Sally’s peculiar disposition continued to perplex Jeremy as the days passed. She found ways to avoid him when they both occupied the kitchen. She completed her chores every day and never missed cooking him a meal, but her mind remained in her other world. He had lost her to it. He wondered what she did in the fantastical reality that made her happier there than in the real world with him.
He had no idea how to make her feel as desired as she needed to feel. He grew up with one brother and he never bothered with girls when he was in school. He always thought he would have been a little older by the time he got married. Not that he regretted marrying Sally. He only regretted the timing. She still seemed too young to grasp how life worked for grown folks and she desired flowery words and constant flattery.
Some women seemed content enough to have a husband that worked hard to provide them with a comfortable home. That didn’t seem to be enough for Sally. He admired her impracticality and yet it was the main issue between the two of them. He imagined her selling artwork in a big city all dressed up in the latest fashions, but there she was married and trapped on a farm with the most ordinary man.
When he had time to think at all, he could only focus on his hope for Gabriel to feel better and the guilt for not leaving the murderers behind. Sally, on the other hand, seemed to think a little too much.
He would take a break from his work sometimes and look over at her painting the skies. Sometimes she wouldn’t return from her wanderings until after dark. They exchanged the bare minimum pleasantries when they ate dinner at the table and then she would float back to her room and shut him out.
Maybe they were being cursed for staying in the town that killed innocent people. Pretending to still be content living in a place that killed one of the kindest men in the world.
At the end of a hard day, the sunset was too beautiful not to appreciate. Mary stopped by earlier in the day to let him know that Gabriel was feeling much better. The combination of good news and the beautiful skies had lifted Jeremy’s mood considerably, sending him to the river. He hoped to catch a glimpse of some deer while he was there. Come autumn, he’d be hunting them. He hoped that there would be a well fed buck or two to pick from.
He inhaled a deep breath of the cooling, earthy air. It was a rare opportunity to be alone with his thoughts as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon, staining the sky with an otherworldly pink shade. That side of Missouri was strikingly beautiful, but he did need to start making plans to leave soon. Sally might hate him a little less once they settled somewhere far away from the depressing town. One day, it would just be a bad memory.
Movement to his left caused him to quickly place a hand on his knife. He relaxed when he saw that it was Sally. He started toward her. Seeing him, she froze. She had a long gun strapped to her shoulder, of all things.
He nearly laughed, but then the thought of her carrying a loaded weapon made him too nervous to do so.
“What have you been doing?” he called.
Taking a quick step backward, she looked as though she were about to run away. He relaxed a little as he ruled out the possibility that she would shoot him.
“You really are full of surprises,” he said dryly.
She hung her head.
“I can explain where I got the gun from.”
They stopped a few feet away from one another.
“Who gave it to you?”
She was being obnoxious.
“I must not have heard you correctly.”
“He’s been teaching me how to hunt.”
He frowned. She had a terrible sense of humour.
“Stop jesting and tell me the truth.”
“It is the truth.”
He backed away, studying her carefully. She appeared to be completely serious.
“Who are you, Sally?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out.”
She stared at him.
“You’re telling me that you’ve been spending time with Jacob – a man that you don’t know – a man who your Papa wants to kill. He is the man responsible for Michael’s death. I can’t believe you!”
“I do know him!”
She slapped his face. Her tiny hand left a sting on his cheek.
She backed away, baring her teeth.
“Michael’s murder was not Jacob’s fault! It was those bastards that we see at church every damned Sunday! You know that!”
Her shrill voice pierced the air and stilled his chaotic thoughts. He wasn’t sure whether to be angry or afraid. She could still shoot him.
“You really have been spending time with him. Oh my God.”
She shook her head, breaking eye contact.
“I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
“They would kill you for spending time with him. How could you jeopardize yourself like that?”
“He’s my friend. He’s like… he’s like a father to me.”
Jeremy threw his head back and stared up at the stars as they began to fill the night sky. A normal couple might have had a nice dinner together and then gone for a walk to enjoy a beautiful view of the night sky, but not them.
“You can’t see him anymore.”
“You abandoned me that night. You rode away with the very woman that was the cause of my despair. You won’t leave this hell of a town and now you’re telling me what to do. I am just trying to stay sane until we get out of here!”
He clenched his fists in an attempt to still the anger. He had to stay calm.
“I’ve never told you what to do in all of our time together, but this time I can’t let you do what you want. If you are seen with him, they will kill you.”
“Then let’s leave!”
“Not always thinking about yourself would help. There are reasons why we haven’t left yet.”
“You have no idea what I think about!” she shouted.
“I forbid you to see Jacob and that is final.”
“Or what? What will you do?”
“I’ll tell your Papa.”
She stomped her foot.
He reached out and quickly slipped the gun’s strap over her head, firmly grasping the butt of the shot gun.
“It’s mine! Give it back!” she cried.
He held it over his head as she jumped for it.
“I might if you stop acting insane.”
She spun around and ran for the house.
“That’s right. Run away and hide like the little girl that you are,” he muttered.
He studied the firearm as he walked back to the farm. Jacob did have a decent taste in guns. He wondered how long she had been using it for.
Jacob should have known better than to risk her life like that. For all Jeremy knew, Jacob’s plan was to take her away from him in the end as a final slap in the face to all of the evil white men. It wasn’t natural for a man and a young girl to be friends let alone in the middle of a forest where no one would see them. The thought of them spending hours together alone in the woods made him want to punch someone.
He took a shovel from the barn and started to dig a grave out back in the dirt. He placed the shotgun in the hole and buried it.
He raced back to the house. The light in the kitchen was still on. She was waiting for him.
He burst in through the front door and met her teary eyes. She was sitting hunched over at the table.
“I know it was foolish to befriend Jacob,” she cried. “But please don’t take him away from me.”
“Is that who you’ve been thinking about when you haven’t been talking to me?”
Her jaw dropped and she straightened.
“No! No. I don’t think of him in that way, Jeremy. I told you that he feels like a father. He would never touch me.”
Jeremy shook his head. He believed her, but he wasn’t so sure that Jacob had pure intentions. She looked so beautiful sitting there with her long brown hair framing her heart-shaped face. Her green eyes seemed to darken a shade as she stared at him intently.
“He has to go. For all of our sakes.”
She buried her face in her hands and wept.
“I’m taking you out of this place by the end of the week.”
She uncovered her face and wiped her tears.
His ears rang as the silence thickened.
“I promise you this time, Sally. I received word that Gabriel is recovering well. He will be preaching at church next Sunday.”
“You promise me? We will really go?”
“I buried your shot gun. I don’t want you meeting Jacob anymore. For any reason.”
She stared blankly ahead. He hated seeing the hope drain from her eyes like that. It was something he observed in her too often.
“I’ll give it back to you before we leave this place.”
“I want to say good-bye to him.”
“I will find him in the woods tomorrow and tell him your words. I need to tell him to leave. It could already be too late if someone happened to see you with him.”
“We’d be dead already if we were seen.”
Jeremy shook his head.
“I still can’t believe you did that. Of all things.”
She rose from the chair.
“Make me feel something good again. Please. Even if you can’t stand me. Even if you’re angry. Let’s just pretend we’re fond of one another again. Even if it’s just tonight. I need happiness. Or something like it.”
“You’re the most confusing little person.”
She reached out and took his hand. Her warm touch sent a wave of pleasure over him. He stared into the depths of her beautiful green irises.
He brushed a tendril of her hair away from her face so he could take it all in.
“You’re so beautiful.”
She blushed, smiling up at him.
He hadn’t married a girl. He married a being that belonged to some other world.
“I want to make you happy,” he said. “For more than just tonight.”
She pulled on his hand, leading him to her room. He followed.
Her hunger for him was more than apparent as she licked her lips and stared at him as though nothing else mattered. There was desperation in her eyes. It matched his desire.
“Then make me happy,” she whispered.
He lifted her off the ground and kissed her as she pulled on his shirt collar.
“I’ll make you more than happy.”
Can’t you see the pain in my eyes?
Can’t you see the betrayal in disguise?
– Korn, The Past