Saturday, February 25, 2017


A Just for Fun Fiction for Sunday
by c.j.

Eli unfolded his lanky legs after kneeling before the mourner's bench, jumping up with a big slap-happy smile on his face shouting, "Hallelujah, I've done been delivered!  I asked God to turn the wine into water, and my thirst for liquor is gone!  He's hefted me up out of the miry clay and set me on the right path that goes clear from here to glory!  Hallelujah!  That other one I was on was a slippery slope, and I found myself sliding a mite too fast downwards.  So, praise the Lord!  My mama's prayers have done been answered!"

As the congregation joined his shouts of praise waving their hankies, Eli's gaze swept across the pews and stuttered to a stop on the front row, right side.  There sat two stunners.  One looked like an angel with her hands clasped under her chin beaming while basking in his testimony whereas the other one looked at him with an arched eyebrow and a skeptical frown on her face.  Humph.  His eyes went back to his angel.  The purty thing gasped as he stared at her with a grin.

What he hadn't said in his testimony was that not only was he delivered from drinking, by turning the wine into water, but God promised him a bride that could help keep him on the straight and narrow.  Those other gals he'd been with weren't no good for his new born again self.  And unless he was mistaken, there she sat as bright and shiny as a new penny.  

When he shook the preacher's hand on the way out, the man pounded him on the back proud as a peacock over his newest lamb in the fold, that is until Eli boldly declared, "Reverend, I'll be coming calling on your daughter over there."  He nodded towards the ladies tittering in their little gossipy circle.  "The one in the white dress, that is if she's not already taken."  Eli couldn't think of a better helpmeet than a pastor's daughter, one who would come with a big fat Bible she could read to him every evening by the fire.

The pastor was speechless.  His mouth kept opening like a fish out of water.  Eli pounded him on the back to get him talking again.  "Are you alright, pastor?  I thought for a second there that you were breathing your last."

"I'm alright son."  He coughed, loosened his collar and ran his hand clear over his bald spot then through his thinning hair sputtering, "I guess if it's alright with my daughter and as long as all the courting takes place in our parlor with the family all around."

"In your parlor?"  Eli choked.  He'd never courted a girl in a parlor before and certainly not in front of her kinfolk.  Why, he'd always taken them behind the barn to steal a few smooches.  "Yes, sir, that suits me right fine."  This new born-again life might be a tad harder than he thought.  "I'll come over tonight, say about dusk?"

"Well, you might as well come for Sunday dinner, son.  We'll set an extra place for you."  The pastor hurried over to tell his wife they were having company.  His angel looked at him adoringly while her sister scowled arms crossed.  Didn't she know she'd be plumb prettier if she'd wipe that dirty look off her face?

All the way to the parsonage, Annie argued.  "Pa, do you know who that is?  That's Eli Vance.  His reputation is worse than a polecat's.  People cross the street rather than walk past him."

"He's been redeemed, Annie.  He's a new creature in Christ," her father responded.  "We need to give him a chance, especially since he's asked to court your sister."

All the women folk in his little family stopped dead in their tracks and gaped.  "Me?" Amanda gasped. 

"I told him it was alright only if you agreed . I also told him all his sparking needed to be done in our parlor with the family all present."

Annie groaned, "Isn't that just dandy."

"Well, Amanda," their father stared at his oldest and most compliant child, "would you rather I tell him you are not interested?  Doug Fester has been hanging around quite a bit.  Have you taken a fondness for him?"

Annie snorted. "In your dreams."  She just happened to know that Mr. Fester was the biggest tither in the church."

Amanda straightened her shoulders, and after sending her sister as dirty a look as had ever crossed her lovely face, said, "Not Mr. Fester.  He's too old and a widower at that.  You may tell Mr. Vance he may call on me."

"You're making a big fat mistake, Amanda.  Eli spells his name, "T-R-O-U-B-L-E," Annie snarled under her breath just loud enough for her sister to hear.  "He's left a trail of broken hearts from here to Tennessee."

"I believe you are just jealous that the best looking man who has ever walked through the doors of our church has taken a shine to me," she retorted. 

Annie was dumbfounded.  Her sister had never before made a snide remark in her life.  This was looking like a worse idea by the minute.  What was her father thinking allowing this?

Her sister was on a roll now as she continued, "You heard his testimony.  I believe God can wash all the spots off a leopard..."  

Annie couldn't help but snort in laughter.  Even she knew that wasn't in the Bible.

"I believe Eli was sincere.  Old things pass away and all things become new.  Maybe I'm just one of those new things, dear sister." Amanda finished.

Annie hated it when she called her "dear sister."  Amanda was so sickenly sweet that Annie was surprised flies didn't stick to her.  "Well, don't say that I didn't warn you." 

What Annie didn't say was that she'd had a run-in with Mr. New-Man once upon a time.  He'd stolen a kiss from her, in fact.  It was behind the schoolhouse.  One day in a rush to get home to help her mother with the baking, she'd come barreling around the corner, running smack dab into his hard chest almost knocking the wind out of her.  He'd just laughed and said, "I'd like to think you're in a all-fired hurry to come see me, sweetheart..."  Then he'd kissed her.  Evidently he didn't remember, but she did.  It was enough of a kiss that it couldn't be swiped from her memory though she'd wiped off her lips plenty of times trying to forget.  He'd whistled at her as she'd run away from him too.  She doubted that even God could wash his stinking soul clean as a whistle.

But there he sat in the manse as plain as day.  Eli Vance was a story teller.  He kept her whole family enraptured with his tales.  Her little brother looked up to him like he was ten feet tall while her little sister's eyes couldn't get rounder as she listened in awe.  Her father leaned back taking it all in while her mother leaned forward not wanting to miss a word.  Amanda?  She just looked demurely down only fluttering her eyes up at him whenever he stopped to catch his breath, which wasn't often.  As for her, she glowered refusing to look at him pushing the spring peas around on her plate instead.  The worst part was that no one even noticed, except for the man doing all the talking.  The only time she looked up, he'd had the audacity to wink at her.  Beyond that he ignored her as if she were no more than a lump in his gravy.  The rest of the afternoon was spent crowded in the parlor.  Amanda played their small organ while the family sang, except for her.  Of course, Mr. Leopard-without-a-spot proved he could sing with the best of them.  The only sound she made was the strumming of her fingers on the book closed on her lap. 

The Mr. White-As-Snow certainly was persistent.  He was as dazzling as a bleached pair of long johns hanging out on the line flapping in the wind.  Everyone else might be fooled, but not her.  She felt sorry for his horse. He'd ridden in from his ranch enough to wear out the shoes on any pony in the pack.  It was getting old.  She was beginning to hate sitting in the parlor every evening watching Amanda making goo-goo eyes at the man.

Was she finally beginning to see that he was cooling towards her sister just a teeny wienie bit, not that any one else would notice?  It's just that Amanda was so perfect she should wear a halo.  Sometimes, much as she loved her, it made her hard to be around.  The only things she'd talk about come evenings was what her Sunday School lesson was about, how she'd crossed the street when a tainted lady walked down the sidewalk, or how she'd taken soup to the croupy family in their congregation, or how many Bible verses she'd memorized just that afternoon, or how she'd rubbed lemon oil on all the pews until they shone, or how she'd sown baby quilts for the foundling home in the city.  All Annie could say was something sarcastic once in awhile.  She caught him laughing at it once. 

Annie thought maybe she could get him to laugh more at inappropriate times.  She began her campaign by imitating her sister behind her back like when Amanda straightened her skirts on the organ bench fluffing them carefully over her ankles. Annie did too in an exaggerated manner catching his eye.  He tilted his head as if surprised.  Or by sticking up her pinkie finger up just like her sister when they were drinking their tea, only noisily slurping hers, drinking it down like a fish and letting out a big lip-smacking, "Ahh," afterwards.  He raised his eyebrows while her mother looked at her shocked. 

She resorted to saying outlandish things in response to everything her sister said.  If Amanda said she'd baked a pie, Annie would say she'd stayed up all night to bake two and taken them at first light over to the jail to the poor misguided prisoners there.  "You know," she'd said, "like in the Bible where it says, 'I was in jail and you came to visit me with pies,'" Her father just shook his head while her mother looked at her askance.  Eli worked hard to hide a smirk.

If Amanda said that she'd helped take care of a neighbor's poor little baby with colic, Annie said, she'd helped take care of measly twin babies covered in spots, even though her mother looked surprised remarking that she didn't know of any twin infants in town at present or measles going around.  He coughed trying to hide a chortle she was sure.  He was catching on. 

If Amanda said she'd joined the sewing circle to help make a quilt for a poor family who'd  lost everything they owned in a fire, Annie said that she'd given away all her extra dresses and drawers to them and only kept the shirt on her back, and oh, her skirt as well, never mind the rest.  Her mother gasped saying the woman would make two of Annie and could no more wear her dresses than a hippo, and that she thought they only had sons.  It was the only unkind thing her mother had ever said.  He'd sort of barked a laugh at that one before he could help himself.  She could tell that her sister was getting miffed.

Finally, when Amanda said that she'd helped to raise money to buy a Bible for each of the soiled doves who lived above the saloon, Annie said that she had marched right into the saloon and presented the owner of that den of iniquity with her own Bible with all the verses underlined that warned against the sin of drunkenness.  Eli had such a fit of coughing, laughing so hard really, that he had to excuse himself running out the door with his shoulders shaking.  That ought to do him for now.

She was downright disconcerted however that he'd taken to studying her across the room while her sister talked on and on about this and that nothings.  It was enough to make her squirm.

But while he had stepped out, her mother whispered, "I do declare, that I believe you are telling untruths, Annie.  For shame."

Amanda sniffed, "I'd say you are trying to draw my suitor's attention away from me.  You are making quite a spectacle out of yourself and are looking foolish."

Her father said, "I'm surprised at you, Annie."  That made her just more than a little uncomfortable.

She retorted, "Well, maybe you ought to be taking whatever he's spouting off, with a grain of salt as well."  She crossed her arms defensively, but was still pleased that she'd made him laugh at how self-righteous her sister sounded.

She was walking into the kitchen when Eli came back in by way of the back door.  "You are better at stretching the truth than taffy at a taffy pull party.  I'm on the edge of my seat to hear your next whopper!" He tweaked her nose after calling her Pinocchio.

Annie swatted his hand away fuming.  Maybe that strategy wasn't working as well as she thought.  Soon however, her plan wasn't needed.  She couldn't help but grin when he began yawning more and more often as her sister droned on come evenings.  The poor cowboy probably was up with the rooster and had ridden miles chasing cows' behinds before coming to the parsonage here in town every night.  Annie almost felt sorry for him.  But she could hardly contain her laughter when he completely fell asleep on the sofa one evening, his head laid back and his mouth wide open snoring loud enough to wake the dead.  She wasn't sure if it was her belly laugh or if he'd woken himself up when he'd fallen over and hit his head on the arm of the sofa.

"I guess I'd better call it a night," he said standing up and stretching.   "I might need to curtail my visits to just weekends for now as I'm about as worn out as the good parson's Bible."

Annie grinned like the man in the moon while Amanda looked disappointed.  Her father nodded astutely looking over at his worn Bible while lovingly thumbing its pages.  Her mother looked sympathetically at him and asked if he'd like a cup of coffee before he rode out worrying that he might fall off his horse on his way home.

"No ma'am but I'd like for Miss Amanda to walk me out to the gate, if you don't mind."

That took her father by surprise and he gulped.  "Perhaps for just a minute as long as she doesn't linger.  It's awful dark out there."

Annie tried to stare him down, but obviously the man wasn't easily intimidated.  She just knew that Amanda was about to get her first kiss.  Yet, Annie felt a little like gloating that Eli Vance had kissed her first.  Just the thought of him kissing her sister though caused her heart to flop in an unnatural, painful way.  She determined that if he kept Amanda out there too long that she'd march right on out and interrupt any goings-on that shouldn't be going on.  In the meanwhile, she kept strumming her fingers on her book waiting.  

Her sister burst in quicker than a squirrel could run up a tree.  She looked all bushy-tailed and bright-eyed.

"Did he kiss you?" Annie wasn't about to mince words.

"I'll never tell," her sister said smugly.

"Girls, please.  Ladies don't talk this way," her mother sniffed.

But their little sister Pansy said, "Tell us more!" all big-eyed.

"That's enough," their father said.  "I hope you know that any more of that, and that young man better declare himself," he added.

"Want me to get the rifle?" her little brother begged.

"It's not come to that, Abram," her father said sternly.  "We'll wait and see."

"You'd not pull a gun on the man, would you, pa?" Annie had to ask suddenly realizing she'd just die if Eli was shot.

"Not necessarily.  Hopefully, if he has designs on my daughter, he'll go about it in the right way."

"Oh, dear," her mother said.  "Has he declared himself or said anything about a wedding, Amanda?"

"No! Of course not.  I'm going up to bed.  Good night.  May you have as sweet of dreams as I'll have."  She glided up the stairs like a princess.  It felt worse to Annie than fingers scratched down the big blackboard in the schoolroom giving her sickening chills.

That broke up the inquest party.   Annie sighed.  If she examined her heart too closely, she'd have to admit that she'd hoped Eli would not marry her sister, not after the way he'd kissed her once, two years, four months and five days ago, give or take an hour.  She sighed more deeply this time and drug herself up to bed.  She peeked in and found Amanda already asleep in the room by herself when she got there.  Her little sister Pansy was in her flowery bed whistling through her nose, her usual song of the night, in the room they shared.  After letting her hair down,  Annie sank sitting on her bed, just putting her head in her hands thinking back over all the times, Eli had come to call.  He seemed to be a changed man, polite, funny.  He loved to talk Bible truths with her father, something she had a tendency to do while her mother and siblings preferred to just read it and leave it.  Why did the man have to have such a handsome face and charming smile that was enough to pull down stars from the sky and put them in her eyes.  There was a soft knock on her bedroom door.  It was her little brother.

"Abram, what do you want," she whispered.  He handed her a note.  "What's this?" she asked.

"Read it yourself.  He gave it to me when I went out to make sure the door to the chicken coop was shut.  The fox has been getting in there again."

"Thanks," she shut her door and opened the note to read by candlelight.  She was shocked.  It was from Eli. "Meet me on the porch.  I'll be waiting."  He'd signed it "the fox."

She opened the door to call Abram back, but he'd already gone to his room.  Surely, he meant Amanda, but she double-checked the front of the note.  Her name was plainly written on it.  Without thinking, she silently went down the stairs missing the squeaky ones and walked out the front door.  She did not see anyone until he stepped out of the shadows.

"What do you want?" she whispered shakily.

"I was just getting some things straight in my mind and needed your help," he said quietly, his deep voice rumbling like distant thunder.

"Really?  Why didn't you ask Amanda to help you?" She felt bolder now.

"Ahh, you know your sister.  Sometimes..." he paused rubbing his neck, "I just get a little weary of all her polishing up her goody two shoes, if you know what I mean."

Annie giggled and nodded covering her mouth.

"And then I kissed her."  The smile fell right off Annie's face and landed somewhere on the floor right beside her heart.  She swallowed and said, "We all figured as much."

He rubbed his neck and sighed looking up at the moon.  "I've had kisses from my horse better than from her lips.  Ah shucks.  I shouldn't be saying such things, especially not to her sister."

But Annie had picked up her smile again and was putting her heart back in her chest where it was now pounding away happily. 

"So, why did you ask me to meet you out here?"

"I've just been thinking and remembering."  He searched her face.  Then picked up a long lock of her hair and smelled it.  His fingers traced down her cheek before his thumb rubbed lightly over her lips.  "It seems to me that there was a pretty little schoolgirl who knew how to kiss a whole lot better than that.  I was just putting two and two together.  When I was at the altar and asking God to turn the wine into water, before I knew it, God not only took away my thirst, but He promised me a bride, a helpmeet.  I was for certain that I'd found her in angelic Amanda.  But God's been telling me I have it all wrong.  She's not the right one for me.  I need someone with a little more spunk and gumption, someone who can argue the Scriptures with me, someone who can make me happy and laugh, someone who can kiss better..."

Then he kissed her.  It was better, better than she remembered.  Annie got lost in his kissing forgetting that she was standing on her porch in the dark kissing her sister's boyfriend.  It took her awhile before she thought better of it.

"What are we going to do?" she asked feeling guilty for not feeling guiltier.

"We're going to go wake your father up and ask him to marry us right now," he grinned keeping one hand on her waist with the other buried in her hair pulling her back towards him.

"Wait," you want to marry me tonight?" 

"Why not?  All my courtings been done as much in front of you as your sister.   I've already kissed you a hundred times more than your sister."

"Were you counting," she asked shyly. 

"Nope, I rounded it off as best as I could figure.  But what do you say?  I need a helpmeet, not a ride to town every night.  It's worn me thinner than the blankets in the jail cell."

"How do you know?"

"Never you mind, just answer me."

"Did you ask me something," she said smartly standing back away from him.

"He got down on his knee. "Is this better?"

She pulled him up and boldly put her arms around his neck.  "Just say the words."

"Annie girl, will you marry me?  I do believe you are the answer to my prayers, the one that God promised me even before I asked."

"Who am I to argue with God?  Yes, Eli Vance, I'll be your wife, starting tonight, that is if my father will agree."

That was a chilling thought to both of them.  He began pacing while she chewed her nails.  Finally he turned and caught her hands in his.  "We won't know until we ask.   But I promise you this, my sweet Annie, I'm not going anywhere.  I'll camp out on this porch if I have to."

"Good.  Wait in the parlor, and I'll go get him though I'll probably have to wake him up."

Her father answered her knock looking disheveled and sleepy.  Her mother called, "What is it dear?"

"Pa, Eli needs to ask you something in the parlor."

"Oh, is he going to ask for Amanda's hand?"  her mother gasped eagerly.

"No, ma.  He's not.  It's just gotten a little more complicated."

"Oh, dear, let me put on my robe," she said.

"Where's my other slipper?" her father muttered grumpily.  Annie crawled around on her hands and knees reaching way under his bed to pull it out from a herd of dust bunnies and handed it to him.

"If he's not asking for your sister's hand, I can't imagine what the urgency is," he pondered confused by being woken up out of a deep sleep and well, by the shock of it all.

Annie chewed her lip as she walked sandwiched between her parents on their march to the parlor.

Eli stood by the fireplace looking calm and determined, not to mention as handsome as all get out.
He broke into a grin when he saw her, but sobered as his gaze left hers to meet her father's stare.

"Sir, I know this is highly unusual and unexpected, but when I left here tonight, I was uneasy as   I remembered meeting your daughter a couple of years ago..."

"Two years, four months and five days ago, give or take a few hours," Annie added, but shut her mouth at her parents' surprised expressions.

"You met Amanda before?" her father asked.

"No, I met Annie, here.  I just hadn't remembered before tonight for sure and certain, but it is Annie that I love, not Amanda," he declared.

"What!" Amanda stood in the doorway looking like an angel with her blonde hair flowing down as she stood in her white night gown, a very angry angel.  Annie just hoped she wasn't an avenging angel.  "But you kissed me!"

"Sorry, darling.  That kiss was the same kind I'd give my sister, no more than that.  It was then that I realized that it was your sister that I had kissed once before."

"Two years, four months and five days ago, give or take a few hours," she repeated.

Everyone looked at her as if she was crazy, then swung their heads to look angrily at Eli.  He put his hands up.  "You can't say I didn't try, but the shine I took to your Amanda wore off pretty quickly.  I had to kiss her to make sure, and yep, nothing was there.  Sorry, darling."

"How dare you!" Amanda stormed off stomping up the stairs.  Everyone was shocked.  Amanda had never stomped up the stairs.  Never, ever. BAM!  And slamming a door?  No never, never ever.  Annie shrugged thinking, "Welcome to the real world, dear sister."

"What is the meaning of this?" her father asked smoking like a volcano she'd read about in her science book back before she'd finished school.

"I'm asking to marry your daughter here, Miss Annie.  Right now.  Tonight."

"What!"  Her father held her mother up as she went limp for a second.  Then she resurrected herself enough to sputter, "Is there a reason that this is to be a hurried wedding?"

Annie fanned herself in embarrassment.  "No, mother.  How could you ask that?"

"This is highly unusual," her mother sniffed.  "Are you wanting to marry this man after all the times you tried to run him off?"

"I didn't know if I could trust that his conversion took when he went to the altar a few weeks back.  I'm convinced of it now, though I tried testing him a bit, I'll admit.  And yes, I wish to marry him.  I've been in love with him for two years, four months and five days, give or take a few hours."

Eli puffed up his chest grinning.  "Well, ain't that something."

Her father still was unconvinced.  I think it is more appropriate that you court my daughter first before waking me in the night to ask to marry her."

Annie saw her younger brother and sister peeking in from the staircase though Amanda's slammed door had proclaimed she wasn't coming back down.

"You see, sir, I've been coming to court your daughter..."

"For six weeks and three days..."  Annie said under her breath.

"Yes, as I was saying, I've been courting your daughter for six weeks right here in your parlor in front of your entire family, including Annie here.  It's the same as if I'd been sparking her.  It wasn't until tonight though, that I was able to get her alone to make sure..."

"What!" her mother looked very Queen Victoria-ishly shocked. 

"I see," her father rubbed his chin.  "This is highly unexpected.  I think we should at least wait until the morning to see if you've changed your minds, both of you."

"That's just it, sir.  I'm plumb worn out riding in here every night.  I need a helpmeet and new shoes on my horse.  I need Annie by my side to help me walk the straight and narrow.  I finally realized that I don't need the sugary sweet tidbits that Amanda spouts, but the solid backbone of Annie so that iron can sharpen iron as the Good Book says."

"But can you support my daughter? Do you have a home for her?"

"Yes, sir.  I have a newly built cabin on my pa's ranch.  Each of us boys have one, in fact, Nathan,
Samuel, Daniel, and Joey."


"His real name is Joseph Arimathea, but we just call him Joey." Eli grinned that irresistible grin of his.  "My ma took her studying of the Bible pretty seriously.  She figured if she named us all after some Bible characters, one of us might turn out to be more than a character, rather a godly leader of one kind or the other.  At least now I'll try to be a godly leader in my home."

Her father was staring at her now.  Annie looked back at him with her chin up. 

"Are you sure darling?  Wouldn't you rather wait a few days?"

"No, I'm ready.  I can just put on my Sunday best dress, and throw a few things in my carpet bag for now."  She looked over at Eli and about swooned at his adoring look.  "We can come by later and pick up my hope chest."

Her mother barked orders, "Pansy, take the lantern out to the flower beds and pick your sister a bouquet.  Abram, go ask your other sister to come down, if she will.  I know it will be hard for her, but she might regret missing her sister's wedding later after she is once married herself to somebody steady like Mr. Fester.  And dear, you can't perform your daughter's wedding in your nightshirt, you need to go change.  Oh, my, so must I," she said looking down at her robe.  She'd mistaken her dirty stocking for its tie.

Finally, everyone was reassembled on the front porch dressed and wide awake.  Seeing how it was a full moon, they'd decided at the last minute to be married by moonlight under the bright stars.  He liked seeing those stars reflected in Annie's eyes.  She stood there a vision in white gripping a hastily gathered garden bouquet of wild roses and ivy. 

Even Amanda had glided back down like a queen bestowing them with her presence.  She only sniffled a little during the ceremony.  When the "I do's" were said and they were pronounced man and wife, Eli out a whoop and hollered, "Hallelujah!  He not only turned my wine into water taking away my thirst, but he blessed me with a bride to boot!  Praise the Lord!"  Then he kissed her in front of God and everybody, well, she heard her sister stomp off back up the stairs, but everyone else was all smiles, especially her. 

Annie sighed.  Though at first he'd picked the wrong one, at least now he had the right one.  But it was understandable, him being a brand-spanking new Christian when he'd made that mistake.  Now that  he had gone a few miles down the glory road, God'd had time to screw his head on straight and got his heart pointed in the right direction, right at her, where it belonged, hallelujah!

"Then I will give her...
the valley of Achor (pain) as a
door of hope."

Hosea 2:15

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