About the Author…
Savannah Elyse is from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she works as a nanny by day and writes by night. She is also the Head of Publishing at Quiet Nonsense. Savannah will graduate in April 2019 with a Creative Writing degree from Southern New Hampshire University.
Hazel Ligon looked out of the passenger side door as the countryside zoomed past. Flat grassland lined the empty highway and mountains lurked in the distance. Her fiance’s hand rested on her knee and she looked down at his Rolex, catching the time. 4:45. They’d barely make it in time for dinner. Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” played on the car’s modern sound system. Her body tensed as the car passed a weather-beaten sign.
Welcome to Wisdom, population 200
“Relax. It can’t possibly be as bad as you’re saying it is,” David said next to her. With his high end hair cut and expensive suit, her fiance had all the bearings of a lawyer in a big city. “It’ll be fine.”
She sighed as they drove into downtown Wisdom – if you could even call it a ‘downtown’. Dilapidated buildings and beat-up pickup trucks lined the road. It was a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of town. A thin elderly woman in an apron and a well-worn house dress was sweeping the sidewalk in front of a double wide trailer with peeling paint. In front of the tiny general store, a man with a face older than his years leaned against a beat-up pick up truck, chewing on a toothpick. Two children were fighting over a toy in the shade of a douglas fir. They all stopped and watched the black sedan as it passed by. Hazel felt as if their eyes were boring into her soul.
“I’ll check back in with you after you’ve met my family. You’ll be singing a different tune, I guarantee it,” she replied with a scoff. “You won’t want to marry me afterward.”
David smiled and shook his head. “I doubt it.” He looked at the road, opening in front of them once more as they passed the last house on the outskirts of town. “Where and I supposed to turn, anyways?”
She sighed and settled back into the leather seat with a yawn. “It’s the only left turn for the next ten miles. You can’t miss it. I’m gonna take a nap.”
About thirty minutes later, they were pulling into a long gravel driveway. They passed a barn and a couple of outbuildings that clearly looked as though they had borne the brunt of the harsh Montana winters. A few horses grazed in the pasture, their tails flicking at flies. David parked next to a faded red two-door Ford that had clearly seen much better days.
Hazel looked up at the house in front of them, her heart in her throat. The Ligon house had been beaten down by the elements just as much as everything else on the farm. Paint was stripped away in places and what was left on the siding was a faded, dirty grey. On one side of the front porch, a swing hung from the roof above, swaying in the late Spring breeze.
David got out of the car quickly. He looked around at the house, outbuildings, and the land surrounding them. “So this is it, huh? Where you grew up?” he remarked. “Its…something.”
“Its shit. Don’t put on an act on my account,” Hazel said as she closed the passenger door.
The front door to the house flew open and a young woman came running out, blonde hair flowing behind her. She let out a squeal of excitement before rushing to Hazel and catching her in a sudden embrace.
“I can’t believe you came back! And you brought the infamous David!” she exclaimed. She turned to David. “I’m Grace, Hazel’s younger sister.”
“David Marshall. Pleasure to meet you,” David said, offering his hand politely.
Grace hugged him tightly as well, ignoring his outstretched hand. “We’re practically family. No handshakes here.” The front door opened again and she looked up.
Hazel’s mother stood on the porch, wiping her hands on a towel. Her floral dress fluttered slightly in the breeze and she gave all three of them a disapproving look before turning back into the house.
“She just didn’t think you’d come,” Grace tried to explain. “That’s all.”
“I’m sure she didn’t,” Hazel said dryly. “My mother, Elizabeth,” she added for David’s benefit.
Undeterred, Grace took her sister’s hand. “Come inside and get settled. I got your old room made up for you two.”
David followed Hazel and Grace into the house, catching the warped screen door with his hand before it could slam shut behind him. They walked right into the living room and he stopped next to Hazel. The room was packed with a lifetime of memories; family photos hung on the walls and two overstuffed armchairs sat in opposite corners. A man in his late sixties wearing a plaid button down and Wranglers with a face worn to match the barn outside sat on an old cracked leather sofa watching a late model box set that looked like it had fallen out of the eighties. The reception was fuzzy at best.
Grace cleared her throat. “Daddy, Hazel just came in.”
The man grunted, but didn’t look away from the television set.
“That’s my dad, Charlie,” Hazel offered.
David put on a smile. “I don’t know how you guys survive out here with so little to do,” he said in a joking tone.
Charlie was having none of it. “There’s always plenty to do on a farm. Got no time for stupid shit,” he growled, still not looking away from the TV.
Just then, Elizabeth popped her head in from the kitchen. “Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes. Get cleaned up.”
Charlie got up and turned the television off. He walked past the three of them without speaking and sat himself at the head of the dining table in the next room. David looked at the cramped space with uncertainty. Faded green wallpaper was peeling at the corners and family portraits lined the walls alongside various photos of farm life. The table was set with a threadbare blue tablecloth and slightly chipped, well used dishes. Flatware lined each place and a few dishes of food already sat in the center of the table.
“Are we supposed to sit anywhere or…?” he asked Hazel, leaning into her.
“Just sit next to me. You’ll be fine,” she whispered back to him.
Her heart was still in her throat and she couldn’t imagine the way he must be feeling. She was already regretting telling him about the wedding invitation. But he insisted they come. She wondered if he would still be as insistent after having dinner in the lions’ den. David sat next to Hazel and Grace found a seat on the opposite side of the table just as Elizabeth emerged from the kitchen, arms laden with well-worn bowls and a serving platter.
She put the dishes down with effort. “It’s your favorite, Grace. I figured one of your last nights at home should be topped off with your favorites.”
A traditional farm-style feast sits in front of the group, complete with roast beef, macaroni and cheese, and dinner rolls. Hazel eyed the mashed potatoes in front of her warily, uncomfortable with the unpleasant memory they brought back.
“You want to say the blessing, Charlie?” Elizabeth asked, clearing her throat.
Charlie had been staring at the table in a daze. He shook his head to clear it. “Oh – uh, sure.” He sighed. “Humble our hearts, Oh Lord, and make us thankful for these and all our blessings. In Christ name Amen.”
There was a great clatter of utensils on dishes as everyone helped themselves. David looked on in apprehension, waiting for a sign. Hazel reluctantly picked up the serving spoon and plops a small mound of potatoes onto her plate, before passing the dish to her right.
“So David, what are your intentions with my sister?” Grace joked, trying to lighten the mood.
Elizabeth scoffed as she cut her steak into pieces. Hazel caught her mother’s response and chewed on her tongue, biting words back from a response.
David smiled, putting a hand on Hazel’s on the table. “Well, I plan to marry her.”
“You never asked permission to do that,” Charlie interjected roughly with a mouth full of food.
“All due respect Mr. Ligon, but Hazel is an adult. She’s more than capable of coming to her own decisions,” David said politely.
His words hung in the air as everyone ate in silence. Tension filled the space between bites.
“I have to ask, David, what exactly did Hazel do to catch your attention? She talks to us so little, we hardly know her anymore, let alone you,” Elizabeth said politely.
Hazel set her fork down in exasperation, catching on to her mother’s intentions immediately. “You’re joking, right? That’s what you want to bring up now?” She shook her head in disbelief. “And you wonder why I never call to begin with.”
Another silence took the room and Grace noticed Hazel wasn’t eating.
“What’s the matter, Hazel? You don’t like it? Not up to the food in San Francisco?” she asked with an easy smile.
Elizabeth let out a humph of annoyance. Hazel caught her glance and stared back at her mother in cool confidence. She began to pick at the potatoes on her plate, but none of them made it to her mouth.
“Grace, Reverend Adam wanted to go over a few final details of the vows. I told him you’d call after dinner,” Elizabeth said, turning her attention to her youngest child.
Hazel felt her blood run cold. David looked over at her as he chewed, stopping when he saw the fear in her eyes. Her fork clattered to the floor and everyone’s eyes snapped to her.
“Are you fucking kidding me? Him? You’re having him perform the wedding? After everything he did to me? To us?” she asked incredulously.
“He’s the only reverend in town. Who else is going to perform the ceremony? Besides – he’s known Grace since she was a child. It’s the perfect fit,” her mother replied, nonplussed by her outburst.
“Of course you’d see it like that,” Hazel replied, pushing away from the table and standing. “Come on David. We’re leaving.”
“Hazel-” Charlie starts.
“What? No! You can’t! You have to stay,” Grace begged.
Their words fell on deaf ears.
“Why? Hazel, come on. It’s your sister’s wedding. Can’t we just put this behind us for right now?”
Hazel shook her head. “Nope. I’m not staying here if that man is going to be anywhere near me. I can’t do it, David.”
He sighed in defeat, wiped his hands on his napkin, and moved to follow Hazel out of the room.
“I can’t believe you would walk away from your own sister’s wedding,” Elizabeth said.
Hazel turned to her mother slowly, her eyes meeting the older woman’s in contempt. “Really, mother? You can’t believe that I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as him? After everything?”
Elizabeth scoffed. “Of course not. Because you’re a selfish little brat who hates the idea of anyone else getting attention.”
“You still think that’s all it was?!” Hazel exclaimed incredulously. “You think the only reason he insisted on driving me all the way to Butte by myself was because the ice cream was good? Or that he really needed my help coming up with plans for the Sunday school classes? Do you really think he came here and helped Dad all those times because he’s a charitable guy?”
Her voice filled the room as her mother stood to confront her.
“ENOUGH! You will not come into my house and insult me with these things – with these lies!” Elizabeth shouted, her voice trembling.
Both women were breathing heavily as the mood swiftly changed. Hazel glared at her mother, challenging the older woman to continue talking in a silent protest. There was a secret neither one of them was telling the rest.
“You’re right, mother,” Hazel began shakily. “I told you what he was doing because I couldn’t stand not being the center of attention any longer. I couldn’t stand not having his eyes on me anymore. I couldn’t stand him looking at someone else. I wasn’t enough for him anymore – he wanted someone else. And I couldn’t stand it. But you know who he wanted? Grace.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened and flickered back to her youngest child. Grace sat in confusion, looking between her sister and her mother like a spectator at a tennis match. Elizabeth looked as if her entire world is about to come crashing down.
“Mom?” Grace asked plaintively.
“You’ll have to excuse me if I wasn’t going to stand by and watch as my little sister became a victim while my mother did nothing because she was too fucking besotted with the man who was molesting me,” Hazel continued.
Elizabeth wrung her hands and moved to clear her unfinished plate from the table as the rest of the family looked on.
“I was a CHILD!” Hazel shouted. “I was a little kid and you were jealous of me! You stood by and said nothing. You turned the entire family against me because you were jealous of me! I was getting the attention you weren’t and that somehow made me your enemy!”
“Mom, what is she talking about?” Grace asked. “You told me she left because she thought she was better than us.”
“Of course you did, mother! Because it’s always easier to pin the blame on someone else instead of accepting reality. You are a dried up old crone that no one wants,” Hazel spat.
A gasp flowed through the room.
“I still remember what you said when I first told you what he did. You said I deserved it,” she whispered.
“That’s not what I -”, Elizabeth started.
“Not what you meant? Really? You spent years turning my family against me to cover up your jealousy. And now you are allowing the same man who did those things to me perform your daughter’s wedding, as if everything I tried to tell you meant absolutely nothing. Seems pretty clear to me what you meant, mother,” Hazel sneered. She turned to David. “Let’s go. I’m not staying with this woman a second longer than I need to.”
David followed Hazel out of the house, keeping his eyes trained on the floor. Elizabeth was left standing in the dining room, Grace staring at her in shock.
“Mom? What is she talking about?” she asked in a small voice.
“Lizzie?” Charlie asked, his voice cracking.
It was a nickname he hadn’t used on her in years and it was enough to draw her attention to him. She looked at him as if she was seeing him for the first time and realized what had just been revealed.
“I – I,” her voice faltered as she tried to speak.
“Is she telling the truth?” he asked, rising from his chair. “Did you really lie to us all these years? Did you really keep this from people?”
“People were talking!” she replied frantically. “I couldn’t have people saying those things about our family!”
“So you spread lies about our daughter? You – you ran her off out of jealousy?” he asked in disbelief.
Elizabeth stood stock-still in the doorway of the dining room, unsure of what to do next as her perfectly-crafted world collapsed around her. Her silence was the only answer he needed. He shook his head.
“I have cows to feed,” he muttered, throwing his napkin down on his plate in disgust and walking silently out of the back door.
Only Grace remained at the table, staring straight down at her plate, her appetite gone. Through the dining room window, with its view of the expansive plains around the house, Elizabeth watched the black sedan retreat down the driveway, leaving a trail of dust behind that floated up to the sky.
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