Thursday, October 9, 2014

Arlissa - Her Story - Day 101 -120

About thirty minutes later, Bobby Joe was wheeling Arlissa out into the hallway and up to Granny's room on the second floor of the hospital. 

Granny's face lit up when she saw her granddaughter was safe and sound. She frowned at the sight of the fluid bag hooked up to her, though. 

"Oh, I'm okay, Granny. I jist needed some fluids in my body where I was kept for several hours with not much water. They brought me a tray of food and I feel much better now."

Granny tried to tell her something, but of course, it came out unintelligibly, so she picked up her slate and wrote on it. 

"What happened?"

So she related the story from when she was outside with her Granny to the part where she was hiding in his car and then rescued.

As she told the story, her Granny's expression changed from one of horror to one of pure anger.

"Punishment!" she scribbled on the slate.

"Yes, Granny. I'm going to press charges. He's going to jail for sure. The sheriff is picking him up and putting him in jail."

"Oh, he'll face charges, all right," piped up Bobby Joe. "What he did was a crime and he'll go to jail for some time for that. Now, I'm sorry, ladies, but I have to leave for a while. A friend needs me. I'll see you all in the morning, and I'll take you to the funeral, Arlissa, if you wish. The Sheriff will probably be by after while to talk to you personally. He may have some papers for you to fill out and sign. You ladies take care now."

Arlissa reached out to take his hand and delay him for a minute.

"I want to thank you for coming out to that cave and finding me; please tell Zeb to come by, if  you will. I don't know what I would have done about even finding my way out of that backwoods area if you all hadn't found me, the way I was feeling."

"Okay, bye for now." Squeezing her hand gently, he dropped it and left. 

Granny looked at the two of them and smiled. 'Ah, he's sweet on her, he is!' the old lady said to herself. 'She ain't exactly turnin' him away, neither.'

Arlissa turned to her Granny and said, "I have an important question for you, Granny! I had a lot of time in that cave to do some thinkin'."

Granny looked at her expectantly, waiting...

"Granny, I don't quite know how to ask this one, so I'll jist come right out with it. When is my birthday?"

The old woman looked at her as though Arlissa was sporting two heads. 

She drew a question mark on the slate.

"Why am I asking? Cause I want to know! What year was I born?"

"You know."

"It wasn't 1943, was it?"

"I forget."

"You never forget nothin', Granny!"

The old lady pointed to her head and then her almost useless right arm.

Ah, she was using the stroke as an excuse, it seemed. Arlissa reasoned that she was really skirting the answer.

"I'm goin' to find out some way, Granny. If not from you, then somebody else that knows. What is the mystery? Why won't you tell me? Am I flawed, somehow? Is there shame attached to the answer?"

The old lady just shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, then wrote once again on the slate.

"Leave it layin'. Better for you."

"You know! Why ain't you tellin' me? I'm gonna find out, anyway!"


"Can't or won't! It don't matter, and it won't keep me from findin' out! Nurse! Come get this offa me!"

After the nurse had removed the IV from Arlissa's arm, the girl turned to the old lady. 

"I'm sorry, Granny. I've got to go right now. I need to be alone for awhile. I love you, Granny. I'll see you later."

She kissed the woman in the bed, and turned to leave.

Granny made a noise with her mouth and the girl turned back to see what she wanted. 

Granny held out her arms and Arlissa leaned into them, hugged her and promised to be back soon. 

Granny was weeping, wishing she had not made that promise to Eleanor. Now she was torn between two people she loved, the daughter and granddaughter. What could she do?

Heading for the pay phone in the lobby, Arlissa decided to call Sheriff Bradshaw and see if he would send the young deputy over to pick her up and take her to the funeral home. She really didn't want to miss the wake for her friend, if at all possible.

She looked down at her dress. It looked the worse for wear; perhaps she could borrow one of Marie's for the weekend. She looked at the lobby clock. It was seven-thirty. Too late! Now, what was she to do. She couldn't go anywhere looking like this.

Arlissa reflected over the last nine hours since she had been kidnapped. It seemed to be so much longer. Her life had changed a lot in the last week or so. Now she seemed to be at a crossroads, not really knowing which turn to take. 

All at once, she realized she had no money to even use the pay phone. Now what?

She sat down and putting her head in her hands, she prayed.

"Dear Lord, What do You want me to do? Can I go to the wake like this? Will I embarrass my Granny by goin' out in public like this? I thank ya, God for helpin' me out today and keepin' me safe through it all, and for sendin' them to rescue me. Help me know, now, please!"

Sitting up, she rested her head, with closed eyes, against the wall behind the metal chair holding her. 

About ten minutes later, the deputy came into the hospital and looked around; spotting her, he walked over to her, then knelt down, speaking gently.

"Arlissa...are you okay?"

"Oh, Billy!! I was jist thinkin' about callin' you, and here you are." 

She stood up, smiling at him.

"Yes, I'm fine, but I need a dress to wear to the wake for Rosie O'Hanlon. Do you know where I can get one to borrow, by any chance?"

"Well, my sister, Frannie, might have one. She was planning to go sometime this evening. Let me call her."

Within minutes, he turned to Arlissa. 

"Yep, she said to come on by. She'll lay some out on her bed for you to try on. She heard about yours being cut up and all, so she wants to lend you three or four of hers. She's seen you working in the drug store and knows you're about her size."

"Oh, my, how wonderful! Thank you!"

"She's happy to do it. She really likes the way you treat customers in there. She'll be at the wake tonight, too."

 Within a short time, Billy Newman had arrived at his parents' home with Arlissa. It was in a part of town that she had not spent any time visiting. The homes in the area were all beautiful and very obviously well-cared for. A maid hurried into the hallway when she and Billy entered.

"Mr. Billy, Miss Carly said for me to take Miss Hinton to her room and let her choose which one she wanted to wear this evening, and then pack the rest of them into a small case for her to take with her."

"Okay, Lettie. I'll be waiting out here in the family room."

Arlissa looked around. She had only seen rooms like these in magazines at the drug store. 

Lettie took some lingerie from a drawer, and handed it to the young woman.

"Miss Carly said you was to have this here underwear as well."

Tears came to Arlissa's eyes. 

"Everyone has been so kind to me...I don't understand."

"Well, Miss Hinton, I reckon they know how kind you've been to everyone and you've done fell on hard times. A bit of kindness never hurts to share with others, does it?"

Arlissa smiled at Lettie, through the tears. 

"No, I reckon it don't. Thank you all so very much. These are all jist so pretty... I guess, though, I'll take this one to wear this evening. Could you please put the dress I'm wearing into a paper sack so I can wash and return it to the Sheriff's wife?"

"Of course, Miss Hinton."

"And, please, Lettie, call me Arlissa. All my friends do."

"Okay, Miss Arlissa, There is a bathroom through that door on your right. If you want to take a quick shower and change, I'll just leave for a little bit and come back when you've changed. Then you and Mr. Billy can be on your way and spend some time at the funeral home before the wake is done."

She left the room and Arlissa picked up one of the dresses and a change of underwear.

Hurrying to the bathroom, she barely took time to look at the beautiful ornate fixtures, although her subconscious mind registered them. She quickly showered and dried off.

She could hardly believe where she was...from the cave earlier in the day to this gorgeous home was an incredible journey. And now...putting on clothes like she had only seen in those glossy fashion magazines. 

Turning to look at her reflection in the mirror, she couldn't believe what she saw. Who was that she saw? 

"Couldn't be me," she said aloud. 

Then she looked at the mess her hair was in, and laughing, said, "Oh, yeah, it's me, all right."

Looking at the vanity in the bedroom, she saw a comb and hoping that no one would mind her using it, quickly removed the rubber band holding her hair in a pony tail, and raked the comb through her hair. 

The rubber band had kept her wild red hair in check, but just as she removed it, it snapped and broke.

"Oh, well, I reckon maybe I'll jist leave it loose and hope for the best."

She didn't realize how very striking she looked with her hair loose around her shoulders and hanging down her back.

Bringing the dirty clothing back to the bedroom with her, she placed it in a neat stack on the bed and quickly turned to leave the room.

Lettie was just entering, and upon seeing Arlissa, she stopped in her tracks and smiled to herself. 'Hmm. Just wait till others get an eyeful of that young lady. She's gonna turn a lot of heads tonight, that's for sure!'

"Mr. Billy is waiting for you, Miss Arlissa. I'll have your clothes packed up in just a minute and bring them in to you."

"Do I look okay? The dress is a little shorter than I usually wear."

"Oh, I reckon you'll do jist fine, Miss. You look like it was made for you. Run on down now."

As she walked down the winding stairway, she actually took the time to look around and take in her surroundings. Looking up, she saw the glistening of the crystal glass in the chandelier. 

'Just wait til I tell Granny all about this', she thought. 'She'll never believe it! Wonder what it would be like to live like this?
Well, that'll never happen, for sure.'

She was smiling to herself when she reached the bottom step and saw Billy waiting for her.

"Who are you?" he asked her. "What did you do with Arlissa Hinton? Wow!"

"What? What are you talkin' about?"

"Oh! It's you, isn't it? I didn't recognize you until I heard your voice!"

"Ah! You're teasin', ain't ya?"

"Yeah...I'm teasing, all right. You clean up right good! I like your hair down like that, kinda floatin' around you, instead of up in a pony tail like you wear it most of the time."

Just then, Lettie came down with the little suitcase, and handed it to Billy.

"You all best be gettin' on, if you're a gonna make it before they close down the wake. Please give my regards to the family, will you? They are fine folks. I been knowin' them all my life."

Arlissa turned to her and asked, "Did you know my family, too? Did you know my mother?"

"Why, yes. Miss Eleanor was a beautiful young lady. You kinda got some of her looks about you. Not that hair; that looks more like...well, her hair sure wasn't red. I think maybe she was somewhere around my age. But..listen, you all need to be gettin' outta here. You be careful, now!"

"Goodbye, Miss Lettie! Thank you for all your help. I'll return these when I can."

"Don't you be worryin' about that. Miss Carly got more clothes than she can ever wear in a lifetime. Bye now...get..get..."

They walked out the front door and down the steps to Billy's car. She turned and looked again at the beautiful house, then shook her head. A person could dream, she reckoned, but that is all it was, just like finding her would never happen. 

As Billy drove, he kept sneaking looks at Arlissa...he could hardly stop. Who would have guessed that she would be so beautiful just with a different style of dress and her hair loose around her shoulders?

Meanwhile, she was gazing out the windows at all the scenery, wondering how she was going to get through the next few hours and days to come. There was the funeral tomorrow, and facing Rosie's mom again. She knew somehow, that Helen Tunstall had something against her mother, but had no idea what it was. As far as she knew they hadn't even known each other.

She knew that her mom was gone by the time Helen and her children had come from up North several years ago. What was the connection, anyway?

Within minutes, Billy Newman was pulling into a parking place at the funeral home. He hurried around to the passenger door to open it for his passenger.

"Here we go, watch your step."

He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, just as though she were his date, and the two of them entered the funeral home. She was glad he had done so, because she was really nervous. Somehow, he had sensed her feelings, she knew.

Sure enough, heads turned when they entered, and conversation ceased. Arlissa felt as though she was walking through a dream at that moment, with silence on every side, with herself as the center of attention.

Then, all at once, people took up the threads of speech, and matters in the room returned to normal, with covert looks aimed toward the two of them.

Carly Newman headed their way, as Billy and Arlissa stood in line, waiting to reach the casket holding the last remains of her friend.

Hank and Helen stood at the head of the casket, with Zeb, Angela, Marie, and Lester to their right. Friends, neighbors, and the curious were in line, waiting to see how Rosie appeared.

Arlissa noticed Doc standing, looking around, occasionally chatting with a few people,  while Miss Hetty was going from one person to another and smiling. She was seemingly just howdying with them, but anyone who really knew her was aware that she was gathering and storing all kinds of fodder for conversations at a later date. 

There in another place was Sheriff Bradshaw talking with one of the city councilmen. They were deep into conversation. 

Just as Arlissa caught sight of a tall, dark stranger. Wondering who he was, she saw Carly and turned to greet her, forgetting all about him.

Carly came up to Arlissa, smiling. 

"I declare, Arlissa, you look almost better in that dress than I ever did! Why, you're absolutely stunning tonight! Isn't she, Billy?"

"Oh, Carly! I can't thank you enough for loanin' me these purty clothes. I ain't, er, haven't never had clothes these nice before. I'll take good care of 'em and return them when I've got some of my own."

"Ah, pshaw! Arlissa, honey, you just keep them! I was planning to get rid of them anyhow!"

Upon hearing Carly's words of explanation, a feeling of shame like she had never felt washed over Arlissa. Never before those careless remarks had she ever felt less than anyone else. She had always had what she needed to get by in life.

Tears of worthlessness began to form in the corners of her eyes and she excused herself.

"Um...I seem to have something in my eye. Excuse me for a minute, please." 

As she hurried away toward the rest room, Billy turned to Carly. 

"Why can't you ever learn to keep your mouth shut? Did you have to say that?"

"What? What did I say? I was just telling her she was welcome to keep them."

"You just trampled on her pride, Carly! Shame on you! You owe her an apology! No, maybe you'd do better not to add anything to what you've already said to her. You'd probably just make it even worse!" 

He turned his back on his sister and walked over to the Sheriff, who was standing now and talking to the stranger that Arlissa had noticed when she first came in.

The stranger was shaking Sheriff Bradshaw's hand and introducing himself to the lawman. 

"Signore Sheriff, I was a friend of Rosa's and was quite dismayed to hear of her passing. The young woman who just left the room, with the red hair, she is the sister of Rosa, perhaps?"

"Why do you want to know, Mister Donelli?"

"I simply wished to offer her my compassione. She is a bella signorina, er, lovely lady, is she not? Surely, she is in la famiglia, ah, family, of Rosa? Rosa was a dear friend of mine. I could do no less than come and get acquaint with them, eh?"

"Were you Rosie's boyfriend, perhaps?"

"Si, Signore Sheriff...perhaps she told you of me?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Hmmm. I am most interested in anything concerning my bella Rosa. Perhaps you can tell me how she came to be morte, er, dead?"

At these last words, Billy spoke up. 

"I think maybe she killed herself rather than go back to the fella who was beating the hooey out of her. That would be you, wouldn't it?"

Donelli turned to Billy with a look of surprise. He was at least a head taller than the deputy and he noticed how much he could look down on Billy.

The look of superciliousness on Donelli's face made Billy want to mop up the floor with him. 

Billy stood back and looked at Alberto. 

"Hmmm...You're not from around don't even sound like you know our language. Where are you from, anyway?"

"Well, little family is from Italy several years ago. I grew up there and came over to this wonderful country as a young man. That is all I need to say."

So saying, he turned back to the Sheriff. 

"I am looking for my son, Signore Sheriff. He is just a little one, only three and his name is Benito. I would very much appreciate your help in finding him, so I can take him back home with me."

"Afraid I can't help you there, Mr. Donelli. I don't know where he is, I reckon."

"Do not worry. I will find him, with or without your assistance. I am quite good with finding what I look for."

With another smile in Billy's direction, he walked away.

"He's trouble, Sheriff, worse than Douglas ever was. We gotta keep a close eye on him."

"You're right, Billy. Kinda keep track of where he's going while he's around town."

"Sure thing, Sheriff. It'll be a pleasure. We need to warn the O'Hanlon/ Tunstall family."

"I'll do that right now; you keep watch about Donelli. Oh, look, he's headed in the direction I just saw Arlissa go a few minutes back."

"Yeah, he was awful interested in her. I'll just kinda head back that way."

"Keep outta sight as much as you can. We don't want him to know we're so interested in him."

"Right..." Billy turned and went sauntering through the funeral home to the hallway.

When Billy saw Arlissa, he realized she was talking to the new Kentucky State Trooper- that Odum fellow. Odum was standing there with his hand on her shoulder. What was she doing talking, all friendly-like to him?

Billy decided right then and there he didn't like the interloper - he realized he was jealous, which surprised him. He didn't consider himself to be that way, yet, here he was, angry at someone he barely knew.

Billy saw Odum look up and smile at his approach.

"Hey, Buddy! How ya doin'?" 

He reached out his hand to shake Billy's, who took the hand offered him.

"Okay, I reckon. How about you?"

"Yep! Arlissa here was just telling me about how you've been picking her up from the hospital and how nice you are. I know she and her Granny appreciate it!" 

"Well, she's one of ours, you know! We went to the same school and all." 

"Oh, of course!" 

Arlissa turned to Billy and said, "Bobby Joe, here, and Zeb found me at the cave and brought me back to the hospital."

She looked up at Bobby and smiled appreciatively, then turning to Billy, she smiled at him.

"And Billy, here, he's been so kind to me; I jist feel so blessed havin' such good friends lookin' out for me!"

With that smile of hers directed at him, Billy just couldn't feel any animosity towards Odum. 

Then he realized that with all her troubles at that time, she didn't need two fellows acting like little banty roosters, strutting around, trying to be cock of the walk.

"Listen, you all, have you seen that tall stranger hanging around out in the other room? He's a foreigner - from Italy, he says. He was looking for Arlissa, here, and came back this way. Sheriff says he looks like he's up to no good. Name's Alberto something. Looking for his little boy, Benito."

"Oh, no! He's the one that Rosie was runnin' away from; didn't want him to get his hands on Benny. Now he's here?"

"Yeah, thinks you're Rosie's sister."

"Hey, we're going to stay right by your side all evening," Bobby said, putting his arm around her shoulder. "He won't get close enough to harm you. Come on, Billy, you get on the other side. We'll be just like the Secret Service and guard you like the president."

Billy wasn't quite sure how he felt about being ordered about by the Trooper, but he knew what Bobby was doing to be the right thing.

"I want to go up and talk to the family now, you all."

The three of them headed into the main reception area toward the casket holding Rosie's remains.

Alberto Donelli stood in a doorway, observing the progress of the three young people, smiling.

"So that's how it is! Seems the young woman has her protectors close by, but I will have my chance. I, Alberto, will make it possible. Her last name has to be O'Hanlon; she is quite evidently a sister to them. Perhaps she has my son; he doesn't seem to be with the rest of the family."

He was determined to have little Benito and take him away. One day the boy would inherit his business, but he had to be trained in the proper way. That meant an early start. 

"Maybe I need to go back to the place where they live while they are here. Perhaps someone there is taking care of the boy." 

As he watched them, the three made their way to the bier. Arlissa felt weak in the knees; she had always had trouble dealing with death. She knew that it was as sure as life is, but that didn't make it any easier to accept the loss of loved ones.

Thinking back to her Gramps' funeral, she was only seven when it took place. She remembered how very much her Granny mourned his passing. There was also the emptiness felt by her missing him. He would pick her up and carry her on his shoulders when they crossed the creek, so she wouldn't get wet. 

He taught her to fish down in that creek, and how to catch frogs, so many things. She had been a regular tom-boy with no one else to play with. Gramps had done his best to take the place of a father she  had never known. But when he died, it made a hole in her heart that had never been filled. 

Arlissa wondered once again about her father. Why hadn't he stuck around for her mother and for her? She realized anew that perhaps she would never have the answers she had been searching for her whole life.

At last, here the trio was at the casket. 

Arlissa looked down at the smooth, peaceful features of her friend. 

"Rosie, oh, I wish I could have convinced you of the love of my Savior, Jesus! I do promise that Benny's father will never get his hands on him!" These words were whispered quietly to the remains that lay so still.

She stood and walked on to the family standing there, patiently shaking hands of the visitors and graciously accepting comments of condolences expressed.

As she reached Zeb, she asked him if Benny's father had been out to their home.

"Yes, we told him that Benny wasn't there. It was only because Angela and Marie had taken him into town to get some clothing. Rosie didn't bring very many clothes for him with her when they came. I could honestly say he wasn't there, and that I didn't know where he was. I'm not sure he believed me, and I know he'll be back. He doesn't look like one to give up easily."

"Has anyone told you about the beatings he gave Rosie?" Arlissa asked him.

"I have heard something about them and I believe Benny has mentioned it to Mom. Poor little fella. He's seen a lot of cruelty for someone so young. A kid should never be subjected to seeing that kind of thing, ever! It makes my blood boil to even think about it!"

Zeb formed a fist with his right hand; then loosened it, flexing his fingers. 

Angela placed a hand on his right arm, causing him to stop scowling and smile at her. She whispered quietly to him.

"Darling, you can't let on how you feel; because then you will be observed and that awful man will know that we know. We have to behave as though we don't know anything, so as not to put him on his guard."

"Yes, I know you're right, honey, it just angers me so much to realize what Benny and Rosie went through at his hands. I know, too, that I can't let my feelings make me forget that he needs to know how very far he has strayed in his life from what God intended us each to be. His soul is as black as the coal in our coal scuttle in the basement of our house."

"Just as ours was before we found Him." She smiled up at him.

He patted her hand in the crook of his arm.

"It's good to see you again, 'Lissa," Angela told her. "I see you have two escorts with you this evening; and you look so lovely on their arms."

"Thank you, Angie. The dress is borrowed, but I feel like it's made for me. I've never had anything so pretty!" She smiled up at Billy and Bobby pasted a smile on his face; still bitten by the jealousy bug.

Zeb stood there observing the three of them; it didn't take him long to see the lay of the land; a wry smile soon crept upon his lips.

"Well, 'Lissa, aren't you fortunate to have two escorts for the evening!"

"Yes, Zeb, I am. They have joined forces to keep me safe, I reckon. I feel like a princess tonight."  She smiled up at each of the men on either side of her. 

"Uh - oh. Here comes trouble!" Mrs. Tunstall spoke up. She had been observing the by-play between the young people talking. 

Sure enough, Alberto Donelli was strolling their way.

Addressing Arlissa, Donelli spoke politely, smoothly. 

"Ah, Signorina O'Hanlon, I believe!" Taking her right hand in his, he bowed and lifted it to his lips.

"No! You are wrong about that, Mister. I ain't a O'Hanlon at all. I don't know where you got your information, but you sure missed the mark on that one. Who are you and why have you come to Rosie's wake?"

Donelli appeared to be non-plussed by her remarks, simply smiling in return.

"Oh, the little red-headed kitten has claws, does she not? Well, with that red hair and those blue eyes of yours, you cannot deny your heritage, Signorina! You are an O'Hanlon! Pehaps born and not claimed? I notice you are not standing in the line with the family."

Arlissa's face flamed red and it was easy to see the fury in her eyes. However, he simply turned away from her and to the family standing there with looks of amazement on their faces at his audacity in making a scene. 

Then, speaking to Rose's mother, he said, "Signora, I am so sorry for your loss. I suppose I should be standing with you, since our Rosa was a big part of both our lives. When she left with our little Benito, she told me she was going to visit her family here. Now I hear he is not with you at all. Perhaps she took him somewhere else and failed to tell me...?"

"I don't know what she did before she arrived here, Mister Donelli. Quite honestly, I never knew what she was going to do. Since she was with you, as you say, you would know as well as I what temperament she had. As far as I know, you have no right to be with us, so please just move on." 

She smiled sweetly up at the man standing before her, who she knew was lying in his teeth. If only he had known her better, he would realize she could put a good face on almost anything. A good part of her was inherited by her daughter, Rosie.

He acknowledged her dismissal, but stood a part way away from them, choosing to stand as though a part of the family.

Arlissa's two escorts and Arlissa shook hands with the mourners and moved on. 

"I need to speak with the Sheriff," Arlissa told them, so they walked with her over to Bradshaw.

"Miss Hinton, er, Arlissa, you will still need to come in and fill out those papers and sign them, but it can wait till tomorrow morning. In the meantime, you need to have Billy bring you back to my home. Sarah has said you need to be under her watch-care until you have your place ready to move back into. No arguments, please. I can't cross her, you know." 

He smiled encouragingly at her.

"Tell me about that Donelli feller, now."

"He's going to be causing a peck of trouble, Sheriff," spoke up Bobby Joe. "I've seen his kind before, back when Zee and I were taking our police academy training. I think he's in some kind of racket back in the city; wherever it is he comes from."

A few minutes later, the Sheriff was speaking with the O'Hanlon/Tunstall family. He had just watched Donelli take his leave of the gathering and head out the door. 

Pulling Zeb to one side, he began a conference with him. 

"Zeb, what can you tell me about that Donelli? Do you have any notion of where he hails from?"

"Well, he has a Northern accent, which I recognize from living there till I was twelve. I believe he's from the northeast somewhere, maybe Pittsburgh or New York. As you may know, we lived near Pittsburgh during my younger years, since my dad worked in the steel mills there. Then he lost his job there and we had to move to a town near New York City, called Hallenford,* to finally find work at a plant when I was about four. I think that is where Rosie headed when she left several years ago. She had friends that were leading her astray when we left; doing petty thefts like shop-lifting. I think maybe she went back up there and picked up old friendships. Life wasn't exciting enough for her down here in what she called 'the sticks', even with a good friend like she found in Arlissa."

"How did he find his way down here, though? You reckon Rosie had said enough about her past life that he could find where she came from?"

"Don't know. She could be shut-mouthed when she wanted to. Maybe it took her awhile to find out what kind of fella he was and had spilled enough about her past for him to find her. You can see what an oily tongue he has! Enough to turn any girl's head who is looking for adventure and romance."

"Is there any way we can check up on his family?"

"Well, Sheriff, I have a few contacts in Hallenford; I can check with them and see if they have any scuttlebutt on the Donellis."

"Good, good! We have to do everything we can to protect our own. He seems to have taken quite a shine to our little Arlissa; she does favor Rosie a lot. Maybe he thinks to replace Rosie with Arlissa. We've got to keep her safe; she's been through too much these past weeks. My housekeeper, Sarah, seems to have taken her under her watchcare."

"Yeah," Zeb smiled. "She does seem to bring out the protective feelings in people, doesn't she? She certainly hasn't had an easy row to hoe. I'm going to stick around for a few more days to help get matters settled here, before Angela and I head back to my job in Tennessee. She has a job to get back to, as well. I want to take her to visit Granny Hinton tomorrow. She's always been a good neighbor to our family."

"Right; well, keep in touch, Zeb, and stop in to see me at my office as soon as you know something."

So saying, the Sheriff touched his brow in a two finger salute and turned to go stand near the doorway, as though taking up a station, watching the room and the interactions going on.

He saw Bobby Joe, Billy and Arlissa go up once more to the family and then take their leave to take the girl to his home and hand her into Sarah's care. He had to smile as the two jockeyed for the pleasure of taking her there. She stopped mid-stride and spoke to them; she left finally with Billy.

(To be continued)

Footnote: Hallenford is a fictional name, you won't find it on a map. 

As the three left the funeral home, they were observed closely by their foe, who was standing in the shadows, then followed in his car the young woman who was with the deputy. He needed to know where she was staying. 

Following the car holding Arlissa, Donelli made a note of the address and location of the house, not realizing it belonged to the local Sheriff. He watched from the shadows as Billy opened the car door for Alyssa and then retrieved the small suitcase from the back seat, carrying it to the front door of the house. 

He noticed that they rang the doorbell and waited for the occupant of the house to answer the door. Seeing an older woman greet them, he realized she might be a pushover to charm, then again...maybe not. Well, never mind, he could only try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all. 

As the young man left, he decided to follow him as well. He needed to know all the players in this situation if he was to be successful in his quest. 

"I certainly have no trust in that young man standing in the receiving line. He looks like trouble to me. I need to stay clear of him."

Following Billy to his home, he was impressed by the richness of the neighborhood and smiled to himself. 

"I will have to get to know that young man's family. Wonder if he is related to the young woman he had words with this evening... she looked quite wealthy, come to think of it. Class always tells. He certainly knows her well enough in order to speak so harshly to her. The familiarity of family it seemed."

Donelli apparently was a student of human nature, since he was so apt at reading those at the funeral home that evening. Little did Arlissa realize the new chaos that was entering her life that very evening. 

As Billy entered his home, he was reflecting on how he had left Arlissa. 

When Sarah opened the door to the two of them, he leaned down and kissed Arlissa briefly on the cheek. Reaching up to touch her cheek, she had asked him why.

All he could reply was about how tiny she was and how she needed protecting. Sarah had looked him in the eye and asked who was going to protect the girl from him. He had simply blushed, handed the suitcase to Sarah and told Arlissa he would be back in the morning to pick her up for the funeral.

He hadn't seen the smile on Sarah's face as he left. She hadn't been able to keep from a gentle teasing of the young man. She knew Sarah was perfectly safe from him, well, relatively so anyway. 

Billy hollered when he got inside for his sister, Carly. Lettie came down the hallway and told him that she had not come home yet.

"But I saw her leaving about ten minutes before I did. She must have gone out with one of her good-for-nothing boy friends! I swear, Father must do something about her, Lettie! She won't listen to me!"

"Now, Billy, you know how he dotes on her. Might as well be talking to that wall over there than expect him to hobble her down."

Lettie stood back, looking at the young man who had changed his tune since beginning to work in law enforcement. It seemed to have helped his attitudes and had certainly developed his work ethic into something he could be proud of.

"Will you want some coffee and cake? I just baked a nice coconut cake just the way you like them this afternoon."

"Sure, I could go for some of that. Thanks, Lettie!"

"Come on out to the kitchen, then, and I'll cut you a slice. I just made a fresh pot of coffee a few minutes ago. I thought you might bring Arlissa back with you for a bit."

"No, no, she needed to get back to the Sheriff's and get some rest tonight. She's been through a lot in the last week or so."

"Hmmm. You kinda like her, don't you?"

"Well, yeah, she's nice. I knew her in school, you know. She didn't run with my crowd, but I saw her around. Always thought she was kinda pretty, but she didn't really seem to fit in all that much."

He sat in the kitchen chair and thought a few minutes, wondering whether to mention Donelli or not.

Sarah welcomed her young charge into the house and asked about the evening.

"Well, I did meet the man who was living with Rosie in the big city, wherever that was. I could see how she would have been taken in by him - a really smooth guy. He almost made me think she could have been lying about him, except I heard little Benny talking about how he had knocked her around. Oh, yeah, he's a mean one, all right. He's what Granny would have called oily-tongued, kissing my hand! UGH! I think I'll go wash them right now!"

"How about something to eat? I know you must not have had any thing to eat lately. I made some really good apple pie this afternoon! How about some of that? Come on into the kitchen! I need to go check on Mz. Bradshaw, then I'll be back in here."

"I think maybe I'll go put on my nightgown and the housecoat you loaned me, then I'll come back into the kitchen."

Within a few minutes, the two women were back, sitting down to a glass of milk and apple pie. 

"Now, little lady, why don't you tell me about 'Oil-can Harry'..."

"Ha! That's a pretty good name for him, all right! Well, I found out his last name is Donelli. He has dark hair and piercin' eyes. He even looks dangerous! He is the kind who could charm somebody like us women that live out in the country, especially if we was lookin' for a Prince Charmin'. IF he comes around here, don't you get took in by him!"

"Don't worry, Missy! I doubt he even knows you are here. How would he? Why would he care, anyway?"

"Why? Well, he thinks Rosie and I are akin to one another, that's why! He jist kept on a sayin' how we must a been sisters and all. Everybody knows we ain't no kin, don't they?"

"Well, Missy...far as I know, you're not. Now let's get this pie eaten so's I can rinse these dishes. Be sure and drink all that milk. It'll help you sleep, you know." 

Sarah had deftly switched the subject from dangerous ground to a safer one. She was remembering, especially, Mz. Bradshaw's innocent question about Savannah O'Hanlon .

Arlissa dutifully finished the glass of milk and kissed Sarah on the cheek. 

"Thank you for takin' such good care a me, Sarah! Goodnight!   
She yawned and headed for the bedroom, leaving Sarah shaking her head. 

"Poor girl! Wonder what she's gonna say when she finally gets the answers to her questions? Well, I don't have the right to give them to her. That's up to the old woman, and apparently, she's not giving 'em!" 

She tsked, tsked, and went into the living room to wait for the Sheriff.

Heading for bed, Arlissa realized how very tired she was. She had been through much that day. Kidnapped by Con; rescued by Zeb and Bobby Joe; argument with her Granny; then the wake for Rosie. 

As she crawled into bed, she began to talk to her Heavenly Father.

"How much more, Lord? Why is my life so hard right now? When am I going to find out who I really am? What do You want of me?"

All she had to reflect on that had happened during the day only served to cause her pain.

She seemed to hear the words in her heart...

"Think about all I have done for you today, child. I kept you safe, you were fed, you were protected, you were loved, you were respected by those who cared for you, you were provided clothing to wear, you are Mine...what else do you want?"

Tears slipped from her eyes and she got out of bed, dropped to her knees and said, 

"Thank you, Lord. I am so sorry! I promise to do better. Please forgive me. I'll try to be kinder to Granny. I know she is hurtin', too. She has to have a good reason for not tellin' me what I want to know; did she promise my Mama not to tell me? I know you're gonna let me in on it when it's time; but, oh, my heart really wants to know who my earthly father was!"

Once again, she climbed into bed, wiped her eyes and turning onto her right side and looking out the window at the shadows the trees made in the moonlight, she drifted off to sleep. 

She didn't see the shadows shifting...

The watcher's face was still in shadows as he stood there. The only thing visible was the tip of the cigarette dangling from his lips; he believed even that was only visible to him. To his knowledge there was no one else was around.

Standing there for another hour or so, he didn't see the person observing him; he thought himself to be invisible.

Inside the house under observation, the girl slept on, unknowing.

Before he left, the watcher gave one more glance toward the girl's window and smiled to himself, flicking away the final cigarette into the grass under the trees. He walked quietly away.

The next morning, Arlissa sat up in bed and stretched, just as Sarah came bustling into the room to fold the bedclothing on the couch where she herself had slept. 

"Good morning, young lady! You were sawin' logs just like a buzzsaw last night! You must have slept really good!"

She smiled back at Sarah.

"I must have been dead to the world, Sarah! I hope I didn't keep you awake none! I'm sorry if I did."

"Nonsense, child! I had a lot on my mind last night, but you don't worry any! I got plenty of sleep, all I needed, anyway! Don't you know that the older a body gets, the less sleep they  need ? Are you hungry? I reckon you've got a lot to do today, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, I am hungry, I reckon I could jist about eat a horse; well, maybe not a horse, but some pancakes or somethin' like that."

"Well, I expect to see you in the kitchen in about five minutes for breakfast! Now, scoot!"

As only the young can, she jumped up from the bed and ran into the bathroom. Five minutes or so later, she was sitting in the kitchen in her bathrobe, fresh from the shower and smiling at the Sheriff, who was already on his second cup of coffee.

"Good mornin' Sheriff! You look kinda sleepy this mornin'. Late night?" 

"Nah, just a lot on my mind. I been thinkin' about that paper Rose O'Hanlon left. We need to talk about it later today, after Rose's funeral, if you don't mind."

"Sure." Arlissa looked puzzled. She thought all that was settled.

That same morning, Alberto Donelli was eating breakfast in the small dining room of the Delsin's Bed and Breakfast. He sat there reading the local newspaper which had come just that morning. 

Turning to the obituaries, he read Rosie's notice of death. It listed a son, Benjamin. It infuriated him that the sniveling brat had not been listed by his proper name, Benito.  He wondered where they had stashed the boy.

"I've come to this little one-horse town for two things which Rosa stole from me. Anything which is mine, I want it back, because it is mine! I can take him back with me...Mama will be glad to take him off my hands. The other item, I'm not quite sure about." 

He sat there ruminating for a few minutes as he ate the biscuits and eggs. The gravy he left; he had to watch his weight, after all. He didn't want to get flabby like his Uncle Arturo had. Slim and trim was what got the ladies' attention.

Just then the pretty young daughter of the Destin's owners came over to ask if he wanted any more coffee. He smiled charmingly up at her and nodded. 

"If you please, Signorina." 

He touched her elbow briefly, the lightest of touches, and gave it a gentle squeeze before turning it loose.

She blushed and smiled.

"Did you know the young woman who is listed in the paper as Rose O'Hanlon?"

"No, I'm afraid not, sir. Is there anything else?"

He winked at her, and replied in the negative before going back to reading the paper. 

Then, folding the paper, he finished his coffee, used the napkin, threw it on the table and deep in thought, signed the bill and left.

After breakfast, the Sheriff called his deputy, Billy, and said he was bringing Arlissa in for a few minutes to fill out paperwork and for Billy to keep an eye on the Donelli fellow. 

"I trust that Donelli about as far as I can throw him," Bradshaw told Sarah.

"Hmmm, from what Miss Arlissa here said, he is as about as oily-tongued as they come," she replied.

"We just get rid of one threat to society and are faced with another one. They just keep coming..." Sheriff Bradshaw quipped. 

"I'll be with you, Arlissa, just as soon as I go say goodbye to my wife."

"Yes, sir. I'll be ready in about five minutes; I just have to get dressed."

Going back to the bedroom, she chose a powder blue dress to wear for the day, then after dressing, she brushed her hair and just left it loose for the day. She realized she really liked it that way. 

"Okay, sir, I'm ready to go." 

"Now this won't take long, Arlissa. I hate to have to  make you relive the experience, but this has to be done, you know."

"Yes, I reckon I do. It won't be near as bad as the real thing, anyhow." 

"Listen, I want to ask you about this business of the tree that Rosie mentioned in that last note."

"What about it, Sheriff?"

"Why would she mention a particular tree? Do you have any idea?"

"Well...maybe, but I ain't sure, 'cause it's been years since we even talked about it. It don't make a lot of sense, her mentionin' it." 

"It must mean something."

"I sure don't know what." Arlissa replied. "It was only a tree. Just like any tree in the woods between our home and hers."

(To be continued)