Hey Lou Writes

The Grey Matters


My Bones

My Bones

by Melinda Williams

“I’d stop, if I were you.”

Edgar turned slowly. His eyes were open only halfway, and he looked as if he were unable to open them any more. I’m sure he hadn’t slept at all, which might be why he seemed to have more wrinkles than the last time I’d seen him. I could see the change even in the moonlight.

“You,” he whispered.

“Give her to me,” I said. I could hardly stand the sight of his hands touching her.

Edgar’s eyes watered and his lip trembled. “This is all I have left.”

I shook my head and laughed. “You never had anything.”

If you want to know the truth, I wouldn’t talk to Olivia’s dad. I wouldn’t necessarily go running to her lover (or can I still call him that?), either. He won’t tell you the truth about me. Only I can do that. The truth can be boiled down to these three things:

I love Olivia Manning.

She is mine.

She will always be mine.

When I met Olivia, she was wearing a short summer dress with buttons along the front. I began working for the Manning family that summer. I’d just moved to England. I knew no one, save for the aunt I lived with. She had convinced her friends to hire me, the young foreigner. It was my first day, and I was meeting the horses I was to take care of. As I stood and brushed Jay (my favorite horse, though I didn’t know it yet), Olivia ran by me. Her bare feet pounded against the soft grass. She was about to trample the flowers I’d just planted.

She noticed me and stopped. Her brown hair was down and messy, the length of it almost reaching her elbows when her arms were to her sides.

“Oh, hello,” she said. “You must be the gardener. Mum and dad are having you take care of the horses too?” Olivia smiled, and time stopped. I don’t mean that in an exaggerated sense, because I know time stopped for her too. When she held out her hand, I took it. There we stood, stillness around us, for an eternity. I already knew how soft her body was; her hands were an indication of delicacy and warmth. I learned her smell, a perfume-like sweat with a hint of lillies. Her smile was for me, directed at me, and because of me. I made her smile so many times.

I was the one who let go of her hand. I had to, though it seemed she didn’t want to stop the contact of our skin. She looked down at her now empty hand and held it with the other, staring at the palm.

“Yes, gardens and horses both. And you,” I said, “must be Olivia.” Olivia’s father had already spoken of her. He thought we would get along. She didn’t look eighteen. Olivia held herself like a woman, not a teenager.

Olivia smiled and nodded. She tucked her hair behind her ear. The wind blew her dress, and without meaning to I saw more of her tan thighs. I straightened my hat and patted Jay.

“Jay’s my favorite. I’ll ride him someday, but right now Edgar doesn’t want me to. He insists he’s not tame enough.”


“You’ll meet him, I’m sure. He’s always here. He stayed in town for college. To be with me. I assume we’ll marry soon enough.”

My smile faded, and I turned to the horse.

“I think Jay’s my favorite too,” I said.

I took a step toward Edgar. “I wonder… what her father would say.”

“Why can’t you just let me be?” Edgar sounded desperate. “For once?”

“Let you be? Why would I?” I looked down at what he held in his hands. Lovely, even then.

Edgar noticed and took a step away from me. He always, always did the wrong thing. He never learned. “She was afraid of you, you know. I’m surprised you weren’t the cause.”

I had to laugh at poor, naive little Edgar. “She wasn’t afraid of me. She trusted me. Even now, I’m sure she’d want me to make sure she stayed where she belongs.”

“Why are you out here?”

“I’ve hardly left.” I pointed to the hill where I’d slept each night. I felt more at peace that way. “I have to take care of her.”

Let me do this,” Edgar said through clenched teeth.

“But you can’t.”

A bead of persperation rolled down the side of his head.

“I know where you’re going. I’m sure her father would love to know.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I would. We both know how much he already despises you. It’ll be easy to convince him.” I took three large steps toward him, daring him with my eyes to back away again.

I’d spent far too much time around Edgar and Olivia. Always, it was that way.

Edgar and Olivia.

Edgar and Olivia.

Edgar and Olivia.

All I did was garden and spend time with Jay. The horse was just like me. We both didn’t fit in with others of our kind. We each had only one who understood us. I understood Jay. Olivia understood me. I could tell whenever she waved at me from across the grass. Whenever she included me in conversation during the family dinners I was invited to. Jay and I also had only one action that infuriated us. Jay reared up each time I whistled. I saw red whenever Edgar led Olivia past me without so much as a hello.

It was the rare occasion, like the first day I met her, that I saw Olivia alone. But when I did, she would talk to me for hours. Her smile became genuine. I hardly minded when she spoke of Edgar. After not hearing her speak at all, the words she said didn’t matter. I’d lie down under the shade and listen to her go on and on about anything.

The day she confided in me, I wanted to cradle her head in my lap. I wanted to keep her from the misery that was sure to come. I felt murder in my hands but instead used that energy to hold sweet Olivia.

She held my hand, and again time stopped. The leaf falling from the tree floated right over our heads. The bird in a nearby tree was silent. Suddenly, the air was still. Neither of us let go this time.

“I- I have to tell you something. Oh, it’s awful! I have to tell someone or I’ll explode.” She looked so young that day. Her freckles stood out in the sunlight, and her hair was braided.

“You can tell me, Olivia. You can tell me anything.” I squeezed her hand.

“Oh my god,” she said. “I don’t know if I can say it.”

“Go ahead.”

“I began to feel funny. I’ve never felt this way before. I’ve been sick almost every day. I can hardly be around poor Edgar without screaming at him over some silly thing. And then—” She blushed. “I skipped a month. You know. I realized it. I realized I’m pregnant.”

Instantly, I knew what I had to do. But first, I knew Olivia’s father must know.

“Please say something!”

“Shh…” I said, wrapping my arms around her. “It’ll all be okay. It’ll all sort itself out—”

“I can’t stand it! We’re not even properly engaged! Of course, I’m sure he’ll propose now… but if my father were to know! Oh!” She cried into my shoulder.

“It’ll all sort itself out,” I said.

Later that day, I saw her father.

“Sir, I have news. You musn’t be angry with me for being the one to tell you, for I have Olivia’s best interest at heart.”

“Well, what is it, then?” I knew he liked me (I had a way with horses he admired and envied), and I heard the immediate doubt in his voice. There was no way I’d lose the faith Olivia’s father held in me.

“It’s Edgar, sir. He’s not good. He’s not like we all thought.”

He slammed his paper down on his desk. “Out with it!”

“He’s done something awful, sir. He’s… well, I’ll just go ahead and say it, then. Olivia is with child.”

Edgar grimaced at my words.

“We all remember the day he forced you off their property. After what you did.” I shook my head and looked down at her lovely face.

“Please…” More sweat rolled down Edgar’s brow. His arms must have been getting tired.

“There’s one thing that will keep me from speaking of what you’ve done tonight. I don’t think her father deserves to hear something so awful.”

Edgar didn’t say a word.

“I think you know what that is, Edgar.”

He shook his head before speaking. “No…”

“She never even loved you. You’re dilusional. It’s sad, really. Olivia and I had something real, something no one will ever understand. And now… I’ll sleep on the hill every night. She and I, we can be together.” I smiled and stroked her brow. Her cold, beautiful face.

Edgar closed his eyes and shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You never have… she was afraid… she didn’t want…”

“Shh… don’t panic, Edgar. We both know what has to happen. She needs to stay here. It’s for the best, though I doubt you’ll agree.”

Poor, poor Edgar. He would never admit to himself that Olivia was truly mine. I knew what made her laugh. She loved to hear about my mishaps with Jay. She loved, even more, to hear of my successes with her untamed and favorite horse. I knew it was her dream to ride him someday. I knew which side of her face held the dimple that showed up only in her most joyous of smiles. I knew how many colors her eyes held. Edgar thought they were merely blue. They were also yellow, purple, and brown.

How could Olivia be anything but mine?

Olivia came to me for small things and big. She told me when she was admitted into the all-girls’ college she had hoped to attend. She once brought me a bouquet of daisies.

“Bring them home and think of me,” she had said. I dried the flowers and still had them in a vase by my bed. (I miss seeing them very much on nights I spend at the hill.)

She and I almost spent time off her parent’s property once. It was Edgar who got in the way of that.

“I want to get out of here,” Olivia had said. She leaned on the fence post as I rode Jay around in circles.

“Let’s go, then. I’ll be done in an hour.”

Her chin rested in her hand. “What’ll we do?” She sighed.

“Plenty of things. I could show you where I take walks. We could go to a show. I have an extra bike to get us somewhere—”

“Darling!” We both heard Edgar in the distance. I kicked Jay so he’d go faster. I looked anwhere but at them when Edgar reached Olivia and they kissed.

“What are you up to, my dear?” Edgar asked her.

“I was just planning my day. I’m bored of the same old. I was thinking we’d—”

“But Olivia, I have plans for us! My parents are in town. Did you forget? It’s such an important night.” Edgar lowered his voice, but I heard him all too clearly, “Surely you wouldn’t miss it to spend time with the hired hand? She’s hardly a suitable friend, Olivia.”

Olivia said nothing, and when I looked up she was walking away with Edgar, up the grass and into the house.

It was three weeks later that Olivia confessed her secret to me.

It was only six days after her confession that I took care of everything for her.

“How is it for the best? You’re crazy.”

“Me? Crazy? I’m not the one holding a dead body, Edgar. You dug her up. That’s crazy.”

“I needed to take her where she wanted to be buried. She didn’t want any of this!” Edgar looked around after raising his voice. No one could hear us.

I tried to expain. “She belongs here. She and I need to be close. That’s the only way. Now Olivia can rest beside the hill. Under her favorite tree. I sent her to her grave to save her.”

Edgar set down Olivia’s body and vomited on the ground beside her. He wiped off his mouth and approached me. “You what?”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Oh, that’s the best part.”

“The horse. The horse trampled her… crushed her skull…”

I smiled.

Just as I watched from the hill as Edgar dug his love’s body up from her grave, I also watched Olivia’s last moments. Riding Jay would do just fine. It would be perfect, really. Just how I knew she would want it.

I had hinted to Olivia that Jay was ready to ride. I’d ridden him for days without any troubles. I knew her well enough to know that she would take my word for it.

“Jay loves to ride in the grove by the hill, especially.”

“Oh! And you should have seen her face!”

Olivia had been laughing and smiling as she rode Jay in circles.

Edgar was sobbing into his hands, though I couldn’t understand why. I was telling him such a happy story… His tears were unnecessary.

“What did you do?” Edgar asked me.

“I knew she couldn’t live with the shame of what you did. Have a baby? Be an unwed mother? Never. She didn’t want it. I had a perfect plan.”

What did you do?” Edgar asked me again.

“I whistled.”

I watched as Jay violently threw Olivia’s small body to the ground. She didn’t move as I approached, yet she was breathing. I soothed her, told her I loved her, and kissed her cheek.

I’d already picked out the rock. It was just the size of a horse’s hoof.

I crept away and waited until the news of her death reached me. Olivia’s father came to my home. I was invited to the funeral. I suggested she be buried where she died. It was hard to hold back my joy. I’d done her the biggest favor.

“So, Edgar,” I said, turning away from him and walking over to Olivia’s body. I stroked her hair. “I suggest you place her back. Dawn is almost here. As the one who put your sweet love in her grave, I think the body belongs to me.”

My back was turned to Edgar on purpose. I hoped he would do it. And he did. I felt the first blow, was gone by the second. Now I could be with Olivia forever.

He buried me with her with the panic of the approaching light.

They were my bones.


Lemon Moon {Part I}

Listen to this.

Remember this.

Read this:




By Melinda Williams




August, 2012



You may have grown up seeing at least one “missing person” poster taped up to a wooden pole in your hometown. Maybe you even saw multiple signs a day if you lived somewhere big like New York City or Chicago. The faces may not have meant much. They were just random faces of people you were likely to never meet, find, or care about. You might have felt a pang of regret for the ones who lost them, the ones who were still around. But if you’re from a tiny town, say, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, chances are you’ve seen maybe one. And although it felt like everyone in town knew one another, you didn’t recognize the face.

I now live in a town where half the people are missing, therefore, you get your fair share of “missing person” posters. I’ve grown accustomed to them. I pass by a picture of my second grade teacher every day on my way to the store, and inside Andy, the old guy who owns the store, has up a picture of his wife. Being a small town most everyone was married or at least had someone they loved. And half of each pair disappeared.

Did you hear me?

I said

Half of each pair disappeared. Poof. Vanished. Before eyes. All alone. Unexpectedly. Gone. Forever.


And now only I know why.


 June, 2010


“I’m never going to get out of here,” Anne told me. She and I were walking up the dirt road and away from school. Summer break was upon us. Next year we’d be seniors and for most kids in our town break would just keep on being reality once high school ended. What I mean is, not very many were bound for college. There was no way Anne’s parents could afford to send her anywhere. My future looked a little brighter, except for the fact that I wouldn’t go anywhere without her.

“Sure you will,” I told her, straightening out my baseball cap and running a few steps to kick a rock at the bend in the road.

“That gets dirt everywhere,” she said softly.

“You always wear sandals,” I said right back. She did. We lived in the middle of the desert and she wore open toed sandals every day. Her feet were always dirty because of it. The dust from the road really did get everywhere.

“At least my toes can be free.” Anne crossed her arms in front of her chest and said, “I’m stuck here forever.”

“Who says? Who says you can’t move anywhere you want when we graduate? You could go be a model or something.” It was true, too. Get Anne into a big city and she’d be spotted right away for her good looks, her tall and thin body.

“Oh yeah? It’s that easy? Who’s gonna pay for the car to get me down the highway? Who’s gonna pay my bus fare?”

“Save up for the next year, I guess.” I was only seventeen, just like her. I didn’t know how a kid went about moving away from home. Anne at least had some advantages. She hadn’t always lived in Truth or Consequences. She was beautiful. Her home life was awful, so she had more drive in her to get away. (I’m the guy who can turn a terrible family situation into something positive. It drives Anne crazy, but I know she secretly loves that about me.) Anne didn’t say anything in response, but bent down to pick a small dandelion growing by the side of the road. She held it and stared at it with her feet a foot apart and her head tilted to the side. Her braided hair had loose strands.

“They say these are weeds. If something so pretty can be a weed, then I guess not everything is as it seems.”

Anne often said things like this. I often didn’t respond. Not knowing what to say about dandelions, I stuffed my hands in my pockets and cleared my dry throat. “I’m cookin’ dinner tonight. Want to come over? Kick off summer with style? I bet my dad would even let us each have a beer.”

Anne looked down at the gravel getting coarser under our feet as we walked. We always walked to her house first and then I’d walk home alone. We did this almost every day of the school year since she moved to town in third grade. Her mouth formed a straight line and a strand of her long hair fell forward past her shoulders. “I don’t think I’m free,” she said.

“Oh. Well, okay.” We walked past the big cottonwood tree we’d climb back before she wore short skirts and I was too afraid to embarrass myself. “What are you doing?”

Anne looked at me. Her words were challenging. “Probably hanging out with Gavin.”

Oh, I thought, right. Gavin. Her new boyfriend or whatever he was to her. For her he was a cool older boy who paid attention to her (as if everybody didn’t already), somebody to kiss and hold hands with. For him, she was… someone that I hoped he lied about, because if the stories from the locker room after gym class were true I wouldn’t be able to look at Anne. I convinced myself it was only rumors and cocky Gavin lying through his teeth. If she was capable of doing what he spoke of so often, I sure as hell wanted it to be with me. Anne and I were meant to be. Best friends since third grade. High school sweethearts who had never really been sweet… just there for one another. I was patient in allowing Anne the time for her love to be realized and blossom the way mine already had. Gavin was the only thing in my way.

“Alright.” I kicked another rock.

“If that’s okay with you,” she added, not hiding her annoyance. I hadn’t done a single thing.

“Of course it is,” I said in that calm way I learned from my dad. Never raised my voice. Never showed a temper, if I even had one. If something bothered me no one would ever know but me.

“Maybe another night,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

“Right. I cook dinner all the time,” I reminded her.

“Right.” Sometimes, although having known each other for nine years, we sounded like acquaintances. We sounded like we had just met.

“See ya, Johnny,” Anne said as she waved to me and her long tan legs walked her up the dirt driveway.

“Bye,” I said. I watched her unlock her front door. I always made sure she got inside before walking away.

Then I headed home by myself. I took the long way. My parents weren’t actually expecting me to cook that night. I would have done it only if Anne had come over. I walked through an old abandoned field, past an ancient adobe house long ago left vacant, and back to the tree by the road that we used to climb. I looked around to make sure I was alone and I put my hands on the lowest branch. I used to give Anne a boost with my hands and then jump up to grab hold. We’d both grown a lot. Anne, more than the average girl, and me, about average. But at least I was tall enough to reach without hardly raising my arms. And up I went, stepping on the sturdiest branches, passing through the thickest part that I was still skinny enough to squeeze through, and eventually perching myself on a high branch. I left my backpack at the bottom of the tree. I didn’t have a book or anything to write with. All I had was my own thoughts and they were enough.

I wished that day that she had chosen me over him. I’d have still helped her climb the tree. Even if she went ahead of me with her short skirt on, I’d never look too closely or try anything. I just wanted to spend time, maybe hold her hand. Maybe even kiss her. And before anyone goes thinking I’m not a regular teenage guy who wants sex all the time, don’t get me wrong. I had my own magazines stashed under my bed and my favorite page had Anne’s long lost twin on it.

The only problem was I would never have the guts to try anything with her. So in order to feel better about the sex I’d probably never have with Anne, I was content with hoping for something as simple as time spent. All those other things would come later once she realized the whole us being meant to be thing.



Part II coming soon…..




By Melinda Williams

“They’re going to stop us, too,” Cindy said.

I didn’t want to believe her. But she had been right. The moment was so long ago… so in the past. Yet, I thought of the statement daily. Her words, the ones that really came true. How could I have expected anything else to happen?

It wasn’t too cold or hot. The temperature outside was like the kind a person can’t feel. Body temperature. And yet, each person felt what else was in the air. Unrest. Drought. No movement. The world had gone still and although the air was nice it held within it a danger that did more damage than cold or hot ever had. It wasn’t carrying coolness that would hint of a rushing river nearby. It held no humidity to stick to the skin and cause musty nights on the porch. When I thought of Cindy, she was glowing with sweat from dancing with me. I hadn’t seen her in three years. Continue reading


Proud Mothers

Proud Mothers 

By Melinda Williams



He’ll come home,” my mother said. She nodded her head. She whispered it again. “He’ll come home…”

“He has no choice, Lilly. Too much work to be done for him not to come back. He’s got to.” My father patted mother’s shoulder and went outside to start chopping wood to warm the house. I stopped in the hallway and watched them from the shadows. I already had my bag in my hand. I heard the screen door slam open and slowly creak its way back closed.

“Already got too much to worry about, what with Beth sick in bed most days. Daisy coughing up a storm. And what in the world will we ever do with Emma…” My mother’s voice continued on softly as she started heating the water. It was one of her greatest wishes in life, that my sister Emma would know how to keep a house the way she could. The task was a difficult one. Emma often daydreamed. Sometimes we couldn’t even find her. Only I knew why.

I stepped into the kitchen and tried to step lightly as to not startle her.

My mother turned and saw me when I cleared my throat. “Gabriel. Good morning. I’ve, well, I’ve just now started fixing some coffee. You’ll need some, won’t you…” Almost everything my mother said trailed off in this way. Sentences were rarely finished because the work to be done was never finished. My own tired eyes stung and I blinked.


It was the year 1776 and I’d done what every boy my age wanted to do once they became a man. I turned 18 and signed up. I sure felt like I was still a boy, no matter how grown up it had felt to pick up the pen and write my name down.

I stood in line, nervous, and waited my turn. Once I got up to the front I squared my shoulders, set my jaw and did what was expected of me. In shaky and unclear writing that would have had my mother cringing, I wrote Gabriel Tanner down in black ink. The choice was made. I couldn’t take it back. Not a minute later, right beside mine was the name Ephram Lee, which made me feel better at the time. We would protect one another, I thought, keep each other safe.

“’Bout time you caught up to me,” Ephram said and shook the top of my head with his hand. He was a few weeks older but had waited for my age to catch up with his to do this. We were like brothers.

As we walked away Ephram took off his hat, shook it out, and put it back on over his curly hair. He was always tan, always had longer hair. I kept my light hair short and my skin burned easily. We didn‘t look alike but somehow, growing up, people got us confused. Maybe it was the way we moved or the way we talked. Our words were always very different, though. I watched him while he kept his eyes on the road in front of us.

“I mostly just want to be a hero,” Ephram told me. “Come back here, get some respect.”

“It’s not about us, Ephram,” I felt the need to remind him. He may have been older but his ideals were often far from selfless. “It’s about the country. It’s about being a Patriot.”

“Well, either way, it would be nice to come home a hero. Just think of all that the world would offer us.” We were walking home and he kept pulling at thin tree branches, picking at the bunches of leaves, kicking dried up brush in our path. Ever since we were kids he had a kind of restless energy. His words were animated and his eyes shined with excitement. Once he looked at me I kept mine down on the road in front of us.

“You have to see something awful in order to become a hero, Ephram.”

I knew he wanted to get away from White Plains. I was content with what I called home, whether it be the field or the actual structure of the house my father built. Ephram’s house was smaller and his family was poor. They lived on the same hillside as us but were always wanting. Ephram was an only child. I was the oldest of four. That gave my family six extra helping hands, but also made for three more mouths to feed. I don’t know how or why, but my family never did without a meal. Ephram rarely had all three meals in a day. There were times when I saw the resentment in his eyes. Heard the bitterness in his words.

When I arrived back at the house the day we signed up I could see Emma had been crying. Ephram’s dad stopped him on our way back and already, he was out chopping wood. It was probably a good thing, because if Ephram had walked in by my side Emma would have completely lost it.

“Don’t be sad for me,” I told her. She was only a year younger and we’d grown up together, too.

“I’ll miss you both,” Emma told me before turning way from me and back to the food she was preparing. Her shoulders shook but she controlled her crying. I already knew she would miss Ephram. My entire family would. His parents would miss me, too. He and I truly lived on the field in between our two homes. It was where we played and fought and spent our time growing up.


As I stood in the kitchen and drank my last home brewed coffee I thought of the day before. So much had changed in such a short period of time. My two youngest sisters had held on to me and cried at the thought of me leaving. I’d be gone before they awoke. I woke up this morning to a different life and I knew I wouldn’t be waking up safe in bed again for a long, long time. Before making it to the kitchen I entered their rooms without my boots on and kissed their small foreheads. I would miss them just as much as they would miss me.

My mother sounded eerily calm. “Shall I go wake Emma? She wanted to say goodbye…” At the words, my heart pounded and my palms grew sweaty. I couldn’t face her; my closest sister.

“No.” I shook my head. “Let her sleep.” She needed it.

“Come back home, Gabriel,” my mother told me as we said goodbye. She kept from weeping. She gave me one short embrace and kissed my cheek.

“I’ll come back home.” I was entirely confident in what I said. I was a survivor. I had Tanner blood in me. Every grandparent, aunt and uncle had lived a long healthy life. I’d help win the war and even come home with something to my name, just as Ephram wished for.


Ephram and I were to meet outside by the tallest pine outlining the field. Regardless of coming home a hero, I’d known enough to be certain that the fight we were headed toward was a good one. I’d heard our fathers speak of freedom. I’d never been to England and couldn’t fathom the thought of someone sitting on a throne. I could, however, imagine a home where there was no more fear and anticipation. All we wanted to do was farm in peace and keep what we earned, which wasn’t much to begin with. Still, I couldn’t help but fear. The war I fought in my own head raged on stronger than the one I was about to go join. Ephram was more energetic than I’d ever seen him.




Remind me again why we only have one son?”

To that, my mother looked over at my father, Ephram Sr., and sighed. The sun had yet to rise. I was in the next room starting the fire to keep the house warm. They must have known I could hear them but it didn’t matter. Our family wasn’t one to take precaution of feelings. We were truthful, even when that meant saying something unpleasant. I remained crouched down, listening intently.

“Because two of them died after they were born. One of them died in me. We should be thankful to have one. Ephram is brave.” She paused and continued through the silence, “He’s strong. He’ll come home.”

“Our record on keeping kids alive isn’t so good, Gale,” he said before going outside for the day’s work. It was the first time I didn’t join him.

I walked the small distance from the fireplace and into the kitchen to stand beside my mother.

“Don’t worry,” I said, touching her back. “This is one kid who won’t die.”

“I can only pray, son.” She said, turning to the pot of oats she’d made for breakfast. I only had a few minutes before walking outside and onto the grass.

Ever since I signed up I smiled even when I knew she’d be looking at me. She wanted me to be sad for this day. My parents didn’t want a son to die in battle. I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear, thinking of how I’d come back and make them proud. I wanted my mother to see me brave. I could save another man, perhaps. Kill fifty redcoats on my own. How hard could it be? No way winning this war would be harder than chopping wood every day since before I could remember, carrying hay across a field, or pulling the weight meant for a horse in the heat of the day.

Though I was glad to be given the opportunity, finally, to prove myself, I was too tired to do much thinking. I’d spent all night with my eyes staring at the ceiling above my bed. My eyes watered not from crying, but with the healing tired eyes must put effort into. Few days ago all I wanted was to prove to everyone in this town I was made of something. I wasn’t afraid.

I just hadn’t planned on having a reason to stay. But I had one now. All my life, and we chose this week. Of all weeks.




When I woke up this morning my older brother was already gone. I thought I’d wake in time to say goodbye. I was angry at my mother for letting me sleep. I was even more angry at Gabriel. How could he? He and I were best friends. We’d spent our entire lives being almost inseparable. I needed to have a chance to speak with him. I wanted to tell him everything before he left. But suddenly it was too late. Time passed and in the moment of blissful ignorance that is dreaming, I lost my chance. Now I could only wait until he returned home, for I would not be able to write a letter that did justice to my thoughts.

“Emma, come help me peel potatoes…”

I was glad to have the interruption. I would need to keep myself busy working. Otherwise I’d be far too busy worrying.

My eyes were glazed over, staring out the window in front of me at the pines out on the field. All my life I’d spent running through those pines. Chasing Gabriel. Gabriel chasing me. Ephram joining in when he could get away from the chores that forever kept him apart from us in more ways than one. Now it was only Gabriel and Ephram…walking away through those same trees while I slept in my bed, safe and sound and dreaming of a different life.




I had only the coat my mother sent with me to keep me warm. I couldn’t help but wish I could go back. Back home. Back in time. I tried and failed to imagine what it was like to sit inside by a warm fire rather than sitting on the ground with frozen fingers. I was surprised how certain memories faded so quickly. I wasn’t sure what colors were on the quilt my mother made me; the one left behind on my bed. There was no longer a definite shape to the rocking chair beside the fireplace in my memory. Even my father sitting on it was but a shadow of what I could once recall. Out here we had no chairs. We rarely had fire. This coat was my only source of warmth. A blanket would be heavenly.

Despite myself, I could only remember growing up with Ephram by my side.

We’d just gotten word that tomorrow morning we may run into the British.

I bit my tongue when Ephram was around. He hardly noticed my chilled silence. He spoke with a smile as if nothing was wrong with the situation we found ourselves in.

“Can’t wait to see how many we can kill. I wonder if it’ll be like my dreams, with them as close as what I imagine. No, maybe they’ll be further… I don’t know.”

I kept my eyes down, unable to accept his smile, and mumbled, “I imagine we’ll find out sooner than we’d like, Ephram.”

He opened the small booklet I noticed him keeping in his breast pocket. Opened and closed it and seconds later sliding it back into its place. The motion was automatic. I’d been noticing the habit for weeks now. I shook my head and rubbed my hands together.

Ephram ignored my comment. Instead he sat back and breathed into his hands.

“Can’t believe that for once I’m actually wishing there was wood to chop!” He laughed. A few men around us looked up. Laughter was rare. Ephram confused everyone with his behavior, including me. I kept waiting for him to tell me the truth. Patience was a virtue and lately, I’d been more virtuous than ever before. And as for the war, I was no longer afraid. Since Ephram and I walked away from our homes my fear had subsided. When another war begins, the other seems non-existent.

I found myself with an excited nervousness at the thought of battle. I imagined the dusk that would make the scene dark and cool with dew. I could already hear the thunder, the cracks of it that sounded with each and every pull of a trigger. I saw the light that would come with each blast. In war, storms came this way, with the thunder and lightning as a simultaneous pair. My war would be a silent one. It would be hidden by the darkness of the morning and the shouts of soldiers fighting on a field.

We marched on through the night, cold and unsure of what lie ahead. Ephram grew quiet. It took him the longest of all the men to realize that his was the only voice to be heard. Hours later and we stopped in a thick patch of trees. We marched on. We stopped again.

It took me a few more miles to realize where we were.




Gabriel and I used to play soldiers. I’d grab the largest stick I could and he would try to find something, anything, to use as a shield. When it was time to trade Gabriel would chose his own weapon and make it something light and sharp. One time he even poked me by accident and it punctured my skin, causing my shirt to stain with blood. The battle wound was impressive. He felt awful.

Occasionally Emma would want to join us. She would put on one of Gabriel’s hats and come to play with both hands out, her fingers in the form of guns.

“I just shot you. You’re dead!” She told me once.

“Girls can’t even play this! I’m not dead, you are.” I shoved her to the ground and she ran home crying. Gabriel didn’t want her hanging around, either, but he did warn me to never push his sister again.

Eventually she stopped playing soldier and started playing nurse. If I fell to the ground, claiming my leg was shot, she’d rush over and pretend to bandage me up. She patted Gabriel’s forehead. Somehow, she got us to lie down on the grass and listen as she sang, which she told us was the only truthful way to play soldiers.

“Soldiers always get hurt,” she said. “They always get sung to, too. Now lie still. Or it’ll hurt more.”

We weren’t older than seven when I was afraid for the first time in my life. We’d allowed hiding in our battle, which was a new thing. I hid so well, Gabriel never found me.

“Ephram!” I heard Gabriel and Emma both shouting off in the distance. Their voices grew softer and I grew more smug because of my cleverness. That was until it grew dark. Then I actually was scared no one would ever find me. I had traveled so far into the woods. I can still remember the panic surging through my body. The gasps of air I breathed in roughly as I cried and cried and walked through the night, sure that I would never make it home. I called their names. Emma and Gabriel. Finally I heard Gabriel in the distance.

“Ephram!” He was calling my name. Once I heard him I didn’t want to yell back. If I did, he might hear the quiver in my voice and know I was crying.

“Ephram!” I could tell which way his voice was coming from. I ran toward it. I saw his lamp in the distance.

“You really hid well,” Gabriel told me once we found each other. I wiped my nose and eyes and still said nothing. I didn’t trust myself. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and thank him for not giving up on me. At the time I felt I would have died, had it not been for Gabriel. We walked toward our houses and there was Emma, too, waiting for us.

“Soldiers can freeze at night,” she told me. “Let me warm you up so you don’t lose any fingers.” Emma grabbed my hand and I didn’t protest. She rubbed my hands in between hers, looking down with intention. “That’ll do. Now don’t get lost again.”

“I wasn’t lost!” I shouted and ran home, leaving Gabriel and Emma in the darkness.



Come here, kids, come here…”

My mother led my sisters away and I followed behind. They crawled into their bed and I watched from the doorway as my mother tucked them in and pulled the covers up tightly.

Prayer was automatic; a ritual for every night. Daisy and Beth took turns and they never forgot to pray for Gabriel.

Beth, the youngest, began tonight.

“Lord,” she said, “watch over Gabriel. I- I know he’ll do a good job. But even strong soldiers must feel lost sometimes. I wish he were home. God, please let him find his way home, even if it has to take a while. Thank you for his letter. I liked hearing about the pretty sunset he saw. Amen.”

My mother covered her mouth with her hand and I put the back of my head against the door frame, holding back tears. Beth whispered again. “Oh ya! And bless mommy, daddy, Daisy, Emma and me. But especially Gabriel. Amen.” Daisy laughed at hearing her own name and the girls gave kisses and my mother met me at the door.

“Girls, don‘t be afraid if you hear a storm tonight. It‘s just the thunder…”

I wondered how it was so easy for my mother to lie. She had always taught me to tell the truth, but a lie was permissible in this case. She didn‘t have to tell me why.

“We’ll go on down now…it‘s time…”

My mother stood at the front door now and I watched on from the window seat across the room. Hours passed. We waited and waited. It was dark, but morning approached sowly. My father’s boots were soft against the floorboards and the door opened and closed with hardly a whisper. I knew without looking that he had his rifle. I knew he was out on the porch, just in case.

The three of us silently watched what was before us. Down on the field, just behind the trees lining the bottom of the hill, was the war. One of many, many battles. The men were there. No one had fired a shot but they were there, waiting, biding their time. My heart yearned to know if my loved ones were down there, too. Was Gabriel there? Was he alive? And Ephram…the thought of death took my breath from my throat. My forehead pressed against the glass and I closed my eyes. I kept thinking I saw them. Each silhouette looked like Gabriel. Every man was Ephram.

I couldn’t sit there and wonder. My heart raced, but I knew what I had to do. I stood up and covered my face. If my mother noticed me leave, she would only think I was retreating to my room. She would believe that I couldn’t stand watching. The truth was, I couldn’t stand watching from such a far distance. I had on my night dress, which wouldn’t do at all. Not in this cold weather. I walked barefoot to the hall closet and pulled out my father’s long coat. Then I slipped my feet into his boots and grabbed his dark brown hat. I was gone out of the house in moments. Out the back door, around the back yard and shed, and out of sight of my father who was keeping guard. I hid behind each tree I passed, stopped and breathed. I could feel my heart beating in my neck. My fingers were frozen but I kept moving. I kept walking down the hill, thankful that the fresh snow made for soft steps rather than crunchy, as it often is with the morning frost.

I was closer to the field than I had planned. That’s when the thunder and lightning began.




My home,” I nodded up the hill, through the pines and toward the old wooden house we could barely make out in the distance. Another soldier, Tommy, stood beside me while we waited. He nodded his head in understanding. You see, every man wished he were home. No man wished home to be that close. It was the having it near and not being able to be there that made the longing worse. I knew my family was watching; knew my dad would be on the porch. Knew Emma was most likely alone. I knew that no matter what, my mother was proud.

The first shot fell upon us. I heard the shouting. I felt the men marching toward us. The morning was still dark and dawn was breaking over the field. We were still silhouettes. I could hear my own breathing, almost hear my own heart beat all through my chest and up into my neck. I still had time. I needed the noise and chaos as much as I needed the shadows.

I saw Ephram. He was trying to find me. I knew he’d be making sure I knew where we were. Our homes were just up the hill. We were just in front of mine; his was further down the field.




My neck ached from looking over my shoulder. My small house might be looked over in the night, but I grew up there and knew every tree and every curve of the field. Of course I knew exactly where it was, and we hadn’t reached it yet. Instead we were almost straight in front of Gabriel’s house. I tried to imagine what his family might be doing. What Emma might be doing. I knew my parents would be in bed, unable to move or speak, and still in the silence until the noise of war began. Yet my mother would be lying there, proud with what she knew lay beyond the home. Gabriel’s family would most likely be watching. His mother wouldn’t be able to look away. And Emma…surely, she would be watching, too.

It was still too dark to see the outline of my own small house, but the shadows were coming and with the slowly rising sun I knew I’d see it soon.




Adrenaline began to surge through me when I saw that Ephram was close by. I could see the curve of his shoulders and the way he stood there, observing the area. He was being patient with this battle. He wouldn’t rush into anything. I wanted to run away but I was trapped there with legs that would not move. Eyes that refused to blink.

A mind that would always remember.

An Ephram who took his time with me, too. Why either of us waited, I now wondered. I could hardly believe that the Ephram I grew to know was the same that I grew up with. At one point in time I resented his confidence and proud stance in life. I thought he was too far gone and would never be humble. But I was wrong about him. Ephram turned out to be a strong man; a man who could take care of a woman he loved. Gabriel was always wrong about him, too.

“He’s a great friend, but a no good soldier. He’ll get himself killed with the arrogance he has. I’ll go. I’ll keep him safe.”

“You don’t think he’d even make a good husband?” I asked my brother. At the time I had no thought of Ephram as my husband. I was simply curious.


And now, as I held onto the branch in front of my face and the freezing wind whipped the hair around my neck and across my cheeks, I wished Ephram and I could run away together. The dream of running to him, telling him to come with me, and rubbing his cold hands was too much. I watched with tears that threatened to turn to snowflakes, a man who could be a husband. A man who would be mine, should he return home safely. I shuddered, but not from the shivering in my bones. I shuddered from the way my heart beat watching him. He pulled on his neck, looking up at our homes so often. I wondered if he was thinking about me. I wondered if a small part of him could sense my presence so close.

Then I saw Gabriel.




My first instinct was to save Ephram. I’d been saving him all our lives. I saved him from being lost in the woods. I wanted to save him by coming and joining the Militia with him, knowing that he shouldn’t go without me. He’d get himself killed. Even as a young boy I had the inclination that I would someday save him from a man angered by Ephram loving a girl he shouldn’t. I knew I’d have to. I could see it. What I was blinded to was the man I’d have to save him from. I hadn’t expected it to be myself.

I had my chance, there in the field. In the midst of the first cry of battle and the terror surrounding us.

Because I came across Ephram with her. I heard him kiss Emma. I encountered more than I ever wished to. It was obvious all along wasn’t it? She always warmed his hands up first.

It was the night before we left. Now, so long ago. I heard voices coming from the shed out behind our home. It was my job to kick out anyone who might have stumbled in drunk or homeless. I stood outside the shed, listening to make sure I’d be safe in entering. Then I never did enter.

“You’ll be leaving tomorrow. Why did you have to sign up so soon? Both of you?” I heard my dear sister ask. I almost fell over when I heard the voice which responded.

“It’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s expected. What would people think if I hadn’t-”

“I don’t care what people think.”

“You can’t understand. It’s not as if you and I have the same expectations.”

“You don’t have to be a hero,” she said, parroting what she had heard me say about Ephram so many times. “I just wish that you and my brother hadn’t written your names down at all.”

“I know. But it’s a war. It’s always been a war.”

After a short pause Emma said, “Why did it take you so long to tell me?”

“I didn’t know it. I’m sorry to say it, but I honestly didn’t feel this way until recently. You were the girl we didn’t want playing in our shadows. The pest. Now? Oh, Emma, now you are the only one I want. You are the one I want to live my life for.”

Great, powerful words. The only problem was, I’d heard that before. Ephram had said the same thing to Amy. To Becky. To Carol. Trying to win over my sister in the same fashion was too much.

Ephram continued, “We’ve been able to spend so much time together. It’s all I could have asked for…”

All those times we couldn’t find her.

Emma must have thought his words genuine and unique. For she was speechless. The silence was filled and I was glad I hadn’t found a way to look inside. I didn’t want to see.

“Ephram…” I could hear Emma cry.

“I love you.”

I don’t know if Emma said it in return. She could have said it too softly for me to hear.

Then I did hear what she said.

“It hurts. Ephram… don’t…” She cried out but this time it sounded as if she were in pain. The anger I felt toward them both, but especially Ephram, shot through me and I was rendered helpless. I couldn’t save anyone.

How could he? What he was doing then, and what he‘s doing now…I should be able to defend my sister. But I heard her words, too. She’d been sneaking out to see him. Behind my back, both of them.

When I heard more than I could stand, I wanted to get away, and get away fast. Once I found my legs again I ran. I ran into the woods, trying to get myself as lost as Ephram was when we were so young. I felt like a coward. But that night, walking back toward the house alone, I came up with my plan. I figured I could do something. I could defend my sister the way I was too shocked to do that night.

Now, on the field, my thigh ached from where I was shot weeks ago. I could hide my pain from everyone, even myself. I’d even laughed with Ephram from the morning we left until today, pretending for the greater good of my own personal war, that we were still best friends. Instead of the pain or the memory of that night when I heard his attack on my sister, I kept my mind on other things. But I always kept my eye on Ephram. I knew his habits and the way he was. I knew he’d stay out of this battle for as long as he could. He’d wait and cower until a moment came for him to be the hero like he’d always wanted. Which meant I had to be ready at all times, too.

I found him in the hazy dark morning. I made my way toward him and before I was close, Ephram turned around to find me. His eyes searched and I shouted his name, but there was no way he could hear me. For a long moment I watched him, fumbled through the crowd to get to him, and I saw the look of the boy who was lost in the woods. The muscles in his face were tight with worry, then relaxed as soon as his eyes found mine. We held eye contact for what felt like an entire minute. I shouted his name again, the same moment he shouted mine. Our mouths opened, moved, but the sound didn’t register. I saw dirt fly up in front of him. I saw someone fall out of the corner of my eye. When he looked away it was to turn his gaze toward our home. The realization that he might be thinking of my little sister only gave me more enthusiasm for what I had to do.




Before the battle began a younger soldier with blond hair and an upturned nose looked to me and asked, “What day is it?” He was shaking.

I knew exactly what day it was, for I had been counting the days spent apart from Emma.

“October 28.”

“I need to date my letter to my mother. I need to put a date on it. I- I need a pen…” He looked at me, the men and boys surrounding him and each one looked away out of courtesy. I looked away, too. Any man should be given space when a weak moment falls upon him. This boy needed us to look toward something else. I hadn’t seen Gabriel all morning, but I figured he was close enough. I wasn’t worried.

I didn’t think it was possible for time to pass so quickly. Before any of us knew it, we were about to embark upon battle. It was my moment. I could shine. My adrenaline surged. I smiled to myself. I knew I would not be able to stay out of the thick of battle for much longer, which was fine.

Until a man fell beside me. Blood splattered on my cheek and the man grunted as he slumped onto my shoulder before falling onto his face in the grass. I frantically looked for Gabriel again. I couldn’t find him.

“I need a pen,” I could hear someone yell over and over. “I need a pen!” Suddenly the voice was silent. But so many grew louder, making it impossible for me to hear my own shouting. The morning was still too dark to see clearly.

I knew I was still shouting Gabriel’s name, and then I finally saw him. He was making his way toward me. We’d save someone together. I could do that- share my glory with him. As long as Emma knew I’d done something worth being proud of, I’d be okay. I touched my pocket and imagined her face. Gabriel was almost close enough to hear. I turned to look at our home. Men ran past me, someone bumped into me, and I saw a shadow of Emma, there behind a tree. I wanted so badly for it to be her. It wasn’t the first mirage I’d seen in war. I watched for too long. I kept my eyes up the hill.

Then I felt the pain surge through my own stomach. Down, below my rib cage, and at first I thought it to be a bullet. When I looked down I saw the bayonet sticking out the front of me. Watched it pass through me further with wonder. It was sharp and red. Dark red. I choked, and the world moved slowly around me. I looked up to the house again. Again, I imagined Emma sitting at the window looking down and seeing me, too. I was afraid for myself, but also afraid for Gabriel. If they could get me, they could get him. If I couldn’t be a hero, there was no way he could be one.

In an instant I thought of Emma. The last night we spent together. I touched her jaw with my fingers and she kissed me…every part of me. She was delicate. I had to learn, as I was prepared to do with such a girl, someone I truly loved, to be patient and gentle. We held onto one another. We promised marriage.

Emma’s face left my head when I saw Gabriel again. I saw his lips move, but I couldn’t hear a sound. His hand was under my head and the further I fell into him, the further the metal stuck out of my chest.

Then he fell, too. Without Gabriel’s support I landed on my side, eyes closed and hearing the noise grow faint around me. Something strong fell over me and I opened my eyes one last time. There in front of me was Gabriel’s face. His eyes bore right into mine. The hole in his head was the reddest thing on the whole field.




I watched from behind the tree as the battle grew and grew. I saw men fall, I saw blood all around, making the snow red and pink and purple with the thickness of it. I watched as Gabriel, with a look I couldn’t recognize, made his way toward Ephram with his bayonet held in front of him. I knew it was Gabriel, even though I couldn’t make out his face. The morning was still too dark, for not much time had passed. Though it felt like a lifetime.

I will never know if I was truly close enough to hear their words. I may have imagined it out of my own guilt, knowing that I had kept something so important from Gabriel, my best friend and brother.

“You should have left her alone,” he said through gritted teeth.

I watched as he shoved his bayonet into Ephram. Watched Ephram’s shoulder crumble and fall. Watched his feet move, and then grow still in a moment as he fell to his side. I watched as Gabriel held him for a moment, with the tortured look of realization in his eyes.

I watched a Redcoat aim toward Gabriel. I may have called out. Again, I will never know.

I saw the boys die. I stood helpless, unable to be their nurse, the one to help save their lives. I saw my love, my brother and best friend, die. I watched as the man I wanted to marry died as well. I would never speak of what I saw that night.



Both families sat in church. We all wore black.

“Mr. Tanner, I’m so sorry about Gabriel. We loved him.” My father nodded his head and remained silent.

“Mr. Lee, Ephram was quite a boy. Quite a boy.” The man who would never be my father-in-law nodded his head in silence.

“Lilly?” Ephram’s mother asked my mother as she sat beside us both.

“Yes, Gale?”

I watched as women looked wearily at one another through their black veils made of lace.

“At least they died as heroes.”

My mother agreed. “Yes.”