Here’s the thirteenth chapter of Leona. If you’d like to see a list of chapters, click here.
I hope you enjoy!
“I’m proud of you both,” Dad said finally.
He and Mama were sitting rigidly in the front seat of the automobile, and we were driving from the high-school ceremony to the ranch.
Bud and I had finally graduated.
Emotions rolled through me. I was proud. So proud that I had pushed on until the end. And yet, I felt lost.
“What now?” my mind wondered over and over. I had figured that after high-school, bright flashing lights would broadcast the next step. I was at a loss. I guessed that I would get a job. I sat aghast, realizing how clueless I was. I mulled over my options, which were few.
I voiced my concerns to Mama that evening, and she came back with a reply as practical as ever.
“Why don’t you try Town Hall in Beaver?” she asked. “I think that job was made for you.”
Mama never seemed to be out of answers. She didn’t mince words, either.
“I’ll apply,” I said. And that was that.
Someone knocked on the door. Bud, who was filling his plate again, set the plate down and answered it. “Hi, Rachel,” he said, in that easy manner he talked in with child-hood friends. He turned to me with a look of concern. “Come on in,” he told her.
I sprung up and flung my arms around her. “I graduated!” I exclaimed. I pulled away, expecting her to congratulate me. Instead, I saw red eyes, and a forced, watery smile. “Oh, I’m so glad!” she said, biting her lip. I saw her eyes water. “What’s wrong?” I asked uneasily. She glanced at my parents and said quietly, “Sarah’s worse.” I hugged her again. This wasn’t new. Sarah’s legs went in spurts of pain for weeks at a time.
“That’s not all,” Rachel sobbed. “We’re leaving before she gets worse.” What? “Leave where?” I asked. “California,” she said. I closed my eyes. “When?” I asked, weakly. “Tonight.” Rachel wiped away a tear. “Dad thinks he can find work there, and Sarah will get better.” That was unlikely, and we both new it. “I know this trip will take it out of her, Sis!” Rachel cried. There was a pause. “She’s worse than you let on, isn’t she?” I said quietly. Rachel burst into tears again and nodded. I rocked her back and forth and let her cry. I allowed a few tears to trickle down my face before brushing them away.
Mama stood up, and embraced Rachel sympathetically. “It’s OK,” she murmured. “You’ll be fine.” Dad nodded to her, and asked, “Does your pa need help packin’ up the truck?” She shook her head. “No, but thank you,” she said, and she meant it. Bud stood and awkwardly offered his hand.
“Bye,” he mumbled. She bit her lip and nodded. “I have to go,” she whispered. I didn’t offer to walk with her. It would make it harder to say goodbye. I gave her one more hug and she left quickly. I watched her slender silhouette disappear in the darkness. I shut the door, and ran blindly upstairs.
“No,” I sobbed, throwing myself on the bed. I pounded the mattress with my fists. I continued my muffled defiance. “God, don’t let them! Make her better! Let them stay!” My chest throbbed. I couldn’t tell how much time had passed. The dark room was eerie. Gradually, no more tears came. I whimpered softly, and drew my knees up to my chest.
I knew I wouldn’t see her again. I knew this wasn’t a dream. Wasn’t a nightmare. I knew this was happening, and it was happening fast. She was leaving. For good. I burst into fresh tears, and let them stream down my face. Changing my prayer, I said, “Protect them. Give them work.” I heard movement downstairs, and jumped up.
I threw darting glances around my room, and seized a comb. Ripping the snarls out of my hair, I glimpsed my tear-streaked face in the mirror on my wall. I rummaged my drawer for a kerchief, and hastily washed my face. The cold water felt good, but my face remained splotched and scarlet. I sat still, willing myself not to feel.
After a few minutes in the dark, I had stopped thinking. I felt drained. Utterly miserable. Rachel was gone. A tear ran down my cheek, and I wiped it roughly with my hand. I forced myself down the stairs and into the kitchen.
Mama was sitting there quietly. She rose and silently gave me a hug. “Where is everybody?” I asked. “Your father’s in the barn, and Bud went off by himself for awhile.” I nodded and when Mama pulled away, I limbered outside. It was dark. The dusky silence was interrupted only by an orchestra of crickets. I figured I’d go find Bud. I squinted to see through the darkness. A cool wind brushed past my cheek. I heard the withered grasses rustle. Picking my way along the field barefooted, I winced as I stepped on a burr.
I wrenched it out of my heel and kept walking. “Bud,” I ventured to call. “Where are you?” I caught myself jerkily as my foot found a ditch. “Bud?” I called again. I headed toward the creek. I wanted to to cool my ankles in the creek water. I put my palm on a scraggly tree trunk and felt my way to the water. I eased my foot into to it. My toe touched the bottom immediately. I bent down and touched the water. An inch was all that was left of our darling creek. I sighed and kept walking to find Bud. I followed the creek bank. After a few feet, the little bit of water dried up completely. I walked in the dirt it used to cover. My feet thudded on the packed earth.
Crickets chirped louder than ever. “Bud!” I yelled. I kept walking. I knew he had come this way, but I was getting uneasy just the same. After about a minute, I saw a shadow. Startled, I turned for home. I started to run, but stopped, and squinted in the dusk. It was Bud. I stole up silently and studied his slumped silhouette. “Bud,” I wanted to say. “It’ll be alright, won’t it?” But I didn’t. I held my tongue. I dropped onto the ground beside him. After a minute of silence, I hesitantly lay my head on his broad shoulder. Usually, he pushed me away. Tonight, he let me do it. “That could be us,” he said finally. “It still might.”
I had hoped for something encouraging. But I knew the truth. There was no encouragement. “How long until we’re really broke?” I asked him. “Dunno. We’re gettin’ close enough,” he said gruffly. I nodded. “That’s what I thought,” I whispered. “Let’s go,” he said, standing up abruptly. I stood up, too. “Bud,” I said suddenly. “I just realized. Now that we’re done with school, are we coming back to the ranch?” He shook his head as if he’d already thought it over.
“No. I know we won’t. We can’t. We gotta get jobs now, Sis. We gotta do something.” Bud, who had wanted to stay at the ranch forever. Who had counted the days ‘till he could come back. Who had been so carefree and boyish. Now, he had given in. He had accepted the fact that nothing would ever be the same.
I turned to him pleadingly, but I knew he couldn’t do anything. “What about Dad?” I asked. “He can’t stay here all alone forever. We’re a family, aren’t we?” I exclaimed, reaching out to grab his arm. He stopped. “There’s nothing we can do about it, Sis,” he said, his jaw tense. He sounded tired. “I would fix it if I could. I just can’t,” he said.
Can’t. A word no one wanted to swallow. A word no one could digest. A word that taunted, “You are helpless, destined to stand by and watch your fate.”
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