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“Well, look who’s here!” Josiah Jackson called out from his seat on his father’s porch swing.
Abigail pressed her sweaty palms against her blue jeans, and called back, “Where is everybody?”
Josiah spit a stream of dark liquid into an empty Mountain Dew bottle before answering, “Dad’s out back cleaning fish, Mama’s gone to the grocery store, and Carter’s in the crapper.”
Abigail rolled her eyes. “I need to talk to the two of you. You and Carter, I mean.”
“Talk to me about what?” The screen door of the house opened and then banged shut, as Abigail and Josiah’s younger brother joined them on the porch. Without waiting for the answer to his first question, he asked, “Where’s the young’ns?”
“They’re at home with their daddy,” Abigail answered. “He doesn’t know I’m here.”
“Uh oh.” Josiah grinned, showing a row of crooked teeth on the bottom, in stark contrast to the perfectly straight teeth on top. He had flecks of Skoal stuck in them. “What’s he done? You ain’t leavin’ him are you?”
“No, I’m not leaving him.” Abigail was already irritated with her brothers. It usually took longer than five minutes for them to get her going, but she was well on her way. “And I’m not in the mood for jokes. This is serious.”
Carter sat down on the other end of the porch swing, and Josiah spat into his bottle again. Abigail sighed, and sat across from them in an old rocking chair. It had been on her parents’ front porch since she still lived at home. She ran her hands across the arms of the chair. They were worn smooth.
While Abigail collected her thoughts, she studied a spider web attached to the porch posts. Her brothers sat on the swing, pushing it slightly with their mud-encrusted work boots. At twenty-seven and twenty-five years old, her brothers had both moved out, but they spent most of their waking hours at their parent’s home, working the family farm with their dad. Josiah was long and lean like their dad, but he had his mother’s red hair. Carter was short and stocky like his mother’s family, but had his dad’s brown hair. They didn’t look alike, but their attitudes and mannerisms were identical.
“Well, spit it out,” Carter prompted his sister.
Abigail sighed. “I have a problem, and I need you guys to take care of it for me.”
“I never hit a preacher before.” Josiah laughed, and winked at his brother.
“I’ve wanted to a time or two, though,” Carter replied.
“Shut up.” Abigail snapped at them. “I told you I wasn’t in the mood for jokes. And this isn’t about Jonathan.” She paused and then added, “Well, not really.”
Josiah’s eyes narrowed as he watched his sister. He hooked his index finger in his mouth, raked a wet lump of tobacco out of his bottom lip, and flung it into the yard. A chicken quickly ran to examine it. Abigail’s stomach turned at the sight.
“What’s wrong?” Josiah’s voice had changed, losing the jovial quality it almost always had.
Abigail took a deep breath, and said, “Somebody’s hurt your niece.”
The movement of the swing stopped as both men leaned forward. “Who did?” Carter demanded.
Abigail recounted the story to them. As soon as she finished explaining what happened, Josiah quietly asked, “And what’s her daddy going to do about it?”
“That’s why I’m here.” Abigail lifted her chin. “Jonathan doesn’t want to go to the police. He just wants to go talk to the Bates’ and tell them Nathan has to stay away from us and the church or we will call the police.”
Carter snorted in derision, and Josiah asked, “That asshole touched his daughter and he’s just going to let him get away with it?”
Abigail’s shoulders slumped as she said, “It looks like it. He’s torn. He wants him to be punished, but he doesn’t want people spreading rumors about Emma.”
“Torn, my ass!” Josiah’s fists were balled on his thighs. “What do you want us to do, Abby?”
“I want you to take care of it for me.” Abigail’s voice was steady for the first time since she arrived. “Make sure he regrets ever laying eyes on my daughter, and make sure no one in Little River ever lays eyes on him again.”
* * * *
“Mama?” Jacob poked his head into the family room where Abigail was sewing a patch on Luke’s Boy Scout uniform.
Abigail looked up at her youngest son and smiled. “Yes?”
“Daddy wants you.” The little boy grinned.
“What?” Abigail prompted him.
“What what?” Jacob’s grin broadened.
“What are you grinning about?” Abigail cocked her head to the side. “What do you want?”
“Can I have an ice cream sandwich?” Jacob’s hopeful eyes sparkled.
“I knew you wanted something!” Abigail grabbed her son and tickled him.
“Stop!” he squealed.
“You can have an ice cream if you pay for it.”
“Mama!” Jacob protested.
Abigail offered her cheek, and said, “Pay up, or no ice cream.”
“Fine!” Jacob giggled, and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Now can I have one?”
“Sure.” Abigail smacked his skinny butt, and headed down the hall toward her bedroom to find her husband.
When she walked in the room, Jonathan was sitting in his desk chair, facing away from the desk. His phone was rested on his thigh.
“Jacob said you wanted me.” Abigail sat on the edge of their bed.
“Kevin Bates just called me.” Jonathan’s voice was strained.
“What did he have to say?”
“Apparently, Nathan Bates was attacked last night.”
“Abby!” Jonathan heaved a deep, shuddering sigh. He raked his hand through his hair.
“Well, what did he say?”
“He said Nathan was jogging along the highway down past their house and two guys jumped him from behind and drug him into the woods. Beat him up pretty bad.”
“Sounds like Karma.”
“Really, Abigail? Karma?”
“Fine.” She shrugged. “The wrath of God, then.”
Jonathan looked at his wife for a moment, then sighed, and said in a soft voice, “Maybe.”
“He know who did it?”
“No.” Jonathan shook his head. “He’s not said much. They broke his jaw. It’s wired shut. He wrote a statement for the police. Kevin said he told them he got jumped from behind, they put a bag over his head, and beat the crap out of him with something. Maybe a baseball bat.”
“That’s all he said?” Abigail prodded.
Jonathan nodded. “Kevin said it was weird. He acted like there was stuff he just wasn’t saying. Kevin did say as soon as Nathan gets released from the hospital he wants to go back to Chicago where their parents are.” He lifted his eyes to Abigail’s, and said, “So I guess that solves our problem.”
Abigail nodded. “Yeah. I guess it does.”
©2015 Rachel Holbrook
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, and various other literary journals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.