The rain poured heavily as the town congregated by Pastor Michael Davis’ grave site. The church’s new leader, Pastor Scottson, stood by the grave reciting an empty eulogy. Sally stared at him and suppressed the urge to bend over and vomit.
She looked away from the man. Her tears mingled with the rain. She had been forced to carry a secret that was already tearing her apart. She nearly felt as guilty as the murderers, but all she could was feel helpless as she stood there mourning in the downpour.
Michael’s parents held one another’s hands as they wept. His father rested a hand on his tombstone. An angel engraving made it stand out from the other stones in the graveyard. He would be remembered and missed forever, but no one could forgive the terrible waste of a good life.
When the funeral ended, the townspeople slowly departed, leaving the grieving parents alone at their son’s final resting place.
Mama approached Sally and they linked their gloved hands together. Their misty gazes met.
“This is such a sad day,” said Mama. “I have missed you.”
Sally nearly choked on the painful lump that had seemed to lodge itself permanently in her throat.
“I’ve missed you, too,” she managed to say.
“We will visit soon.”
“I would like that, Mama. Soon.”
Papa strode up to them with an expression that made Sally want to slap him. She gritted her teeth and averted her gaze.
“I am very sorry that we lost such a good man,” he said.
“Oh, I am sure you are.”
“Why the contentious tone? Pastor Davis would have scolded you for that.”
Sally stared at him and shook her head.
Jeremiah took her hand. She glared up at him. He wouldn’t stop hovering over her every time they went outside of the house.
“This has been very hard on Sally,” he said quickly. “I’m sure that she didn’t mean anything disrespectful to you, Sir.”
“Surely not,” said Papa flatly.
“We ought to get out of this rain,” said Mama. “Take care on your travels home, young Jeremiah and Sally.”
“Good-bye, Mama,” called Sally.
Mama smiled softly before turning to walk arm and arm with Papa back to their carriage. He glanced at Sally over his shoulder and a suffocating wave of grief overcame her.
She yanked her hand out of Jeremiah’s grasp and started toward Michael’s grave. She needed to be with him. A week ago he was still alive and helping anyone he could.
“Oh Michael, I am so sorry.”
“Sally, we have to go,” said Jeremiah.
“No. I can’t leave him yet.”
Her heart ached at the thought of leaving him there. After his parents left, he would be alone with the rain. He never did like the rain. Her final moments with him were worse than any nightmare. She could have done something to stop the brutality, but her daft little head prevented her from forming any logical thought.
“I could have saved you. I am so sorry.”
“Now, Sally!” demanded Jeremiah, taking her hand again. “Leave them to be alone with their son.”
He squeezed her hand so hard it hurt. She would visit the grave another day to say a proper good-bye to him alone. She followed Jeremiah back to their rented carriage. Inside of the coach, she clasped her gloved hands together. They hadn’t stopped shaking since the incident.
The horses carried them away from the graveyard and she stared out the misty window at the grey skies. She could never run far enough to escape the tragedy.
“What are we going to do, Jeremy?”
“You’re calling me Jeremy now?”
She shrugged. “Yes.”
“There is nothing we can do if we want to stay alive.”
His words sent a wave of chills over her.
“Maybe not. A week ago we couldn’t imagine what he and his friends are capable of doing.”
“I will never trust him again.”
“That being said, we have to pretend that it never happened. It’s the only way to keep living life as before.”
His cavalier attitude made her want to slap him. She balled her fists.
“Who else are they going to kill?” she asked.
“No one if they stay out of their way.”
Sally let out an exasperated sigh. He was so willing to give up and allow the snakes to get away with murder.
“Do you realize how crazy this is? Michael is dead. Murdered. Jeremy, I don’t want to live here anymore! My father is a liar and a killer. How can you make me stay here?”
“You don’t have a choice, Sal. I have worked hard to get this cattle farm to be sustainable and profitable for me and that directly affects you.”
“Don’t call me Sal.”
“Don’t call me Jeremy.”
Sally hit the cushioned wall of the carriage.
“If you want me to treat you like a woman instead of a girl, you’re going to have to start growing up.”
“At least I know what you really think of me.”
“I’m sure you have your thoughts about me, too.”
She met his gaze.
“I hate you and I hate all of the deacons. Pastor Scottson is no pastor. How can you want to stay here? Farm or no farm, this place is possessed with something and I don’t want to find out what it is.”
Jeremy shook his head.
“You can feel however you want to feel about me, but don’t let anyone else know about your thoughts toward the church elders.”
“You really do think I’m daft.”
“Sally, I am serious. I can’t just pick up and leave a farm that size. It would take months to move everything or sell it and then we’d have to start over. I’m not doing that.”
“So you can just sit there and pretend nothing happened. One of your friends gets murdered by the trusted leaders of this town and you don’t even flinch?”
He gritted his teeth and ignored her.
“Who is Jacob?” she pressed.
“I don’t know.”
“No? Then maybe you can do Michael one last favour and find out who Jacob is! He is the man that our friend died for.”
Jeremy stared out the window. Even after the worst tragedy anyone could imagine, he would not acknowledge her.
“I will ask,” he said at last.
The coach stopped in front of the farm house and Jeremiah helped her out. He only did nice things for her when someone else was watching. When they reached the front door, Jeremy stopped to glare at her.
“That is the last time that you tell me what to do. Is that understood?”
“Or else what?” snapped Sally. “You’ll hit me? You’ll kick me out of the house? What?”
The look in his eyes. It was contempt.
“I will never hurt you,” he said.
He went directly to his room. She closed the front door and locked it. Another layer of guilt settled over her. She had just asked the same man who hadn’t ever touched her if he was going to hit her. She knew better than to accuse him of that. Then again, maybe he would snap and become a monster like her own father.
She prepared a small pot of black tea for herself to take her mind away from the bleak world for a moment. She sat by the window and thought about her times spent talking with Michael and for a few blessed moments, she was back to being just a girl walking by the river with her friends.
The church was silent as every eye rested on Pastor Scottson’s steely gaze. Jeremy thought he heard the scrambling of a field mouse beneath the pews. The pastor’s cold words hovered in the air as he attempted to hold the onlookers under his spell.
We are in a season to kill anyone who stands against our righteous way of life.
Jeremy dared to glance at a few of the people sitting around them. They seemed to be equally in shock by the icy tone of their new leader. Or perhaps they were just afraid. In any case, the threat was clear. If anyone attempted to undermine them or their way of life, they would suffer the same fate as Michael.
Pastor Scottson looked over at Sally’s mother, who sat at the piano waiting for her command to play the final hymn. Jeremy did not miss the look in her eyes as she silently judged the stiff man. He wondered if she knew something about Jacob.
“No closing song today,” said the pastor. “I bid you all farewell until next Sunday. May God’s wisdom and grace surround all of you this week.”
“Amen,” boomed the men.
A few of the men cleared their throats as everyone silently arose from the pews and marched outside. Sally walked abreast to Jeremy as they made their way to their horse and buggy. They said nothing until they well on their way home.
“Well, that wasn’t exactly a Pastor Davis sermon about Jesus’ love,” muttered Jeremy.
Sally buried her face in her hands. There were times when Jeremy longed for the comforting touch of a woman, but he was still married to a kid. He could only imagine the trauma of a young girl witnessing the murder of a beloved mentor, but he had lost Michael as well. They were friends. As a man, he didn’t have the luxury of lying in bed for half the day and weeping.
He wished that she could be less selfish. Some of the town girls were already mothers at eighteen. Soon she would be eighteen.
“We need to find out who Jacob is and why he came here. I’ve waited all week for you to speak with one of the deacons, but all you seem to do is spend your whole life thinking about cows.”
“Cattle,” corrected Jeremy.
He swallowed down a stream of biting words. She needed a swift belt to the ass sometimes, but he had sworn an oath to protect her. As much as he despised her sometimes, he never wanted to see her get hurt let alone be the cause of it.
She seemed to think very little of his way of life and that needed to end. He had spent the last week working on the farm and tending to the cattle because that was what made him feel the most alive. He would never be a well-dressed merchant man working in town.
“The thought of being around any of those men alone makes me feel ill,” said Jeremy.
“I will ask about Jacob in time. You forget that Michael was a friend of mine. His death has been a terrible loss for me as well.”
“I know and I’m sorry. I just… I don’t know what to do.”
“Perhaps a visit with your Mama and sister is in order. You spend a lot of time alone in the house.”
“I’ll visit her tomorrow. I’ve needed to see her for a long time.”
The seriousness in her voice pulled gently on his heart strings.
“I hope that you do go see her. It’s not good for you to be alone all the time. What happened to your two friends?”
“They haven’t paid me much mind since we got married. I don’t know if they’re jealous or if I said something to offend them. Maybe both.”
“That is childish of them.”
“Yes,” sighed Sally.
Jeremiah glanced over at her. The sunlight brought out the red highlights in her dark hair. She looked like a painting. She faced him and he studied her heart-shaped face.
“What is it?” she asked.
She possessed a sort of elvish prettiness from time to time when she wasn’t being completely annoying. She tilted her head with a perplexed frown which brought a smile to his face.
“Why are you smiling at me?” she asked.
“I was just admiring you.”
She quickly looked away as the beginnings of a blush formed on her delicate cheekbones.
“It feels strange to have the sun shining after such a sad, cold message,” she said.
“Sally, I will speak with the deacons about Jacob and do my best to find out everything I can.”
“Just be careful. Don’t make it seem like you’re gleaning for information.”
“I’ll be careful.”
She brought her cat-like green eyes to meet his again. There was a look in them that he hadn’t seen before.
“Good,” she said.
The farmhouse came into view and he thought back to his encounter with Jacob. He wondered where the man had retreated to.
“I would like to show you a place I used to go to a lot with Gabriel when he was here,” said Jeremy.
Sally bounced in her seat.
“Oh! I could pack a picnic for us. It would be nice for us to get away to somewhere different. Maybe we could try having a good conversation.”
She was pretty when she smiled.
“That was the idea,” he chuckled.
“But only after we find out who Jacob is.”