It seemed to her then, that maybe it would just be better to go back to sleep for a while. There was no aroma of food cooking, coming from the kitchen. What time was it anyhow?
She looked over at the little ticking clock on her nightstand. 4:30, it read. She looked over at the couch, where Sarah lay, snoring gently.
Then Arlissa realized how very blessed she was, too much so to be a little down over hearing it rain.
"At least, I can hear the rain. I know there are people who have never heard or seen it raining. Forgive me, Lord, for being so ungrateful! Sometimes I take so much for granted, I fail to appreciate my blessings! And having friends who have helped us through our hard times can't be overlooked, either. Maybe I haven't had the benefit of knowing who all I was kin to, but, God, you've been with me and .Granny all the way! Thank you, Lord!"
She lay there, feeling so very blessed, drifting back to sleep, only to awaken a couple of hours later to the sound of the telephone. She also smelled the bacon frying in the kitchen. Sarah's bedding was no longer evident on the couch.
Within a couple of minutes, Arlissa came into the living room to hear Sheriff Bradshaw saying, "What? They're here? Already? How did they get here so fast, Billy?"
There was a pause on the Sheriff's part.
"Ah! Their own private plane? I see. Well, you tell them that I'll be in to see them in about an hour. I haven't even had my morning coffee yet, or much less - my breakfast. Tell them where the diner is, and I guess they'll need a place to stay. Tell them about the bed and breakfast, too, where their son stayed. I reckon if it was good enough for him, it should suit them okay. See you in a bit. Confound it all!" The sheriff muttered to himself as he hung up the phone.
"Ah, don't worry! Ain't nothin' I can't take care of. Let's go get us some breakfast. I could eat a horse!"
"Well, I'm sure Sarah has something better than a horse for us!"
"Don't knock it! Horse meat was sometimes eaten in the past. It ain't too bad. Kinda sweet, in fact."
Arlissa looked askance at her host, so he said no more, knowing what a soft spot she had in her heart for animals.
"Well, that was the Billy Newman, at the office, calling. He told me the Donellis are already here; came in by private airplane and drove over from Frankfort. Seems they wasted no time getting here."
"Apparently no expense, either, Woody!" replied Sarah, from the stove, where she was preparing breakfast. "Seems they are gonna be trouble for you."
"Hmm. Maybe not. Could be they're just anxious to get their son's body back home and buried."
"I feel sorry for them, having to bury their son that way. Can't help wondering what they're like, though, and if they'll make trouble for us keeping little Benny."
"Guess we'll find out soon enough, cause they're bound and determined to see me as soon as I get to the office. Billy'll no doubt tell them that what's left of the remains are in Hanson's Funeral Home. Didn't see any need in doing an autopsy, since we all know what a hurry he was in when he left the office yesterday afternoon. I'm having Mr. Hanson, Sr., do a thorough job of checking the body over, though."
"Sheriff..." Sarah interrupted him and nodded toward Arlissa, who was beginning to turn a bit pale.
"Oh, yeah. I forget sometimes. Tell me again, Arlissa, what it is you've planned for today? You said you want to go out to see the Tunstalls and the O'Hanlons?"
"Yes, but first I want to go see Granny and my Aunt Savannah. Then I want to return the album and ask about the letter. Of course, I know that my grandparents are gone, but Ellen may be able to shed some light on the letter."
"Well, that sounds like a good plan!" He smiled at her, encouragingly.
Sarah announced breakfast was ready, and just after Woody asked the blessing, the doorbell rang, followed by a knock on the door.
"Don't worry, Woody. I'll get this one," stated Sarah firmly. "You just sit here and dig into that good breakfast I just finished fixing. You're gonna need all the energy you can get today, in my opinion!"
Woody just smiled and said, "Okay, Miss Boss!"
Sarah headed for the front door and when she opened it, saw two well-dressed strangers standing on the porch, looking very out of place. The woman was short and round, with eyes that had been reddened by much weeping, it seemed.
The man standing beside her was just the opposite: tall, distinguished-looking with a hard expression in the eyes.
"Madam, I understand that this is where the County Sheriff resides. Is that correct? If so, we need to see him, at once! See to it, please. May we enter?"
So saying, he pushed past her and stepping across the threshold, he entered the living room and saw the kitchen doorway across the room.
"Now, wait just a minute! Who are you? Where are you going? You have no right to enter the Sheriff's house this way! You haven't been invited in!"
When Sheriff Woody Bradshaw heard the commotion, he stood up abruptly, dropping the napkin from his knee where he had placed it, and went into the living room.
"Here, here!! What's going on in here, Sarah?"
Arlissa, still holding her table napkin, followed right behind Woody, her eyes big and worried.
"Well, it seems we have some privileged visitors, Woody. Folks, why don't you come on in and have a bite of breakfast with us? Here in the country, we don't stand on ceremony."
All at once, the wind seemed to be let out of the stranger's sails, and he realized that he had behaved inappropriately.
"I'm sorry, Sheriff! All we've been able to think about is the fact that our only son is lying dead. We weren't even sure where he had gone when he left Philadelphia several days ago. Please, could we see him?"
"Sir, Mr. Donelli, you don't really want to see him, the way he looks now. I can assure you, however, we have identified him as your son. Come on in and have some coffee, at least."
All this time, the young man's mother had not spoken, but stood there, looking very tired and as if she could faint at any minute.
Arlissa took the old lady by the elbow and guided her into the kitchen to a chair.
"Would you like a cup of coffee or tea," Arlissa asked her.
"Some tea would be wonderful, thank you. You are very kind to an old lady," she said quietly to the girl.
"You look very familiar to me! Have I seen you anywhere before?"
"I don't think so! I've never been to Pennsylvania. In fact, I've never been anywhere away from here."
Arlissa put the tea kettle on the stove and began heating the water. While it was heating, she got a teapot and cup, added a tea bag to the teapot, and sat quietly with Mrs. Donelli.
"I'm so sorry for your loss, Ma'am. It must be very difficult to raise a son, only to have him die so violently and so young. How old was he, if I may ask?"
"Thank you, Miss ...?"
"Oh, you can just call me Arlissa. I was only barely acquainted with your son. "
"He was thirty- five, just in the prime of life. We hadn't seen him for three years, since he and his father had a big argument over the family business and other matters. He..."
Just then the tea kettle's whistle cut off her statement, and her husband came into the kitchen with the Sheriff, as well.
"Fiona, we need to be going."
"But, we were going to have a cup of tea, Benito! See, it is all ready to pour. Please?"
He looked down at his wife, seeming to realize for the first time how very hard the past twenty-four hours had been for her, the mother of his son.
"Of course, Cara Mia! Forgive me. I'll have one with you. "
Arlissa got a cup and saucer for him as well.
Then he took another look at her.
"Are you the young woman I heard about my son living with last year?"
"No sir, I'm not. I only saw him a couple of times. "
"Well, you sure match the description I got. It can't be a coincidence ! Do you happen to know why he was here in this town in the middle of nowhere? "
At this, Sheriff Bradshaw spoke up.
"Mr. Donelli, he came here and attended the funeral of the woman he had lived with. She came back home for a visit, and passed away soon after. I believe he was on his way out of town when he took a curve too fast and crashed his car. It went over the edge and crashed, catching on fire. I'm very sorry.
His remains are at Hanson's Funeral Home, and will be released to you when you go and fill out the proper papers. Again, we're very sorry for your loss."
"Thank you. You've all been very kind. We'll be going now. Come, Fiona."
The couple left the Sheriff's home with a very different attitude than the one with which they arrived.
Sarah looked at Woody with great admiration in the way he had handled the situation.
"Arlissa is the one who turned the tide, by her kindness to Mrs. Donelli," stated the Sheriff.
"Was it intentional that you failed to mention little Benny?" Sarah inquired of Woody.
"Well, yes, since he didn't mention the boy, I figured we didn't need to muddy the waters any more. The child is going to be raised by his aunt and uncle, isn't he?"
"Yes, that's what we decided, for the sake of his stability," replied Arlissa. He will have lots of family, with the whole O'Hanlon bunch.
"Shall we finish our breakfast now?"
"Yes, Sarah. We had just begun when the Donellis came. How about heating up that coffee pot? Arlissa, did I understand you to say you were going to see Savannah today? Maybe you'll be able to talk to her. She was in a bad way when she was found outside the diner in the alleyway, where she was beaten. There was a witness to the beating; otherwise I would never have known it was Donelli that beat her. It seems he used brass knuckles to do the beating. "
He shook his head in disgust.
"Well, he certainly got his back, in spades," observed Sarah.
"Yes, sin never goes unpaid," at least that's what my Granny always says.
"I reckon that's true," observed the sheriff.
The three ate their breakfast and didn't spend much time lingering at the table, because there was so much to do.
Arlissa was soon on her way to the hospital with the photograph album and the rosewood box belonging to Granny.
When she arrived at the room where she had last seen Savannah, she was surprised to see the bed was empty and stripped of bedclothing.
"What happened to Savannah O'Hanlon?" she enquired of the woman who was cleaning the floor.
"Oh, you mean the lady that was in this bed last night? I don't know. I was told to strip the bed and clean the room when I got here this morning."
Arlissa ran over to the nurses' station.
"What happened to Savannah? Where is she?"
"I'm sorry. Was she a friend of yours?"
"Yes, yes, I mean, she's my aunt. Can you tell me where she is?"
"Ma'am, I hate to tell you, but she passed away around midnight last night. Her injuries were just too extensive. Poor thing was in so much pain, even with the medications."
"Was anyone with her?"
"No, I'm afraid not. The doctor came soon after midnight and pronounced her gone. Hanson's left with her remains about two this morning. I'm so sorry for your loss, my dear."
Arlissa sat down in one of the chairs to think. An old adage came to her memory. Granny always said that deaths came in threes.
Beginning with Rose, then continuing with Donelli, and ending with Savannah, there had been three recent deaths connected with her family.
"I hope that's it, Lord..." Arlissa whispered.
She stood up and headed for the hallway and bank of elevators. She needed to see her grandmother. They had some things to talk over.
Upon arrival at Granny's room, she was pleasantly surprised to see her grandmother sitting in a chair, clumsily feeding herself with her right hand. Moreover, most of the food was making it to her mouth. Near the side of Granny was a walker.
"Granny! You're feeding yourself with your right hand! When did you start doing that?"
"Prac'sin." The old lady looked up at her.
"Oh, Granny! Good for you! You're doing so good! I'm right proud of you!"
She hugged Granny and kissed her cheek.
"G'wan." She shrugged as though it were nothing, but the half-smile plastered on her face said it all. Arlissa knew the old lady considered pride to be a downfall.
"I brought your box to you, Granny. Just like you asked me to. I haven't looked inside it, even though I've often been tempted to."
"Open." Granny urged her.
"Are you sure?"
Granny nodded her head, albeit somewhat reluctantly.
The young woman lifted the lid and smelled the faint scent of roses. She looked inside and saw several pieces of paper folded together. There were also two envelopes, both addressed to Granny.
"Take out, read."
As she removed the papers, she noticed there were some photographs in the box as well as two pressed roses, which were dried and dark.
Gently, she picked up the roses and looked at Granny with a question in her eyes.
"Funerals. Ellie's. Grandpa's."
She smelled the roses, which now had very little scent left in them.
Picking up the pictures then, she saw they, too, were faded.
The old lady had tears gently sliding down her wrinkled cheeks. She nodded.
"I've never seen these before. This is when she was a little girl, and in this one, she is a young woman, standing next to a man. Who is the man? Is it my Pa? Where did this one come from?"
The old woman nodded.
"S'vanna took. Gave it when..."
"When my Ma died?"
She nodded once more, still weeping.
Arlissa opened one of the envelopes, removing the letter inside. Unfolding it, she saw it had been much read, from the way it was creased and refolded. The words were faded, and some she could see where teardrops had smeared some of the words.
To my baby,
In my heart, I know you are going to be a girl. I have some things I want to say to you. When the time is right, you will have this letter of love in your hands. It is up to circumstance as to when that will be.
Since I am not equipped with a crystal ball, I don't know what life holds for you, I do know you will have love, for my Ma and Pa have plenty to share with you. They will be exactly who you need.
Your Pa is married to someone else now, and I regret doing that to you, but I will never regret having you. I don't believe, somehow, that I will live very much past your birth, because I can feel my strength fading with the passing of each day.
Your name is to be Arlissa. It means powerful and complete. But make no mistake, we are never complete without God. You will be able to accomplish things, if you place your trust in God. He has helped me through these past few months, and I know He will always be there for you.
Always believe in goodness.
I love you, my little Arlissa.
Be good and I will see you someday.
Always believe in goodness.
I love you, my little Arlissa.
Be good and I will see you someday.
Upon finishing the letter, she was smiling through the tears.
"Thank you, Granny, for raising such a good person as my Mama was. I know she made mistakes, but I'm so very glad she had me and Rose. She never knew about Rose, did she?"
The old lady shook her head.
"Thought she died. I did, too, til later."
"When? When did you find out?"
"Rose visit'n Martha. On street in town with her Pa. Knew then."
"Did you say anything to him?"
"Almost. He looked at you, then Rose. Both knew then."
"You're saying you both knew then?"
"What happened then? What did you do?"
"Went home. Prayed."
"What did he do? Anything?"
Arlissa picked up the second letter, unfolding it cautiously, wondering what it could possibly hold for her.
"Dear Mrs. Hinton,
Seamus told me about seeing you and Arlissa on the street. He said the two girls looked at each other and reached out their hands. He thought it strange that you would have a child that looked enough like Rose to be her twin.
I know that he came to see you later and wanted to take Arlissa with him, but you refused and told him that Arlissa was not his. He said you told him that she was a year younger than Rose, but of course, he didn't believe you. I never betrayed your confidence in me. I know that he wrote a letter to our mother later on, telling her the truth of what he believed. He wanted her to do anything she could to help you all.
My mother was not a kind woman always. She resented Eleanor and blamed her for Seamus' running off and joining the army. He would have been eventually drafted anyway, but she was obstinate in her hating. She is not always kind to Rose, either. I have seen her mistreat the child.
When I came to bring you to Ellie, you were so upset, I'm sure you didn't notice that the midwife was Hetty McReynolds, Doc's wife. As you most likely know, she often helped out when Doc was busy on another case. Someone had suffered a heart attack and so when I got there, Hetty was attending Ellie, and Rose had just been born.
We knew another baby was on it's way to being born and Ellie was out of her head with pain. It so happened that Seamus was home on furlough and I knew it. I called him and told him that Ellie was dying and she had just given birth to a baby girl. The baby had our color hair and eyes.
'Let me have her, please. Helen and I will raise her as our own. I know she has to be my baby. You don't have to tell anyone.'
He just showed up at the cottage and demanded to see the baby. Ellie never knew he was there. She heard his voice and thought he was the doctor.
When he saw Rose, he said, "She's mine! I'm taking her." Hetty looked on in amazement, and I knew she was storing up the knowledge to maybe use later. We swore her to secrecy, and Seamus took Rose away.
Soon after he left, Ellie roused and we told her the baby she had just birthed had died, and to concentrate on having the other one. Doc came about that time and the next few hours were spent delivering Arlissa. I left to get you and bring you to Ellie and her baby girl, Arlissa. We knew Ellie could not live much longer because Doc couldn't get the bleeding to stop.
Please forgive me for my part in the whole deception. Ellie was the one true friend I have ever had. I miss her awfully bad.
"So," Arlissa reflected, looking up at Granny, after reading Savannah's letter.
"A lot of people have been aware for years of this whole thing, this secret, and never once said anything, or let on, in any way, about my kinship to the O'Hanlons. I could have had brothers and sisters for real, instead of the imaginary ones I made up to play with. Aunts and uncles, maybe, too."
Her eyes glittered with tears, as she looked, with a mixture of love and regret, into the wrinkled face of her grandmother, who sat there expectantly.
She turned away, walking to the window, still holding the letters in her hand.
The rosewood box lay on the chair, where she had placed it.
There was a deafening silence in the room, as the young woman gazed, unseeing, out the window.
In her mind, however, she was seeing the past, as it might have been.
What had Rosie told her about their other grandma? Would she have treated her the same as she had Rosie, shutting her in the cellar? Would Seamus have loved Rosie and beaten Arlissa, the same as he had his sons?
Perhaps the decisions that were made had been best. She would never know. She did, however, know it was now best to forgive all those who had taken part in the deception, and move on with life.
Arlissa walked over to her beloved Grandmother, wrapped the little old lady in her arms, and kissed her.
"I love you, Granny. I could never stay upset with you for doing what you believed was best for me. In light of everything that I know, you did what was right. I completely and forever forgive you."
"Thank you, Arlissy, heavy burden gone."
Arlissa placed the two letters in the box and unfolded the other piece of paper from the box.
Arlissa's eyes widened as she read the certificate of birth.
"According to this, I was born on September 4, 1942; the second child born to Eleanor May Hinton and Seamus O'Hanlon. I was 5 lb., 2 oz. and 19 inches long. My father was a farmer and my mother was not employed. Registered by Doctor Henry McReynolds."
Looking into the box, she saw another document and thought,
Unfolding it, she saw it was a death certificate for Eleanor May Hinton. dated September 5, 1942.
"Now you know all." Granny spoke quietly, head bowed.
"Yes, Granny. Now, I need to go see the rest of my family. We have a lot to talk about and I don't know for sure how it will all be received. But I guess maybe I'll find out...huh?"
She gathered up the things she had brought with her, and kissed her grandmother tenderly once again on the cheek.
"I'll see you later, Granny. I love you!"
"Love you, too, girl."
(To be continued)