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Cover Artwork by Moira Nelligar
Copyright 2017 Pornelope
“Henry, there’s something you need to know before we get to your Aunt Jean and Uncle Charlie’s house.”
Henry looked up from his iPad with a bored expression on his face. He’d been looking forward to this summer trip, but he hated the long cross-country drive to his mom’s big family farm. Hazard, Montana, was such a tiny little middle-of-nowhere town that it didn’t even rate a dot on the map.
But the troubled look in her eyes made him narrow his own. Something was wrong. And she was always so calm and cheerful that anything capable of upsetting her had to be pretty bad.
“What is it?”
They’d been on their own for as long as he could remember. No brothers, no sisters...no father. It had bothered him as a kid that other children had fathers who picked them up from school, took them to ball games, played sports in the back yard, taught them how to build a campfire and drive a car--or even, in one or two cases, how to pick up girls. He’d never known any of that.
Aunt Jean and Uncle Charlie had been great to him, making him feel like he belonged with them just as much as he did with his own mom. And that had helped a lot. But it wasn’t the same. Not even close.
Desi stammered a little, stopped in confusion, tried again. And with every passing moment, the sick dread in Henry’s stomach grew deeper.
“Is one of them sick? Is something wrong with Sara?”
“What? No!” Her quick half-laughing reply eased his mind on that score. “No, they’re all fine. It’s just that... Well, it’s about your father.”
“My father?” He bolted upright in the seat. “You’ve never talked to me about my father before.”
“I know.” She looked nervous, apprehensive, and more than a little embarrassed. “There was no need to burden you with...
“But you’re old enough now,” she added with a quick, strained smile. “Look at you, my baby boy, so tall and strong and handsome! You look more like him every day!”
“Who?” The suspense was killing him!
Again she stammered, and flushed bright red. “Henry, you need to understand,” she finally hedged, “we were all very young. And when I found out that I was pregnant, I did what I thought was right, for you and for them.”
“Your Aunt Jean and Uncle Charlie...and Sara.” She avoided his shocked gaze, and concentrated on the wipers going whip, whip! whip whip! across the rain-spattered windshield.
“I don’t understand.” But he was afraid that he did, and icy sickness spread throughout his entire body until he thought that he might throw up.
“We used to... Well, we still do,” she added with another nervous laugh, and her cheeks flushed with pretty color. “But...”
That was more than he needed to know! Quickly she tried to ease away from her inadvertent slip. “Back then, when we were all teenagers--before Jean and I both got pregnant--we didn’t think about what might happen, or any of the repercussions. We were just having fun.
“Charlie would pick us up after school, or church, or whatever, and take us for a drive in the country. No one ever thought anything about it...three young people off to enjoy the afternoon...I imagine they thought Jean and I were chaperoning each other, so nothing wicked would possibly ever happen.”
“But it did.” He could barely force the words through his frozen lips.
“Oh, yes!” Another reminiscent smile lit her face. “We used to meet at that little lake out in the back pasture, underneath the tall pines. We’d bring a picnic lunch along, for appearances’ sake. But when we got there...” She trailed off with a wistful sigh. “Oh, the times we had, making love in the sunlight, and sometimes late at night if Charlie could sneak away from his house to join us.”
“Mom, I really don’t need to hear this.” The nausea was rising, and his skin was getting clammy.
“Oh, baby, I’m sorry!” she suddenly gasped, taking a closer look at his pale face. “Here, lean against the window. I’ll crank the air conditioning.”
“It’s all right.” Irritably he waved her away, and took several deep breaths. The dizzy churning faded a little. “So you’re telling me that Uncle Charlie is really my father.”
She hesitated for a long moment, then slowly nodded. “Yes. Sweetie, you mustn’t think that he doesn’t love you. He wanted to move to Utah and become a Mormon so that he could marry us both! But of course that wasn’t possible,” she confessed with a little laugh. “Polygamy was outlawed in the late 1800's.”
Henry closed his eyes, and tried to concentrate on breathing slowly. “Why did he choose Aunt Jean and not you?”
She almost reached over to lay a soothing hand on his cheek, but the anger in his voice held her back. Maybe she should have told him about this a long time ago, after all!