Ghost from the Past
" No one is sane, straight along, year in and year out, and we all know it. Our insanities are of varying sorts, and express themselves in varying forms--fortunately harmless forms as a rule." – Mark Twain
“Of course it’s me. Who else would it be? You don’t have some other fella up here do you?”
I sat down in a puddle and started crying with real tears and everything. “Oh no. I’ve gone and lost my mind somehow. Did I eat a bad mushroom? Am I lying in my bed wracked with fever and don’t know it? Oh Lord, you aren’t dead are you? You haven’t come because you feel sorry for me and think I need company rather than you going on to your Reward?”
Lee turned around cautiously and then bent down and gathered me up and put me back on the bed. “You’re out of your head all right but it is more from that near drowning than because you’re crazy. And what’s the big idea giving me a heart attack like that? Did you lose all sense somewhere along the way?”
It was definitely Lee Ward; he’s the only one that would treat me like I meant something … or meant enough to worry him. “Lee? Are you really here?”
He gave me a relieved smile and said, “Of course I am. Where else would I be after taking so long to track you down?”
“Track me down? Why on earth would you want to?”
A little bashful all of a sudden he said, “Well, about that, we can talk about it when you get over your shock. I hadn’t meant to come up on you like this. I need to get over my shock too you know. I’m serious. What possessed you to be climbing in and out of a car with that bridge in the shape it was in?”
Sitting on the bed still not quite sure what was real and what wasn’t I replied, “Well, it seemed a good idea at the time. Oh no!”
“My boat! I’ve gotta go get …”
“Relax, it’s where you normally moor it.”
I looked at him suspiciously. “And exactly how would you know that?”
“’Cause you aren’t exactly trying to hide it. I’ve been tracking you for a week. I kept missing you. You leave sign all over the place but every time you’d hit the rocks about a quarter mile south of here I’d lose you. I’ve tracked you back and forth all over the place but never could find your base camp.”
“And just how did you know it was me?”
“I don’t know anyone else that has natural auburn hair like yours is. How you can lose as much hair as you do and still have any on your head …”
He reached out and pulled at a still damp curl by my ear and it made me feel like someone was sitting on my chest.
Softlly he said, “Look at you. You’re eyes are as big as silver dollars and as green or greener as I ever remember them being.”
I swallowed and said, “Lee … what’s … what’s that smell?”
“Huh?” Then he shot up. “Dang it … the soup.”
When he left the tent I zipped it shut real fast and climbed into proper clothes from the skin out including some felt slippers for my feet.
Lee called, “You through in there or you need a few more minutes? Saved the soup … you should get some down you to hold off a chill.”
Slowly I unzipped the tent and poked my head out then just stared. “Where’d all this mess come from?”
“It’s not a mess Bella, it’s all the gear I brung.”
“Brought. Gear you brought, not brung. And don’t talk silly ‘cause I know good and well you managed to get you at least some college before all of this stuff started happening. And what do you mean your gear?”
“Come on out and I’ll show you. After you eat.” When I still hesitated he said, “I won’t bite.”
I sighed. “Don’t get funny Lee. I’m still frozen and three quarters turned around and don’t know what to believe and what not to.”
“Then come sit down,” he cajoled. “This soup’ll thaw you out and I’ll explain a little more.”
My stomach gave a gurgle of hunger and we both laughed when his answered mine. He said, “Just like lunch time in the cafeteria.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. Slowly I edged over to the table to find he’d poured me a mug of thick chicken soup. “Where’s yours?” I asked looking around.
“Well, you need to eat and …”
I crossed my arms and I know my face must have looked a lot like Todd Michael when I tried to get him to eat something new. “Where’s yours?” I asked again.
“I’m not going to take your food Bella,” Lee said gently. “I won’t do that to you. Tomorrow I’m going hunting.”
I got up from the table and realized he’d only looked in the cabinet beside where I sat the camp stove. I looked at Lee, looked hard and when he stared back questioningly I asked him, “You up here alone?”
“Uh … yeah. Why? You wanting more company than me?” That question was followed by a scowl.
“Don’t get silly and confuse the issue. I’m asking for a reason.”
His face cleared. Lee always had understood what I meant without me having to go into an infernal amount of backstory. “Why did you come up here?” I asked him.
“Looking for you.”
“I’ll explain that …”
“… when I’m over my shock. You said that. Consider me over my shock.”
He saw I wasn’t budging so he sighed and said, “It’s a long story Bella. I never meant it to take this long.”
“Long to what?”
“Come for you. My parents said you were way too young and that your uncle could cause us a world of trouble even if we could ignore the church ladies and their talking. They also said you wouldn’t want to be cut off from your family.” Then he got a ferocious look on his bearded face, “But then I find out from Josh Daniel that his daddy had … had … and I swear if he hadn’t been just getting over being so sick I would have punched his lights out right there for letting it happen.”
My breath caught and I hadn’t realized I’d been hiding my worry from myself. “You’ve … you’ve seen them? The boys? Are they OK?”
He snorted and came over and gently pushed me back into the chair in front of the mug of soup before pulling a camp stool over and sitting beside me. “As good as can be expected having Cecily Jacob for a stepmom.”
I nearly strangled on broth. When I was done coughing I asked, “He actually went and married her?”
He snorted. “The way my Gram heard it, it was a shotgun wedding and her brother has both of them under his thumb tight. Your uncle is happier than she is as he seems to thrive on all that church work and working in the soup kitchen. Sister Cici as she is now called, not so much as she is kept back in the kitchen and is persona non grata right now ‘cause of giving into the devil.”
“Well, I guess she’s getting some of what she dished out over the years.”
“Your puns still ain’t funny,” he said with a smile that denied the very words he’d just said.
I rolled my eyes and asked, “But you said Josh Daniel had been sick.”
His smile slipped and he nodded. “Yeah. Pneumonia. He and Todd Michael are doing OK ‘cause that girl he’s took up with looks after them when she isn’t working in the outdoor clinic.”
When I was done with the mug he put more soup in it but I made him eat it instead. Before he could make a fuss I said, “We’ll get to why you need to trust me soon as you finish telling me your tale of why I should trust you.”
He got fidgety and said, “I’m … I never meant … Gosh darn it Bella, I never meant to cause you so much trouble. I thought it would blow over as soon as they figured out nothing happened. I went off to school and my folks didn’t let on what all was still being said. We had a real argument over it.”
“Oh you did not sass your parents over me. Tell me you didn’t.”
“Well I did. That’s when they figured out I was serious.”
“Serious about what?”
I just sat there looking at him my mouth hanging open where I’d forgotten the question I was about to ask him.
He looked at me and asked, “Aren’t you … you going to say anything?”
I blinked a couple of times and then said, “I will as soon as I figure out if I’m for sure hearing that you said you were serious about me.”
“I did … I am.”
“I haven’t seen you in two years and a piece. Haven’t even heard from you or about you in all that time. Now you show up and tell me you were serious about me all that time?!”
“Don’t yell Bella. I told you I didn’t mean for it to take this long. I was going to save up money and get a degree so I could prove that I could provide for you only I kept getting laid off and things were a lot more expensive than I thought they would be living on my own, even with a partial scholarship to help out. Dad said that there was no way your uncle would even listen to me unless I could prove that I could take care of you.”
Outraged I asked, “And just where did I fit into things? Did you just expect me to sit around and wait, not knowing how you felt?!”
Looking uncomfortable he said, “I hadn’t thought of it like that until you started working at Bruno’s. I started wondering if maybe it wasn’t meant to be no matter how I felt. You could keep a job and I couldn’t. I was upset and … and not able to figure a way around things.”
“And just how did you know I worked at Bruno’s?” I asked, further outraged.
“I watched you whenever I could.”
“You watched me.”
“Yeah,” he said defiantly. “But, you never seemed to be interested in no one in particular. Not even that crack brained son of Mr. Harkins.”
“His name was Ronnie and he was worse than crack brained so I ought to feel insulted that you would even consider it. There were only three things he thought about … cars, food, and having as many girls as he could. And in that order too.” I sniffed my opinion of Ronnie’s priorities.
Lee gave a slow, satisfied smile. “So I was right, there wasn’t anyone.”
“Yeah, well don’t get all fired up over it. After what happened with you there was no way I was going to get into that mess. It wasn’t worth the trouble.”
Concerned he said, “It was really that bad? Mom hinted at something but … but I … I don’t want to ask if it isn’t true.”
Blushing I looked away. He whispered, “Oh Lord, it is true. Oh Bella … I … I never … never would have let anything like that happen. I …”I sighed and though I still blushed I turned back towards him. “It’s over and I learned a hard lesson. But I also come away knowing that not everyone would buckle to that woman and do as she told them to and that gave me strength to try and find my own way out instead of waiting around for someone to rescue me.”