on the reins and stopped the horse.  His eyes on her were filled with something unfathomable.  The sudden stillness of the wagon filled her with anticipation, but Emily couldn’t name exactly what she was anticipating.  It was an unnerving feeling, and she twisted her hands in her lap as she listened to Isaack go on.

“I haven’t looked at or thought about another woman since, Emily.”  He looked at his hands, so Emily did too.  They were strong hands, scarred, showing more living on them than she cared to think about.  When he looked up at her, she was helpless to see anything but the pain in his eyes.  “Until you.  I saw you.  I saw you heal.  Work.  Grieve.  We are so much alike, even though we are so different.  It’s hard for me to fathom.”  His neck undulated as he swallowed thickly, and Emily’s eyes were drawn there—an excuse to focus on something besides his eyes, so focused on her. 

“For the first time in years, I have a reason to live again.  I have someone to live for.  I have something I want.”  His face looked pained, as if his own thoughts and emotions had betrayed him.  He looked down at his hands, while Emily searched for something to say.  “You, Emily.  If you’ll have me, I’d like to court you.”  Emily’s heart lurched at the idea he’d voiced.  Something deep within her stirred, bubbling up in her stomach.

Such formality for a Texas farm girl.  Nobody courted here.  They either married or they didn’t.  But Isaack was from a place where courting happened.  He was from New York.

He was a Yankee.  He was a Northerner.  For the last five years, all she had heard was horrible things about the North.  They killed her brother, her fiancé, possibly her Papa.  The townspeople hated them, because they were aiding the North by not putting them out while they were sick.  By letting them help with the harvest.  The townspeople didn’t see the people the Evans helped.  They saw the affiliations.

“I—I can’t,” she choked out the whisper.

Isaack said nothing.  He only swallowed again, and jerked the reins bringing the horse back into motion, carrying them to the house.  Emily felt as if she’d drowned a litter of kittens in the creek.

“You’re the enemy, Isaack,” she said, trying to explain.  “What will Papa say when he comes home?  He’s been fighting you and your kind.  How would it make him feel to find out I’ve been gallivanting with you?  Both of my brothers are dead because of you.”  She knew in all actuality, Isaack wasn’t personally at fault, but for all she knew he was.  “And the town’s people would probably never let me be around them with you.”  That was a thin excuse and she knew it.  She was grasping now.  But she couldn’t let her feelings over ride her common sense.  She knew that a life with Isaack wasn’t possible.  Not here anyway, and she couldn’t leave.

Even though her heart wanted him to stay here with her.  Forever.  Because he was absolutely right.  She got out of bed every morning hoping to see Isaack, to have a reason to talk to him.

When he spoke, he took her breath away.  It was a simple declaration.  Five words of truth.  Nothing more.  But those words spoke more of her heart and true feelings than anything she’d just said.

“You didn’t mention your fiancé.” 


Thursday, November 24, 2016

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Monday, November 21, 2016

#Historical Chapter Nine - Loving the Enemy



When the Gruens came over, Emily thought at first it was for a social visit, but as soon as she saw Mr. Gruen’s ramrod posture sitting stiffly next to Mrs. Gruen’s tearstained face, she knew.  She didn’t even have to hear the words to know what their news was.

“We can’t stay for coffee Mrs. Evans.  We just thought you might want to hear that we received a letter from Jakob’s commander.  He and John died hero’s deaths.  In battle.  Like men.”  His words were delivered with a harshness that masked his sorrow.  His eyes scanned the yard, falling on Abe, who leaned against a barnpole, chewing on a piece of straw.  Shoulders stiff, Mr. Gruen sniffed, his mouth turning down in distaste.  As he snapped the reins that catapulted his horses into motion, steering the buggy away, Mrs. Gruen broke down into more sobs.  Rachel only stood next to Emily, stoic as always, before turning and going back inside the house.  Emily was struck dumb.

She’d been living in a make-believe world on the farm, doing what she was told and what she knew to do to keep everything for the men-folk so they’d have something to come home to.  Then, when Jakob came back they were to build their own home over the hill from this house.  That’s the way things had always been. 

The soldiers were a means to that end.  They were going to help the women keep the bank from taking their property.  Not complicate her feelings about everything.

She couldn’t bring Jakob’s face to mind, only blurry images floated around her memory.  When she finally forced them to her mind, they came with a vengeance.  John and Jakob had been friends since they were born together practically, so most of her memories of John were infused with Jakob--tugging on her pigtails, stealing her lunch pail, tying their fishing line around her ankles while she slept by the creek.

It was no wonder their parents wanted them to be married.  And it was no wonder she loved him so.  She’d grown up with him.

The pain welled up in her belly, blooming outward until it encompassed her entire body.  She clutched her belly, the source of the pain, as she ran.  Her legs pumped, pistoning her away from the house toward the creek, her safe place.

The tears flowed but she didn’t feel them, didn’t see anything through her grief.  Emily wondered if they’d suffered, if they were aware when they died, where they went after.  Of course they went to heaven, that’s where good God-fearing men went.

Only they weren’t men.  John and Jakob were just boys.  Her brother and her friend.  Her future.
One by one, her family was getting smaller.

Emily tried not to think about the fact there was still no word from her father, so there was still hope he was coming back.  Not that it would be the same.  But he would come back.

She and Mama had been doing so much to keep the farm, working until well past dark, trying to keep everything running for Papa, so he would have a farm to come home to.  Now he would have two fewer children when he came back, and his daughter wouldn’t be married like they’d planned.  He wouldn’t have to help her build her new home.

Emily rolled onto her stomach and clutched at handfuls of dirt while she wailed her sorrows into the earth.  She was far enough away from the house she wouldn’t be heard by the soldiers or mama, or her sisters, but of course, she’d been followed.

Iron arms wrapped around her in a warm cocoon and picked her up to settle her against a chest.  It was familiar, but not the chest she wished it was.  She honestly wished her brother was comforting her in her time of need, but it was Isaack, shushing her and rocking her with his quiet strength.
“It’s okay.  They probably went fast without suffering.  I’m sure that’s how it was.”  His low voice was comforting, and he let her cry.  And it infuriated her.

But she did cry.  She succumbed to the useless tears that wracked her entire body.  She cried for the loss of her family, and then she cried for the futility of it all.

“They didn’t even want to go!”  Beating her fists against Isaack’s chest, she felt helpless.  “They were conscripted!  They didn’t want to fight!  They died for nothing!”

Her tears were gone, yet she still cried, and Isaack continued to hold her.  When he spoke again, his voice brought her more comfort than she realized.

“In my experience most death is utterly futile.  We can’t question it.  It just is.”

She’d never heard him speak much, and these words sounded so formal, bringing to light how different he was from her.  He was a Yankee, probably had more education than her elementary school-house certificate coupled with reading Mama’s books from Boston.  He had been fighting against her family in the war, he probably chose to fight, because he believed in whatever the ridiculous causes were they warred over.

She hated him and everything he stood for.

Pushing herself away, she managed to see him past her headache pounding behind her eyes.  “Leave me alone.  You probably killed them.”  She spat the words, hearing them come from her like she was floating above her body, not actually speaking them.

He understood her though.  She saw it in the grief of his eyes as he clenched his fists at his sides.  He opened his mouth, but apparently thought better of it, because he clamped it shut like a steel trap.  Slowly, he rose to his feet and turned his back on her and her tears.

She didn’t think he went far.  Emily knew he was never far away from her.  Isaack was always watching her.  Her shadow.

Before, she’d felt flattered by the attention.  It had made her feel protected, especially after the incident at the creek.  He was attentive, and when she had trouble with something he was always there.  She only had to notice something broken, and the next time she saw it, it would be fixed.  She only had to wish something done, and the next thing she knew he’d done it.  Fence mending, wood chopping, anything.  Once, she’d been daydreaming about venison for supper, and as if he read her mind, he brought a skinned and butchered deer to the door.

So she was under no illusion he’d actually left her alone to cry herself into oblivion, and instead of angering her, it actually pleased her deep down.  But she wasn’t ready to admit that.


Not yet.  Not the day she found out her fiancé was dead.  Had been killed in battle while she was at home, kissing the enemy.

Monday, November 14, 2016

#Historical Chapter Eight - Loving the Enemy



After laying awake, aching for Isaack’s touch again, Emily rose early, trudging about her chores.  Going out to the barn, she found that the cow had already been milked.  Isaack.  He’d been following her more obviously since their stolen moment under the stars, and she resented it.  He was everywhere, even when he wasn’t.  Her eyes darted around, looking for him, maybe standing behind a barn pillar watching her, but she couldn’t see him.  She knew he was somewhere though.  He was always watching.

She longed to get away, out from under his piercing gray eyes.  Emily couldn’t explain herself.  But she hated him for kissing her like that.  He had no right to her, no right to make her feel the feelings that betrayed everything she’d ever known.  Isaack had no right to make her want things she couldn’t have.

Abe and Nathan still snored in the barn.  She told herself they worked into the night, but she knew better.  They worked hard during the day, but never rose before daylight.  By contrast, Mr. Potter was probably already out in the fields.  He’d taken a vested interest in the running of the fields, and had spent the last few days trying to make sure the grounds were drying at an appropriate rate.  If the ground around the corn didn’t dry quickly enough, the roots would rot.  If it dried too fast, it developed a crust that was equally as bad.  Mr. Breck had taken to sleeping in town, Emily suspected he’d found one of the ‘ladies’ at the saloon to keep him company.  Sometimes, he showed up, sometimes, not.

Which left Isaack.  He was close by.  She could feel it.  It was like there was an invisible energy between them, and she always felt when he was near.  It made her crazy, because it made her feel things she had no business feeling.

Deciding she could make a trip into town with what corn they had in the crib, to show Mr. Stein they were serious about repaying his ridiculously inflated debt, she went to the crib.  The mill was on the other side of town, and would keep her away from the house for most of the day.

The corn crib was on the other side of the barn, built into the side of it, kept secure from prowling critters and curious chickens.  A sturdily built structure, it was smallish in comparison to the massive space of the barn, and held most of a harvest these days.  After drying on the stalk, the shucked corn was stored in the crib until it was dry enough for grinding at the mill.  Some of it had already been pulled off the ear, mostly for something for the men to do, and bagged up.  This was what Emily would take to the mill today.

But the faint smell of soured corn assaulted her when she opened the door, and a cry rose at the back of her throat.

“Oh no!”

A standing puddle squelched at her feet, and a sense of hopelessness took over every other thought Emily had.  The crop was ruined.

Isaack was at her side in an instant, and she could hear Mama as she banged out the front door.
“What’s wrong child?”  Her mother’s concern overrode everything else, and tears of frustration welled in Emily’s eyes, but she wouldn’t let them fall in front of Isaack.

“The corn got wet.  It’s ruined.”

Rachel stood there, next to Isaack, whose face had paled, even as his lips thinned into a white line across his face.

Wiping her hands on her apron, Rachel spurred into action, pulling the door open wide.  “Isaack, pull those wet bags of corn out of there and bring them to the wagon.  We’ll spread it out, get the ruined corn out and dry out the rest under the sun.  We’ll see what can be salvaged.  Emily, help him spread it.”  She went back inside to finish breakfast, but her steps weren’t as purposeful as usual, and her shoulders sagged.

As they went inside the crib, Emily couldn’t help but notice the gaping hole in the roof, where shingles had come off.  Sunlight streamed in, making the dark space light.  Corn dust swirled in the air, and Emily let out another wail, purely against her will.

“Didn’t you check the roof a fortnight ago?”

Isaack’s mouth was still a thin, whitened line, and now his eyes darkened with fury as they met hers.  “Yes, I did.  It was strong enough a wind couldn’t have done that.”

Then someone had purposely pulled off the shingles.  Who would do something to sabotage their efforts like that?
Mr. Stein.

“There’s nothing to be done for it now.  I’ll fix the roof after we get the corn out and started drying.  Your mother’s right.  We need to take care of this first.  I’ll find out who’s responsible for this.”  His voice was intense, and Emily had the sudden realization he’d been a man of power before the war.  The tone he spoke with was one which brooked no arguments, telling her he was in charge.
But it was her family’s farm, and he was an interloper.

“Don’t tell her it was intentional.  She has enough to worry about.”  She needed something to give herself authority over him.  Finding something to boss him about was the only way she could do it, even if he argued with her.  But he didn’t.

They worked side by side for the rest of the morning, dragging out bags of corn and spreading the grain out in the bed of the wagon.  Not as much was spoiled as Emily had been fearful of, but enough was relegated to chicken feed to last them for months and months. 

Working next to Isaack was surprisingly soothing to Emily.  His strong assurance was welcome, as he hefted the bags and poured the corn into the wagon, while Emily spread it around to dry evenly.  A few times, he opened his mouth, as if to speak, and Emily would always shake her head in fear.  She didn’t want to discuss anything, because the only thing to discuss would be the kiss.  And she wanted to forget it ever happened, even if there was no way that was possible. 


Monday, November 7, 2016

#Historical Chapter Seven - Loving the Enemy



Emily had been to the creek more often lately, and Isaack had followed her every time.  He had no idea if she knew he was there or not, but he also knew she wasn’t daft.  He told himself it was because her mother had asked him to watch out for her.  It was for her protection from the men, the ones with the wrong intentions, like Abe, or Breck.  But the truth was too hard to admit to himself.
Since the boy had died, Emily had come to the creek a lot.  She hadn’t come much in the last week, because it had been raining so much, but now that the rain had stopped, she’d come back. She seemed to get a lot of peace from these visits.  Her steps back home were lighter, as if she left a weight in the creek water.

And he’d followed her.  Isaack couldn’t seem to leave her alone.  She was a vision—one that ingrained itself on his mind’s eye, even in his dreams.  Her golden hair, tied back in an austere braid in the mornings, but had fallen around her face as she worked through the day, her enormous coffee-colored eyes that sang him to sleep and visited his dreams—all conspired to completely undo him.  He hadn’t thought of intimate relations or romantic entanglements since his beloved wife had died, but now, he was a hot ball of lust, would up so tightly, he was liable to come unraveled at any given moment.

And if that’s how he felt, he was afraid to think of how the others were handling her proximity.  That thought kept him by her side more than anything.

From the trees he watched as she knelt by the edge of the water, the banks having overflowed slightly.  The rocks that had previously been visible were submerged, but the water running over them rippled, giving clues to hidden obstacles under the water.

Isaack was hidden behind the branches, not willing to let her know he watched.  He realized that wasn’t right.  He should just show himself, because his intentions were muddled by the secrecy.  But he couldn’t bring himself to speak.

So he watched, like a man with sex on his brain, only for Isaack that wasn’t it entirely.  Surely, there was a big part of him that wanted to see what her lush body looked like naked, to feel her lips against his, to know if the skin she kept hidden was soft.  But he longed to protect her as well.  To provide for her the luxury she deserved instead of this harsh life in the wilderness.  To make her his.

When she looked around furtively, he knew what was next and he closed his eyes while every other sense went on high alert.  Some misplaced sense of propriety called him to do this, even though a gentleman wouldn’t follow her out here every day.  He listened to the rustle of clothes as she removed her dress and petticoat.  Then the slosh of water as she sank into the current with an exhale of breath before he opened his eyes again.

She was in up to her waist, which was deeper than she’d gone before, her chemise clinging to her body.  He watched as she seemed to fight the current, leaning into it to keep from being whisked downstream.  She let out loud breaths as she fought the water.

His skin prickled with unease, as the hair on his scalp stood on end.  Something wasn’t right.
He felt the rumble in the earth at the same time Emily began to struggle against the current.  Her eyes widened when they both heard it, and her arms began to pump along with her legs.  The roar in the distance was getting closer, and she needed to be out of the water.
Breaking his cover, Isaack ran to her.

“Emily!”

She saw him and reached toward his outstretched arms, eyes wide, just as he saw the wall of water out of the corner of his eye.  He didn’t dare get a good look at it, knowing exactly what was happening.  Flash floods were fearsome and this one was no different.

He clutched her hand in his and yanked her slender wrist.  She cried out in pain, but he held tight, unwilling to let go of her.  He dragged her out until he could reach her with both hands, and he pulled with all his weight to get her out of the water’s reach.

Emily landed on top of him with a huff and he wrapped one arm around her slender waist as he pulled them both back with his other arm.  The breath was knocked from him by her sudden weight atop him, as well as the chill of her wet chemise wrapping around his legs.  Then again, the knowledge that she was in such a position with him was making him light-headed, since all the blood was flowing from his head to an ungentlemanly place, further south.

His lusty haze was broken by the wall of water and rubble—fallen trees, branches, dirt—flowing down what used to be a stream but was now a small river.  A path of destruction Emily had just narrowly missed.  And if she hadn’t, she’d be gone.

Just like Marie and Beth.

A shudder racked his body, as Isaack stared at the sky, blinking hard, unable to speak about what had almost just happened. Christ.

Clenching his eyes closed, he didn’t realize he was squeezing her hips until she struggled to sit up.
“Isaack,” she whispered against his neck.

He forced his grip loose and she rolled off him, breathing heavily.  His eyes still clenched shut, Isaack forced back the images of what could have happened as he focused on the sounds next to him.  She was dressing herself.

She was alive and dressing herself.

“Are you hurt?” He forced himself to ask her, praying to all that was holy for the right answer.
“No.  I’m not hurt.”  Her voice was soft and meek, unlike Emily’s normal voice, and his eyes opened as he turned his head toward her.  Her deep brown eyes pierced him, her blonde hair like a halo shining in the sunlight.  “Why were you there?  Watching?”

“I wasn’t,” his tongue was thick in his mouth with the deception.  She knew it.

“Yes, you were.  You’re always there,” she smiled down at him, and her hand caressed a lock of hair from his forehead.  Her touch scorched his skin and he flinched.  Her eyes turned wary.  “Why?”
Because she made him feel for the first time in seven years.  She stripped away the grime of his life and left it feeling clean.  She brought color into his world.  If she were gone, he would have nothing again.  “I don’t know.”

“Thank you.  For being there.”  She smiled at him and rose from the ground.  “Walk me back to the house?”

He stood next to her, and they walked back together.  He didn’t skulk along behind like he normally did.  Isaack walked next to her, trying not to feel the sensations that engulfed him.

In the short time he’d been here, she had shown him more love than any other woman in his life.  Even Marie, and that felt heretical to think.  But Marie had been an innocent when they met, giving him everything he’d asked for willingly.  Emily gave it all without him asking.  She took him in and cared for him.  She took care of the farm, cooked, washed, she was a woman unlike any he’d ever met.  All the women in Boston were genteel and soft, or else they were the street women who were harder than granite.  Emily was both.

When they approached the house he stopped next to her as she slowed her walk and stiffened her gait.  Isaack hung back, wary, yet ready.  The banker man was there, sitting on the rocker on the porch looking like he hadn’t a care in the world.  The girls were missing, and Rachel was standing over him, hands on her hips, looking very unhappy.

He was using his thumb to tamp down tobacco in his pipe and as he put it in the corner of his mouth, he lit a match on the sole of his boot.  Rachel only raised her eyebrows as Emily stalked up the steps, Isaack hanging back in the yard.

“Mama, what’s going on?”  Emily’s voice was tense, yet still quiet enough not to be disrespectful, and Isaack saw her restraint in the way her shoulders were squared, her breath coming in deep, even gulps.

“Mr. Stein was just saying that in order for us to keep the farm, we’ll have to double our payment next quarter.”  Mrs. Evans’ strong jaw jutted forward with the words and everyone in the yard heard the disdain in her voice.

A few of the other men came from the barn as her voice raised over the din of activities.  Isaack couldn’t stop his feet as they stepped forward.  “I’ll stay and help you with the harvest, Mrs. Evans.”  He purposefully kept his gaze on the banker, who’d lit his pipe in the corner of his mouth and took careful puffs of the acrid smoke.

“I will too.  I’d be happy to,” Potter stated amicably.  Isaack tossed him a grateful look.  He would actually know what to do.  Isaack wasn’t a farmer, but Potter was.  He’d had a corn farm in upstate New York before the war.  “I can’t travel far with the seasons changing anyway.  It would be best for me to start out late winter anyway.”

“I can stay too, Mrs. Evans,” Breck piped up.  Of course.  Never one to be left out of anything that might include some action.

“And I’m sure Joe will return soon.  Don’t worry, Mr. Stein.  You’ll get your precious payment.”  Her face was just short of a sneer, and even Isaack felt the chill travel down his spine.  “You can see yourself off my property.”

With that parting shot, she spun on her heels and went inside.  One last look from under Emily’s eyelashes, and she followed her mother with a swirling of skirts.  Isaack wanted to make sure she was okay from her ordeal at the creek, but knew this wasn’t the best of times.  He and a few others stayed stock-still until the banker finally stood with a mumble under his breath and put his pipe in his pocket.  On his way down, Abe stuck a leg out and he went sprawling.  Abe was a horse’s ass, but in this case, it was an ass pointed in the right direction, and the men all laughed at the banker as he turned red and began his blustering way to town.

**

That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Isaack was still awake, wandering the yard, making a mental list of chores for tomorrow.  He didn’t sleep much.  Hadn’t for as long as he could remember, at least seven years or so.  Between calculating how much wood needed to be split, he was gazing up at the stars.  They were so peaceful, twinkling in the night sky.

Fireflies lit up the evening, as if they were just as glad the rain had stopped.  The wilderness here had a specific beauty to it, and even though he’d been sleeping in a smelly barn for the last month or so, he preferred it to the luxury he’d been accustomed to in New York.  Even more, he preferred sleeping under the stars, and didn’t know how he’d ever go back home.  It wasn’t his home anymore.  Right now, on this farm, with the fireflies buzzing around, flashing their mating signal, he was more at home than he’d felt in years.

A creak jerked his attention to the porch, and he saw Emily there, wrapped in her blue shawl, the one that looked so beautiful against her skin.  Silently, she pulled the edges closer as she watched him.
He felt the heat rise to his cheeks, for getting caught staring at her, but he couldn’t tear his gaze away.  She was the most magical creature he’d ever seen, and now they were out in the open, alone, at night.

Together.

Wordless, he walked up the porch steps, careful to keep to the edges so they didn’t squeak, his eyes on hers.  She tracked his progress as he stalked closer.  It had been so long since a woman made him this edgy, this tense.  He felt a buzz around Emily, a heat he didn’t know.

It was a burning energy that radiated out and pulsed within.  A fiery, pulsing buzz.  One he couldn’t extinguish.

He focused his gaze on Emily as he closed the gap between them.  When they were toe-to-toe, he didn’t know what to do next.  So he continued his stare.  He couldn’t look away if he wanted to, the pull to her was too fierce.

“Are you okay?  After this afternoon?”  He whispered, lost in her seeking eyes.  She nodded, mute.  His finger reached out to touch her hair, loose around her shoulders.  His finger made the courageous journey, twining around the tendril of corn silk.  Isaack watched it, in awe. He had wanted to touch it for weeks now, but didn’t know how to get up the nerve.

It was the fireflies’ fault for putting romantic notions in his head.

Gathering courage from his finger, Isaack took a breath, the deepest he could manage, and lowered his face to hers.

Tentatively, he touched her lips with his, feeling their softness—infinite softness.  She whispered a sigh at the contact, and Isaack’s finger tugged on the tendril of hair wrapped around it, grasping more.  Emily’s delicate fingers traced up his shirt, tickling his chest, leaving a fiery trail behind.  He couldn’t stop.  Having come this far, he couldn’t go backwards, only forward.

His other hand rested on her hip, urging her into him as his mouth opened over hers.  She trembled under his touch, every inch of her as she pressed her body against his.  He’d been wrong.  She was certainly softer than she looked.

Her innocent kiss turned to more, as she opened under his mouth, unfurling like a flower blooming in the dawn’s light.  The fiery need inside him exploded and he tugged her body closer, flush against his. Isaack felt her soft curves next to him, and he longed for more.  He willed his hands to be still, and not explore the curves and soft skin he knew he’d find under her garments, even though every fiber of his being craved it.

She tasted of sunshine and innocence, and he couldn’t get enough of her.  But, tonight, it was not to be.

With a whimper, Emily pushed him back, and he allowed it, his hooded eyes watching her shrink back against the wall of the house.  But she didn’t run.  Her eyes looked at him, full of questions, but she didn’t speak, only brought the back of her hand to her mouth and stared with wide eyes.  Her fingers trembled in the moonlight.

“I’m not sorry for that, but I probably shouldn’t have.”  His voice was a gruff whisper, as he took a step backward.

“No…”  Emily looked like she would say more, but Isaack didn’t know what she meant by that one word, and he didn’t press her.  He had no idea if she had a man off in the war or not.  He’d heard she’d been married, but there were so many widows now.

Christ.

He ran his hand through his hair as he stepped down from the porch and when he turned back, she was gone.


Guilt settled in his gut, for putting that look on her face.  But he’d never felt more alive.