"I'll tell Myrtle," I told Constance, stetting a date for the next church social.
We were wandering down Main Street with the intent of visiting the grocery store to pick up a few vegetables for our respective families when a neighbor- either Mrs. Stimson or Mrs. Carson, I haven't yet deciphered- called Constance, forcing me to continue the journey alone. I only hoped I'd remember the way.
I had only been in Grover's Corners a few months, married to my on Mr. Soames a few longer. He was a sweet man, ten years older but kindly when he wasn't holed up at the library or at some meeting in New York. He certainly wasn't Adam, but he was pleasant. I console myself to know there never will be another person quite like Adam, and content myself with Mr. Soames' finances and soft-temperament.
Now I had met Mr. Elton Soames in my hometown of Bridgewater, North Carolina, a far cry from Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, but not at all different in atmosphere. Mr. Soames was at a conventional meeting of fellow Classical Studies enthusiasts that is held every year in Bridgewater. I was helping the older ladies from Our Lady Saint Elizabeth of Eternal Sorrows with the lunches we were serving, and Mr. Soames commented on the lovely apple pie I had made, eating two whole slices, and big ones at that.
He asked me my name, and I replied "Louella James", as that was my maiden name, and he asked if I wouldn't mind eating dinner with him that night. I almost said no, but Mary Ellen Perkins, my very best friend, told me I should go.
As I was walking down Main Street, I saw a messy crop of brown curly hair scampering into Mr. Martin's Drugstore, and I could have sworn it was- but it couldn't be- he was gone. I walked as fast as custom and dress would allow, entering the drugstore and searching like a madwoman for the curly-top hair.
It was a boy about seven or eight wearing a button-down and khaki knickers with dark brown suspenders, a grey newsboy cap and satchel across his body, socks pulled up to the knee, and scuffed brown oxfords. He was sitting on the bar top stool closest to the big glass windows of the drugstore. I sat a few stools down to look at his face, entranced and unable to look away. He was pale, with freckles all over his arms and face, a large amount collecting on the bridge of his nose and red cheeks. The boy laughed at something Mr. Martin said, revealing gapped white teeth in a wide grin and making his bottle-blue eyes sparkle under long dark lashes. His ears stuck out from under his newsboy as if he were still growing into them, which at eight, he certainly was.
I had to hold my breath at the similarity, and hardly breathed until the little boy thanked Mr. Martin and hopped out the door.
"What'll it be, ma'am?" Mr. Martin asked.
"Do you know who that boy is?" I inquired.
"Well, sure. That's Crowell's boy. Joe, his name is. Got a little brother Isaiah. Everyone calls him Si though. I'm surprised you haven't seen Joe before. He's a staple 'round the neighborhood with the other boys. Sounds like next year he'll start delivering papers for the Sentinel."
I thanked him and left the shop. How had I never seen him before? That night I went to the church choir practice with all the women: Myrtle Webb, Julia Gibbs, Constance Baker- and in between alcoholic outbursts from the inebriated choir director, I asked Julia and Myrtle about the Crowell boys.
"Well, Joe, he's eight, and Isaiah's only five- he doesn't know any better. I reckon Joe'll start delivering my husband's papers next year," Myrtle said. "Almost all the boys in the town deliver the Sentinel starting at age nine."
"The poor things' his mother," Julia said. "She died giving birth to Si, so they have a tough time without a mother. I declare, Matthew has a hard time as well- Mr. Crowell, Louella."
"The man works at the Cartwright factory double shifts through the night to get by, so the boys are on their own to get to schooling and meals on time. All us women try to pitch in meals and caretaking where we can, but we all have children or our own to mind," Myrtle added.
"Say, you mentioned you had a son, said he was with his grandmother in North Carolina- you wouldn't mind pitching in with our rotation on Thursday? I declare Rebecca seems to be coming down with something and I don't want my house infecting a whole neighborhood."
The thought of spending time with Joshua- Joe Crowell was so tantalizing I agreed, and then asked what I needed to do.
"Oh, nothing much," Constance said, turning from in front of us to comment. "They love whatever you can feed 'em, and I usually ask Mr. Baker to help Joe with his schoolwork. Si is harmless, and is trying to read already, sitting with any book in his lap and blathering on as if he's reading it." She laughed.
I didn't mention Mr. Soames was out of town. Again. As usual. Not that I minded, but my arithmetic only went so far. I silently prayed the homework would be minimal.
"Ladies, are you quite finished?" Simon Stimson asked slightly irritated. "We would like to continue rehearsing if that's all right with you."
The four of us let out a similar giggle and flipped through our hymnals to find "Jesus the Good Shepherd", a song which we sang neither in tune nor in unison.
- - OT - -
I don't know why I should be nervous. They're an eight-year-old boy and a five-year-old boy. Hardly menacing. I felt my pulse rise anyway as I awaited the Crowell boys' arrival.
When they did appear on my porch, they were glistening with sweat and had stockings smeared with dirt.
"Hello ma'am," Joe said, grinning shyly at my shoes.
"Mama!" the younger boy, Si, called, wrapping his thin arms around my hips. Joe quickly detached him.
"I'm sorry ma'am. He doesn't usually do that. Si didn't know our Mother, so all he knows of her is the pictures we have, and I guess he confused you with her," Joe apologized.
"Don't worry Joe," I replied, crouching to Si's eyelevel. "Si, you may call me what you like. Joe, you too, except ma'am. It makes me feel so old."
"Yes Mama Soameths," Si said with a slight lisp. Now that I looked at him, he was almost a copy of Joe except the shock of stick straight coffee-colored hair that stuck out at odd angles from under his own newsboy cap.
"Now are you two hungry?" I asked, to which Si nodded vigorously and Joe smiled. "Food it is. I made a potato casserole and some asparagus for you boys."
"Asthparsagust!" Si exclaimed, taking off his shoes and sitting at the kitchen table. I had never seen two little boys so excited to eat green vegetables.
"Si, slow down," I admonished him. "You'll stunt your growth." Despite myself I smiled warmly as both boys stopped to grin at me before returning to eat, only slightly slower than before. When they finished Joe and Si cleared their plates to the sink, thanking me for making dinner.
I looked at the two boys, finally taking in their dirty stockings. "Joe, how's about I wash your stockings while you do your schoolwork?"
"Oh, you shouldn't bother yourself ma'am-Mrs. Soames," Joe said.
"Now, I won't hear of it," I said, insisting. "You shouldn't walk around town in dirty stockings."
So while Joe practiced his arithmetic, I got my wash bucket out in the yard to scrub down the stockings and hung them out to dry. Si came out and wandered among my garden.
"I like those plants. My favorite color isth blue. Joe says Momma used to grow Bluebellth in her garden," Si said, sitting next to my Bluebell patch.
When he looked up at me, my breath caught in my throat. He looked so like Joshua, if his hair was like Joe's chestnut curly mop. And his eyes were as big as Joshua's used to be, just like Adam's.
"Well here's a sprig for you," I heard myself say, using the scissors in my apron to cut a few blooms and pinning them to Si's shirt pocket.
"Mrs. Soames?" Joe called.
"My Da's probably heading home about now. Si and me should be getting home."
"Oaky sweetheart," I told him, taking down the stockings from their clothespins and helping Si get them back on. As we left the house, I asked Joe, " Can you help me get to your house?"
Joe nodded and scampered ahead just like I'd seen him do on Main Street the other day.
Mama, look how fast I can run! Run with me Mama! Joshua's voice echoed into my head as Joe kept running, and I only returned to reality when Si slipped his small hand into mine.
"I like it at your house, Mama Soameths," he said, smiling, breaking my heart.
Mama! Look at this stone! It's shaped like a heart, just for you!
We reached the Crowell home as Mr. Crowell reached the picket fence encircling the property.
"Daddy!" the two boys cried, running toward their father.
"Hello. I'm Louella Soames. Mrs. Webb couldn't mind the boys today, so-"
"It's so nice of you ladies to watch my boys. They're always on their own," Mr. Crowell said. "Tell them that. None of them ever manage to walk the boys home so I can thank them. Goodnight Mrs. Soames."
"Mr. Crowell, may I have the boys join me for dinner tomorrow?" I heard myself ask, as if I had no control over my voice. "It's just, the other women, they have their own children to tend to, and Mr. Soames is never home. I get lonely at my house the nights I eat by myself."
"That's mighty nice of you, Mrs. Soames. I'd be awful indebted to you," he answered, taking his worn cap from his head and bending it in his hands. "As long as the other ladies don't mind, I'm sure Joe and Si would love to. Right boys?"
"Yessir, Papa," Joe said.
"Then I will see you boys tomorrow. See to it you don't muddy up your nice stockings at school," I teased them, before setting off toward home.
Sitting on my porch that night, drinking in the last of the September sunset, I thought about Joshua. Images flowed back to me- Joshua and Adam running through the cobbled streets of Bridgewater while I screamed to Adam to be careful with him; Joshua drawing me pictures of the Sunsets and of our little family: Adam, Joshua, and me; looking at Joshua's big eyes the day he was born and naming him "Joshua Michael Evans"; the night Adam proposed and I could feel the little baby kick as I kissed him; holding Joshua's five-year-old hand as they lowered Adam into the ground at Bridgewater cemetery.
That last image made my throat catch. Adam Evans, my high school sweetheart, first husband, father of my son, and one true love. I am married to Mr. Soames now, but that is the true example of a cordial relationship as compared to the romantic chaos Adam and I shared.
And he was gone. Not even in the Grover's Hill Cemetery where I could visit daily, but deep in North Carolina with Joshua, in the homeland, with his stone reading "Adam Joshua Evans: Semper Fi".
This was before our navy adopted the phrase; Adam had always liked it, having a knack for Latin and a devotion to me and Joshua and his friends. "Semper Fi" means "Always Faithful". And he was.
I smiled to myself, thinking of my happy memories of Adam, but just as quickly as these came, the torturous ones of Joshua came as well, almost kicking me out of my chair.
I had been in the embroidery club at our church, waiting for our boys to come in from school, when Mr. Castle from the bookshop came running in. My heart dropped.
"I tried to help Louella! I really did!" He cried, breathing heavily so I almost didn't make out his words.
"It's… Joshua… Main… Street…"
I remember taking off running, praying as loud in my head as I could, hoping I would find Joshua laughing on the curb. It had only been five years since Adam's death: I couldn't take any more sadness. And yet…
I reached Main Street and pushed through the crowd.
Joshua, little ten-year-old Joshua, lay sprawled in a terrible position on the brick street. His bright blue eyes were just as vibrant, but now they were blank, staring vacantly up at the sky while blood pooled behind his cracked skull on the pavement.
The suspenders I bought him- the navy straps with brass fasteners that he admired in the Wilkins' shop for weeks- were covered in dirt and caked blood.
I screamed, falling over my baby, my Joshua. They told me the horse spooked and kicked him down, but I didn't hear them. I just held his face in my hands and cried, hot tears dripping on his face.
The church bells ringing brought me back to Grover's Corners, but I had the most frightening dreams that night.
Dreams of Joe and Si with vacant stares, locked behind barred windows. I woke up sweating swearing to always protect my boys- Joe, Si, and Joshua. Always.
(A/N): Hello. I hope you enjoyed it. Well, I hope it tugged on your hearts a little. Please read and review. :)