Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Poplar Mountain by Dellani Oakes Part 7


Will and Patty were getting cozy when the fire alarm went off. The school's barn was on fire. The four of them help put it out. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt or killed.

The county sheriff showed up to make sure no one got hurt in the fire. The fire chief from Harlan came out next. After an inspection, he took the sheriff and Mr. Bertram aside. A few minutes later, the three men came over to where Will and Lucius were standing. The young men had their arms around Dollie and her sister, watching the debris for hot spots.
"You the Henry boys?" The fire chief asked.
"Yes, sir," Will replied. "I'm Willem, this here's Lucius."
"Boys, the men up here have reason to believe it was your pa as set it."
Will and Lucius stared at him, then at one another.
"Pa was pretty riled about something. Never did cotton as to what set him off. He was yelling at us," Lucius replied.
"Be fair," Will said. "He was yelling at me. He thinks I betrayed him by moving to town. I couldn't live out my life on the farm. He needed fewer mouths to feed and I needed more than raising chickens and milking cows. I gave my brother the option of joining me soon. Pa musta heard about it."
"Not from me," Lucius assured him.
"Ma prolly told him," Will replied, ignoring the other men completely.
The brothers nodded, silently concurring. The three older men glanced at one another. Mr. Bertram stepped forward.
"I hate to ask.... But what were you boys doing just before you came down here?"
Will's arms tightened around Patty. Blushing, she hid her face in his chest.
"We helped clean up after the party and saw the girls home," Lucius replied, his ears burning.
Mr. Bertram and the other men, who'd had their share of after party encounters, didn't press for details. It was pretty obvious they'd had nothing to do with the fire.
"Pa ain't right," Will explained. "He got the shell shock in the War. Mr. Bertram, you know that. He drinks, you know that, too. When he gets riled, he might crack some heads, but he ain't one for setting a fire. Truth be told, he don't like fire much. And if he's got a grudge, it ain't against the school, but me. If he set fire to anything, might be my drawers, but ain't gonna be the school. He and his daddy helped build this place."
"The boy's got a point, Edward," Mr. Bertram said to the sheriff. "Earl's got a destructive streak, but it's pretty self-directed. I can't really see him doing this either."
"Did y'all see anything at all?" Sheriff Squires asked them.
"We was kinda occupied," Lucius said quietly. Hands shoved in his pockets, he met the sheriff's eye defiantly.
"Reckon I know," the older man said quietly. He hadn't missed the traces of lipstick on Will and Lucius. He leaned toward them, speaking quietly. "Y'all don't do nothing you'll be shamed of later."
"No, sir," Will replied rapidly.
"I'm done here," Sheriff Squires said loudly. "You coming, Nolan?" he asked the fire chief.
"In a bit. Me and the boys are gonna watch for hot spots. Reckon I'll be back later. Run by, tell my wife?"
"Will do." The sheriff tipped his hat. "Ladies."
"We'll see y'all home and go up to check on Pa," Will said as he opened the truck door.
The four of them squeezed into the front seat and drove in silence back to the girls' dorm.
"Y'all ain't misbehavin'?" Will raised an eyebrow at is brother.
"Fine one to talk," Lucius said, wiping lipstick off his brother's cheek.
Will did the same, holding up his thumb for his brother to see. Both men looked away. Concentrating on the narrow track that passed for a road, Wil said nothing more.
"Y'all don't want a shotgun wedding," Lucius said quietly.
"Like you'd know."
"Done my share," Lucius said defensively. "How you gonna feel if you have to tell Mama you got Patty in the family way? She'd have your hide. And her parents?" He made a disgusted noise. "Be lucky their daddy didn't skin you and cut off your...."
"Enough! Like to see your self-control later on. Before you lecture me, remember Betty Mae."
Lucius hunched down, leaning against the door. He stared out the window, ignoring the others.
"Who's Betty Mae?" Patty asked the question that Dollie wanted to.
"Never you mind," Lucius snapped. "Will spoke outta turn."
"She's the girl he almost married couple years back just 'fore y'all got here."
"Willem!" Lucius' eyes blazed dangerously.
"They got a right to know. Patty's almost family."
"But Dollie isn't."
"She's got a right to know," Will maintained.
"And I'd have told her in my own time," Lucius growled. "Do I tell your secrets?"
"Why didn't you marry her?" Dollie asked.
The truck stopped in front of their apartment. Lucius jerked the door open and ran off into the night. Dollie wanted to follow, but the dark closed around them, scaring her.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes


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