Sarah Jane’s former boyfriend is back in town for a visit. He just told her that her sister Rachael, missing for ten years, has been living in Los Angeles where he recently ran into her.
I drove under the speed limit all the way home, turning over in my mind everything Jesse just told me.
Living four hours away.
Never calling to talk to her dying mama or her baby son.
By the time I pulled into our tree-lined lane, I had a pretty full head of steam worked up.
I stomped up the back porch wooden stairs and flung the door open.
“Sarah Jane, do you mind?” Anna’s annoyance at my entrance was clearly heard in her voice.
“Sorry.” I closed the door with a soft click and tiptoed to the kitchen table. Only then did I notice the gleaming counters and stove. “Anna, I said I would clean up.”
“I left it until five o’clock, thinking you’d be coming right home from school to keep your promise. But then I had to do it so I could fix supper. You can clean up after we eat.” Anna in her capris and cute peasant blouse could be taken for a suburban soccer mom instead of the farm wife and mother she really was. She worked at the packing shed from before dawn until noon, when she came home and napped until two. From two to four, she cleaned house. Evenings were for homework supervision and ranch paperwork. God forbid a car would refuse to start or a flat tire would disrupt her day. I once saw her turn a recalcitrant vacuum on by staring at it. If it was as scared as I was just watching, it never had the nerve to act up again.
“Of course, I’d be happy to do all the dinner dishes.” I smiled through gritted teeth. “I’ll just go put my things away.”
“We’re ready to eat.”
“What do you want me to do, Anna? Put my stuff in my room or leave them here on a chair while we eat?”
Her lips tightened while she considered which option she could best live with while exasperating me the most.
“Fine, put them upstairs. And change out of that skirt and blouse. You’ve had kids snotting all over you all day. You’re probably a walking germ factory.”
Score one for Anna.
I climbed the stairs feeling a perverse satisfaction in letting my satchel clump alongside me. With each bounce off a riser or balcony support, a little frustration escaped and by the time I changed into my own capris and top, I felt much better.
I slipped into my usual seat at the long table just as Daddy bowed his head and reached for my hand. I felt the calluses along his thumb and the heel of his palm and felt comforted.
“Gracious God and Father, Thank you for the wind and rain and sun and pleasant weather. Thank you for this our food and that we are together.”
Amens echoed around the table from Jake, Anna, Nathan, April, and my other two brothers, Daniel and Abel. We didn’t always eat together like the Waltons. We were scattered across four farms, several hundred acres and three generations. Since Mama passed though, Anna made it a point to have the single men over for dinner several times a week.
I had wanted to talk with Nathan before I told Daddy about Rachael. But if he found out I knew and broke bread with him and didn’t tell him, he’d be angry. Very angry. And Daddy angry was enough to make even Anna scurry out of his way. He wasn’t violent or mean at all, just silent. And the angrier he was, the more comatose he became.
“I hear Jesse Hofer is back in town.” Trust Anna to bring up the subject.
Now I had no choice except to blurt it all out. “That’s why I was late. He asked me to coffee after school—I mean—” That made it sound like I was off having fun with Jesse.
“Oh, you should have said so,” Anna said. “I didn’t know you’d already called him.”
“I didn’t.” How did Anna manage to twist everything that came out of my mouth. “He invited me. He had news. About Rachael.”
Anna’s mouth froze in a round O.
Daddy stopped chewing and set down his fork.