Sally awoke surrounded by calm darkness. Next to her, Jeremy lay asleep. She hoped that he would rest until sunup. He needed it.
She stared through the open drapes at the full moon and smiled as her stomach fluttered. It felt strange to feel content while being in the same room as him. Their affection was sporadic, but it was as beautiful as warm summer day when it did arrive. She longed to hold onto it, but she had to go. Even if it meant that Jeremy would hate her all over again.
Jacob was in her life by choice, not because someone forced him into it. She owed him a proper good-bye.
She grabbed a fresh dress, a handful of undergarments, and tiptoed noiselessly out of the room and past the kitchen. She dressed quickly in front of the front door, holding her breath, begging God to keep Jeremy asleep until she was well on her way to the woods.
Just as her eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings, the first rays of dawn lit up the horizon. Jeremy would awaken soon, but it would take him a while to find her. She was grateful for the light as she reached the outskirts of the forest.
She wandered through the trees and shrubs humming hymns in hopes of gently signalling her presence to Jacob. There was no way in hell that she was going to let anyone stand in the way of a good-bye with her friend.
Her heart grew heavier with every hour that passed.
“Jacob,” she whispered.
He wasn’t there. He would have found her if he was.
She lifted her skirts and ran through the maze of trees until she found the fields again. Panting, she scanned the area and relaxed a little. At least Jeremy wasn’t on her trail yet. She didn’t want to explain herself to him until the end of the day when she was too tired to worry about it.
Chasing after the very man he forbade her to see was a terrible way to show him that she cared about their marriage, but it served him right for telling her what to do. He had run off with Mary without a second thought of what it would do to her, so she shouldn’t have felt so bad.
“Treat me like a child and I’ll act like one,” she muttered.
She broke into a run toward her girlhood home, not stopping until she reached the perimeter of the property. Little Amber was playing a game of hide and seek with her friends by the garden.
“Sally!” she cried.
She ran over to her and wrapped her little arms around Sally’s waist. Sally held her, closing her eyes.
“I’ve missed you so much,” said Sally.
“Missed you, too.”
“I saw Mama go to the stables.”
“He’s at the church with the deacons.”
“Okay. Go play and I’ll see you soon.”
Sally took a deep breath and started toward the stables. Mama was never one to venture where she could dirty her shoes. Every day seemed to grow stranger.
Sally peered inside of the stables. No one other than the broodmare resided there. Sally wandered along the side of the stable and froze at the sound of two familiar voices. Her heart raced so fast that she brought a hand to her chest.
She peered around the corner of the building and saw them. Mama and Jacob were standing within inches of one another. Sally had to lean against the brick wall for support.
“I had to come see you one last time,” said Jacob.
“You need to leave. Now,” said Mama. “He’ll be back soon.”
He took off his black Stetson hat and set it gently on her head.
“You’ll let me keep it?” she whispered.
“I’d rather just take you with me.”
She held both of his hands.
“I can’t go. I’m sorry.”
“No. I’m sorry,” said Jacob. “For everything.”
“You are the only real life I’ve ever had.”
“We could all be a real family. Us two and the girls. We’d go so far away from here and start over. I would keep you safe and happy.”
“He would find us.”
Jacob inched closer until their lips met. They held one another.
Trembling, Sally made her way toward them.
“Don’t go, Jacob.”
Both of them faced her with wide eyes.
“Oh my God,” breathed Mama.
“Hello, Sally,” said Jacob.
His dark eyes looked so sad.
“Sally, let him go,” said Mama with tears streaming down her face. “If you care about him, tell him to go before Papa shoots him.”
Sally hugged herself.
“You should go.”
Jacob nodded once, hung his head, and then turned his back on them. Barely able to breathe, Sally went to Mama’s side. They watched him disappear into the field of corn.
Mama stared ahead in a daze.
“Never say a word about this. Y’hear?”
Sally stepped back at Mama’s harsh tone.
“I-I won’t say anything. I promise.”
“Good. You should go back home before Papa suspects something is amiss. I’m sorry you saw that.”
Mama locked gazes with her.
“I love you, Sally. So much.”
“I love you, too, Mama.”
Mama wiped her tears and went to the garden. She removed the hat and placed it within the thick rose bushes. Jacob came back to look in on her and befriended her daughter. If only he had come to rescue them all sooner. Before Michael was killed.
Sally felt her heart breaking all over again.
The sound of hoof beats filled the air. Papa was almost home. She jogged away from the house with her heart still threatening to break out of her rib cage. He was minutes away from spotting Jacob. It wasn’t like Mama to take such a risk. Then again, no one was who they ever seemed to be.
Sally wondered how often they had been meeting each other.
She lost a friend; Mama lost a lover. The wonderful secrets were the most dangerous ones. She wasn’t sure if she should weep in despair or yell out in anger.
“Sally!” shouted Jeremy. “Where the hell have you been?”
Now she was going to get it.
He stepped out of the barn and stormed toward her. She extended her arms out in front of her and backed up into a tree.
“I just went to see Mama!” she cried. “Please don’t hurt me.”
He stopped abruptly. His nostrils flared like an angry bull’s.
“I could wring your neck right now.”
Sally’s arms fell to her sides and she lifted her chin.
“Is that a threat?”
“I promised that I would never hurt you, remember?”
She shrugged, still half expecting a slap.
“Promises come cheap these days.”
“You just disappeared. I assumed the worst.”
“You don’t have to worry. Jacob is gone.”
“I thought you didn’t go see him.”
He crossed his arms.
“What is going on now?”
“I saw him and Mama together.”
“Together. How do you mean?”
“They’re lovers. He left because she turned him away.”
Jeremy threw his hands up in the air.
“Of course she did! Both of them would be shot if your Papa ever caught up with them. I can’t believe these people.”
Sally closed her eyes. She could feel her heart breaking all over again for Mama and Jacob. After so many years, they still couldn’t be together. He lived alone, hiding away and working in horrible mines while Papa lived in comfort taking Mama for granted.
“It’s been a long day already,” said Sally. “I need to go rest. I’ll have lunch ready for you. Don’t worry.”
Jeremy grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back.
“Sally, you just witnessed an incredibly incriminating thing. On Monday night when all of the deacons have their end of the month meeting. It’s our best chance of getting away from here without anyone noticing.”
Sally’s thoughts spun chaotically within her mind as she nodded.
“Are you with me on this?”
“Good. Our survival depends on it.”
He let her go, not quite meeting her eyes, and then strode toward the barn to finish his chores.
The weeks dragged on as Sally made every attempt to manage her swirling emotions. Some days, she felt exhausted and grievous over everyone she had lost. Other days, she was full of energy and ready to take on anything.
She missed Mama and Amber a lot. Though she saw them at church every Sunday, the atmosphere was so horrible that it felt more like a prison sentence than a visit. Papa barely looked at her anymore, for which she was grateful. She still didn’t know how to act around him and wished she could just forget him.
Her hands longed to feel the shotgun again. She wouldn’t stoop herself low enough to search all over the property for where he buried it. Biting her lip, she glanced over at the pasture where he poured water for the cows to drink. With his attention on his task at hand, she sprinted for the house. She found his rifle and loaded it. She put the remaining bullets in her skirt pocket and poked her head out the door. He was completely engrossed in lugging a bale of hay. She closed the door behind her and made her way out to the woods.
A black-tailed jack rabbit leaped over the long grass in the field. She froze, watching it dart about. She recalled Jacob’s tip off on the “stop and go” technique when hunting alone. She walked a few feet in the direction that the rabbit went, stopped, and turned around in a full circle. She repeated the process until she saw long ears poking out from the grass. She slowly lifted the rifle and stomped on the ground, startling it from its hiding place. She spun around and caught it fleeing in the other direction where the grass was thinner.
She aimed at its head, pulled the trigger, and ran toward it. The bullet hit its back end. It moved its front legs in a mad, final attempt to escape. She quickly reloaded and shot it in the head, ending its struggle. She shuddered, ashamed of herself for giving it even a moment’s worth of suffering.
She picked it up. It was still warm. She blinked back tears. It was a mistake that she was not going to make again. She choked back a sob and walked home with the rabbit in one hand and the rifle in the other.
She stepped into the barn where Jeremy worked.
He looked over his shoulder and gaped in surprise.
“What in the world?”
“I took care of dinner for tonight,” she said.
“I see that. Did I give you permission to use my gun?”
“Did I give you permission to bury mine?”
He stopped what he was doing and removed his work gloves.
“Jacob seemed to teach you well enough.”
“Yes. He did.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before that you wanted to learn how to hunt?”
“You’re always so busy with the farm.”
“You really do beat all. I’ll help you skin and clean it.”
As they worked together in the shed, she enjoyed having him so close to her. It wasn’t pretty work, but it was something that she enjoyed. It was one thing to cook a good meal, but being the one to catch it was so satisfying. It was an interest that the two of them could share.
“I’m impressed with you, Sally.”
She looked up at him in surprise.
“How could I not be?”
She bit her lip and blushed. The compliment meant more than he could know. They washed up, brewed tea, and cuddled in bed together, talking until they fell asleep.
The next morning, they woke up so late that they had to skip breakfast. They rushed to get dressed, laughing in exhaustion. While Jeremy fumbled with his tie, Sally ran out the door to saddle up the horses. His rapid footsteps sounded behind her and she looked back at him, running. Their coats were still unbuttoned as they both ran to the stable.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“We’re going to ride to church on the saddle. It’s too late to get the horse hitched to the cart.”
He shook his head.
They finished buttoning up their coats and Sally quickly pinned up her hair into a chignon.
“What about your bonnet?”
“It’s a cloudy day.”
Jeremy laughed and saddled up their horse. She climbed on behind him and held on tight, enjoying having him so close before being stuck in the church of horrors. Gabriel would be preaching that day, which was a well needed break from Pastor Scottson’s long, gloomy messages. It was only a matter of time before she and Jeremy would be far away from the place. Perhaps then their relationship would bloom into something stronger than affection.
When they reached the church, she avoided the stares from the older folk and smiled at her handsome husband as he helped her down from the mount. He took the reins and led the horse away, looking over his shoulder at her.
“We should go on that picnic this afternoon.”
She clasped her hands together and for a moment, it seemed as though everyone else around them disappeared.
“I’d like that!” she called.
Hiding her smile, she strode past a group of whispering ladies and found her seat in the pew close to the front of the church. She glanced over at Gabriel who was looking at his sermon notes and hoped that the wolves wouldn’t tear him apart. She closed her eyes, willing for the doom not to permeate her contentment just yet.