Chapter Seven:

The Truth


The bell above the door chimed as Cole walked into Archie Morris' general store. The man behind the counter looked up as Cole approached him. Cole waited for the man to run him off, but to his surprise, he was greeted warmly. Even in places where he could enter, he never felt welcome. Because of this, he rarely entered shops unless absolutely necessary.

Cole took a seat at the counter and looked around the bright white and pale pink shop. Different brightly colored candies lined the shelves in mason jars, a jar of beef jerky sat in front of him, behind him a heavy-set woman was stalking the shelves. She hummed a tune, barely noticing him.

"What can I get ya?" Archie Morris asked as he finished wiping the counter.

"Cream soda," Cole replied. "and a couple of sticks of that jerky you got there."

Morris gave a nod. "Sure thing, kid."

He gave Cole the cold beverage and placed three strips of jerky in a paper bag. Fishing out a dime and nickel, Cole placed them on the counter. Morris placed the money in his apron and went back to his previous task.

As Cole sat there sipping on his beverage, he thought about the Richmonds. He hoped that they treated Katie kindly, but he'd heard the horror stories of Indian children living in white homes. Even when the child was kin, there was always someone on that side of the family who went out of their way to make the child feel unwelcome. He knew that injustice first hand.

"Say, mister," Cole began, "What do you know about the Richmond's? They good people?"

By now, Morris was sweeping the floors. He stopped, eyeing Cole suspiciously. Cole knew this man would most likely withhold the information, but he thought he'd ask, anyway.

"Why you askin', stranger?"

Cole took a swig before answering. "I'm a friend of Miss Katie's."

"Oh, I see. I'm surprised to hear that girl has a friend at all," Morris replied. "She's a little spitfire and won't let anyone get too close to her, but I'm sure you already knew that. As for the Richmond's as a family, they're good people. Arthur Richmond, sold most of his cattle last summer since he's gettin' up in years. Before that, he supplied this town and the next one over with its beef. They're mostly self-sufficient now, but sometimes they come out here to shop. Arthur and Mary Richmond got three birth children and Katie, the Indian they adopted. Though, most would say that one of them had an extramarital affair with a red-skin and Katie was the result."

It was then that the woman behind him finally spoke up. "Now Archie, don't you go spreadin' harmful gossip!"

Morris chuckled, "Oh come now, missus, I ain't spreadin' no harmful gossip. It's just speculation, that's all."

The woman placed her balled fist on her hips. "Speculation or not, it ain't polite to talk like that."

Morris ignored his wife's nagging and went back to the story. "Well, anyhow, they treat her like one of their own young'uns. Maybe a little kinder since Katie ain't their own, but she still gets in trouble once in a while." Morris grinned at that and leaned against the counter.

"What kind of trouble does she get into?" Cole asked.

"Fights, mostly. She once ripped fistfuls of hair from the McGee girl. Sometimes she pulls pranks on people she don't like. Once, Henry Jepson told Katie to go 'put on a dress' as he walked into the barbershop and wouldn't you know it, he came out an hour later to find horse manure in the seat of his car! 'Course, no one could prove it was Katie, but we all knew it was her."

A smile spread across Cole's face as he brought the bottle to his lips. After seeing what she did to that hillbilly, he could imagine her holding her own in a fight and putting horse manure in cars.

"Archie, you're spreadin' gossip again!" the woman warned.

"Oh now, missus, you just mind yourself," Morris said. The woman gave a huff and turned her attention back to her task.

"So how did they get a hold of Katie?" Cole asked.

Morris itched his head before replying. "Not sure. By the time they came to town, they already had her. Their youngest boy and girl came later."

Cole heard enough. He finished the rest of his drink, Morris took the bottle, and placed it in a barrel full of other empty glass bottles. He returned a nickel back to Cole. Cole rose from his seat and tipped his hat to the shopkeepers. As he walked away, Morris called out to him.

"Say, fella, are you interested in Miss Katie?"

Cole looked back and said, "Like I said, she's just a friend."

"You tell her I said hello."

"Will do," replied Cole.

He found Goldie where he left her. It was becoming harder to find a place to hitch his horse since automobiles became popular. Charlie came out of his hiding spot from behind the trash cans and happily greeted his master. Cole gave the dog a pat on the head and fed him a piece of jerky as a reward for staying put.

Placing one foot in the stirrup, he hauled himself on to Goldie and rode for the Richmond place.

It took at least half an hour to get there. Once he made it to the road that led to their property, he slowed his horse to a trot. He could see Arthur Richmond tending to a horse in his corral and spotted two young men, one of them he remembered from the other day, working by the barn. There wasn't any sign of Katie, however.

He reined Goldie to a stop. By then it was clear that he had the men's attention. Arthur was the first to approach him as Cole dismounted.

"Something we can help you help you with, son?" Arthur asked.

If he had to get on their good side, he would have to be friendly enough. He would be lying if he said he wasn't nervous.

"Yes, sir, I wanted to know if Katie was home," Cole said.

Arthur Richmond crossed his arms. His two sons were standing behind him by then. "She's home, but why are you wantin' to see her? You're not callin' on her, are you?"

"She has rabies!" the younger boy said. Arthur gave his son a stern look, shutting him up.

"No sir, I'm not calling on her. We're just old friends that I haven't seen each other in quite sometime."

He could see the disbelief in Arthur's eyes. "Really now? 'Cause Katie doesn't have friends."

Arthur Richmond didn't believe him and now he didn't know what to say next. He knew this wasn't going to be easy, but he'd had a plan mapped out in his head. Now that he was here, however, his mind went blank, forgetting everything he was going to say.

A screen door creaked open and slammed, buying Cole more time.

"Arthur, dear, who is that?" They all turned to see Mary Richmond standing on the porch, and shielding her eyes from the sun. She was a thin woman, almost boney. Her blonde hair was piled up in a sloppy bun with a few strands in her face. Even from where he was standing, it was plain to see she was exhausted.

"Go on inside, Darlin', I'm handlin' this," Arthur called out to her. He turned his attention back to Cole once she disappeared inside the house. "Listen, stranger, I don't know who you are, but you better start talkin' or I'll-"

The screen door slammed again, interrupting Arthur's threat. "Wait, Pa, I know him!" This time it was Katie who came outside. Arthur tried to make her go back in, but she refused to listen.



I was at the table, turning the crank on the butter churner that day. By the time it took on the appearance of whipped cream, my arm started to tire. My ankle still hurt from the fall, so I still wasn't allowed to do heavy chores yet. Ma kept me indoors for the most part, but I think she liked it. Said it did me some good doing domestics. I didn't make it easy on her, though. I argued and groaned the whole time, making it clear that I hated every moment of it.

I stopped the handle and leaned back in my chair.

"I don't hear cranking!" Ma called from the parlor.

"I'm taking a break!" I called back. "My arm is tired."

"I thought you were strong," Tonya said.

"Watch it or I'll-"

My threat died in my throat at the sight of a horse and rider coming up the path.


Ma came into the kitchen at that moment and stopped just behind me. "Who's that, I wonder."

I tried to swallow, but my mouth had gone dry. "I don't know." My voice was barely above a whisper.

Why was he here? Didn't he realize the trouble he was about to cause? Not even a minute had passed before I noticed Pa growing impatient with him.

Spinning on my heels, I dashed past Ma and raced up the stairs. I heard her call out to me, demanding to know what I was doing. I shoved my door open, honed in on the nightstand, and yanked it open. There, tucked away in my journal, were the letter and picture. Like a whirlwind, I was in and out. I ran down the stairs two at a time, almost slipping halfway down. Ma had just stepped inside when I whipped past her again.

"For heaven's sake!" she cried.

Outside, Pa was giving Cole a look he only gave us kids when we were in for it. He was halfway through with a threat when I declared that I knew Colton Wolfe. Pa rounded on me, his fiery gaze now resting on me. I swallowed down my fear and held up the photo and letter.

"Git inside," Arthur drawled.

I shook my head and said, "I know why he's here."

"Then talk fast."

I found my voice gone. The only thing I could do was hold up the letter and photo.

Pa's eyes rounded, Julian gulped, and Travis' smug grin disappeared. I shot Cole a glare before turning back to Pa. An uncomfortable silence hung in the air as Pa took the items from my hand. He hardly looked at the photo, but lingered on the letter. He tried to mask it, but I saw the tidal wave of shock that washed over him.

"Why did you write that?" I asked. "Why couldn't I be with my grandmother? I belonged with her, not you."

"What you did was cruel," Cole chimed in.

As much as I agreed with him, I wished he'd shut up. I could handle this myself.

He turned his attention back to me and said, "You belong here, Katie. You're mine and always will be. How can you be so ungrateful?"

"I'm not! I just want to know why you took me away from my family."

Pa's countenance immediately changed to anger. His brown eyes flashed a mixture of hurt and fury. I'd seen him angry before, but never like this. I swallowed thickly as I began to lose my nerve. Maybe this was a mistake.

"The Richmonds are your family!" he snapped. "And I won't hear otherwise! After everything I've done for you, you got alotta nerve to say that!"

Briefly, I saw the rational side of him trying to regain control, but his temper won. With the damning evidence in hand, he shredded the letter and tore the photo in two. My mind tried to understand what'd he'd just done. Never had he reacted so violently to anything in his life. Pa wasn't always fair in his punishments, but to do this? I couldn't believe it.

"What are you doing?" I cried.

Seeing the bits fall like autumn leaves made me sick. I assumed he thought it wouldn't be true if he destroyed the evidence of what he'd done.

I bent down and started gathering the bits that fluttered to the ground. Tears stung my eyes, but I wouldn't allow them to fall. Picking up the photo, I held them gently, afraid I'd damage them further. I didn't dare look up as Pa stepped over the mess.

"There was no reason for that," Cole said.

"Get. Off. My. Land." Pa said. His voice was low and almost growly.

"Are you gonna tell her the truth or do I have to?"

"GO!" Pa roared.

From the corners of my vision, I saw both Julian and Travis flinch. If I hadn't been so stunned, I would have too.

Cole gave a heavy sigh before I heard boots shuffle in the dirt. His horse gave a snort, as though she, too, was disgusted by my pa's actions. The creaking of leather and the jingle of metal told me he'd mounted up, but as several long moments dragged by, I didn't hear him gallop away.

"Are you deaf or stupid? I said: get!"

"Katie," Cole began. I didn't move to look at him. "I'm leaving, but if you need anything, my place is in Coweta. Hokte left everything for you. You don't have to claim it, but I think it'd be wise if-"

"I said: LEAVE!" Pa boomed, cutting off Cole.

I closed my eyes, counting the seconds until the galloping faded away. When it felt safe to move, I stood and crammed the bits of the letter into my pocket. I'd worry about putting them together later. I looked around, my gaze landing on my brothers. Both boys stood there, eyes like saucers, their own gazes flitting between me and Pa.

Every particle in the air seemed charged by the tension. Pa turned to the boys and ordered them to go to the barn. Neither one wasted a second to do as they were told. Pa stormed toward the house, only stopping once to hiss in my ear: "Go to the house. Now."

Still clutching the photo, I followed after him. When we got inside, he told Tonya to go to the barn with her brothers. When she tried to ask why, he gave her a stern look before she fled the house. Ma stood ridged by the window, a slender hand clinging to a dishrag. Never had she seen her husband this upset before.

"What on earth is going on?" Ma asked. "Why is Katie crying?"

I hadn't realized I had cried.

Pa rounded on me. I almost stumbled back, surprised by his sudden movement. For the first time in years, I felt small as he loomed over me. "Where did you get that letter?"

"What letter?" Ma asked.

Ignoring her, he repeated, "Where did you get that letter?"

Swallowing, I answered, "Cole gave it to me."

"Who's Cole?" Ma asked.

"Quiet, Mary," Pa said.

"Is Cole the boy that was here a minute ago?"

I nodded.

"Where did you meet him?"

"A week ago in the woods," I answered quickly. "He told me he was here on my grandmother's behalf."

He scoffed and said, "Of course that woman can't leave things be."

His laugh came out ugly and mean. I'd never heard it sound like that before. As my folks' lies came to the light, were their true colors finally starting to show? Had this all been an act? What was going to happen to me now? Sheer terror gripped me at the thought.

"So, it is true. You told me no one wanted me. You said you were all I had, when all along it was lies," I said.

"Katie, what are you talking about?" Ma asked.

"You and Pa lied to me. I read the letter Pa wrote to my grandmother."

A gasp escaped her as her hands flew to her mouth. "Oh Katie, I'm so sorry. We never wanted to hurt you. We love you, please know that."

"Love?" I said. "If you really loved me, then you would've let Hokte take me in. Instead, you kidnapped me!"

"Katie," Pa said in a warning tone.

The raw emotions burning inside had given me the courage to say what had been bottled inside me for days. Ignoring him, I went on, "You're both nothing but liars. You stole me and then threatened my poor grandmother-"

"That's enough."

"You said you'd shoot her if she ever came back! I know nothing of my people or their ways and all because you two were being selfish. You don't love me."

"That's not true," Ma choked out.

"Stop it right now," Pa said.

My eyes narrowed at him. "Why should I listen to you? You're not my father!"

In one swoop of my hand, I sent a glass on the table flying. It smashed against the wall, shattering into pieces. Pa recoiled as though I had struck him. His eyes swam with hurt and surprise, then they quickly turned to ice. His open palm came down hard across my face. The loud crack echoed throughout the kitchen. Reds and yellows flickered across my vision momentarily. I reached out for a chair to catch myself. Ma let out a terrified wail. I turned to her and saw her eyes bugging. I opened my mouth, but before I could say a word, Pa snatched me by the arm. His grip tightened when I pulled back. He brought me close to his face, eyes blazing, teeth gritted.

"Don't you ever disrespect me or your mother again."

A painful lump caught in my throat. If I replied, I would have would've started bawling, so I remained quiet. This only angered him further. He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me hard.

"Do you understand?" he shouted.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I fought back the tears threatening to spring from my eyes. Never had Pa yelled at me like this, much less hit me in the face. A few times when I was little, he'd whipped me, but that was it.

"Arthur, stop it!" Ma said. "She doesn't mean it. Just give her time to settle down and we'll all talk this over like adults."

But I didn't want to talk about it anymore. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing more to say. Pa let go of me. His anger had cooled to a simmer. I knew, however, that he wasn't through with me. Turning away, I ascended the stairs and ran into my bedroom. I flung myself onto the bed and sobbed into my pillow. Looking back on it, I feel silly for doing such a thing, but at the time, it felt as though my world had shattered into fragments too small to glue back together.

Downstairs, I heard them arguing, but I didn't care to hear what was being said. I rolled to my side to face the wall and curled into a ball like a helpless child. Suddenly, the four walls that surrounded me no longer provided security and safety, but instead felt like a cage that held me back. In fact, the entire ranch felt like a prison. The more I thought about it, the madder I got, and the madder I got, the more I cried.

When at last I'd felt my tears were spent, my energy depleted with it. Closing my eyes, I let exhaustion take over; my dreams taking me far away. If I could have, I never would have left that bed.