Hi everyone! This is a rewrite of a story I did a while ago. It needed a major do-over! I hope you all like it, and if you've read it before, please stick around. Some things are changed up. Thanks!
This was her favorite time of day. The sun just cracking the surface of the horizon shining its orangey-yellow rays across the land, filtering through the trees. Birds and squirrels waking for the day interrupting the silence with their chirps and chatter. Drips of the morning dew hit the leaves with a dull plopping noise. She filled her horse's water bucket with fresh water then leaned on the fence railing reaching a hand out to the mare, an Appaloosa named Lakota. Her brown coat was spotted with white on her hind quarters. Smaller in size, at only 14 hands, she was gentle in manner and was kind in disposition. Her eyes, almost human-like, seemed to have the ability to reach through to your soul and read your thoughts.
Beth adopted her from a rodeo after she had served their purpose and no longer could jump and run like she did in her younger days. She was happy to give her a home where she could spend the rest of her life in peace, not having to perform. They bonded quickly and solidly. Beth needed Lakota as much as she needed Beth.
"Whatdya' think, Lakota? Gonna' be another beautiful day?" Beth scratched her forehead, the horse closing her eyes. "That feel good, girl?"
Lakota shook her head and neighed.
Besides Lakota she owned a handful chickens, a small herd of goats, two sheep, one milker cow, which added a surprise calf to the mix a few weeks ago, as well as various stray dogs and a numerous barn cats that came and went as they pleased. Beth was a sucker for all things needing a home. She gave Lakota one last scratch and then went on to finish the rest of her morning chores. She plugged in her ear buds of her iPhone, turned the music up to just below deafening and got to work. Some days she preferred the quietness of the natural sounds mother nature had to offer, others she craved rock. Loud and hard. Today was one of those days. It somewhat helped to drown out the questions and uneasiness that often swirled around in her mind.
It was well past noon when she was finally finished feeding all the animals, mucking out the stalls, laying fresh hey, gathering eggs, and weeding and watering the garden. Her arms ached, her boots were dirty. Never one to shirk hard work, she loved it. This was her life.
Starving, having skipped breakfast like she normally did, she headed back to the house for lunch. The house was beautiful, even in its varying degrees of needed repair. It was the house she grew up in and inherited when her daddy died five years ago when she was all but twenty-one years old. It was a spacious old farm house. Smaller kitchen, as was the style when it was built a hundred or so years ago. A large family room. A formal living room. Four bedrooms, two baths that were added in the mid-seventies, and absolutely no closet space. That didn't bother Beth any, she didn't have much stuff to store. The house was miles and miles from the nearest town and that suited her fine as well. The less people she had to deal with, the better. Running a farm and basic upkeep of an old house wasn't an easy way to live, but Beth, ever her father's daughter, never shied away from a challenge.
The house breathed Beth in and exhaled her father. Her daddy was embedded everywhere she turned. He was in the hardwood floor, he was in the twenty year old sofa, he was there in every nook and crany. At first, she wasn't sure she would be able to live here. Out in the country, all alone. When she first moved in, everywhere she turned a memory would spike in her brain, making tears come to her eyes. The pain had dulled over the last five years, but every once in awhile a memory would flash in her mind, stabbing in her chest.
When their father died, Maggie, her sister, while having a soft spot for the land had no desire to take it on. That left the final decision up to Beth. The option of selling it brought up more turmoil than the memories did, so she decided to keep it. To make it work.
Beth sold her little apartment she had in the city, left her job as an administrative assistant, which she hated anyway, and moved back home. She also left behind Jimmy, her husband. He refused to go with her, calling her crazy and an assortment of all kinds of not so nice names. If she was being honest with herself she needed to walk away from that relationship anyway. Start fresh. Her heart no longer was with Jimmy or his with hers, or in their life she was trying so desperately to rebuild.
It wasn't easy, sometimes things just happened in life that you couldn't get over...or had no idea how to get over. Maybe being back on the farm would fix her? Packed with that hope, and her very few belongings, she moved out the farm and never looked back. She knew it wouldn't be easy, and it wasn't. The nights could be lonely and the days long. It wasn't too long before her heart began to mend a tiny bit. Of all the things wrong with this world, wrong with her life, one thing she knew for certain was this was where she belonged.
Self sufficiency was key. Living simply, not buying something new when the old could be fixed, bartering when something needed repairing beyond her know-how, trading stock or goods, selling her homemade goat milk soap, as well as other all-natural items at the local grocery store in town. Hunting, fishing, canning; that's how she got by. Just like her daddy taught her. Even though, people looked at her like she was a crazy woman when she did make it town, she wouldn't have it any other way. It wasn't an easy life, but as her father used to say nothing worth having comes easy. And this life was not easy, but she knew it was definitely worth having.
With chores done for the morning, she sat on her porch, leaning back in an Adirondack rocking chair, eating a lunch of a pickle, that she canned herself, and a piece of bread with butter, both of which she made. Her trusty wolf-dog, Echo, snoozed on the floor next to her. Like all her other animals, Echo needed a home. She was a pup of about six months, already weighing sixty pounds at the time Beth first met her. Her owner couldn't deal with his rambunctious puppy behavior. He'd said the puppy was too wild to tame. Much to Beth's horror, he was going to put the dog down. Beth correctly thought that it had more to do with the human's innateness, rather than the dogs. So, she brought her home and Echo became Beth's trusty companion. All 110 pounds of her.
Taking a deep breath, looking out over her land, rolling fields of greenery. Mostly hay, but some sorghum as well as a considerable vegetable garden. The large oak trees that dotted the yard offered shade from the relentless Georgia heat, and also offered the privacy she craved.
Knowing if she sat idle for much longer she would doze off right there on the porch, as welcoming as that sounded, she went to the barn and saddled up Lakota and go for a ride.
. . .
Winding through her property there were trails beaten down enough to fit herself and Lakota weaving in and out of the trees, going back to the river bottom that was where her property line ended and her neighbors began. Having no idea of his real age, Old man Dale Horvath seemed to be 100 when Beth was two. To this day, though, he was as sharp as a tack as he rattled around his property. He kept mostly to himself, as she did, the way they both preferred it.
Slowly, Beth and Lakota, followed by Echo, meandered over to the worn wooden foot bridge arched over the skinniest portion of the river. She often fished or just sat here, listening to the water trickle over the rocks running down its path and through the land of her father's. Enjoying the solitude of her life.
Here, she dismounted Lakota and let her wander down to the water to get a nice cold drink.
Echo took off finding some game to chasse after while Beth sat down on the bridge, her feet dangling over the edge. The sounds of the forest drifted over her much like the water did in the creek bed below. Closing her eyes, she remembered being little and doing this same exact thing. For hours she would roam these woods, anything to avoid home and her parents' tumultuous relationship. Hearing their constant bickering cut Beth deep down in her gut. To this day, the thought made her stomach turn with anxiety. When they weren't arguing there was a strain so thick in the air you could almost see it. They fought about how unhappy her mother, Annette, was living isolated out in the country and about how stubborn her father, Hershel, was in his unwillingness to move. They fought because her father drank too much. They fought because they were always hurting for money. Fight, fight, fight. Beth could almost hear their voices turned up in anger to this day. The strain of her mother's screeching and the quietness her father's' voice would take when he became livid and defensive. Beth and Maggie would turn to the woods to escape the unbalanced place they called home.
Her parents were always angry at one another, but some days were better than others. Some days they wouldn't speak to each other at all and on those days the silence was deafening. There was no doubt in her mind that her parents loved her and Maggie. For all their faults they were good parents, and she would always be her daddy's girl. They were human, after all. And human's often erred in life. Beth squeezed her eyes closed in effort to shut out the bad memories. This was not how she wanted to remember her parents. Her mother always angry, he father always trying to drink his problems away. She struggled to remember her father for the man he could have been, the man he was when he wasn't drinking. The man he became late in life.
After their mother left, taking Maggie and Beth with her, Hershel got his act together so to speak. Drank less, talked more. He lived for this land and for Beth and Maggie when they came to visit. The carefree summers Beth spent there were the best memories of her life. She tried to remember those times the most.
And she wanted to remember her mother…well, she just wanted to remember her mother for the times she would let the anger go, if only for a moment, allowing the unconditional love she felt for her daughters to shine through. She knew her mother cared and loved her, more than life itself, but Annette could no longer stay on the farm. Even after she had had enough and left, moving into her own place in town, she was still angry and bitter. Annette felt her life was half wasted. She died young, yet old, just five years later.
Shaking her head, trying to rid herself of the downhearted mood that was threatening to overtake her, she stood and pulling Lakota along the trail by her reins, giving a sharp whistle for Echo, she took the long walk home slowly. Methodically, noticing the slight change of the trees took. She became aware of the number of acorns that were already beginning to fall for the squirrels and other forest creatures to collect for the coming winter. Soon Lakota and other animals would begin to grow their winter coats as well.
Life went on, time passed.
Her thoughts wandered back to Maggie and she couldn't remember the last time they spoke, so she decided to call her when she got home. She missed her sister. She never saw her enough with Beth being out on the farm, rarely coming to town and Maggie, being busy with her own life and work, was unable to come out to the farm very often. She relished their phone conversations. Speaking of nothing important, just of the happenings of their lives, mostly Maggie's, as it was more interesting than her own. She doubted Maggie wanted to hear about the new calf that was born late in the spring. Or about the dewormer she had to administer the goats. The thought of talking with Maggie made her mood brighten. Maybe it was time for a trip to town to visit her sister after all.
Rounding the house, after removing Lakota's saddle and brushing her down, giving her some fresh water and a snack, Echo became stiff, her hair standing on end in a mohawk down his spine. A growl vibrated low in her chest.
There in the driveway, parked awkwardly a few feet back from the house, like it was scared it might catch dirt, sat a brand new Cadillac Escalade, making her beat up old Scout International look sorrier than it already did. Beth was almost sure the Escalades owner bought it just to trudge out to the farm on his bi-monthly visits to harass her.
"Easy, girl." Beth whispered to Echo. She relaxed only marginally, walking along her mistress's side.
And there was her visitor, sitting on the edge of the adirondack chair, her adirondack chair, trying his best not to wrinkle his black pinstripe suit. His dark hair, with a perfect speckling of silver at his temples, was slicked back with so much product it looked almost crunchy. Beth had the overwhelming urge to mess it up with her fingers.
He stood when she came into his line of vision. "Ms. Greene." The way he spoke her name, pronouncing Ms. like Mzzz irritated her like nails on a chalkboard.
Placing her hand on Echo's head, she nodded, walking past him, "Phil."
He eyed Echo uneasily. "That dog gets bigger everytime I come out here."
Philip Blake, who hated to be called Phil, was slowly buying up the land surrounding hers. He was dying to get his hands on the farm, and she would never, as long as she lived, let that happen. Beth was unsure why he wanted her property and really didn't care. She guessed he wanted to build some fancy country club or something equally obnoxious. Bottom line, it was a scheme to make him richer than he already was, no doubt, and Beth had no desire to help him in that conquest. He was also, apparently, scared of dogs.
Still, he insisted on coming out, twice a month, each time upping the ante and the price he was willing to pay. With each visit his frustration grew. Today, though, instead of just Philip, he had another man with him. Standing a few feet behind and to the left of him, legs spread, hands crossed behind his back in an at ease position. His red hair cut close to his head, his mustache handlebaring around his mouth to his chin. He wore black slacks and a black t-shirt, the material stretched precariously over his biceps and abs.
"Is he your heavy?" She asked, inclining her head to his body guard. Walking past the two men, she instructed Echo to stay on the porch. And he did. Four legs locked and ready to pounce at any sign of distress from Beth. Keeping an eye on the man in black, as well as an ear out for Beth, as she walked through the porch door and into the kitchen.
Carrying a small briefcase, Philip ignored her comment insinuating he needed protection from her, and giving the dog plenty of room, he followed her into the house, the man staying near the door on the porch.
Without preamble he began his speech. "Now, what we are willing to do for you..."
Beth snorted, taking a glass from the cupboard, filling it with water from the tap. "Do for me? The way I see it, I'd be doin' this for you."
"True, but I think you would be more than pleased at the price point we have set for you…"
Beth held up her hand as she took another drink. "Save your breath. My mind ain't changed since your last visit."
"If you would only look at the figures…I can tell you we are offering you way more than this property, this old house," he spoke with disdain and gestured to the room in general, "is worth."
Beth could guess what he was offering and she knew it was a considerable amount less than what the land was worth. The house itself wasn't worth much, but it held more sentimental value than any dollar amount could match.
"How much longer can you keep your head above water, Ms. Greene? I've been doing some checking into your finances. Not to mention, the roof needs replacing, the barn needs repairing. Every time I come here there are more animals…"
Beth interrupted his speech that he pretty much repeated verdarium with each visit. "Are you that dense or just really stupid? I'm. Not. Selling. My. Land." She spoke slowly, enunciating each word.
She could see his frustration growing. "If you don't see what I am offering you here...if you won't listen to reason." His voice trialed off as he moseyed over to where she stood at the sink. "It must be lonely, living out here all by yourself. Your nearest neighbor is, what? Ten miles away?"
"Fifteen, actually," she corrected him, unpulsed.
"It'd be a shame if something happened to you out here. No one to help. No one to hear." He moved closer, too close for Beth's comfort, his cologne burning her nostrils. His eyes moving from her face to the man that stood on the other side of her screen door.
Beth didn't like feeling trapped, but she casually leaned on the counter, legs kicked out, arms crossed with the glass in her right hand. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, her jeans were worn and dusty, as were her ancient work boots. Her t-shirt, older than she cared to admit, hugged her body. She paid little attention to how tightly it did fit until this moment, when Philip took a step even closer.
"Is that a threat?" She asked, not easily intimidated. She, however, she didn't care for where this conversation was heading.
"No. Just educating you a bit. My patience with you, little girl, is wearing thin." He raised his hand then dragged his perfectly manicured fingernail lightly down her cheek. "It's just not safe for a woman to be out here, miles from town. All by herself. What if something happened to you? An accident of some sort."
She stood to her full height, hating that it was still a foot below his, facing him head on. "In case you haven't noticed I don't frighten easily. And, I don't back down on what's rightfully mine."
"And I always", he repeated for emphasis, "Always. Get what I want. All women, can usually be persuaded to do what they should." He looked at her from head to toe, making Beth's stomach quiver with nausea. She felt physically ill at the thought of his hands touching her.
Setting her glass aside on the counter, she spoke calmly, with sure-minded authority, "I'm going to say this real slowly, 'cause you seem a little thick in the skull: I ain't selling. So you and your hired heavy over there," she pointed her thumb over her shoulder at the man in black, "can head back to town in that eighty thousand dollar car of yours and fuck off."
Beth saw him flinch, just ever so slightly, at her words. She turned on her heal, yanked the screen door open, and exited, effectively dismissing him and his man.
Moments later, from where she and Echo stood at the cow pen, Beth saw the Escalade slowly drive back down the driveway. Philip sat in the passenger seat and blew her a kiss, to which she smiled and showed him her middle finger.
. . .
"Thatta' girl." The man whispered under his breath when the blonde woman flipped the bird to the guy in the fancy car. He was shadowed by the overgrown brush behind the cow pasture. And he watched. He had seen when the Escalade pulled down the long dirt drive. Watched as the woman walked that mare and the dog, that was the size of a small horse, into the barn. Watched as she came back, only hesitating a moment when she saw the Escalade parked next to her vehicle. Moving along the brush, staying undetected, he watched as they went inside the house, leaving the ex-military (yes, it was that obvious to him) on the deck. A few moments later the woman came back out, ignoring the man in black, whistled to the dog, she marched back to the barn. Then, the man came out, and he and the second man went back to the car.
. . .
Angry at the situation, but more angry at how unnerved Phillip's little visit left her, she stomped back to the house and went directly to her bedroom. Reaching under the old mattress, she blindly felt around until her fingers came into contact with the cold steel of her Glock 20 10mm.
In the back of the underwear drawer of her dresser she found the fifteen round clip. Locking the clip into place, she set the safety on. In her closet, she retrieved her dad's leather belt and gun holster. It was engraved with swirls surrounding the letter G. The smell of leather made her heart ache for her father. For his sound advice and for the reassurance he always personified, even when he was drunk.
Years ago she added extra holes to the belt to fit her small waist. She fit the leather strap through the belt loops of her jeans, ran the holster through the belt and then ran the belt through the remaining two belt loops so that the holster sat at her right hip. She clasped the silver belt buckle, and lastly put the gun in the holster.
She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror above the dresser. The backing was beginning to separate from the mirror, turning it black and grey in the corners. In contrast her skin was pale, her eyes large. Determined. She reminded herself that she was in charge of her future, and no one else. Definitely not Philip Blake.