Through the Thorns
A FarewellMr. 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.