Sally – Chapter Eighteen

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Sally pushed the door open and nearly fell into the house as she stumbled over the mat. Papa sat at the table with Pastor Scottson. And Gabriel.

Steam rose from the three hot cups of coffee, giving the scene a dreamlike quality.

She tried to catch her breath, but the terrible guilt seemed to clench her lungs.

“Sally, is there something amiss?” asked Papa.

She nodded, barely able to breathe as she stared into Gabriel’s eyes. She was about to ruin his beautiful life for the sake of saving her own pathetic one. The love she thought she once had for him as a young girl had long since vanished, but she never would have imagined she would be the cause of breaking his heart. She did not want to hurt him. He had made it known to the entire congregation how much he longed to be a father to house full of bright young minds. It would never happen with a wife like Mary.

“Sally, are you all right?” asked Gabriel.

“No. Not at all.”

“What are you doing here?” asked Pastor Scottson.

She recalled Mary’s broken demeanor as she slowly made her way to the medicine woman’s cabin, nearly turning back once she reached it. Sally closed her eyes, begging for God to save her from betraying another woman and throwing her to the devils.

“Spit it out!” ordered Papa.

She met his cold gaze and then looked at the pastor. His stare was equally metallic. She decided to fix her gaze on Gabriel’s concerned, but kind demeanor.

“I am so very sorry to break this to you, but I saw Mary go to the medicine woman’s cabin this afternoon.”

Gabriel frowned.

“Why were you following her?”

“I… well, I…”

“Go on,” said Pastor Scottson. “Tell all of us what that rebellious little witch did to her baby.”

A hint of a wicked grin distorted his already hideous face.

Gabriel stood abruptly. Sally cowered against the door.

“She’s lying,” he said.

“My daughter would never accuse anyone of such an atrocity unless she had complete proof,” said Papa.

“With all due respect, Sir, Mary would never hurt our baby!”

“Calm down, my boy,” said Pastor Scottson.

Gabriel sat down, glaring at Papa across the table.

“I couldn’t say for sure, of course,” said Sally. “But that is where she went. I saw her go inside with the medicine woman. That is all I saw.”

“Thank you, Sally,” said Papa, waving her away like someone did with an annoying dog.

Vomiting her treachery out and bathing in a cold mountain spring for hours would never wash her clean. She had become one of them.

Gabriel shook his head, slouching in his seat.

“I can’t believe she would do that.”

Sally clasped her hands together.

“Maybe she didn’t do it.”

He looked at her like the despicable thing that she was, but held his peace. He rose and walked away from the table, brushing past her to open the door.

“Gabriel,” said he pastor. “If you find that she has done what Sally has said, she cannot stay here.”

He leaned against the door with a gut wrenching expression on his face.

“I know. I’ll deal with her accordingly. You have my word.”

He stormed outside. Sally closed the door after him and glanced at her father.

“Are you happy now?” she asked.

He grinned at the pastor.

“I’m getting there. Well done, Sally.”

“I should go. Jeremy will need dinner made.”

“Sally, wait,” called Pastor Scottson.

She stiffened, turning around to face the two wolves again.

“You just saved this entire town by following that tart and discovering her true nature. We couldn’t move forward without you.”

“It was my pleasure, Pastor,” said Sally.

The three of them exchanged devilish grins.

“Good day,” she said over her shoulder.

Once the outside air collided with her clammy skin, she lifted her skirts and sprinted back for home. She imagined the evil spirits surrounding her, scratching at the confines of her soul and breaking through, possessing her. She sunk to her knees when she reached the house. Darkness enclosed itself around her. She was about to hit herself, but then caught sight of Jeremy.

“Sally, what happened?”

He ran up to her.

“I ruined their marriage, Jeremy. I threw Mary to the wolves!”

He crouched down next to her.

“What are you talking about?”

Sally caught her breath somehow and stared into his confused gaze.

“I did what Papa told me and I followed Mary. I saw her go to the medicine woman in the woods we do not go to and I ran to tell Papa. Gabriel and the pastor were both there and heard it all firsthand from me.”

She clutched her aching stomach and lay down on the grass.

“Oh God, I’m the devil,” she breathed.

“Gabriel is going to be so hurt by this.”

“Worse than that. He’s going to have to throw her out of their home. I’ve ruined two lives. They were so happy, Jeremy.”

“Dear God, what are we doing here?”

She stared up at her husband as he shook his head grievously.

“I did it for Mama and Amber… and for you. To keep you safe from them for a little longer. They were happy with me. It buys us some time now.”

“I need to go see him tomorrow.”

He looked so sad. It made her sick.

“Mary will have nowhere to go, Sally. I know Gabriel. He would cast her away for doing away with his baby. He values his principles over everything else, even her.”

“Then he doesn’t really love her,” said Sally, sitting up to hug her knees. “He never did.”

“It’s a shame that you had to be involved in this.”

Her anger heated up and she stood. She wanted to hit something.

“You think I don’t know that?” she cried. “How exactly did you think I was going to win Papa’s trust? I had to do something despicable to one person to save multiple people. It had to be done.”

Jeremy stared up at her.

“So this is who you’ve become.”

She bent down and slapped his face. He never did know who she really was. Who she could have been.

“How dare you?” she shouted. “You were the one who refused to leave because of Gabriel! I wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for you. I wanted to leave months ago for this very reason. They’ll either kill us or use us.”

She ran to the house and slammed the front door behind her. She was done with it all. With her father, with the elders, with Jeremy. She had become one of the monsters and there was no going back.

She stepped out into the fog the next morning as though entering another dream. She breathed in the moisture, longing to be cleansed from the inside out, but nothing physical could ever redeem a possessed spirit. Only God could save her, but she had no idea why he would want to.

A woman’s silhouette appeared through the mists and for a moment, Sally wondered if she were dreaming.

“Mama?”

“Oh, what a day for me to come calling. It’s a wonder I found my way here.”

Perhaps God hadn’t turned his back on her yet, for he had sent her the person she loved the most.

“Oh, I am so happy you have come. I’ll make us a pot of tea and we’ll eat all of my oatmeal cookies.”

Mama took Sally’s hand.

“No, not here. Let’s go.”

“Go where?”

Mama pulled her along, and they ran for the corn field. Sally laughed in confusion.

“I thought you hated dirt.”

Mama shook her head, beaming. “I only pretended to.”

She wandered further into the field and Sally followed her. The dreamlike setting made her feel like she was in an Emily Bronte novel. For all of the hell she had felt over the past year, the magical scene made her feel alive again.

“We can finally talk out here. No one will find us. At least not for a while.”

“Mama, I ruined Gabriel and Mary’s marriage. I became Papa’s spy and I found Mary doing one of the worst things a woman could do.”

Mama spun around to face her.

“That wasn’t your fault! Papa blackmailed you. Mary made her own decision whether you followed her or not.”

Sally shook her head.

“All the same, I was the reason why Gabriel found out what she did.”

Mama shook her head, staring intently at Sally.

“Mary is a fighter. She never needed Gabriel. Oh Sally, I am grateful to God that you are not like me.”

“What do you mean? You’re an amazing person, Mama. So kind and elegant.”

Mama shook her head as she fought back tears by smiling wider.

“I refused Jacob because deep down, I didn’t think I could handle a life on the run with him. What kind of woman turns her back on a man who loves her?”

“You do love him?”

“I do, but it wasn’t enough.”

Sally brought her lips close to Mama’s ear as though someone might be listening, even within the maze of corn.

“I can help you escape. We can find Jacob together.”

Mama wiped her eyes with the back of her pale hand.

“I’d like that, but I can’t have you risking yourself for me anymore. Your Papa has been consumed by his beliefs and I think he could even hurt little Amber if he caught us both trying to flee.”

Staring at her mother and realizing the years of horror and control that she had been forced to endure made Sally want to do anything necessary to save her from Papa.

“Tell me about Jacob. How you met him. What Papa did. I want to know it all. He’s my friend, too.”

Mama sat down on the dirt. Sally gaped at her. She would have burst out laughing had it not been for the grave topic surrounding them.

“Sit down with me. Dresses can always be washed.”

Sally complied.

“Mama, you surprise me.”

Mama stretched, smiling.

“I haven’t sat in the dirt since I was little. It’s freeing to do whatever crosses my mind out here.”

“I am so sorry you’ve had to live with Papa for so long.”

Mama sighed, studying Sally for a long time.

“Jacob was already his slave when he married me. Your Papa said that he bought him at one of those heinous auctions. He chose him because he thought he was strong and stupid like an ox. I was forced to watch one of those auctions once. Little children were dragged away from their parents, frightened thirteen year old girls were being gawked at by old men and everything in between. Slavery was how men like your Papa made so much money in those days.”

Sally’s eyes stung as she imagined thousands upon thousands of people being sold, traded, and separated from their families like cattle.

“Did he hurt them?” asked Sally.

Mama nodded, looking away.

“I hate him so much.”

“So do I,” said Mama.

“I saw him kill Michael. Did he ever tell you how they did it?”

Mama covered her mouth with a trembling hand.

“I watched them do it from the entrance of my bedroom. They surrounded him like a pack of wolves about to rip apart a wounded animal. Papa was the one who shot him.”

“Oh Sally, I should have taken you and Amber away from here years ago.”

“It’s all right, Mama. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I think that I fell for Jacob right away. The first time your Papa hit me, I fled outside to the gardens. Jacob risked his own safety to comfort me. He was so gentle, so attentive. He was being treated like an animal by my husband, but he looked at me like I was the most wonderful being he had ever laid eyes on.”

Sally recalled the look in his eyes when he spoke about her to Inola.

Mama shuddered, staring intently at the memories only she could see.

“I did nothing the entire time he owned those people. I’d sneak out and give them leftovers and blankets, but I was really no better than him. He’d have them whipped, beaten. He forced himself on most of the women whether they pleased him or not. I could have helped them escape, but I was too afraid. I’m not a strong person, Sally.”

“He raped them?”

Mama’s expression grew hard.

“Yes.”

“Do I have other siblings somewhere?”

“Sally, he isn’t your father.”

Sally swallowed hard, not understanding the words.

“He isn’t? How could that be?”

Mama smiled through her tears, taking Sally’s hand again.

“Jacob is your father.”

“What?” cried Sally.

In that moment, she recalled Jacbo’s warm eyes, how he lived out in the woods just so he could look in on her. All of those years she had been raised by a human devil and he wasn’t even her father.

“I couldn’t tell you until now,” said Mama. “I hope you understand.”

“It’s all right, Mama,” said Sally softly. “Now I know.”

Sally buried her face in Mama’s shoulder and they held one another.

***

Jeremy shoveled piles of manure out of the horses’ stalls. He couldn’t shake the misery that surrounded him. It was his fault that Sally had been put in a position to spy for her father and now Gabriel would be heartbroken possibly for the rest of his life. He could have stopped Michael’s murder. He could have prevented a lot of things from happening if he hadn’t been so dim.

He heard soft voices travel into the barn. He stopped working and peered out of the window to see Sally walking arm in arm with her mother. The fog swirled around them like a spell would surround two princesses in a fairy tale.

He set his shovel down and waved to them. They both appeared startled.

“Telling more secrets, I reckon,” he muttered as he left the barn strode up to them.

“Good morning, Mrs. Thompson. Can I get you anything?”

“Hello, Jeremy,” said Mrs. Thompson with a soft smile. ” Thank you, but I must be getting home now. Sally and I just had the most wonderful talk.”

“I am glad to hear it.”

Sally and her mama exchanged glances.

“Take care of yourself, dear. You and Jeremy need to get out of here.”

Sally nodded.

“We’ll get you out of here and take you with us, but in the meantime, please be careful.”

Mrs. Thompson stared at Jeremy with sad eyes.

“Please get her out of here safely.”

“I will.”

She disappeared through the fog. Sally stared after her with tears streaming down her face. He thought it better not to ask what they had spoken about.

“I need to see Gabriel. Will you be all right here at the house?”

Sally stared up at him, appearing so lost.

“Could I please come with you?”

“It might be better if you don’t go. There is no telling what frame of mind he will be in.”

“Right. Of course.”

“I won’t be long. I just need to make sure he’s all right.”

“Just be careful. He’s one of them.”

“So are we.”

He saddled up his horse and rode through the ethereal, swirling fog. On the other side of it he would hopefully find Gabriel.

Sally – Chapter Seventeen

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Every day farm life took Jeremy away from Sally following their Sunday picnic. Their planned escaped was mere days away, yet she felt disconnected from him when it should have brought them closer. The continual strengthening and weakening of their bond made them moody whenever they shared a space together too long. She wondered if they would be more harmonious with the guilt and fear not hovering over their heads anymore. She could only hope.

Sally worked away at her painting of the two sets of eyes. Sadness enveloped her as she allowed herself to wonder where Jacob had gone. The world was his for the taking. He was free, but what he longed for the most was to be a family with Mama. A longing for her company led her away from the farm and to her parents’ house. She banked on the likelihood that Papa would be at the church discussing something with the other deacons at that hour.

Mama was staring out the window holding a cup of tea when Sally ventured up to the house. Her soft smile sent a wave of hope over Sally. Mama disappeared and the front door opened.

“Oh, do come in,” she said lightly. “Amber is napping so we will have our privacy since your papa is at the church.”

“I’m glad. I’ve missed you.”

“Oh, I miss you every day. How is Jeremy?”

“He is well. Busy as any farmer is. We’ve had moments of closeness. He even took me on a picnic last Sunday.”

Mama poured a second cup of tea and gave it to Sally.

“I am happy to hear that things are going well for both of you.”

Sally leaned close to her and whispered.

“Do you know where Jacob went?”

Mama bit her lip.

“It isn’t safe to speak of him here, even if it may seem like we are alone,” she whispered back.

“Who else would be here?” scoffed Sally.

Mama shook her head with a warning look in her eye.

Sally felt the baby hairs at the back of her neck stand on end as she followed Mama to her sitting room. All of them played a dangerous game. If just one of the monsters happened to glance their way at the wrong time, all would be lost.

As they sat down, Mama quickly looked out the window with a disappointed sigh. At the sound of Papa’s horse arriving on the property, Sally buried her face in her hands. She had done an exceptional job with avoiding him, but he had finally caught her. She took in a deep breath.

“Act normal,” said Mama.

“What exactly would that be?” asked Sally, rolling her eyes.

The door flew open and smacked into the wall.

“Good afternoon, my dears!” he called before striding into the room with his boots still on.

Sally peered over her should and smiled.

“Hi, Papa.”

“Hello, pumpkin. It feels like forever since we’ve spoken to one another.”

“Yes, it has. My mind has been preoccupied.”

“I’ll bet.”

He stood next to Mama and rested a hand on her shoulder. She blinked rapidly, staring at her lap.

“How’s Jeremy been doing?”

“He is well. I’m lucky to have a hard working husband like him.”

“Are you?”

His obnoxious smile made her skin crawl. As a girl, he had always been a calm and reasonable father. Until he gave into the demons and allowed himself to be possessed.

“Yes, Papa. He’s a good man.”

“Do good men tear their young wives away from their family?”

His grip on Mama’s shoulder tightened. Sally swallowed hard, looking into the eyes of the man whom she once loved with all of her heart. He was no longer her father. His hungry blue eyes drank her in like a predator would size up its prey. She had been dead to him a long time ago. She realized that then.

“Jeremy would never want to take me away from you and Mama.”

Papa smirked.

“Very funny. A little bird told me that Jeremy is planning to run out of here by the end of the month. To steal you away from us before we have a chance to save you.”

Mama closed her eyes as though doing so would make him go away.

Sally balled her fists in an effort to maintain her composure. She had no idea who gave them away and how they even found out about them in the first place.

“Oh, Papa. He was going to do no such thing.”

“Stop lying.”

His hand slip up Mama’s shoulder and encircled her slender neck. Her doe eyes stared at Sally.

“What are you doing?” cried Sally.

He laughed.

“Calm down.”

Sally shook her head.

“Please, Papa! Don’t do that to her. This isn’t you. We all know you to be a better man than this.”

He let go of her and went to the window.

“You’re only beginning to see who I am,” he said flatly.

Sally crossed her shaking arms.

“Papa, who told you that Jeremy wanted to take me away?”

Mama shook her head rapidly, silently begging Sally with her eyes to be quiet.

“You don’t ask the questions, young lady. I do.”

“All right. Well, I can assure you that we are staying put. Jeremy wouldn’t leave his best friend here. Our children will be friends with Gabriel and Mary’s children.”

“No doubt.”

Papa faced her, leaning against the pane.

“All will be well with your Mama as long as I don’t hear any more unpleasant surprises about you or Jeremy.”

Her fear turned to anger and in that moment, she was more grateful than ever that Jacob taught her how to hunt.

“Yes, Sir.”

“I want you to keep an eye out on that Mary. If you see anything amiss, I want you to tell me. Gabriel will be our assistant pastor and we need to make sure that the righteousness of our town is not compromised by her.”

Sally’s heart raced at the unexpected request.

“Of course. I will keep an eye out on her. I can’t say that I like her all that much.”

“Oh?” asked Mama.

“It’s just how she flirts and thinks she’s above everyone else. I haven’t seen her do anything morally wrong yet though.”

Papa stared at her without blinking.

“Let me know if she does.”

“Yes. I will.”

She drank the rest of her tea and gave Mama a reassuring smile before seeing herself out. Stepping outside, the chill did not leave her even under the warm sun. There was no escaping it.

The thought of wiping the sadistic smirk off his face strengthened her resolve to fight him. They were trapped. Until she formed a plan.

***

Jeremy saw her approach from the corner of his eye as he brought in the horses for the evening. There was something different about the way she was walking. He stopped and waved at her when she looked at him.

She lifted her skirts and ran to him. The look of horror in her eyes sent a wave of panic over him.

“What’s wrong?”

“He knows,” she panted.

“Who knows what?”

“Papa knows we were planning to leave. We can’t go or he’ll hurt Mama!” she cried.

He stared at her, unbelieving at first. He had been so careful about his plans to get out of there. The only person he told was a farmer who lived in the next town whom he was going to sell his farm to. He hadn’t been careful enough. The devils had found out somehow. He wished he knew who the rat was.

“This is my fault,” he said.

He kicked the fence hard, longing to break something, anything at the moment. His horse snorted and pulled away. He patted its neck to calm it down.

Sally’s sob broke the silence. The sky seemingly mourned for them as thick grey clouds moved in and hid the glorious sunset.

He brought her close to him and wrapped his arms around her.

“We’ll figure this out,” he said gently.

“We can’t until Mama is safe. We have to make them think we are on their side. We have to trick them, Jeremy. Only then can we start to even think about escaping.”

He held her closer.

“I am so sorry you had to see him threaten your mama like that. You’re right. We haven’t been making it seem like we are on their side. We’ll have to mesh with them better. Make sure that your mama is safe first.”

“He asked me to keep an eye out on Mary. They want me to spy for them, Jeremy.  I am so angry and so scared.”

Jeremy longed to give Mr. Thompson the same fate he had given to Michael. The man’s cockiness would be his undoing. Jeremy would see to that one day.

“We’ll get through this,” he said. “We’ll play along for a little longer. Your Mama will be all right.”

“He really is capable of everything,” said Sally. “It’s stupid, but I truly believed that there was a small part left of the man who raised me. I was very wrong.”

“Oh Sally, I wish I could take you away right now. I’d make sure you were safe then I’d rescue your Mama and we’d all start over again.”

“That’s what Jacob said. He knows who Papa really is and wanted to take Mama with him. Oh my God… he has probably been mistreating her for years.”

“I am so sorry for this, Sally.”

“Don’t be sorry. We’ll make them sorry.”

“I don’t know what to do from here.”

“We’ll lay low for a few weeks. We’ll befriend them, impress them a little. Make them think we were scared into becoming a part of them. Then we will slowly start to formulate a plan.”

She took both of his hands and stared up at him with the strongest look of resolve he had ever seen. He had no idea where to begin, but she appeared as though she already a semblance of a plan spinning inside of her beautiful head.

“Tell me what your plan is,” he said.

“Right now we kiss their asses to get them off our backs.”

“Then that is what we will do.”

She took his hand. “I am so glad that I have you.”

She left him to finish his duties with the horses. He stared after her, wondering how she could have said such a thing about him. She would have been better off without him.

***

The weeks blended together as their hope for escape faded. Sally and Jeremy took on full survival mode. They spoke more with the deacons and their wives at church and attended all of the intimate gatherings. Gabriel becoming the assistant pastor helped solidify Jeremy’s position among the men. Their intimacy vanished once again. There was no room for genuine affection or romance with all of their energy being spent pretending to be people that they were not. Acting like Michael’s death never happened made Sally feel physically ill.

Jacob had taught Sally well on tracking, but she became a different sort of tracker as she spent less time outside with a shotgun and more time socializing at tea parties and sewing groups with the church women. She forced herself to like it and felt herself disappearing within an empty shell. Being likable by them and pleasing Papa meant that the threat on Mama would lessen.

As she became more aware of her surroundings at the church and other social gatherings than ever before, she started to notice subtle things about people when they weren’t happy with their spouse, friend, or lover.

She became increasingly aware of Mary’s struggle to fit in with the other women while living the ordinary life of a preacher’s wife. Though she had no idea what her real story was, it was clear that she wasn’t raised by a stable Christian family. She had the look of another world about her. Sally could relate to that more than she wanted to admit. It made her wish that Papa hadn’t assigned Sally to watch her of all people. In another life, perhaps they could have been friends.

One Sunday afternoon after the church service ended, Mary brought a hand to her belly after Gabriel finished a sermon. Her forlorn gaze into nothing made Sally wonder. Watching her stand up and leave the church, it was unmistakable that her svelte frame had filled out a little. Sally shook her head. The woman was pregnant. It made her more human, more vulnerable. That would change things drastically. Perhaps with Mary busy preparing to start a family, Papa wouldn’t be so obsessed with catching her doing something incriminating.

Sally exhaled loudly and followed the rest of the congregation outside. She met Mama’s melancholic gaze. How she longed to visit with her for hours, but those days were long past. Even if they could visit with Papa hovering over them, Mama was too paranoid to talk about anything deeper than the weather. They had so many things they needed to talk about with no chance to do it.

A chill rushed over Sally. She shuddered, noticing that Papa stood right behind her.

“Hi, Papa,” she said, forcing a smile.

He leaned close, casting a sidelong glance in Mary and Gabriel’s direction.

“Watch her like a hawk this week.”

Sally frowned.

“What do you think she’s done?”

He inched closer. She had to look away from his reptilian gaze.

“Just watch her. I don’t want anything bad to happen under our noses. Your Mama has been feeling much better since the last time she paid for your and Jeremy’s little secret.”

Sally gritted her teeth. He had still hurt Mama even though she swore they wouldn’t leave town.

“Please don’t hurt her for my mistake,” whispered Sally.

“Better her than our wee Amber.”

Sally blinked back tears.

“Papa, I promise you we’ll never leave town. Jeremy and I long to please you and the elders. I will do as you ask. I’ll watch her.”

“Good.”

He left a cloud of horror in his wake. Sally stood there, turning her head to stare at Mary. She was arguing with Gabriel about something. She didn’t want to know what it was about, but she had to know. It was time to get to the bottom of who Mary really was. She felt empty on the way home. She looked at Jeremy who seemed lost in thought.

“Can Christians still go to hell if they do something terrible enough?” she asked.

His face softened as he stared at her.

“Sally, you’ve come back to me. Why must you always go away?”

“I can’t live with myself and what we’re doing and yet there’s no other choice. I have to do one thing for Papa. Once I win his confidence, we can start to plan our escape again.”

His eyes grew misty as he stared at her. It made her heart ache. She felt like a criminal sitting next to an innocent child.

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

“It is better that you don’t know. I will tell you when it’s over.”

He brought his attention back to the road.

“If you say so.”

Guilt encircled Sally, begging her to embrace her humanity rather than become one of the wolves, but she had little choice. Her Mama’s life depended on her transformation into another animal for the time being. She could always go back to who she was before once everyone she loved was safely out of harm’s way. Even Mary had done things she wasn’t proud of for the sake of her own survival. Sally could see that clear as day.

From the cover of the corn field, she watched Mary every day. Figuring out her habits and routines. She always seemed to be contemplating something, appearing to be ready to leave the property only to cower back inside of the house. Until one afternoon, Mary wandered away from her farm in the direction of the forest that Sally never dared to go near. It held too many superstitions due to a few witch-like women living in its depths.

Her heart raced as she followed Mary at a safe distance. She moved like a mountain lion stalking a doe, staying in the shadows, stepping noiselessly. The silent chase continued for the better part of an hour. Then Mary approached a tiny house of stone. Sally winced, wishing she hadn’t seen it.

A terrible sheet of ice seemed to cover her as she watched Mary go inside of the medicine woman’s home. The purpose of the visit was unmistakable.

She closed her eyes as a solitary slipped down her dewy face. It was time to find Papa.

 

Sally – Chapter Sixteen

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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.”

“Where’s Mama?”

“I saw Mama go to the stables.”

“The stables?”

“Yes.”

“Where’s Papa?”

“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.

“Oh, Mama…”

“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.”

“I’m not.”

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.”

“I…”

He crossed his arms.

“What is going on now?”

“I saw him and Mama together.”

Jeremy frowned.

“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.”

“Hold it.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“Hi, Jeremy.”

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?”

She smirked.

“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.”

He smirked.

“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.

“You are?”

“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.

“You’re crazy.”

“I know.”

They finished buttoning up their coats and Sally quickly pinned up her hair into a chignon.

“What about your bonnet?”

She shrugged.

“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.

Sally – Chapter Fifteen

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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.

“Explain away.”

“I, um…”

“Who gave it to you?”

“Jacob.”

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?”

She shrugged.

“I’m still trying to figure that out.”

“Are you?”

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.

“You idiot!”

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?”

He nodded.

“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

Sally – Chapter Thirteen

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Jeremy stepped through the front door wanting nothing more than to collapse on his bed. He longed to forget about Gabriel’s pain and Sally’s outburst before Mary knocked on the door asking him for help.

Sally sat at the table. Her blank stare made him wonder what atrocities were running through her head.

“Long night,” he said.

“Yes. It was.”

The life in her green eyes returned as she studied him while sipping her tea. They stared at one another in silence; he knew then that she did not understand. Her habit of making wrong assumptions would not bode well for them.

He swallowed down his anger and inhaled deeply.

“What happened last night?” she asked at last.

“You heard Mary. Gabriel was lost. Well, we found him.”

Her expression softened.

“What happened to him?”

“Gabriel was trampled by a deer. His wound looked pretty grave when we first found him, but the doctor saw him and he’s on the mend.”

“I am glad he is all right. It would have been terrible to lose him.”

“Yes.”

“I’m sure that you were happy to be the one to comfort our poor Mary in her time of need.”

Jeremy stomped his foot so hard that she jumped up in her chair.

“Stop being dim! My best friend nearly lost his life and you’re making up childish stories.”

Sally shrugged with a smirk.

“Of course. What would I know? I’m a stupid little girl. Those were your words a month ago.”

They barely spoke to one another a month ago. Her words demonstrated how little she thought of the progression that their marriage had made. They had climbed up the snowy mountain only to slide back down.

He trusted her only to be crushed.

He stepped closer to her, holding her wide-eyed gaze.

“I had to hold Gabriel down as he begged for the doctor to stop operating on him. He wouldn’t stop groaning and yelling and there was nothing I could do. It was the longest night of my life.”

She grew serious and closed her eyes for a moment.

“It must have been frightening for him.”

“It was for everyone there. I need to rest.”

“Of course.”

“I told Mary that you would bring over some fresh stew for her. She likely won’t leave Gabriel’s side for the next few days and it would be kind to give her a meal.”

Sally’s posture straightened in defiance.

Jeremy threw his head back.

“Please just do it!”

She forced a smile. He hated when she did that.

“Sure. I’ll make some stew,” she said.

“Good.”

“I take it you don’t want to leave this place yet,” she said dryly.

“Not until Gabriel’s health has returned. I can’t leave him like this.”

Sally stared at her cooling tea.

“So we will forget about the murderers.”

“Only for the time being.”

He left her alone in the kitchen and slipped away the moment that his head hit the pillow, entering the surreal world of his dreams. Even there, Sally haunted him.

***

An idea formed in Sally’s mind as she arose and dressed the next morning. She let it guide her across the corn fields to Gabriel and Mary’s farm. Mary was by the fence feeding her horse an apple. She heard her approach and appeared startled, but then quickly forced a smile.

“Why hello, Sally! Did you stop by to bring me some stew? How kind.”

Sally had never despised anyone as much as she despised Mary.
“False sincerity gets you nowhere, Mary Thomas!”
Mary tilted her head. Mocking her.
“What ever is the matter?”
Sally crossed her arms.
“You know exactly what is the matter. You willingly rode away into the night with my husband and now I have a bone to pick with you.”
“My husband lies on our bed healing from what could have been mortal wounds. I do not have time for your childish grousing today.”
“Excuse me?”
Mary stomped her foot. Sally seemed to have that effect on people.
“Why do you dislike me so much?” asked Mary.
“Do not pretend for one second that you are innocent. I have heard the stories.”

Mary raised an eyebrow.
“Stories?”
Sally laughed, sounding wicked even to herself. Someone deserved to pay after what she suffered through the other night. At the end of the day, Mary had Gabriel to comfort her when things went wrong. Despite being an infamous little tart, she found love from a good man. Sally would never have that from Jeremy.

“If I ever catch my Jeremiah alone with you again, I will see to it that both you and your so-called preacher husband are thrown out of this town.”

Mary appeared genuinely troubled. Sally grinned, feeling powerful and loving every minute of it. Only the strong survived. It was the way of things. If Jeremy ever decided to be rid of her, she would lose her entire livelihood. Some men were known to put away wives that didn’t please them and take a new one. She had to ensure that never happened.
“You really know how to make a newcomer feel welcome, don’t you?” asked Mary.

Sally tittered and their eyes met. They were two fighters cut from entirely different cloths. She recognized the look in Mary’s gaze. The desire to kill not for satisfaction, but for survival.
“Get off my property,” ordered Mary. “Now.”

Sally spun around and fled back into the field of corn. Mary would think twice before fraternizing with Jeremy again. With that out of the way, she could focus more of her energy on learning how to hunt with Jacob. She wandered through the tall corn over to the forest where he hid away somewhere. He said that he would find her, but she had no idea how. She could only take his word for it.

The damp earth smelled lovelier than perfume to Sally as she journeyed through the woods in search of Jacob. She carried a basket of apples, carrots, and grapes to give to him. She found the place where he originally set up camp, but it was empty. He was wise to continue moving and perhaps a little foolish to be living so close to the men who would shoot him without blinking.

Breathing sounded from behind her and she spun around to look up at a formidable man. Jacob.

“You were tracking me!”

“I was.”

“How can you move so quiet like that?”

“I will show you.”

“Perhaps being so small might finally come in handy,” she said. “I could move very quietly once you teach me how.”

Jacob smiled down at her. He removed one of the shot guns that he had strapped to his back and handed it to her.

“This is for you. I bought it in town. It’s a fine first shot gun.”

She gaped as she held it, running a hand down the smooth wood of the stock. It was beautiful.

“Are you sure?”

“It is yours to keep. Now, follow me. I first want to teach you how to load, shoot, and re-load.”

Sally became one with her new firearm as Jacob taught her the finer points of loading, reloading, and shooting that afternoon. After several rounds, her confidence in holding and carrying it grew. The forest darkened as the sun slowly descended toward the horizon. She smiled up at her new mentor; he mirrored it.

“Will you teach me to track tomorrow?” she asked.

He nodded and scanned the woods around them.

“There is no better practice than hunting the real thing.”

“Did you hear something?”

“A herd of deer is moving close by. They won’t go far with nightfall being so near. If you can come here earlier tomorrow, we would have a good chance of catching a buck.”

“I will. I’m all caught up on laundry and I can prepare Jeremy’s lunch early before I go.”

“Good.”

He placed his hands in his pockets and smiled down at her.

“I look forward to tomorrow.”

“As do I. Good evening, Sally.”

“Good evening, Jacob.”

She carried her gun like he showed her as she walked back home. Her heart swelled with the new sense of purpose; that purpose rushed through her veins. No matter what happened between her and Jeremy, she now had a valuable skill of her own. She would become her own person – a woman that she alone could be proud of.

Perhaps her problem was that she never had been happy with herself. Her parents loved her and spoiled her as a young girl only to throw her at the first man she spent time with. Women weren’t encouraged to develop and nurture their own interests. Their value was linked with a man.

Jeremy would never be more than a man that she was forced into marriage with. They could pretend that they were happy all that they wanted, but it would never be so.

With a deep sigh, she stepped back onto her property. She hid her shotgun in the barn before going to the house. The lights were on. Jeremy was home.

Her life as a farmer’s wife had nothing to do with her life as a hunter in the woods with a wanted man. She didn’t want either life to end, but she wondered how long she would be able to live both of them at the same time. One would eventually become more important than the other.

Jeremy would never love her like Gabriel loved Mary. Jacob would leave one day. Perhaps both lives would fade.

She opened the door and peered over at Jacob.

“You were gone a long time,” he said.

“I’ll get dinner ready.”

They spent the rest of the evening not saying a word to one another. The strange spell that brought them together for those brief, magical moments had been broken. Possibly forever.

Sally – Chapter Twelve

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After riding for nearly an hour calling for Gabriel, it seemed as though the dark woods had swallowed him whole. Mary rode ahead of him, doing her best to keep her head, but everything he said to try to make her feel better made her snap at him, so he kept his mouth shut.

He was just as afraid as she was.

“Gabriel!” she cried, her shrill voice pitiful and raw.

A groan sounded above the steady hoof beats that pounded the damp forest floor. Jeremy pulled on the reins and held his breath.

“I think I heard something!” he called.

He jumped off his mount and walked through the thick brush.

“Gabriel!” he called. “I am here.”

Mary joined him, panting, but holding her tongue. The unmistakable form of a man lay just ahead of them. They ran to him. He was still alive. It had to mean he would be all right.

Standing over him, Jeremy’s stomach knotted at the sight. His friend’s lower abdomen was torn open. A typical hunting trip had gone very wrong. He knelt next to him, praying for God to have mercy on him. He seemed to be in shock, staring up at the sky one moment and then slipping away at the next.

Jeremy gathered him into his arms and carried Gabriel to his horse, lifting him onto the saddle.

“Take him home,” said Mary. “I will go for the doctor. We’ll be right behind you.”

Jeremy nodded and watched her jump back into her saddle and disappearing into the dark forest within seconds. He sat behind Gabriel in the saddle to steady him as they rode out of the forest. He rode at a gentle pace to not damage his friend further. When they reached the farmhouse, he carried Gabriel to the front door and gently set him down.

“You’re going to be just fine. Mary’s coming soon with the doctor.”

Gabriel moaned something as he leaned against the side of the house. The door was unlocked and Jeremy opened it. Mary likely forgot to lock it when she figured out that Gabriel would not be coming home.

Jeremy helped Gabriel stand and guided him to the bedroom. He stripped the bed of the colourful quilt to prevent it from being soiled and then slowly lowered him to the mattress.

He found a match in the side table drawer and lit a lamp. With the wound in plain sight, Jeremy flinched and quickly looked away. A section of Gabriel’s innards poked out of the gaping wound. He wondered if he was trampled by a sounder of wild boars. It was a miracle that he was not more injured if that were the case.

He took Gabriel’s hand in his.

“We’re not going to let you slip away. You hear me? Don’t give up, Gabriel.”

Gabriel weakly squeezed his hand in reply. His eyelids fluttered, but he seemed to slip back into unconsciousness when they stayed closed. It was by the Lord’s mercy that he was not fully aware of his injury. Men writhed in pain over less brutality.

Shaking, he walked to the window to wait for the doctor to arrive with Mary. He crossed his arms, praying. He had never seen a graver wound in all of his days.

His thoughts wandered to Sally still alone at the house. He wished that she was there with him. He could have used her easy laugh and silly jokes. He hoped that she was all right with him being gone for hours. As nice as those few days of heaven had been, her optimism could switch at the drop of a hat and she would suddenly think the worst of him.

Mary and her horse appeared through the darkness with the doctor riding close behind her. Jeremy’s dread mounted. The terrible night had only just begun.

The door flung open and Mary raced to Gabriel’s side as the doctor dug through his surgical bag. Gabriel muttered something about being trampled by a herd of deer.

Mary softly spoke words of encouragement to her delirious husband. Jeremy shook his head as he watched the young couple speak softly to one another.

“Hold him down,” said the doctor.

Jeremy exchanged a look of horror with Mary before they each took a side and pinned Gabriel down to the bed. As the doctor started to clean the wound, Gabriel cried out and begged for him to stop. Jeremy clenched his teeth as warm tears streamed down his face; he would have taken all of the pain for Gabriel if it were possible. Instead, he and Mary stood there at the mercy of his pained cries.

It drew on – the operating and the begging – for what felt like more than an hour before the doctor finally stopped. On the bed, Gabriel sweat profusely, panting from the torture. Mary held his hand as silent tears streamed down her sun kissed face. The look on her face was the epitome of a woman in love. She would have done anything for him. Fear was nothing to her if it meant fighting for Gabriel.

The doctor tightly wrapped Gabriel’s torso with bandages and then spoke to Mary just outside of the room.

Jeremy pulled up a chair and sat next to Gabriel.

“You’re a trooper, kid. Now you just need to be patient and rest until you heal.”

“I feel so terrible doing this to Mary.”

“This isn’t your fault. Accidents can happen to anyone.”

“I will fight. For Mary.”

The love that they had for one another tugged at his heartstrings and he wondered what it must have been like to feel that way for someone. Love like that didn’t happen every day.

“Fight for her. We’ll have to go on our cattle drive before we both become fathers.”

Gabriel smiled.

“As soon as I’m better, we’ll plan it.”

“Good.”

Jeremy stepped outside under the sun to leave the couple alone. Gabriel’s road to recovery would be a long one, but he had Mary’s patience and love to keep him going.

As Jeremy stepped rapidly back for home, it hit him how badly he had hurt Sally the other night. To make matters worse, he left her alone at the house while riding off with Mary, the woman who was the source of her jealousy. He hoped that she had grown mature enough to understand why he had to leave her so quickly. His best friend’s life depended on them finding him in time.

He had a feeling that she might never forgive him for riding off into the night with Mary.

***

Sally awoke sometime after noon lying on the floor. With a groan, she rolled over and stared at her bed.

He hadn’t come home. He was with Mary while she was attempting to pull herself up from her despair.

Her temples throbbed as she stood and she stretched to relieve her tense muscles. She stared out at the window at the clear blue sky, realizing how alone she was.

Mama belonged to Papa and Papa was a monster. Jeremy didn’t love her; he barely wanted her. Gabriel and Mary only put up with her because they had to. Her girlhood friends disowned her once she got married.

Her sour stomach protested when she ventured into the kitchen. She poured a glass of water and drank it quickly. She went outside.

“I need to be anywhere but here,” she whispered.

She lifted her skirts and ran for the woods. Her tousled hair trailed behind her like a mare’s tail. The terrible ache from last night dulled as her eyes drank in the natural beauty surrounding her. Love or no love, she would always have the forest to run to. She stopped in the midst of the tree maze to catch her breath. Panting, she stared up at the beautiful green leaves and the singing birds, drinking in their happiness.

She walked a little further and smelled the unmistakable scent of a bonfire. Once she would have been afraid at the idea of someone camping close by in the middle of the woods, but her depression had a way of killing her fears. She had nothing to lose.

Curious, she followed the scent. The hunger that she had been robbed of earlier returned as roasting meat’s aroma filled her nostrils. A man arose from the brush and she stopped.

He was tall and dark-skinned. He turned to face her.

“Jacob!”

“Sally… what are you doing out here?”

His coal eyes were wide with what appeared to be concern.

“I needed to run away for a while,” she said with a shrug.

She took a step closer. His campsite was hidden from the trail and was complete with a tent, a bonfire, and a roasting feral hog.

“Have you been living like this since you were freed from my father?” she blurted.

He cleared his throat.

“Not quite. No.”

Her mind spun with questions. His presence in town caused a terrible fate for Pastor Davis, but being near him did not frighten her. His calm, quiet demeanor put her at an unexpected ease. She could tell just by looking at him that he never meant for any harm to befall anyone.

“Why are you still here? Michael Davis died for helping you.”

She stared into his eyes. They looked sad.

“I ask God to forgive me every day for causing his death… I never meant for anyone to know I was here.”

Sally shook her head.

“Is that why you came right into your former slave owner’s daughter’s house? What were you thinking? Why did you come back?”

“I worked for years in a mine far south of here, but I still couldn’t let myself forget.”

“Forget my Papa? Was he a cruel master?”

“Cruel or not, a human being will never reflect kindly on a man that once owned him.”

Sally averted her eyes to the forest floor. She could never know how it would feel to be someone’s slave. Jeremy would never love her, but he was not the sort of man to order her around. For the most part, she was free. Or, so she thought. She would never be able to imagine what it must have been like to be born a slave.

“Your Papa was a very cruel man,” said Jacob.

“He still is…”

She met Jacob’s gaze again.

“Is everything all right, Sally?”

She threw her hands up in the air.

“Of course it’s not all right! Papa and all of the deacons killed my pastor and friend right before my eyes. He fled to my house and begged me to hide in my room so that I wouldn’t see what my own father was capable of. Even then, he wasn’t even thinking of himself. Oh Jacob, I can only imagine the horrors you endured as my father’s slave!”

“It will be all right. Here, please sit down and eat some of this fresh pork with me. It’s the least I can do for startling you twice now.”

“Well, all right. Thank you.”

She used a fallen log as a seat while he cut off some pieces of meat and put them on a plate for her.

“It smells so good,” she said.

“It’ll taste good, too.”

The hint of a smile brightened his expression as he gave her the plate of steaming food. The tender, salty meat awakened her taste buds and she closed her eyes.

“It is delicious.”

“Glad you like it. I’ve got some coffee brewing, too.”

She licked her fingers when her plate was empty and imagined Mama’s cross look of disapproval if she could see it.

“I am happy to have your company,” she said. “I just wish that I knew why you came back here.”

“It is very complicated.”

“That is what adults tell children and I’m not a child anymore.”

Jacob leaned forward, balancing his elbows on his knees.

“I will tell you one day, but not now.”

“Well, how long will you be camping out here for?”

“Not much longer.”

“Will you let me know before you go?”

His sad eyes met her. “I will let you know if you want.”

“I can bring you some food from the house tomorrow. My afternoons are usually free and Jeremy doesn’t mind if I go wandering.”

“That boy seems to care a lot about you.”

She flinched as the sting of rejection hit her again. She shook her head. He had no idea.

“He puts up with me, but he has eyes for another woman.”

“Are you sure about that, little Sally? The look in his eyes when spoke to me… he was very adamant that I never return to your property. He was protecting you.”

The dying fire crackled and popped. Sally imagined her once fiery love for Jeremy fading away like the flames before her eyes.

“Well, no one would cook for him or wash his clothes if he didn’t have me. I wouldn’t say that’s love.”

Jacob chuckled.

“White men are terrible at talking to their women. They have no idea how to make them feel valued. A man ought to treat his wife like a queen.”

Sally almost laughed, but couldn’t quite bring herself to.

“I can’t argue with that.”

His infectious grin lifted the corners of her mouth.

“I still say he loves you,” said Jacob. “He’s just terrible at showing it. Don’t give up on him yet. You’re both so young.”

The way his eyes lit up as he talked startled her a little. For a stranger, he seemed to care a great deal about her and Jeremy. It was strange even if she enjoyed the idea of someone taking an interest in her.

“Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your meal with me. I am glad that I ran out here and stumbled across you.”

“As am I, little Sally. Just remember that running away isn’t always the answer. Sometimes it’s worth it to stay.”

She shrugged. He didn’t know the whole story of what happened and she didn’t want to burden him with it.

She rose and smiled down at her new unlikely friend.

“I will see you here tomorrow around the same time? I can bring you fresh fruit and vegetables to go with the pork.”

“It’s very kind of you, Sally, but I don’t want you to compromise yourself. I’m always on the move.”

Her heart sank as it hit her that she might never see him again. His shotgun rested against his tent. As she studied the sleek design of the firearm, a sense of longing filled her.

“Jacob, will you please teach me how to hunt?”

He took a step back in surprise. He studied her for a moment before nodding.

“Is that a yes?” she asked.

“I will teach you how to hunt if that is what you want.”

“I do.”

“Then I will.”

Her heart raced. It was really going to happen. She would learn how to hunt. Mary wasn’t going to be the only woman who knew how to shoot a gun and ride like a man.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“Make your way to this general vicinity and I will find you.”

She extended her hand. He shook it.

“Good day, Jacob” she said.

“Good day, Sally.”

She left the woods feeling like different person. Never again would she allow Jeremy’s treatment of her to determine her value. It was time that she determined that on her own. With Jacob’s help.

Sally – Chapter Eleven

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Jeremy sat on the fence watching the setting sun bring the clouds aflame with hot pink fire. Fog rose from the creek just past the perimeter of his property and he sighed at the beautiful magic that surrounded him. Just beyond his farmland, the murderers lived and thrived. He couldn’t value land, no matter beloved, over his and Sally’s lives anymore.

Sally sat by the rose bushes painting the clouds. She looked so beautiful when she painted. She loved her art as much as he loved his farm. Guilt stung him as he thought of Michael again. He couldn’t let himself forget.

He jumped off the fence and strode toward Sally as she put her water colours away. She saw him approach her and stopped to smile up at him. Despite the hell that loomed just beyond their haven, he felt happy with her. She was still so young and hopeful. They didn’t have children weighing them down. They were young and free and could start up a new farm anywhere they chose to.

“I really need to take you away from here,” he said. “Soon.”

She tilted her head as her eyes widened in surprise.

“You said that you can’t leave the farm.”

“I know I said it, but Sally, I can’t make you stay here. The conversation with your father was as clear as day that he’s watching me. He wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone who crossed him. We can’t stay in a place that killed our friend. I realize that now… finally.”

She stood up, keeping his gaze.

“What about Gabriel?”

“He’ll understand. Once we are far from here, I will write to him and tell him the truth. I can’t risk your safety by telling him while we are still here. God only knows what he will believe and what he would do with the information.”

“He was pretty hot headed the last time he stayed here,” said Sally.

“He was. He also looks up to Pastor Scottson already.”

Sally shuddered.

“When will we leave?”

“At the end of the week. The deacons will all be at the church having their monthly meeting with the pastor. We will leave in the middle of the night.”

Sally gasped and wrapped her arms around him.

“Oh, Gabriel. Thank you! I cannot wait to start over and put this place behind us. I will write to Mama once we are settled and perhaps we can save her from this place, too.”

“One thing at a time, my dear. First we have to get out of here unharmed.”

Her eyes widened.

“We will have to leave in the middle of the night.”

“Don’t worry yourself. We just have to be very careful.”

She buried her face in his chest and he played with her silky hair.

“Every time we sit in that church, I feel ill,” he said quietly. “Michael would still be preaching there. I couldn’t save him then, but we will respect him by leaving this place behind and starting new.”

“And we’ll teach our children what he taught us,” added Sally.

Her tears soaked through his shirt and he held her tighter.

“I’m so proud of you for finding out more about Jacob,” she said.

“I did it all for Michael… and for you.”

She took his hand and squeezed it.

“I wonder where Jacob went.”

“We may never know, but I hope he doesn’t waste the life that Michael died for.”

Her little body shuddered against his. He gathered her into his arms and carried her back to the house.

“My painting!” she cried.

“It won’t rain tonight. It will be fine.”

He kissed her and she sighed, melting into him. Inside, they tore each other’s clothes off and ran to their room.

The next morning, they awoke entangled in one another. They rose and made breakfast together; he smiled at her tousled hair as she tried in vain to straighten it out with her fingers. She mesmerized him; he couldn’t believe how dim he had been the previous year to not see how amazing she really was. As they sipped coffee and ate pancakes dripping with maple syrup, they talked about their funniest childhood memories to pass the morning.

“I really thought I might be a famous painter one day,” said Sally whimsically, tilting her head.

“You still could be one day. Your paintings are beautiful. I can help you try to find a place to display them after we settle in at the new farm.”

Her eyes lit up.

“Would you really?”

He nodded, smiling.

“I love learning about you. What makes you happy and what makes you cringe and everything in between.”

She bit her lip and leaned forward.

“I like learning more about you, too. There’s more to you than just the cows, after all.”

“Cattle,” he corrected, meeting her lips and kissing her.

It was painful leaving her to go work on the farm and it broke his heart to think that all of his hard work would for naught when he would leave most of it behind.

At the end of the day, Gabriel stopped by.

“Want to go fishing?” he asked.

Jeremy nearly said no at the thought of leaving Sally alone all evening, but it had been ages since he had seen Gabriel.

“Let’s go,” said Jeremy.

He grabbed his fishing rod and they went to a nearby pond to see if they could catch some catfish.They talked mostly about their beautiful wives, but it was clear that Gabriel was completely in love with Mary. They had married for love after experiencing an epic adventure across the state together. His idealism was louder than the chirping birds above them as he spoke of his dreams for the town and for Mary. He was only twenty, married, and studying to be a preacher. Hearing him speak so highly of the devil disguised as a pastor made Jeremy’s skin crawl. He felt terrible for leaving Gabriel to the mercy of snakes, but he would be safe since he listened to every word that they spoke. Surely he would believe him when he wrote to him. He hoped that he would take Mary and move closer to him.

When they caught two fat catfish each, they starting packing up for the day. They turned at the sound of someone coming. It was Mary. She greeted them with a smile. Gabriel ran to her and they kissed unabashedly.

“I felt like exploring before sunset and I just so happened to find you two here,” she said with a light laugh.

“Would you both like to come back to my house with me and all four of us could have a nice talk?”

Gabriel and Mary agreed. They walked just ahead of Jeremy, holding hands and talking like they were still courting. As they reached the farmhouse, Sally saw their approach and ran out to greet them.

“Hi, Sally!” called Mary.

“What a surprise!” Sally called back.

She came to Jeremy’s side and he took her hand. She leaned against him, but there was something different about her. She seemed agitated.

As they congregated at the table inside, Sally served them all tea, biscuits, and sliced apples. She sat down and eyed Mary.

“I wasn’t aware that I was being excluded from a group outing,” she said in an overly bright tone.

“Oh, it wasn’t a group thing at all,” said Mary. “I was just going on my own walk and I happened to bump into them.”

“No doubt,” smirked Sally.

Jeremy flinched at the way that Sally looked at Mary up and down in unmasked jealousy.

“It was only Gabriel and I who went. Mary came just as we were leaving,” said Jeremy quickly.

Sally’s piercing green eyes met his for a moment before she concentrated on her food.

The rest of the night was a little tense as the two girls sat quietly while Jeremy and Gabriel drew out a conversation about farming. It was clear that Sally and Mary were not going to be fast friends.

When Gabriel and Mary left for the evening, Jeremy locked the door and studied Sally as she cleaned up the kitchen.

“What is wrong?” he asked.

“I saw how you looked at her and how she would giggle every time you said something remotely amusing. The rumours about her enjoying the company of men are clearly not just rumours.”

“Sally, you were imagining things. Gabriel’s wife is a kind, lovely woman, but she loves him. Don’t you see how they talk and stare at one another? I’m nothing to her.”

“When was the last time that you called me ‘lovely’? Oh, now I remember. You haven’t.”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

“She was an old maid, you know. She’s twenty-four! Lord knows how many men she’s been with.”

“Sally, this isn’t like you. What’s wrong?”

The tears in her eyes made his stomach churn. Perhaps he did admire Mary’s ethereal beauty a couple of times, but he didn’t care about her. He thought it had been made more than obvious to Sally how much he desired her as his wife.

“I knew you didn’t think that I was as pretty as her! I can’t wait to leave this stupid town!”

All he could do was stare at her.

“I think you are beautiful.”

Her jaw dropped as more tears streamed down her face.

“Now you tell me! This is what it took for you to call me beautiful?”

She ran into her room and slammed the door behind her.

“Sally, please come out and talk!” he called.

“Go away and dream about the tiny-waisted, flaxen haired Mary!”

Jeremy stood in the wake of Sally’s perplexing storm and stared at her door. The bratty little girl had returned and it took every fabric of his being to not despise her for turning on him after they had come so far together. If she wanted to be left alone, he would leave her alone. He didn’t have time for childish games with a girl that had no thought for anyone else. Perhaps Gabriel had been wise to marry a lady a little older than he was. It wasn’t uncommon.

Jeremy walked back to his empty room.

***

She ignored him all day. He tried talking to her when she first came out of her room in the morning, but she ran outside until all that she could see was the river. She did not come home until well after noon, forcing him to make his own lunch. She knew that she was being harsh to the man who worked his hind off for both of them to have a good life, but seeing him look at another woman the way that he did made the hell return.

Gabriel had forgotten about her completely; that was fine. He didn’t look Sally’s way once in the entire three hours that he visited aside from exchanging the usual pleasantries. She had never been anything to him. Jeremy only found her beautiful because he had to.

She stood in the middle of the kitchen closing her eyes. Just when she thought that she was beginning to fall for Jeremy, he betrayed her. Mary was a stunning woman. In fact, she looked more like some sort of goddess more than a woman. With long, graceful limbs, perfect golden hair, and the tiniest waist, it was no wonder that she turned men’s heads. Sally balled her fists and was suddenly glad that she hadn’t eaten all day. Her waist was small, but nothing like that. She felt like a stumpy troll next to an angel whenever Mary was close by.

The door opened and closed and she could hear Jeremy’s breathing.

“Hi,” he said.

“Did you have a good night dreaming of her?”

“All that I’ve thought about is you, Sally. Please, talk to me.”

“You didn’t even want to be with me. My parents forced us to be together. You have to tell me I’m beautiful. If you were still single, you wouldn’t be courting me right now.”

“Sally, I am so very attracted to you. I thought that I showed you that multiple times now.”

Sally shook her head. She longed to believe it, but she knew it was false. There was nothing exquisite about her hair, face, or proportions. She was ordinary.

“I just felt that you were too young for marriage at first and I didn’t want to look at you like a woman in the beginning. I didn’t even bother with girls before you. You know that. I always kept to myself and my farming.”

Sally shrugged.

“I saw your eyes light up every time Mary said something. I still feel ill at the memory of it. My hands.. they have been shaking ever since. I’m never enough. I will never be enough.”

He came closer, but he didn’t touch her.

“Oh, Sally. Please tell me what to do to make you feel better. I want you to be happy.”

She shrugged.

“The thing that would make the happiest would be impossible now.”

She prepared a simple dinner without any intention of eating it while Jeremy washed up. Once they sat down at the table, she speared a carrot with her fork and nibbled on it, wandering away to another place, a memory that hid inside of her fragile mind.

“Please eat, Sally.”

“Why? So I can always look fatter than Mary?”

Jeremy threw his head back.

“You can’t compare yourself to her. You are beautiful in different ways.”

“In what ways? Like how a Shetland pony is beautiful in comparison to an Arabian? Spare me.”

Jeremy slammed his fist on the table.

“A day ago we were talking about getting out of this town to honour Michael. How can you be focused on something so unimportant?”

Sally shot up and started to go outside. A knock sounded on the door, causing Sally to draw back. The last time someone knocked on her door, a disaster followed. Her heart ached and she leaned against the wall as memories of Michael’s death paralyzed her.

“Are you all right?” asked Jeremy.

“No.”

He nearly touched her arm, but restrained himself and went to answer the door. The sound of Mary’s voice brought Sally back to reality. There she stood in the doorway with tears streaming down her perfect face as she whined to Jeremy about something. He went to grab his shotgun and then followed her outside.The entire moment was like a bad dream.

Sally said a few things to them, but she was barely aware of them. She heard fragmented sentences about Gabriel missing and Mary needing help to find him. A long gun was strapped to her back and she looked like a beautiful cowgirl from sort of magazine drawing. She had managed to pull off yet another male fantasy.

Trembling, Sally walked out onto the porch and watched Mary mount her horse. Jeremy came out from the barn on his horse and they rode away together like long lost friends.

She stood there alone as her husband, her love, rode away with the object of his desire. She slammed the door and screamed. He had left her alone when she needed him the most. She only wanted him to show her how much he wanted her, how desirable she was, but Mary was still more important than her.

She dragged her feet to her room and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She had been foolish enough to think that she was becoming more beautiful as she grew up. Her long wavy hair looked like mud in comparison to Mary’s hair. She looked frumpy and childish. The skin on her palms tingled. She didn’t know what else to do but do their bidding. So many times before she restrained herself, but her will to stop it vanished. She longed to hurt herself because she was worthless and deserved it.

She yelled and balled her fists. She beat her upper arms repeatedly until she lost her breath. Panting, she sunk to the floor and pulled up her skirt so she could remove her stockings. She punched her bare thighs with all of her might. She screamed in hellish agony as she pulled on her hair, kicking her legs. At the end, she lay on the floor in pain and exhaustion, longing for sleep to take her away.

He wasn’t going to come for her. He wouldn’t save her because he was already with the woman that he longed to save.

Sally forced herself to stand on shaking legs and then she ran full force into the wall, bashing her head into it. She fell backward as the world spun and relief closed in on her.