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Through the Thorns
The sun had long since gone down, leaving the world covered in a veil of darkness. Two birds chirped back and forth in a small pine on the edge of the river. Suddenly, they flew away, chirping angrily. A young woman stepped out of the shadows, carrying a carpetbag and wearing a long heavy coat. A branch snapped and the girl started. “Jon, is that you?” A tall man walked softly out of the woods. “Yes, it’s me.” The girl’s frame visibly relaxed. “Is everything ready Jon?” The tall man nodded. “Good, I can’t stay in this house for another minute! Let’s go Jon!” The man took the girl’s satchel, and they walked to the road on the other side of the river. A minute passed, and then the sound of an automobile engine sounded through the air. As soon as the sound vanished, the inhabitants of nature went back to their everyday life as though nothing had happened.
Chaos reigned in the small clap board house on the edge of town. A young girl was busy trying to cook breakfast, clean dishes, and get three younger children ready for school. The oatmeal on the stove was boiling over, pieces of dishes were on the floor, and the cries of children caused all, but one lady, walking outside to shake their heads and walk faster. As this woman passed by the house, she tipped her head to listen, and then ever so slightly shook her head. Briskly, she moved up the uneven stone path and rapped on the door. One of the youngest girls answered. “Hello Pat!” Said the older woman, “Is your sister here?” The younger girl only nodded and walked away, leaving the door open, giving Mrs. Walsh a good view of what was inside. She stepped inside and immediately looked around for someone in charge of this chaos. The only example of authority Mrs. Walsh could find was the oldest girl, Lillian. “This isn’t right, taking away a childhood.” She thought. “Lillian?” The girl turned, fixing her dark blue eyes on Mrs. Walsh. Relief flooded her face as she registered the fact that someone was here that knew how to multi-task. “Oh! Mrs. Walsh, you don’t know how happy I am to see you! I’m having , well, problems.” Mrs. Walsh inwardly shed a tear at the youngster’s spirit. As far as she knew, Lillian had been taking care of her five siblings since the age of twelve. “Here, let me cook and do dishes, dear, you help the younger ones.” Lillian nodded, glad for the reprieve, and rounded up the kids that were to make the trip to school. “Now,” She began. “Wash your hands, face and the back of your neck and ears. I will not let you go to school looking like hooligans. Hear me?” They all nodded and raced for the wash basin in the far corner. Lillian looked around and then sat at the small, rickety kitchen table. She leaned her head against the back of the chair, her dark black hair hanging over the back. “Not even old enough to put her hair up and taking care of five little ones and a house!” Mrs. Walsh washed dishes silently, and just as quickly, made scrambled eggs and bacon from the provisions in the icebox. She couldn’t help noticing how few there were. Lillian suddenly opened her eyes and stood up. She glanced at the clock and her face went white. “You have to leave.” She gasped. “Now!” Mrs. Walsh stared at her. “Lillian, what are you talking about? You obviously need someone here!” Lillian only shook her head, her red lips pressed tightly together. “You have to leave. Pa ’ll be coming in soon.” Mrs. Walsh could not understand. “Why, Lillian, I would love to meet your father!” “No, you don’t understand! You have to go! Now!” The young girl was near to a panic attack. Mrs. Walsh was puzzled, as well as concerned, for all of the children. She would gladly have stayed, but Lillian was basically pushing her out of the door. Mrs. Walsh could only pick up her coat and handbag, and walk away. She puzzled over the child’s strange behavior as she walked to the general store. Coming to the conclusion that the girl wanted her pa to believe she could be an adult. Mrs. Walsh shook her head and forgot all about it as she looked over the new bolts of fabric.
Lillian made sure all the kids had washed up and dressed for school, then dished out quickly the breakfast Mrs. Walsh had made. The kids had just set out for school, when Lillian’s pa came in. Breathing heavily and bleary eyed, Lillian’s only question was which bar he had spent the night at, if only one. “Where’sh my breakfasht girl?” He slurred. Lillian swallowed and stood straight. “Pa, why don’t you go lie down while I get breakfast ready? I’ll wake you when I’m done.” Her pa stood looking at her, swaying slightly, as if not knowing what to do. “It’s all right Pa. Just go on in to the bedroom and lie down.” Lillian took her pa’s arm and guided him to his bed. “Here Pa, look, the covers are all pulled down, and I washed the mattress yesterday. Just rest a little while I cook something. Okay?” Her pa had nearly passed out already, and all she had to do was let go of his arm, and he collapsed onto his bed, snoring heavily. Lillian tip-toed out of the room and closed the door behind her. She leaned against the wall and breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness it wasn’t a violent drunk!” She thought. Lillian’s pa had come home quite a few times, just drunk enough to be angry at everyone and everything. He had wrecked the house multiple times, and he had hit Lillian more times than she could count. Lillian’s older sisters, Louise and Bethany, had only gone through small amounts of their father’s temper. Louise had gotten married not long after the girl’s mother had passed away. The doctor’s said it was heart failure, but Bethany had always said that it was from being too tired. The O’Reilly family had always been poor, but never more so than after the crash of the 1920’s. All the extra money the family might have had was spent on food and clothing. The sudden lack of funds had sent Mr. and Mrs. O’Reilly into a panic. Mr. O’Reilly worked three jobs; he was a grocer in the morning, a barber in the afternoon, and a butler for a well-to-do family in the evening, and for most of the night. Mrs. O’Reilly couldn’t get work outside of the home, no one in the rural Appalachian town the O’Reilly’s lived in wanted to hire a woman, especially one with four kids and another on the way. So Mrs. O’Reilly began to do housework for other women, cleaning, cooking, and laundry. She hated the housework, but appreciated the fact that she was bringing some money home each night. After around two years of constant working, Mrs. O’Reilly just sort of gave up. The stress of working almost 24 hours a day, plus the pregnancies over the years, had taken their toll. With eight kids at home, two still in diapers, work was needed even more. Mr. O’Reilly had begun to look continually panicked, and jobs were getting scarcer than ever before. The kids had been wearing the same shoes for a year and a half, Louise, the eldest, was going barefoot because she had outgrown her pair. All of this was too much for Mrs. O’Reilly, and Lillian found her lying on the side of a road on day late in August, just as the trees were beginning to wear their fall colors. All Mrs. O’Reilly could manage was “Be a good girl, and help take care of the family, the family is important Lil.” And then she went still in Lillian’s arms. Lillian had blindly walked home, finding her pa at the door, looking concerned. “Have you seen your ma girl?” He asked. Girl, that’s what he called all of his female children. The boys, Luke and Thomas, were always Luke and Thomas but “Girl” was all the girls could expect from their father. Lillian had only stared at their father and nod. “Well, where is she?” Lillian swallowed. “Heaven.” Was all she said. Mr. O’Reilly’s eyes got large and he had grabbed Lillian by her wrists and shaken her. Louise and Bethany ran to their pa’s side and grabbed his arms, yelling at him to stop. “Where is she girl?” “She’s down by the Thomas’ orchard just up the way!” Lillian sobbed. “Ma’s gone! Ma isn’t here! What am I going to do?” Was all that Lillian could think. Mr. O’Reilly dropped Lillian and ran towards the orchard. Louise hugged Lillian to her while the younger girl sobbed. “Ma’s dead Lou! She’s dead! I saw her, she’s dead!” Louise had tears of her own running down her face. “Hush Lil! Look, you’re going to have to be a big girl now. Pa will need us more than ever. Do you understand?” Lillian nodded, trying to stifle her sobs and ending up adding hiccups to her list of reactions. Bethany had gone to sit on their mother’s small sofa; the one Mrs. O’Reilly had fought to keep from being sold for money, and curled into a little ball. Bethany’s face was dry, however. She was sad that her mother was gone, but as far as Bethany was concerned, her personal ball and chain was gone. She could leave; surely Pa couldn’t keep all of them in this place! He hardly had enough money for coal! Let alone eight kids! Bethany dreamed while lying on that sofa, grieving in her own way. The loss of a mother that had been her closest confidant for fifteen years saddened her immensely, but the thought of all that the world held for her gave her light. The sound of her father’s step outside made Bethany stand quickly and run to the main room of the small house, the room that held the table and kitchen appliances. Mr. O’Reilly was carrying Mrs. O’Reilly and he sat her down on the table. He turned to Luke. “Go get the Doc, Luke! Hurry!” Luke gave a nod and was gone. Mr. O’Reilly sat in one of the chairs surrounding the table. “Rachel? Rachel, come back! I love you! Don’t you know that? I need you! Rachel?” Lillian began crying even louder, she was only eight, but she knew what her father was saying. Mr. O’Reilly suddenly glared at her. “Don’t you be crying girl! It’s because of you she’s gone! All of you caused it! She worked herself to the bone and all you did was want! You don’t deserve to be crying!” His eyes had turned into cold fire, dead but burning. Lillian sobbed even harder and Louise stepped in front of her. “Pa, listen to yourself! Fancy that, blaming a ten year old for something that was probably a medical condition!” The fire in Mr. O’Reilly’s eyes had gone out as he looked at his seventeen year old daughter, seeing her for the first time as the woman she was. Mr. O’Reilly nodded and sat down again. As their pa continued to talk to his dead wife, the children sat quietly in one corner. Louise made coffee, thinking, correctly, that the doctor might want some when he arrived. Not long after Luke left, he was back saying that the doctor had been setting an arm and he would be there when he was done. Bethany crept back into her mother’s small parlor and lay back onto the sofa. Seeing her ma so white and still had frightened Bethany. It dawned on her for the first time that she would never speak to her mother again on this earth. Still Bethany could not cry. She was torn now, her pa would need them all, she saw that now, and being fifteen she could get a job, but the world still called. Bethany wanted to see the places her mother had told her of. Foreign places with strange names. France, Italy, her parent’s home country Ireland, England, Egypt. Bethany yearned for a better life. She had decided years ago that poverty was not her cup of tea. As Bethany sat pondering all of the emotions running through her, the doctor arrived. Doctor Addison had replaced old Doctor Jones the year before when the older man had retired. The “New Doc” as people called him, was not a very handsome man, but he was smart, and he knew what he was doing. As he walked into the small house, he gave a sort of sideways glance at Louise and smiled, she smiled back. Mr. O’Reilly didn’t see, but Lillian did, and it made her uneasy. Doctor Addison examined Mrs. O’Reilly quickly, then looked up at Mr. O’Reilly sorrowfully. “I’m sorry sir, she’s gone.” Mr. O’Reilly nodded and looked at the floor. “It was her heart, sir, it failed.” Mr. O’Reilly lifted his head only long enough to look at the doctor with a bewildered expression in his eyes. “But, she was only forty three!” The doctor nodded. “Yes, it happens that way, it was probably a condition passed down through the family.” A few minutes passed in silence before Louise brought the coffee around. She poured her pa a cup, and then moved on to the doctor. As Doctor Addison took a long drink from his cup, he looked at Louise and smiled. “Miss O’Reilly, that’s the best cup of coffee I’ve had in ages!” Louise only blushed and hurried back to the kitchen. Mr. O’Reilly then saw what was going on. “Son, if you have an interest in this house, I would prefer to know about it firsthand.” Doctor Addison nodded and looked into his cup. “I would like your permission to see Louise, sir” Mr. O’Reilly only nodded. Doctor Addison looked relieved. “Sir, I think you should know that my name is Patrick Addison, and I hail from Pennsylvania.” Mr. O’Reilly waved his hand. “ Patrick, all I need to know is that you’ll take good care of my girl.” Patrick nodded. “Oh yes sir! Thank you sir!” The doctor stood and went to the kitchen to tell the good news.
As Lillian strolled through the meadow grass on the way to her job, she mused over how her life had changed since Louise had married the doctor and moved to Atlanta. The charge of caring for the house and its occupants had fallen to Bethany and the girl had tried to be content, but her dreams persisted. The books her mother had been so fond of became Bethany’s comfort. Each word became as valued as the money that hardly stayed two hours in Mr. O’Reilly’s wallet. Mr. O’Reilly had turned to drink, and when he came home after a few hours at an ale house and found a dirty house, no dinner ready, and Bethany curled up on her mother’s old sofa poring over this book or that one, he simply became irate. At first, Bethany had only thought her father mildly irritated, but as time wore on and she neglected her duties for reading more often, she realized how deeply her father was hurting. What she never realized was that it was not her mother’s death that angered her father, but the anger at his own anger. Mr. O’Reilly saw himself becoming eaten up by despair, and that made him angry at himself for being weak. He found himself taking all of his feelings out on his children, and Bethany bore the brunt of his wrath. From the first time he discovered her reading, and; with her dark auburn hair and brown eyes, looking eerily like her mother, his anger had been building. Bethany would swiftly prepare everything as soon as her father stormed into her sanctuary of thought and demanded food, but day after day she continued to complete only half of her tasks. Let it not be said that Mr. O’Reilly was not a patient man, he dealt with his situation as best he could for a year. Still, he couldn’t understand Bethany’s need to reach out and embrace learning. Books had always been worthless in his eyes, nothing but paper in-between slabs of wood. The fact that his daughter had a larger vocabulary than he had, and that she could read and he couldn’t, embarrassed Mr. O’Reilly to no end. One day, early in summer, Mr. O’Reilly came home early. Why he expected to find anything other than the dirty house that was usually there later in the day he did not know, but he had drunk more than usual, and earlier than usual, as he had been fired from his job quite a few months back. As soon as he stepped through the door to find that the breakfast dishes were still piled in the sink, dirt was thickly laid on the floor, and a feeling of chaos still reigned throughout the house, though all of the smaller ones had left for school. Mr. O’Reilly became furious. He began yelling. “Stupid little girl! Where are you? Think you’re above such things, huh? Think you can shirk off? I’ll show you a thing or two! I’ll show you!” He wrenched open the door to the sitting room. Bethany had heard her father ranting and had shrunk even more into the sofa, hoping that he would pass out before she was discovered. It was not to be, however. Mr. O’Reilly took one look at his daughters face and cowed a little, until he saw what was in her hand. “What? Reading this garbage again?” Mr. O’Reilly grabbed for the book. Quite protective when it came to her closest friends and the keys to beyond the back-woods, Bethany’s fist caught her father’s nose. Mr. O’Reilly fell to his knees as blood began to trickle down his face. He began screaming Gaelic at her. “Cailleach! Imeacht gan teacht ort!” Being raised in a purely Irish home, Bethany was no stranger to the Gaelic terms. She stood and hovered over her father. Her brown eyes glinting the way only hers could. Mr. O’Reilly was not the only one that could scream Gaelic, but Bethany responded much more calmly. “Mise agus tusa. Le do thoil dean ni deonu dti righ cailleach!” She and her father stared at each other for a full minute. Then Mr. O’Reilly smiled and stood, still holding his nose. “You have guts girl, I’ll give you that. But you won’t leave. I see it in you.” He turned and strode to the door, just as he reached the frame, he turned and looked at her. “I will have it known that the next time I find you reading, the books will be used as firewood. Ceart go leor?” With that, he turned and left the room, leaving Bethany a trembling, white, fearful creature.
After that episode, Bethany worked, and worked hard. Mr. O’Reilly was astonished every time the house was clean at the end of the day. He felt bad for scaring her, but a clean house, he reasoned, was worth it. Had Mr. O’Reilly known what was running through his daughters head during these times, he would surely have been uncontrollably angry. Bethany had decided to take matters into her own hands. After the kids left in the morning, and her pa went to wander around town, Bethany would go to work. She had found a job at the big house her mother worked at. During all of the washing, baking, carrying, serving, and sewing, Bethany gained a new respect for her mother. The tasks left her weary, but she was saving the money she earned. No one in her family knew about her job, it would be too costly. Her father would demand the money from her and Bethany would be right back where she started. So Bethany had saved for five months, her total soon becoming quite large in her eyes, and to her excitement she had almost enough for a ticket to Atlanta! Everyone was surprised at Bethany’s energy, including herself. Bethany did not enjoy housework, but she did not want her father angry again. Mr. O’Reilly saw how tired his daughter was becoming, and the memories of his wife’s sudden death, and the guilt that ate at him for his empty threats and wallet, caused him to be concerned for Bethany’s health. He looked around for house-help. All he could ever find was a young boy by the name of Jonathan Grover. Quite curious as to why the boy chose this profession, Mr. O’Reilly went to see him. To his shock the “boy” was in fact nineteen years old and orphaned. Their meeting was brief, thirty minutes at the most, but much was said. “I heard it spread ‘round town that you do pretty housework.” Said Mr. O’Reilly. Jonathan nodded. “Yes sir, I clean and cook for money if that’s what you mean.” Mr. O’Reilly nodded and was silent for a moment. “If I offered you a warm bed and hot food for free, would you come and help my girl take care of the house?” Jonathan thought for a moment. He had heard of Mrs. O’Reilly’s death and was sorry for the O’Reilly family, but he had also seen the O’Reilly girls and was concerned for himself. The eldest , Louise, he believed, had recently been married. That meant that Bethany O’Reilly was in charge of the O’Reilly household. Jonathan would accept the job of course, but he had gone to school with the O’Reilly girls for a few years and had been quite taken with Bethany’s spunk. Amazingly conceited, Jonathan was worried that Bethany would fall at his feet. Jonathan Grover was a handsome young man, and more than one girl’s heart had skipped when he so much as glanced their way, but all of the extra attention he had received had gone to his head. Jonathan now considered himself the most irresistible man on earth. “Yes, I’ll take the job, I need the money.” He thought. “But at the first sign of trouble, I’m out of there!” Jonathan agreed to Mr. O’Reilly’s terms. The men shook hands and Mr. O’Reilly left feeling very proud of himself. Bethany wouldn’t look tired anymore and he would have some male companionship around the house.
Tuesday was never a good day around the O’Reilly household, but this particular Tuesday was the worst. Bethany had overslept, leaving the others to be thrown off in even the most mundane tasks. Breakfast was barely salvaged, and even then, barely edible. Bethany had woken quickly and was still maneuvering the six young ones around the kitchen and dining room area in her robe and curlers. Mr. O’Reilly had just returned from a two day visit to the bars around town and was still suffering a severe hangover, when a knock sounded at the door. Lillian ran to open the door. A few minutes passed before Bethany realized that the children in the dining room had grown eerily silent. With a puzzled expression on her face she strode out of the kitchen to end whatever new mischief was afoot. What Bethany saw made her feel as though someone had dumped a bucket of ice cold water over her. The word that escaped her lips was anything but ladylike as she observed, what was possibly, her worst nightmare was sitting in the chair opposite her father. Jonathan looked up and gave a half smile, Mr. O’Reilly had turned sharply at Bethany’s voice. “Young lady! You will never speak that word in my presence again! Is that understood? And cover yourself up! You aren’t a hussy, yet.” Bethany turned red, partly from the anger her father’s words had brought, and partly from the embarrassment of finding a man she so wholly loathed being treated as a member of the family. Bethany tilted her chin up and spun on her heel. “All right, the lunches are packed. Now off with you before Miss. Harrison wondering if you’ve all been frozen in place!” A chorus of giggles followed this announcement, and Bethany gave them each a kiss as they left for school. Immediately after the last one, Thomas, was out the door, Bethany heaved a sigh of relief and shut the door. She meant to quietly sneak into the kitchen to finish cleaning and wait for their guest to leave. To her shock, Jonathan had premeditated her. By the time she was back in the kitchen he had finished the dishes and swept. Suddenly very self-conscious, Bethany pulled her robe tighter around her. “What are you doing?” Jonathan looked up from where he was sweeping and smiled. “Helping.” Was all he said. Bethany leaned against the door-frame. “Uh, why?” He looked up again. “That is what I’m paid for.” Bethany straightened. “What ?” “Your father is paying me to help out around the house.’ Jonathan calmly went back to sweeping. Bethany, on the other hand, was furious. She wheeled around. “Pa! Pa!” Mr. O’Reilly knew what would happen, and had hidden himself in the parlor. It didn’t take as long as he’d hoped for Bethany to hunt him down. She flew through the door red faced and angry. “Why on earth do you think that I need any help? And going behind my back? Tuilli!” At that, Mr. O’Reilly’s temper flared. His hand came out of nowhere and Bethany suddenly saw sparks. Her right cheek felt numb and she couldn’t hear anything. Determined not to cry, she bit her lip as the blinding pain shot through her jaw. Bethany’s hearing returned in time for her to feel the sting of the names her father was adding to her legal one. Still, she forbade tears. Mr. O’Reilly, instead of letting his anger fade, grew even angrier as he tried to justify his actions against his daughter. Finally, he couldn’t continue. He made sure to slam the door on his way out. Bethany made her way to the sofa and sat in the corner of it, tucking her legs underneath her. Finally she released her tears. Jonathan had been forgotten by both father and daughter, and he witnessed the scene with no little shock. He had assumed that Mr. O’Reilly cared for his daughter, the daughter that had given up school and any social life she might have had, to stay at home all day and cook, clean, and care for seven people. However compelled Jonathan might have been that what Mr. O’Reilly was doing was wrong, he was not compelled to stop it. Jonathan was only partially worried about Bethany, he was mostly worried about his job. Mr. O’Reilly would surely fire Jonathan if he interfered. So Jonathan turned a blind eye as he straightened the dining room. Not a sound issued from the small parlor but Mr. O’Reilly’s curses.
Bethany never allowed herself to wallow in self-pity after one of her father’s episodes. She knew it would do no good, as he would return even more drunk than before. As soon as she felt that she could speak without choking the words out, Bethany wiped her eyes, stiffened her back, and stalked up the stairs to her room. She had not forgotten the newest member of the household, but Bethany was most certainly not going to go to any extra trouble for a man she hated. Realizing too late that Jonathan had been doing all of the housework since breakfast, Bethany hurried to dress. As she raced down the stairs, she caught a glimpse of her cheek in the mirror. A purplish hue had spread down the line of her jaw, and a cut on her cheek was still bleeding. Bethany only shook her head and continued down the stairs. The sight below stopped her short. The dining room had been tidied, washed, and swept, as had the kitchen and small living area. Jonathan was sitting in a small armchair with his feet propped on the coffee table. At her step, he looked up from the book he had picked up, and Bethany couldn’t help noticing that his gaze lingered on her swollen jaw. “Are you okay?” He asked. “I’m perfectly fine.” She retorted. “Thank you for cleaning, but please know that not every morning will pass in this manner. If your help is at all necessary, I will let you know. Do you understand?” Jonathan was staring at her strangely. “What?” Bethany asked. “Well,” Jonathan began. “I’ve never heard anyone talk as funny as you just did.” Bethany’s expression darkened. “Again with the way I speak.” She thought. “Yes, well, I am going for a walk and I should be back around three forty five. You can handle things around here I’m sure?” Jonathan nodded and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “You’re going to walk for seven hours by yourself? Would you like me to go with you?” “No!” Was the alarmed reply that surprised Jonathan greatly. Bethany blushed faintly. “I mean, I won’t be alone, I’m going to see a, a friend, a very good friend. If I’m not home by two, or if my pa gets back before me, don’t worry.” With that, she picked up her jacket and a sizeable carpetbag, and walked out of the door. Leaving a very bored, and puzzled, Jonathan Grover behind.
Bethany fumed to herself as she walked through the woods to her job. “Who does he think he is? Coming into my house and cleaning and moving things. And again with the way I speak? Just because he never learned proper English, does that give him the right to make fun of those that have?” Bethany passed her walking time in much of this way, until she reached the grove just outside of the Cosgrove plantation. There, Bethany changed into her maid’s uniform and hid her carpetbag in a, conveniently, nearby hollow tree. Giving a sigh of relief that she could now work off her frustration, she squared her shoulders and walked to the back door.
Six hours later, Bethany was on her way back to the house. Tired from the activities that had been required of her throughout the day; she walked more slowly than usual. Bethany had forgotten about her unwanted houseguest and, realizing that the house would be empty until five, she wandered through the meadows of Bartow, G.A. Bartow was not a large town, but it was the biggest within a five hundred mile radius. Many residents were elderly or handicapped because of the war, and spending more than an hour with one of them was sure to get one’s ear talked off. The O’Reilly girls, the Clarkson kids, and Jonathan Grover were the only ones under the age of thirty in the area, and being so pressed to help around the houses, they didn’t socialize much. Not many people knew the O’Reilly girls personally, except the older women at church, but almost everyone had heard about their looks. The older girls, Louise and Bethany, were considered exceptionally beautiful, and Lillian on her way to being the same. It was too early to tell for the younger girls, Patricia, Irene, and Elspeth, but it was certain that they would be just as beautiful. The O’Reilly’s, of course, never heard these discussions. Everyone knew better than to discuss it within earshot of the girl’s pa, and it would be considered bad manners to tell the girls themselves. Louise knew somewhat that she and her sisters held a place of respect in the small community, but the younger ones were never told. Bethany grew up believing that the only hope for happiness was to leave Bartow. She was absolutely convinced that her auburn hair, freckles, and long limbs made an unseemly sight. Bethany was the independent one. Louise was a good natured girl, with long black hair and green eyes. Lillian was much like her eldest sister, the same build and black hair, but Lillian had Bethany’s eyes. Her looks were uncommon and caused a great stir among people who saw her.
Bethany often sat at a mirror in her mother’s parlor and imagined herself with different looks. When she had first become aware of how she looked to other people, Bethany tried everything from wearing a full-time clothespin on her nose to a gypsy’s freckle lotion. The clothes pin only left a red mark, and the freckle lotion caused a rather severe breakout. Bethany had long since accepted the fact that she was ugly and sentenced herself to a life of learning. She did not detest pink, but decided rather quickly that it was not her best color. Bethany had quit school when Louise married so that she could take charge of the house. The move had pained her greatly, but she had been glad to be out of the clutches of Jonathan Grover. Jonathan had tormented her to no end about her looks, her brains, her voice, her manner of speaking, etc. Bethany did not envy Jane Clarkson a bit when the girl related to the small group of female students that Jonathan Grover had kissed her behind the outhouse. The other girls had giggled, in what Bethany thought a stupid way, and Bethany had snorted and made some snide remark about not letting Jonathan Grover touch her with a ten foot metal telephone pole, (The telephone pole being the newest obsession in Bartow.) Somehow, her remark made it’s way back to Jonathan and, being the conceited little boy that he was, deemed it necessary to follow Bethany around the schoolyard, and even around town, at exactly ten feet. Bethany was not injured in the least and made quite a show of it, exclaiming to other girls that “Jonathan Grover just couldn’t get enough of her.” Finally, one fateful day, he did it. That awful Jonathan Grover marched right up to Bethany O’Reilly and kissed her full on the mouth right in front of the school. Fourteen pairs of eyes saw the kiss, and fourteen pairs of eyes saw the exact moment Bethany’s arm caught Jonathan’s face. The entire school, even Miss. Harrison, stood in shock. Bethany strode into the schoolhouse, put on her hat and coat, picked up her lunch pail, and with her shoulders back and her chin up, Bethany walked home. She heard later that Jonathan had been dazed, but had told Charlie Clarkson that he admired her right hook. Nothing had ever made Bethany feel prouder.
Bethany suddenly started and looked at the sky. “Four thirty! I’ve got to get home!” She raced through the woods, leaping over rocks and small streams. Just as she turned the corner to her house, Bethany collided with a large object. She fell backwards onto her bottom, but almost as quickly jumped up and ran the little ways down the road, up the walkway, and into the front door. Closing the door quickly behind her, she leaned against it breathing heavily. Glancing around, Bethany saw that the house was as clean as it was just hours ago and that nothing had moved. Finally having caught her breath, Bethany moved towards the wash basin. She wasn’t sweaty, just dirty. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she gave a little laugh. Her auburn hair had all but completely come undone, the wildflowers she had meticulously place in her hair were askew, and, under the layer of dirt on her skin, her cheeks were flushed. All Bethany had time to do was wash her face and hands and change her clothes before she fixed dinner. She did so quickly, combing the flowers out of her hair while she washed. Walking into the kitchen, Bethany got the feeling that she was supposed to do something. Bethany stopped suddenly and walked out of the kitchen. The house was clean. “I don’t remember cleaning this morning. Oh no!” Bethany suddenly remembered who had cleaned that morning. “Jonathan? Jonathan! Are you here?” Bethany walked towards the back of the house calling his name. About the time she reached the back door, a knock sounded at the front. Puzzled as to who would be stopping by at this hour, Bethany went to open the door. There she found a very disheveled looking Jonathan Grover. “What on earth happened?” She cried. Jonathan gave a half grin. “Well, it seems that someone was in a hurry, and I was in the way.” Bethany covered her mouth with her hands, half from embarrassment and half to cover the smile that was spreading across her face. “I am so sorry!” Jonathan nodded. “It’s all right, I was on my way to look for you. Can I, come in and sit down?” Bethany opened the door wider. “Of course! Of course.” Jonathan grimaced and limped his way to the living area, plopping down on the chair nearest the coffee table. Bethany hurried to the kitchen and chipped some ice to put in a dishcloth. Once this task was complete, she gave it to Jonathan to apply to his injury. “Does it hurt much?” She asked, grimacing for him. Jonathan turned to look at her and grinned. “No more than a right hook to the face.” Bethany rolled her eyes and walked away. “Why does he have to be so impertinent? Hateful man, if he can be called a man.” Jonathan’s thoughts, to his near dismay, were a good deal more pleasant.
Dinner was ready just after the kids got home from school. Bethany had been working over the oven, fuming over everything Jonathan had said and done throughout the day. “Came looking for me, as if I needed any help! Trying to be the big hero just like always!” She muttered. Bethany came very close to cursing the very existence of Jonathan Grover, but something in her very core made her stop and think. When she was calmer, Bethany was inclined to give Jonathan the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she had a bit of her mother’s sweet temperament after all, that’s how she accounted for her feelings anyway. Bethany was, for the first time in her life, almost overjoyed when the kids got home from school. No longer alone in the house, she left the kitchen to converse with her siblings. Bethany helped the youngest kids wash their hands and faces, and walked to the kitchen to finish dinner. The family didn’t have fancy food, but when it was gone, they were full. All of the children, except Lillian, were yawning, and were soon hurried to bed by Bethany. After the last one was tucked in, she walked downstairs only to discover that Jonathan was just finishing the last dish. Leaning against the kitchen door-frame, she said “I don’t think I’ve ever known a boy that voluntarily did dishes.” “And I,” Jonathan replied. “I have never known a girl more willful to continually hold a grudge.” Their eyes met and held each other, apologies and dares in each. The partial staring contest was broken when Lillian came in with a large book in her arms. “Bethany, you’ll never believe what… Oh, hello Jonathan.” Lillian was not indifferent to her elder sister’s feelings about Jonathan Grover, but the look of embarrassment that passed over Bethany’s face when Lillian had entered confused the younger girl. In an effort to distract Lillian, Bethany spoke. “What were you saying Lil?” Lillian shook her head slightly, as though clearing her thoughts. “Oh! Um, yeah, Miss Harrison surprised everyone at school with new literature books! And guess what?” Bethany couldn’t really imagine anything better than hearing the words “new” and “Literature book” put together. “What?” She asked, her brown eyes growing large. “This one tells you how to write a story like the ones in those books you like to read! I thought you might want to see it.” Lillian held the large book out for Bethany to take. Carefully, Bethany took it and opened the book to the first page. Almost immediately, she was tugged down into a whirlpool of Poetry, Short Stories, and Imagination. Not quite realizing what she was doing, Bethany made her way to her mother’s parlor, reading the entire way. After the door was shut, Jonathan looked at Lillian, who was smiling with satisfaction. “Has she always been like that?” He asked. Lillian nodded. “Ever since I was born. Momma was the one that got her started. Momma always used to say ‘A reader is a good thing to have in a family; they can make even the worst experiences seem romanticized.’ And it’s true! I don’t think a day goes by that Bethany doesn’t compare something one of us does with a character in this novel or that one.” Jonathan thought for a moment. “Does she, always act like this when you bring a book home?” Lillian nodded again. “I don’t bring one home that often, but seeing her happy, even if she’s bone weary, makes even school composition seem like nothing.” Jonathan nodded, and all was quiet for a few moments. Lillian stretched and stood. “Well, she’ll probably be in there for a while, if I know Bethany she won’t even feel tired until she’s gotten halfway through that book.” Jonathan nodded. “I guess we’d probably get to bed then.” Lillian nodded. “Yeah, and don’t disturb her on your way either, she’ll have your head.” Jonathan grinned. “Now that I can believe!” They shared a chuckle and Lillian moved towards the stairs. Just as she reached the bottom of the staircase, she turned and looked at Jonathan. “Jonathan,” He looked up. “You know she’s really not as tough and mean as she pretends to be don’t you?” Jonathan could only look at her. “I mean, she doesn’t like to be embarrassed, or over emotional for that matter, but every time she and Pa have a fight, or something like that happens, it tears her up inside just a little bit more. I don’t think she’s hanging on by much, but her bluffs are what keep her from completely falling apart.” Jonathan stood and gave a small bow at the waist, which caught Lillian totally by surprise. Following the rules that Bethany had previously laid out from one of her books, something about pride, Lillian curtseyed, flushed, and hurried to the room she and Bethany shared to prepare for bed. Meanwhile, Jonathan Grover was rethinking the puzzle that was Bethany O’Reilly. Jonathan sat staring at the light flickering under the door to the small parlor for a long time, before walking to his room, only to lie on the bed and wait for dawn to appear.
When Lillian came down the steps the next morning, her literature book was on the table, obviously several parts had been thumbed through quite often. Bethany was nowhere to be seen, but breakfast smells were wafting from the general direction of the kitchen. Fully expecting to meet a starry-eyed, worn out Bethany, Lillian was more than surprised to discover a slightly rumpled looking Jonathan who looked as though he had not slept any more than Bethany. Lillian’s startled “Oh!” caused him to glance up with a sheepish expression on his face. “Bethany was asleep, so I thought I’d handle things for today.” Lillian nodded and moved to wake the others up. “Lillian?” Jonathan called. Lillian turned back. “Try to be as quiet as possible.” Lillian only nodded her affirmance and walked upstairs. Breakfast and good-byes were over with as quickly as possible, and Jonathan started chores as soon as possible. He worked for about three hours with no interruption and Jonathan had just sat down to close his eyes, when Bethany walked downstairs. Appareled in pajamas and a bathrobe, she looked as though she was a bear that had just been woken from a long hibernation. Bethany reached the bottom of the stairs and began to move towards the kitchen. Halfway across the room she stopped and looked back towards the stairs. She then turned and looked around the room until her gaze fell on Jonathan. “What time is it?” She asked groggily. Jonathan glanced at the mantle clock. “Well, assuming that that clock is right, around eleven.” Bethany’s whole frame stiffened. “What?” She said. Jonathan’s brows knit together. “What?” He asked. Bethany turned and shuffled towards the stairs, moving slowly, and slipping over the hardwood floor in her slippers. “No, no, no, this can’t be happening! The first time I’m late in a year and a half because I had to stay up until three o’clock reading!” NO,NO,NO,NO,NO!” Bethany had begun muttering and ended in shouting. She slipped her way up the stairs, leaving Jonathan in bewilderment below. “Why is she so…” Jonathan tried to pull the word “weird” to his mind, but all he could come up with was “captivating”. After the word entered his mind so suddenly, all he could think was, “Captivating? Bethany O’Reilly is captivating. Really? Well, yes, I guess so. I am captivated by Bethany O’Reilly. Captivating?” Bethany was scurrying around upstairs, yelling at herself the whole time. Jonathan walked to the bottom of the stairs and yelled. “Uh, are you okay?” “I’m fine!” Bethany yelled. “I’m just PEACHY!” Jonathan backed away from the staircase. “I guess I woke the beast!” He muttered, half smiling to himself, a look of confusion on his face, still adjusting to his most recent realization. Bethany flew down the stairs, red hair flying. Her carpet bag was in one hand and in the other hand was a pair of shoes. She yelled “I’ll be back later! Don’t come looking for me!” And with that, she was off, running barefoot, hair flying behind her. Jonathan watched her run, wondering what went on in Bethany O’Reilly’s mind.
Bethany flew through the woods, catching her hair on trees. “I can’t believe I slept in!” She thought. “What will the Howell’s think? Late because of a book! The very thing that could get me fired.” Bethany threw her uniform on as quickly as possible and ran into the house. What she found was not pleasant. Mrs. Munroe, the housekeeper, had been about to send the young men of the house out to look for her and Francis, the second maid, was up to her elbows in work. Bethany breathed a sigh of relief that she had not had to encounter Edward Howell in the woods. He had been getting very free lately, and had said and done some things that shocked whomever they were directed at, mainly Bethany. Bethany began to work, and when she worked, Bethany worked her fingers off. Sewing, ironing, washing, cooking, cleaning, and putting up with Edward were all everyday occurrences. But to have three or more of these things to do at one time was overwhelming! Bethany mainly hummed to herself while performing these tasks, but Edward had noticed her late appearance and made the most of it. All of his attention was focused on Bethany. Edward followed and watched her while she worked, talking the whole time and tempting Bethany to not only give him a piece of her mind, but a feel of her fist as well. She made it through the day, of course, and when Bethany left, she did not regret it. “Just a few more months, and I’ll have my ticket.” She thought. Bethany changed back into her everyday clothes, and started home. On her way, in the middle of thoughts of beauty and nature, Bethany began to think, not for the first time, of all she would be leaving. She thought fleetingly of what would happen to the kids. “Hopefully Pa’ll send them to live with Aunt Myrtle. But if he doesn’t Lillian will have to step up. Ten years old, is that old enough? Maybe they should come with me. But it would take ages to get all of the money that would call for. Besides, they like it here. And Jonathan…” Bethany stopped. Jonathan? Would Jonathan take care of them? Somehow Bethany had not seen Jonathan staying. She hadn’t known it until now, but Jonathan had somehow made it into her plans for the future. Bethany continued to think about this while she walked home. When she reached the front door, Bethany hesitated, suddenly remembering her hasty exit. “Oh, what he must be thinking!” She thought. Quietly, she opened the front door and stepped inside. Dinner was cooking, the house was clean, and Jonathan was… gone. Bethany walked upstairs and got cleaned up. She stared at herself in the mirror for a while, suddenly aware that she cared how she looked to others. When she went back downstairs, Jonathan was still nowhere to be found. Bethany walked to the kitchen and checked the food. She determined that he must have left recently because the food was still cooking. Bethany continued the preparation for dinner, wondering where everyone was. Dinner had been ready and waiting for an hour and a half when a knock sounded at the door. Bethany froze. No one knocked at the O’Reilly door, everyone that entered was either invited or already lived there. Bethany looked around frantically for a defense mechanism. Her eyes fell on an old sword that her parents had brought from Ireland. Lifting it carefully, Bethany found that it was not as heavy as she previously thought. Holding it over her head like a club, Bethany walked cautiously to the door. “Who is it?” She asked. “Bethany?” A small voice said. “Why don’t’cha open the door?” Bethany breathed a sigh of relief. “Luke! Why are you knocking at the door?” “Would you just open the door Bethany?” That voice belonged to Jonathan. Bethany put down the sword and unbolted the door. Convinced though she was that she was not in harm’s way, Bethany was leery. She could not have guessed what lay behind the door. A collective shout of “Surprise!” sounded and smiles were everywhere. Bethany stood staring at a large cake in Jonathan’s hands reading “Happy Eighteenth Bethany!” Her eyes slowly moved from one face to the next. Everyone was there, The Clarkson’s, her family (minus Mr. O’Reilly), the Walsh’s, Miss Harrison, and the Pastor and his wife. “I completely forgot.” Said Bethany. Lillian piped up. “We know! That’s why it was so fun! You weren’t suspecting anything.” Everyone nodded. Bethany looked around one more time and laughed. “Well, I guess we’d better get inside! Supper is ready, and there’s plenty for everyone!” The party moved inside and the O’Reilly’s house was soon filled with music and laughter. The cake was delicious and everyone had a good time. Then it happened. Another knock sounded on the door. Bethany turned to Jonathan. “Are you expecting anyone else?” Jonathan shook his head no. Slowly, Bethany moved to the door. What she saw startled her. Her father, being fully supported by none other than Edward Howell. Edward smiled. “Hello dear.” Bethany swallowed. “Dear?” She asked. Mr. O’Reilly spoke up. “You’re gonna be married girl!” He slurred. “Aren’t you happy?” Bethany was at a loss for words. “I-I’m to be…to him? B-b-but, h-he.” At this Edward let go of Mr. O’Reilly. “Is totally in love with you!” He finished for Bethany. “Don’t you see?” The guests had grown quiet as this exchange was going on. Jonathan had stood, his hands balled into fists at his side. Bethany spoke calmly. “Thank you Edward, but I am not in love with you! I hardly know you!” Edward frowned a little. Mr. O’Reilly spoke up. “Don’t argue Honey! I already said yesh, and you wouldn’t disobey me now, would’ya?” Bethany swallowed. All of her fire seemed gone. Married! To a man she barely knew! And she couldn’t do a thing about it. The custom in Bartow was that if a man applied to the father, and the father agreed and signed the contract, the woman in question had almost no authority, doubly so for an Irish family. Bethany could only stare at Edward. The turn of events was so sudden. Bethany knew that Edward thought she was pretty, but she also knew that he felt the same way about quite a few young women in town. Edward Howell had a reputation, and everyone in the small dining room knew it. Bethany sank to a chair by the door, and Edward kneeled in front of her. “But, why?” She asked. Edward looked at her, and then moved his eyes over the rest of her while he spoke. “Why? Do you need to ask?” He meant this as a romantic comment, but Bethany knew the real reason, even if Edward didn’t. Edward wanted her. Not her mind, not her personality, her body. The thought made her shudder. This did not go unnoticed by Jonathan, and he moved to stand next to her. “Pa, what will you do when I’m gone? Who’s going to take care of the house?” Edward reached for Bethany’s hand while he spoke, Bethany stood and walked to her father. “Your younger sister can do all the housework can’t she? Lilly, or something. She’s ten right?” Bethany suddenly turned on him. “So, you’re willing to let a ten year old child throw their life away and begin housework? Ten? Well, I won’t have it! I will not marry you. My father is obviously incarcerated and out of his mind!” With that Bethany fled the room. Jonathan stepped behind Edward. “I believe that was your invitation to leave.” He stated, opening the door. Edward’s face grew red. “It’s not over yet. I know Bethany O’Reilly, I know what her plans are and I know how to stop them! You’ll all see, she’ll come crawling back to me!” Jonathan smirked. “You never had her you idiot.” He said. And with that he slammed the door on Edward. The members of the small party were shocked by the goings on, but they all realized that they were in the way. One by one, they said their good-byes and left.
Drunk though he was, Mr. O’Reilly was aware that something major had happened, and that Bethany had caused it. Luckily, he was feeling too lethargic to act on his thoughts and he fell asleep, not long after Bethany stormed upstairs. Lillian finished serving dinner and got the whole crowd ready for bed. After the last dish had been washed, Lillian walked to the room she and Bethany shared and knocked quietly. “Beth? Would you open the door? Beth? Bethany!” At hearing no response, Lillian pushed the door open and walked in. “Bethany? Are you here?” Lillian could see at a glance that she wasn’t. With a shaking breath, she left the room and closed the door quietly behind her. Lillian was eleven, but she wasn’t a babyish eleven. She knew that Bethany’s absence was not good. Quietly, Lillian crept down the stairs and walked a little around the living room. Bethany was still nowhere to be found. Lillian knew that her father could not be counted on, that left her only one option.
The knock on Jonathan’s door was so faint that he thought he had imagined it. He wasn’t about to even try to go to sleep so he went back to pacing. The second knock was louder and it made Jonathan stare at the door ponderously. “Who could that be?” He wondered. Finally remembering himself, he opened the door. Lillian let out a breath. “Jonathan!” She said. Jonathan looked around. “What is it Lillian?” Lillian turned her head to look around before speaking. “Bethany’s gone, I can’t find her anywhere!” Lillian’s blue eyes were large and worried. Panic was rising inside of Jonathan as well. “Do you have any idea where she might have gone?” He asked. Lillian shook her head. “Anything she’s ever done like this has been when she’s gone in the afternoon.” Jonathan nodded. “Do you have any idea where she goes?” Lillian shook her head again. “She’s always gone to a friend’s house, or just a walk, but it’s always around the same time.” Jonathan nodded and thought for a moment. “I’ll go look for her. No telling where she is now. Go on up and get in bed. If I’m not back in the morning, cover as usual, okay?” Lillian nodded and promptly turned back and went upstairs. Jonathan put on his coat and picked up the flashlight that was lying by the front door. As he opened the door, he saw that it had begun to rain. Jonathan turned on the flashlight and moved the beam around the front yard. Bethany was nowhere to be seen. Jonathan pulled his coat closer around him and stepped onto the porch. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, and Jonathan Grover was in love.
Bethany took a deep breath and pushed the heavy wooden door open. She had started out as a simple walk to clear her head and think, but eventually she knew what needed to be done. Edward, she knew, was a spoiled boy on the verge of becoming a powerful man, and those were the most dangerous. While Bethany knew she couldn’t marry him, no matter how much Edward thought he loved her, she knew that she might be able to make his parents see reason. So Bethany made her way through the dark woods to the Cosgrove plantation, not even guessing the concern her disappearance was causing to a certain person. Slowly, she stepped through the doorway into the vestibule of the large house. Bethany knew it was too early for the Howell’s to be actually asleep, but she didn’t know if they had retired to their rooms as of yet. Bethany managed to close the door and hang her cloak quietly before moving towards the location where a good deal of light seemed to be emanating from. No sooner had Bethany stepped through the doorway to the parlor than she realized her mistake. Not only was Edward himself sitting in a large stuffed chair, but his parents and younger sister were standing or sitting at various places around the room. Mrs. Howell was the first to notice Bethany. “Ah! There you are dear! Edward has just been telling us the good news!” Bethany could only stare at her employer, mortified. “The…the good news?” Mrs. Howell nodded enthusiastically. “I’ve known that Edward liked you for a while now, but I didn’t ever dream that it would come to this!” Bethany swallowed. “Mrs. Howell, I…” Edward interrupted. “Oh, mother she couldn’t be happier! Right darling?” He said, shooting her a withering, as well as triumphant, glance. That was all Bethany needed. “ Mr. Edward Howell, I will not have anyone speak for me! I have very clearly refused your hasty proposal and I have a multitude of witnesses willing to testify my case! Mrs. Howell,” Bethany continued, turning from son to mother. “I am sorry to have caused any confusion or dissatisfaction but I do not love Edward! I barely like Edward! No offense.” Bethany added to Edward. Mrs. Howell looked offended. “And what, may I ask, makes you believe that my son is at all unlovable? Or even unlikeable! My word!” Bethany was horrified. “Oh no ma’am! It’s not like that at all!” Mrs. Howell had by this time become unreasonably angry. “Then what is it? He is not handsome enough? His sister? The girls he’s seen from town? What is it? And don’t think for a moment that we don’t know about the young man your father hired! The disgraceful news has been all over town! The thought of an unmarried man and woman living in the same house, shameful! You should be honored that my son chooses to look past your poverty and disgrace!” Bethany’s face was red and she was angrier than ever before at the mention of Jonathan and herself in such a degrading manner. “Mrs. Howell. Jonathan Grover is the quintessence of gentlemanlike behavior. I would sooner marry him than a twenty year old man that needs his mother to plead his case! Now if you will kindly pay me the wages due to me, I will be gone and will not cause any more trouble.” Mrs. Howell was so shocked at Bethany’s sudden outburst that she could think of no reply. She simply pulled some money from her pocketbook. Bethany accepted it without a word, dipped a curtsey and left.
Jonathan was completely convinced that something terrible had happened to keep Bethany out for so long, to make her leave period. It had been nearly three hours since Lillian had alerted him and sunlight was just cresting when he saw a small figure walking in one of the meadows. Jonathan’s frustration suddenly surfaced. “There she is,” He thought. “Totally absorbed in her own little world!” The steps he took to meet Bethany halfway across the field were large and quick. Once Bethany saw him, she stopped a little and stared before picking up the pace. When they were standing eye to eye, Jonathan got a good look at her face. She had obviously not been to sleep that night, which disproved some of the theories he had entertained, but there was a look of wonderment and worry on her face which unsettled him. Standing there in the field, an idea began to grow in Jonathan’s mind. He tried to do away with it, but it continued to make its presence known until Jonathan knew he had to act on it. The moment Bethany was within an arm’s reach of him, Jonathan reached out, pulled her close, and kissed her. Bethany stood still, in shock at first, then in the knowledge that this kiss was not the same as the one in front of the schoolhouse. Somehow, before the kiss was even halfway over, Bethany knew three things. That she loved that awful Jonathan Grover, that she wasn’t about to right hook him after this kiss was over, and that she didn’t ever want to kiss another person in her life. Still, even as Jonathan drew back, Bethany knew that some things needed to be settled. She opened her eyes and looked into his, and all was silent for a moment before she spoke. “What was that?” Jonathan looked down and then glanced back up at her. “I guess I was just happy to see that you were all right.” He said. That was not the answer he wanted to give, but he didn’t know that the answer he wanted to give, Bethany wanted to hear. Bethany shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Is that all? Because I was just…out for a walk.” She said, averting her eyes from his face during the last part. Jonathan couldn’t take it anymore. “Look, I love you, okay? I guess I’ve loved you since you clobbered me in front of the entire school. The thought that something had happened to you almost tore me apart! I’ve been out all night looking for you because I knew that if anything had happened to you, I would never be the same again.” The joy that had filled Bethany’s heart at these words was indescribable. No sooner had Jonathan stopped talking, than he found himself caught up in another kiss. This one, if possible, even more passionate than the first, and he returned it gladly.
Bethany had told Lillian about her kiss. The two girls were almost eight years apart but they had been each other’s confidant since that day three years ago when Lillian had found Mrs. O’Reilly by the side of the road. As Lillian now prepared supper, it dawned on her, not for the first time, that she really had no one to talk to now that Bethany was gone. The night after Bethany and Jonathan had discovered that they had feelings for one another was counted as one of the best in Lillian’s life. All the two did was stay up and talk about random things, giggling and being sober in turn. Lillian would always remember that one night, because it was that one morning after that thing began to go wrong.
Things were awkward around the O’Reilly household the next day. Jonathan and Bethany tried to avoid each other as much as possible, each knowing that any more than five minutes could not be spent without thinking of the other. Lillian tried as best she could to deflect the attention of her father, and the kids that were old enough to understand what was going on, but everyone knew that something was up. Mr. O’Reilly, knowing the feelings of his elder daughter as to the hired boy, decided to speak with her before leaving that morning. His money had run out sooner than usual at the ale-house the night before, so he had only drunk enough to get him slightly bleary-eyed and wobbly, a drunk that was slept off peacefully. As soon as the school- kids were out the door, Bethany began collecting dishes. Jonathan stood, took the dishes she had previously picked up, gathered the rest of the dishes, and walked to the kitchen. Bethany was still trying to figure out what had happened. She stood with her arms still in the position for holding the dishes and her mouth was gaped. Mr. O’Reilly chuckled a bit at the sight. “Poor girl can’t even do dishes without interference!” “Come and sit down girl.” He said. Bethany walked to the chair closest to him and sat down, a look of confusion still on her face. Mr. O’Reilly took that as a sign of anger and began to act on it. “Now look here, I hired that boy to help out and as far as I can tell he has. You look healthier, happier, and your shoulders have straightened out.” Bethany looked down at her hands and smiled at her secret. “I know it may take some getting used to, but you need to step down a bit and give the boy a chance. Goodness knows what gives him such a passion for housekeeping, but he does it well and I have no complaints.” It was all Bethany could do to keep herself from giggling. “Being happy feels good.” She thought. “People that don’t have some happiness in their lives must be awful people. Happiness of others must bring the good out in their peers. That makes sense.” Mr. O’Reilly continued to talk for fifteen minutes about “household equality” before heading out to try to find more money. After he had closed the door behind him, Bethany could hardly stop laughing. Jonathan was still working in the kitchen when the sound of her laughter made him stop and smile a bit himself. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard her laugh!” He thought. “That’s a bit sad isn’t it? I’m in love with the girl and I’ve never heard her laugh!” Jonathan walked to the doorway and leaned against the frame. Bethany was reclining in her chair, laughing and holding her stomach. She finally stopped after a minute and wiped her eyes while she stood up. The sight of Jonathan made her begin to chuckle again and she shook her head. “What?” Jonathan asked laughingly, taking in her flushed face and sparkling eyes. “Oh,” Bethany said, still wiping tears from her eyes. “My father just told me to try to be nicer to you and to try to endure the agony of having you here.” They both shared a small laugh over this before cleaning the rest of the house. As it grew nearer to two o’clock, Jonathan expected Bethany to fly out of the house as usual. To his surprise, however, two o’clock came and went, then two thirty, and all Bethany did was pick up a book and begin to read voraciously.
Jonathan glanced several times at the clock before walking over to stand in front of Bethany. For a few minutes Bethany continued reading, then she looked up and saw Jonathan’s puzzled expression. She chuckled a bit. “Do you know, that expression has been on your face a lot lately?” Jonathan smiled quickly. “I know, it’s just, aren’t you late for, something?” Bethany knew what he meant and faintly blushed. “No, not today, or ever again.” Jonathan sat down in a chair across from her, the puzzled expression still on his face. Bethany gave him a long look before heaving a sigh and setting her book down. She leaned forward and began to speak. “Jonathan, for the past year I’ve had a secret that no one knew. This secret is also the reason Edward Howell showed up here the other night.” Jonathan straightened as he began to realize that what Bethany had to say, he may not want to hear. Bethany smiled. “It’s not, bad, just a well-kept secret!” She said. Jonathan relaxed a bit. Bethany looked at him. “I’ve been working as a maid at the Cosgrove place for almost a year and a half now. I quit yesterday, that’s where I was while you were looking for me.” Jonathan was dumbfounded. “But…but…why?” This is where Bethany began to be nervous. She stood up and walked around the room before turning to look at Jonathan. “Do you see yourself living here in Bartow for the rest of your life? I mean, don’t you want to go places and see things?” Jonathan began to understand, not only the situation, but Bethany O’Reilly herself. Jonathan stood as well, and moved closer to Bethany. “I’ve never really thought about it before.” He said. “I mean, I’ve always assumed I was going to live here, but that’s just because no one’s ever asked me before!” Bethany nodded and took a deep breath. “I’ve been saving money for a ticket to Atlanta. I finally have just enough. I thought I would be able to leave immediately, but then,” Bethany’s face clouded over. “But then you happened and, Jonathan, I don’t think I could be happy anywhere you weren’t. That isn’t like me at all, but I somehow know that if we ever separate, I’ll feel torn in half.” Jonathan smiled and hugged her for a moment before pulling back to look into her warm, brown eyes. “That’s called love, Bethany, and I’ve felt that way since the day a girl gave me my first black eye. I just didn’t realize it until recently; I’m that dumb I guess.” He added the last part smilingly. Bethany smiled back. The kiss they shared settled it all.
Mr. O’Reilly had been having a fairly good day. He had money for drinks, a new job, and the house would be clean when he went home, whenever that may be. Mr. O’Reilly was working his way into an extremely deep drunk, when he happened to overhear two men sitting next to him. “That girl is settin’ herself up for a bunch of gossip if you ask me! Everyone knows that young Grover has a reputation with the women!” The second man nodded. “My wife heard tell that he’s actually livin’ with them! In the same house! Do you reckon on how easy it would be for them to just…” The man never finished his sentence. Mr. O’Reilly’s had finally gotten it through his groggy head who they were discussing and what they were assuming. Being too drunk to distinguish truth from gossip, and convincing himself that everything they were saying was true, Mr. O’Reilly stood quickly and stormed out of the bar. People in the street moved quickly out of the way. When Mr. O’Reilly reached the house, Bethany heard him before she saw him. She cast an alarmed look at Jonathan just as the door flew open and hit the wall. Mr. O’Reilly’s face was red and his eyes were angry as he strode angrily up to Bethany and grabbed her arms so hard she winced. “Have you been messing around in my house girl? Huh? You think just because I bring some help into this house you can take advantage of that and cause gossip with your loose ways? No one disgraces the O’Reilly name! Your poor mother is probably spinning in her grave!” Bethany could no longer feel her arms and they were an ugly gray-blue color. “The only one bringing disgrace to this family is you Ciaran O’Reilly! You and your boorish ways! Ma would be ashamed of you, as am I!” Mr. O’Reilly emitted a growl before knocking Bethany to the ground. Jonathan had been standing behind Bethany until now. As Mr. O’Reilly drew back his leg to kick the unconscious girl on the floor, Jonathan leapt forward and, with all of his strength, punched Mr. O’Reilly in the face. Mr. O’Reilly stumbled backwards, his hand on his jaw. Jonathan, meanwhile, was fairly certain that something in his hand was not right. Mr. O’Reilly started forward with a strange light in his eyes. “You’re right boy, my fight is with you. I should have known better than to bring you into my house.” Jonathan stiffened and stared him in the eye. “If the problem is with me, sir, I would appreciate it if you didn’t take it out on a girl. If the problem is me, I’ll leave. No trouble.” MR. O’Reilly’s only response was to gesture toward the open door. Jonathan walked out with his head held high, and a plan. All he needed was Lillian.
Lillian was nervous. A thousand scenarios were running through her head. “What if Beth won’t go? What if Jonathan backs out? What if pa finds out? No telling what he would do then.” Jonathan had waited for Lillian outside of the schoolhouse. On the way back home, Jonathan relayed the steps of his plan. According to him, it needed to be carried out as soon as possible. Lillian hadn’t fully understood until she got home and found Bethany still lying on the floor and Mr. O’Reilly was nowhere to be found. Bethany was conscious, but her eyes were squeezed shut and her hand was on her head. “Beth? Umm, what do you want me to do?” Bethany took a deep breath before answering. “I need you to go into the kitchen and get some ice from the icebox. Wrap it in a damp towel and bring it to me.” Lillian hurried to complete this task. When she laid the towel over the bruised area of Bethany’s face, Bethany winced. “I’m sorry.” Lillian said, her eyes filling with tears. Bethany opened one eye. “No, no honey. That’s just my body’s reaction to relief right now. Look, you made it just right. I can’t feel anything anymore, just a bit of a headache.” Lillian nodded, tears still streaming down her face. “I have a message, from Jonathan.” Bethany pushed herself up, wincing a little. “And what might that be?” Lillian took a shaky breath. Bethany reached out and pulled her close. “He says to meet him out by the brook at night in three days. He says to get your finances in order.” Bethany stared at Lillian. “Is that really what he said Lillian?” Lillian nodded. Bethany turned her eyes to the window. “Lillian, you know that if I meet him, I won’t ever come back to this house, don’t you.” This was not a question. Bethany knew that Lillian was no fool. Lillian nodded. “Yes, but I think you should go. Pa is worse acting towards you, I think, because you look most like ma.” Bethany nodded, her eyes still on the window. “I guess I’ll be leaving then.” Lillian grabbed her hand, causing Bethany to look at her. “You have to go Beth, you’ll never be happy here. This is your chance. I’m more than capable of taking care of the house. Don’t worry, just go.” The sisters sat on the floor for almost two hours, just hugging and enjoying being together, before the younger kids came in from the carefree games that often come with childhood. “Maybe,” Bethany thought, as she observed them all. “Maybe if people didn’t wish to grow up so much when they were little, maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe we could all stay naïve and unknowing.”
The next three days seemed to go by in a blur for the couple. For Jonathan, it was because he was making plans and tying up loose ends. For Bethany, it was because she was absorbing every minute of her family that she could, knowing that she may never see them again. Finally, the day arrived. Bethany made Lillian promise that she would write constantly, and carefully, and that if anything went wrong, she would try to either get the kids to Jonathan and herself in Atlanta, or to their grandparents place across the state line in Tennessee. The day was tense, but Bethany was only aware of her nerves. Mr. O’Reilly came home drunk just before the sun went down and promptly passed out. The whole family went to bed as usual, but Bethany changed into traveling clothes, put on a heavy coat, and packed her bag. The signal came around midnight, and Lillian and Bethany both heard it. Bethany stood and walked to Lillian’s bedside. Lillian sat up. “Lillian, you have Louise’s address?” Lillian nodded. “And you know exactly what to do?” Again Lillian nodded, her eyes wide. Bethany nodded as well. “All right then.” Bethany took in the small room. “I didn’t ever think it was going to be this hard.” She said. Lillian stood up and hugged her. “I know you didn’t, but if it doesn’t happen now, it never will.” They stood for a second, just hugging. Then Bethany pulled back. “Good-bye Lillian. You know what to tell Pa.” Lillian nodded. “I love you Bethany.” Bethany bit her lip to keep from crying. “ I love you too Lillian.” With that, she was gone. Lillian sat up a little while longer to hear Bethany move quietly across the floor downstairs and out the door. Faintly, Lillian heard a car start and drive away. Her heart sank, knowing that her dearest friend was gone. Lillian heaved a sigh, pulled her comforter up around her shoulders and extinguished the bedside lamp.
The sun had long since gone down, leaving the world covered in a veil of darkness. Two birds chirped back and forth in a small pine on the edge of the river.