Through the Thorns
DisruptionDinner 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.