Friday, June 27, 2014

Arlissa - Her Story - Day 29 -42

Rosie trailed behind the two and looked nervously around her. Lissa decided she was going to talk to Rosie and get some answers. She knew her friend was most likely in some kind of danger, and the sooner Lissa knew what it was, the more likely she might be of some help to her. 

They were soon finished feeding the chickens and gathering the three cows into the barn. Lissa picked up the little guy and let him pet the head of the cows. He was delighted and squealed with joy. 

"Mama! Me touched cow! She feel soft like my Fluffy used to. Where my Fluffy go, Mama?" He began to sniffle. 

"I'm sorry, Benito. We had to leave Fluffy behind when we left. She will be fine. Maybe we can get another Fluffy while we are here. Don't cry, honey. It will be okay."

"Daddy coming here, Mommy?" A worried look crossed his face. 

"Don't worry! We are doing fine and he doesn't know where we are."

Benny put his face into Lissa's shoulder once again. She could feel his little body shaking and wrapped her arms tightly around him, patting his head. 

"There, there. Don't be afraid, baby-doll." She whispered into his ear. "How would you like to help Lissa milk the cow?"

Lissa moved the milking stool with her foot, as Rosie stood by, just watching the interplay between the two. Then an idea began forming in her head. Perhaps the answer she was searching for was right here in front of her. 

Meanwhile, Lissa sat down on the stool and put the boy to one side where he would not be stepped on by the sometimes temperamental cow. Benny reached out and gently touched the cows udder. 

Bossy turned her head and looked at the boy. Lissa laughed.

"She knows someone besides me just touched her. Would you like to squeeze and make the milk come out?" she asked as she made a stream of milk hit the inside of the bucket.

"She bite me?"

"No, honey. She doesn't bite people. We do have to be careful, though, that she doesn't step on us." 

He began to back up carefully, deciding he wasn't quite ready to milk the big creature, but just watch instead. He saw the barn cat come over and stand near the cow, watching Lissa. 

"Look at this, Benny!" So saying she squirted some milk in the direction of the cat and hit its open mouth, then chased the cat away. "That's all you're getting, you scoundrel! Go catch a rat!"

Just then, they heard the sound of a vehicle slowing and stopping in the yard. 

Rosie turned to Benny and hoarsely whispered, "Shhh!" then ran to the slightly cracked open barn door and peeked out.

"It's that policeman that stopped at the house while ago, wanting to know if you and I are kinfolks," whispered Rosie.

"Oh, him! I wonder what he wants now! To aggravate me some more, I reckon. Well, open the door to the barn and ask him, if you don't mind. I have to finish milking these cows before I do anything else."

Rosie opened the barn door which gave a creaking sound as it swung on its hinges.

Bobby Joe turned around to see where the noise had come from. He smiled at Rosie and said, "Hey! I see you made it over here this evening. I'm glad to see you. Is Arlissa around, by any chance? Or are you just over here looking for her?"

He must have known Arlissa was there, because her car stood in the gravel near the house. He had to say something, though, so he said the first thing that came into his head.

Rosie jerked her head toward the barn and replied, "She's in there, if you must know. I want to know why you are here."

"Why, ma'am, just to check on her, see how she's holding up, with her Granny sick and all. I kinda took a shine to her, so to speak, her being all alone out here and maybe afraid by herself. As a policeman, I like to make sure the womenfolk are safe and protected. She is a mighty little gal; has a big temper, though. Are you sure you all aren't cousins, maybe?"

"Not that we know of; not that it is any of your business. Now, you can go." 

Rosie turned to go back in, but he reached out his hand to stop her. She looked at his hand as though it were a snake and shook his hand off. 

"Don't-you-ever-touch-me-again!" She remarked slowly and with great emphasis on the touch, removed her arm from his grasp.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, I didn't mean to alarm you." 

Hearing the sound of childish laughter coming from the barn, he just had to walk over and look in the door. He saw Arlissa squirting milk into Benny's little open mouth. However, they didn't see him; they were too involved in the game they were playing. He backed out and turned away. 

"Okay, I'm going," he informed Rosie. "But you can count on the fact that I'll be back. I won't interrupt your visit with her. Please tell her I stopped by, if you will. Thank you."

Getting back onto his cycle, he roared out of the gravel yard, spraying a few gravel in his wake.

Rosie went back into the barn, shaking her head. 

"That cop has some nerve! He's gone now; I guess you heard his cycle roar off, not that anyone could miss the sound."

"What did he want?"

"Said he was checking on you, like he was all concerned about your welfare."

"He did turn out to be kinda thoughtful, but still an aggravation. Kind of nice to have someone checking on me, well, besides you, I mean. You're the best, Rosie! Oh, I've missed you so much! You've got to tell me where you been all this time!"

"Later, right now, we need to get some food into you! Come on into the house and let me see what you got in that fridge. Okay? Did you get all the milking done?"

"Yeah, only got one bucket. The other two are just heifers. Not givin' no milk right now." 

They went into the kitchen and Benny watched while she separated the milk. 

"Now this thick part, we'll make butter from later on, little fella."

"My name Benny not little fella." He pointed to his chest. 

"Okay, Benny!" Arlissa smiled and ruffled his dark curls.

The two women prepared a light meal and the three sat down to eat. Benny was really hungry after his day's playing and started to reach his hand for a biscuit. Rosie took his hand and said, "I'll serve you, Benny. We don't reach and grab the food. I've told you that before." She frowned at him. 

Benny looked at her in consternation, a bit defiantly. Apparently, it was a habit of his to reach out for anything he wanted. Observing him made Lissa wonder what kind of home life had been provided him with what may have been a turbulent life style. She had already seen signs of physical abuse on Rosie. The dark places on Rosie's arms were faded, but obvious to the close observer. She and Rosie had talked a long time ago about Rosie's father and how he had beaten their mother and the children.

Rosie reached out to serve the boy; Lissa stopped her by bowing her head to give thanks. She saw her son look at Lissa, then bow his head, too. Bowing hers, she listened as Lissa spoke to her Heavenly Father.

"Lord, I thank thee for this food and ask you to bless it to the nourishin' of our bodies. Keep us safe as we travel life's journey here on earth. Give us a good night's sleep tonight. In Jesus' name, Amen."

When they raised their heads, Benny asked if she was talking to God, too.

Lissa smiled at him and said, "Yes. He is good and always listens."

"What is safe?" 

"Keeps us from being hurt or takes care of us when we do get hurt."

He looked up at his mother with questions in his eyes, but she shushed him and said, "Here, eat your food. We are safe, now." Then she smiled at him. "Look how good this food is, Benny. Lissa made a good supper. Let's enjoy it."

They watched as the worry lines disappeared from his face and he dug into the food with gusto.

"Say, how about the two of you spending the night with me tonight? I'm here all alone and it looks like you all could use a good friend."

Benny jumped down from his seat, excited. 

"Yes, Mama, yes! Please, can we?"

Rosie thought a minute and then said, "Maybe we could stay with you for a few days at that. I could help you out here, while your Granny is in the hospital. How about it?"

"Well, I hate to ask you - but, yes, I would love it! Thanks! You'd be doin' me a great big favor."

"Get back up there and finish your supper, Benny!" 

He scooped the food into his mouth. Even sitting on his knees, he barely reached the table. Lissa smiled at him. Looking up at her, he grinned back at her with his little lop-sided smile. He tugged at her heart-strings. She had a good idea what his life had been like with his parents. Maybe Rosie would tell her all about it later. She was counting on it.

Benny yawned and while Lissa and Rosie spoke quietly his head began to droop. 

Lissa scooped him up and carried him to a divan in her bedroom, covering him up gently and dropped a gentle kiss on his forehead.

"What a sweetie he is," she whispered to Rosie, who had followed them. 

"Yes, he is the joy of my life! I don't know how I would have had the nerve to escape if it were not for him. I love him so! I'd have nothing if I didn't have him. He has kept me from just giving up."

"You never have trusted Jesus to save your soul, have you, Rosie?"

"Now, don't you go preaching at me, too! I hear enough of that from Mama and Jake."

"Okay, I won't say any more right now, honey. But, deep down, you gotta know it's true. Who do you think saved you from your husband?"

"It was me, that's who! And he ain't really my husband, neither. We never got married! I tell people we were - Mama even thinks so...I told her that to save her from yammering at me even more than she does. He thinks he owns me, anyway - just because - well, never mind that. I've said enough for right now. How about if I go outside for a few minutes?"

Rosie picked up her purse, and carried it with her. Lissa wondered what was in the purse, that Rosie needed it.

"Ah, okay, Rosie. Jist be careful, you remember there is snakes out there that crawl at night, in case you might have forgot."

Rosie just cast a sardonic smile in her direction and replied,
"I've had plenty of experience dealing with snakes. Don't worry about me."

In about thirty minutes, Rosie came back in and as Lissa gazed up at her, she noticed her friend had just popped a mint into her mouth, and was walking a little unsteadily. She clutched the purse to her side as though protecting its contents.

"Oh, hey, Rosie... I was beginning to be worried about you, bein' outside so long."

"Hmph! No need in worrying 'bout old Rose! Rose can take care of hershelf - herself."

Rosie sat down near her friend and began chattering at a fast pace. Very unlike herself, at least Lissa thought so.

 "So, old friend, what have you been doing with yourself? You look like you could use a good night on the town. Oh! There ish no good night on the town here in old hicksv'lle. I forgot! They roll up the sidewalks at 8 o'clock at night!"

She clapped her friend on the back and laughed.

"Rosie, what's wrong with you? Are you drinking? Surely not!"

"Surely not, surely not! Ha. You are so behind the times, Lissa! Get with the program. Everybody has a nip now and then. Loosen up, girl! Here, have a bit of weed. You'll feel better!"

"What do you mean, weed? Are you smokin' cigarettes, too?"

"Nah, these ain't 'xactly cigrettesh. This is called Mary Jane. Makes you feel better when you're hurtin'. Alberto showed me how to smoke 'em. Besides giving me Benny, that's the only good thing he did for me."

She looked bleary eyed at Lissa and after a few more minutes began winding down, till finally she lay down on the arm of the couch where they were sitting, and closing her eyes, went to sleep, smiling that lop-sided smile that Benny's was so much like. 

Lissa got up and, taking a quilt from the chest under the window, lifted up the lower half of her friend's body, placed it on the rest of the couch.

Kneeling on the floor next to her friend, Lissa praying for her to find Jesus and for strength to help her find the way. She knelt there for a good half hour, talking to God on behalf of Rosie and Benny. 

Then, arising from her knees, she went into her bedroom and readied herself for bed. Crawling into bed, she lay there for a few minutes before just turning everything over to her Lord, and was soon peacefully asleep.

Later on in the dark hours just before dawn, she heard whimpering coming from the living room. 

Arlissa slept soundly - she had had a rough day on the day before - and so did not awake completely till she heard a child crying in the next room and pleading.

"Mama - Mama - wake up Mama! Benny hungry!" 

Arlissa crawled wearily from bed and went into the living room where she had left her friend sprawled out on the couch. 

"Wow! She must really be dead to the world to be able to sleep through all his crying."

Going over to Benny, who now was trying to pull his mother to a sitting position, she had him turn loose and stand back so she could see for herself.

"Please, just a minute, Benny - would you jist stand back and let Aunt Lissa take a look?"

Gently shaking Rosie, she said, "Hey, wake up, you old sleepy head. Your little one is worried and hungry. It's time to get up."

She realized soon that the shaking was having no effect, and Rosie felt very cool through the blouse she was wearing. Alarm filled Arlissa's face, till she realized Benny was taking it all in. 

"Mama sick again?" he wanted to know. 

"Hmmm, yes, she is sick. Let me check her temperature."

She ran to get a thermometer, and shaking it, put it into Rosie's slack mouth. It fell out, naturally. Then she felt the forehead. Cold as ice. 

Knowing she should check the neck for a pulse, she did so. "Uh - oh!" She almost passed out, with the fear that most likely her friend was gone.

Turning to Benny, holding back the pain she felt in her heart, she said, "I think Mama needs to sleep just a while longer, don't you? Let's just let her rest."

"Okay. You feed Benny? Mommy rest?"

"Yes, would you like some Cheerios in a bowl. You can eat those like candy. Okay?"

The little boy looked up at her with his caramel colored eyes and nodded agreement. It was breaking her heart.

"Aunt Lissa has to make a few phone calls, okay?"

Another nod and she sat him at the kitchen table and grabbed up the phone.

First she called the Tunstalls to come over and pick up their grandson, then the Sheriff's office to report the situation. There would be time for grieving later on. Right now, she had to keep a cool head. 

"Hello, sir. Arlissa Hinton, here. I have a situation that needs to be handled gently. A little boy has just lost his Mama and is not yet aware of it. His family is picking him up and hopefully will have him in hand before you get here."

She listened to the words on the other end and then replied, "Rosie O'Hanlon, sir. Yes, sir, I'm not sure how. No sir, I haven't touched anything. She looked to be asleep when we woke up. Her little boy was trying to wake her up. No sir, no blood."

Arlissa was speaking very quietly, with mouth close to the phone to keep the child from overhearing. 

"Thank you, sir. Yes, I'll be waiting here. I ain't goin' nowheres."

Going back to the kitchen table she sat down by Benny and wondered what was going to happen to him. Would Alberto come to claim him? How were they ever going to explain to him about his Mama? She knew  he would most likely, at his age, not understand any of it, maybe even think she was going to come and get him. 

Her eyes filled with tears, only to wipe them away before Benny could see them. What to do? Well, she would just have to wait for events to unfold and play it by ear. 

What a funny expression that was - but she had heard it her whole life. Did it mean like playing a dulcimer like Granny did, by sound? She sure could make music come out of it so purty it was like the angels' harps. 

Granny was always called on to play the dulcimer at church gath'rin's. She was that good. One of these days, she hoped Granny would teach her. They was always so busy workin', though. 

She looked down to see Benny looking up at her with worried eyes then looking around her into the living room. She prayed silently: "Lord, please guide me in what to do. Do I tell him anything, or do I wait for Mr. Gene and her mama to tell him?"

"Tell the child," seemed to come the quiet reply.

"Okay, Lord!" she said aloud, not realizing she had spoken aloud.

"You talk to God? He hear you? He talk to you?" The boy looked up into her face earnestly. 

She picked him up and put him on her lap. 

"Yes, Benny. He told me to tell you that he loves your mama and doesn't want her to be sick any more. She is all better with Him now. Your grandpa is coming to get you to take you back to the farm for right now. I'll be over to see you later. Okay?"

"I hear Grandpa Gene's truck! Can I say bye to Mama?"

"Of course,  you can!" Putting the child down, she took his hand and they went back into the living room. 

The boy walked slowly over to his Mama's side and patted her face, weeping quietly the whole time. 

"G-g-g-g-bye, Mama! I wuv you, Mama!" Then he placed his arms around her neck and sobbed uncontrollably. 

Just then the back door opened and in came his Grandpa Gene quietly. 

"I knocked but I guess you didn't hear me. Here, Benny, come to Grandpa! I'll take you home with me, okay?"

Mouthing the words to Arlissa, "What happened?" 

"She was like this when we woke up this morning. The Sheriff is on his way over, with the doctor, I guess. I don't know who all else is a-comin'. I'll be over later to tell you all the whole of it as I know it. I'm so sorry, Mr. Gene! I cain't tell you how sorry!"

Her eyes once more were brimming with unshed tears. 

"Benny, I'll see you later today, okay? I love you, little man!"

"Me wuv you too, 'Lissa!" He reached over to hug her. Once again she took him in her arms, giving his little body a tight squeeze as he hugged her back, nestling into her embrace. 

"Here we go, boy! Let's get you back over to your Grandma's. I think she might have some cookies and milk for you, okay?"

So saying, he took the boy and left the kitchen, the child looking poignantly back at his mother on the living room sofa.

"Oh, my Lord!" wept Arlissa as she sank down into the kitchen chair. "What a mess!" So saying, she lay her head on her arms and boo-hooed.

No time to grieve right then, because she heard the wail of the Sheriff's siren.

Lifting her head and wiping her face with a kitchen towel, she realized she was still in her nightgown. She ran to the bedroom closet and grabbed a housecoat. By then the Sheriff was knocking at the front door.

Quickly closing the wrapper, she ran to the front door. 

"Howdy, Miss Arlissa!" He removed his hat before coming in and held it between his two hands, a sign of respect for her. "Did you report a death? Tell me again so's I can be sure I understood rightly."

"Hello, Sheriff. Please excuse the way I ain't dressed yet. Ain't been nothing but an awful time here this mornin'! Come on in here, sir. Miss O'Hanlon is lyin' there on the sofa. She was like that when me and the boy woke up. He was shakin' her, tryin' to wake her up."

"Hmmm. And what time would that be? Gettin' on up into the day now."

"Well, sir. I happened to oversleep this mornin' since I was so tired from bein' at the hospital so long and I jist didn't wake up till about thirty minutes ago. I'm sorry."

"What were you doin' at the hospital? Somebody sick? Where's your Grandma?" 

Then the truth dawned on him.

"She's the one that's sick. Is she all right? I mean, what was the problem? She fall, with that bad leg of hers? She break anything?"

"No, Sheriff - it's her heart; it's jist wearin' out, it seems like. She's gotta be in there for a few days."

"Okay, let's get to Miss O'Hanlon. What's she doing here, on your davonette, all dead and everything? What can you tell me about that?"

"Kin we jist set down in the kitchen for a minute? I'm feelin' kinda woozy." Arlissa swayed on her feet and he grabbed her arm. 

Picking her up, he carried her to the easy chair over in the corner and sat her down. 

"Wait right here! Don't move a hair!" 

He ran into the kitchen and got a glass of water from the kitchen faucet and ran back in to give it to Arlissa.

"Here, drink this slowly; catch your breath; relax a minute and then, when you're ready, begin to tell me what you know. Okay, ma'am?"

Arlissa followed his directions and then sat back in the chair, closing her eyes. However, when she closed them, all she could see was the face of little Benny as he looked at his Mama and cried for her. So she opened them again and looked at the Sheriff from her cornflower blue eyes that were rapidly filling with tears.

She gulped loudly, then began relating what had taken place the evening before and what she suspected Rosie must have done.

"When Doc gets here, he should be able to maybe tell us something. Where is the child you were speaking of?"

"Oh, I forgot to tell you that; I called his Grandpa and he came and got him a few minutes ago. They just left; I guess you barely missed seeing them." 

"No, I saw them but didn't realize they had been here. Thank you, Miss Arlissa. Now, I know you have a lot to do today, but please don't go anywhere; I will want to talk to you some more after the Doc gives me whatever answers he can come up with. You can go get dressed if you like." 

He looked at her housecoat which she had barely begun to button up. She saw the way his glance was directed and blushed a deep crimson.

"Yessir. Right away, Sheriff. They ain't no coffee yet; I'm sorry. I'll make some straight away as soon as I get dressed."

When Arlissa had returned to the living room fully clothed, the doctor was there examining what remained of her friend, Rose O'Hanlon. The Sheriff was standing nearby, waiting to get a preliminary report from him. Arlissa went into the kitchen to make some coffee. She remembered Granny had made some sticky buns a few days earlier. Taking them from from the refrigerator, she went to the oven, turning it on to a low heat, placed the buns on a pan to heat, then looked around for something else to do.

Soon the two men were moving into the kitchen to sit down at the table. By this time, the coffee was perking and almost done. 

"Please sit down here, Miss Hinton and tell us what you can about how Miss O'Hanlon came to be in this situation."  By this time, Arlissa was visibly shaking with nerves and grief, a rather delayed reaction to her friend's passing. Apparently, the reality was just beginning to seep into her conscious awareness.

The sheriff spoke to her very kindly, seeing the fragile state she was in. In the meantime, the doctor rose from his chair, and poured her a cup of coffee, lacing it generously with cream and sugar. Then he put an ice cube into it.

"Do you know if they have any spirits around here?" He meant, of course, alcohol for drinking. The Sheriff simply shrugged his shoulders. How would he know, he reasoned. He was the law.

"Here, Miss Arlissa, drink this first. Careful, it's hot, you know." He held the cup to her lips so that she didn't have to hold it, being aware that she would only spill it.

"There, now, drink it all. That's right. Just sit there and relax a few minutes." 

He glanced at the Sheriff, shaking his head, wondering how much they would actually get from the young woman at this time.

The Sheriff spoke again. 

"Tell us about last evening and what you think might have led up to this terrible event."

Arlissa took a deep breath; she was feeling calmer now. "Wait a minute, I need to put the sticky buns in the oven." Then, having accomplished that task, she had regained some calm, so reclaimed her seat.

"Well, now." she replied, shakily. " Let me think. I went over to see her when I heard she was back in town and when I got there, she wanted to come over and visit me for a while. She had a little boy with her that she introduced as her son, Benny. She brought him with her and we walked home together."

"A son? Well, what do you know?" The two men looked at one another, but then looked back at Arlissa, expectantly, waiting for her to continue, so said no more.

"Then when we got back here, we had a light supper, and they came out with me to feed the chickens and milk the cow. We had a really good time, I thought. She decided to spend the night with me, and so they did. After we put Benny to bed on my divan in my bedroom, we sat down for awhile, then she went out for awhile. I stayed in here and when she came in, she was kinda swayin' on her feet and poppin' a mint into her mouth. She kinda swiped her hand across her mouth like she was wipin' somethin' off. She sat down beside me on the divanette and before I knew it, she was asleep. I put her feet up on the divanette and covered her. She seemed to be okay. So I went on to bed; didn't wake up til I heard little Benny crying in here. I was so tired, I overslept like I never do."

"Was she into doing drugs, so you know?" This came from the doctor. 

"I think maybe so; she seemed okay until she came in from the porch last night." 

Arlissa looked up into the faces of the two men at the table. They were both quite large in stature and girth and looked like they were capable of taking on anyone who threatened them. Yet, she had never seen more gentle persons than they.

"When you say 'awhile', how long are you talking about? Did she take anything out with her?"

"About 30 minutes or so. She had her purse with her. It should be in the living room somewhere. I didn't see it, but I didn't touch anything to look for it. I didn't even think about it. in fact.  I was jist concerned with her."

She looked back into the living room at her friend and began tearing up again, water gathering in her blue eyes.

"Now, please, think a minute; did anything else happen yesterday evening...anything unusual that might have disturbed her?"

"Oh, wait...that new feller that works for the State Highway Troopers, he stopped by to ask about the O'Hanlon's. When Rosie saw him, she was really kinda upset. He left soon. He promised to come back and check on me later on."

"What else can you tell me about the little boy? Where is he?"

"Oh, I called his Grandpa to come get him. So he came just a few minutes after I called him."

"Can you tell me anything else about Rosie? What about the boy's father? Where is he? What do you know about him?" 

"I don't know where he is; I do know that they were not married, accordin' to Rosie and I think they were hidin' out from him. I think maybe, from somethin' she said, that he had got her involved in takin' drugs. I think maybe he beat her, too. She was not leadin' a good life with him, I believe."

Arlissa shook her head in disbelief and dismay. She hadn't had nearly enough time with her friend. She realized that is quite often the way - we don't have near enough time to spend with those we love - but realize it too late to amend it.

Looking up, she told the two men. "That's all I can tell you right now."

"Okay, Miss Hinton. If you happen to think of anything else, just call and we'll speak to you about it at your earliest convenience. You'll need to come in soon and make a formal statement and sign it for the inquest." 

The Sheriff picked up the phone and called the Hanson's Funeral Home. An autopsy would have to be done on the body.

Then, shaking his head in disbelief over what was taking place more and more often in this country with the rampant abuse of drugs among young people; he put on his hat and waited for the ambulance to arrive. He would have the doctor personally accompany the remains and get right on the autopsy. In the meantime, he began his search of the living room and front porch area.

Arlissa's curiosity got the better of her and she got up to watch Sheriff Bradshaw search the ground at the edge of the porch. He picked up some items from the dirt. She wondered what they were, but she bet herself he would keep mum about them. He used a pen to insert into one of the items and a handkerchief to pick up the other. Carefully wrapping both items in the handkerchief, he dropped them into his pocket and searched some more. There were some cigarette stubs and he retrieved those as well. 

When she saw him turning around, she headed back for her chair and waited for his return. He looked at her as he came back inside but said nothing, just smiled.

By this time, the doctor came back into the kitchen, shaking his head and saying, "What an utter waste of such a young life! Why do they do it?"

Jumping up from her chair, nervously, she went to the stove and removed the sticky buns from the oven, placing some on a plate.

"Would y'all like a sticky bun and another cup a cawfee?" Arlissa wanted to know, as she got up to pour them. She was trying to forget; it was a defense mechanism, the doctor knew, to stay busy, so she wouldn't have to think about her friend. 

"Just let me wash my hands, Miss." said the doctor and the Sheriff echoed his intentions as well. 

Both men sat down and Arlissa saw that the doctor had brought in Rosie's purse from where he had spied it lying partly under the divanette where she lay. Apparently, Rosie had dropped it there when she came back in the night before.

"Miss Hinton is this your pocketbook?" inquired the doctor. 

"No, sir. Ain't mine, it's Rosie's. She took it outside with her last night when she went out there."

He handed it over to the Sheriff, who immediately opened it and began removing items one at a time. Apparently, he was looking for clues as to the deceased's frame of mind at the time of her death. 

One of the items was an envelope with just Arlissa's name inscribed on the outside in a scrawling handwrite.

"May I?" He asked Arlissa. "Do you happen to know what this is?"

"No! I'm jist as surprised as you! I ain't got no idea what it could be. Uh, sure, go ahead."

He opened the seal on the envelope and took out the one page handwritten paper, but noticed a notary seal at the bottom, before reading the section above it. That made it look official. 

The doctor and Arlissa watched as his eyebrows lifted in amazement. He looked up from the paper and just looked at them. 

The grandmother clock on the living room mantel chimed nine o'clock; and all at once Arlissa was made aware of a bellowing coming from the direction of the barn. It was poor Minnie crying out. The girl jumped up, her dereliction of duty remembered all at once.

"Sorry, Sheriff, as bad as I want to know what's in that there paper, I got to go milk Minnie. She must be hurtin' somethin' fierce. And the chickens ain't been fed neither. Granny is countin' on me to take care a' things here whilst she is sick in the hospital. I'll be  back in as soon as I kin."

So saying, she grabbed up the milk bucket and ran out the door. 

The doctor and the sheriff looked at one another and then burst out with laughter! It was good to break the tension that had been gathering in the room. 

Folding the paper back up, and replacing it in the envelope, he placed it in one of his inner pockets for safekeeping. It bore need for some investigation when he had time. He had removed his hat to drink the coffee and to eat one of the reheated buns, which he proceeded to do. 

"What did the paper say, Sheriff?" 

"Ah, I really would prefer to keep it private for a bit, Doc." the wily sheriff replied. 

He knew the good doctor was unable to keep any secrets from his wife, who happened to be one of the worst gossips in the town and surrounding area. He didn't want the contents spread around. If Arlissa could wait to hear, then out of respect for her and for the dead girl, everyone else could wait, too.

He realized the fact that even with what the doctor could tell his wife, the story would be told and retold until it was a fortune that Arlissa had inherited from her friend. He shook his head, wondering how the story would eventually take shape. 

"Say, these are really good, aren't they? That sweet old lady sure can cook!" He tried to change the subject with him. 

Out in the barn, the young woman had already seated herself on the milking stool as Alice looked at her mournfully, seeming to accuse her of neglect and abuse.

"Oh, Minnie, please forgive me. I would never deliberately forget you, but you jist don't know what I done been through over the past several hours. First I overslept, then found my good friend, Rosie, dead with her little boy cryin' over her, and then - then - Oh, Minnie! Here I thought she'd come back and we'd be close friends agin and all..."

The sobs choked the girl and she stopped with the task of milking and leaned against the old cow, sobbing as though her heart would break. 

Minnie just stood there, bawling in harmony with the sobs, as though she understood Arlissa's grief and was crying with her. Of course, she was just saying, "Please, please, finish this up, before I bust!"

The barn cat sat there watching the whole panorama taking place and then walking over rubbed against Arlissa's ankles, as though in sympathy with both the cow and the girl. Of course, she actually just wanted her usual squirt of milk, but it is sweet to think she was commiserating with the two creatures she was observing. 

In the distance, Arlissa heard the wail of the ambulance siren and continued the milking, finishing it as quickly as she could. 

The cat just sat there, disappointed, watching her depart with the milk pail, then headed back to the corncrib to watch for any errant mice or rats. She might get lucky and be able to catch a squirrel unaware.

Arlissa watched as the men carried her friend's remains out the front door, then continued her journey in through the back door. She saw the doctor get into his car so he could follow closely behind the body. 

Going inside she put the bucket of milk into the fridge for the time being. She would separate it later. It would be something to do. The chickens could wait for a few more minutes.

"Sheriff, could you let me see the paper Rosie left for me?"

"Okay, Miss Hinton, then you and I are going to have a little talk about what is in it and just what you think it means."

By now, Arlissa had had a bit of time to conjecture about the paper.

"Oh, and one more thing. You know you won't be able to use that sofa any more. It's messed up pretty bad, what with her dying on it. You'll see what I mean when you look at it. You want me to have it carried off for you?"

She looked at the man before her with unbelief, she'd never heard of such a thing. Of course, she'd never been around anybody who'd died either, at least nearby them.

Turning, she ran into the living room and looked. The Sheriff was right. Walking slowly back in, she nodded. 

"Take it away, please; I don't want a constant reminder anyways. Thank you."

Picking up the phone, he called someone. Then turning to her, he informed her they would be there in about fifteen minutes. In the meantime, they would sit in the kitchen and talk.

"Sheriff, I jist don't know what to say about what's on that paper. I know it looks official and all, but don't you think maybe the O'Hanlons are gonna have a say in the whole thing? After all..."

"Yes, I know I need to go talk to them just as soon's I leave here. Could you please come over after I've had some time to talk with them. That'll give you some time to think about what you want to do. Not a lot of time, you know, but still..."

"Yessir. I jist cain't wrap my mind around it all. I feel like I'm in somebody else's dream or nightmare or somethin'. It jist don't seem real to me. I look around and my whole world is a changin' right before my eyes. The ground even feels shaky to me."

He looked at the girl and saw she was about to faint. He scooped her up for the second time that morning and took her to her bedroom, where he lay her on the bed. He began rubbing her hands and tried to decide what to do. The Sheriff was not used to women fainting on him, and never when he was alone. 

Alcohol! Maybe there was some in the kitchen cabinets. He ran into the kitchen and began flinging open doors. Finally, he looked underneath the sink. Aha! There was a small jug with a stopper in it. He quickly removed it from the cabinet and unstopped it. Sniffing the cork, he smiled. He knew these people living in the backwoods always kept a supply of moonshine!

He poured a small bit into a glass, and running back to the bedroom, he lifted the tiny girl to a half-sitting position and passed it under her nose. Just a whiff should bring her around; it was certainly potent enough! If not, he'd place a tiny sip in her mouth. It actually only took the scent to bring her out of it. 

Looking up at him in amazement, she wanted to know what happened.

"When did you eat last? And what?"

"I had supper last night, although it weren't much. I was too excited about seein' my friend again and meetin' her little boy."

"What about lunch yesterday? I know you must have been at the hospital with Ms. Hinton. Did you eat anything there?"

"Well, yes, that nice Dr., uh, what was his name, now? Anyways, he bought me some lunch."

"Ah - I see - and how did that happen?" 

It seemed the men who knew Arlissa felt as though she should be protected from harm and ruthless characters, so they set themselves up as guardians, since she had no one except old Ms. Hinton to look out for her.

"Well, never mind right now. You are coming into the kitchen and have a proper breakfast and I ain't gonna take no for an answer." 

Picking her up again, he carried her into the kitchen and sat her in a chair. He proceeded to take two eggs from the refrigerator and some bacon as well. In one skillet, he fried the bacon and into a bowl he broke the eggs and added a bit of milk to them, then whisked them with a fork.

Arlissa watched in amazement at his familiarity with a kitchen and its utensils.

She watched him as he deftly slid the scrambled eggs onto a plate and placed the bacon next to it; reached into the oven and pulled out the pan holding the toasted bread. Pouring her a cup of coffee, he placed it carefully in front of her. He unfurled a cloth, spreading it across her lap and handed her the utensils she would need for the meal. 

"Eat, young lady! Not a crumb is to be left, y'hear me?" 

"Yessir." Her eyes brimming with tears, she bent her head and gave silent thanks, both for him and the food.

He looked at her, pity in his eyes, thinking perhaps of the tough road ahead of this slip of a girl, wondering if her shoulders could bear up under such responsibilities that had come her way. 

"Sheriff, where'd you learn your way around a kitchen so good?"

"You do know that my wife took sick with cancer about a year ago, don't you? Now she's bedridden and can't get up to do anything."

"Oh, yes, I knew but I guess I'd forgot about it. I'm sorry, that was unthoughty of me forgettin' such a thing."

"That's okay, ma'am. Say, do you have any idea about that note at the bottom of the page of that paper told you not to forget to show the tree to Benny? What tree is she talking about, anyway?"

"Oh, not much. We had a tree that we used to meet at when our work was done and sometimes we... oh! Never mind, it was just a tree. I guess she wants him to know about it and maybe I would take him to play there and talk about her." 

Arlissa smiled at the Sheriff, remembering...

"Do you have any idea why she would sign over guardianship to you, instead of to her parents? It doesn't seem logical that she would want you to raise him, instead of her mother and stepfather."

"It could be because she just doesn't like her stepfather and is still angry with her mother fer marryin' him in the first place. She had to have it in her mind what she did when she had that paper filled out and notarized. Although, she had to know that Granny and I are poor as church mice. All we got is this here farm and can barely make ends meet. I don't know how we're gonna pay...never mind. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Squaring her shoulders, she wiped her mouth, having finished her breakfast in no time. She realized she had really been famished and was grateful to the Sheriff for caring so much.

"Thank you, Sheriff. That was mighty tasty and you're a good man! Thank ya fer carin' enough to do that."

The Sheriff just kind of shrugged and blushed a bit. 

"Don't mention it, Miss Arlissa, and I really mean, don't mention it. Don't want hoodlums thinkin' I'm soft-hearted. It'll give 'em a wrong idea." 

He laughed and turned to leave. 

"Give us about thirty minutes before you come over, okay?"

"Yessir. I'll do that. Gotta feed them pore chickens, too. See you later. Thanks again fer breakfast." 

She reached up and planted a kiss on his cheek, then ran out the back door.

"What a gal! Brave as all get out, too! Don't know how she's gonna do all that's expected a' her. Hmmm. Gonna have a fight on her hands, too, over that little boy. He's gonna be smack dab in the middle." 

He shook his head in sorrow, and left.   

While Arlissa fed the chickens and finished up the necessary chores on the farm, the Sheriff took no pleasure in his task of discussing Rosie's demise with the Tunstall/O'Hanlon household. He also had the unpleasant task of letting them know what the document he held in his pocket contained. It was going to knock them for a bigger loop than losing Rosie, he believed. 

He knocked on the door of their farmhouse, praying silently to himself, asking for wisdom and knowledge of the best tack to take in this unpleasant duty he was facing.

Mrs. Tunstall answered the door with tear-stained features on her visage; clearly wishing it were not so, but  unable to stem the tide of forthcoming events, clearly ignorant of what the future held for her family. 

"Come in, Sheriff. We've been expecting your visit. Please come and have a seat in the living room and please keep it as quiet as possible. We finally got little Benny to sleep."

"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry ma'am, to disturb you at a time like this, but I got some things that's gotta be said and I'm not looking forward to it."

Following her into the living room, he removed his hat, and placed it on his knee as he sat down. 

"First, let me tell you how sorry I am about Miss Rosie. I don't pretend to even understand all she was going through to make her do what she did or why she took certain actions which will become more clear in the next few minutes."

They looked at him, perplexed by his words. What was he talking about? What actions had she taken besides taking her own life?

"Please know that I'm convinced that Miss Arlissa knew nothing about what Miss Rosie was planning on doing. I know that for certain."

Now they were more confused than ever, and their emotions were clear as they looked at him, with their eyes full of questions.

To answer their queries, he simply took the document from his pocket and removing it from the envelope, he passed it across to them and sat back, waiting for a reaction.

He was not disappointed when it was forthcoming. 

"What??!! I don't believe it! How could she? How could she be so heartless and conniving as to keep our grandson away from us? What was Rosie thinking, anyway! Well, I for one, will not stand for it. Over my dead body is the only way she'll ever get her hands on my only grandbaby!"

By now, Helen Tunstall was standing and shouting, waving the paper around, getting ready to tear it into shreds. Her husband simply reached over and removed it from her grasp before she could do so.

"Now, Mrs. Tunstall, I must have that document back. I have seen it and I know it exists. As an officer of the court, I'm sworn to uphold the law. I'm sorry, and I know how upset you must be."

Mr. Tunstall returned the document to the Sheriff and he replaced it in the envelope and returned it to his inner pocket, and patted it to ensure it didn't fall out.

"Ha! You don't know the half of it, Sheriff! That little gal is going to have the fight of her life to get my grandchild away from us. We've got possession of him and I've always heard that possession is 9 point out of 10 when it comes to ownership."

"Now, Helen, think about what you're sayin'! We don't own people! We take care of children, but they are not our possessions. We'll settle this all amicably, but we're not goin' to go all off the deep end about it. Now just calm down a bit and sit back down here."

Whew! The Sheriff pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow. He was sweating bullets by now and hoped the worst was over, but knew it was only beginning. Maybe he'd best call Arlissa and warn her about coming over at the present time. Give them time to cool down a bit. 

"Uh, mind if I use your phone a minute?"

"Why, no, Sheriff. Feel free. It's in the kitchen on the wall."

Going into the kitchen, the sheriff closed the door to avoid being overheard, then asked the operator for the Hinton house.

The phone rang several times, the sheriff praying the whole time that Arlissa was still at home. He wanted to avoid a confrontation at any cost right now. He knew he would have to be present when and if she came to claim the boy.

"Come on, come on, answer the phone, girl!" he was saying to himself like a mantra.

Just then, he heard the halting voice on the other end of the phone. 


"Ah, Miss Arlissa, this is the Sheriff. I think maybe it might be best if you wait a while to come over and try to pick up the boy. You might want to give them a bit of time to grieve their loss. Mz. Tunstall near exploded when she read that document that Rosie left for you. How about you go visit your granny in the hospital today and talk with her about all of it. After all, she don't know about Miss Rose and all."

"Oh, okay. If you think so, Sheriff. I don't know, but it may be a good idea to talk it over with Granny. She's got a right smart head on her shoulders, all right. Thank  you, Sheriff. I'll let you know what I decide to do."

The Sheriff let out a breath, wiped his face which by now was drenched in sweat and hung up the phone.

Going back into the living room, he told them again how very sorry he was about the whole matter and told them he'd most likely be back some time with further news. 

"We'll also have an inquest soon into Miss Rose's death." Turning aside, he walked over to the couch where Marie O'Hanlon sat sobbing quietly, he knelt down and took her hand in his big one. 

"I'm so sorry about your big sister, Miss Marie."

Looking up at him with those big brown eyes, she whispered, "Thank you, Sheriff. I know she was hard to get along with some times, but she never really meant some of the things she said, and she always looked out for me."

He knew what she said was true. He patted her hand and said he was sorry again, then stood and walked over to the Tunstall couple again, shaking Mr. Tunstall's hand and patting Helen on the shoulder, which she shrugged to shake his hand off of it.

UH-OH! Seemed she was going to choose to be angry at the Sheriff as well as Miss Arlissa. Well, it was only natural, he thought. Everybody chooses to get mad at the law and it's representatives when they run afoul of it. 

Picking his hat up from the coffee table where he had placed it only minutes before, he took his leave of them through the front door.

"Whew!" Wiping the sweat from his brow once again, he opened the truck door and threw his hat into seat beside his, and climbed in.

"I dread the days to come. I'll probably have the whole clan of the O'Hanlons to wade through if and when I have to accompany Miss Arlissa to pick the boy up." He told himself. "I may have to take several deputies with me."

"Oh, Lordy, Lordy! What a mess!"

(To be continued)