Here's an UNEDITED excerpt...
When the first soldier died, Emily and Rachel wrapped his body in cloth, and some of the soldiers dug a grave in the family cemetery, and they had a small service for him. The ones that were able attended, and the Reeves family looked on. That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Rachel and Emily sat at the kitchen table. I had become a routine for them. Most of the time, the just rested and enjoyed each other’s silence, but tonight Rachel let Emily in on her plans.
Emily had stopped doubting her mother’s crazy schemes a long time ago. When the North had blockaded the Mississippi river, making it impossible to sell their cotton, Rachel hadn’t batted an eyelash, converting everything to corn. She’d used credit at the general store, and planted the fields with corn instead of cotton, and they’d managed to keep their heads afloat for the two years since, even managing two yields a year to make up for the lack of muscle on their female run, family farm.
So, even though she was nervous about the Union soldiers on their farm, so far nothing untoward had happened, and Rachel had another plan.
“So, what’s next, Mama?” She asked, curious to see if her mama actually had a plan, or if she was playing this by ear.
“Well, it was surely serendipitous that these boys showed up when they did. But we will help them, and they will help us. We just brought in the last of the harvest, and I’m going to see if I can’t talk a few into staying behind to help with the next yield. I’ve already talked to Mr. Potter about helping with the planting next week, and he seemed happy to oblige.”
Mr. Potter was the New York corn farmer, and seemed a personable fellow. A bit older than the others, he seemed thankful for the rest from the grueling pace of soldier’s life.
“I feel like we’ll lose a few more before the sick ones begin to get better, but in the meantime, we’ll keep feeding them and giving them shelter. Once they start getting better, we’ll put the ones who are willing to work. We’ll butcher while they’re here. The holes in the chicken house needs repairs, and the corn crib needs some better fortification. There’s always corn to shuck, and chores to do. We can make this farm profitable before the leave, and then the bankers won’t be able to take it.”
The unasked question had been lurking in Emily’s mind for days now, and she had to ask it. “What happens when Papa comes home, and the farm is filled with men he’s spent the last four years fighting?”
Rachel’s eyes softened, and she reached for Emily’s hand. “Your father is a reasonable man. I’m sure he’s just as ready for the fighting to be over as everyone else. He would be grateful we’ve been able to keep the farm running all alone.” Her smile was watery, and Emily almost regretted the question.
“I’m sorry, Mama. You’re right.”
Jamie fell ill last night with a fever and a rash on his chest. He has the Typhus now, and we’re praying he gets better. Mama has forbidden any of us to go into his room, and is only allowing me to treat the soldiers. Some of them are getting better, but some of them are dying. I’ve been doing my best to organize the well ones and keep them busy, but Isaack has been lurking around, keeping his eye on me, as if waiting for me to break into pieces. I haven’t yet, but I want to.
It started with Jamie scratching his head, and in typical little boy fashion, being reluctant to bathe. When Mama insisted everyone take a bath in the kitchen, dragging in the washtub and going through the ritual of oldest to youngest, with Jamie being last, he finally relented after Emily promised to heat him up some fresh water to add into the tub for his bath.
Rachel scrubbed him good, removing all the lice from his hair with the lye soap and a comb. She’d washed bedclothes earlier in the day, and after Jamie’s skin was red from the thick bristles of the scrub brush, she allowed him to get out.
Her precautions were too late though. They didn’t know this, but Typhus was spread through lice and other parasites, and by the time Jamie was scratching, he’d been infected. Four days later, he had a fever and a rash. A week later, he was hallucinating. And ten days after his ill-fated fishing trip with the Master Sergeant, Jamie was dead.
He shouldn’t have died. He was a healthy boy, raised in the sunshine, corn-fed, and robust. He wasn’t a war-riddled soldier, weakened by fatigue and starvation. Jamie shouldn’t have gotten sick.
Emily was in a fog as she stood next to her mother by the grave, tiny in comparison to the three soldiers’ graves already there. A hand fell at her shoulder—Sergeant Major O’Sullivan—but she didn’t acknowledge his presence. She could only stare at the tiny hole in the ground, and watch the men as they lowered the small hand-made casket into it, sniffling back tears.
Emily knew these men had seen death—too much death at their own hands. And they knew that if they hadn’t stopped at the Reeves farm, Jamie would still be running through the corn, fishing at the creek, and tossing rocks into the road. They knew they had killed him.
One man stood back from the rest, watching the proceedings. As Emily turned to go, she saw Isaack leaning against a tree in the distance. His face held a heart-wrenching sadness to it, but it was as if he couldn’t not watch. He seemed to be forcing himself to attend the boy’s funeral.
After dropping a small bouquet of baby blue wildflowers into the grave, Rachel turned and wrapped her arms around her daughters and led them away. She was stoic, dry-eyed, even though grief was now permanently etched around her mouth, aging her considerably.
I had gotten lost in a world of soldiers and frontier life, my face wet with tears, when I felt my bed dip beside me. Looking up, startled, Linc was there, concern etched on his features.
“What’s wrong?” Jolted out of the diary I’d been reading, I discovered it was dark, and apparently
I’d been reading all day. Talk about a hangover. I was still in Emily’s world, more so because I was actually in her house, where she’d written these things, with a dilapidated barn in my backyard where all these men had died.
“Jamie died. It’s so sad.” The words left my mouth with not filter, pure emotion just spurting, and I managed to throw myself into Linc’s arms with a sob. I hadn’t intended to, but I was still stuck almost two hundred years in the past, and a little paint on the walls didn’t change the look of the house.
Linc let me cry on his chest, as he wrapped his massive arms around me. He finally broke the pseudo silence with a murmured, “Who’s Jamie?”
I sniffed, hoping I was ruining his shirt. “He was a little boy who used to live here. Jamie, Emily, Rachel, Louise, Irene, a bunch of soldiers… So sad!”
“They all died?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t finished it yet.” I wasn’t sure that I wanted to, but felt compelled to read the rest of the story. This was an ugly cry diary. I just knew it.
It really should have freaked me the fuck out, knowing that a little boy had died inside my house, but here with Linc holding my while I cried for the family’s loss, it wasn’t scary. Just incredibly sad. Sad because it was a way of life. Rachel had been sad to lose her little boy, but it wasn’t unexpected. Sickness took lives all the time.
I inhaled deeply, trying desperately to control myself. I was looking like the fool in front of Linc, and I just didn’t really have the energy to put on a front. Smelling his clean sweat, the sawdust of the floors he’d been cutting, and his deodorant, only served to burn the image of him working shirtless upstairs all day in my brain, while I’d been curled up reading.
“I’m sorry,” I sniffled, wiping my nose with the back of my hand but I didn’t pull away. I liked being this close to him. In my bed.
He stilled, but his heart beat in my ear, strong and steady. I could feel it thumping against my cheek, and it lulled me.
“You’ve been working all day, and I’ve been down here reading. I haven’t even helped you.”
I listened as his heart beat sped up a little, then he chuckled softly. “You’re not much help, Vanessa.”
I did pull away then, to see if he was joking or not. I could see a twinkle in his eyes, but that was all.
“What do you mean? I’m a lot of help!” I was learning. That was all part of it.
His eyes bounced back and forth between mine, and I saw a smirk lift the corner of his lips. Those lips. As if I could think of anything else.
“You’re a distraction,” he said softly, and before I could ask what he meant, he pulled me forward and it was my turn for the heart racing thing. I could feel the grip of his hands on my shoulders as our faces got closer together, and I closed my eyes.
He was going to kiss me. What would his lips feel like? Would they be soft? Hard? All-consuming? Would I get lost, and then in my bed, would one thing lead to another as he made love all night long? Or would we fuck? There is a difference, you know.
But he kissed me on the head, instead, and then stood abruptly, turning to walk to the door.
That’s right. He had to get home to the giggler. It was probably Courtney. Bitch.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” He had the door open, and was standing on the other side, with just his head poking around it.
“Don’t read all night.” He winked and left, and I swallowed my disappointment.
And that’s when I remembered why he’d been in bed with me comforting me. Jamie had died. In my house.
Now I was freaked the fuck out.
Of course, I'm still working on Pierce Securities, but I was taking a short break to get this story out of my head. It's coming along slower than I anticipated, but I'm excited about the way it's shaping up. And wanted to share a little of it with you. Don't expect it until later this year, though, like possibly Fall. :)