In the last segment of Ellie’s story, she visited Derek’s house on New Year’s Day. As she walked home from his house, someone grabbed her arm.
Ally or Traitor?
“Ow,” I whimper.
He jerks his hand away as if my skin had been smoldering coals.
“I-I’m sorry, Ellie. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
I rub my arm. “S’okay,” I mutter.
“I saw you at Derek’s and I guess I lost it.”
I puzzle over his words, not bothering to hide my confusion.
He glances over his shoulder. “Derek’s dangerous. Stay away from him.”
A laugh escapes. “And how do I stay away from my future husband?” ‘Husband’ leaves a bitter taste as it rolls off my tongue.
“The second Friday of every month, we trade supplies in Phoenix–”
“Isn’t Tucson closer?”
He sighs. Voice low, he explains, “Phoenix is a larger market. We supply sixteen Sprouts stores with produce. The Indoor Swap Mart also moves a fair amount of our crafts and furniture.”
“The truck leaves for Phoenix at 6AM.” He puts extra emphasis on ‘Phoenix.’
“Oh.” He’s offering a way out. “Why would you help me?”
He shrugs and fixes his gaze on the busted tractor by his house. “It’s complicated.”
His response takes me back to Mama’s secret; that was complicated, too. It doesn’t annoy me any less coming from Marcus. An awkward silence stretches between us and our complicated lives. It seems neither of us have anything to say or any inclination to walk away.
“So, have you heard from Jeremy?” I ask to fill the space.
He shakes his head. “I don’t know what they’ve done with my son.” His voice quivers.
My stomach twists as I remember Jeremy’s shirt. I pray over it every night. I keep quiet, nudging away the realization that I’m no different than the other secret keepers around me. “Well, uh…I guess I’ll go.”
He gives a stiff nod and walks away.
I stare at my dusty shoes and contemplate whether I can trust Marcus. Sure, he’s different from the others- he only has one wife. Now that I think about it, I wonder why. I lift my head to ask, but he’s already ducked under the tractor’s raised hood.
Unexpected Company (5 days later)
Should I save myself or stay with my family?
The question nags me out of my house. “Away” is the only destination I have in mind as I walk past the houses, along the edge of the fields. Low-lying crops of cabbage, beets and onions replace the tall cornstalks of fall. Beyond the rows of green, the land abruptly turns to desert. I sit on a boulder and draw my knees to my chest. The warmth of the rock seeps through my dress.
Lord, I don’t know what to do. Please give me a sign so I know if I should stay or go.
Footsteps crunch the dirt behind me. I turn toward the noise and nearly fall off my rock when I see Sasha, Derek’s third wife. She’s never spoken to me by choice. I focus my gaze on a nearby Saguaro as she sits on a larger rock a few feet away. Several minutes pass. The awkward silence pulls taut against my nerves until I can’t take it anymore.
When she doesn’t answer, I glance over. She sits with her eyes closed and legs crossed.
“I didn’t ask for Brenda, and I certainly didn’t ask for you.”
“Um, okay.” I like her better quiet.
“I was eager for my chance to please God. I knew being a good wife would earn His favor. I made peace with the wives who came before me.”
She pauses, so I look at her again. I don’t know what she’s looking at, but I suspect it’s anything but me.
“Brenda’s already pregnant, now Derek wants you. I asked Derek when he’d have time for me.” She takes a deep breath and a long exhale follows. “He told me a good wife has a place in Heaven. A jealous one will burn in Hell.”
Sasha turns her face toward me, her eyes swollen and damp from a mixture of old and fresh tears. “So, that’s it. I’m destined for Hell.”
I go to her and put my arms around her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Sasha. So sorry.” We cry together.
The thought haunts me that I’ve just glimpsed my own future.
Seeking Answers, Finding Peace (night before truck leaves for Phoenix)
Tonight’s dinner dishes have been washed, and I still don’t know if I’ll be at the table tomorrow night. I take my restlessness outside. My thoughts alternate between the truck leaving tomorrow and remnants of the scripture I read before breakfast. The result is like a garbled Morse code message.
Do not be anxious about anything. Present your requests to God. And the peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. But I have prayed. And I still feel such uncertainty. Truck leaves at 6AM. I stomp my feet in frustration.
Her name slices through my indecision. I have a sudden desire to know why she abandoned our friendship five months ago. I’m not sure why her answer matters, but I walk to her house anyway.
I knock on her door and wait. I’m relieved when Mary Jane answers. “Ellie!”
“Have a minute?”
“Well, uh…I have…no. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
She starts to shut the door, but I block it with my foot. “Why did you stop being my friend?”
Mary Jane looks down, and then glances behind her, before slipping outside onto the porch. She pulls the door closed behind her. “Mostly fear, I guess.”
Her words are a palm across my cheek. “Me…”
Mary Jane sighs. “Why are you doing this?”
I meet her gaze. “Peace. I realized I needed peace.”
She studies me for several seconds. “I miss you, Ellie, I really do. But things changed, you know…it’s different.”
“Everyone quit talking to me, but you hurt the most.”
“I’m marrying Derek in two-and-a-half years; on my sixteenth birthday,” Mary Jane says.
“That’s awful! There has to be a way to stop it.”
She backs away. “That’s the difference between you and me, Ellie. I embrace my future. I want to marry Derek. I want to take my place in God’s kingdom. You…you fight it. Your Mama hasn’t done you any favors, putting the Bible in your hands. She taught you things you got no business knowing. You rejected Derek, you rejected God. Daddy says that’s the Devil’s handiwork.”
“Devil’s handiwork,” I repeat, numb from the barbs of her words.
“I can’t talk to you, Ellie. You have to go.” Mary Jane slips inside and closes the door behind her.
“You’re right. I have to go.”
I found peace.
Stowaway (leaving day)
I’m on my knees, hunched over between two tall stacks of boxes. I make my breathing shallow so the boxes on my back won’t move. Christopher and William should finish soon, I hope. I pray they won’t see me. They are Damian’s sons- my half-brothers, but their loyalties belong to Derek.
If Mama hadn’t coaxed the boys away from the truck with her mugs of hot cider, I wouldn’t have been able to get on the truck. It just now occurs to me that I have no idea how I’ll get away unseen.
But with God, all things are possible.
“Look, back there,” Christopher says. “Your stacks are crooked.”
“You did that part, not me. You gonna fix it?” William responds.
My heart skips a beat. Please don’t let them find me.
“We’re late. It should be fine.”
“You’re cleaning if they spill,” William says.
The door slides down and latches with a loud clank, surrounding me in darkness. I close my eyes and pretend I’m somewhere else. The engine cranks and the floor rumbles underneath me. We move, but then lurch to a stop.
“You guys seen Ellie?”
Derek. Fear keeps me from throwing up. I can’t make out William’s response. Now, two bangs on the back door.
“Open it up,” Derek shouts.
The engine shuts off. The lever clanks and the door slides up. I hold my breath.
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble.
“We’ll be late for delivery,” Christopher says.
“There’s no way she could’ve sneaked past us,” William adds.
“Dammit!” Derek shouts.
I shudder at the loud thump on the side of the truck.
“She’s gotta be around here somewhere. God help her when I find her.” His fist bangs twice more against the side of the truck. “Get out of here! Go!”
The door slides then slams shut. The lock clicks.
The engine starts and this time I feel the bumps of the dirt road beneath me. I imagine my past swallowed up by a giant cloud of dust. I think of Pastor Dugan. Mama says he’s at the Downtown Mission and can help me.
For the first time in five months, I have hope. I feel like everything will be okay.
The four parts in this post conclude Ellie’s story (at least the part of her story that will be told here.). I appreciate everyone who has followed this story- thank you for the support! If you didn’t catch the previous parts, check out the links below. Each one is less than 333 words.
A couple weeks ago, the folks at Trifecta issued a special challenge: Your prompt this week is just to write. You have three weeks to write to your heart’s content. We want no fewer than 333 and no more than 3,333 words. Any topic, any style. Give us what you’ve got. The prompt will close on Thursday, July 26 and winners will be announced in the August 3rd post.
This part comes in at less than 1,500 words, so it is well within the limits. It’s probably even short enough to finish it in one reading 🙂