Photo of Rosedown Plantation. Located in St. Francisville La. Built in 1835
Cindy graduated college and had a good paying job as a CPA when she married Bubba. She worked until their first daughter was born. Her plan was to go back to her office after six months off with the baby. When the time came, Bubba demanded she stay home to raise children. At first she stood her ground. They needed her income. They had dreams to add on to the old farm house Bubba’s father gave them. He wanted a big den with a large wood burning fireplace. She wanted a new kitchen and laundry room. It became clear he wanted to control her and was jealous of her as well. He sold her car saying they needed a new tractor but she knew it was because of his need to control her. Every time she left the house, he was beside her. She could not shop for groceries without him hovering next to her. When the second daughter arrived, he was angry and remained that way. He wanted a boy to carry on his name. He wanted a son he could coach and teach to become a man, like him. He loved his daughters but not as much as he would have a son. He was always angry and his drinking got worse.
Most mornings he was hungover and slept until noon. He neglected his cattle. They lost cows and calves on a regular basis. The farm was slowly slipping into disrepair and Bubba did not seem to care. His inheritance was gone, spent on elaborate hunting and fishing trips. He had been arrested at beer joints for fighting in recent years. His temper flashed without warning. Several times Cindy knew he came close to hitting her. She would cower and hold her babies to give him space in order to keep them together.
L.L. Jackson rolled up to the old farm house and got out of her car. Cindy met her at the front with an expression of fear and confusion as she took L.L.’s hand.
“What happened this time?”
“D.W.I., battery on an officer and resisting arrest,” Jackson said. “May I come in and visit with you? I want to talk to you about all of this.”
Cindy was trembling as she turned and opened the screen door. They went to the kitchen table and Cindy turned on the burner beneath the pot of cold coffee.
Jackson looked at her and realized she was every bit as lovely as she had always been. “You are so lovely, Cindy, but you are too thin. You need at least 10 pounds back on you.” With her back to L.L., Cindy placed both hands on the corners of the stove and dropped her head. Her shoulders began to shake as she silently began to cry. L.L. wrapped her strong arms around her within a second. Cindy turned and the two women, who had been best friends for life until Bubba came along, held one another. Cindy cried in her arms. They sat, drank coffee and talked about Bubba and what Cindy needed to do. L.L. explained Bubba would likely have to put up the farm to meet his bail. He would need a lawyer but still be convicted of the three charges. Bubba would spend at least one year in prison this time, based on the charges and his criminal history.
“Why don’t you move to town with your sister for a while, Cindy? Sally is single and lives in her apartment alone. She has a great job and room for you and your daughters. You need transportation and Bubba’s truck is at the impound lot.”
“I have thought about it so many times over the years. I’m afraid of what Bubba might do when he finds out. I can’t take any more of this, L.L. It’s killing me. My babies know how bad he is. I need to get them away from him.”
“I’m off tomorrow. Start packing your things tonight. I will bring my truck and boxes at six in the morning. Call Sally tonight and tell her we will be there by noon. You need anything from the store tonight?”
“No, we’re fine for now. I know we are late on our electric bill. I don’t think they will cut if off knowing I have two small girls and a husband locked up in jail.”
“You have my cell number. Call if you need anything or just to talk.” They stood and hugged once more before L.L. walked to her unit.
She cursed Bubba under her breath. It had been three years since she and Cindy had been able to see one another. She promised herself he would spend a year or more in jail for all the misery he caused. Her charges on him were just the vehicle to get him out of Cindy’s life.
He eased in the cool water with a bar of Ivory soap in one hand and a disposable razor in the other. He sat in the clear, shallow water on the sand bar where he learned to swim. He thought back to the years his family spent Saturdays swimming and cooking here. He thought of the parties he and his brother hosted the summer he finished high school and during college breaks. They had campfires with hot dogs and loud music. Someone always brought a guitar. When their minds were impaired, they sang their favorite songs at the top of their lungs. He drifted back to his girlfriend, as he often did throughout the years. He remembered the night they spent here together before he was off to BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training.
When he returned on his first leave almost a year later, she was dating one of his best friends. He had thought of her every moment during his training and at night before he fell asleep. He was excited to be home and looked forward to picking up where they left off. He had called her to let her know he was home and wanted to see her.
Sitting on the front porch having his first cup of morning coffee, they drove up to the house. He stood and watched as they got out of the truck and walked toward him. The way they looked at each other told him everything. At that moment, his heart broke. He made himself a promise. It would never again be given to another. Ray’s letter six months later informed him they were married and appeared happy. They both sent their best and prayed for him every day he was away in combat. Sitting on a sandy hill, he picked up his weapons and went to work leaving the letter to the wind.
Without a towel, he placed his dirty clothes on the sand bar to lay on as he dried in the sun. He quickly drifted off and dreamed of his buddies back in the sand box. He would miss them as long as he lived but he would not miss what they were doing, what he had done over the last nine years.
They were working a door to door op in a little village. A giant red and white flash consumed his team as an IED was remotely set off by a scumbag with a cheap cell phone. Shaun came to in the Navy hospital connected to tubes and wires. He had several burns to his chest and legs and his eardrums were ruptured. He recalled dragging his partner from a burning building. They had been in the street when the blast blew them through the front door of the building. It was what saved them.
Sweating and trembling in total darkness with every inch of his skin itching, he sat up on the pile of clothes and realized where he was. The nightmare was so real. He was out of breath as he took in his surroundings. He was home now on the sandbar, naked with mosquitoes sucking his blood from his completely exposed body. He stood and dove into the river under the surface of the cool current taking the blood suckers down with him. He needed exercise so he swam to the east bank as fast as he could make himself go. He turned and swam back to the sandbar almost out of breath. He had not done much swimming in recent years. The desert and mountains where he was assigned did not offer the convenience. Once he was fully dressed with his cheap, dirty Walmart clothes stuffed in his pack, he launched himself in a force march pace to his home.
As he rounded the crop duster hangar, the home came into sight. The only light was coming from the kitchen. He opened the screen door and tossed his bag in the corner next to his old pal, Samson. The big, gray faced Doberman was 11 years old now. His hearing was not good. Sam growled in a deep voice showing his teeth with his eyes half open. Shaun reached down and let the dog smell his hand. Sam stood from his overstuffed bed and quickly wagged his nub of a tail. He stretched out his front legs and lowered his head to allow Shaun to rub his old back.
“You’re on guard duty, Sam. I will let this pass this time, but you better snap to, you hear?”
Sam bolted from the room heading down the hallway where the low, gray light of the TV lit the walls near the den. Shaun knew he was on a mission to inform his Dad his son was home and it was time to celebrate. Shaun quietly walked into the den and saw the TV tuned to the Military channel. The sound was turned very low. His father was sitting on the end of the old leather sofa asleep with his feet propped on the antique coffee table his mother bought in England many years ago. Sam sat between the sofa and table with his right paw resting on his father’s knee. Shaun eased down next to his father and Sam curled on the rug beneath them. Shaun looked at his Dad and studied him for a long time in silence.
He looked a little older and his hair was a little grayer than the last time he saw him. His big hands that could break arms, fix broken tractors and airplanes, steer an outboard and caress those he loved were folded in his lap. Shaun leaned back and released a gentle breath as he closed his eyes. He drifted off to sleep thinking of L.L. Jackson and her misty blue green eyes. He wondered where she was and what she was doing. He found himself worrying about her though he hardly knew her. Why did he care? She was probably bedded down at this moment in the arms of her true love. An uneasy feeling of discomfort struck the pit of his stomach as he realized he was jealous. He tightened his eyes and scolded himself for such thoughts. He had never met anyone like her and knew somehow she would alter his life.
Through the smoke and haze, he heard women laughing in the distance. The sound was coming closer as he heard the front screen door open and slam shut. Sam jumped up and scooted beneath his legs as he hurried to the front of the house. A moment later he heard the ladies greeting him as they approached the den through the main hallway. He recognized the lovely voice of Nicole and the other…L.L. Jackson? What? How could she be here? He stood as they entered the den and went into the outstretched arms of his little sister. She was beautiful and taller than he remembered. She kissed him square on his lips as she squeezed him tightly.
“Thank God my prayers have been answered! You don’t know how I worried over you when you were overseas! Are you home for good?” she asked as she held him back to study his face.
“Yes my love, I’m home for good. I’ve missed you so much and you are all grown up now!” Nicole’s eyes filled with tears as he took her in his arms. He held her back gently and wiped the tears from her cheeks as he looked over her head into the eyes of L.L. Jackson. She was still wearing her uniform but the smile on her face reflecting in her eyes told him she had a big, tender heart. She too had tears. When she realized he saw them, she quickly used the back of her hand to wipe the tears away. She took in a deep breath as she transferred them to her khaki pants. L.L.glanced at his father who was now sitting up with a huge grin on his face. He stood and dashed to Shaun. Throwing his arms around him, he picked Shaun off the floor in a powerful bear hug.
“My boy, my boy is home for good. Bless this great day!” he shouted. He sat Shaun down and pulled Nicole into his hug. Then he pulled L.L. in as well. Shaun was squeezed between his father and L.L. Her slender body pressed firmly next to him. He suddenly felt heat radiate from her to him and again something deep and unsettling moved within his stomach. He felt light headed as her face was only inches from his. He smelled her sweet scent, a hint of springtime. Her breath puffed tenderly on his cheek as her handy talkie dug into his hip. Wearing her peanut colored round toed boots, they were eye to eye. He glanced down to her lips which she had unconsciously moistened with her tongue and felt a powerful urge to gently touch them with his. He wanted to taste her flavor and explore her mouth She seemed to read his mind as her eyes grew larger. She took in a quick shallow breath and pushed her hands against his chest to break free of the strong arms of his father.
She felt his muscles flex as she was suddenly pinned next to a man who exuded sensual power. She could feel his strong arms and thighs touching her. A flash of imagination came over her as she realized the only thing separating their bodies was two thin layers of clothing. She quivered as she felt her knees begin to weaken and her bones melt. Heat like a furnace flowed from him and engulfed her, taking her breath. She realized her eyes had drifted down to his freshly shaven face and focused on his lips. She found herself moving her head without realizing something beyond her power was pulling her to his mouth. Something inside of her snapped and she stopped herself from completing this undeniable connection. As her mind began to clear, she recognized the fresh fragrance of Ivory soap on his clean body. He looked five years younger now. That smile appeared on his lips and washed over his face into his cypress green eyes. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck rose as she saw the slight movement he was making in her direction. She knew he was about to kiss her and she was powerless to stop him. In that moment, she knew she wanted him to and it took all of her energy to move her eyes away and push free. She stood back smiling at Jake and caught her breath. Suddenly she felt guilty of the desires she was feeling for Shaun. Thank goodness she was able to stop before they completed the emotion drawing them together. How embarrassing it would have been at this moment. She would never live it down.
Jake released them looking to L.L. as he made the introductions. “Shaun, this is my dear friend, L.L. Jackson. She has been my lifesaver for the last couple of years. Because of her, I was able to get out of that blasted hospital and come home where I belong.”
Shaun’s smile fell from his face as he turned from L.L. to his father. “Hospital? How did you end up in the hospital Dad?”
“Oh, don’t worry now Shaun. I’m fine as a spring rain! I had a little setback and ended up tied to a hospital bed surrounded by a bunch of busy bodies who just loved sticking me with sharp objects every hour or so. They said I had a mild stroke and wanted to keep me there forever. L.L. signed for my bail, and thanks to her, I was pardoned earlier than they wanted.”
Shaun looked to L.L. “What happened to my Dad? It’s clear he is not going to give it to me straight.”
“Well, let me start from the beginning. I was assigned to this patrol area about two years ago and had a flat outside the main gate. I needed a lug wrench so I came here to borrow one. Your father was sitting on the front porch doing some paperwork. That day, I learned just how hardheaded he is. He insisted on changing my flat tire. I tried my best to convince him I was able to handle it. Once the tire was changed, we had tea on the front steps and began to talk. I spent over an hour visiting with him that day. I thought I was going to have to pull my gun on him to let me go back to work. He invited me to lunch the next day. I could tell he was lonely and needed someone to talk to. It became part of my routine to drop by around lunch time each day,” she said smiling at Jake.
Jake cut in saying, “I wasn’t lonely! I just felt sorry for you, my dear. You all alone out here patrolling these dusty back roads. You needed a home base so you could relax a little from time to time.”
L.L. rolled her lovely eyes at Shaun and continued. “Several months later, he called 911 because he was feeling bad. When the ambulance was dispatched, I heard the call over my scanner. I was here when they loaded and transported him to Willis Knighton Pierremont Hospital. He was trying to walk out of the hospital early the next morning when I came by to check on him. They were about to call for security when I encountered him near the front door. With the help of his doctor, we talked him back to his room. He was ranting and raving the entire time. More tests needed to be run and, according to his doctor, would need around the clock observation when he was released. About that time, Nicole walked in. I was about to lose two weeks of vacation if I didn’t take it. I was happy to watch him while Nicole was at school. Between the two of us, we were able to talk Mr. Hardhead into letting me stay. During the day, I dealt with hardhead. Nicole relieved me when she came home from school. We tag teamed for two weeks before his final checkup. I’m not sure if the doctor released him because he was in good shape or if they were as sick of him as Nicole and I were.”
“Nicole and I became close friends as we battled your Dad on a daily basis. Anyway, she asked me to give up my apartment in town and move in here with her and your Dad. There was so much unused room in this house, and I loved it out here, so I moved in and have lived here now for almost two years.”
Shaun’s head was starting to spin as Nicole announced Ray was on his way over. She said dinner would be ready shortly as she took L.L. by the arm pulling her down the hall to the kitchen. L.L. glanced over her shoulder and smiled at Jake and Shaun whose mouth was open.
“I think a drink would be in order about now. How about it Shaun?”
“Sure Dad,” he said as he fell back on the old sofa. Shaun began to feel a sickly sensation in his belly as guilt began to settle on his mind. He knew he should have come home years ago. His Dad needed him. He was ashamed L.L. had to step in and pick up his responsibility with his family.
“Why didn’t you tell me, Dad? We exchanged letters and phone calls for the last two years and you said nothing.”
“Shaun, it was just a minor issue and I am taking my meds regularly. You were in the middle of a war and did not need to be worrying about your old man. I knew I would make a full recovery in no time and I did. Besides, I knew you would come back here when you were ready and take the reins of this place.” He handed Shaun a double shot of Macallan scotch and they clinked their glasses together.
“Welcome home, son.”
Shaun took a good swallow and felt it sink into his body settling the uneasiness that was building within.
They stood and walked through the kitchen heading for the back porch. He noticed a smudge of flour on L.L.’s cheek as he lightly brushed by her while she dusted chicken legs to be fried. Her face blushed as she held her head down looking at him through the corner of her eye. He had never seen a more attractive women in his life. Gun, badge, handcuffs and her hands deep in a bowl of flour. His mind’s eye would never forget this picture.
She heard them walking toward the kitchen and her heart rate increased. Those light green eyes shining at her with a laughing sparkle he did nothing to conceal. She felt her blood rush to her cheeks as he brushed his hip against hers. She felt the electricity. By the look on his face, he felt it too. She sighed deeply when the screen door smack closed and looked up to see Nicole looking at her. Their eyes were locked for a moment. Nothing was said between them. They knew each other so well, nothing needed to be said. Nicole’s lips turned up as she dropped the battered chicken into the pan.
They sat side by side as they had done so many times before, on the old, white painted porch swing. It still had a small, rusty squeak that never got worse or went away. Just the sound of it took him back so many years. He sat between his Mom and Dad most evenings after supper falling asleep nuzzled in their arms.
As the swing swept forward, Shaun came up out of the swing without disrupting its rhythm. His father continued to swing and quietly sip his Scotch whiskey.
Shaun walked down the steps setting his glass on top of the porch rail as he headed to the pecan grove on the south side of the home. Though it was dark, he knew every step of the way. A gentle breeze came from nowhere as he walked beneath the canopy of the 150 year old pecan trees grafted and set out by James P. McVeigh. “You left your mark, James,” he whispered out loud. In the center of the grove, there was a wrought iron fence with an ornate arched double gate high enough for a horse to walk under. He remembered the story his father told him about the funeral of James P. McVeigh and the two black stallions that pulled the glossy black hearse through the gate. Shaun looked up as he came through the gate observing the tall statue of James in the middle of the family cemetery. Next to his grave was James’ wife, their children and their grandchildren. At the end of the line was Martha, Shaun’s mother. He stood at the foot of her marker and saw the fresh cut roses sitting in a Waterford vase, four of them, for Jake and the three children. They looked as if they had just been placed. He knew his father changed them every day before the sun rose. He got down on his knees and closed his eyes. He whispered to her.
“I’m home for good, Mom. Thank you and our Lord for watching over me all these years. I’m sure you know very well how many times I came close to joining you. I miss you with all my heart, Mom. I’m home now to take care of Daddy. I laid down my weapons. I pray you are happy in Heaven with the rest of our family. I try to live my life so one day I will be in your arms once again.” He prayed silently for a few moments before standing and wiping the tears from his cheeks. He sniffled, like when he was little, and a small laugh escaped his mouth. “Please don’t tell anyone.” He turned and headed to the gate. As he fastened the latch, he heard a car pulling up to the house.
He walked to the front yard. The rear door of a cab opened. The interior light revealed a blonde lady with two blonde haired girls inside. She paid the driver then took both girls into her arms and started for the front door. Shaun stood in the shadows a moment. He cleared his throat so she would not be frightened. It did not work. She jumped one of the steps and raced for the front door. She opened it without knocking and barged into his house. By now Shaun was hesitant to intervene based on what he learned earlier about who was now living at the McVeigh plantation. How many people lived here now?
He took his time and walked around to the back porch to join his Dad. He thought he recognized the lady but could not put a name to her beautiful face. His father slowed the swing allowing him to swing alongside again without saying a word.
“Oh my God! What happened?” Nicole shouted.
Shaun and Jake rushed into the kitchen. L.L. and Nicole had their arms wrapped around the lady. Her two daughters began to cry. Nicole and L.L. had tears in their eyes as well. Jake and Shaun stood quietly by as they questioned the lady.
“Cindy, what did he do to you?” Nicole asked.
“Somehow he was able to sign some papers and allowed to make his bail. When he got home, he was so drunk he could barely stand. He walked in, flopped down in his chair and yelled for me to bring him a cold beer. Julie let it slip you had been by to check on us. He went crazy. He threw the beer at the TV and it exploded. He jumped up and started choking me. I tried to get away but he is so strong. He slapped me knocking me to the floor. Then he fell down. While he tried to get up, I grabbed the babies and ran out the back door. I hurried to my neighbor’s house down the road and called Sally. She must be out on a date. I could not stay with the Smiths so I called a cab and asked him to bring me here. I’m sorry Nicole.” She turned and looked at Jake. Her left eye was swelling shut as she apologized to Jake for having nowhere else to go. Jake took two quick steps and wrapped his arms around her and the babies. Shaun realized they all knew one another well.
With his mouth buried in her hair, he told her she and her babies were welcome to stay for as long as they lived.
At that point, she broke down and so did the little girls. Shaun’s eyes began to water as he looked to L.L. She was looking directly at him and her heart melted. She knew then he was a very good man, just like his Dad.
Ray stepped into the kitchen. His eyes took in the three women and little girls all crying. He saw his father holding Cindy Easterly as she cried in his arms. Ray had never seen his father even look at another woman.
Ray asked in a low whisper, “What in the world is going on, Dad?”
Jake looked over Cindy’s head and smiled.
“Ray, I am determined to fill this big, old house one way or another. Cindy and her babies are moving in here tonight.”
Ray could only smile as he walked to Shaun and powerfully hugged him. L.L. watched the brothers embrace and kiss each other on the cheeks. For the second time in less than a minute, her heart ached. Though she had tears in her eyes, L.L. was smiling at Shaun when he looked her way.
Always in charge, Jake released Cindy and told her to go wash up. He ordered L.L. to give her a room big enough for her and the babies. He spun and asked Nicole when supper would be ready. She told him soon while grinning and shaking her head in the negative. He smiled and asked, “What’s taking you so long?”
He took his boys by their shoulders and pointed them to the den. On the way he said, “I think I need another drink.”
The eight of them sat at the dining room table beneath the French chandelier. Jake asked the blessing before they began their meal. He looked to Cindy.
“Well now, tell me who these little angels are, Cindy.”
“This is Julie, my oldest. She is almost five and my baby girl, Melissa, almost four,” she said with an expression of great pride on her face.
Shaun studied her lovely face. Her left eye was swollen completely closed. Blue tinting was spreading. He knew by tomorrow it would encompass half of her face. He felt his blood rush as he clenched his fist beneath the table. He wanted to beat Bubba to his knees for doing this to her especially in front of her babies. They too were victims. They needed to know they were safe here. He promised himself he would do everything in his power to keep Bubba away from them. He wanted with all his heart to be their friend, to show them love and respect. He knew he faced a challenge to earn their trust. At that moment, the little girls looked directly in his eyes and grinned. He drew in a breath and smiled back. Perhaps it would not be so hard after all.
He tried not to stare when L.L. walked in the room with Cindy and the girls. She was wearing a pair of old, faded blue jeans with holes in both knees. They fit as if painted on. She wore an army style, olive green tee shirt a size too large. Her hair was down and fell in wavy lengths to the middle of her back. She had no need for makeup. The thin coating of the transparent stuff she wore only served to draw more attention to her pouty lips.
L.L., Cindy and the girls were seated across from Ray and Shaun. Jake took up the head of long table. Nicole sat between her Dad and Shaun.
L.L. whispered, “Sorry I’m late for dinner. I had to get out of that uniform.”
The dinner conversation covered the food and Cindy’s new room. The girls chimed in telling everyone how much they loved their room. They were excited to have a full bath and sitting area connected to their large bedroom. They giggled when they confessed they could hardly wait to finish eating and watch the big, flat screen TV.
Jake turned to Shaun and raised one brow.
“I have this strange feeling you already knew L.L. before this evening. Am I right?”
Shaun and L.L.’s eyes locked for a moment before an innocent smile developed on her face. She put down her fork and gave the details of how they met. Shaun noticed she blushed while she told the story skimming over the subject of what actually happened between her and Bubba. She was not comfortable giving a blow by blow of how she took him down. She was humble and Julie and Melissa were present.
Ray asked Shaun about his trip from California and his plans for his future.
“I needed some time to settle down and debrief before I came home. I hitchhiked my way from one town to the next. I worked odd jobs here and there to give me pocket money. Before I left the west coast, I shipped my things here and wired my funds to Iberia bank in south Shreveport. The trip allowed me to clear my head so I didn’t bring any baggage along with me.”
“I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I want to do. I’ll buy a new pickup truck and see if Jimmy is willing to take me back as a student pilot. I haven’t flown for years and will need a refresher. I want to help with the dusting during the season and help Dad with the business. There are so many other things I’ve missed over the years. I want to get back on a horse and ride the property, the tractors, 4-wheelers, the fishing boat and take the party barge up the river. I am sure the list will grow. I feel I have missed out on life and want to make up for it.
L.L. was touched by what Shaun shared. She wondered if she would be invited to join him. Then she thought it was not a good idea. If they spent much time together, sparks would fly and she would be hurt in the end. No, she decided, she better give Shaun a wide berth.
After dinner and cleanup was finished, they split in small groups and continued to visit. Nicole, L.L., Cindy and the girls went upstairs to help Cindy get settled in her new room.
The men took brandy on the back porch and spent an hour catching up and teasing one another.
Nicole came to the door to ask Ray to follow her. She took him to the front porch and sat him in the swing next to Cindy. Nicole sat in an old, wooden rocker and announced the girls were bedded down for the night. Cindy wanted to talk to him.
Ray turned to Cindy with a look of concern. He asked her how she was feeling.
“I’m ok. Just worried how this is all going to end. I know Bubba is out of control. I’m afraid he will only get worse.”
As Nicole stood, she said, “I think this conversation has the potential to fall into the category of attorney client privilege. I’ll go check on L.L. and the guys.”
“Let’s not kick the can down the road, Cindy. I like to get straight to the point and not waste our time. Let me ask you a few questions so I can get a picture of things. OK?”
“Sure, I’m ready to deal with this.”
“Are you happily married to Bubba?”
“No, I haven’t been for years.”
“Ok, are you still in love with him?”
“How can I answer without sounding crazy? Let me put it this way. I was in college when we started dating. He was full of joy and love when we met. During our first year of marriage, his father died and he slowly changed and became depressed. His father ruled the farm and Bubba followed his lead. When Bubba became responsible for everything, he was overwhelmed. He made bad decisions and lost our profits. Most of the time he is drunk or on his way there. He continues to make poor decisions and has become the most controlling man I have ever known. He cost me my career as a C.P.A. I had a thriving business before Julie was born. He made me quit and sold my car I paid for with my own earnings. He spent all my savings and squandered his family inheritance. He is so jealous of me. In recent months, he has become so aggressive I fear he is going to hurt me and our children. I love him for being the father of the two most precious girls in the world. However, I don’t love him as a wife should love her husband and haven’t for a long time. The love we once had is gone forever.”
“Well, you said it all. I do have it clear in my mind now. Are you inclined to file for divorce?”
“Yes, I am. But I don’t have the funds to hire a lawyer. I will need to apply for a job, find a babysitter and save for it.”
“I have a proposition for you to consider. My practice is prospering. I brought two other attorneys into my firm. I have dividends from my family’s business. I don’t have time to invest or manage the books, taxes, payroll and all the related issues that go along with my business. I’ve been thinking of hiring a C.P.A. for some time now. I’ve just been procrastinating. You need a job. I am offering to match your last year’s salary when you had your business. I will charge my standard fee to represent you. How about it?”
“Are you sure about this?”
“Yes, just as I said. I need you to handle all the things I mentioned. How about meeting me in the office tomorrow morning? Let’s manage this so you can take your work home, take care of your girls and do my work at the same time?”
“I don’t have a car and I can’t afford a cab every day.”
“Dad has two cars and a couple farm trucks. I’m sure transportation will not be an issue.”
“I can’t pay for a babysitter while I’m at your office.”
“I’m also sure between my father and Shaun, the sitter is no longer an issue.”
“I hate to impose!”
“You’re a good woman and a good mother Cindy. You need a helping hand right now. We have big hearts in this family. We want to help if you will just let us. If the shoe was on the other foot, what would you do, Cindy? Would you help us?”
“Then let us help you, ok?”
“I can never repay you, Ray.”
“The smile on your face and on Julie’s and Melissa’s is more payment than we deserve.”
She leaned over and kissed him gently on his cheek.
“I will file your papers in court Monday afternoon, including a restraining order that will land him back in jail if he violates it. Can you be at my office at 9?”
“I can and I will, Ray. Thank you again.”
He stood and walked her in the big house to the foot of the stairs.
“Get some rest, Cindy. You are safe here.”
She nodded and walked up the steps.
Ray found Shaun, Nicole, L.L. and his father sitting on the back porch. He told them the promises he made to Cindy. Jake was not slow to respond.
“Shaun, looks like our first duty assignment tomorrow is take two pretty little girls on a 4-wheeler ride and maybe a little fishing. You can scratch those two things off your list,” he said laughing with his entire body. Shaun responded, “Sir, yes sir!” like he did with his instructor in boot camp.
L.L. stood from her seat on the steps next to Nicole. “I will get some on duty deputies to accompany us to her house first thing in the morning. Nicole and I will take two trucks, load her stuff and be back here before noon. That OK with you, Nicole?”
“You better believe it!” she shouted.
Ray patted Shaun on the back as he walked by heading for the door. “Welcome home, Shaun!”
“I’m happy to be home and in the family service again. Good night, Ray.”
Jake stood and stretched his back as he eased from the swing. “I’m going to hit the sack y’all. It’s been a memorable day. Shaun, all your things are unpacked and in your room. Nicole, where did you put Cindy and the girls?”
“She’s in the blue room next to me. I have her on one side and L.L.’s across the hall. Makes me feel like a teenager again having my girlfriends with us.”
Shaun now knew where L.L.’s room was. It sent an uneasy thought through his mind, right next to my room. Well, at least their back to back bathrooms added a little space between them. He knew he would need it. Jake headed off to his downstairs master across the hall from the kitchen. Sam stood from his position beneath the swing and obediently followed him into the home, knowing exactly where they were heading. Like soldiers, the ladies all stood and fell in behind Jake as they headed upstairs.
Shaun eased back in the swing and relaxed as his mind reflected on all the events of this day. He knew it would be great to be home again but not how interesting it would be. Somewhere in the grove, he heard the flutter of wings and a double call of a Hoot Owl. He wondered how Bubba was able to make bail so quickly. He knew Bubba was such a hot head he would not let Cindy walk out of his life without a fight. It would not take a rocket scientist to figure out where she went. When L.L., Nicole and the deputies go to his house to get Cindy’s things, Bubba will know for sure. First thing in the morning, he would meet with Jimmy and have him pass the word to the other hands to keep an eye out for Bubba.
He went to his room, took off his clothes and slipped between the sheets of his bed. Man, it’s been a long time. I always loved this bed. His last thoughts were of L.L. in the room next door. What did she wear when she slept? A little silk slip, big tee shirt or nothing? He rolled on his side and fought to block her from his mind. He argued with himself and finally agreed he would just have to find out when the time comes, and it surely will.
When Shaun walked in, Jake was reading the morning Times at the kitchen table and drinking coffee.
“Good morning, son” he said with a grin. “It’s so good to have you home where you belong. How did you sleep last night?”
“Like a rock and I needed it. I did not realize how tired I was. What are our plans with the girls this morning?”
“Well, I think we should get the side by sides and take them on a little ride around the farm. Then we can load ’em up on a horse, ride down to the oxbow lake and have a picnic. By the time we get back, Cindy will be here. I would suspect it will be nap time for them then. How’s that sound?”
“I want to see Jimmy Baker and Sam Massey before they start dusting to tell them to keep an eye out for Bubba.”
Just as Shaun sat down with his coffee, L.L. and Nicole came in and joined them. Both were wearing jeans and tee shirts. They greeted the men and started breakfast. Nicole made homemade biscuits while L.L. cooked bacon, eggs and sliced fresh cantaloupe. They sipped their coffee and chatted with Jake. Shaun was deep in the newspaper sections Jake had finished. Shaun took several quick looks at L.L. when he knew she was too busy to notice. He was amazed how fresh and lovely she appeared in the morning, a big smile and easy stride across the room. She glided like a cat, smooth and graceful. There was that same twinkle in her eyes and she smelled of apples and spice. He had an urge to walk over to her, take her in his arms and give her a big, good morning kiss. He imagined how that would go over and grinned as he looked down at the paper without reading a single word.
He thinks he got away with checking me out. The moment I turned my back, I could feel those cypress green eyes roving all over me. She curled her lips ever so slightly as she thought of Shaun being shy and sneaky. She suspected he had been with others. All those years of combat duty, he was not a professional player with women. I like that. I’ve been hit on too many times by the pros and know the difference. She saw he had shaved again and remembered hearing the water running in his sink in his bathroom next to hers. The plumbing was added here well after this house was built. There was definitely no insulation or sound proofing between the interior walls. As he spoke to his Dad about the New Orleans Saints summer training, she stole a glimpse out of the corner of her eye. She was sure he would be looking at his father while he talked, but when their eyes met, that powerful connection was made once again. She quickly turned back to the stove and acted busy as her lips curved up again. She felt something and looked at Nicole who was staring directly at her. Again without a word, Nicole grinned which caused her to blush.
“Well!” Nicole exclaimed and paused as she continued to look at her.
L.L’s. heart skipped a little waiting for Nicole to state the obvious.
“L.L., the biscuits are done. Everything you cooked can be placed in the warmer until Cindy comes down. How about a cup of coffee in the swing while we wait?”
L.L. swallowed hard, placed the food in the warmer, grabbed her coffee cup and followed Nicole through the back screen door to the swing.
Nicole sighed and together they eased down onto the swing. They used their toes to gently sway the swing back and began to coast. The sun was just coming up as they sipped their hot coffee and looked out across the cotton fields and out buildings.
“I’ve never been in love before, L.L.”
“Oh, is that right?”
“I had a crush on a guy in college. We dated a little but I knew it wasn’t love. I often wonder when and if it will ever happen. I want to be married, have a house full of children and a good man at my side. One who will be my best friend, lover and father to our precious children. I want someone who is well grounded, strong and has a big heart. How about you, L.L.?”
“Oh, I have loved, been loved and been burned. I don’t want that again, I tell you!”
“Did you ever think you would fall in love again?”
“Not at this stage in my life. I have my career and all I want in life. Everything is perfect in my world as far as I am concerned.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, that’s so,” she said too quickly.
“Then how do you plan to handle it?”
“Handle it? Handle what? I don’t have anything to handle. What are you talking about?”
“I’m asking how you plan to handle the love you have for my brother Shaun?”
“I’m not in love with your brother!
“Is that so?”
“Yes, that’s so!”
Nicole stopped the swing and looked into L.L.’s eyes. “Care to make a bet?” she said as she stood, smiled and walked back into the kitchen. L.L. continued to swing and talked to herself.
“I’m clearly not in love with him! I just met him yesterday. We have not even carried on a real conversation, been on a date or even kissed. Now I admit, I think he is the most attractive man I have ever seen and he is the brother of Nicole who I love like a sister. He is the son of Jake who I love like my father and the brother of Ray who I love like my own brother. But this doesn’t mean I’m in love with him. I like him, who wouldn’t? I do want to get to know him. I am only interested in being friends, nothing more! Want to bet, she said! I’ll take her bet and a little of her pocket money in the process.”
L.L. walked back inside and met Nicole who was filling the coffee pot. In a whisper she said, “Hundred?”
Nicole’s grin grew as she extended her hand and said, “Want to pay now or later?”
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
“Oh, they’re gonna hatch alright, big time. Just be ready to hand it over when they do.” They shook hands and together said, “Deal.”
Although Cindy’s eye was black and blue as she eased into the kitchen, she had a great smile on the parts of her face that were not too swollen.
“Good morning everybody,” she said in a tender and shy voice.
“Good morning,” they all responded.
“Y’all through dealing now? We’re hungry. Got us a big day ahead,” Jake teased as he rose and hugged all three women at the same time. Nicole and L.L. both kissed his cheeks as Nicole ordered him to wash his hands and go to the table.
“Julie and Melissa will wake up in about an hour. I wanted them to have a good night’s rest after yesterday. What are your plans with them today?”
“Shaun and I are going to load them up after they eat and spend most of the morning riding around the property. We will swing by home for restroom breaks and then take them on a horseback ride down to the oxbow lake. I think we will have a picnic on the dock. We should be home shortly after noon.”
“By the way, Cindy, the keys to the Cadillac and other vehicles are on that key board by the back door.”
“What is the other car you have?”
“It’s a Mercedes. I drove it last week. The Caddy hasn’t been driven in a month and needs to be driven. If you want to drive the Mercedes, you can take it on Monday.”
“I was hoping you had like an Impala or a Crown Vic. I have never driven fancy cars like the ones you have.”
“Honey, a car is just a car. Drive both of them whenever you want. They mean nothing to us. Right, Shaun?”
“You’re right, Dad. They are replaceable. Just like the station wagon I crashed in the ditch after ball practice that night.” Shaun was trying to conceal his grin but Jake saw it.
“It was replaced, Shaun. As was the VW I got you and the dirt bike and the old Ford tractor you ran into the river never to be seen again.” He started rolling with laughter.
Shaun joined him and patted him on the back. “I’m heading out to visit with Jimmy and Sam. Be back in a little while.” He looked at Nicole and L.L. who were still nibbling their breakfast and waved. “See y’all later,” as the screen door snapped closed.
“Let’s clean up the dishes and put the girls’ breakfast in the warmer. We can get the trucks and boxes from the shop and park by the back door while Cindy gets them ready.”
“We’ll spend time with them over their breakfast to let them get comfortable with Dad and Shaun before we head out. What do you think about that, L.L.?”
“I like your way of thinking Nicole. I bet it will not take them long to become friends with those guys!” After Shaun met with Sam and Jimmy to give them the run down, he fired up the side by side ATV and drove it to the back porch. Inside the girls were eating their breakfast. They were wearing tennis shoes, shorts and tee shirts. Jake went to his room, came back with two new baseball caps with adjustable headbands and gave them to the girls. Cindy quickly adjusted them and tugged them on top of their little blonde heads. They giggled and looked at each other. Shaun sat next to Julie and asked if she had ever been on a 4-wheeler.
“No sir, I haven’t.” ” Me either,” Melissa joined in.
“Well, this morning we are all loading up and taking a little spin around the place.”
After Cindy left for the office, Shaun and Jake showed them the ATV and let them settle in. Shaun was behind the wheel with Julie in his lap. Jake was beside him holding Melissa. Shaun was safe and gentle, traveling just above a normal walking speed as he drove across the lawn heading to the farm road that ran along the border of the vast cotton fields. Nicole and L.L. watched with grins as they waved them off.
“L.L., did you see the looks on their faces? It reminded me of the first time we went to the state fair in town. I bet they are going to have a blast today hanging out with Shaun and Jake.”
“I did see,” she said with a little chuckle. “I suspect, before the morning ride is finished, Julie will be driving that contraption.” She noticed how attentive and understanding Shaun seemed with the little girls. Holding Julie with one hand and the other hand on the wheel, he too had a big smile on his face. One day he will be a great Daddy, just like his.
Driving in tandem, L.L. and Nicole headed to the highway to meet the Desoto Parish Deputies. As they crossed the parish line, they spotted two patrol units waiting on the side of the road for them.
L.L. recognized the supervisor in charge of the three man team as she shook hands and introduced Nicole. After a short briefing, L.L. lead the caravan to the Easterly farmhouse. L.L. had to beat on the door a full minute before Bubba crawled out of bed and stumbled to the front door. When he opened it and saw L.L., he started to slam the door closed in her face. Before he could, she jammed her cowboy boot between the jam and door.
After he yelled and cursed her for a while, he realized he needed to know why she was there.
“Bubba, Cindy has moved into the McVeigh home with us until she gets on her feet so to speak. She has given us permission to collect her things and take them to her. If you would just give us a couple hours, we will pack all of their things and be on our way.”
He looked beyond L.L and glared at the deputies standing in the front yard looking back at him. Apparently Bubba was aware the deputies were present to keep the peace and not arrest him for beating Cindy the night before. He nodded, stepped to the side of the porch to allow L.L. and Nicole into the home. He flopped down in an old, rickety rocker and closed his bloodshot eyes. The deputies walked over to the units and slightly relaxed.
Glad that they had brought two trucks, L.L. and Nicole made numerous trips with loaded boxes in their arms. When the last boxes were loaded, L.L. told Bubba they were finished. She went on to tell him Cindy had retained a lawyer and was filing for divorce this morning and securing a restraining order.
“Bubba, Cindy and your daughters are doing well. If you need to reach her for any reason, call me on my cell phone. You will be served by Caddo Parish deputies likely this afternoon. Please don’t make matters worse by calling or coming to the McVeigh home. She doesn’t want to see you right now and you will not be welcome there.”
By now Bubba was standing on the porch as his face turned bright red, his hands formed into fists and his chin was raised. He looked down his nose at L.L. as he spoke.
“Miss Jackson, I assure you in the presence of these officers, I will not come to the McVeigh plantation until the court allows me visiting rights to my girls. As far as my wife, I don’t want to ever see her again as long as I live.”
L.L. knew in her heart he did not mean a single word he had spoken. It was all for show in front of the Desoto Deputies. She bid him good day and off they drove. In the loaded pickup truck, followed by another just like it driven by Nicole, she decided to alert her counterparts in the S.O. (Sheriff’s Office). She wanted every deputy assigned in the area to be well informed about Bubba Easterly and where Cindy and the girls were staying. As soon as the truck was unloaded, she would take steps to assure the word was out on him.
Shaun and Jake were having a great time. The girls relaxed quickly and were clearly enjoying the ride. They rode to the creek that bordered the north property line of the neighboring farmer. About quarter of a mile from the river, it turned southeast and cut through several acres of the plantation. Shaun knew the exact spot and had a little surprise up his sleeve as the creek came into sight. The banks in this area were shallow. Cows often crossed the creek here for greener pastures. Shaun slowed to a crawl and eased down the slope.
Julie began to squirm a little in his lap. She already had both of her hands on the wheel and was getting a few pointers from Shaun for the last mile or so. Her grip tightened as she asked, “Shaun, are we going to drive down into the water?” Her voice was small and tense.
“It’s not as deep as it looks. It would just come up to my knees if I walked across. We will take it slow. I promise it will be fun.” Melissa squealed as the 4-wheeler eased into the dark brown, muddy water. Shaun accelerated slightly giving the engine a little more power to keep up the momentum and to keep it from stalling as they ascended the other side. They splashed a little wave across the creek and the girls began to laugh and yell for joy. As they reached the top, Melissa yelled at Shaun to do it again. He did and the girls continued to order him to turn around and drive through the creek again. On the third trip, Melissa shouted for him to go faster and he did.
He was ordered to turn around again and again and go faster each time. He did. As they launched back into the muddy water, it splashed on the fenders. A few muddy drops sprayed them. The girls went wild!
“Faster, Shaun, faster!” they both yelled. Their wish was his command. He knew he could safely go much faster. He was just being cautious as he was carrying precious cargo.
The next time he looked at his Dad before he drove down the bank. His father winked and held Melissa tightly against his chest. Shaun took a stronger hold on Julie as he gassed the throttle and they rushed down the hill at a good speed. This time the water splashed up and over the front hood of the vehicle washing over all four of the passengers. Their laughter and squeals could be heard for miles around. They were covered from head to toe with brown mud and water. No one cared. “Do it again, Shaun!” the girls commanded and so he did, adding a little more speed this time. When they crested the far bank, every inch of them was covered in mud with tiny flecks of grass, sticks and leaves. Jake’s laughter was like a rolling thunderstorm as he held little Melissa in his arms looking at her and Julie. The two girls looked back and took in how nasty they all were. They all laughed until they had tears in their eyes.
Jake told Shaun they had better head back to the house to get the girls cleaned up before L.L. and Nicole saw them. As they pulled up to the back porch, the two women came out the back screened door to greet them.
Shock was the only word to describe the looks on the women’s faces. First they were smiling, then their eyes began to focus on the once, bright green John Deere side by side. They saw the little brown girls smiling back at them. The only things not coated with dark brown mud were their teeth and eyes.
L.L. and Nicole stood speechless as they saw what Shaun and Jake had done to the little angels. Shock turned to anger in an instant. When Shaun killed the engine, he handed Julie to L.L. who out of instinct accepted the child cast into her arms. Her eyes grew big as she felt how wet and muddy Julie was. Jake handed Melissa to Nicole, mud and water quickly transferred to L.L. and Nicole. They cringed and at the same time shouted at the men.
“What in the world did y’all do to these poor little girls?” L.L. asked. “Did you throw them in a big mud hole?” The girls giggled. Jake was on her before she knew what was happening. Nicole suddenly found herself wrapped in the muddy arms of her big Daddy. He kissed her on the cheek as Melissa laughed and kissed the other.
L.L. saw Shaun advancing and tried to flee but was not fast enough. She was squealing as Shaun wrapped her in a tight bear hug. Mud covered her new tee shirt and caked her untamed blonde hair. Both women lost their breath and the anger went away.
L.L. looked into Shaun’s eyes as he spoke. “Hey Julie, Melissa, how about we load up L.L. and Nicole and take them to the creek for a little mud riding?”
“Oh no, oh no. We’re not going to do that and end up looking like y’all,” Nicole laughed. Shaun rubbed his palm on his muddy shirt and smeared it on L.L.’s forehead. She tried to lean back, still holding Julie, as she gasped while he held her. Julie smeared mud on L.L.’s face too.
Melissa and Jake were not to be outdone and gave Nicole a muddy face. Soon all six were rolling, as they fell to the ground and wrestled.
Standing and leaning over laughing, Jake told them to load up. L.L. sat in the front holding Julie as Shaun got behind the wheel. Jake and Nicole climbed into the back seat with Melissa in Nicole’s lap. Shaun sped to the creek and down the bank. He dove the ATV into the creek and out again. Muddy water washed over all of them. Everyone on board was a big, brown glob of mud and brown water. They must have splashed 10 times before they headed home.
As soon as they parked by the back door, Nicole ordered everyone to stay outside. She darted into the kitchen and took her cell phone from her purse. She ran back outside and started clicking photos. Her favorite was of L.L., Shaun and Julie. They posed by the hood of the big, brown John Deere smiling with bright white teeth surrounded by muddy brown skin.
Nicole sat the two girls in the ATV and took photos of them pretending to drive. Jake ordered Nicole to put up her phone so it would not get wet. He pulled a water hose from the side of the house. Shaun pulled one from the pool house and the inevitable water hose fight ensued. L.L. held Julie and hid behind Shaun, but was soaked regardless. Jake blasted them up and down. Shaun gave his hose to Julie and Jake gave his to Melissa. The girls laughed hysterically as they blasted everyone in sight.
No one heard the screen door or noticed Cindy standing on the back porch steps. She was in her room changing into shorts, tee shirt and tennis shoes when she heard them drive up to the back of the house on the 4-wheeler. A smile came to her face as she heard her daughters laughing. Joy filled her heart as she rushed down the stairs to see them. As she came out of the house, she saw her daughters covered with wet, muddy clothing, hosing down the filthy adults. She sat down on the steps to record the events deep in her mind. Never would she forget the looks on their faces. The innocence and sheer happiness melted her heart. She was so touched by the love and happiness her little girls were receiving from her friends.
Julie spotted her mother and pointed to her on the steps. Cindy stood to walk to them when Julie turned the hose on her mother. Melissa joined in as Cindy screamed and tried to run back in the house. Before she took her second step, Shaun tackled her and took her to the grass. Once she was a prisoner, they all ran to her rubbing their muddy bodies on her. Somehow Cindy grabbed the hose and sprayed everyone in sight. By the time they quit, everyone was exhausted but they all had big grins on their faces. Jake and Shaun went to the hangar and showered. They took a pair of coveralls from the lockers and placed their muddy clothing in a cardboard box to carry to the house. The women went to the laundry room next to the kitchen and stripped down. They tossed their clothes in the washer and ran up the stairs to shower.
Lunch was not at the lake as intended but in the dining room. Clean and still smiling, they all ate sandwiches and drank iced tea. After lunch, the entire clan went to their rooms and took a two hour nap.