It’s back! I’m finally writing fiction again and here’s the next installment of Sarah Jane Richter and her family.
Previously: Sarah Jane blurted out at the dinner table that Jesse, her former boyfriend who moved away seven years ago, gave her news about Rachael, Sarah Jane’s long missing older sister.
The Band Box Hat
Daddy swallowed then took a long gulp of his milk. After setting down the glass, he looked at me, lips thin as a new peach tree scion.
“I don’t believe I know anyone by that name, Sarah Jane. And you don’t either.”
“Dad! Come on—” Nathan started to protest.
Dad shoved away from the table and stood. “Anna, thank you for a delicious dinner. Next time, I hope the conversation is more suitable.” He strode out on long legs and a stiff back.
Everyone around the table exhaled, even April.
“What did he say?” Nathan asked, leaning on the table.
“That she’s been in Pasadena and afraid to call or come home.”
Now it was Nathan’s turn to stand. “In L.A.? Four hours away?”
I nodded. “I know.”
“April, run upstairs and start your homework,” Anna said.
“But, Momma, I—” April gave a token protest, but even she must have sensed the tension around the table because she grabbed her piece of corn bread and headed down the hallway.
I looked around the table at my brothers. Hard workers, all. Kind. Men of few words, too, except for Nathan. Abel and Daniel had returned to their meals and were already piling their forks and knives on their plates. They disappeared into the kitchen and a moment later the back door slammed. They were the two middle boys, the ones who learned to keep their heads down and their ears open and to stay out of trouble. As adults, this meant they avoided any and all signs of drama.
“Did Jesse say anything about Peter and the baby?” Anna asked.
“The ‘baby’ is ten years old now,” I said. “And he has a name.”
Anna’s nose grew white and pinched. “Did Jesse say if Rachael has been in contact with Peter and if she’s seen her son any time in the last decade?”
“I didn’t give him a chance to tell me much else.” I rubbed a crumb of corn bread between my finger and thumb, spreading a fine yellow sand across my plate.
Nathan pulled his cell phone from his belt holster and pressed a few buttons before speaking into it. “Hello, Ethan, it’s Nathan Richter. I understand Jesse is in town. May I speak with him? … I see … Thanks.” He flipped close his phone and stood. “Apparently, Jesse is on his way here.”
Anna popped out of her chair. “Sarah Jane, help me clear this and get the dessert plates out. Good thing I made a cobbler this afternoon.”
I complied with my hands while my mind wandered back to my first glimpse of Jesse yesterday. And the woman with him … it couldn’t be Rachael. Could it? No. Even though I hadn’t seen my sister in ten years, surely I would have recognized her.
In the kitchen, I set the cleared plates on the counter while Anna fussed over her dessert. “I don’t have time to whip any cream so we’ll have to use vanilla ice-cream as a topping. Will you run to the freezer, Sarah Jane?”
I rinsed the forks and dropped them into the silverware caddy in the dishwasher with a clatter. “Sure.”
Once in the basement, I paused in front of the old chest. My parents bought it when Jake was born and it had been chugging away in this very spot ever since. We were afraid to unplug it for fear it would never start again. The lid felt pebbly under my hand. I tugged it upward until the rubber seal finally released with a resigned sigh.
Freezer jam, butcher-paper blocks of ground beef and steaks, along with some frozen pizzas filled the interior. Ice-cream, in perfect rectangular half-gallon blocks, had always ruled the front right corner for easy access. Now that ice-cream came in ovoid-shapes and cylinders rather than easily stacked blocks, the containers were often plunked in and the next hungry person had to hunt and pick through the meat and jam.
This time though, the vanilla was right on top. Anna must have been the one to return it because it sat in its assigned corner.
“I don’t care! I don’t want her in this house. It’s mine now.” Anna’s voice reached me and I cocked my head. It sounded like she was standing next to me, but would have heard her footsteps behind me if she’d followed me down.
A low murmur sounded.
“She didn’t even come see your dying mother. How can you defend her?”
Oh, yes, the heater grates. From before the days of central air and heat. I edged closer so I could hear better.
“We’ll wait to hear what she has to say before we make any decisions.”
“Jake, she abandoned her husband and her child. We can’t fellowship with her.”
“Letting her come into her childhood home is hardly fellowshipping with her.”
“It’s not exactly shunning her, either.”
Jake gave a soft chuckle. “Anna, sweetheart, we haven’t shunned anyone in years.”
“Is that because no one deserved it or the church here doesn’t have the guts?”
Jake drew a sharp breath.
I grabbed the ice-cream and raced back up the stairs.