Disclaimer: All rights reserved. This is my own original work.



"The Rift"


My worst, darkest fear. No matter how hard I tried to fight it, I've got some of Pa's meanness in me.

What transpired the early summer of my fifteenth year, seven years ago, will never diminish in my mind. That summer, I lost my two best friends. To this day, I cannot say with any clear certainty why I said the things I did. How many times Mama has told me to guard my tongue over the years, there was no knowin'. Too many to count. A body would think a head might listen to solid advice once in awhile, but my head was stubborner than most.

I had been adjusting well, I thought, after Pa's death, but a creeping bitterness had been festering, for how long, I couldn't say. Perhaps forever.

Everett's family was always so maddeningly happy. That was the problem. Their camaraderie grated on the best of days; I was just that blistered inside, I s'pose. But after the last year, after everything Mama and I had been through, his family's closeness was salt in wounds I had never even allowed myself to acknowledge.

Like I said, it had always been that way, but I had never felt such a horrible urge to hurt him because of it.

Mama said that it was impossible to keep a lid on your emotions when you were ascending that awkward mountain between youth and womanhood. Could be she was right. But there was really no excuse.

The worst of it was that I had never had a better friend. Everett was solid, loyal, and he'd been my shelter for as long as I could remember. My older brother Bart died when I was six; seemed like after that, Pa spent all day drinking instead of working - as far as I could tell, my pa had quit living too. And so I escaped to the Brody farm, seeking the calm I so resented.

I'm afraid I'm a small person.

For the longest, I hid my secret covetous feelings, but during Everett's sixteenth birthday dinner, they burst out of me all in one fell swoop. We had been outside. Early June, and already the sun had been unbearable. I can remember the heaviness of my hair, the relief of sweat, and wishing desperately for a breeze. The table had been cramped. There were eleven Brodys, including Everett, plus Nick and myself. Thirteen people don't really fit on two benches. Tansy had Birdie on her lap, and Birdie was holding Missy, who, at a year, was the baby of the family. I had felt a little sorry for Tansy. I thought I was hot, but she was practically buried.

Sitting next to Everett and Nick, sweltering in the heat, surrounded by such a caring family full of good cheer, all of a sudden I had wanted to scream. Elder Lee, Everett's pa, didn't string a long line of curses at him or drink hisself blind or get hisself killed. No, he patted Everett on the shoulder and declared loud enough for all to hear how proud he was of his second-born son. Louise, his ma, didn't need to pretend everything was swell while her foundation and sleeves concealed a rainbow's worth of bruises. No, the two of them beamed down at him, full of pride and love and so much blinding joy that the soreness in my heart simply snapped.

"Go on, son, cut the iced cake. Ain't yore Ma's script fine?"

Everett had nodded, a flush creeping up his neck in regards to the words carefully spelled out on the cake. I saw, and the smallness in me felt a rushing smugness.

Everett couldn't read. No one but Nick and I knew. We had worked with Everett throughout primary school and always made sure he could copy off of our boards. He wasn't dumb, but he'd never been able to grasp letters and how they go together, and I knew, I knew, how embarrassed and ashamed he was. He'd never told his parents, his siblings, no one.

Lord, I was a tiny person.

"Oh, it is fine," slipped out of my mouth before I could bite my tongue. "Wait," I laughed—I laughed—"but you don't know a word o' what it says, do you?"

Nick's head swung around and he gaped at me in shock, staring as if I had suddenly sprouted two heads. Everett froze, his shoulders rigid, and instead of heeding any better judgment I was supposed to possess, I continued, my voice this false-sweet steady that still makes my stomach cramp when I think of it. "Ain't that a real shame?"

There are some things I wish I could erase from my memory altogether. A lot, if I'm honest. But Everett's hurt gray eyes meeting mine in that moment topped the list.

His family had sat in shock, and as the silence closed in on me, my elusive, fickle good sense caught up with my unruly tongue at last. "Everett, I—" I choked out, but he stood up, almost tripping over the bench in his haste.

"I hate you, Tressy Daniels," he said softly, his hands shaking, and I near smothered in shame.

He had stormed away, and I sat in the continuing silence. I couldn't have been more shocked by my actions or his words if he had slapped me. As Louise began to quietly clear up the table, I started crying.

I left shortly thereafter, feeling horribly sick inside. I took the Almery-Way Loop on my way home, stopping at the Silver Point Lookout, hoping Everett would be there, but he wasn't. I had sat down in front of the large red oak that would, years later, be cut down, leaving a stump for me to sit on, and I leaned back, the steady, silent tears transforming into a loud flood. I sat there until night fell.

With the full moon to guide my weak steps home, I made it to the porch of our mercantile and headed inside with a groan. Mama had left the front door unlocked for me, and I turned the lock behind me and traversed the edge of the counter, around the corner, through the back door and up the stairs.

Mama was waiting, perched on the edge of her seat at our small table, and I averted my eyes, hoping to make it to my room without much fanfare. Turning towards my door, I made it two steps before she stood up. "Teresa, sis, we need to talk."

Oh. Please. No.

"Mama . . . ." My voice was low, whiny. I was too tired for this.

"Louise came to see me. She was upset," her voice rose in volume, "Teresa Marie Daniels, I have never in my life been so ashamed of anyone! I—"

"Never?" I shouted, my voice shaking. "What about Papa? I'm so ashamed of him I could scream! What about you, Mama?" My voice gave out and lowered. "What about you?"

I am not sure I had ever seen Mama so angry. Or hurt. Her face turned red, then purple, purple as the Sweet Williams growing on the hillsides of the Walker Place. I gasped for breath. The thought of Everett's wounded gray eyes calmed my temper, but left me feeling wrung out. I left her standing in the hall, my quick steps the only sound in the tense room until I slammed my door.

I didn't sleep that night, not a wink. I sat in my bed quietly, without a sound, and watched the evening shadows move, hour after hour, along the wall. By the time the day was breaking, I had left and was halfway to the Brody farm. I wasn't sure what I was going to say—but I knew I had to say, do something.

Elder, the oldest brother, and Everett were in the cotton fields, their backs to me, and the closer my feet carried me, the slower my steps became. I clenched my hands over the small tin of unopened baseball cards that Louise, Everett's ma, had apologetically dropped off with Mama yesterday evenin'.

My awkward steps loosened some rocks from the dusty path, and Everett and Elder turned from their work. They had been checking the cotton to see how dry it was, and soon it would be time to harvest. Elder stood straight unobtrusively, then nodded at my pale face, his eyes, as always, full of quiet understanding. The warmth in Elder's eyes and the ice in Everett's left me hot and cold at once, and I felt sick to my stomach. Tears leaked out, making tracks down my cheeks, and I wiped them futilely with my left hand, smudging my face. Elder turned to go without a word, gripping his brother's shoulder briefly, and as his steps faded across the Milten field, Everett's stony gaze accosted me, his rigid shoulders and stormy face making my knees weak.

I approached as carefully as I could, feeling as wobbly as a fresh-born lamb, and tried to hand Everett his birthday present back. He turned away, his back fully to me, and knelt down, focusing all of his energy on the cotton plants at his feet.

My arm fell at my side and it took me a minute to find my voice. I knelt down in the dusty earth beside him. "Everett," I implored, my voice subdued and a bit croaky, "I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me. I didn't mean . . . ." His silence stretched, my tears increased, and I reached for his arm. "I'm really—"

He brushed me away. "I think you should go."

Clipped and raw, his voice cut me, and I closed my eyes. "Can't we—"


I tried once more. "Everett—"

He stood abruptly and threw his hat down on the ground as he started yelling. "Git out of here! I mean it, Tressy." He pulled me to my feet and pushed me away from him, towards the road, and I stumbled. "I don' wanna see yore sorry face no more. Git yore arrogant, conceited, back-stabbing self away from me!" He continued in a softer but harsher voice, "Who are you? I don' even know you. Yore no one's friend, yore jus' like yore pa."

I took several steps back in shock. Just like my pa. The tin of baseball cards slipped through numb fingers and I turned slowly, in a daze, my throat burning with the most desperate fire, and left. When my wooden legs reached the edge of the Milten field, I fled.

That had been the beginning of my solitary life. Nick had tried to stay friends over the next few months, but our time together was awkward and strained. Eventually, he stopped seeking me out, and I let him.

If it hadn't been for the escape and the release I found while drawing and painting, I would have been completely miserable these past several years. But I got through. With Mama, with work to keep me busy, and my sketching and painting, I didn't have time enough to miss how life used to be. Or, that's what I told myself. I kept myself busy. Anyhow, life was a little easier when Everett left later that year to work for the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company. I didn't have to worry about bumping into him in public anymore. I could convince myself that I didn't miss him.

I guarded my tongue more than ever. I grew quiet. And the years passed.

Thank you for reading! This is the book that I worked on during this year's NaNoWriMo, but it still has a long ways to go (I estimate I still need to write about 100k more words). Feedback is really special and I would appreciate it so much if you reviewed. I especially ask for this, because I will be publishing this story after it's finished and undergone the editing process, and CC is always immensely helpful as well as just knowing that someone out there enjoys or hates it for various reasons.