"Make him stop kickin' me!" Essie whined out.
To which Brady shot back, "Get on your side!"
Lorelai jumped into the conversation as she stepped over Becky's cot on the floor to reach the bed where three wiggle worms were. "Essie, you have to sleep close to the wall." And then, looking to the boy in the middle, she wagged her finger in Brady's face, "And if you kick her again, I swear I'll send you out to the shed to wait for Pa."
"Why, she's just a girl…" Came the snotty reply out of his mouth. "Ain't no thing getting her outta my sleepin' space."
Lorelai swatted him upside the head and gave him a fiery look that silenced him up fast. And then, to Jessie Anne, Lorelai said, "Nice to sleep in the bed?"
A small nod was her reply. And quiet, "I wish James were here."
Lorelai could see the ten-year-old was tired, her eyelids drooping after working so hard tonight, helping Lorelai finish shucking the corn so Pa wasn't in a bad mood all night. And then helping watch the twins while Lorelai cleaned up from supper – of course the girl was tired. Brushing stringy hair from Jessie Anne's face, Lorelai leaned down and placed a kiss on her forehead before she said, "James is a strong kid. He'll be fine."
The girl turned over onto her side, looking at Lorelai through drooping eyes, and said, "I still miss him."
Pulling the thin blanket up over all three of the little ones in the bed, Lorelai just muttered, "Me too."
She blew out the candle that lit the loft just before she turned to walk to the ladder going down into the house. But she made sure to stop and tuck Becky in, already fast asleep. Her face was streaked as the tears had made grooves along the lines of dirt on her cheeks. As Lorelai pulled the blanket over the small child, she hated that Becky hadn't been able to eat anything from dinner – having been sent up here for the rest of the night after her whipping. Lorelai reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a small piece of bread she saved for the girl. Setting it on her pillow, Lorelai leaned down and kissed her head, whispering, "I'm so sorry, Becky." But the girl didn't stir, which was probably good, thinking about the stinging pain Lorelai knew all too well would follow anything the girl did for days.
But as she turned and climbed down the wooden ladder from the small loft that held two beds and blankets on the floor for those who had to sleep on the floor. She looked up just, just to make sure they were all settling down. But, even with all their energy, Lorelai knew everyday life tired them out – enough that most of them didn't mind sleeping on the floor when they had to. Usually, James and Brady shared one of the beds while Bobby had the other one. But with James gone, Lorelai let the two girls who were awake share the bed for one night – with much argument from Brady, who spouted off something that sounded just like Pa about how womenfolk didn't have to work as hard as the men. So why would they get to sleep in a comfortable place?
And Lorelai had to bite her tongue not to tell her little brother off about how her hands ached every night when she went to bed. That after hauling water for dishes, shucking corn for the still, toting babies around with her all day – she worked harder than almost anyone else in this family did. If anyone deserved a bed – it was Lorelai – especially after wash day. Which was tomorrow. Hauling buckets of water up from the creek, scrubbing dirt from the washing, wringing the clothes out – hanging them up to dry – all in the dead heat of summer – Lorelai definitely deserved the bed.
But it would cause too much of a stir with the little kids. And Bobby – Lorelai reached the bottom of the ladder and walked over to the little bed where the twins were fast asleep. Covering them up, she almost laughed thinking about how Bobby would react if she asked him to let her sleep on the bed for one night.
God. That would be the worst thing ever. He'd laugh, like he laughed when she was running after one twin while the other grabbed a hot loaf of bread off of the table. Or he'd laugh like he did watching James cry after sticking himself while playing stick knife – the game Bobby taught his younger brothers that involved standing barefoot in the dirt, a pocket knife in hand, dropping the knife as close to your foot without stabbing yourself. James had stabbed himself playing a game with Bobby… bandaging a boy's foot up while her brother laughed and taunted James about being such a little girl – that had been a fun experience.
She looked around the little house, making sure there weren't any candles burning before she grabbed the shawl from the hook by the door. As she wrapped the light knitted material around her arms, she wished she could still smell her mother's scent on the homemade shawl. It still hurt – even after a year.
Stepping out onto the dirt, she felt the cold underneath her feet – felt nice after the warm autumn day they had. She looked out over the rest of the world down below them, the foothills rolling up and down along the horizon, trees, now dark, swaying with the wind that blew tendrils of Lorelai's hair gently across her face as she made her way over to where the others were sitting.
Pa, up on an old crate against the house, was whittling, his sharp knife sending strips of wood fluttering to the ground in such a rhythmic fashion. Pipe in his mouth, he talked around the old wood as he was saying, "… be fine. Ain't heard of no mountain lions in these parts for a few weeks anyway."
They were talking about James. Lorelai sat down on an old box – one they used to haul corn back and forth from the fields – making sure her thin dress covered the back of her legs so she wouldn't get any splinters.
"You know how stupid that kid is, though." Bobby said, spitting out the juice from his chewing tobacco, moving the leaves around against his bottom lip with his tongue before he continued, "He'd walk right off a cliff if you told him a perty girl was at the bottom."
They both laughed, and Lorelai watched as her brother, sprawled up on another box, kicked back and reveled in Pa's affirmation of his approval. Bobby, in Lorelai's opinion, looked like a cross between Ma and Pa. With his broad shoulders, strong arms from working out in the cornfield, he towered over her, despite him being less than a year younger than she was – his body seemed to have been made for hard work, something Pa used to his advantage, pulling Bobby out of school when he was only ten to help him in the fields. But Bobby's red hair – that he got from their Ma, and his face rounded out at a perfect replica of Ma. But that was where the comparison stopped. Because where Ma had been sweet and kind, Bobby could be cruel and taunting just like Pa. Ever since she was little, she remembered him pulling on her braids, lying to Pa about trouble he caused, blaming it on her, grabbing food off her plate at dinner just because he wanted to. That was all stuff he learned from Pa. Who, when Lorelai complained about Bobby taking her food, said, "Growing boy needs more food than a girl anyway. If ya can't learn to protect yer food, Lori Mae, don't come whining to me." Yep. Bobby was just like Pa.
"Youngins' in bed?" Pa asked, not even looking up from his whittling.
She nodded, "Yes, sir."
Lorelai knew she couldn't sleep with what happened earlier on her mind. There was no way she could think about sleeping with the thought of that man's hands on her, trying to kiss her. But it was going to take a whole lot of guts to try and talk it through with Pa. Because once Pa made up his mind, there was nothing gonna change it.
But she had to.
Bringing it up, though – that was the hard part – knowing when and how to talk about it – her hands shook already just with the thought of what he might do to her.
But she didn't have to wait, because Bobby said to her, "Heard you had a visitor today, Lori." Then he laughed. "Fat ole Tuck… never woulda picture him for you."
Her eyes immediately darted to her Pa's, where he stopped whittling and pulled his pipe out of his mouth to laugh. Laughing. And then, to Bobby, Pa said, "How long he been looking fer another wife? Five years?" Bobby shrugged, and then Pa laughed, "Well, he was willing to do the good thing and paid a good price for her."
They laughed. At the thought of her with that man. Laughing. While she sat there thinking about what it would be like living with him. He was older than Pa – he'd been married a long time ago, before Lorelai was born – something about her dying in childbirth, but Lorelai wouldn't have blamed her for anything to get out of that place. He was so old. And filthy. If his shirt and pants and face and hands were that horribly dirty, Lorelai could only imagine what his house looked like – not that she was used to splendor or anything fancy, but at least her house was clean. And then the thought of actually being his wife. Sent shivers up her spine.
Which must have been the reason she found the guts to finally say, "I don't want to."
The only sound was the crickets chirping in the background and the wind rustling through the trees. She watched Pa, knife in hand, set the little block of wood he had been working on down in his lap as he just stared at her.
Bobby broke the silence, with his sarcastic tone, "Ain't like you got no choice."
"Shut up." She said harshly to him, pushing the thought of being forced into this out of her mind.
Her Pa's tone made her jump. Icy and cold. "Don't talk to your brother like that."
Of course he would take Bobby's side. "Pa, I can't marry that man." She played with the ends of Ma's shawl while she said, "He's old. And gross. And…"
"You'll get used to the smell after a while." Bobby chimed in, laughing as he said, "Maybe Pa can convince him to take a bath before your wedding night."
She didn't know what she felt more. Repulsion at the thought of being in the same bed with that animal. And everything that came after that – she hugged the shawl tightly around her. But she also felt anger. At being treated like she had no say in the matter. Ma had told her how Pa had courted her, bringing her flowers, and how he asked her to marry him – that was nothing like this. It was her life. She had to live with that man – not her Pa or her brother.
And she just simply said, "I won't." And she swallowed, waiting for the hell to break lose.
"You have a death wish." Her brother said.
But Lorelai was focused on her Pa – watching as he simply took another puff on his pipe and then let the smoke out. And he shook his head, "Do you need me to take you out back?"
"You're going to whip me to get me to marry him?" She asked, almost unbelieving. She could almost feel the sting of the branch against her legs, but she would gladly take that everyday rather than be forever tied to that man. "I'm not a little kid anymore. I have some say in what I have to do with the rest of my life…"
Both of the men laughed, and her Pa just sat up, both feet on the ground as he said, "You're a woman. Of course you have no say."
And Lorelai, standing to her feet, just simply said, "I can run away."
Now Pa was angrier than she had seen him in a long time. Because she talked about running away. The one control that a woman had. The one thing Lorelai could do to refuse whatever future her pa had for her. But Pa's hands were shaking as he stood to his feet, his voice growing louder and louder with each word he spoke, "You are going to marry that man."
She shook her head, taking a step back from the man she knew wouldn't hesitate to hit her. "You can't make me, Pa." And another step back, her voice shaking, "I can run down that mountain and never come back."
Now she watched as he reached his hand out, the one with the knife in it, and shook his right in front of her face, "You ungrateful little bitch." She watched the moonlight glint off of the metal blade she stepped back from. Now he was yelling, "You know we need the money. You know your brothers and sisters need new clothes."
She shook her head, retreating faster and faster, "I'll go work somewhere. I'll sew more patches into the clothes. I just won't marry him."
He moved faster than she thought he could, and he grabbed both of her shoulders and shook her, "I'm gonna wup you so hard…"
She was scared, and she wondered if this is what Ma felt like right before she ran away. And Lorelai whimpered as his hands dug into her skin while he yelled, "You never talk about runnin' away again, Lori Mae, do you hear me?" His breath smelled like moonshine as he brought her face up to his and yelled, "I said do you hear me!"
Tears ran down her face as she shook her head, "Pa, please, I… I…"
And then he shoved her. Down to the ground, her head hitting the dirt hard. "It's time to grow up, Lori Mae. Realize that you're only good for this."
She scrambled to get to her feet, but his foot came down on her hand, causing her to cry out as she felt such pressure as he put all his weight down on her hand. And yelled, "You're going to marry that man! Do you hear me?"
Lorelai couldn't imagine what would come after she said yes. She couldn't imagine anything except getting him off of her hand – which felt like things were cracking underneath them as he leaned even harder onto her little fingers. "Please, Pa, Please… "
Her head fell back to the ground as his knee made contact with her face, shattering pain flying through her chin where he kicked her. Now his voice teetered in and out of her spinning head as she heard him yell, "Do you fucking understand me, Lori?"
And, from the splitting pain in her head and the pressure she felt against her hand, she could do only one thing. She nodded.
Almost immediately, his foot came off her hand, which she brought immediately to her chest as she sat up and tried to get away, crawling away. But not fast enough as she felt a kick to her ribs, sending even more pain flying through her body.
And, through tears, she looked up to see him looking down at her, his face red and fists clenched at his sides. Through a clenched jaw, he said, "If you ever say anything like that again, I swear to god I'll beat you so hard you won't be able to walk for a week."
She brought her knees to her chest as she tried to sit up, but was unable to without falling over if she wasn't holding onto her legs. Head spinning she watched with relief as he began to walk away. Her heart was pounding, her hand frozen in pain – and she just wanted him to leave so she could recover.
Until he turned around, and, with one fell swoop, she watched the pocket knife leave his hand, his strong arm sending the knife flying through the air – right towards her.
The knife blade stuck in the ground – right between where her feet were pulled up to her body – her bare feet there in the dirt as the sharp knife just teetered back and forth before stopping right there.
And his menacing words right at her, "You try and run, I'll kill you, Lori Mae." And he pointed his finger right at her and hissed, "Like I shoulda killed yer Ma." His boots stomped into the house, and Lorelai was left there, outside, her entire body shaking as she looked down at the knife that could have easily sailed into her chest.
He tried to kill her – or he made her realize he could. He could. Lorelai was convinced of that. Before tonight. But she never thought he would kill her. Beat her, sure, kick her a few times, sure – but throw a knife at her?
Bobby walked by, looking down at her with a gleam in his eyes. Shaking his head, he simply said, "Women. They never learn…"
And then she flinched back as he spat his tobacco juice down at her, hitting the front of her dress and right along her face – warm and sticky, the juice dripped down her face as she watched him walk into the house, muttering something under his breath. And then laughing.
Leaving here there, on the ground, her hand throbbing and her face in tremendous pain. Laying back against the ground, she looked up at the stars, trying to calm her breathing down. Wiping her face with the back of her hand, she realized that she had been crying this whole time. And there, on her back, on the ground, looking up at the sky, she cried, her whole back trembling against the dirt – crying from pain – crying from humiliation – crying from fear. Fear was the strongest. Fear wrapped itself around her entire body, tightening its grip with each sob that shook her pain-riddled body.
All of the memories – crashing down around her – as she stood there on the sidewalk, staring up at her father. She couldn't breathe.
Other than to say, "I asked you what the hell you're doing here."
"Oh." He took another step toward her and stretched his hand out to touch hers on the car door, his dirty hand resting on her white glove. "Lori Mae, you look so beautiful."
She pulled her hand away from him, finding her voice. And her strength. And she said, "And you look like the same deadbeat I left years ago."
He took off his hat, running his hand through his greasy hair as he said, "Still got that mouth on ya, girl." Then he looked at Sonny, and said, "I really did try with her, I really did." He wagged his finger in her face, "Tried to control her tongue, I did."
Sonny didn't give her father the time of day, but looked right at Lorelai and said, "I think maybe we should go."
Lorelai, didn't take her eyes off her father, staring him straight in the eye, and she simply nodded and said, "I think you're right."
And she turned, leaving him behind, getting down into the limousine when she heard her father say, "I thought you woulda asked about the youngins'…"
Of course. She would have. That's the only part of back home that she even thought to care about. Just before the door was about to close – she held out her hand – stopping it, and looked up at her father, who was now hanging over the door, and she just stared at him.
And he smiled. That same smile when Tuck handed him the wad of cash after her wedding. And he smiled down at her and said, "I thought you'd want to know."
"Know what?" She hissed.
He shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Well, since your marriage wasn't a real one…" He blew right past that like he hadn't forced her into a marriage with a man three times her age. And he just said, "Tuck decided he liked the girls in the family, and, well…" Lorelai's heart stopped. And she stood up so fast, pushing the door back so he had to catch his balance before he finished, "Jessie Anne's been real happy with him."
At the thought of her sister living there in that house, cooking and cleaning for that man as Lorelai had done day in and day out. Putting up with his garbage and trash talk of her. The way he just wanted to be fed and taken care of like he was a little child – Lorelai stepped out from the car door – walking towards her father. And the thoughts of sleeping in bed with that man, his arms smothering her while he slept, holding her close to his sweaty body – Lorelai wanted to puke at the memories – and she wanted to tear her father's eyes out thinking of her little sister there with that same man.
"Still feeling a little for your ex-husband?" He asked, taunting her – now she could see it in his eyes – but she still walked over to him. Him towering above her.
But she jammed her finger into his chest and yelled, "You wouldn't dare have married my little sister to that pig."
He shrugged his shoulders and smiled, "Got six kids now, she does."
The memories of giving birth in that house, rocking the baby to sleep, praying Rory would be quiet so Tuck wouldn't get angry. Having six? God, Lorelai just shook with anger as she yelled, "Have you no shame? I told you how horrible that man was! I told…"
He grabbed her arm.
She looked down at it, forgetting everything she had been thinking. And she just stared. Watching his fingers curl around her satin shirt – his dirty, rough, horrible hands – holding her there in place again.
And she wasn't afraid.
She wasn't at all. Because she simply said, "Sonny…"
And then looked up to see her father's face cloud with the fear she would have felt years ago had he grabbed her like that.