Dell Mystery 2007
On Halloween night of 1986, Maythorn Mullins disappeared from her home near Elizabeth Goodweather’s Full Circle Farm. Now, almost twenty years later, Rosemary Goodweather wants to find out the truth about her lost childhood friend. She begins to suspect that she herself knows …if she can just remember. As Elizabeth helps her daughter delve into the past, memories come alive—old friends, old enemies, old loves … and old wounds.
From the slopes of Pinnacle Mountain and the hidden Cave of the Two Sisters to the homeless shelters and self-realization programs of Asheville to the Cherokee Reservation where the noisy, glittering world of the casino gives way to the pristine woodlands and waterfalls of Big Cove, Elizabeth and Rosemary, aided by Phillip Hawkins, search for the answers to long-suppressed questions. Elizabeth must finally confront her own failings as she learns that there are some wounds time alone will not heal.
Old Wounds, a Book Sense Notable and a nominee for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Book Award for Fiction.
For Book Clubs
Vicki is happy to talk with book clubs who are discussing one of her books. Send her an email (firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to pre-arrange a phone call for your meeting time. If you live in the Asheville area and would like her to come to your meeting, she will do so if her schedule allows.
Caution! Contains spoilers! Don’t read until you’ve read the book!
- There are numerous secrets and numerous wounds caused by these secrets. What’s your opinion on some of them? Who kept what secret(s) and what harm did the secrecy do? Is there eventually a satisfactory resolution—is justice done?
- How did you feel about Elizabeth and Phillip finally becoming lovers? Too much restraint to wait so long? Should they still be waiting? Did you want more heavy-breathing details? Why do you suppose Vicki chose not to give them?
- Do the characters of the young Rosemary and Laurel match their grown up personalities? Where are there hints of the adult in the character of the child?
- When Vicki began writing Old Wounds, her editor insisted that Elizabeth had to grow and develop and face her failings during the course of the book. Do you think Elizabeth does this? Why or why not?
- What do you like about the main characters (Elizabeth, Phillip, and Rosemary)? Dislike?
- Originally Vicki wanted to title the book The Booger Dance and her editor and agent nearly fell over themselves to say that this was A Very Bad Idea. What do you think? Would you be put off or intrigued by that title? Why do you suppose Vicki thought it was appropriate?
- Members of one book club told Vicki that they thought that Elizabeth was too ‘hands-off’ in her relationship with her daughters. Do you agree? What could explain her parenting style?
- Old Wounds differs from the first two books in that instead of seeing everything in the present day plot from Elizabeth ‘s point of view, we also see the book from the point of view of two other characters. Do you like this? What does it add? What is lost?
- About that ending. What do you think is going to happen between Elizabeth and Phillip? (Note from Vicki: When I wrote this I thought that my 2009 offering would be another Elizabeth Goodweather. But, as you may know, at my editor’s request, my Miss Birdie book comes next—in, I’m sorry to say, 2010, as I was late getting done with it—or Miss Birdie getting done with me. We’ll have to wait till 2011 to find out what happens when Elizabeth finally hears that puzzling message from Aunt Dodie. Yikes! I will give you a hint, though, and say that there’s a pretty fair clue in Old Wounds. Somewhere.)
- Which minor character(s) would you like to see return in a future book? Why?
Extra Credit: (Only if you’ve read Signs in the Blood) Can you give another explanation for the markings on the stone in the Cave of The Two Sisters—markings that Maythorn says are a snake, a flying bird and an arrowhead?
The glowing computer screen, the only light in the dim gloom of the tiny, windowless office, cast a pallid green hue across Rosemary Goodweather’s exhausted face. She slumped back in her chair and let out a profound sigh that spoke of surrender … and relief. At last it was done: the story that had, against all her careful defenses, clawed its way into existence. The story that had haunted her for too many long years, tapping with urgent, insistent fingers on the clouded panes of her memory, the story that she had pushed away like an unwanted and unloved child. Now, at last, she had allowed it into the light, had unbound it and let it speak.
The words crawled down the screen and she scanned them critically. Enough details had been changed; it would pass as fiction. But the heart of the unresolved matter was there. She had put down all she knew … all she remembered, after so long.
She watched as the account of that terrible time passed before her blurring eyes. As the last page came into view she paused, pulled off her reading glasses and wiped them on her sleeve. She drew in a long, shuddering breath, fighting back unwelcome tears. It had been worth it—painful but cathartic. It had been necessary, she told herself. And the story was powerful—her best work ever.
Re-reading the last words, that desolate closing paragraph, she frowned. This was it, wasn’t it? What more was there to say? For a moment she sat frozen, paralyzed by the flood of memory and emotion that threatened to overwhelm her. Then, with sudden decision, she clicked on the PRINT icon. The printer stirred into action and as the white pages began to patter into the tray, Rosemary’s lean body began to tremble.
“Maythorn?” It was a tentative whisper. Shoving her chair back, she started to rise but was held in place, mesmerized by the growing stack of paper before her. The soft murmur of the pages falling one upon another mocked her. You think this is all but you’re not done.
Her vision swam as the stack of paper grew. So many questions remained unanswered. You have to keep going. This won’t be enough for her.
The final sheet of paper inched its way out of the whirring printer
Her voice was stronger now. The name was a declaration of the buried grief and doubt of the past nineteen years.
Rosemary pulled the sheaf of paper from the tray and stood, clutching the pages to her heart. Closing her eyes, she tilted her face to the ceiling and cried out, in a voice to wake the dead.
“Mary Thorn Blackfox, I see you!”
Still gripping the pages, Rosemary Goodweather reached for the telephone and punched in her mother’s number.
Chapter 1 ~ Dark of the Moon
Monday, October 3
The three dogs looked up, startled by the vehemence of Elizabeth ‘s unexpected outburst. Their morning reverie disturbed, they looked at one another as if considering abandoning the sun-warmed porch for more peaceful surroundings. But when no further words, angry or otherwise, were forthcoming, heads sank back to outstretched paws and the three resumed their private contemplations.
Elizabeth Goodweather sat on her front porch, staring unseeing at the distant Blue Ridge Mountains that disappeared into ever-hazier rows along the eastern horizon. She was blind to the nearby wooded slopes with their first gildings of copper and gold, oblivious to the clear blue sky marked only by a pair of red-tailed hawks riding the cool autumn currents, and deaf to the birds’ shrill, descending calls. The breakfast dishes in the kitchen behind her were still unwashed; the mug of coffee she held had grown cold without being tasted. She sat motionless but her mind whirled in tumult–a congregation of seething thoughts, feelings, and desires–all unresolved.
Two days ago she had been on the verge of … on the verge of what, Elizabeth? Phillip asked if I was still grieving for Sam, if I would ever let someone else into my life. And I said something really profound about being willing to a take a chance. And I was … I am … but then, just then … Oh, bloody hell!
But just then, Rosemary had called. Her brilliant, reliable, eminently sensible older daughter. Assistant professor of English at UNC-Chapel Hill and not yet thirty, Rosemary had been writing a story based on the disappearance of a childhood friend almost twenty years ago. And in the writing, something let loose. All those years that she wouldn’t talk about Maythorn … and then Saturday … oh, god, it was awful to hear Rosie so … so unhinged.
“Mum!” Rosemary had whispered, sounding more like the ten-year old she had been than the self-assured academic she had become. “Mum! I have to find out what really happened to Maythorn.”
Rosemary had been all but incoherent, babbling about her lost friend, about memories that had resurfaced … and Maythorn’s granny and something called the Looker Stone … and what was the really weird-sounding thing? … the Booger Dance? Whatever the hell that is.
Maythorn Mullins, the child of a neighboring family, had been Rosemary’s friend–she’s my best friend, Mum, and she’s my blood twin! We were both born on January 11, 1976 and we both have brown eyes and we are exactly the same tall! We cut our fingers and swapped blood and now we’re blood twins! Rosemary and Maythorn had been almost inseparable for two idyllic years. Then had come the Halloween of 1986 and with it the disappearance of Maythorn from her family’s home.
A massive search through the hollows and coves of Ridley Branch and adjoining areas had revealed nothing. Some believed that the child had run away–there were whispers of an unhappy family situation. Others were sure that a kidnapping had been attempted and had somehow gone wrong. Still others shook their heads and swore that the child was somewhere on the mountain–dead or alive.
But as a weary Sam had said to Elizabeth , on returning from the steep slopes and thickets of Pinnacle Mountain , “Liz, she could be hiding … or hidden … anywhere out there. There’s just no way of searching every inch of these woods.”
Wide-eyed, but remote, Rosemary had watched mutely as the futile search continued. Her responses to questions about Maythorn, from Sam and Elizabeth, as well as from the authorities, were little more than dull monosyllables, all negative. Tearless and stoic, Rosemary had shaken off attempts at comfort or reassurance. Elizabeth could still remember the sudden stiffening resistance of her daughter’s thin body when she had tried to gather the child up in her arms for consolation.
“Don’t, Mum,” Rosemary had said briefly, gently removing herself from the embrace and retreating to her own room. And though she had eventually returned to her usual talkative self, any mention of Maythorn was met by a blank stare or an abrupt change of subject. Soon it seemed that she had simply chosen to forget the existence of the little girl she had called her blood twin. Elizabeth and Sam, caught up in the thousand details of their new life, had gratefully accepted Rosemary’s return to normalcy. By unspoken mutual agreement, they no longer mentioned Maythorn around their older daughter.
A local man was questioned by the police and released for lack of evidence. The Mullins family drew in on itself and, after nearly a year had gone by with no ransom demand and no sign whatsoever of the child, they moved away, eager to leave behind the unhappy memories that haunted their home. Marshall County put the mysterious disappearance away in a seldom-visited drawer and life resumed its pleasant and accustomed shape.
Rosemary’s unexpected and unsettling call on Saturday had alarmed Elizabeth deeply, scattering all thoughts of romance and Phillip Hawkins like dry leaves driven before an icy wind. She had listened in baffled incomprehension to her daughter’s frantic chatter till Rosemary had run down, had calmed and begun to sound more like her usual self.
“I’m sorry, Mum.” Rosemary’s voice became quieter and somewhat abashed. “I didn’t mean to spring it on you quite like this. Really, I’m fine. It’s just that I’ve been so immersed in the story and when I printed it out just now–well, I just felt like I had to talk to you about Maythorn. Stupid, I should have waited. Listen,Mum, I’ve got to go. I’m meeting a friend in a few minutes. I’ll be busy tonight but I’ll call you tomorrow or the next day when I’ve made some arrangements and figured out exactly what I want to do.”
Rosie finished talking and hung up and I … I just stood there holding the phone and staring. She had stared at Phillip Hawkins who, at the insistent ring of the telephone, had released her from his embrace and tactfully moved to the cushioned nook at the end of the kitchen where he busied himself with her three dogs while she answered the call. She had looked at him in bewilderment, as if she had never seen him before, as if he were a stranger who had unexpectedly materialized in her kitchen. Granted, a stranger whose right hand was scratching behind the ears of James, the tubby little dachshund-chihuahua mix, while his left was busy fondling Molly’s sleek head. The elegant red hound’s black-ringed amber eyes gazed soulfully at Phillip as if she knew him very well indeed. And at his feet, shaggy black Ursa lay on her broad back, offering her furry belly to be scratched.
“What?” Phillip’s quizzical smile was rapidly replaced by a puzzled frown and a look of concern. As she continued to stare silently at him, he had disentangled himself from her dogs and come toward her with outstretched arms. She stared at the burly man with the soft brown eyes and nut-brown balding pate, trying to reassemble his pleasant features into a familiar face.
“ Elizabeth , sweetheart, what’s wrong?” Suddenly the stranger was replaced by the familiar friend, the good man she had come to rely on. She put down the phone and burst into tears.
He had put his arms around her again and she had relaxed against his comforting bulk. When she could control her voice, she asked, “Did you ever see that movie years ago–Alice’s Restaurant ? Well, like Alice said, I feel like a poor old mother hound dog with too many puppies snapping at her tits. I mean, I’m already worried about Ben and Laurel, after what they’ve just been through, and now Rosie … ”
Her voice was stricken as she continued. “Sam and I thought it was all over–that she’d forgotten that awful Halloween and the days and weeks that followed. We were so grateful that she seemed … seemed untouched by it all that we just pretended it never happened, let her pretend there had never been a little girl called Maythorn. But now it’s all come back. I should have known …”
She looked at Phillip and her face was full of pain. “Don’t you see? … I owe it to her … to both of them … to see it through to the end this time.”
Somehow it had gotten sorted out. Phillip had listened as she explained the call and, before she could finish, had pulled her to him again. She hid her face on his broad shoulder and wrapped her arms around him, trying unsuccessfully to capture the joyous abandon she had felt before Rosemary’s call.
Phillip’s fingers traced a path along her cheek. “Hey, Elizabeth , it’s okay. This is something you have to do. And if I can help, you know I will.”
Very gently he cupped her chin in his hand and raised her head. “ Elizabeth , what we were … where we were heading just before that call … where I hope we’re still heading–that can wait a little longer.”
The deep brown eyes were steady on her and he smiled tenderly as he said, “Miz Goodweather, I want your full attention for what I have in mind.”
Elizabeth could still see his crooked smile as he had said goodbye. This man, an unwelcome stranger in her life not so long ago, had over the past year, in almost imperceptible increments, somehow become very dear to her. Almost even … necessary. The thought was disturbing and she brushed it aside. But he’s added something to my life … and he’s always been patient and kind, even in the beginning when I kept trying to ignore him.
Phillip Hawkins and her late husband Sam Goodweather had been buddies during their years in the Navy and when Hawkins, a former police detective, had moved to the Asheville area, he had tried very hard to befriend Elizabeth . She, her emotions still raw with the pain of her widowhood, had rebuffed him until the suspicious death of a neighbor had forced her to seek his help.
The more time we spent together, the better I liked him. And then this nightmare we’ve just gone through in Asheville … She shuddered at the vivid memory of a chase through dark corridors–a memory of blood and mirrors and madness.
Thank god for Phillip! A very solid bit of comfort and sanity to hang on to in a world gone askew. And if Rosie hadn’t called just when she did, I’m pretty sure he’d have still been here the next morning. I was so ready …
Impulsively, she jumped to her feet, and hurried inside to the phone. She put in his number, her thumb flying over the tiny keys. He might not have left for school yet–I think he said his first class isn’t till ten.
The line was busy. She hit redial. Still busy. Again. Busy. Maybe he’s trying to call me. Okay, Elizabeth , put the phone down. Go do the dishes and-
The shrill ring of the phone in her hand startled her and she fumbled eagerly for the on button.
“Phillip! I’ve been trying to-”
“Mum? It’s me, Rosemary. I’ve come up with a plan.”
Shit! said Elizabeth to herself. She sat down heavily on the cushioned bench. “Hey, sweetie. Okay, tell me about it.”
“All right, Mum, here’s the thing. I’ve got a few Fridays free this semester and my only Monday class is in the afternoon. So that will give me some long weekends to be there at the farm and I’m going to work through this–I have to do it if it kills me. I’ve been making a list of places to visit and people to talk to–things that will help me remember. I do have a seminar this Friday but I still want to come on and get started. If I leave right after class; I could be there in time for dinner. Then, if I leave the farm Monday morning around eight, I’ll make it back with time to spare. One thing I know I want to do eventually is to go over to Cherokee. I need to find out more about the Booger Dance.”
Elizabeth Goodweather frowned as she listened to her older daughter’s voice. The frantic whisper of the previous call was gone–Rosemary’s tone was calm and perfectly controlled–maybe a little too controlled.
“Sweetie, you know I love for you to come home whenever. We’ve hardly seen you at all since you bought your house. Laurel was complaining just the other day that it’s been months … and I’d love to go with you to Cherokee–someone was telling me recently how good the museum is–but, Rosie, did you say Booger Dance? Are you serious? What’s a Booger Dance and what does it have to do with Maythorn?”
“I’m not sure, Mum … but I think it’s important. It’s something that came to me as I was writing the story … Do you remember I went with Maythorn a few times to visit her grandmother over in Cherokee? Remember, she was called Granny Thorn and she was a full-blood Cherokee–living on the Qualla Boundary. Anyway, one of my last memories of Maythorn is her telling me how she was making a mask for a Booger Dance so she could stop being afraid of someone. I went on line and found out what I could about the dance. It all seemed really familiar … like I’d seen it. I can’t remember, maybe Maythorn’s granny took us to one that last weekend we stayed with her. Or, I don’t know–it’s vague; she may just have told us about it.
“And then … it seemed like more and more memories of those two years started coming back to me … from the first time I saw Maythorn to right before … right before she disappeared … and I remembered a bunch of things she told me. I don’t know what’s important and what isn’t but I do know I have to follow this to the end.”
Phillip Hawkins looked at the clock. This was his first semester of teaching criminal justice at AB Tech, Asheville ‘s two year community college, and he had a class at ten. There was still time. He reached for the telephone and began to punch in Elizabeth ‘s number.
No. He clicked off. What was it she said? Like a hound dog with too many pups? I need to back off–she’s got enough on her mind right now.
He stared at the telephone–still undecided. Saturday night had been the first time he’d seen her cry–Sam mentioned that about her–how she almost never cried, tried to hide it like it was a weakness.
Back in their Navy days, during those last long months before they were discharged, back when the one thing that loomed in their minds couldn’t be spoken of, he and Sam Goodweather had fought against the boredom, the danger, and the loneliness by talking about their girlfriends. Phillip had not met Elizabeth at that time–would not meet her till years later at Sam’s memorial service–but he had known from the picture Sam carried that though she was not really beautiful, her long dark brown hair and startling blue eyes compelled you to look again.
Sam had told the story over and over–how he’d gone into a used bookstore in Tampa , while home on compassionate leave, in search of something to take his mind off the past, something that might give him a new direction. He’d been browsing the cluttered backroom, along with several other customers when he spotted a lone copy of Walden , a book he’d been meaning to read for years .
“I reached for it just as this tall girl with dark hair down to there reached for it too. My hand touched hers and I swear to god, it was like a goddamn jolt of electricity. Then she looked at me with those blue eyes and that was it. I almost passed out. It was like I couldn’t get my breath.”
The tall girl had insisted that they flip a coin for the book. She had won the toss but when Sam invited her for coffee that turned into lunch and she learned that he was on his way back for his final tour of duty, she gave the book to him, first writing her name and address in it. A correspondence had ensued and a little over a year later, soon after Sam’s discharge, they had been married.
And me, I married Sandy . No electricity there. Just a pregnancy that wasn’t. A pretty, empty-headed, little cheerleader with a cute giggle … at least, it was cute for the first month or so. Hawkins glanced toward the bookshelf where he kept framed photos of his son and daughter. Still, there were some good times–and the kids–Seth and Janie–they were worth it. I don’t know, maybe if I’d had a different job, we’d still be together. Maybe.
He shrugged his shoulders and ran his hand over his shiny scalp. Nah, Sandy’s happier with her life now than she would ever have been with me. She’s got a nice tame husband who goes antiquing with her and plays bridge and crap like that.
Phillip looked again at the pictures of his children. Good kids, both of them. But they’ve got their own things going now–Seth keeps talking about bringing Caitlin to Asheville so I can meet her. And Janie-
Abruptly he picked up the telephone again and hit the familiar number. The harsh burr of the busy signal taunted him. He waited briefly and touched REDIAL. Once again the mocking busy signal rasped in his ear. Glancing at the clock, Phillip Hawkins muttered a brief imprecation, threw down the phone, and hurried out the door.
Rosemary and Maythorn
Why are you living in a barn? The solemn little girl stared down at Rosemary from the top of the granite outcropping. My mama says you’re hippies.
Eight-year-old Rosemary, climbing laboriously up the slopes of the mountain pasture, a stout hickory stick clutched in one hand, was deep in her pretend of an explorer in unknown lands. At the unexpected sound of a voice, she looked up in surprise. Two dark eyes in a dark brown face, half-obliterated by a thick shock of black bangs, regarded her steadily from the top of the big rock that she had marked as the goal of her exploration.
We are not either hippies. My grandmother says that too but we’re not! We’re the Goodweathers. And this is Full Circle Farm. My mum named it. And we’re just living in the barn till Pa and Uncle Wade can get our house built.
Rosemary pointed down the mountainside to a flat, bulldozed area where two shirtless, tanned men in work-boots, straw hats, and cut-off jeans were busy installing a window in the unfinished shell of a modest house. A tall, slender woman in a blue work shirt and faded jeans toiled up the steep road that led to the building site from the barn below. A thick braid of dark brown hair hung nearly to her waist. In one hand she carried a thermos jug while with the other she held tightly to the unwilling fist of an energetic red-headed toddler. The child broke loose and tried to outpace her mother but soon took a tumble and sat down hard on her overalled bottom. Resisting her mother’s attempts to help her up, the child staggered to her feet, and began to run again. Once again her tiny boots slipped on the gravel and the scene was repeated.
That’s my mum and my little sister. Rosemary jerked her head negligently in their direction. Her name’s Laurel . She’s only three and a half and she can be a pest.
I have a little sister named Krystalle and she’s a pest too. The dark child patted the rock beneath her in a proprietary manner. You want to come up on Froghead?
Is that its name? Rosemary scrambled up the steep slope and climbed onto the tilted surface of the big rock protruding like a granite thumb from the mountain pasture. She moved cautiously up the incline and lowered herself to lie on her belly beside the other child. Who named it?
Me. The dark girl patted the rock again as if it were a living creature beneath her. It’s one of my special places. I know all about this mountain. My mama stays so busy with Krystalle that she doesn’t care what I do. Long as I get home for supper. A lean brown arm indicated a knapsack. A pair of binoculars lay beside it. I pack my lunch and sometimes I stay out all day.
I’m Rosemary. What’s your name? Rosemary cast an admiring glance at the other child’s long straight black hair and bronze skin. You look like an Indian.
I am an Indian. My Granny Thorn’s a full-blood Cherokee and my real daddy was mostly Cherokee. My true name is Mary Thorn Blackfox but mostly everyone calls me Maythorn. My mama told them at the school that my last name is Mullins now, cause my real daddy’s dead and she’s married to Moon.
Moon? Is he an Indian too? Rosemary propped herself up to look at this interesting stranger more closely.
No, he’s just ordinary. Maythorn pulled the binoculars to her and trained them on the big pear tree near the house site. The two men, the woman, and the red-headed child were sitting on a stack of lumber in the shade of the tree while the men drank from tall glasses.
Is one of those men your daddy? Slim brown fingers fiddled with a knob, adjusting the binoculars for a closer view.
He’s the one wiping his face with a red bandanna. Now he’s tickling Laurie. His name’s Sam but I call him Pa. The other one’s Uncle Wade. He’s Pa’s brother and he’s staying here this summer to help build our house.
Hmmph. The binoculars stayed in place. I figured they were brothers–both with red hair and all. The lenses turned toward Rosemary. Do you like your uncle?
Rosemary wrinkled her brow at the glittering lenses. What do you mean? He’s my uncle! He’s really funny and nice and but he tells dumb jokes all the time. The impassive lenses continued to hold her gaze. And he’s teaching me how to play the harmonica. Why wouldn’t I like him?
Dunno. The binoculars turned back to survey the scene below. The tall woman was rising and evidently telling the little girl to come with her. The toddler shook her head violently, stamped her foot, and attached herself, limpet-like, to her uncle’s leg. The mother squatted down to look her daughter in the eye, spoke a few words, and slowly Laurel released her hold. The storm passed and the little girl grabbed the empty thermos jug, waved a cheerful goodbye to the two men, and set off pell mell down the road, the jug bumping the gravel with every step. Her mother hurried after her, pausing to look up the mountainside in Rosemary’s direction.
At once Maythorn lowered her binoculars and flattened herself against the rock. Rosemary lifted up and waved in her mother’s direction. I’m up here! It’s really cool! There’s a-
Below, Elizabeth, with one eye on Laurel who was nearing the old tobacco barn–their home for the duration–waved abstractedly at her older daughter and called out, Okay, Rosie, just don’t go any farther off. I’ll ring the bell when it’s lunch time. Be careful up there.
She turned and hurried after the fast-moving little redhead who was disappearing into the open door of the barn loft.
Mum’s got to watch Laurel all the time. There’s holes in the barn floor she could fall right through. Pa and Uncle Wade fixed a safe corner for her–kind of like a corral. There’s an old rug that covers the floor and we put her bed and all her play things in there. There’s a kind of fence around it and she’s not supposed to try to get out.
Where do you sleep? Maythorn’s binoculars moved to the barn and studied the picnic table and rocking chairs under the newly-added shed on the upper side of the barn.
We all have mattresses on the floor and sleeping bags on top of them. Except for Uncle Wade — he has his own tent in the other barn, that little one behind those trees. My special place is in the corner across from Laurel . I have a rug too and a bookshelf with my favorite books–the rest of them are in boxes down below till the house gets done. And I have a trunk for my clothes and a box for my very most important stuff. It’s really fun, like camping out except we don’t have to worry about rain. When it does rain, it sounds cool hitting the metal roof, like a million fairies tap-dancing. Sometimes I wish we could live in the barn forever. We have kerosene lamps at night and we sit outside and watch the lightning bugs. And we bathe in the branch or in a big round tub if we want hot water. It’s really fun.
Maythorn abandoned the binoculars and rolled onto her side, leaning on one elbow to study Rosemary. Do your mama and daddy yell at each other much? Mine do. I’m glad I have my own room to get away from them. I wouldn’t want to live all together like you do. That’s why my mama said you all are hippies.
No, they don’t yell at each other! Rosemary was aghast at the idea but, after brief consideration, added, Sometimes Pa yells when things mess up–like when the truck wouldn’t start yesterday. He yelled and said a lot of bad words but he wasn’t mad at any of us.
What were the bad words he said? Maythorn gazed with interest toward the house site where Sam Goodweather was hoisting another window into place.
I’m not allowed to say them. Rosemary looked prim. But I guess I could spell them for you. He said D-A-M and S-H-
The clanking of a cowbell interrupted her exposition and she jumped to her feet. I have to go now. She paused, reluctant to leave her new-found friend. You could come down and eat lunch with us. There’s plenty. I could show you my books and stuff.
Maythorn was unmoved. No, thanks, I’ve got my lunch right here. And I’ve got some other jobs before I go home, some other things I have to see about.
What do you mean? You’re just a kid–and it’s summer vacation! What do you have to see about?
Things. It’s my job. Maybe I’ll come down another day.
The cowbell sounded again, louder and longer. Sam and Wade Goodweather were under the shed now, sitting in the rocking chairs and Laurel was standing at the edge of the shed, waving the cowbell wildly from side to side.
Okay, maybe another day. See ya. Rosemary slid off the rock and started down the slope. A thought struck her and she stopped, turning to address the binoculars that were following her retreat.
Maythorn, what kind of job? What do you do?
The sun glinted on the lenses, throwing bright lances into Rosemary’s blinking eyes.
I’m a spy, said Maythorn. I find out stuff.
Lunch was on the table in the welcome shade of the new shed. Bread and cheese, cold cuts for sandwiches, crisp green lettuce and thick red slices of tomato were heaped on two old ironstone platters. Elizabeth was fixing a plate for Laurel–five carrot sticks, half a cheese sandwich with tomato, no lettuce. No mustard, mayo on the slice of bread next to the cheese, not the one next to the tomato. Perched on a thick cushion atop the bench of the picnic table, Laurel swung her legs in the air and drummed her plastic cup on the table while singing the ABC song, loudly and tunelessly.
Hey, Rosie, did you have a good adventure? I saw you up on that big rock. Her father smiled his crinkly smile at her. Better wash your hands, Punkin.
Uncle Wade’s mouth turned down in a sad expression. Uh-oh, Sam, don’t you remember? We used up all the water in the branch. Rosie’ll have to wash her hands with something else. Maybe leaves …or rocks… or …
Uncle Waa-ade, that’s silly. You couldn’t possibly use it all up! Rosemary made a face at her uncle and hurried off to the little stream where a wooden trough set over a big rock provided a steady flow of icy, clear water. A bar of soap sat on a nearby rock and a faded green towel hung from a convenient spicebush.
When she returned, her mother had already made her a sandwich–just right–with lettuce, tomato, sliced turkey and mayonnaise. She slid onto her place on the bench and the family held hands as Sam said, Let’s be thankful.