Thursday, August 28, 2014

Arlissa - Her Story - Day 71 -85

Supper was a strange affair, although the people attending were pleasant enough, there was an undercurrent of tension that could not be denied. 

Little Benny seemed oblivious to it, however, and chattered on about the cows and chickens, and the dog, Buster.

"Buster pwayed with me and wolled awound wif me! Miss Wissa, can we go see the twee?"

"We'll go one of these days, Benny, but we'll have to wait awhile, okay?"

"What's this business about a tree, Arlissa?" Helen Tunstall wanted to know. 

"Oh, it's just a tree that Rosie and I used to meet at and we sat under it and talked. That's all. I'm sure she just wanted Benny to see it. Part of the memories we had together."

"Hmm. I see. Perhaps you could tell me where it is and I'll show it to him."

Arlissa nodded in a noncommital manner. 

"Say, Zeb, why don't you tell us, do you and Angela have any plans for staying with us for awhile?" 

This came from his stepfather, trying to relieve the tension floating through the air.

"No, Hank. Just long enough for the services for Rosie, and then a day or so later to help settle her affairs. We both have jobs to get back to."

"What do you do, Angela?" This from Arlissa.

"I'm a medical technician at a local hospital," she replied. 

"That must really be interesting."

"Yes, I see all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. There is never a dull moment," she smiled.

Zeb reached over and hugged his bride. 

"I know she is the light of my life! I don't know how I'd go on without her." 

Arlissa looked at the two of them with open envy. Would she ever find someone who loved her like that? Right now she didn't have much hope. 

She wondered if Hank Tunstall could help her with her search for her beginning. 

"Hank, did you know my mom, Eleanor Mae Hinton? You've lived around here your whole life, haven't you?"

Helen Tunstall turned pale at the mention of Arlissa's mother's given name. 

"Did you say your mother's first name was Eleanor? Was she called Ellie?"

"Why, yes, she was. At least that's what Granny calls her. You know, she died the next day after I was born. I know it's common knowledge that she wasn't married. I don't know who my daddy was. Granny won't tell me."

At that admission from Arlissa, Helen Tunstall's expression became stony, and she looked at the girl with true repugnance.

It was evident to Hank that they were in a situation, and he tried to change the subject by asking would anyone like some more of those wonderful biscuits that Marie had made. 

Zeb picked up on the implication and replied, "I sure would. Little sis, you have become a really great cook! Mom, you surely have taught her well!"

"Excuse me, please! I need to go into the kitchen and refill the ice tea pitcher. Arlissa, would you help me please?"

Arlissa started to rise from the table, but Hank got up quickly and said, "Aw, Helen, she's a guest! I'll go help you, honey! Arlissa, you just stay where you are!" 

He smiled to soften the rebuke, and the two went into the kitchen. 

All was quiet for a few minutes, everyone trying to think of something to say. Arlissa knew the atmosphere had changed but hadn't the slightest idea why. She didn't know that this very subject had been discussed in this family.

Those seated at the table looked at one another, thinking who knew what, until Angela turned to Les, who was home from college for the funeral.

"Lester, Zeb tells me you are planning on becoming a lawyer. How did you decide you wanted to do that?"

"Well, I know there are a lot of people who need help that can't afford it; I want to help people that way. Zeb is a policeman and helps people that way. Marie is becoming a nurse."

"That is absolutely wonderful. Your mother must be so very proud of all of you."

At this time, Benny decided to call for his 'Gwan'ma'.

"Gwan'ma! Me want mash tatas, gwavy!" He banged on the table.

Helen Tunstall came hurrying back into the dining area, with obviously red eyes, and sat down next to the boy. 

"Benny! Hush! You mustn't shout like that. You needed to ask anyone here to give you some. Marie is sitting on the other side of you and could have given you some. Now, quiet down." 

Hank returned to the table, with a smile and the iced tea pitcher. 

Arlissa realized her question had not been answered and opened her mouth to ask it again, when Hank looked at her and shook his head.

She blanched, all at once realizing she had committed a gaffe. What did they know about her past that she didn't?

At long last, the awkward supper was finally over and all the younger womenfolk began clearing the dishes off the table, while the men repaired to the living room. 

Benny had wound down and after he said his "Goodnights", Helen took him to his bedroom and put him to bed.

While she was out of the room, the girls began putting the food away. It wasn't very long before Helen returned to the kitchen, where the girls had carried all the dishes and stacked them into the sink, getting ready to wash them.

"Ms. Helen, why don't you let me do the dishes and you go set and visit with everybody. I didn't get to help fix supper, and it's the least I could do. I used to help you all the time, when Rosie was here."

"Well, I tell you what, Arlissa. I'm going to take you up on part of that. I'll let you wash and I'll dry. We can talk while we work. You other girls go on in yonder and rest while we get this all redded up. You all did help a lot to get it all ready." She smiled at Marie and Angela Rae.

As soon as they left, Helen turned to Arlissa and asked, "Why this curiosity about your birth at this time in your life?"

"Well, I've always wanted to know and I found out something today that kinda threw me for a loop."

"Oh? And what was that?"

Just then, Hank Tunstall came into the kitchen and said, "The Sheriff is here, Helen. We really need to get  started with this meeting and not waste his time."

Helen's countenance showed her irritation with the interruption, but there was nothing she could do about it, so she removed her apron and hung it over the back of the chair. 

Arlissa dried her hands and followed suit. She was dreading this meeting, but, after much prayer, had already made her decision.

"Hello, Sheriff," she smiled at him. Then a thought occurred to her. He would know something of her family's history and would be a good person to ask.

However, she realized now would not be the best time to ask. So she sat down on the living room sofa next to Marie, who smiled sweetly at her, making room for her to sit comfortably.

The Sheriff took a chair over in the corner, so as to be out of the way, but still privy to all that would be going on. Putting his hat on his knee, he suggested they begin.

Hank looked around at all of them as they settled in. 

Looking at his stepson, Zeb, he suggested that Zeb begin the meeting with a prayer. 

Zeb nodded his compliance and began.

"Lord, we know that You have a plan for each of our lives. Please give us wisdom and guide us in the decisions that are made here tonight. We know this little boy has not had an easy life so far; he has seen his mama beaten, and heard her cries; please help us to know how to care for him. Help us to decide who will be raising him to manhood. We thank you for your guidance and we give you all the praise and the Glory. Amen."

"Thank you, son. Now, who wants to go first?"

Everyone looked around, waiting for the discussion to actually begin.

"Maybe I should begin," Helen stated.

"About ten days ago, Rosie showed up at our front door with a single suitcase and a big purse, and a little boy. She claimed the boy was her son, Benito, whom she called Benny. They looked like something the cat dragged in, but I was so happy to see her!

She had changed, though. Oh, she was still defiant and rebellious, but she was as jumpy as the cat. She continuously looked out the window, as though expecting someone else to come driving up. I discovered later that it was the man who was Benny's father. It seems she had taken Benny without his father's knowledge. Then, a few days later, she went to our neighbor's, the Hintons, and that is the last time we saw her alive."

Then, Arlissa picked up the story.

"Well, when she came over to the house, I had a good time playin' with Benny, showin' him the animals, milkin' the cow, feedin' the chickens. She almost seemed like her old self, but I did notice she was always a' watchin', and when the Trooper, Bobby Joe Odom, came up on his motorcycle, I thought she was goin' to have a heart attack or somethin'."

At this, Arlissa looked over at Zeb and smiled to let him know she knew they were friends. He smiled back and gestured for her to continue.

"He grabbed her arm kinda friendly like and she like to a' had a hissy fit. 'Don't you never touch me again!' she told him. I had noticed the purple and black places on her arms and she later told me that Roberto had beat on her, and even little Benny knew he had beat her. I reckon it coulda been a every day happenin'.

I also found out that Roberto had gotten her hooked on drugs. I felt so sorry for her, but they weren't nothin' I could do for her."

At these last words, Arlissa began to weep silent tears.

Wiping her eyes, Arlissa continued.

"Well, we had supper and Benny fell asleep at the table. I put him down in my bedroom on the davonette. We talked some more, then Rosie got restless and went out onto the front porch and was gone awhile. She came back in and laid down on my couch in the living room when I went in to go to bed."

She paused in her relating of the story, and looked around at her audience, gathering her courage to finish the telling. They all seemed to be bent forward, waiting.

"Well, the next thing I know, I'm wakin' up to the sound of Benny tryin' to wake up his mama. Of course, you know she was gone by then. The next step was to call the doctor and the sheriff. I reckon you all know it from there. She left a paper for me, which I didn't know she was goin' to. We didn't talk about Benny at all that I can remember. I know she really loved him, though, and didn't want his Daddy around him or her."

"I know you all are wonderin' what I'm a aimin' to do about the paper she left and takin' care of Benny. I have made a decision about it. I was thinkin' that if I followed Rosie's wishes, I'd..."

"No! You'll never have my grandson! He's my first, who knows, maybe my only, grandson! She did this to spite me! She was always her daddy's little girl! You have no right to Benny!"

Helen Tunstall jumped up and was almost on the girl before Zeb could get to her.

"Ma! Ma! You can't do that. Arlissa is a guest in our home. Please sit down. Let her finish what she was going to say, please."

Reluctantly, and still glaring at the young woman, Helen went back to her seat.

"Now, 'Lissa, why don't you please continue." Zeb suggested.

"Well, I was thinkin' that maybe with Granny so sick and all, I shouldn't take on the care of a little boy, too, even though Rosie wanted me to. But, I believe she wanted him away from here."

"Why do you say that, 'Lissa?" Lester wanted to know. Quiet little Marie just nodded her head in agreement.

"I believe she figured that if he stayed in this house, his daddy would track him here and try to get him away from here. Accordin' to what Rosie told me, he is part of a group that has a lot of contacts and eventually, he's gonna find little Benny."

The Sheriff spoke up then, and opined that she was probably right in her thinking. 

"Also, since Rosie most likely didn't have a legal paper where the father signed his parental rights over to Rosie, he could come at any time and get the boy," the Sheriff continued.

"What are we going to do, then? Such a monster shouldn't get his hands on our little grandson, Hank! I'd almost give him over to Arlissa before I'd let him have the little sweetheart!" Helen wailed. 

One could see that they were now really considering what was best for the child at the center of the problem they faced. 

"But how would we know she wouldn't take him off somewhere and we'd never see him again? No! I won't allow it! We'll keep him and protect him from harm. Hank, you've got a shotgun that we could keep him safe with!"

"Now, Helen, I'd do my best, but what kind of a life would we have, knowing we'd have to be on our guard all the time? He'd be learning fear, more than he knows already, if we were to do that. We'd be afraid to let him out of our sight!"

The occupants of the room looked around at each other. What were they going to do to protect this little boy?

Zeb turned to Angela and whispered in her ear. A smile was her returned comment, along with a nod. 

"We have a suggestion, folks. We'd like to take Benny back with us when we leave. He seems to have taken to us, and we could protect him. How do you feel about that, Ma?"

"Are you sure? When would I ever get to see him? Oh, I don't know... I already love him so much. Wouldn't it be strange for him, being in another place, so soon after coming here?"

They could all see how much Helen hated to see him go, but as they talked more about the feasibility of the solution, they knew it would be best.

"Okay, I guess so. You all need to spend as much time with him as you can, Zeb and Angela, so he can get used to being with you. I don't want him to feel strange around you."

Helen knew it was going to be difficult for all of them. Benny was a little boy who had easily captured their hearts, with his sunny disposition and charm. 

They had the funeral and burial of Rosie to contend with as well. The next few days were going to be full of activity. 

"Zeb, one more favor. Will you speak at Rosie's funeral?"

"Yes, Ma. I'll do that. She and I were close growing up and I think I understood her pretty well."

"When did you decide to have visitation, Mrs. Tunstall?" The Sheriff inquired. 

"Tomorrow from seven to nine p.m. at the Funeral Home, and the funeral is on the following day at ten a.m. with the burial at eleven a.m. at the old cemetery."

"May I ask why you are taking her all the way out there, when there is one closer to town?"

"Grandpa O'Hanlon and his family already have a family plot out there. There is plenty of space out there and we have never bought any spaces in the new cemetery. I remember how is very peaceful it was out there, when we buried him."

At this news, Arlissa perked up. Now she would be able to get more information about her past, perhaps. 

Soon they were getting ready to leave, and the Sheriff spoke to Arlissa. 

"How about I follow you home, Arlissa, just to make sure that Douglas fella is watching for you?"

"Oh, thanks, Sheriff! I had completely forgot about him. I'll be ready to go in just a minute or two."

She walked over to Helen Tunstall to say goodbye.

"Miss Helen, I really am sorry about Rosie. I loved her, too, you know. I had no idea she was goin' to do any of the things she did. She was a good friend to me, and I miss her. Thank you for the good supper and I hope we can be friends. Goodbye for now." 

Arlissa hugged Helen Tunstall and took her leave, with the Sheriff following closely behind her after saying his goodbyes. Hat in hand, he walked out the door to Arlissa's car.

"I'll be right behind you, Miss Hinton; in fact, I'll see you to your front door."

"Thank you, Sheriff. I appreciate it."

It was a quiet trip back to her home and she was tempted to wave the Sheriff on when they arrived, but she didn't.

When they pulled into the yard, he got out of his car and walked over to hers, carrying his big flashlight, since there was no moon that night, and there were no outside lights by which to see anything.

"Sheriff, really, I think I'm safe now."

"Now, Miss Arlissa, I'll just walk you to the door. It's as black as pitch out here; you could stumble and fall. Nobody'd know you were even hurt. Just humor me, okay?"

"All right, Sheriff; since you insist. Thank ye."

She slipped her arm into his and they walked companionably to her front stoop. 

Looking at the top of the stoop, as he shone the light on it, she stood amazed.

"Blinky! What are you doin' up here? Why are you sleepin' on my front stoop? You silly cat! You know you belong in the barn!"

Leaning down to pick her up, Arlissa almost dropped the cat.

"Sheriff! Looky here! She's dead! Why does she have a red ribbon around her neck? She ain't never wore a ribbon on her neck!" 

The Sheriff examined the cat lying in Arlissa's hands.

"It looks like your Blinky has a broken neck, Miss Arlissa!"

"Who would do such a thing?" She cradled the cat in her arms, crying softly.

"Con Douglas! That's who!" She realized with a fury. "He is a lowdown polecat! He used to get in trouble all the time for shootin' at squirrels and dogs and birds - anything that moved."

"Yes, I remember," replied the Sheriff. "He was reported several times for being on people's properties shooting animals. Listen, I'm going to go in with you and check to make sure he hasn't been inside your house. He could be waiting in there for you to come home. You stay right behind me."

Arlissa went in behind him, still holding Blinky in her arms.

All at once, the Sheriff turned to Arlissa.

"You stay behind me, you hear?" He whispered to her. "He may still be here. Don't you lock your doors?"

"Of course, I do! I locked them just before I left today!"

The Sheriff flashed the light around in the living room and could see the destruction the intruder had left behind.

Arlissa flipped on the light near the front door and let out a strangled cry.

"Don't touch anything!" Sheriff Bradshaw warned. "I'm going to check for fingerprints later on." 

Arlissa walked over to the rocking chair in the corner; apparently the only furniture that hadn't been damaged in some way. Her grandpa had made the chair with his own hands over twenty years ago for her granny. She realized she was still holding Blinky, and lay her down on the floor. 

"How is my Granny goin' to take this? How can I get it cleaned up before she comes home?"

Looking around the room, she saw the broken picture frames and glass the intruder had strewn about on the floor. It had crunched beneath her feet as she walked to the rocker. 

By now the Sheriff had moved into the bedrooms and saw bed clothing torn into shreds. The intruder (or intruders) had also invaded Arlissa's dresser and cut all her clothing into shreds and strewn it about. Urine had been put on the clothing as well. 

He progressed into the kitchen and saw the refrigerator standing open with food stuffs scattered as well,  juice poured all over the stove and table. 

Walking back into the living room, he shook his head and said, "You can't stay here, Miss Arlissa! The person who did this is too dangerous to let you be without protection. You're coming home with me, at least for tonight. My wife will be glad to have some company. You remember I told you she is bedridden. I have someone that comes in during the day, so you needn't be worried I would be having you take care of her."

"But, my animals! I can't go off and leave them! The cows and the pigs and the chickens can't be left without somebody takin' care of them!"

"Maybe we'd best be going out there to check on the animals," he suggested.

She picked up Blinky to carry him outside. 

Taking the flashlight in hand, Sheriff Bradshaw led the way out to the barn. They walked quietly, with Arlissa to the side and behind the sheriff, stepping carefully.

The barn door stood wide open, and they saw devastation there also. Blood was everywhere. Minnie and the other two cows lay with their throats cut. 

"Oh, no! Not Minnie, too! How could anyone be so cruel? How could he, Sheriff?" Arlissa looked up at Sheriff Bradshaw in horror, as she knelt beside her pet cow, still holding Blinky. She had forgotten she was holding him. Gently she placed him beside Minnie.

The Sheriff knelt down and felt the cow.

"He's not been gone for long; she still feels kinda warm."

When they checked the henhouse, the chickens were okay, but probably only because the perpetrator had not had time to kill them, too. 

"Come along, Miss Arlissa! I'll get some fellas out here tomorrow to clean all this up for you and dispose of the bodies. I'm so sorry you're having to go through this right now. I know now for sure  that it's not safe for you to be out here alone. I hate to think what could have happened if you had decided to come back here while he was still doing all this."

"You think it was Con Douglas, then?"

"The evidence is not clear yet, but circumstantially, I'd say it's a good chance it was him. He was mighty mad at you this afternoon. He strikes me as a dangerous man, with the family background he's got. I've had some dealings with them over the years; and the dealings weren't pleasant, to say the least."

"Are you goin' to arrest him?"

"Well, I don't have a very large staff to gather evidence, I may have to bring in the State Troopers on this one. I'll get fingerprints and see if they can match them up with any they've got on file. I'm going to bring in Con and question him this evening. But first, I'm going to take you to my house for safety."

"Wait a minute, Sheriff! My pigs...I gotta check on them. The pig lot is down this a' way."

They hurried down the hill away from the barn lot and saw the pigs were okay. Apparently the fella had forgotten about the pigs.

On the way to the Sheriff's car, Arlissa thought about her Granny. How was she ever going to tell Granny?  And her car, how was she going to get her car to go to see Granny?

Sheriff Bradshaw gently assisted the young woman into the cab of his truck. The drive to his home was a brief one.

"Miss Arlissa, I hardly know what to say about all this, except how sorry I am that it has all has happened. I know you don't deserve it. I'm going to do my best to bring him, or them, if it was more than one that did it, in for questioning and put him or them in jail."

"What about my car, Sheriff? How can I go see my Granny tomorrow?"

"I'll see you get it in time to drive it tomorrow. Don't worry. I am concerned for your safety, so I'm going to have one of my deputies follow you there and then follow you back to my house when you are ready to leave the hospital."

"How long am I gonna be stayin'  with you and Mizz Bradshaw, Sheriff?

"As long as it takes to get this guy. Maggie Lou is going to love having you around."

"Will your deputy go with me to feed my chickens and pigs? I can't let them go hungry."

"I'll see that he takes you and helps you. Don't you worry! In fact, I may have him just drive you to the hospital after taking you out to the farm to feed them. Here we are at my home. Come on in and I'll have my day help, Sarah, to get you one of Maggie's nightgowns to wear tonight and maybe one of her dresses to wear tomorrow."

"Sheriff, you're bein' awful good to me. I don't understand why, but I really appreciate it. I don't know what I would have done if I'd gone back home and seen all that by myself. I still don't know how Granny's goin' to take it. I don't even know if I can tell her or how I can ease into it."

She kept chattering as they walked to the house from the truck. Her nerves were stretched to a breaking point; the talking was a way to deal with everything that had taken place over the last hour.

They entered the house and Arlissa looked around, dazed now from all that had taken place. She was walking as though in a fog, trying to mentally take in everything that had taken place.

Gone were any questions about her parentage; it was no longer of immediate importance to her, although it would resurface at a later time. Right now, she had to deal with the events of the past hour or so.

Sarah came bustling out of the kitchen. 

"Sheriff, I just took Maggie Lou some juice. Would you like something before I leave for the night?"

Then she saw Arlissa sitting on the edge of the sofa, looking as though she was going to faint.

"Land's sake, Woody! What you doin' with this young lady, bringin' her in here this time of evenin'? What's wrong with you, Arlissa? You look like you've seen a ghost, 'er somethin'!"

"She needs a place to stay for the evening, Sarah, and has no place else to go right now, and I thought maybe Maggie Lou could use some company while I take care of some business. That's all I can say for right now, okay?"

"Sure, Woody. Whatever you say. Hmphh!"

"Now, can you get her one of Maggie's nightgowns, so's she'll have something to sleep in tonight? And one of Maggie's dresses, so she'll have something to wear tomorrow to see her Granny."

Sarah looked at Arlissa, and her curiosity was burning a hole in her brain, near abouts, but she held her tongue and went to do the Sheriff's bidding. 

Woody Bradshaw put his finger to his lips to caution Arlissa about saying anything of what had happened to her home. She nodded silently.

He had a purpose in his actions; he didn't want Con Douglas being warned that he was coming to pick him up for questioning that evening. 

"Arlissa, do you mind if I let Sarah go ahead on home and you stay here with Maggie? She'll take Maggie to the bathroom and do all that before she goes home."

"No, Sheriff, I don't mind at all. I'll be happy to set with her. It'll give me somethin' to do, instead a' settin' here thinkin' about what all is a goin' on in my life right now."

Ordinarily, he would have gone ahead and picked up a suspect, without coming home ahead of time to ask Sarah to stay. Since Arlissa was going to be here, she could give Maggie the company she needed.

"Can I go in and speak with her right now?" Arlissa wanted to know. 

"Sure, come on in."

"Maggie, honey, I brought somebody to see you; she's gonna stay with you while I take care of some Sheriffin' business."

The old lady sitting in the bed looked at Arlissa and gave her a tender smile.

"Savannah? Is that you? Savannah O'Hanlon?"

Arlissa looked at Maggie Bradshaw in confusion, then at the Sheriff. 

"She gets things mixed up these days. She had already started getting confused before the cancer. The cancer has taken its toll on her, besides. Don't pay any attention to what she says. Doc Henry says she ain't long for this world, so I just try to see that she's comfortable," the Sheriff whispered to Arlissa.

"Honey, this is Eleanor Hinton's daughter from over the way. She wanted to come and visit with you for awhile. Okay, Baby?"

She looked up with soft brown eyes at her husband of forty years. 

"Where's my Woody? Is he out workin' somewheres?"

He looked down at his wife, smiling. 

"Yes, he'll be back afterwhile. This little gal wants to see you."

"Oh. Hello," she spoke softly, yet confusedly. "Do I know you? Would you read to me?"

"Of course, I'll read to you. What would you like me to read?"

The Sheriff handed Arlissa the old Bible on the table beside the bed. 

"There's a marker in it here in Psalms. She likes to hear them. You can read to her until Sarah comes in to tuck her in for the night, then a little longer till she drifts off to sleep. Sarah will show you where you can sleep and she'll lay out the nightgown and dress for you on the bed where you'll be sleeping."

He leaned down and kissed Maggie Lou's brow. She had already closed her eyes. He smoothed her hair gently away from her face and left.

Sarah came in after Arlissa had been reading to the old lady for about twenty minutes. She found the girl had drifted off to sleep as well in the easy chair near the bed. Just reading the Psalms had quieted her soul, too. 

Sarah gently wakened Arlissa. Woody had told Sarah all about what had happened to Arlissa and her heart went out to the girl. He knew he could trust Sarah to keep her own counsel on the matter.

Arlissa was almost walking in her sleep to the back bedroom where she was to spend the night. 

After making use of the facilities, she changed into the nightgown and went to bed. 

Sarah decided to stay the night to keep people from getting the wrong idea about Arlissa spending the night, so she slept on the couch in Arlissa's bedroom. People would find out about the girl staying there; she knew it for sure. 

There were few secrets in this little town. 

Upon waking the next morning, Arlissa stretched and yawned, then sitting up in bed, remembered she was not at home. She looked out the window to see the sun streaming through the trees outside. 

"Oh, my goodness! I'm late gettin' up. They'll think I'm a regular sleepyhead, a sleepin' in like this!"

Every bone in her body seemed to be aching; she felt a depression she had never before experienced. What was she going to do? How would she ever tell Granny what had taken place? 

"Well," she told herself, "I'm jist goin' to have to leave it up to God to help me tell Granny. Surely, He'll give me the words I need to say to her."

She got up and used the bathroom, taking a quick shower and got dressed in the dress belonging to Maggie Lou Bradshaw. 

Looking at herself in the mirror, she thought it looked okay on her, a little old-fashioned maybe, but it fit her good. The sheriff's wife was a short, slender person as well as Arlissa. 

"Hmm. Wonder what Sheriff Bradshaw found out last night when he went to pick up Con Douglas?" 

Arlissa followed the aroma of bacon coming from the kitchen and went in to see Sarah bustling about making breakfast.

"Well, good morning, Miss Sleepy Girl!" Sarah greeted her with a smile. "I'm so glad you got you some good sleep! I heard you snoring a little last night!"

"You did? How? Could you hear me all the way to your house?" 

"No, you silly! I slept on the couch in your room. I didn't want to leave you here to have to get up and maybe get something for Maggie! I quite often stay here when the Sheriff is out on an all night job. To be quite honest, I didn't want no talk a goin' on about you being here with the Sheriff and all! You know how people are always happy to gossip about such things!"

Just as Arlissa sat down at the table, the Sheriff came into the kitchen and sat down as well. 

"Good morning, Miss Arlissa! Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, Sheriff, I did. I hate to be botherin' you with questions already this mornin', but did you arrest Con Douglas last night?"

"Well, I would have taken him in if I could have found him. He's still on the loose somewhere. My men and I are going to start looking for him again this morning, right after breakfast. We went to his Ma's house, where he lives and she said he wasn't there; she even let us look everywhere in the house and out-buildings. He wasn't anywhere to be found. We'll get him, though." 

After they had breakfast, one of the deputies came by to take Arlissa to the hospital to see her grandmother. 

"Now, when you're ready to come back home, you call my office or the house here, and we'll see you get back here. You can't go back to that farm till we got him in custody. You hear?" the Sheriff instructed her.

"Yes, sir. I sure ain't wantin' to get hurt by that Con Douglas!"

When the deputy came to the door, Arlissa went out with him to his car, and she realized she knew him. 

"Billy Newman! I didn't know you was a deputy! How long have you been doin' that?"

He blushed and told her he had been deputy for a little more than a year. She knew him from high school, but not very well. He was one of the town kids and didn't mix in with the others too well. His family had money. His daddy was a county judge and was highly respected. 

Billy had even gone away to college and everything. He was an educated young man and she didn't think the job of deputy would take him very far, and doubted it paid anywhere like he was used to having for spending. What she didn't know was that he and his daddy had come to a parting of the ways over his laying around doing nothing after college.

She didn't know what else to say and since Billy was not much of a conversationalist either, the inside of the car was silent, except for the sound of the engine as it turned.

About twenty-five minutes later, he parked the car and walked her to the hospital doors. 

"Sheriff said to be sure I got you inside safe and sound."

"Okay, Billy. Thanks. See you this afternoon." She smiled at him; he nodded, gave a half-smile in return and left.

Arlissa noticed the nurses stopped talking at the desk when they saw her coming. One bustled over to her as she got ready to enter Granny's room.

"Oh! You poor thing! What are you going to do?"

"Has Granny took a turn for the worse?" Arlissa wanted to know. "Why didn't you call me?"

To be continued)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Arlissa - Her Story - Day 55 -70

The trooper decided to follow along behind at a safe distance, so she wouldn't know he was ensuring her safety from Douglas. When he saw she was safely at home, he turned and headed for the O'Hanlon farm.

She parked her car and headed for the back porch to get the milk bucket. Blinky, the barn cat, met her at the edge of the porch, mewing and hungry.

"Blinky, you old beggar, why don't you catch some a' them barn rats instead a' waitin' fer me to milk old Minnie? I declare, you're jist a big lazy fella, that's what you are!"

Blinky just rubbed up against Arlissa's legs. weaving in and out, looking up and meowing. Then he would take a few steps and run back, repeating the action.

"Okay, jist wait a couple a' minutes. I got to wash my hands 'fore I milk old Minnie. Jist hold yore horses, now. Get on out to the barn! Scat!" 

Within minutes she was back out the kitchen door with the milk bucket and heading to the barn with Blinky mewing and running slightly ahead of her. 

She laughed and chattered at him, feeling carefree for a few minutes, like a young woman should. Entering the barn lot, she herded old Minnie into the stanchion and put the feed in front of the old cow, then moving the stool near the Jersey, she sat and began milking, first washing the udders with warm water. 

Blinky sat there, waiting and mewling. 

"Okay, here goes, catch it, catch it!!"

Blinky obliged by opening his mouth and catching the stream of milk. The act reminded Arlissa of the events of the evening that Benny and Rosie were with her. It brought the weight of the decisions she must make down on her shoulders again.

It was going to take some mighty tall praying to decide what to do about Granny and about the little boy, Benny. 

She needed to do some searching for insurance papers that Granny might have stored away. That would have to be done after she got through with her outside chores. She also needed to clean Granny's room while she had the chance. 

By the time she finished all her chores, she was really tired; she could hardly keep her eyes open as she swept the kitchen and living room. Maybe in the morning she would clean Granny's room and search for the insurance papers.

She decided to go on to bed and start fresh the next morning. 

The night was spent with restless tossing and turning. She thought she heard noises outside but that was just foolish thinking and the fact that she was alone in the farmhouse. 

The next morning, Arlissa was still tired and felt cranky to boot. She opened the front door to  see what the weather was going to be like and looked down on the steps to see a dead dove lying there. Had Blinky killed the dove and left it as a present for her? She had never known Blinky to kill a bird and not eat it. Cats do kill birds, she knew. But Blinky had never left her a present of one. Hmm. Oh, well, she thought.

Going back into the house, Arlissa knew she had to really get busy. There was no telling what the day would hold for her and Granny. After doing the farm chores, she sat down to a bowl of cereal and reflected on what she needed to do.

She had to clean Granny's room. The sheets needed washing; she could wash and hang them outside to dry; then she could put other clean ones on the bed. 

"I'll do that first," she told herself.

Grabbing a piece of paper from the drawer, she picked up a pencil and began writing, making her to-do list.

"I wonder if Granny has any insurance that I don't know about. What if she don't get better? No! I won't think about that... she's gonna get better; I know she is, cause she's a fighter!"

All kinds of thoughts were running through the young woman's head and she knew she couldn't - shouldn't - waste valuable time worrying about what couldn't be changed. Just take it one day at a time - that had become her mantra. 

Arlissa looked up at the kitchen clock and saw that time was soon going to get away from her. Jumping up from the kitchen chair, she ran into Granny's room and began stripping the sheets from the bed. She noticed Granny's worn Bible lying on the night stand and brought it to the kitchen table, as she carried the sheets to the washing machine. She would take the Bible to Granny later in the morning.

Adding the detergent to the sheets, she turned on the machine and started the process, then went back into the bedroom.

The clean sheets from Granny's bureau were soon placed on the bed and she spread the counterpane back on the bed and fluffed the pillows with the clean cases on them. Her mind was busy thinking about how she was going to care for Granny once she brought her home. 

"I need to go into town and talk to Mr. Stanton about my job. I may not even have one after not going in for a few days. He said I could take a few days off; but it's going to take more than a few days, it seems like. If only I could think of some solution. What am I going to do? It seems hopeless..." 

A tear rolled down her cheek as she thought of their plight. She looked around the room, searching for she knew not what. Her eyes lit on the half-open top drawer in the dresser. 

"Now, wonder why Granny left this drawer open? She's one of the neatest people I know about closin' drawers. She must a' been in a hurry when she was in here last. I'll jist shut it fer her."

As Arlissa put out both hands to shut the drawer, she noticed the rosewood box sitting in the corner of the drawer. 

"Hmmm. Maybe Granny keeps some important papers in that box. I've never seen her open it. I'll jist have a look-see, while I'm waitin' fer the sheets to finish washin'." 

Arlissa took the box from the drawer and was just getting ready to open it when the phone rang.

She placed the box on the bed and walked into the living room to get the phone.

"Hello?" She waited and then repeated the hello.

There was a click and then the dial tone.

She removed the phone from her ear and slowly replaced it on the cradle.

"Hmm. Must have been a wrong number. Oh, well." 

Just then the door bell rang. 

"Well, my goodness! What a busy morning this is! Wonder who this is?"

Going to the door, she was surprised to see Jake Tunstall, Rosie's stepfather, standing there. He was the very last person she would have expected to see today.

She dragged from somewhere inside a smile for him and asked, "Mr. Tunstall! Won't you please come in?"

He removed his cap, and holding it in both hands, came into the living room.

"I hate to be botherin' you at a time like this, with your grandmother in the hospital and all, but Zeb is on his way home and he has requested you be there this evening, if you can manage it. He knows of the situation and feels you should be a part of the discussion. So, if you would, it would be much appreciated. Helen has had some time to think about everything and she is going to be much calmer, I promise."

Arlissa sat down abruptly. All this had taken her by surprise; she had figured she would be outlawed from being anywhere near the O'Hanlon/Tunstalls home.

Slowly she nodded her head, unable to speak.

Mr. Tunstall reached down and shook her hand, then turned to go.

Suddenly she remembered to say, "Thank you, Mr. Tunstall. What time should I be there?"

"Why don't you come for supper around 6 p.m.?"

She replied, "Yes, yes. Okay, I'll be there."

Replacing his cap, he turned and went out, quietly closing the door behind him.

Arlissa remained in her chair thinking, wondering... until she heard the washing machine stop.

"Oh, my, gotta hang those outside so they can dry while I'm at the hospital today!"

She grabbed up the clothes basket and filled it with the sheets, got the clothespins and carried it all out into the back yard. After wiping the clotheslines, she proceeded to hang the sheets and pillow cases. Looking up, she saw it was going to be a good day for drying clothes. The rest of the laundry would just have to wait. 

Realizing the fact that the morning was getting away from her, she decided to leave soon for the hospital. The rosewood box lay forgotten on her granny's bed where she had left it.

As quickly as she could, Arlissa took a bath and dressed for her visit to the hospital. As she passed Granny's room, glancing in, she saw the rosewood box sitting on the bed and hurrying in, picked it up to return it to its place. Looking inside it would have to wait. 

She left the house, locking the door as she went. She was soon on her way, and didn't notice the shadow at the edge of the trees near her home.

"I wonder what the O'Hanlons are going to say this evening? I hope it ain't gonna be uncomfortable for all of us. i sure wish Rosie hadn't done this to us! I jist can't figure her thinkin'!"

Before long, the hospital came into view and she had parked her car. Within minutes, she was in Granny's room.

"Well, how you doin' this mornin', Granny? Oh, my, you done slipped way down in yore bed! Let me see if'n I can get you pulled up some."

Several tries didn't accomplish the task, and Granny was soon out of sorts, and began mumbling her objections. Finally, Arlissa rang for help. 

"What's the trouble in here?" asked the doctor, coming in the door. "Ms. Hinton, are you raising Cain in here again?" he joked.

The old lady gave him her lop-sided grin and he said, "Let's check you over this morning, eh?"

Arlissa could see her Granny eating up all that attention from the handsome doctor. 

After a few minutes of checking her heart, then her reflexes, the doctor spoke to both of them.

"Well, it looks as if, after some speech therapy, you are going to be going home, sweet lady," he said to Granny, with a charming smile.

Turning to Arlissa, he informed her that she was going to have some work cut out for her to do with her Granny as well. 

"I know you must have a daily job?"

With a nod from Arlissa, he told her she would most likely need to find someone to be with her Granny while she was working. Maybe a neighbor?

Arlissa could feel her heart drop within, knowing the chances of finding anyone who could look after her Granny to be quite slim. 

She nodded in recognition of his statement and looked at Granny, who looked worried. Granny also knew the chances were almost nil. 

"About one more week is all we can keep you, Ms. Hinton. You are improving each day, and we are glad to see that." 

Lifting her right hand, he squeezed it gently and she responded with a slight pressure. He smiled and nodded goodbye to them both.

Arlissa thought of the box and turned to her Granny.

"I have something to ask you about, Granny."

Just then, the nurse came in and said, "Time for our bath, Ms. Hinton!"

"Well, I'll go and give you some privacy, Granny. I'll be back in a little bit."

Arlissa left the nurse giving Granny a bath and changing the bed and decided to go outside for a while and sit under the trees to think. 

On her way, she happened to see Con Webster washing the windows. He turned and saw her. Hurrying over to her, he spoke as though he had not been angry the last time he saw her.

"Hey, Lissa! How's your Granny doin' today? Is she feelin' better?" 

She felt obliged to at least be polite to the guy, so she replied in the affirmative, and started on her way again.

He reached out and grabbed her arm, possessively. 

"Wait a minute! Don't run off! We're friends, ain't we?"

"I...uh...guess so... why do you ask?" 

"Well, if you ever are in trouble again, would you let me know? I know I could help you. Jist like I did fixin' your tire fer you. Okay?"

"Well, sure. Thanks again fer fixin' it. Now, I really gotta go."

"Where you headin'? Why you in sitch a hurry?"

"Uh, I've jist gotta go. See you later."

She hurried off, and left him watching her leave, grinning all the while. She could feel his eyes on her and it gave her the creeps. It was all she could do to keep from running. Arlissa turned once to look and saw him wave at her, smiling.

What was she going to do about Con Douglas? He was beginning to be a problem. Back in school he was just an annoying boy; now he was a man, bent on getting close to her. Granny had warned her more than once about him being dangerous to her. She had just thought he was a harmless person. Now she was fearful of his intentions.

"I'm jist gonna have to be careful about makin' him mad at me." 

She continued on her way outside to the park bench under the trees, where she had taken Granny the day before. It was a peaceful place and she could think.

Her mind wandered to thoughts about Rosie and little Benny. 

"I wonder what they will say about the whole thing this evening. Do I really want to take Benny on to raise? What do I know about raisin' kids, anyway? Does a paper give me the right to take him? What would God want me to do?"

So many questions and no quick answers to any of them. She sat there for the next thirty minutes and prayed, asking for guidance. When she looked up, the sun had gone behind the clouds and it looked like rain. 

"Oh, no! The clothes on the line! I gotta run home right now and get 'em inta the house!" 

She ran for the car.

He watched her as she ran for the car. He would soon have to leave her another "gift". He smiled to himself as she pulled out in a hurry. He knew she would soon belong to him.

Arlissa almost sped but remembered she couldn't afford a speeding ticket, and she didn't think the excuse of wet sheets would be well-received as a reason for speeding home.

She got home just in time to grab the sheets from the line and carry them in. They were still slightly damp, but she spread them out over the kitchen chairs and she was sure they would finish drying that way. Then she saw the Bible she had left lying on the table and picked it up to take to Granny.

Just then the phone rang. She picked up the receiver and spoke.


No response except for the click of someone hanging up the receiver.

"Well, that is strange. I wonder who keeps calling and not saying anything."

Arlissa headed out again, carrying the Bible, after locking the back door.  

By the time she came into Granny's room this time, Granny was sitting up in a hospital version of an easy chair. 

One of their favorite nurses, Anne, was getting ready to put her into a wheel chair to take her to physical therapy. 

"Granny, I brought yore Bible in so you could have it to read while you're in here. I'll jist put it here on the tray so's you can reach it. I've got yore eyeglasses here in my purse, too. I'll put them with the Bible."

Anne said, "Would you like to come with us so you can see what they are doing with her? Then you will know how to help her when she gets home."

"Yes, I'd like that. Thanks." 

The three made their way down a couple of hallways, finally turning in to a large room with other patients already there. Arlissa looked around and saw all kinds of equipment in use. There were also items that were to be used to manipulate manually. Puzzles, pegs, and small items to be placed in their proper spaces. 

Anne took Granny over to a place where she could just sit and the therapist that would be working with her was introduced to her. 

"Ms. Hinton, this is Sam. Sam is one of our staff therapists. He is going to be helping you strengthen your legs and also help you begin to use your right hand. Please do your best to do what he tells you. This afternoon, our speech therapist, Mary, is going to help you with speaking again. I know you're going to work hard and you will improve. I'll see you after while. Okay?"

Granny gave her half-smile and nodded.

Arlissa stood to one side and watched as Sam placed a small weight on Granny's right ankle and began the work with Granny. 

"Now, Ms. Hinton, could I call you by your first name, just to be a little friendlier sounding and less formal?"

The old lady nodded and tried to tell him her given name, but it came out unintelligible. Frustrated, she tried again and again. Finally, Arlissa told him it was Flora.

"Okay, Flora. Now I've fastened a very light weight to your right ankle and I want you to do your best to lift your foot. Think about how we lift our feet. If you can lift it just a little bit, it will be great!"

She was able to raise it two inches.

He fastened a light weight to her left foot and then asked her to raise both feet together.

"We need to work on the strength in both your legs, because you don't want to lose the muscle tone in either leg while you are not walking."

Arlissa could see that Sam was going to be a great help to her Granny. She could see a ray of hope for their future.

Sam, the physical therapist, worked Granny as hard as she could take for about thirty minutes, and then took her back to the room with her granddaughter. 

"I'll see you again for about thirty minutes this afternoon, Miss Flora! Practice using that right hand to eat your lunch. Okay?"

Granny looked at him with a glint in her eyes that told him she was going to try, but was making no promises. 

He looked at Arlissa meaningfully and she nodded. Sam smiled at them both and left to get his next patient. 

It was lunchtime and Arlissa got a washcloth to wash her Granny's face and hands. 

"Do your best to wipe yore face and wash yore hands, Granny! They want you to do as much for yoreself as possible. Everything you can do gets you out of here much sooner."

Clumsily, the old lady did a fair job. Fortunately, her stroke was only a light one and she was going to be able to rehabilitate enough to be sent home soon. 

Anne brought in the tray, and placed it on the bed tray in front of Granny. 

It was all Arlissa could do not to jump up and help the old lady. She put a hand towel on Granny's chest so that not too much food would fall on the old woman's gown as she tried to feed herself. It was a painfully slow process, but Granny kept at it. Arlissa had to give her credit for her efforts.

When she had finished feeding herself, Granny sat back and sighed, looking pitifully up at the girl. Granny was worn out with the strain, but at Arlissa's words of praise, she did look a mite proud and gave her a smile in response. 

Her Granny was made of strong stuff and the girl could tell she wasn't going to give up. 

"I'll bet you'd like a little nap right now, or would you like to go down to the sun room and look out of the windows for a while? There's a garden out there and we can watch the birds. It is raining but it might clear up soon. I have some things I need to talk to you about."

The old lady looked at the bed with longing, and said something that sounded like rest. Arlissa rang for help and an intern came in to help put Granny to bed for awhile. The questions would have to wait, it seemed. 

Just then Anne came in and told them Granny would be going to speech therapy in about an hour, so Arlissa figured the rest was really necessary at the time being. 

"I'll be back in an hour then, Granny; you get some rest, okay?"

She kissed the old lady on the brow and picking up her purse, she took her leave quietly, heading for the cafeteria. 

Upon reaching the cafeteria, she purchased a sandwich and got a glass of water to wash it down. 

She had no sooner sat down than she looked around and saw the good doctor with his fiancee, who was looking as though she'd rather be anywhere else than here in the dinky cafeteria. 

Then, a few minutes later, Con Douglas came into the room and saw Arlissa, and headed straight for her. 

"Leave me alone, Con! I came in here for a little peace and quiet, not to be bothered by you!"

The good doctor heard the angst in her speech and slowly got up to intercede on her behalf, which did not please his bride-to-be. She grabbed hold of his sleeve to stop him. He jerked his sleeve out of her grasp and moved toward the couple who were having the altercation.

"Donald, you come right back here, now!" hissed his fiancee, Amalie Gardner.

The good doctor ignored her and continued on towards the altercation between Arlissa and the young man he had seen working around the hospital.

Con had her by the shoulder, and was leaning over her in a menacing manner. Just as she was getting ready to rise from her chair, Dr. Donald Winston grabbed hold of Con's shirt in the back and pulled him away from Arlissa. 

"Why don't you leave the young lady alone, as she requested?"

"Why don't you mind yore own business? We was jist havin' a little conversation here."

"Hah! I saw what it was. It seems the young lady doesn't want your attention. If you value your job, young man, you'd best go on and leave her be. If you don't, well, I'll just let you fill in the blanks. Now Get!"

Arlissa's face was flaming red by now, all the freckles showing on her pale skin. She not only was embarrassed by all the attention right here in public, but she felt she could have handled the situation without the good doctor's interference. 

She looked up to see the doctor's gorgeous fiancee looking at her as though she were a piece of trash littering the cafeteria. The woman had walked over when Con left and proprietarily taken the arm of Dr. Winston. 

Once again, he shrugged her off. 

This time he just gave her a look that sent her back over to their table. 

Turning once again to Arlissa, he asked if she were okay.

"Right now, in case you haven't guessed, I'm fumin' mad! You have no right to come over here and interfere in my business! I was gonna take care of Con Douglas! I've been knowin' him for more than fifteen years. I can handle him! Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to finish my sandwich! It looks to me like you got enough on yore hands." 

She looked over at his fiancee with those last words. 

"Oh, I'm sorry, Miss Hinton. I promise I won't interfere again." 

Arlissa knew she shouldn't have spoken to her Granny's doctor in that manner, but she was so angry, she didn't consider anything else. Her temper was always getting her into trouble, it seemed. 

She looked down at her half-eaten sandwich and suddenly was no longer hungry. Picking it up, she wrapped it in the paper bag and dropped it into the nearby trash, and returned the glass to the tray return in the cafeteria. 

As she left, she held her head high and didn't look in the direction of the doctor and his bride-to-be. She didn't see Con watching her departure. 

When she got back to Granny's room, not much time had passed and so she picked up the old Bible, and began to leaf through the pages.  It was Granny's personal Bible, so Arlissa had never looked at it very much, since she had her own from the time she was very young.

The old worn Bible of Granny's was heavy. She had a few clippings and other things in the leaves of the book. 

One item was a dried rose, pressed and faded. It had once been yellow, now you could barely tell what color it had been.

She flipped through some more pages and, in the middle of the book, she saw two pages that seemed to be stuck together. Now that is strange, she thought to herself. She carefully pried them open. They had once been glued, it seemed, but the mucilage had dried out over the years, and now they were opened.

The heading on one page said, "Births and Deaths"; on the other page, the heading was "Marriages".

Arlissa looked at the page headed Births and Deaths; she saw Eleanor Mae Hinton, b. Feb. 28, 1921; died September 5, 1942.
Arlissa Jane Hinton, b. September 4, 1942

Arlissa turned pale; she felt as though she were going to faint.

That couldn't be right! Whoever had entered that date for her birth had the year wrong! It made her a year older than what she really was!

That would make her the same age as Rosie! How could that possibly be? How could her grandparents have pulled the wool over her eyes in that manner?

She was going to have to ask Granny about this when Granny could talk again. It would be useless to ask her now. She wouldn't be able to answer Arlissa, and would only agitate the old lady. 

Her curiosity was about to drive her nutty, though. Who else could she ask? Who else would even know? Maybe the old doctor who had been the family doctor for so many years... She'd ask him!

Arlissa began to think over things that had taken place in her much of it was real? How much had been a lie? All at once she felt she could not trust what anybody told her. How many people were in on the deception? 

Did her daddy even know she existed? Had he promised not to ever contact her? She felt her life falling apart at the seams, disintegrating, like an old rag that had been used over and over till it was only a remnant. 

Quietly, she placed the Bible back on the tray table and left the room, not knowing where she was heading, just away from this new truth. 

Walking as though in a dream, she headed for the front door of the hospital, her heart pounding and memories flooding through her mind. 

How many people knew she was fatherless? How many knew who he was? All she knew was that she had to find some answers; she was going to look for them now. 

It hadn't seemed to matter so much before; but now that she knew she had been lied to so greatly, she had to search.

She knew she wouldn't, couldn't, get them right now from Granny. 

The old graveyard where her Mama was buried- that's where she would head first. They never went there, Granny always told her to live and not worry about the dead. She said, waren't no use a' grievin' over them, wouldn't bring 'em back.

She knew it was in a remote part of their county; she might have to look for it. 

Climbing into her car, she started it up and decided to leave Amblin and head for Hickston, where their Doctor, old Doc McReynolds, had his practice. He was close to retirement, and she would be able to ask him what year she was born. 

Surely the doctor would tell her.

She drove along, not noticing anything around her, so she didn't see the car behind her. Arlissa was in a mental fog and driving on automatic.

Why had she been lied to? Was her father a criminal? Where else could she look for answers? Around and around in her mind went the questions...

She was undecided...she drove aimlessly into the little town of Hickston; would the doctor even be in...maybe he would be out on a call.

'Why am I hesitating?' she thought. 'Is it that I don't really want to know? No, no...that couldn't be it.'

She parked her car near the doctor's home, where he had his office. Going up to the front door, she knocked.

Hetty, the doctor's wife and nurse, opened the front door.

"Why, Arlissa Hinton, what're you doin' here? Ain't your Granny in the hospital right now? Are you sick, honey? Come right on in. Doc Henry is out on a call right now, but he should be back soon."

Dr. Henry McReynolds was known as and called Doc Henry by everyone who knew him, and he'd been around for a long time. In fact, he took over his practice from his father, who'd been Dr. William McReynolds.

Hetty was known to be better than a newspaper in spreading the news all over town; but right now, Arlissa wasn't thinking about that.

"I need to ask Doc Henry some questions about what year I was born."

"Why, honey, that's a strange request! You mean, you don't even know when you were born? Well, I never! Say, let me fix you a cup of coffee. You take cream, don't cha?" 

The old lady could see that she might get some more information out of the girl if she encouraged her to relax a little more. 

"You come right on in here to the kitchen and I'll fix us up some coffee. You look like you could use some a' my apple pie. I jist baked it a little while ago."

Putting her arm around Arlissa's shoulder, she guided her into the kitchen. It was no contest, because Hetty outweighed the younger woman by about 90 pounds and was experienced in persuading patients in cooperation.

As the old woman poured the coffee, she peppered the girl with questions.

"Now, it seems I heard something about your friend, Rosie O'Hanlon, passing away?? Poor little girl took her own life, I hear?"

"Yes, that's true."

"Wasn't there a little boy she left behind? I heard tell his name was somethin' like Bobby?"

"Benny. It is Benny, Ms. Hetty."

"I hear you're gonna get guardianship a' him?"

"I'd rather not talk about it...ain't nothin' decided yet."

"Ah, I reckon maybe his grandparents don't like that idea too much, hey?"

By this time, Arlissa was feeling hemmed in by the nosy woman and she decided it was time to go. 

"Please, I've got to go. I'm sorry, I don't have time to drink the coffee. Would you please have Doc Henry call me when he can? I've got someplace else I need to be this afternoon."

"Well, Arlissa, Honey, you come back anytime. Y' hear? Doc 'll be that sorry he missed ya."

She followed Arlissa to the door, and watched her with glittering eyes as she left. 

"Darn! I near about had some answers. Hmm. Don't know what year she was born. Now, don't that take the cake!"

She hurried to the phone.

Hetty McReynolds had no sooner picked up the phone than she heard a knock on the front door.

"Now what?" she fumed to herself, agitated at being interrupted from spreading the news she was eager to share.

She replaced the receiver and went to the door, surprised to see the subject of her news once again standing before her.

"Why, Sugar! Did you forget somethin'? You wanta' come back in?"

"Uh, no, Ms. Hetty. I need some information, please."

"Why, sure, Baby. How can I help you?"

"Well, I, er, I, uh, could you tell me how to get to the old graveyard out in the country?"

Ms. Hetty's ears perked up with that one...

"You don't mean the one out near Witch's Grove Holler, do you? The one that they quit usin' about fifteen years ago?"

"Yes, ma'am. That one. The one that's not used no more."

Ms. Hetty blanched visibly.

"Oh, now, I can't help you there! Why you wanta be goin' all the way out yonder for? Ain't nothin' out there you'd be needin', is there?"

"I'm jist lookin' for information, is all."

"Look, Honey. I'll tell Doc Henry as soon as he gets home. I promise. Please don't go out there, especially at this time a' day. You'll miss your supper. To be quite honest, you don't look like you can afford to miss any meals."

The old lady gazed at the girl's diminutive figure, wishing her own were not quite so ample.

"Oh! I jist remembered I gotta be somewhere around supper time. Thanks for remindin' me, Ms. Hetty. I gotta be leavin' fer sure now. Please have Doc Henry call me at the Tunstall house or at my home later on this evenin'. Thank ya for yore help, ma'am."

Arlissa turned and left the old lady with her mouth standing open, ready to ask another question.

"Well, now, that was a most interestin' bit a' news, I must say," she said to herself, shutting the door and heading once again for the telephone.

Arlissa climbed back into her car and  headed for the Tunstall/O'Hanlon farm.

As she drove along, Arlissa considered what she was going to do next. She knew she needed to get to the Tunstall/O'Hanlon residence soon. It wouldn't be long til suppertime, and she didn't want to be late for the meeting with them.

"I hope I won't have any trouble with Mrs. Tunstall when I get there. It's not like I wanted custody of Rosie's little boy; I didn't even know she was gonna do somethin' like she did. I woulda stopped her if'n I had. Oh, Rosie, why'd you go and do such a Tomfool thing as that? Killin' yoreself and signin' that little sweet boy over to me! Am I supposed to honor that piece a' paper? Does the law say I have to?"

Arlissa was still conflicted over the whole idea - now with Granny so sick - how could she possibly take over the care of a little boy? She still missed her friend; it was going to take a long time to get over the loss of Rosie, her throaty laugh, her sparkling eyes, and the only real girl friend she had ever had. 

The two girls used to theorize about how come they looked so much alike, and been born in different states. They had never really come up with an answer, though. Arlissa most likely would never know, she figured.

"My Ma never lived to tell me who my Pa was, and Granny sure ain't never told me, if'n she even knows. I reckon maybe it's one a them things I won't never know. But I sure can't help wonderin' about it, though."

Arlissa finally noticed the car behind her and peered closely into the rear view mirror.

"Now, what's that rascal doin' follerin' me? I'll jist pull over and see what it is he's after, anyhow!"

She drove her car over to the side of the road and left it in idle, waiting for the car behind to pass her. It did, and the driver parked his car sideways in the road to block her.

"Con Douglas! What in tarnation do you think you're a doin'? Why've you been followin' me? What's the idea of parkin' sidewise in the road?"

"Get out'n that car, Lissa! You'n me's goin' on a date right now!" 

"I reckon we ain't goin'!" shouted Arlissa and hit him with the door as he opened it, knocking him down. 

Then she gunned the motor and went around his car. He only thought he had her blocked in. 

He lay in the road for a couple of minutes. The suddenness of her reaction had taken him by such surprise, he just couldn't believe it! 

Jumping into his car, he was in such a hurry that he backed up and hit a tree in his haste, putting another dent into the back of the vehicle. It was already dented quite a bit, so another one didn't matter to him.

Quickly pulling out onto the road, his car skidded, trying to get a solid hold, then he straightened it, getting control of the car and was soon in hot pursuit of the other car.

Laughing to himself, he said, "You jist think you can get away from me. I'll get you yet, Miss High 'n Mighty! Think yore too good fer me! I'll jist show you!"

Arlissa was speeding for her life... and she knew it. Con Douglas was becoming bolder and she realized she wasn't going to be able to avoid him forever. 

"I reckon I'm goin' to have to talk to the Sheriff and see what I can do to stop Con from botherin' me."

She headed for the O'Hanlon farm and safety.

Just as she turned onto the road leading to the O'Hanlons, Con had almost caught up to her once again. 

She began honking her horn, persistently, frantically, driving as fast as she could go. 

It so happened that Zebulon O'Hanlon was out in the yard, talking to his stepfather. They were walking around and looking at improvements that Jake Tunstall had made since Zeb had last been there.

Upon hearing the honking of the car, they ran toward the road.

When they saw the cars speeding toward them, they jumped out of the way.

"Whoa!" shouted Zeb. 

Arlissa pulled up to an abrupt stop and jumped from her car.

"Help! He's after me!" She ran up to Zeb and pointed to the other car that had just pulled into the yard and was in the process of turning around.

However, he didn't make it, because the Sheriff pulled in behind him, preventing his escape.

The two drivers had not seen the Sheriff, who was parked along the road in a side road, waiting for speeders. He had seen the two speeding by, and was soon in pursuit. 

Sheriff Bradshaw parked his vehicle, got out, and hitching up his weapon belt, walked over to Con's car.

"Out, young man! Would you care to explain to me why you were speeding along after this young woman?"

Con shook his head in a negative manner.

Arlissa ran over and said, "I can tell you exactly why he was chasin' me, Sheriff! He was tryin' to grab me and force me to go out with him on a date. I already told him I wasn't interested in going nowhere with him, but he wasn't hearin' me!"

Zeb walked over and looked at Con. 

"Still trying to be the bully, I see! You always did want to be the boss of everyone, even in school. I remember you trying to push us younger kids around all the time. Now is the time to stop unless you want to wind up in jail like your older brothers did." 

Con looked up at Zeb and sneered. 

"I see you're still playin' like yore better'n anybody else, too, O'Hanlon! At least, my sister didn't kill herself, like yore's did. I'll get you one a' these days, too, Miss High 'n Mighty!"

"You want me to arrest Douglas, Miss Hinton? You want to bring charges against him?"

"No, Sheriff, I don't want no trouble. I jist want him to leave me be."

"Okay, Douglas, I'm going to move my car and you can leave, but you better stay away from this young woman."

"I oughta be bringin' charges against her. She caused me to get fired by that doctor! He went to my boss and he fired me! My mama's dependin' on me to take care of her and now, the only job I got is the one at the fillin' station. It's all her fault!"

"But..but..I didn't do anything!" Arlissa replied.

 "You just leave the young woman alone, Douglas. I'll be watching you!"

The Sheriff got into his car with that warning and moved it.

Con backed up his car, turning it around and left in a spray of gravel. 

Zeb realized that Con Douglas would not forget the whole incident. He was sure Arlissa had not seen the last of the determined young man.

Arlissa turned to Zeb and hugged him. 

"I'm so sorry about Rosie, Zeb. I'm going to miss having her as such a good friend. I wish I had known what was in her mind and perhaps I could have stopped her."

Zeb wrapped his arms around the girl and patted her shoulder. 

"Thank you, 'Lissa. I'm sorry you had to go through all that. I know how much you loved her."

The Sheriff, observing the two of them, with the sunlight filtering into their hair showed just how much alike the color in each was. 

He was taken aback by the striking similarity even of their facial features.

Just then the front door opened and more people emerged from the house. It was the rest of the family and another person that Arlissa and the Sheriff had not yet met. Jake Tunstall was carrying little Benny, who was very quiet until he saw Arlissa. 

"'Lissa! Lissa!" Then Jake shushed him.

"What's going on out here?" Helen O'Hanlon Tunstall inquired.
 "What was all that horn honking while ago?"

Just then Zeb and Arlissa turned toward those who had just come outside. 

"Mom, it was 'Lissa here honking her horn for help. You remember Con Douglas?" 

At her nod of acknowledgement, he told her about the confrontation that had just taken place, then asked the stranger, a beautiful young woman to come over and meet Arlissa.

"Angela, come on over and meet one of our friends and neighbor, Arlissa Hinton. Arlissa, this is my bride, Angela Rae."

Zeb's smile was about a thousand watts in brightness, if it could be measured in such a manner. 

"I'm so very pleased to meet you, Arlissa. May I call you that?"

"Of course. I'm so very glad to make yore acquaintance as well, Angela."

"Please, call me Angie. All my friends do. I understand you and Rosie were friends?"

"Yes, for several years we were really close. Then... well, we kinda lost touch."

"Well, listen, you all! Supper is on the table and going to be cold if we don't get inside to eat it. We were just getting the table set when we heard the horn honking. Sheriff, why don't you come in and have a bite with us?" 

This last came from Jake Tunstall, fearing there might be some kind of trouble when they got to talking about little Benny after supper.

"Well, I tell you what, my wife has got supper on the table right about now, and she's gonna be that upset if I don't make it. But I'd be glad to come back and visit awhile later on this evening, if that's okay." 

The Sheriff had apparently got his drift.

(To be continued)