Monday, May 21, 2018


By Celia Jolley

"Fret not yourself because of evil doers,
and be not envious of the wicked;
For the evil man has no future;
the lamp of the wicked will be put out."
Proverbs 24:19-21

What a strange night.  Flickering candles lit the room, and ladies skirts swirled in a whisper across the dance floor.  As violin strings were caressed, Tabitha felt her own heart strings pulled almost painfully as she stared at Billy.  He was here back from the field, a mere moment in time before he and his fellow soldiers must return to fight in the war.  He looked so gallant in uniform, from his gleaming boots polished to a shine up to his hair which was combed and waxed in a perfect wave.  And oh, his smile!

"May I have this dance?"  These short words stole her breath away. He stood before her with his gloved hand held out.  She took it, and he clasped her fingers gently before leading her across the floor.

"How long will you be home, Billy?" she stammered.

"I hope to stay a few more days at least.  But let's not think of anything beyond tonight.  You are a vision, Miss Tabitha."

She could feel her cheeks heat as she couldn't help but blush at his compliments.  They had grown up together.  Their families were neighbors, yet this was the first time he had ever looked her way.  Tabitha had only observed him from afar having failed to catch his eye before.  But now?

He pulled her so close, she would surely be reprimanded by her father after the dance.  But the thrill of having him close enough to feel his breath tickle her cheek was nothing compared to his next words.  "Marry me, Tabitha."

She flung her head back stunned.  "What?"

"Marry me.  When a man has to face immanent death, he wants someone back home to pray for him, to wait anxiously for his return.  I want you to be that one, dearest Tabitha."


He hushed her doubting thoughts by saying, "We have long known each other, Tabby.  I am no stranger to you, am I?  The pastor is here.  You look beautiful in your silk gown.  Just say the word, and I will ask for your hand so that we may marry tonight."

He was so persuasive that her spinning mind could not form a thought to the contrary.  Billy squeezed her glove and whispered, "I will go now and get his permission.  Edward and Elizabeth are also being wed before the night is over, so we will not be the only bride and groom."

There was a chill that made her shiver as soon as his warm presence left her.  Had she consented to this madness?  But this was Billy, the one she had secretly admired for years and did in fact already pray for every night.  Tabitha watched in shock as her father shook the young man's hand and saw the moment the question was made.  Her father's head shot up, and he stared at her with a swift glancing blow.  His head nodded.  The men shook hands once again before Billy came back to her side grinning.  Oh, he was handsome!  

Before her head could form her own thoughts, she found herself repeating the simple vows.  She, Tabitha Green, became Mrs.William Duff.  After folding the certificate of marriage and slipping it into his pocket, her groom went off to celebrate with his fellow officers with drinks leaving her to be surrounded by a bevy of gushing friends and acquaintances.  Her best friend was the only sane one.  

Jane groaned in a low voice, "Oh, Tabby, what have you done?  That man is as fickle as a weather vane blowing this way and that.  There are rumors you know."

Tabitha blinked back tears that threatened to spoil her joy.  "He needs me.  He wants me to be the one waiting for him when he returns from war.  What's wrong with that?"  Jane only shook her head chewing her lips. 

Tabby wanted to argue that her friend had once known what it was to be married even though her young husband died fighting for the cause.  Jane shouldn't begrudge her for wanting to be married as well.

Just then a messenger threw the front door open letting it slam back denting the wall and marched in.  Officers circled around him in agitation.  Something had happened to disrupt their stolen moment of celebration.  It was as if cold water had been thrown across the entire room.

As the knot of soldiers untangled, Billy strode quickly over to her, lifted her hand to his lips and said, "I am so sorry, my beloved.  Duty requires that we must be off immediately to rejoin our troops. You'll write me, my dear, won't you?"

"Of course, and do be careful.  I'll be waiting."

He winked and was gone with all the other men in gray.  The gathering was as deflated as a cake taken too soon from a hot oven.  But she was a new bride!  No one could take that honor from her.  Her father appeared at her side and led her away through the depleted crowd of young women with their hovering mothers and men too old to serve the Confederacy.

Tabitha wondered why she had no tears as she sank into her bed.  It was all too much.  She did not know whether to be happy or sad, thrilled to be married or despondent that her groom left her before the ink of their vows hardly dried on the marriage certificate.  Mimi tucked her in as Tabby related to her what all had transpired this night.

"Oh, my baby!  You go'n be a wife?  To Master Billy?  I hardly believe it.  But will your father have me go wif when you go to be with your man, after dis war, I mean?  As much as I liked being wif you, I would hate to be sent apart from my James."

"I don't know, but I hope so, Mimi.  I can't remember a time when we weren't together."  She had been there with both Tabby and her brother growing up.  "But I hadn't thought about James.  I'm sure my father wouldn't part with him.  Oh how I hate this war!"

Time passed slowly without one single letter from Billy.  Her father's cough grew worse.  More slaves ran off every day.  The fields weren't tended.  The garden had been harvested, and they were running low on food.  

Her father's small plantation had had a handful of slaves to work the field.  Now since they had all run off, it was just Mimi, Cook, and James left, the house servants.  Mimi had grown more dear ever since Tabby's mother had died two years before, especially since her father grew more distant in his grief.  The threat of union troops only had him constantly on edge.  News of Sherman's march through the south heading towards Richmond had arrived leaving everyone in an uproar.  Many fled to that city hoping it would be their last stronghold.  That's why that evening's pleasure a few months ago had been such a respite.  

When she groggily woke one morning, Mimi hurried her through her dressing.  "Your father wants you downstairs as soon as you is decent.  He must needs talk to you, even to James and me.  Cook done run off last night, but I don't know how dat woman's done it being as heavy as she be."  Mimi was shaking her head.  "The world has turned on its head."

"Why?  What has happened?"  

"The burnings have started only twenty miles away.  The Confederate lines fell and the Union troops are headed our way.  'Sides that, bushwhackers have attacked the Smithfield's place close by here.  They ain't nothing but a bunch of robbers, murdering and pillaging and even, some say, attacking de womenfolk.  We have to be prepared for anythin' your father be telling us, so hurry, Missy."

"Did they...did they hurt any of them, the Smithfields?"

"I ain't be saying one way or t'other.  Rumors are everywhere, 'bout now.  Who knows what be true or not be true, but we must be ready for come what may."

When Tabitha stood in the door a short time later, she was flanked by Mimi and James.   They watched as her father paced the room.  He only stopped when he hacked a worrisome cough that seemed to come from deep in his lungs.

"Are you alright, Father?  Are you feeling poorly?"  She noted the pallor on his face.

"That's the least of my worries, child.   James, I want you to find and bury all the silver, candlesticks, silverware, platters, and whatever else you can find.  Mimi, I want you help Tabitha pack her satchel."

At his daughter's gasp,  he went on.  "I can't tell you the depredations, dear, that happened to the Smithfields, but I won't permit anything to happen to you.  Tabby, you may choose just two serviceable dresses so we can be prepared to leave, to hide..." He once again began coughing barely able to catch his breath.

"Let me prepare you a potion that may help your cough, massir," Mimi offered.

"There's no time."  The man looked almost purple from coughing.  "And James, if I am not able, I am asking you to protect my daughter from any enemy who appears on the horizon.  After you have buried our silver, go hitch up the gig so that Tabby and Mimi can go seek refuge with friends in town."  His coughing became so terrible that his eyes were bulging while staring at her as he gasped for air clutching his chest.  Next thing she knew, he collapsed to the floor. 


James hurried over to lift him onto the fainting couch, but just shook his head as he knelt there.
"He be gone, Missy.  I's so sorry."

First her groom abandoned her, now her father.  She did not even know if Billy was dead or alive.  The bottom had just completely fallen out of her life.  She knew it was not done purposefully, but she felt no less alone in the world. 

Then she threw back her shoulders and ordered, "Before you bury the silver, James, we must first bury my father and lay him to rest next to dear mama's grave."  The loss was too fresh, too great to put to tears.  "Mimi, go and do as my father bade you.  I will come up soon and help you pack my satchel, then we will find you at the family plot, James."

He nodded.  Later, she could hear the silver clank as James collected it.  When he looked up and saw her, he said, "I done buried your father already for you, Miss Tabby.  I's sorry, but you must go now and take my Mimi wid you.  You better take this silverware too."  He held out a heavy bag.  That there Jefferson Davis paper money ain't worth nothing anymore, but these be as good as silver coins, I be thinking."

"Really?  Did you at least say a prayer for my papa?"  She felt her chin quiver.

"Yes, Miss Tabby, I sure did.  But we gots to hurry and do what he wanted, and that's to keep you safe, Missy."

He went on, "Tim from the neighbor's plantation just come runnin' by saying how that bushwhacker gang are doing their pillaging back at their big house.  They struck the massir down and no one knows what happened to his missus, 'cept for her screaming.  "You need to go and go now.  I got the gig ready for you out front.

Her first tears stung her eyes as she watched Mimi hug her man begging, "Jest come wid us, Sugar!"

"I be there as soon as I can.  I'll find you in town, I promise.  I'll ride big Sam."

Mimi hardly had time to settle onto her seat before Tabitha whipped the horse into a run.  They were bounced so high and hard that she had to reign him in a bit before she flipped over their gig.  She pressed her lips hard together so as not to weep.  Slaves were thick on the road and a few neighbors pounded by in their conveyances without stopping to visit.  That had never happened before, sakes alive! It was truly a terrible time with everyone escaping for their lives.

The town was crawling with men in blue, a steady stream of them coming down the road from the north.  By the time she drove her gig to Jane's, she felt dirtier than the dusty road had left her for many of these strange men had made no effort to hide their oogling.  

She found Jane flirting, actually giggling with a Union soldier.  "Jane!"  Her friend turned to face her and lost her smile.  It was then that she saw how truly gaunt she was.  Times were hard, but had they run so short of food, she and her mother?

"Jane!" she whispered as the man left, "He's the enemy.  You don't know if he was the one to have taken your Charles down."

"Charles died of camp fever," her friend spat.  "Don't judge me, Tabby.  We are hungry and cold with no means to care for ourselves for want of food or firewood.  There is no more money other than the worthless Confederate paper money.  We have nothing left of worth to even trade.  I'm so weary of it, Tabby.  Is it wrong to want a man to take care of us?  Frankly, I don't care what the color of his uniform is anymore.  It's this stupid war our southern men waged against the Union, and look where that has left us!  So don't you dare judge me, Tabby, don't you dare!"

She could only stare speechless at her friend.   "I won't, I promise.  Everything is so mixed up right now."

"Why are you in town, Tabby?  It's not safe to be on the roads."

"It's not safe to be on my own property.  Bushwhackers."  She paused then added, "My father died this morning, Jane.  Before he left me, he told us to come to town."

Her friend matched her tears.  I'm so sorry, Tabby.  I wish I could take you in, but we just can't feed another soul."  Jane looked away ashamed.   I heard that the cotton mill by the wharf is housing some of the displaced.  You might try there."   Then her friend clutched at her before going on.  "Tabby, I know you don't want to hear this, but I've been asking around, and some are saying that your Billy has a wife already up in western Virginia, and that she is with child.  I can't imagine what he was thinking marrying you like that.  It's polygamy!"

Tabby gasped.  "I don't believe it.  These times are just making people's rumors become vicious.

Jane nodded but continued, "I just thought you should be aware.  It wouldn't be the first time a soldier traveling so far from home pulls one like that deceiving women along the way.  Remember Jud Pearson and his poor wife Bitsy?"

Tabitha bit her lip so hard that she tasted blood.  "I know you mean well, Jane, it's just that I can't believe it."

Her friend kissed her on the cheek, giving her hand a squeeze then left Tabby standing at her gate.  "Bye, Tabby."  Once again, she was alone.

Except she glanced over and saw that James had indeed ridden big Sam the plow horse in.  He and Mimi had their heads together seriously talking.


"I'm sorry, Miss Tabby, but dem soldiers came and burned the place.  I couldn't abide watching it, so I came to find you."  He straightened up.  "I askt and they say Mimi and I can follow their troops.  They need me to dig trenches, while Mimi can do der laundry.  They promise to feed us.

"We be sorry to leave you like this, Missy..." Mimi's eyes were almost cold.  "We be promised freedom.  Don't have to be slaves no more."

Tabitha's jaw dropped.  Her husband was gone, her father was gone, her home was gone, and now those she held almost dearest of all, her Mimi and Jane abandoned her.  Jane her best friend had shut her door to her.  James and Mimi were leaving.

James went on, "You can try to sell your gig.  Maybe somebody will give you silver for it, but don't take worthless paper money.  Then there's the silverware in your saddle bags.  There's also a saddle in the back of the gig."  Then he shuffled his feet refusing to look her in the eye.  "I even packed another satchel with some of your brother's clothes..."

Her brother?  He had died in the first months of the war at Manassas.  No one had even stepped foot in his room after that.

"Why did you do that, James?"

"If you can't find a place here, and if maybe you have to go down de road to find your aunt out
Abingdon way,  you best be looking like a lad, instead of a lady."

"Find my aunt?  She's clear somewhere down in a place called Hilton." 

"You got any other kinfolk that I don't know of, Miss Tabby?  This ain't very safe here.  I heard there's soon to be a battle right here."

"But what if Billy comes back?"

You can leave word at the mercantile, I guess.  They say that the shelves are pretty much empty  there.  So if you is leaving, better see what you can buy with some of those silver spoons."

He was hurrying to put Mimi on Sam's broad back and was about to climb up behind her.  "We best be getting on."

"But, but..."  But they were gone.

She turned round in the street, but saw only strangers.  The only familiar thing was her horse grabbing mouthfuls of grass along the iron fence.  

slowly drove to the livery.  Bud Thompson had tried to buy this gig from her father a few months before.  She could only hope he was still interested.  This stupid, stupid war!

When she asked him, she added, "But I need coin, no Confederate money, sir."

"Nobody needs that worthless paper, ain't that the truth," Bud said chewing on a stem of hay.  "I can give you five dollars but not a penny more.  These are hard times for all of us, Miss Tabitha.  Sorry to hear about your father, by the way."

She nodded and bit the inside of her cheek.  "All right.  Deal.  But can you help me saddle my horse for me?"

"Where you going?"

"I don't know," she said dazed.

"God go with you, ma'am, wherever that be."

She had not ridden astride since she was a girl.  It took her three tries before she was able to mount her horse.  Tabitha yanked her skirt down but could not help but let her ankle show catching the eye of many a man as she rode through town.  Finally, she slipped off to enter the mercantile taking her heavy saddle bags with her clinking all the way.  She gazed in amazement at all the empty shelves.  "Hello, Mr. Samson."

"Sorry to hear about your father, Miss Tabitha, and about your house."  Word sure gets around fast, she thought in amazement.  The man went on, " As you can see, we don't have much to sell and that which we do have, we can only accept real coin."

"I understand, sir.  Do you have any flour or coffee, salt pork or cornmeal?"

"I'm only selling the cornmeal in one pound quantities.  Lots of people are hungry.  But I do have a little salt pork left, but no flour, coffee or tea."

"Then how about some fishing hooks and string?"

Mr. Samson's grin looked like it hadn't been used in awhile.  "Now you are one enterprising young lady."

She noticed a tall man had come in behind her.  Tabby glanced over her shoulder looking at him then leaned forward and whispered, "Can you tell me the best way to get to Abingdon from here, sir?  I want to find my father's sister in Hilton, which is beyond Abingdon, I believe."

"Can't go anywhere dressed like that, Missy.  T'ain't safe.  Is your man James with you?"

She shook her head and determined not to let anyone see her tears.  "May I use your backroom?  I plan to change into some of my brother's old clothes," she whispered hoping that whoever was behind her could not hear.

The storekeeper scrubbed his face.  "There's that trace along the river that's mostly hidden.  There's supposed to be some caves about a half day's ride from here near there. I can't tell you much beyond that.  If you can find a train to hop on, all the better, but most tracks have been pulled up around here."

"Can I pay you with silver spoons, Mr. Samson?"  Tabitha dug into her satchel to pull out two silver spoons, trying to do it quietly but that seemed impossible.

He winked.  "For you, Missy, I sure will."

The man bundled her sparse groceries while she slipped into the back to change.  When she returned, her head was hanging down with a slouch hat covering her face and with her hair tucked up under it.

Mr. Samson winked at her when she glanced up to take her bundle.  He bid her farewell.

"Oh, and Mr. Samson, if Billy comes looking for me, tell him where I'm headed."

"I hear his parent's place burned down as well as the church," he told her.  

"Oh, I didn't know that."  She chewed her lip.  "I'm hoping this war will be over soon so he can come looking for me."

The tall stranger who had been behind her probably gaped at her in surprise dressed as she now was, but she refused to look anywhere but at the toes of her brother's boots as she left shuffling down the aisle until out on the boardwalk.  It took her awhile to figure out how to tie her bundle behind her saddle bags, but finally succeeded.  It certainly was easier to mount while wearing pants, that was for certain.  

She blended in with all the others on the road south with everyone else who was fleeing, though no one seemed to know where to go, just like her.  She tried to ride close to other groups until she branched off to follow the river trace.  Now she must use her ears not wanting to meet someone here.  It could mean danger.

The day started fair, but rain clouds bunched up in the sky.  Suddenly it pounded its fist of hard rain down on her head right when she heard someone coming.  Scared witless, Tabby jerked the reigns and forced her horse to plunge into the brush away from the riverbank.  He was unhappy with her and was quick to knock her off his back by heading under a low hanging limb.  She landed in a splat of mud.  Only her dignity suffered, but now she no longer had a horse as she saw him run off.  "Oh, God, please don't let me lose my horse too and all my worldly goods."

The lightning threatened.  The thunder roared.  The rain poured.  Tabitha had no idea if she was crying right along with it as wet as her face was.  But scrambling uphill, she crouched under a narrow shelf of rock.   She strained to hear the faint sound of a horse's hoof hitting on the rocks along the rough trail she'd just come from.  Pulling out her father's old dueling pistol from her waistband, she waited squatted down.  

Then a man came through the brush and stood before her.  She had nowhere to hide.  She forced herself to look up from his muddy boots, up his gray flannel clad legs to the buttons on his uniform jacket, to his dark beard and staring eyes.

"Hello, ma'am.  I saw you loose your seat on your horse.  Are you alright?" 

She threw down the empty pistol, and curled up in a ball and wailed.  She was wet, she was cold, she was hungry, she was terrified, and she was alone.  Wait, how did he know she wasn't a he?

Tabitha peeked from under her soaked hat as the man picked her up and carried her close to his chest.  "I know of a cave, ma'am.  The horses are already there, yours and mine, so I'll take you to it.  We'll be safer from the riders that I heard coming.  They might be trouble."  The man spoke in hushed tones hard to hear over the storm, but she did and felt heartened.  He had her horse and wasn't stealing it.  She prayed a silent thank you to God.

One glance told her this was the man from the Mercantile.  That's how he knew that she wasn't a he."

"Are you following me, sir?" she gulped.

"No, just happen to be going the same way.  My grandparents live in Abingdon.  I've been down this trail before."

Once in the large cave, he put his finger to his lips.  "Sound is magnified by the rock.  We best be quiet.  Sorry, but it's not safe to build a fire either.  Why don't you lead the horses in deeper while I keep watch."

She nodded and took the horses' reigns but was petrified of what she might find in the dark of the cave.  Suddenly, a few bats flew out startling her.  Tabby barely kept from screaming.  She decided this was deep enough."

It seemed like an eternity before the stranger crept back to where she was hiding.  He whispered, "I think they gave up.  They had seen you, but lost the trail in the rain.  She hoped he had come to her rescue and not to capture her.  Tabitha couldn't help but be wary.

"It's okay, ma'am.  I won't hurt you."  

"Maybe you shouldn't call me ma'am."

"What should I call you?"

" about Tad."

"Okay, Tad.  Do you want a piece of jerky?"

"I'd better eat something before they hear my stomach growling," she said gratefully taking the meat.

"They might just think it's a wild creature deep in the cave growling and would move on.  They probably have already."

Tabitha snickered.   She must be losing control on her emotions to almost giggle at a time like this.  Sometimes she wondered at her own sanity.  Hadn't she fallen apart curled up like a worm in a mud puddle balling her eyes out in the middle of a rainstorm with evil men on her trail, all in front of this man.

She sat up straight, took her hat off and said, "My name is Mrs. Tabitha Duff. I'm married to a Confederate soldier, Lieutenant William Duff.

He cringed.  He was well aware of who this Billy Duff was, a womanizing coward.  He also knew that another woman claimed this man for her husband, but Tabitha wouldn't hear it from his lips.  The man tipped his hat which caused a trickle of raindrops to fall in front of his face.  "It's a pleasure to meet you,  Mrs. Duff.  My name is...and he paused wondering which name to give her.  Sighing, he gave her his name he used when embedded with the southern troops, "Private Harry Pilcher, ma'am."  If she or anyone else knew that he'd been a northern spy, that his real name was Shane Harper, his life wouldn't be worth a plug nickel.  That's why he had to leave, to get as far away as possible from the battlefields before the war was over, before he was recognized.  Sherman didn't need him anymore.  The man could taste victory.

"Sorry I can't build us a fire.  Someone might see the smoke, especially now that it's quit raining."

Tabitha cocked her head and sat staring at this soldier wondering why he hesitated telling her his name.  Perhaps they both should have kept their business to themselves, even their identities.  She watched as he unrolled damp bedrolls from their saddles.  She curled up on hers and shivered with cold until great weariness overtook her.  At least for tonight she wasn't alone.  

The next morning he ventured out to see if anyone was near or if they were safe, at least for now.  Somehow he felt protective of this woman who had been deceived by the two-timing sniveling Billy.  She was an innocent.  If he'd overheard right, she'd lost her father, her home, and had lost track of her so-called husband.  Even her slaves had left her; their loyalties had vanished in thin air at the promise of freedom.  He was glad for them, but knew it left her vulnerable.  Alone.  Little did she know that she did not truly even have a husband.  He knew.  He'd been there at the other wedding when a major found out Billy had gotten his daughter pregnant and forced a quick wedding.  

Shane went back to the cave entrance, built a small fire and boiled some coffee and fried some corncakes.  

"Coffee?  You have coffee?  It smells so good."  

He'd gotten it when he was serving the North.  "I make it weak to keep me from running out too soon, but I sure miss a cup of coffee when I don't have it.  You got a cup?"

She shook her head looking embarrassed.

"I don't mind sharing, if you don't," he offered.

Tabby knew she turned beat red, but wasn't about to turn down a cup of coffee.

"Thank you, sir." she said grinning.  "That is so good!"

Shane stood there stunned by her smile that lit up her face.  She didn't know she had a brown smear across her cheek from where she had pitifully laid in the mud.  Nevertheless, Tabitha was beautiful.  He had to look away.  Shane did not know whether she truly was married to that scoundrel or if he belonged to the major's daughter.  Since a baby was on the way, a judge would probably throw out his first marriage to Tabitha.  Besides, he'd been down that road of marriage, and he never wanted to go that way again.

They ate in silence after that, each taking a couple sips of coffee before passing it back and forth.

"Why did you help me back there, soldier?  Why are you being nice to me now.  Not all soldiers treat women so well, or so I've been told."

He didn't want to tell her what one general on the field encouraged his men to do, to use the women like it was an ancient Roman conquest.  It was a good thing she'd left while she could.  Instead he said, "I'm a Christian."  Yet Shane struggled to still claim this after doing what had been required of him as a soldier to do in this horrendous war.  It wasn't the same as when he'd claimed it as a little boy in church or down at the river getting baptized. 

"Do you mind if I tag along with you to Abingdon then?"  The young woman looked so hopefully at him, he had no heart to reject her request though she would slow him down."

"Alright, but just to be clear," he looked her up and down, "if we are stopped, and if you are discovered to be a woman, we must tell them that we are married.  It's the only way to save your reputation."  He could only hope he could get her there safely, but in this crazy war there were no guarantees.

"Yes, sir," she then giggled and said, "Yes, dear."

He chuckled.  "I guess we understand each other then.  "Let's mount up."

"At least the sun is shining even though it is as muddy as all get out."

"We still will need to be quiet so we can hear any others coming on the river trace."

She nodded.  She was so sore, she had trouble getting in her saddle.  Finally, the man came and lifted her up as easily as if she weighed a feather.  "I'll follow you."

Riding along, looking for tracks, listening for riders, Shane was glad that she wasn't a chatterbox.  Goodness knows, the woman had plenty to think about with all the changes in her life.  He glanced back at her from time to time to make sure she was keeping up.  They needed to go at a pretty fast clip.  They would still need to spend the night at least two more times on the way, or more depending upon if they ran into complications.

As they rounded a bend, they ran smack dab into a unit of men in blue who were watering their horses.  Hands jerked the reigns away, and she followed the man's lead and put her hands up.

"Looks like we got us a Confederate and a kid," one man grinned showing he had just the number of good teeth left to rip off the black powder charge for his rifle.  Some men pulled their teeth in order to avoid the draft. for if they hadn't enough teeth to rip it with, they were useless.  

"I want to speak with your commanding officer," Shane said in a commanding way.

One man with stripes on his sleeve look up.  "What do you want?"

"I'd like you to read the note signed by Sherman himself that's in my coat pocket.  I'd get it for you, but I don't want you to shoot me first and ask questions later."

"The officer looked at him for a long minute.  "What's your name soldier?"

"Corporal Shane Harper, at your service sir in the Union Army."

"Looks to me like you're wearing the wrong uniform then soldier."

"Yes sir, but if you read the note, you will see that I have been serving General Sherman as a spy for the Union."

Tabitha blinked several times trying to take this all in.  He was a Union officer?  He was a spy?
Had he spied on her husband?  Had he fought at Manassas where her brother died?  Had he burned her home?

The officer moved warily closer.  "Keep your rifles pointed at him, boys, and if he so much as twitches, shoot him dead."

Shane swallowed and only raised his hands higher.  He glanced back at Tabitha and was relieved that she kept her hands up and her mouth closed.

The officer drew the note out of his pocket and read it.  "That's Sherman's signature alright.  At ease, sir."

"Thank you.  Are you headed east or west, major?"

Our orders are to join the battle for control of Richmond.  Which way are you going, Corporal?"

Sherman assured me he had everything in hand now and released me to go somewhere I wouldn't be recognized as a spy.  We're heading West.  I'll be glad to wear civilian clothes once again  since I never know if I'll be taken prisoner by either the North or the South  It's kind of double jeopardy, you might say."

"Well, you better keep your letter from the General then.  Good luck to you and your pal.  Thank you for your service to our great Nation."

The men all saluted, and they rode on.  Shane noticed how Tabitha rode in silence.  Tonight she would probably give him an earful.  But he was wrong.  She refused to look at him or speak to him.

Fine as long as she didn't turn him in if they were stopped by Confederate soldiers.

The next morning as they literally shared a cup of coffee again, he finally said, "You're quiet."

"What am I suppose to say?  You're the enemy," she spat.

"Am I a friend or foe?" he couldn't help but ask.

She shrugged not answering.

He nodded.  "So do you support slavery?"

"Yes.  No.  Oh, I don't know.  At least we treated our slaves right.   She thought of her father's whip.  "Well, at least we treated our house slaves right."  She thought of her mother's maid who had been sold away when she became pregnant.  As a child she had not understood her parents' arguments which now filtered into her memory in a different light.  She huffed.  "It's about states sovereignty."

"Do you think most men in the south have fought and died over that issue?  As I see it, only a moral issue such as slavery could have divided our country like this, could have exacted such a price in blood.  No, it's about the right to have sovereignty over other human beings and denying them all their rights.  So, who is the enemy is a debatable question though both side claim God is on their's"

"Well, I'm not going to argue with you over a war that looks to be about won by Lincoln.  I know it cost my family dearly and others we know.  Nevertheless in case you are wondering, I won't turn you in to any Confederate troops that may cross our path, if that's what you are worried about.  You saved my britches back there, and I owe you.  Besides, you share your coffee with me."  She almost smiled.

He grinned over his coffee cup.  "Obliged."

It was a hard ride the rest of the day.  They only encountered a few fishermen and hid themselves if they heard riders coming.  In fact, he slipped down to the river himself with her hooks and line to catch their dinner.

She still was quiet as he fried their catfish.  He found that he yearned to hear her voice, to see her eyes not be so downcast.  "So, you still are planning to go to Hilton after we get to Abingdon?"

"That's where my own kinfolk live, other than my missing husband, that is."

He almost choked on the bite of cold corncake he was eating while he waited for the fish to fry.  That stinking Billy.  Did she love him?  Would she ever realize that she'd be better off without him?  Then there was the law against polygamy.  If she was his first wife would a judge recognize her or would it be the one he had a child with?"

Then they ate the rest of their meal in silence, but he watched the fire's flames dance in her eyes.

As he was about to drift off to sleep she asked quietly, "So, do you have family up north, Corporal?  Are you married?  Do you have children?"

He could hear the nervousness in her voice.  "Yes, my parents, my sisters, brothers and their families all live up near Alexandria.  Last I knew, I had seven nieces and nephews.  And yes, I was married."  Shane closed his eyes trying to block the memories.

"What happened to her?"

"Confederates.  That's what happened to her," he ground out awash in the dark emotions.  

"I'm sorry," she said in a quivering voice.  "I didn't know."

He couldn't speak.

"Is that why you joined the Union, why you became a spy?"

He sighed and said flatly, "I was already a soldier.  It happened while I was gone serving.  And yes, that's why I became a spy to find those who did the deprecations."

"I never thought of it happening on both sides.  I was raised to respect southern gentlemen.  I guess war changes men."

"Yes, it changes some and just reveals others.  There may be victory in war, but evil will always be among us."

"Thank you for telling me, Shane."

It was the first time she had called him by name.  It helped to soothe the vivid memories.  Listening to her steady breathing in sleep helped him relax enough to sleep himself.

The next morning he said, "Before we get to Abingdon, I want to do a little surveillance first to see if Confederate or Union troops are there."

"We're almost there?"  She looked so relieved that it warmed his heart.  "You won't leave me, while you scout it out, will you?  I can hold the horses for you."

"I won't go too far away and will make sure you are hidden, and, yes, you can hold our horses for me."

" Once I find that the coast is clear, you'll get to meet my grandparents. I'm sure they would love to have you with them, Mrs. Duff."  He needed to remember that she was a married woman.  He went on, "Then you could just write to your aunt in Hilton and find out if that is where you should go."

"I hadn't thought of that.  Perhaps I might do that, that is if your sure your grandparents won't mind me staying with them for awhile.  But where will you be?"

"I'm just going to rest up for a few days, then take off for the New Mexico territory.  I need to get away from the conflict as far as I can.  If I don't find what I want there, I suppose I could go to California."

"California?  Isn't that really far away?"

"Yes," he chuckled.  "It's a very long way, and not a trip I'd really want to take if I don't have to."


"Tell me about your aunt in Hilton.  Is her husband alive?  Do you have cousins there?"

"Her husband passed away a long time ago.  He fought in the French and Indian War alongside Jackson.  Because of that, soldiers were given land grants as part of their pay.  Aunt Elaine was my father's older sister and quite a bit older, if I remember right.  She's been a widow for years and never had children.  My father quit writing to her when he found out that she was a Union sympathizer though.  She's quite outspoken I heard, though I've never met her myself."

"So, she doesn't know you are coming to see her?  You don't even know if she's still alive, do you?"

Tabitha hissed, "Please don't say that!  I've nowhere else to go."

Oh, no, he did not want to make her cry again.  He hurried on to assure her, "I'm sure my grandparents will probably be happy to have your help.  They'll make you welcome regardless."

"I don't know how much help I will be, unless all they need me to do is to serve tea," she said sounding disgusted with herself.  "They'd welcome me even if I am married to a Confederate soldier?"

"Yes, they will see you as a young woman in need.  My mother's family came here as early colonists to escape persecution when Catholics tried to purge France from Protestants by killing their own countrymen.  They were called Huguenots.  Then on my father's side, they escaped from Ireland where the Catholics and Protestants were always at war, as much embroiled with England's history of the Catholic and Protestant struggle for power, countrymen fighting against each other.  Even in the Revolutionary War, at least in these parts, men fought more against Tories than English soldiers, neighbor against neighbor in many cases.  Peace can be more elusive than war.  But, you can be sure my grandparents will only see you as the lovely young woman that you are, a friend, not a foe."

Tabby, dressed as a boy, looked down at her dirty clothes and giggled.

He looked over at her and snorted joining in with her merry laughter.  Finally he said pointedly, "Remember, I saw you that day in the mercantile and know you clean up well." 

"Thank you, Corporal," she murmured blushing.  Then going back to the previous discussion, she asked."But if you think they need help, why won't you stay there and help them yourself?"

"Believe you me, I'd love to, but I'm afraid I have made too many enemies along the way.  It might not be safe for me anywhere here in Virginia."

"I hate war!"

"Me too," he agreed noting her surprise when he spoke those two words with so much passion.

In the next hour, he walked game trails around Abingdon looking for troops, Union or Confederate.  Finding none, he moved her closer to town and had her wait until he could see what soldiers were to be found there.  Other than a few wounded men in gray were there, but he did not see any others. 

Returning to Tabitha, he found her sleeping and stood watching for awhile.  No matter what she wore, she was beautiful.  He sighed reminding himself that she was a married woman.  Finally making noise walking closer, she woke up embarrassed to have been caught sleeping.

"Sorry about that, Corporal.  I guess I don't make a very good soldier."

But you make a stunning woman, he thought and turned his eyes away.  "We can ride around town this way and come out by my grandparents' farm."

"They have a farm?  They don't live in town?"

He smiled looking back at her.  Just looking at her made desire flare in his chest.  "They live on the edge of town.  We're almost there."

Suddenly dogs were barking, chickens were squawking, geese were honking, and a woman came out of the house wrapped in an apron squealing with joy running to hug her grandson.

"Hello, grandma.  It is so good to see you.  I'm sorry to come so dirty and smelly though.  I don't know how you can stand to hug me."  He winked at her.

The scene made a lump swell in Tabby's throat wishing she had family like that, someone glad to see her.  A man came out of the barn about then and began slapping Shane on the back.  His grandmother glanced at her and asked, "Now who is this young man, son?"

"This is Mrs. William Duff, someone I found going my way."  He was now grinning and winked at her.

His grandmother took another look and exclaimed, "Well, heaven help us, you are a girl!" She chuckled.  "Come in, come in and get cleaned up."  Then she turned to her husband who still had his arm around Shane's broad shoulders, "Arthur, it looks like we need to be drawing buckets and buckets of water so these two can wash up."

Only then did Tabitha slide down off her horse.  If her parents saw her like this, they would be mortified.  As it was they were probably turning over in their graves.  She didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so she silently followed Shane in the door.

They were given quick bacon and biscuit sandwiches to eat with a promise of a huge supper to follow.  She waited impatiently for the water heat mostly listening to the happy conversation buzzing around her.  Shane let her have the first bath after bringing in her satchel to her.  It would feel strange to wear a dress again.  But it would be heaven to be clean.

When she walked back into the kitchen all eyes were upon her.  She looked at Shane and was lost in his admiration or whatever shone in his eyes.  Tabby forced herself to look away.  "Thank you for your kind hospitality," she curtsied.  But, I'm sure you will want clean water, Mr. Harper.  I believe I left more mud in mine than in a pig's wallow."

That broke his serious gaze, and she saw his eyes twinkle as they all chuckled.  "Thank you for the warning, ma'am."

She was sure he had filled his grandparents in on all that had transpired, at least all that involved her, so she hoped she would not have to say much when she was alone with them while he bathed.

"Duff, Duff, that sounds so familiar, but I can't place it.  I'll think on it though," his grandfather murmured.

"Will you be going to church tomorrow?  We would love to have you join us, Mrs. Duff?" his grandmother said.

"This is the best dress I have.  Thank you for ironing it for me, ma'am.  So, I'm not quite dressed..."

"Oh, pshaw.  This is not the city.  Most of us are simple country folk.  No one will care if you don't have hoops under your skirts."

Feeling a sudden urge to go to church, to sit in a pew with such a kind woman, she nodded, "Alright.  I would love to come, if you are sure I won't shame you."

"Oh, sweetheart, it would be a pleasure to have you sit with us."

"Is Shh...Mr. Harper going?" She knew she should not be so informal as to use Shane's name.  "I know he is a little conflicted about being seen here."

"I told him, he would be safe with us.  I believe he will decide to go with us.  He was such a little boy when he last came to visit.  I remember him wiggling and swinging his legs under the pew."
Her eyes grew soft with the memory.  "I can't tell you how good it is to see him again.  The war has no guarantees, but of course you know that."

"Yes, ma'am.  I do."

It was so hard to maintain good manners when the feast was set before them that night.  She ate and ate until she was sure her stays were about to burst.   She noticed that Shane shoveled in his own heaping spoonfuls of the delicious meal.  

"I can't tell you when I've enjoyed a meal so much!" she declared when she could not eat another bite.  In fact, growing up under her father's roof, mealtimes were somber affairs, not joyous like this.  Oh, to have a family like this, she sighed.

Shane looked up at her so in tune that her heard her sigh.  She could only smile at him.  "Will you be going to church, Mr. Harper?" she asked.

"I haven't decided for sure yet.  I most certainly would enjoy escorting you two lovely ladies alongside of my handsome grandfather if I was sure not to cause any trouble.   I don't know if you heard, but it was said that in Sparta, Tennessee, soldiers rode their horses right into a church there and shot into the congregation.  Some soldiers escaped while others hid under the women's hoop skirts.  Even one woman was killed."

"Imagine that!  Right there in God's house.  That is a crying shame!" his grandmother gasped.

"Yes, I read about that in the paper.  Some people have no conscience," his grandfather said.

Tabitha was flabbergasted.  "You don't don't think that someone would shoot you right there in church, do you?"

He chuckled, "I certainly hope not.  Maybe if I sit by a Confederate soldier's wife, I might be safe."

She blushed.  "I should say so!"

His grandfather added, "Our former pastor sometimes preached with his pistol holding open on the pages of his Bible, just in case..."

"You don't mean it!" Tabitha was shocked.

"Well, since our congregation does not uphold the institution of slavery, we have at times been under attack for our faith.  But I don't truly think the minister needed to use his gun in church.  It is in the forum of public opinion where words are exchanged where it has become heated."

"Oh my!  Perhaps I am the one who should not be welcomed then."

Her grandmother laughed softly.  "Our new pastor would not touch such political topics with a ten foot pole.  I believe we may have parishioners from both sides now in the congregation, but dear me, the topic never is allowed to come up anymore on the church grounds."

"I know that a Methodist Episcopal Church or two in the deep South have been shot up when it is found that there are those who are active in the Underground Railroad," Shane added.  He continued, "Not that I expect anything like that, but I would like to know if any Confederate soldiers will be in attendance."

"You need to quit scaring this poor girl, Shane," his grandmother admonished.

"Seems to me that the only soldiers wearing the gray are recovering in the infirmary.  None of those have attended as of yet," his grandfather stated.

Tabby followed the conversation with great interest and watched to see what Shane would decide.

"It sounds safe enough to me," he nodded.  "I'll go, but I'd rather you not make a fuss about me being a soldier, if you don't mind.  May I borrow these clothes from you, grandpa?  I can't tell you how glad I am to quit wearing the gray uniform.  I might even burn it now."  But he looked at her when he said it with an apologetic half smile on his face.

"Sure, son.  I'm just glad you didn't run into any bushwhackers on the river trace," his grandpa said.  "I heard they often hide out in the caves thereabouts."

Tabitha and Shane exchanged looks.  She said, "That's how Mr. Harper found me when I was hiding from them in the middle of a storm after being knocked off my horse.  He rescued me, you might say," she admitted.

"At least they didn't find our cave." He sighed, "I was afraid my gunpowder would be too wet to do me much good.   But I believe the Lord kept them away because of the storm."

"Sounds like you both need a respite from danger," his grandmother patted her hand.

She nodded her head in agreement.  She had to admit to herself at least that it wasn't her prayers that had helped to save her.  She was a muddy mess.  It must have been Shane's.

"Did you prayer for our safety, Shh..Mr. Harper?" she asked.

He grinned, "Why don't you go ahead and call me Shane.  That way you won't have to go around shh-shh-shushing me.  And yes, I was throwing up prayers fast and furiously about then."  Their smile caught and held while his grandparents exchanged their own look. 

"I'm sure you two are very weary.  Let me show you to your room, Mrs. Duff," his grandmother said.

"I need to help you wash the dishes," but she wondered if she could figure out how to do it since she had never done even that simple task before.

"Nonsense, child.  I can do them..."

"I'll help her, as I always do," his grandpa put his arm around his wife's waist.

"Thank you for that excellent supper, Mr. and Mrs. Harper."

"Yes, thank you both.  It's been years, if ever, that I have eaten so well," Shane said.  He hugged each of them and wandered off to one of the rooms after he said quietly, "Sleep well, Mrs. Duff."

"Tabitha.  You may call me that, Shane," she whispered.

She woke to the sound of a house that seemed to have risen long before she did.  Tabby jumped up and put her same dress back on.  After brushing her hair and twisting into a chignon, she had to be satisfied.  This was a different life now with no Mimi.  

They were sitting down to breakfast when she walked in.  

"Good, you are up.  I hated to wake you.  I know you must be exhausted," his grandmother said.

Shane rose and pulled out her chair for her.

"Thank you, sir.  Yes, but I slept well, slept like log."

"Like a log in a bog in a fog?" Shane teased.  "I don't know when I have slept so soundly myself, not having to keep one ear open on alert for danger."

His grandmother sighed.  "That is such a sad way for men to have to live.  Yet, I am very proud of you, son."

He scowled, "Somehow I don't think of war as something to be proud of, but as a duty to be fulfilled."

"I understand, son.  Still we are grateful for what you have done for our great nation."

He nodded and looked over to see Tabitha keeping her head down cutting the slice of ham on her plate.  He held out his cup of coffee as if offering to share, but she smirked and said, "Thank you, but I have my own cup."

He tucked in the food having been up since before the sunrise helping his grandfather with the chores.  He wished he could stay and do this all the time.  His grandparents were getting older and needed to slow down.

The ladies gathered up the dishes.  His grandmother put a dishtowel in Tabitha's hand and handed her the first dish she had washed and rinsed.  He chuckled watching.  She looked like she was handling snakes instead of dishes.  But Shane followed his grandfather out to the barn to get their buggy hitched.

When it was time, his grandfather assisted his grandmother up while he helped Tabby.  He had not touched her since he'd picked her up in a muddy ball of fearful tears.  He'd never forget that feeling of holding her to his chest.  Even though he'd been married before, nothing felt so right as it did that day holding a woman up against his chest.  She must feel it too when they touched, the connection, one he needed to forget.

People greeted them warmly, but as requested, they ushered their grandson and their guest in to quickly sit in a pew minimizing the chit chat by sitting in the sanctuary rather than dawdling in the foyer or out front.  Sitting beside Tabitha with heat radiating between them, they were too caught up and so ignored curious glances.

But a murmur waved over the congregation as another young couple entered.  The woman was obviously quite pregnant, while the Confederate soldier at her side practically swaggered.  They walked by going all the way down to sit near the front.  He saw him as soon as she did gasping then uttering a whimper.  He squeezed her hand pulling her closer so her shoulder could lean against his.  

"Do you want to leave?"

She wiped her tears and straightened her backbone.  "No, I'll stay and confront him afterward.  Like we said at the supper table, confrontations don't belong in the sanctuary.  I'll wait until he is outside."

"That's my girl," he said as she looked up at him with one of her gazes that always snared him causing him trouble breathing.  But she let go of his hand and turned back to stare straight ahead.

Shane enjoyed singing the hymns with her, but was too deep in thought to listen to much of the preacher's sermons which seem to bend over backward so as to not offend anyone.  As soon as the pastor gave the final blessing, the congregation stood to leave.  Yet, they stayed waiting in their pew.  As soon as they walked by, Billy first saw him and paled, then when he saw Tabitha, he stumbled tripping on his own feet.  His wife, the pregnant one that is, looked sharply at him, muttering, "What's the matter with you anyway, William?"

Shane followed him out immediately, not wanting him to get away.  Tabitha hurried after them feeling her anger surge.  Shane jumped in front of the couple and said with a smirk, "Well hello, private Duff.  I see you are wearing stripes.  Are you impersonating an officer again by stealing a jacket off a dead soldier or did the major reward you for marrying his daughter so quickly by giving you some of your own stripes?"

"Who is this man, William?  You can't let him talk to you like that!"  

The woman had a shrill voice.  A crowd was gathering.  Just wait.  The man had not begun to be bushwhacked yet.

"Hello, Billy," Tabitha practically purred.  "Is this your new wife?  Have you forgotten your first wife so quickly?  Isn't polygamy illegal in Virginia, or is it only illegal in the North?"  She was shaking, but felt stronger when Shane reached out to hold onto her elbow.  "By the looks of her, it did not take you too long to marry another.  Did you happen to tell her you had another wife?"

Billy turned from red to purple growling as he became enraged but kept his teeth clenched.  But  his wife was not going to take it lying down.  She put her hand on her non-existent hip and shook a finger in Tabitha's face.  "Of course, I'm his only wife.  You are an imposter trying to slander a good man."

"Are you truly a lieutenant now, Billy?  Or are your stripes as fake as your marriage to this poor woman?"

The man started to come after him, but several strong men in the congregation, including his grandfather, managed to restrain Billy.  The pastor came up fearfully but saying, "What is the matter here?  Can't we settle this peacefully instead of in the church yard?"

"I'm afraid not, pastor.  This man should be locked up for practicing polygamy, and turned over to a military court of his peers for impersonating an officer."

No one was keeping the man from talking, but he still managed to yell over his pregnant wife's shrieking, "I never truly married that woman.  She can't prove that without the marriage certificate.  I even happened to know that them Yankees burned the church records right along with the church."

"I was there, Billy.  I saw you set that fire, but since I was wearing the same color of coat as yours, I couldn't shoot you like you deserved.  I'm sure you'd run hiding behind her major daddy anyway."

"You burned the church down, Billy?  How dare you!  Did you know your daddy's plantation burned?  Being so close to the church property, perhaps you caught your own family home on fire along with it.  The tobacco fields were so dry that flames would have raced right up to your house.  I doubt it was the Yankees doing after all.  All I know is that we stood before a preacher after the soiree and said our vows right after Elizabeth and Edward said theirs.  There was a room full of witnesses.  I saw him give you the marriage certificate which you then folded up and put away in your pocket.  I may not have the marriage certificate or the church records, but the minister is still there.  He would swear on an affidavit that indeed you are my husband.  But somehow I don't think I want you any more, Billy Duff, and I'll make sure the judge knows that.  But I certainly do want to see you in jail. I'm sorry, miss, that you were as deceived as I was by this worthless piece of manhood.  I'm sure your father will have something to say about it."

The poor pregnant woman whimpered and turned to cry on her mother's shoulder.

Shane's grandmother came up hooking her arm through hers whispering, "Her daddy died recently, dear, I'm sorry to say.  At least he did not live to see this man shame his daughter any further."

The sound of loud weeping drowned out any further discussion, and the poor pregnant woman was led away with her mother by their friends.

By now the church men were dragging a fighting Billy to the jailhouse.  Fortunately, one of the boys had run for the sheriff earlier, and he was quick to put handcuffs on the miscreant.

"They won't hang him will they?" whispered Tabitha as Shane and his grandmother led her away to their buggy.  He helped her up, then his mother.  Soon his grandfather climbed in the buggy.

"The sheriff's going to telegram to see if the preacher will vouch for your wedding.  But a judge may indeed allow the second marriage since there is a child involved."

"Good, I'm sure I don't want him back.  I just want my marriage annulled," she said weakly.
"So does this mean I will have to go before a judge and testify against him in a courtroom?"

"It will probably be done quietly in his chambers, dear.  The poor girl's father was well respected here.  I'm sure the judge will not want any of you subject to a public display.  Once is enough, I'd say."

"I agree," she nodded quietly.

"But it had to be done," Shane said.  "As soon as he saw both of us, he would have run and left that woman anyway.  It's better this way.  If the Confederacy does fall, there will probably be no recriminations against him militarily.  I for one would not want to step forward to testify against him seeing how it would mean I would have to put the gray uniform back on."

"No, he has been exposed.  That is enough," his grandmother said staunchly.  They all agreed.

As soon as the cold Sunday dinner was eaten, Tabitha sunk in her bed and had a nap.  Finally, his grandmother woke her and asked if she was alright.

In her groggy state, she croaked, "I think so.  I know I don't want Billy, but now I have no one.  Except perhaps a widowed elderly aunt in Hilton, one whom I've never met."

She looked so woebegone that Mrs. Harper climbed up on the bed beside her and pulled her head to her shoulder.  "We already love you, dear.  I understand if you want to go to your aunt's, but we would love to have you stay with us.  It shouldn't be hard to find someone better that that dastardly Billy."

The way she said it made Tabitha giggle.  A little flicker of a flame of hope was kindled as well deep down in her heart.  "I think I'd like that.  But I don't think Billy's other wife would appreciate having me around."

"Don't worry about that, sweet thing.  I heard this afternoon that they are packing up and going north, of all things, to stay with a relative there."

"I'm sorry for the child who will pay for his father's sins."

"Trust him into God's keeping then let them go.  But I have it on good authority, Mr. Duff was given a letter encouraging him to join them where no one will know of his dishonor as soon as the war ends and things are settled here."

"Good.  He certainly has nothing left to call home anymore.  Not many of us do."

"Well, now you do.  You are home."

She sighed deeply then sat in the quietness of the dusk for a long time leaning on this sweet woman holding her cool hand."

"Are you hungry?  There's more of that fried chicken and potato salad left."

"I'm suddenly ravenous!" she exclaimed abruptly sitting up.   "I was so upset earlier that I'm sure I didn't taste a thing.  But now I'm sure I will relish it."

All four of them sat around the table speaking of more pleasant things.  She ate her supper while they ate blackberry cobbler.  Tabby got to that later.  No one mentioned the scene earlier today contrary to what she was sure was spoken around most of the tables in town.  It would be hot gossip for weeks, that's for sure.

"Do you want to walk outside?"  Shane asked.

"That would be nice.  When she went to put her dirty coat on, his grandmother stopped her with a touch and offered her shawl.

"Thank you."  Shane opened the door for her, and they walked side by side past the barnyard going towards the orchards.

"Thank you for backing me up at church.  I'm sorry I embarrassed your grandparents."

"You have to admit, it was rather juicy gossip fodder.  Most people quite enjoyed the scene, except for the two women involved, that is."

"I'm relieved actually.  Billy surprised me at the soiree by asking me to marry him that night.  Perhaps my father sensed he was unwell, so he seemed to gladly give his permission even though he knew Billy as an insolent and troublemaking youth.  Everyone hoped the military would be the making of him, including me.  I confess I held a tendra for him since I was a girl next door.  But not minutes passed after we exchanged vows than all the men were called away.  I have not seen him since that day till now, so it hardly seems like we were married at all."

"You mean," Shane colored up to the tips of his ears but went on to ask, "you were never with him?"

"No never.  You don't know how grateful I am now."  She paused but then forged bravely on asking, "I know it will help when I talk to the judge, but would it have made a difference to you if I had, if we had, well you know what I mean."

He looked into her eyes melting the tension of the day away.  "How could it when I already knew how I felt about you before you admitted that.  I just had to guard how I acted toward a married woman is all."


"Ever since I picked up that muddy ball of tears, I was a goner.  My protective heart acted, but I thought my yearning heart would never have a chance.  I knew your Billy, the scoundrel, and hated that you had such hopes of him coming to your rescue.  I wanted to be that man."

"You are that man, Shane."

"I've decided I'm staying here, Tabby."

She sucked in her breath, "Really?  That's wonderful!  I mean I love your grandparents and I know they love having you here.  Have you told them?"

"Yes, while you were sleeping."

They walked hand in hand bumping shoulders every other step staying out to watch the moon come up and until God lit every last star.

The next six months seemed impossibly difficult. A snail could slime its way faster than the slow walking of the days.   She counted the months, the days, the hours, the minutes.  Once the judge annulled her marriage, new hope sprung and new promises were made.  Propriety said they needed to wait at least six months, that it shouldn't appear as a rushed affair.  In the meanwhile, his grandmother taught her what a housewife should know, one who did not rely on a servant, and especially a slave.

Tabitha's sentiments turned North like a wind that blew steadily on a weather vane.  She saw slavery for what it was.  It was if scales fell from her eyes.  Her mind wandered and wondered about any ways she had mistreated their slaves, her Mimi.  She appreciated what Shane represented, though she still grieved the useless loss of her brother and the hundreds of men like him who died.  When news came that the war was over, there was rejoicing in the streets and grieving behind closed doors.

Disgruntled men straggled through.  His grandparents never turned any away regardless of their uniform.  They fed them, doctored them, and let them sleep in the barn until they had strength to move on to wherever they called home.  One man said he had become so hungry in the war that he wanted to eat his own fingers.  Many were barefoot.  Most itched with lice.  So many were heart-wrenchingly  injured.  But all had signed the oath of allegiance, and their nation was no longer torn asunder.  Then the news of Lincoln's death sent a pall over the entire country.  Even behind closed doors, few could find reason to celebrate.

But a happier day was coming.  She wrote Jane telling her about the man who had held her to his heart when she was at her worst, her lowest point of hopelessness, when she was muddy and wet from tears and rain, and falling apart.  She told how he offered her his protection, his strength, and his heart.  His was strong, brave, and ready to protect.  She admitted to her friend she was right, that now she understood that one could not judge a man by his uniform, but by his character.  She wrote about confronting Billy and how he had to face the consequences of his actions.   Instead, she cherished her beloved who had lived through the nightmare of war, yet she saw his tender feelings awaken every time he looked at her.  She promised Jane that this time when she said her vows, it would be in church, and that they would frame their marriage certificate on their wall for all to see.  And best of all, she wrote, her foe had become her best friend and soon would be her husband.

"He who gives a right answer 
kisses the lips."
Proverbs 24:26

One inspiration for this story came from reading about a not so great grandfather from the Civil War who sent a letter after the war falsely saying that he had drowned crossing a river on the way home, leaving a supposed widow with many children.  She left in a wagon train for Texas with other relatives.  Then he married another woman and had several more children.  That seemed to work so well, he left her and married a third woman having more children with her.  The Civil War was a tumultuous time leaving wounded families in its wake. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A fun fiction for friends!
By C.J.
Camille wanted to tell her mother that "whither she goeth," she would not go.  She did not want to face a new school.   Going to the big high school in the city had been like riding on the New York subway where no one dared to look at each other no matter how close they had to sit.   But an abrupt move under the circumstances was worse.  She now had to go to a school in a dinky town where everyone had grown up together, except her.  It would make her stand out like a sore thumb, a duckling in a brood of chicks, a gold fish in a swarm of sharks.  Her mother had just become a single mom.  Again.  Her stepdad had decided he'd found someone else more beautiful, younger, and richer.  So they moved out of his home in the suburbs and back to the small town where her mother had grown up, back to where her mother had a friend who offered her a job. 

The door thudded shut hitting Cam on the backside and shoving her into the classroom.  Someone giggled.  Camille straightened her back and threw her long blonde hair over her shoulder and found a seat while refusing to look at anyone.  Unfortunately, the boy in the next seat over dipped his face low until she couldn't avoid his eyes.

Cam nodded back, but her smile was timid.  She supposed the young man was being nice...then a throat cleared in front of him. 

"Ahem.  Beau, I need a pencil."  The girl looked at Cam like she would like a very sharp pencil to stab her with. 

So began the high school saga of Beau and Jackie, Jackie and Beau, the perfect couple.  Beau continued to be nice to Camile, if and when he was out of his girlfriend's clutches, but Jackie had seethed nothing but pure unadulterated hatred from that first day until the graduation caps were thrown in the air.  Cam had been the dirt under her finger nails, the split end on her glossy black locks, the fly in her putrid perfume, the stub to her painted toe nail.  The girl tried and succeeded in making the rest of Cam's  high school years pure misery.

A couple of girls were brave enough to be Cam's casual friends, but they had to sacrifice themselves by becoming Jackie's enemies too.  A few guys had tried to ask her out, but there was no way, no how that Cam would go to any high school event that Jackie might attend.  Even something like going to the movies or bowling meant their paths might cross.  It wasn't worth it.  In fact, Cam would have loved to go to the football, basketball and baseball games Beau played in, but she had to be content to read about them in the newspaper. The only event she chose to go to was her senior prom.  She had  invited Joseph, the boy with Downs Syndrome: she never danced with anyone else not leaving his side all night, not even when Beau had asked her for one dance.

It wasn't as if Jackie struck with her venom when her boyfriend Beau could see.  She was all sugar and as sweet as last year's Cadbury Eggs when he was around.  He somehow never caught on that the nicer he was to her, the more Cam would pay later with his girlfriend's vicious, humiliating remarks once he was out of hearing.  The rumors that Jackie hatched up about her rivaled those in the National Enquirer.  Cam was surprised she'd never been accused of giving birth to an alien.  Nevertheless, he was just as nice the next two years to her as he had been that first day.  She even caught him looking at her sometimes, which probably was one reason Jackie kept burning like a marshmallow flaming black on a stick roasting over a campfire.

They all went to the same church, but it was obvious that Jackie was not happy the one time Cam tried to go to youth group.  Oh well, pretty soon Cam took on a weekend job waitressing.  The closest thing she got to a prayer meeting after that was when families held each other's hands to pray over their meals while Cam waited respectfully for them to finish before she plunked down their plates.  Church no longer could be squeezed into her schedule.  It wasn't that she didn't believe in God, He just wasn't giving her a day off, or a break of any kind for that matter.

At least her sister Joni who was two years younger, had taken to the move like a pollywog in a lazy Texas creek.  She soon was sprouting legs and took to hopping off with her friends while Cam and her mom worked.  Her mother put in long hours doing housekeeping at the small local hospital and  side cleaning jobs as well.  So Cam worked hard on her studies in the quiet house and excelled.  When she wasn't studying, she was working.  Camille had plans for college.  She would have to be satisfied with going to the local junior college at first of course, but could see the university on the horizon. 

That, however, came to a screeching halt when all the parties and poor choices in friends caught up with her sister.  Joni waited until their mom got home from a double shift one night before she told them. "I need you guys to sit down.  There's something I have to tell you."  The way she was twisting her hair, Cam knew it was serious.  "I'm pregnant."  Then she hurried on to say, "Sooo, I need money to go have an abortion." 

"You're what!" He mother screamed getting red in the face after the reality finally set in.

Cam could not breathe, nor speak.  Her sister was only sixteen, and here she was asking for money to go have an abortion?  Her mother had always told them that abortion was wrong, but she now seemed to be wavering. 

After listening to her sister spouting off about how her life was ruined unless she could just go to Planned Parenthood before she was any farther along in the pregnancy, Cam didn't even know she had spoken until she burst out emphatically, "NO! It's not just tissue, but a life, one you've created.  Who's the father anyway?  Does he know?"

At first her sister sealed her lips in a thin white line until her chin started quivering.  "I'm so sorry," she bawled.  "He wants me to have an abortion, but I don't really want one.  I just don't know what to do."  Pretty soon they were all three a mess of sobbing women and wet tissues worse than a bad T.P. job on a cottonwood tree in the rain.   

"I'll raise the baby if I have to, Joni.  I know you can't do it alone."  Cam meant it.

"I don't know, sweetheart," her mother worried.  "I'm working as hard as I know how.  We need to get your sister at least through high school, and you on with your college classes.  I can't see how we can squeeze a baby into the mix.  We'll just have to find an adoption agency."

Joni started wailing louder until she ran out of the room to throw up.  Cam tried to reason it out with her mother.  "This is my niece or nephew we are talking about, your grandchild.  How can we give him or her up?"  A decision never seemed to be made.  No one wanted to talk about it.

It was the worst time of her life graduating that year.  Her sister hid her condition fairly well up until then.  Joni finished her sophomore year and Cam graduated, but all the shine had worn off her dreams.  Soon her mother found another job and moved them back to the city so no one would know about the pregnancy.  Cam began a waitressing job in a fine dinner house which paid good tips.  Joni stayed home growing more sullen and rounder with child every day.  The girl's social life had come to an abrupt halt.  The only fun they had was on their Saturday mornings driving around to garage sales in the nicer neighborhoods.  Slowly but surely they got the necessary baby items to put in the room they shared.  A bassinet was squeezed between their two beds. 

By the time labor and delivery were over, all three were in love with the perfect baby girl.  Cam was sure she could raise her by herself if need be.  Joni seemed to be elated.  It was hard to get a good night's sleep, but Eloise was a joy to come home to every day.  At first they fought over getting to hold her.  Then her mother seemed to be too tired.  It wasn't long before Joni started going out with friends.  Pretty soon the care of Eloise fell more and more to Cam.  No matter what, she was worth it.  She just needed Joni to watch her while she was at work, then Cam was willing to take over.  College was far from her thoughts, most of the time. 

Cam tried not to notice when classes started up, but felt a pang to her stomach when college girls came in to eat at the restaurant, laughing together and complaining about their teachers.  She kept telling herself, it was okay because Eloise was worth it.  Her mother needed Cam's financial help too.  The diapers and formula weren't cheap, not to mention vast number of trips and quarters for the laundry.  It all added up.  Then her mother got laid off.  Actually, she hurt her back, but the company doctor denied her claims as work related.  So Cam took more shifts, worked longer hours while her mother stayed home and took over the care of the baby.  Joni was far too busy partying.

The day came when Cam had enough and blew up.  She caught her sister's boyfriend giving Eloise sips of beer while Joni giggled.  She marched her druggie sister downtown where she had her sign over legal guardianship for Eloise to Cam.  Joni was hardly around anymore anyway leaving Eloise completely in the care of Camille and her mother,  only occasionally visiting. Still, with her mother unable to work and Joni staying with this new boyfriend, the support was all on Cam's shoulders.

It was a day just like all her days when she drove to work.  Except it wasn't.  There was a small huddle of her co-workers standing in front of the door.

"What's going on?  Aren't they going to unlock the door?"  

Someone pointed at a sign newly posted there.  "Closed until further notice."

"That's it?  Are we even going to get our last paycheck?"  Cam felt like pounding on the door.  Instead, she turned away with the rest saying goodbyes.  She probably would never see her co-workers again.

Driving home, Cam let the tears come and yelled, "Really God?  Is this how you show us Your love, show us that You care for Your own?  We have a baby to take care of, you know!"  Cam's insides were shaking as much as her hands on the steering wheel.  No amount of Christian radio could cheer her up even if turned up full blast. 

Her mother looked grim but said, "Call your old boss and see if he'll hire you back.  We don't have any cushion to be able to wait until you can find work around here.  We can't afford to lose this apartment.  The landlord would throw us out on our ear if we got behind in our rent.  With the recession, no one is hiring.  Believe me, I've searched the papers everyday to find something I could do with this back of mine.  Back home though, things might be better."

So she did.  She was rehired.  It was the hardest thing Cam had ever done kissing those soft pink cheeks on her little Eloise goodbye.  She drove off not knowing when she could return.  It would be all she could do to send back enough money to keep her mother afloat taking every penny she could earn.  Cam threw in a sleeping bag and a small ice chest along with her suitcase into the trunk.  She would have to camp for awhile.  There were a few campgrounds at the lake nearby.  But it would only be temporary, she hoped any way.

She called her mother often to check up on Eloise.  It killed her to miss all the cute little things the baby was learning to do.  Cam was confident though that her mother would take good care of her.  That was a small comfort.  She couldn't drive very often to the city because her car probably wouldn't last making too many trips without breaking down.  She had to keep it running because it was not only her way to work, but her living quarters.  The one splurge she afforded was to join a gym.  That way she could have a place to shower.   

At least Cam enjoyed her job.  She told her mother on the phone, "Mom, the people here make me feel like I've truly come home.  The regular customers remembered me and welcomed me back.  My boss was nice enough to schedule me with all the extra shifts possible." Yet, in spite of her smiling face, no one knew the truth.  She was homeless.

The campgrounds only let a person stay for up to two weeks, so she was always on the move going from one to the other and back again.  It was the other campers' drinking parties that kept her awake at night that made her nervous.  Sleeping in her car was extremely uncomfortable in the back seat and sometimes downright scary.  She had to keep her doors locked and the windows rolled up no matter how hot it was just to feel safe at all.  Whenever she heard footsteps outside her car, she hid deep down inside the sleeping bag.  Once someone had knocked on her window and called for her to come out.  It was the creepy guy in the next camp spot.  He'd been watching her.  The next day Cam bought mace.

After that incident, Cam had been so nervous that by noon she'd spilled coffee twice and dropped a dinner order on the ground in a loud attention-getting crash.  Her boss asked, "Are you okay, darlin'?"

"Sorry, you can dock my pay for that food I threw all over the floor just now."  Her cheeks flamed.

"Don't worry about it.  Everybody has slippery fingers once in awhile." He looked her over knowingly, but only shook his head.

"I can't believe those people still tipped me," she told him later as she swept past with another order.

"You're the best thing this place has going next to my biscuits and gravy.  You could spill their coffee all day sun up to sun down as long as you did it with that million dollar smile you got going, Camie girl."  He laughed, but it stopped her dead in her tracks.  No one had ever said anything about her smile before.

Then He came in.  She had hoped Edith would take his table, but no, it was hers.  She walked up and handed out the menus.  When he looked up at her their glances locked in a gaze that went down and made her throat almost swell shut.  He swallowed first.  It was Beau, her high school crush.  Cam glanced quickly around the table, but Jackie wasn't with him.  She threw him her nervous fifty cent smile, not the million dollar one, and asked what the table wanted to drink. 

She told her shaking hands, "Don't spill anything.  Don't spill anything."  Miraculously she didn't but she got the whole order mixed up and gave everyone the wrong plate.  His friends just passed the plates around until they landed in the right spots.  One of them said, "Hey, aren't you Camille from high school?" Cam couldn't remember his name, but recognized him.


"Where've you been?  I haven't seen you for awhile," he went on trying to catch her attention.

"I've just come back to town."  She ignored him while refilling their glasses.  "Is everything alright?  Can I get you anything else?"

"Just your phone number, Camille," the guy grinned.  "Ouch!  Why'd you kick me, Beau?"

"Leave her alone, Tom.  She's busy," he growled at his friend.  But when she looked at Beau again, he was staring at her looking so hot that she could have melted.  He was even more handsome, older of course, and leaner, as in hard muscles from work.  It had been a couple of years since she'd seen him.  His hair was so bronzed by the sun that it looked blonde.  His tan made it appear that he spent his days outside, probably from working on his dad's ranch. She drove by it every night on her way to the campgrounds outside of town.  Sometimes she thought she'd caught a glimpse of him in the old place in the lamplight, but wasn't sure.  His parents lived in a nice new farmhouse set further back from the road.  Then she blinked.

"Leave her alone, Beau," his buddy mimicked him and elbowed him hard,  "or I'll tell Jackie."

That was all she needed to hear and turned tail knocking off the pile of the extra napkins one of them had ordered for his messy plate of ribs.  She left them on the ground like magnolia petals fallen on a lawn.  Later she asked Edith to give them their ticket.

Cam tried to ignore them as they left jostling each other, but Beau paused by her stiff back, up close, too close, to say, "It's nice to have you back in town, Cam."  He left, but forgot to take his warm breath with him where it still lingered on her neck like a feather touch.  Her heart was thudding.  He was the only one she missed from high school, but he wasn't hers to miss.

That night, the creepy guy was waiting for her in her campsite so she kept driving.  All the other campgrounds were full.  Cam didn't know where she'd go.  Once her boss had found her sleeping in her car behind the restaurant and told her firmly to find someplace else.  The cops patrolled the area, he'd said, and would complain to him if they found her there.  Another time she'd tried a rest stop ten miles out of town on the highway, but with people walking by her car all night long, she couldn't relax and sleep.  She was always on creep alert and could feel the hair stand up on her neck sometimes before she'd dive down into her sleeping bag.  It was worse when the parking lot was deserted.  Then she'd felt totally vulnerable.  Cam was exhausted. 

As she drove back towards town, she saw Beau's place.  It was quiet.  His truck was parked up close to his house.  She slowed down.  Did she dare pull off?  Cam knew she'd be safe here.  She turned off her lights after finding a stretch of tall weeds next to the road.  That's when she killed her engine, locked her doors and climbed into the backseat.  She just needed to sleep a little while, then she could go park in front of the gym before dawn and wait for it to open.

Cam had just nestled down when she heard a truck pull in, a heavy door slam shut, and a familiar voice telling someone, "Thanks for the ride, guys."  It was Beau.  She bit her lip and pulled her sleeping bag over her head.  "Don't see me parked here.  Please don't see me parked here," she silently groaned. 

But a few minutes later, a flashlight shone in her window, and he hollered, "Hey, what are you doing on my property?"  Would he go away?  No, he was pounding hard on her window.  There was no way out of it.  She unzipped her sleeping bag part way, pulled herself up to a sitting position and threw her hair over her shoulder and out of her eyes.  The look on his face was shock if she ever saw it.  She was pretty sure she looked more like a treed opossum herself.  Cam waved a small finger roll.  Could it get more humiliating than this?  Busted for being homeless in Beau's own driveway.  If he ever told Jackie, that woman would make Cam's life so miserable that she would have no other choice but to leave town.  Her life was over as she knew it.

"Cam?"  Then he motioned for her to open her door.  She crawled over and unlocked it.  "What are you doing here?  Were you waiting to talk to me or something?"  Then he shown his light over the rest of her car's interior, her suitcase, her bag with her shampoo and towels sticking out, her ice chest and sack of groceries.  She was busted big time.  She saw realization hit him as he took a deep breath and just said, "Oh."

"I can go.  I just needed to rest a few minutes.  Some weirdo was in my campsite, and it scared me, and so I was driving around and decided to pull off here for a few minutes, but I'm leaving right now, and I'm sorry, really sorry."  After babbling she completed her inglorious picture by climbing back over into the front seat and buckling herself up.

"No wait.  Cam, please?  Come in for a few minutes.  Get a drink of water or something."

She shook her head and searched her purse for her keys but she couldn't see them because of her tears hiding under her veil of messy bed head hair, except she had no bed, only a sleeping bag in the back of her car.  Suddenly, Cam laid her head on the stirring wheel and caught a sob.  Okay, so total and complete self denigration was happening here tonight in front of Beau Weston.

Suddenly, he climbed in the back seat, reached over and unlocked her front door and then opened it. 
"Get out, Cam.  You're coming inside with me." 

She was sure he was going to call the sheriff.  "Please Beau," she whispered.  "I won't let it happen again.  Please don't call the cops."

The quiet night was broken by a loud bark of a laugh.  "You think I would turn you in?  Are you crazy?  I want to help you, Cam."

He took her arm and half pulled her up onto his porch and into his house throwing the lights on.  She was a mess in her shorts and tee, trying not to remember her messy hair.  She crossed her arms around herself feeling extremely exposed.   He motioned for her to take a seat at the table before going to bend over looking in his frig. 

"Do you want a glass of milk, or a can of soda?  I can make you coffee if you'd rather."

"Coffee sounds good."  She was shivering not from cold, but nerves. 

After it began dripping, he came and sat across from her.  "So, Cam, how long have you been living in your car?"

"Since I've been back, what, a month and a half or so."

He looked at her askance.

Suddenly she was angry.  "Do you think I want to live like that?"  She motioned around his living room.  "Don't you think I'd rather have a nice house to live in and a real bed?"  She pointed to the frig, "And a refrigerator?"  "How about a real bathroom with a private shower or tub?"  Then she glowered at him, "Not all of us have a mom and dad to give us a house, you know.  Welcome to how the other half has to live sometimes."

"Don't you make enough at the restaurant to get a place?  I can loan, shoot, I'll give you the money to get settled in somewhere."

She sighed burying her face in her hands.  "I work hard.  I make okay money, but I'm supporting my mom and my baby girl right now.  Mom got injured and laid off.  Then the restaurant I worked at  shut down without notice, so I got my old job back here.  There's just not enough to stretch to cover two households, mine and theirs."  The tears were dripping off her nose, at least she hoped they were tears.  She grabbed a napkin and blew her nose.  Total and complete humiliation.

He put his hand on her wrist. "Cam, there are plenty of good people who can help you, who would love to help you.  My mom, I bet, would be happy to put you up in a guest room."

"She doesn't know me."

"Yes, she does.  She's the one who told me you were back in town and encouraged me to go see you at the restaurant.  To tell you the truth, that's why I was there."

Cam looked up, "Really?"

He got up, poured two cups of coffee and brought them over.  "Cream or sugar?"


Then he scratched the back of his neck and looked away, "So, tell me about your little girl.  It must be hard to be away from her."

That tiny bit of sympathy was almost enough to set her crying again, so she took a deep shaky breath.  "Yes, it's the hardest thing in the world.  I'm missing so much already.  She's a year and a half old.  My sister had her about four months after we moved away."

"Your sister?"  He almost croaked.  "Then, she's not yours?"

"Yes, she is mine.  I'm her legal guardian.  My little sister Joni isn't...she's not..."

He had sat down and taken her hand, rubbing his thumb over her hand.  It felt really nice.  No one had touched her in a long, long time, not since those baby arms she craved so deeply.

"What's her name?"


"That's pretty."

It got quiet between them.  "Listen," she finally said after she pulled her hand away and took her last sip of coffee.  I'm sure that guy has left by now.  I can go back to my campsite."

"NO!  I mean, it's late.  You can sleep on the couch.  I'll talk to my mom in the morning."

"It wouldn't look right," Cam said while sure that her cheeks were flaming.  "Besides, Jackie wouldn't like it."

"Jackie?  She doesn't have any say over my house."

"But she's your girlfriend.  I happen to know that she'd be very upset if she found out I was even sitting here talking to you."

"She's not my girlfriend, not anymore.  Yeah, friends told me later how awful she treated you during high school.  I'm really sorry.  I wish I'd realized how bad she was back then.  By the time we graduated, I was starting to get the full picture, not just the idealized one I had of her.  So we split up after that. She was pretty angry that I broke up with her, spitting mad, but I guess you know what that's like.   Actually..." he got a pained look and swallowed hard,  "She attacked me with a knife.  I didn't see it coming.  I ended up in the hospital for well over a week.  She just isn't very balanced and slipped over the edge I guess, lost control or something, I don't know.  She had to go be locked up in mental health after that.  I guess they diagnosed her as bi-polar.  Anyway, I still don't think she's doing so well. She's too skinny.  I think she might be anorexic or something too."

"Wow, I had no idea.  I'm really sorry.  It's just that your friend made it sound like you two were still together back at the restaurant."

"He didn't know.  Sometimes people just assume we're still together.  Not many know what really happened.  It isn't something I like to talk about, but I guess I just spilled my guts to you," and he grinned sheepishly.

"Well, you have all the dirt on me, I guess you could say.  I'm homeless Camille, the least likely to succeed from our graduating class."

"Don't say that.  You were a great student, but life's been harder on you than most.  You can't hang your head for working so hard to support your mom and little girl.  I admire you for that."

Cam snorted.  "It didn't look like admiration on your face when you shone your light into my backseat tonight." 

Then he laughed with her.  "I don't think I've ever been so surprised in my life to find the beautiful Camille sleeping in her car on my property. You're Sleeping Bag Beauty.  No, it doesn't get more shocking than that!"

"You looked like a you'd seen a zombie."

"You looked like a deer in the headlights."

"You looked like you'd just sucked on a sucker dipped in Louisiana Hot Sauce."

"You looked like a raccoon treed by an old hound dog."

They laughed until it was like a warm blanket covering them both, wrapped up together. Then Camille got quiet thinking about the strangeness of the whole night.

Finally, he said, "Well, I'll find you a pillow and blanket.  You are welcome to take a shower or something tonight or in the morning.  There's clean towels under the sink."  I'll be out of here by 6:30 in the morning and will try not to wake you."

When he came back with the bedding, he said softly, "Good night, Sleeping Bag Beauty."  He shook his head.  "You can't imagine what I thought when I saw you emerge out of that bag."  Then he looked into her eyes, and it happened again.  It was another one of those moments that made it hard to swallow with the heart thumping so wildly.  He grazed her cheek with his knuckle.  "I'm just glad the Lord sent you here so I can help keep you safe, Camille.  When I saw how you were camping in your car, I was sick to my stomach.  I will take care of you, Cam.  You can be sure of that."

"Thank you."  At least her lips moved, but she wasn't sure if any sound came out.

When Beau got up the next morning, he paused in his bedroom doorway.  Drenched in the early morning light, Camille was still drowning in a deep, deep sleep.  He drank in her dark lashes against her cheeks, the rippling golden hair that covered part of her face on down to, well he made himself stop.  Desire hit him like a freight train.  It was crazy!  He'd always admired Cam in school and wondered at the loner.  As beautiful as she was, she kept carefully to herself.  He could only look from afar then.  Beau took a deep breath.  He forced himself to leave, but he was certain he couldn't keep her at his house again, not the way he was feeling right now. 

True to his word, he told his mother about Camille.  But unexpectedly she laughed and said, "It almost sounds like Boaz and Ruth."

"What?  I don't know what you are talking about."

"Just read your Bible, son.  I've always liked that girl, and I certainly don't want her to live in her car one more night.  I'll talk to your dad, but in the meanwhile, I'm getting the guest room ready.  Then I'll walk over to your place."

"Don't wait too long.  I have a feeling she'll be more skittish than a filly and will take off as soon as she's awake."

"Let me take care of it.  As strange as it may be for a mother to say to her son that even if it might have looked wrong, you did the right thing taking her in last night, son.  You redeemed her from a bad situation."

"Thanks.  Well, I'll see you at lunch.  Is Dad out in the barn?"

"Yes, as usual, and maybe you can tell him what I'm considering.  Ask him to come see me right away if he has a problem with it.  If not, I'll go soon to invite her to stay here.  Don't worry about a thing, Beau, or should I say, Boaz.  I have a good feeling about this."

"Thanks, mom." He kissed her on the cheek then taking his coffee, he went to find his dad, grateful once again for his Christian family.  But he couldn't help wondering, "Boaz?"

His dad was unfazed by the turn of events.  "Sure thing, Son.  Our Lord said, "I was a stranger and you took me in.'  If your mother thinks it's the right thing to do, I'm satisfied."

So Camille came to live with his parents.  She was usually there for breakfast and sometimes lunch.  He was almost tongue-tied when he saw her though.  As she became more rested and relaxed, her guard came down. and her beauty grew until she was practically radiant.  He couldn't keep his eyes off her.

The next week his phone rang when he was out working cattle near the chutes.  It was Jackie's mother.  He could hardly stand the woman, the way she treated her daughter, always finding fault, picking at her about her looks.  He wanted to ignore it, but picked it up at the last ring.

"Beau, I need you to come see Jackie right now," she ordered.  We're having a problem over here trying to do an intervention.  We have to get her into treatment for her anorexia, but she's refusing.  I know you can get her to do just about anything.  We need you to take her there, please!  It will only be a couple hours drive to the facility."  Then the woman started sobbing.  He'd never ever known her to cry before.  "She's dying, Beau. We need you."

He sighed but sucked it up and said, "Okay, I'm coming."  He went back to the house and told his mother. 

"I...she...we need prayer.  Jackie needs me, I guess."

"Be careful, Beau.  You know how we don't want you to go back there."

"Yeah, I know, but this is how it is."

As he left, he passed Cam coming into the kitchen.

"Hi, Beau," her beautiful eyes were wide open.  He knew then that she had overheard him mention Jackie.  But he could only touch the rim of his cowboy hat in response.  He had to leave.  His face was grim and his mind was whirling.  It wasn't a sure fire thing that even he could get Jackie to seek the help she needed.  They needed a miracle.  The way he had been able to rescue Camille was a piece of cake compared to the intimidating Jackie.  What was he supposed to do, give her a pat down to make sure she didn't have any knives on her?   It was one of those times only God could handle, so he prayed.

Cam felt sick to her stomach.  Somehow Jackie had her claws back into the cowboy.  All the unformed hopes burst like a child's soap bubble.  Now more than ever, she felt guilty for all his parents had done for her opening their arms and home to her.  Jackie still had the power to make it all turn into one ugly mess.  Cam practically could see a twister coming down out of the dark clouds in her mind.  She was about to be devastated, flattened, smashed to smithereens. 

A few days later, it did get worse, just not in the way she expected.  She felt her phone vibrate in her pocket at work, but did not look at the message until her break time.  It was her mother which worried her because Cam was the one who usually called her.  Something must be wrong. 

"Hi, mom.  Is everything alright?"

"Yes, and no.  I'll just tell it to you straight.  I'm getting remarried and I need you to come get Eloise.  He doesn't want her here."

"Mom?  This is your third marriage.  Are you sure?  And who wouldn't want such a sweet thing?  He must not be a very nice person."  Cam could feel anger surge through her from the soles of her feet until it prickled her scalp.  She didn't know where her mom found these losers.

"Camille, it's not for you to say.  Besides, at my age it isn't easy to keep up with a toddler."  Then her mother started crying, "You know I love her, don't you Camie?  But you are her legal guardian, not me.  You are the one who promised to raise her if Joni couldn't, not me."

Cam was struck dumb.  What could she do? "You know if I come take Eloise, I can't send you money any more, right?"

"That's fine.  Joe has a good job.  He's union.  In fact, he's been helping out ever since he moved in here."

Now Cam really felt the fireworks.  "What!  I've been sending you money to help support not only you and Eloise, but your boyfriend who makes good money?"  She suddenly looked up and saw the cook and kitchen help staring stock still at her.  Cam turned and walked out the back door.  She hissed more quietly still seething.  "I've been living in my car, mom, homeless for goodness sakes, to take care of you."  Oh no, the tears were coming.  "Never mind.  I'll be right there, mom, as soon as I can."

Her boss only nodded and said, "Go on, get out of here.  We'll cover for you."  Evidently he had overheard enough of the conversation to know what she had to do.  Now she had a two hour drive there and back to figure out what she would do exactly.  First though, she had to go talk to Mr. and Mrs. Weston, Beau's parents.

They were in the middle of lunch.  Beau was there which made Cam cringe.  She'd been avoiding him since the Jackie thing, whatever that was.  "Can I talk with you a minute please, Mrs. Weston?"

"Betty, I've told you we don't stand on formalities here. I'm just Betty."  The woman always smiled at Camille as if she was something special, which Cam certainly didn't feel the least bit right now.

Once back out on the porch with the door shut, Betty said, "You're back from work already, darling?  Is something wrong?"

"My mother just called.  I have to go right now and get my niece.  It's a family situation, and she can't keep her any longer.  I promise, I'll look for an apartment as soon as I get back and will be out of your way as soon as possible.  You've been more than kind, but I will need to get on my own two feet from now on."

"Nonsense.  You just bring that baby girl right back here.  I'll watch her for you.  There's no need to run off.  I've been wanting some grandbabies to spoil so I guess God's just putting her in my lap instead.  Glory be, this will be fun!"

Cam stared at the woman as if she was crazy.  "But she's a toddler."

"How wonderful.  I'll start baby-proofing the house immediately.  I'll need a baby gate for the stairs, and covers for the sockets.  Oh, and I'll make Beau go with you in his truck so he can haul her crib back and everything else she has."  She walked off calling, "Beau..."

Camille put her face in her hands.  What else could she do but accept such overwhelming kindness, at least for now.  But she would get on her own, find a daycare, and take care of her precious Eloise all by herself. The last thing she wanted was to be riding off in Beau's truck with him.  Betty had a point though that she would probably need a truck to haul the crib at least.  Cam wondered if Beau would consider loaning his truck to her?

"Ready?"  Beau was slurping back his soda in one hand while holding an egg salad sandwich in the other.

"Maybe I could just borrow your truck so you wouldn't miss the rest of your day's work.  I'd feel terrible about it."

"Are you kidding?  I can't wait to meet our little girl!"

Cam looked at him like he was crazy.  "Our little girl?"

"Sure thing.  My mom's already acting like Eloise is the newest grandchild.  My sister's kids live too far away for her to spoil.  In fact, I haven't seen my mom this excited since she found a lottery ticket on the ground a while back, scratched it off and won 100 dollars.  She thinks she just hit the jackpot!"

Just the smell of his food in the cab of the truck made her stomach growl.  She didn't have time to eat lunch before they left.  Without even asking, he pulled off the highway and found a fast food place.  "What do you want?"

"Just a taco."

He ordered a taco and a quesadilla and a drink for her. 

"Thanks.  I guess I am hungry."

"Listen, Camille, I'm not sure you understood about the other day when I rushed off to see Jackie.  She's in a bad way, and her mother asked me to take her to a treatment facility.  We're not together again or anything, if that makes any difference."

They were still parked waiting for their order to come, and he was turned looking at her in that way he had.  She could no more escape his gaze than if she was a starving person and he was holding out a hamburger to her.  Well, it was a taco, but the same thing. 

He reached for her hand.  "Listen, I want you to know that I feel something for you, Cam.  I think you are pretty special..."  He was interrupted by the lady with the bag of food.

"I've always had a crush on you, I'll have to admit."  Then her cheeks flamed like a hot sunset in July.  Now why did she go and blurt that out?

He was sitting there grinning as big as a happy dog with its tongue hanging out in the back of a pickup, that is until the car behind them in the drive-thru honked.  Beau pulled on out but kept her hand intertwined with his. She didn't know how she was going to eat one-handed but didn't care.  Cam's heart was full and over-flowing.  Beau liked her, a lot, even with a baby, but not half as much as she liked him.  Being around him all this time in his parents house had made her admiration rise more everyday.  And her longing. And not just a longing for him as a man, but for a Christian home like his.   His only flaw had been his weakness for Jackie, but that was behind him now evidently.

When he reached to adjust the radio, she went ahead and started eating.  Cam didn't know when she'd been so happy. They sang along with the radio all the rest of the way being slap silly.  Before they reached the city limits though, Beau pulled off at a rest stop.  After washing her hands, and before she could climb back in his truck, he grabbed her about the waist and searched her eyes for permission.  When she finally closed them, His hands threaded through her hair and she felt the softest, most gentle brush on her lips.  Cam had never been kissed before, but it was beyond what she had ever imagined.  It was like flying and falling all at the same time. 

When he finally sighed and said, "Get in on my side.  You are too far away over there."  Nothing had ever felt so right in her life, like she had found the place she belonged, right here beside Beau Weston.

The closer they came to her mother's apartment, the  more she started to feel panicky.  How was she going to take care of Eloise?  Especially when she worked the night shifts.  That's where the money was in tips.  She couldn't expect Betty to watch her forever and day cares were just that, day time care.  It was hard to take a deep breath.  Her heart was pounding.

"Are you alright?"

"I think so.  It's just a lot of responsibility to take on the full care of a child.  It's a little scary to think about."

'Just like I said when I found out you were homeless, people will help you, Cam.  Don't feel like you're all alone."

She smiled but was sure he couldn't know all it took to take care of a baby.  What if Eloise got sick?  What if she missed her Nana?  What if times a million things.

As soon as they pulled in her mother's apartment parking lot, every other thought dissipated in her anticipation in seeing Eloise.  Would she even remember her?

"Come on!"  Cam didn't wait for him to get out but scooted out the other side of the cab in her hurry.

As soon as her mother opened the door with Eloise on her hip, the baby squealed and reached out her arms for Cam.

Camille took her in a tight hug, stroking her soft hair and sucking up the sweet smell of baby shampoo.  Oh, how she had missed this!  Then she remembered herself.

"Mom, this is Beau Weston.  His family is the one I told you about who took me in."

Her mother wiped her hands on her pants and then shook the hand Beau extended, "I'm Julia.  It's nice to meet you, Beau.  I can't tell you how thankful I am that your parents offered my girls a place to stay."

A man yelled from the other room, "Can't a guy get dinner around here?"

A pain flashed across her mother's face before she replaced it with a forced smile.  "Come on in and I'll introduce you."  But she didn't invite them to supper.

Unfortunately, the introductions proved that the first impression was right.  The man was rude.  That's all there was to it.  Eloise buried her face into Cam's shoulder.  It was enough to convince Camille that she was doing the right thing, no doubt about it.

"Well, we have a long ride back, so I'll start loading her stuff up." Beau took charge of the uncomfortable situation. The man, Camille already forgotten his name, did not even offer to help move the crib.  Her mom did though while Cam held onto Eloise. 

"Does Joni ever come by?" she asked her mom as they carried things out to the truck.

"Sometimes.  I think she broke up with her last boyfriend though.  I don't know what I can do about that girl.  She'll be the death of me yet."

"Have you ever thought of  Teen Challenge for her?" Beau asked.  "It's a good program for girls like her."

"I'll look into it," was all her mom said.

It only took a couple more loads of Eloise's clothes, toys, car seat and other things before the truck was packed and ready.  Cam's mother had tears pouring down her face.  "This is so hard, Cam.  You have no idea."

Cam had an idea though, and it wasn't kind.  But just as she'd learned with her sister, you can't control how other people wanted to live their lives.  However, she could control how little Eloise would grow up.  She was her guardian, which reminded her.

"Mom, I need all her paperwork, her guardianship papers, her shot records and all that."

Her mother went back into the house one more time and came back with a manila envelope.  "It's all in there sweet heart."

"Tell your Nana bye-bye, Eloise," Cam said gently. The little girl practically lunged out of her arms to give her mother a hug.  Then, Cam buckled her into her car seat.  The little girl did not so much as whimper.  This was it.  All responsibility was now on Cam's shoulders alone.  And it was heavy, but sweet.

Eloise chatted happily, but in a lull, Cam looked back to find her fast asleep clutching her soft baby doll.  Her little girl had grown up so much already in the couple of months since she'd been gone.  Her speech had blossomed into what sounded like fairy speech, sounds and words which floated in and out of each other in a magical circle.

"Hey," Beau looked over at her.  "Are you alright?  This is pretty serious stuff, but I must admit that little munchkin is as cute as they get.  I'm not sorry to be taking her away from that guy back there."

"My mother never had good taste in men.  I don't get it.  She's been such a good mother, but gets desperate when it comes to men.  It's like she gets attached to the first one on two good legs who looks twice at her."

Beau just squeezed her hand.  "Listen, I don't want you to worry about anything.  Between you, my folks and me, we've got this thing covered, okay?"

His tone made tears well up in Cam's eyes.  "Thanks.  It means a lot."  Cam looked off in the distance unseeing.  She had no idea how on earth she was in a truck with Beau Weston, of all people, with her niece heading to live with his parents.  It was beyond imagination.

"Are you okay?"  He kept glancing over at her.

"Yeah, it's just a strange mixture of happy, scared, and a little sad about my mom, is all.  I still can't believe how your mom has offered to watch Eloise for me.  Are you sure she knows what she's getting into?"

"Sure, she'll take to it like fish to water, birds to the air, like lips to kisses."  With that he raised her hand to kiss it."

Cam sucked in her breath.  He was enough to make a girl faint.  It reminded her of his kiss back at the rest stop.  It hadn't seemed even real until now, now that he had just kissed her hand.

Finally in the quiet ride, Cam got her nerve up to ask about Jackie and the knife incident.  "You mention about being stabbed a while ago.  What happened exactly?"

He was quiet for a bit.

Camille quickly added, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"No, it's important for you to hear from me.  Not many people know about this.  Jackie got more and more difficult after we graduated. She either was extremely, insanely happy with grand ideas or was really depressed and sleeping all the time.   I didn't get it.  I hadn't been around anyone with mental health issues before.  Then she started scaring me with her spending sprees, even brazen advances out of character for even her, sometimes cursing when she'd been a good Christian up till then.  It made me realize that this wasn't what I'd signed up for.  I knew she'd always been more emotional than most girls, but I'd tried to reason that away.  Finally, one day I'd made up my mind that we'd never work, that I wasn't happy being with her and almost dreaded seeing her.  That's when I knew it was time. 

"The day I went over to her house to tell her, she was in the kitchen cooking dinner for her mom who was working.  She was going on and on about how she was going to be a reality cooking show star, about how she wanted to become this master chef.  It was a little weird.  I could hardly get her attention.  But when I told her I was breaking up with her, she started screaming at me, throwing things.  The next thing I knew, she lunged at me with the knife.  She got me good, but at least missed my heart and lungs.  I started bleeding heavily and was in kind of a shock.  I don't know what would of happened if her mom hadn't come home from work right then and called 9-1-1." 

"I guess the paramedics found me passed out on the floor.  I heard later that it took one fireman every thing he had to restrain Jackie who was going totally crazy by then, while the other first responders worked on me to stop the blood loss.  As soon as we got to the hospital they took me into surgery.  I guess they took Jackie down to the police station, but she had totally lost it by then.  So, she ended up in lockdown at mental health.  I got infection from the leakage where she stabbed me in the bowels.  It was pretty miserable any way you look at it."

"It sounds awful!"

"It was.  Well, she was charged, but they dealt with it mostly through mental health.  She's on meds now, if she takes them.  As soon as she starts on an upswing in her feelings, she thinks she doesn't need them anymore and quits taking them.  Her mom says it's a constant battle.  Somewhere in that head of hers is the nice girl I had fallen for in high school, but it's behind closed doors now.  Now on top of all that, her anorexia that she'd had during high school, which I had no idea about either, began threatening her health.  She's skin and bones but still feels fat, so she starves herself.  She was close to dying.  That's when her mother called and asked for my help.  It was another difficult time.  She was weeping and begging me not to take her the whole time we were driving clinging on me.  I made her mom come with us because there was no way that I was going to be alone with her in the truck.  What a mess, huh?"

Cam had tears on her cheeks.  As much as Jackie had made her life miserable, even robbing her of a couple of years of what should have been happy high school memories, now sounded like a nightmare.  She just said, "You never know what other people battle, I guess.  It sounds like it was horrific to go through for you though.  Do you have any lasting damages?"

"Ahh, nobody has to have their spleen, I guess.  It wasn't fun, I'll admit.  As painful as that was physically, the memory of her coming at me is worse.  I was totally unprepared for that.  Sometimes I get this fight or flight surge of adrenaline when it flashes back on me.  Even seeing my mom in the kitchen with a knife chopping onions is enough to put me on edge.  I have to just remember that she was really sick.  Mental illness is not something she chose.  It's just something she has.  It kinda crept up on her so nobody had figured it out until it became drastic like that.   Evidently, the older you get with bi-polar the bigger and longer the swings from one extreme to the other."

"That's why when my mom told me you were back in town, I was anxious to see you.  I had looked at you feeling guilty about it all during those last two years of high school, but couldn't really act on it as long as I was attached to Jackie. Sometimes even then, I wanted to break up with her so I could ask you out.  I always thought you were the most beautiful girl on campus, and I wasn't supposed to think like that since I already had a girlfriend, you know.  I guess I was always a little too afraid to face the big ugly scene I knew it would be if I did break it off."

"I saw you looking at me sometimes.  I always wondered what you were thinking.  Thanks for being nice to me though.  It meant a lot even though I didn't dare show it at the time.  I guess Jackie controlled both of our lives."

"Pretty sad, huh.  At least that's behind us now.  If you ever see her again and she's mean to you, just tell me.  I'll protect you now, okay?  That's a promise."

"It's probably not out of the realm of possibility, I suppose.  I don't imagine she's over you.  She's probably still a little obsessed."

Beau scowled, "I'm afraid you're right.  She seemed to get her hopes up when I was taking her to the treatment facility.  No matter how many times I told her we weren't going to get back together, it was like she couldn't hear me.  I even pulled over and made her mom sit between us finally."

"That must have been a hard drive.   Kinda like this one, another lady in distress to rescue."

"Nothing like this time.  I feel blessed to be with you, Cam.  You're like water on dry ground, a cool breeze on a hot day, like fresh strawberry pie with whipped cream after a nice steak dinner.  Wait a minute, that last comment didn't come out right."

They both laughed.  It's okay if you compare me to food.  It must mean that you're getting hungry.  It's past supper time."

"You wouldn't mind stopping?"

"Not at all.  Eloise needs to wake up or she won't sleep tonight."

It felt a little like they were a married couple going into the restaurant with Beau carrying Eloise with her head on his shoulder on one side while holding Cam's hand on the other." 

He put the toddler in a high chair and buckled the strap.  A waitress came and gave her a packet of crackers.  "This will tide the baby girl over maybe until we bring out the food, if that's okay with you."

"Thank you."

"You two certainly have a pretty little girl," the waitress smiled.

"We don't..."  but Beau squeezed her hand under the table and slightly shook his head.  She didn't have to explain.  So she relaxed.  It was a pleasant dinner.  Eloise was hungry enough to be on good behavior with food to keep her happy. 

Cam tried to take the tab, but Beau wouldn't let her.  "This is my treat.  Our first date."

She giggled.  She, Camille Foster, giggled.  She didn't remember the last time she had felt so giddy.

"First you tell me over a bag of fast food tacos that you feel something for me, then my first kiss ever was in front of the restrooms at a rest stop, and now our first date is with a baby in a high chair.  You are so romantic, Beau Weston."

"Is that a challenge, Miss Camille, to prove to you that I can be romantic?"  His eyes twinkled.

"I don't know if I could handle any more," and she giggled again. 

"Wait a minute, did you say that was your first kiss ever?"

Cam blushed but nodded.

"Sweet!"  Beau grinned.  "That makes it even better."

Her boss was nice giving her the early shifts so she could be home every evening with Eloise.  She wouldn't make as much, but it was worth it.

One dinner a few days later found everyone else around the table somber while Eloise chatted away.  Already her little girl was speaking better and coming out of her shell.  Cam listened as Beau talked with his dad.

"If we can't get those contracts with the government renewed for grazing, we'll have to find somewhere else to lease then."

"That'll eat up our profits big time.  It could even run us out of the cattle business, to be frank with you son."

Cam noticed that Betty had wiped a tear away.  It was very serious.

"We have to keep trying then for grazing rights on government land.  Our family has had those agreements for over a hundred years.  It isn't right that the government has so much land under their control.  How do they think cattlemen can exist.  There's no way we can buy up enough land to run our herds on.  Do we have any neighbors who have already given up on raising beef?"

"That's an idea.  I know old Stefan has quit pretty much.  I just thought it was because he was getting up in years and didn't have any sons to take over his ranch.  I'll call him after we eat."

"Maybe we can pray, pray right now," Betty offered.

So, Cam and even little Eloise who reached out her sticky fingers held hands while Mr. Weston prayed.  "Lord, we know that you said you own the cattle on a thousand hills.  If it is your will that we continue herding cows, would you mind lending us a few of those hills.  We're feeling a little needy right now, and so we turn to you trusting that you'll provide what we need.  In Jesus name, Amen."

"Amen," they all echoed while Eloise exclaimed, "Men!"

Cam loved living with the Westons, not to mention having Beau around.  Betty was teaching her how to make a house a home.  She loved doing chores for her like bringing in the eggs.  Eloise loved it too.  Camille couldn't think of a better place to raise kids.  Beau was even teaching Cam to ride horses, one of her dreams come true.  He even managed to take her on a few romantic dates, nice dinners and drives around the lake going on past the campgrounds where she used to sleep.

A congressman was working out a compromise for the area cattle ranchers to have at least part of the previous grazing rights granted, but in the meanwhile, the Westons  were able to lease acres of range from their neighbor as well.  It was enough to keep them in business, a little while longer at least.

It was the next day after that good news when  Beau asked her to walk with him after supper.  It was a cool night with a slight breeze.

"Are you warm enough?"  He put his arm around her as they walked.

"Now I am."

He kissed her.

"You're quiet," he said.  "What are you thinking about?" he asked.

"I'm just glad I'm not trying to camp in my car with the cold weather coming.  I certainly couldn't live like that with Eloise.  It makes me want to pinch myself that God sent you and your family to look after us.  It hardly seems real."

"Did you ever wonder why my mom sometimes calls me Boaz?"

"I did, thinking maybe Beau was short for Boaz, but that's kind of a crazy name.  Isn't that a name in the Bible?"

"Yeah, my mom kept telling me to read it, and I just finally just got around to it.  It's in the book of Ruth."

"Ruth, as in "Wither thou goeth I will go," Ruth?

"Yep, that's the one.  Well, Boaz was her redeemer-protector.  Let me see if I can tell it.  Naomi's sons and husband died where they had left to escape famine in Israel.  Ruth, her widowed daughter-in-law, was a foreigner who followed her back to her home.  When they arrived,  Naomi told her old friends to call her "Bitter," because she left full, but came back empty.  Except that wasn't true because she had Ruth to look out for her.  Ruth went out gleaning in the fields in order to get enough grain to subsist on.  Boaz looked out and noticed this beautiful woman in his field one day and asked about her.  He told his overseer to leave her extra and to protect her so no one would bother her, you know, as a woman.  In the meanwhile, when Naomi found out that she was working in Boaz's field, she told Ruth to do a kind of peculiar thing.  She told her to go to where he was in the field at the threshing floor in the middle of the night and to uncover Boaz' feet."

"That's pretty weird,"  Cam said.

He'd led her out to the yard but brought a Bible with him that she hadn't noticed before.  I want to read you this part.  It says that, "It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet.  He asked, 'Who are you?'  And she answered, 'I am Ruth your maid...So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, 'Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.'"  Does that make you think of anything?

She laughed, "Just a little bit, like us the night you found me."

"Well, if the boot fits.  Actually, I think I'm maybe supposed to wear it.  This is why my mom started calling me Boaz since I found you in the middle of the night on my property, and God was calling me to help protect you, provide for you.  This is what else Boaz said, ' daughter, do not fear.  I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.'  That's you, Camille."

Cam was speechless.  Finally she said, "I guess I'd better read that."  She looked up at him and found his eyes full of intensity.  He took both of her hands.

"Cam, I know this is all a lot of change in your life, but I want you to pray with me about if I'm to really be the one to redeem you, to protect you, to provide for you always, you and Eloise.  I think I'm falling in love with you, Camille.  I watched you from afar four years ago, but now I don't want to ever keep my distance.  I want you, Cam."

"That's what's in my heart too.  You've become more than my high school crush.  You know, I think I'm ready to start calling you my Boaz, Beau, as my redeemer-protector.  I was a foreigner in high school, and yet you were kind to me.  Since you found me once I came back, you have protected me.  You've held my very heart in your hands."

"Just so we're agreed on Scripture, you know," and he grinned right before he kissed her but good.

"So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her."
Ruth 4:13