Saturday’s Surprise

Threads of Grace

     Trey pulled a box from beneath his bunk. “For two cents I’d pack up and just keep moving. Who does he think he is, giving me orders to get myself moved in with my wife?” He wadded a shirt and stuffed it in the box. “And wipe that stupid grin off your face or I’ll knock it off for you.”
     Ben plopped onto Trey’s bunk. “First of all, buddy, Covington is your boss. He don’t have to explain nothin’ more to your ugly face. And you high-tailing it out of here because you don’t like to own up to your own doings ain’t gonna hurt nobody but yourself. You don’t want to take orders? Then you shoulda never stopped here.”
     “You want to know why I stopped here?”
     “Cuz ya couldn’t bear to ride on and leave me, your best friend?” He stretched out on the bunk and put his hands behind his head. “You were broke, hungry and smelled like a goat. That’s why you stopped.”
     Trey shoved Ben’s legs aside so he’d have room to sit. ” You think if I explained things to Mr. Covington he’d let me go back where I came from and see if my girl is still waiting for me?”
     Ben’s head hit thunked against the top bunk. “What? Move over, you lunkhead. Are you tellin’ me you got some gal waiting for you somewhere and you up and married another one? What kind of snake are you anyway? Besides that, I think you’re lyin’ and so will Covington. You’re just lookin’ for a way out of the hole you done dug for yourself.”
     “I do want out, but I’m not lying.” He pulled a gold chain from around his neck and opened the round engraved locket it held. “Take a good look and listen-up. Probably should’ve told you all this the first time we bunked here.
     Ben cocked his head and grinned. “Whew, man. I sure am happy to know there’s a reason you wore that thing. I never seen a man wear a necklace before and you had me worried.” He opened the locket then gave a low whistle. “Is this your girl? Man, Trey. She’s a looker alright. But seems a but older than you”
     “That looker as you call her is my ma. She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw.”
     “SueAnna looks a whole lot like her. You notice that?”
     “Yeah, I noticed, but I wished I hadn’t. You want to hear this or not? As much as I want it to be different, I’ve not got all night. Hilda will be out here with a rolling pin if she thinks I’m dawdling.”
     Ben scooted to the head of the bed and jack-knifed his knees. “Talk away. I’m listening.”
     “When I met up with you, I’d been on the road near two years. Buried my ma one day, saddled my horse the next and never looked back.”
     “Didn’t tell your pa you was leavin’?”
     “My pa’s the reason I left. You see, I never knew him. Don’t know to this day what he looks like, his name, or anything.”
     “Flyin’ catfish, Trey. I knowed you was dumb, but this keeps gettin’ dumber.”
     “From the earliest I can remember, Ma prayed with me every night. And every night she’d ask her God to please keep Trey’s daddy safe, wherever he is.” 
     “Those last weeks she kept sending me to the porch. ‘Go look for him, son. I know he’ll come. He promised, and he’ll know I need him. Her last day, when she was in so much pain she could hardly talk, she had me pull the curtains aside…she was that sure he was coming down the lane. I told her I could see him. And she nodded, smiled and took her last breath thinking he’d kept his promise. Never saw a face change so quick. One minute she was all gray and sick, and the next it was like she was young again.” He swallowed. He hadn’t cried then and he wasn’t going to now.
     “She was talkin’ about your pa?”
      He nodded his head. “I begged her over and over to tell me his name, show me a picture, anything so I’d know him if he came. But she’d just shake her head. ‘That’s not for you to know, yet. But someday, my boy, he’ll come and tell you everything. Just promise me you won’t hate him, or me, with the telling’.”
     “He never came.”
     Trey stood and wiped his face with his hands. “He never came. I lied to her, Ben. Lied to my own dying Ma. But I vowed I’d find him one day. And for two years I rode up and down this country showing that picture to every man who’d take the time to look.” He leaned against the bunk. “The day we happened onto one another was the day I stopped looking.”
     “But none of this explains you havin’ some little gal maybe waiting on you somewhere.”
     “Ma dragged me to church every Sunday. Only thing I ever got out of it was getting to know the preacher’s daughter. Her name is Claire. She’s the only one I told I was leaving, and why. Her pa wasn’t real keen on the two of us being together. Said we were too young, and how was I going to support her. He had every argument in the world and wouldn’t believe we were in love.”
     “And you proved your love by running away. Gotta leave it to you, Trey. You give pickle barrel a whole new meaning—like you done got yourself into one.”
     He shrugged. “I know. Now Ma is gone. I have no idea who or where my pa is. Claire has probably found someone else to give her love to, and I’m married to someone I don’t know and don’t care to know.”
     “Could take you to the creek and shoot ‘ya. That’d put a whole lot of people out of their misery, and I’ll just tell God you died.”
     “You can leave God out of it. He doesn’t give a whit about me anyways. Ma always said God’s son, Jesus she called him, was her  best friend. But best friends don’t just let somebody up and die when they still have so much living to do, do they? And if he was such a good friend to her, don’t you think he would have paid a little bit of attention to me?”
     “You mad at God or your pa, Trey?”
     “Both. You don’t know what it was like. Ma wore the same dress to church every Sunday for as long as I can remember. I never owned a pair of boots that didn’t have holes in them because someone else had worn them out first. That beautiful woman you called a looker had hands raw from water and lye soap washing other people’s clothes. For what? To die before she really lived?”
     “He did, you know.”
       Trey slammed his hand against the wall. “He did what? Who’s the he in your statement.”
     “Jesus. Jesus died young, you know. Awhile ago you said somethin’ about if Jesus was such a good friend to your ma he shoulda paid attention to you. Nothin’ I say tonight is gonna change your mind because you got yourself all steamed up. It’s easier for you to blame someone. But one day—Trey, my friend—one day you’re gonna have to start growin’ up. Ain’t no better time than right now when you got a wife—”
    “Will you stop saying that? Yes, the way everyone else looks at it I do have a wife. But you and I both know she has not yet become my wife, and I have no intention of doing more than giving her my name. That’s all, you hear? So don’t expect me to go whistling off to her room with a wink. It isn’t going to happen.”
     “And how will you explain this to Covington?”
     “I’m not going to explain anything. But you mark my word, Ben Penwell. There will come a day when you wake up and I’ll be gone. Oh, I’ll leave you all a note and it’ll say ‘Gone to fetch my one true love, Claire Hudson.’ Then you can explain all you want.”
     Ben stood and clenched his fists. 
     Well, I’ve done it now. I knew the clown had a limit and I think I’ve found it. Now he’ll run to the boss, or Hilda. Right now I think I’d take my chances with Adam Covington
     “Now it’s my turn.” He pushed Trey onto the bunk. “You think you’re the only clown without a circus? This ain’t none of your business but so help me, if I hear you whine one more word I’ll kick your skinny rear clear up to your shoulder blades. So you didn’t have a Pa. So you had to wear hand-me-downs and your ma had to wash clothes. So you had to go to church. Poor little rich boy. That’s what we would’ve called you, us boys at Mrs. Conrad’s Home For Wayward Boys. Only you know why we were wayward? I’ll tell you why. Because there wasn’t a single one of us there who could ever remember a Pa, or a Ma. We ate the rich kids’ scraps and wore his ripped britches…britches with holes so big we couldn’t tell where to put our legs. And when we was sixteen we was told we’d done overstayed our welcome.”
   “I…I had no idea—”
   “You got that right. You have no idea.” He shook his fist in Trey’s face. “The day we met I had four pennies in my pocket. That was the most money that I could ever call my own, and it was left from the nickel Mrs. Conrad gave us as she pushed us out the door. I stole the horse, if you must know, and yes I smelled like a wet dog because I couldn’t even afford to spend the four cents on a bar of soap when I needed bread the more.”
     “You never had a—”
     “I don’t aim to say another word about it. But I was standin’ right beside your ugly face when you told that Preacher Bittman that you would take care of SueAnna and her sister. It ain’t none of my business what the two of you decide about being true man and wife, but I’ll hold your feet to the fire if you don’t start treatin’ her like somethin’ more than a nuisance. You think she wanted to be beholdin’ to the likes of you?”
     “But I don’t love—”
     “You love this Claire person, I suppose? Loved her so much you just up and left and never went back. You ever write to her? You ever tell her where she could find you? Onliest person you love is your poor little self.”
     “You gonna let me get a word in edgewise, you red-headed woodpecker.”
     “Not tonight I ain’t. You don’t need to pack no clothes. Right now you got more important things to do so get your sorry backside out of here and at least show up at Hilda’s table like a man. And you better have that little gal beside you.”
     Trey slammed the door behind him. Oh, he’d have the little gal beside him alright. Why, there wouldn’t be a soul who’d know theirs was a marriage in name only. He was good at pretending. Real good. 



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