Free Chapters – Gum for Gracie

autumn in kansas

 

Disclaimer: This book contains scenes that some readers may find disturbing.

Scenes will relate to the occurrence, affect and aftermath of a child raped by her

father. Please take note of this before continuing to read this book.

 

Chapter One

Wednesday, July 3rd, 1974

 

Something woke Bobbie that Wednesday morning. The sharp

jangling shook her out of her dreams and disturbed the comfort of

her soft bed. Was it the phone? She turned on her bedside lamp to

check the clock. Its low light illuminated the clock radio. One in

the morning. Dear God, was everything okay? She sat up, heart

pounding, and grabbed the phone. “Hello?”

“I have a collect call for Bobbie Rossi. Will you accept the

call?” a voice thick with amusement asked.

“Yes, operator.”

“Bobbie?” A slurred female voice sounded over a shaky

connection.

“Beth, is that you?” Bobbie gripped her pillow.

“Yeah.”

Visions of a car accident, a house fire, a sudden fever in a

child flooded Bobbie’s imagination.

“Are you okay? Is everyone all right?” She tried to shake the

confusion from her sleepy head.

“We’re fine.” Beth made a funny noise. “Oops, sorry.”

“Are you drinking?” From three-hundred miles away, Bobbie

sniffed in disbelief. In their twenty-eight years, she had never seen

her twin sister drunk.

Beth giggled. “I drank two of Dan’s beers. Well, two and a

half. Won’t he be pissed?”

Bobbie’s first response was to smile at the infectious giggle.

Her second response was much louder. “Oh, my God, what are you

doing?”

“I couldn’t sleep. It’s probably ninety degrees in here, and I

had to turn on a fan. I’m sweating, and my mind is spinning. And I

don’t have anybody to talk to…is it okay? You sound tired.”

Bobbie grimaced and moved into a more comfortable position.

“Yes, I’m tired because it’s after one, but of course, it’s okay to

call. It’s just a surprise. What’s on your mind?”

“I don’t know if I should tell you.” A chair or something

scraped in the background.

Bobbie sighed. “If you aren’t going to tell me, why did you

call?”

“I need to talk to somebody. But…”

Bobbie counted to ten. Quickly. Softening her tone, she asked, “If

you needed to talk to me, why did you wait so late? I’m not criticizing

you, just wondering. You know you can call me collect anytime.”

“Oh no,” Beth said. “Not when my girls are around. Cara still

blabs everything to everyone, including her father. All I need is for

him to find out I’ve been talking to you. Dan would kill me. God,

he hates you. I don’t know how he can hate you so much and—”

“Yes, newsflash, Dan hates me. You said you need to talk to

somebody. So, talk.” Bobbie didn’t count this time.

“Now I need to pee.”

Bobbie tipped her head back, her frustration draining away

into amusement. Her fraternal twin sister might be a few minutes

older than she was, but somehow, she had always seemed much

younger. Bobbie couldn’t stay mad at her. Beth was managing the

best she could in a nightmare of a marriage. Silly goose. “Okay,

you go pee, I’ll get a glass of milk, and we’ll meet in the middle

when you’re done. Can you walk okay? Those two beers seem to

have hit the spot.”

“I’m an adult. I can handle two beers.” Beth hiccupped and

dropped the phone on what sounded like the table. Bobbie could

hear the long, curly cord drag it toward the wall. She rolled her

eyes, laid her phone down gently, and went for a glass of milk.

Returning, she found Beth hadn’t come back. She settled

herself in as good a position as the cord would allow and played

with the coil as she waited. Dan. What a loser. She hated that her

sister was chained to the biggest jerk in Cottonwood Plains. Maybe

in all of western Kansas. She hated the jerk. The jerk hated her. It

was a mutual anti-admiration society of the fiercest nature. He had

been calling her a dyke since she was sixteen-years-old and had

refused to let him cop a feel. Asshole.

Wait. She shook her head. This wasn’t helpful. It would only piss

her off and make it harder to listen to Beth. Apparently, Beth didn’t

really know why Dan hated Bobbie so much. Didn’t drunks speak the

truth? Beth had always said that, but Bobbie couldn’t imagine that

much innocence. No wonder she seemed so childlike and—

“Are you back? Hello?” Beth spoke so loudly, it hurt Bobbie’s

ear.

“I’m back.”

“I don’t want you to lecture me or yell at me. I just need to talk.

Don’t be mad at me, okay?” Beth’s slurry voice got smaller as it

trailed off.

Bobbie’s heart melted again. “It’s okay. Just tell me what’s in

your head.”

Beth started, a few words at a time. “I was lying there, waiting

for Dan to come home. My body gets all tight, and it takes forever

before I can sleep. I guess I do understand how Gracie can lie

under her tree and think for an hour. I do the same thing.”

“What were you thinking about?” Bobbie crossed her fingers

and hoped it would be about leaving Dan.

“Oh, the same thing I always think about. Dan. Our situation. I

hate it. I hate him. I hate myself. I hate everything but my girls. I’ll

never hate or regret them.”

Bobbie swallowed twice at Beth’s candor and murmured soft

encouragement.

“What would he do if I did take the girls and left like you want

me to? Would he let me? Would he be happy? Be insulted? Make

my life hell? He can be so cruel.”

“Why don’t I come for a visit? He’s bound to have another

twenty-four-hour shift at the fire station that I have free soon, and

I’ll just drive down. With this new fifty-five-miles-per-hour limit,

it’s about six hours. If I leave here early Friday, I can be there after

he goes to his shift, spend the day, and leave the next morning

before he gets home. It’s all copacetic.”

Bobbie could hear Beth sucking in air. “No, no, please, no. It’s

not copa-whatever. It’s horrible when you leave. Even though

Gracie rides a tight herd on them, Cara blabs all about the little

goodies you bring them, and LeeAnn brags about your life within

hearing distance of Dan. The girls fight so much that their father

intervenes, and it’s never pretty. Do you know what he did? I

wasn’t going to tell you and don’t flip out, but he said if you come

down again, he’s going to take the girls and leave me.”

“What?” Bobbie sat up hard and fast.

“When he said he would kick me out, I said that maybe it was

a good idea. I would take the girls and move out. Oh, God, he got

so mad. He said some really bad things. I freaked, so I tried to

convince him it was a good thing. He would have his whole paycheck

to himself, no paying for us, and he would have quiet for his

TV and the baseball games. Please, you have to listen. He said he

would take the girls and leave. He can do that. He can be a fireman

anywhere. I’m a dime store clerk. I don’t have credit. I don’t have a

bank account or my own car. He’s got everything. He even told

me—”

“I’ll kill him,” Bobbie growled.

“No, he said he would dump the girls in some orphanage, and

I’ll never see my babies again. Dammit.” Beth stopped abruptly.

When she started again, she whispered. “He won’t do it if we just

play along. He’ll forget in time. Trust me. Things will go back to

normal. He’ll just complain about you and come to bed drunk when

he’s mad. At least he doesn’t want to have sex anymore.” She gave

a giggle that sounded forced to Bobbie.

“What?” Bobbie asked.

Beth whispered, her lips loosened in a beer-can sounding hiss.

“I like sex, don’t get me wrong, but he gets rough or wants me to

do things that I don’t want to do. It’s just better to go without.”

Bobbie’s eyes widened at this revelation, but Beth kept going.

“Maybe he’s getting it somewhere else. Maybe it’s that girl Rita

next door and her mother, the waitress down at the tavern. I know

he looks. I don’t care. If he doesn’t give me a disease, I don’t even

care.”

Beth paused a long moment. “I guess that’s a surprise. I don’t

care… That can’t be a good sign when a wife doesn’t care if her

husband sleeps around. I’m tired of being a wife. I’m tired of being

his wife.”

Bobbie collected herself before speaking up in a soft,

sympathetic voice. “What else, sis, what else do you think about?”

“Well, if I left him, how would I support the girls? I mean,

I’ve been a clerk at Woolworth’s for four years. Yeah, right, that

looks good on a job application. At least, I’m a loyal employee. I

guess that part might look good. I don’t know much about living in

Lawrence, except that maybe it could be pretty cheap if you and I

rented a house together. The girls are getting old enough that child

care isn’t such a big deal.”

“Yes,” Bobbie said. “You’re right.”

“I have a headache.”

Bobbie didn’t want to interrupt but didn’t want a headache to

end the conversation either. “Do you need to get an aspirin?”

“I don’t think so. I only get headaches when I think. Maybe

solving the problem would help. Fat chance of that happening. I’ve

had this discussion with myself every night since May. I’m just

going in circles…” The monologue trailed off into nothing.

Bobbie listened for a moment then pushed a little bit harder.

“What about it, Beth, can you make a decision soon?”

“Before the school year starts would be best,” Beth said,

agreeing with her sister’s unspoken argument. “I could pull them

out of school, but that would be harder. Rent is paid for July. Can I

make a decision in less than a month…or?” She paused. “On

second thought, Dan pays the rent, so that’s not money out of my

pocket. Let him pay the rent and then move out on him.” She

laughed. “Oops. Shhh.”

“You could move before school starts,” Bobbie said. “I have

plenty of time off in the summer to help you move and get settled

in.”

“Yeah, I know. It sounds better and better. I want my girls to

have everything they need, and they aren’t getting it here. I can

stay and hope they get out like you did, Bobbie, or maybe I can

even get out myself. That’s something else you’re right about. My

life isn’t over yet. I feel old but…”

Bobbie waited through another long pause. She was about to

say something when Beth went on.

“You probably think I’ve made up my mind. Some nights I

think I’ve made up my mind, too. But what holds me back? Fear.

That’s what it is. Fear of everything. Fear of not making it on my

own. Fear of not being married. Fear of being alone forever. Fear

of Dan. I’m even afraid of being afraid. Isn’t that stupid?” Her final

words of self-insult grated on Bobbie’s ears.

Bobbie had noticed Beth’s voice growing slower and slower

for the past few minutes. If she didn’t get her to bed, Beth was

going to be sleeping this off in a kitchen chair. “Beth? Beth! Are

you still awake?”

“Yes.”

“You sound like you’re relaxing a little. Do you want to go to

bed now and talk later?”

“Okay, I’ll go sleep. And Bobbie? I love you, I really do. You

are the best sister in the world.”

The best sister in the world laughed. “I doubt you’ll agree with

that when you’re sober. But that’s good to hear for now. You go to

bed, and we’ll talk soon, okay?”

“Good night. Thanks for listening.” Beth’s voice came over

the phone line sweetly, once again the innocent farm girl of fifteen

that Bobbie remembered, the memory she treasured of that year

before Dan, the manipulating asshole, came into their lives. How

one boy could make one girl hate him and one girl love him

completely even after he proved again and again he was—

Bobbie cut off that line of thought.

She signed off and hung up the phone. Ten beats, several

cleansing breaths, and a “Bobbie special” eye roll later, she pulled

herself together. Anger would just get her into trouble. She put her

junior-college-professor hat back on. Scooting to the edge of her

bed, she smoothed the cotton bottom sheet and rearranged her

pillow. She couldn’t fix anything tonight, but she would fix it soon.

She just had to figure out how. In the morning.

She checked the clock radio, and her brain registered

two-fifteen. The neighbors in the apartment above started making a

racket. It was as likely to be sex as an argument or possibly an

argument and then makeup sex. All of it was disturbing. She turned

on the radio, low, just to muffle the sound and shifted farther into

the bed. There was no movement beside her. Good. Some people

really could sleep through Armageddon and never even wake up. It

always amazed her.

Leaning over, she kissed the freckles on the creamy shoulder

beside her before sliding the sheet up and slipping into wakefulness

disguised as an attempt at sleep. She snuggled up close and

whispered along with the haunting song, “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero,”

that was playing on the radio. But she stopped short of singing the

admonition to not be a fool with his life.

She closed her eyes and wondered to whom the song was

speaking.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

“And now Ray Stevens brings you ‘The Streak.’”

Bobbie heard the familiar song as she felt Kathleen push the

little transistor radio closer to her head. They were lying together

in the shade along the bank of a creek.

“What are you doing?” Bobbie asked, jolted back to reality.

The sun glancing through the shifting cottonwood leaves above her

head made patterns of light like stained-glass windows in a

cathedral. The smell of grass, mud, and baked earth swirled around

her, and she had drifted off into memories from years before, lying

on this exact spot after harvest had come and gone. The years—

“Bobbie? Earth to Bobbie. I was letting you have equal time

with the streaking man and his dangling participles.” Kathleen

chuckled and moved a small stick out from under her back.

“I don’t want that thing too close to my head because you

never know what you’ll hear.” Bobbie paused as Ray Stevens

finished singing and the disc jockey announced the next song.

“That was ‘The Streak’ and ‘Jolene’ is up next,” the country

station announcer said.

“No.” Bobbie grabbed the radio. “I’m tired of her. Every time

we’ve turned on the radio out here, it’s been Dolly Parton.”

“And you don’t like her?” Kathleen stretched her lanky body

out even longer so that more of her lower legs were in the water.

“I like her just fine when she’s on occasionally, but every

other song? She’s in my face on every single country station.”

“I’ll get in your face.” And suddenly Bobbie’s view of the

treetops was blocked by Kathleen’s face, framed by reddish curls,

above hers. Kathleen grinned down at her. “Are you cooled off

from all that furniture loading? I thought we’d be carrying it down

narrow stairs in some old farm house and was so glad to see it was

in a barn. Then I realized how dusty a barn, and things stored in it,

can be. But your nice cool stream took care of the overheating and

could take care of the rest of the dust if you would like to join me

in there.”

Bobbie laughed. “It’s so shallow you would stick out of the

water from your calves up in most places, and your freckles would

get sunburnt. Besides, what are you going to wear if you get your

clothes wet and muddy? We only brought one change with us.”

“I wasn’t going to wear them in.” Kathleen untucked her

T-shirt.

 “In that case, all of you will get sunburnt. I’m not going

streaking, even though this is my land, and no one should be

walking around on it. I’m not that trusting.”

“Then perhaps you’ve gotten too cooled down, and I should

heat you up again.” Kathleen wiggled an eyebrow and smirked.

“I’m sorry, babe, but I can’t right now. My mind’s a million

miles away. Or more like ten miles away.”

“Okay. So, tell me what I can do to make you feel better.”

Kathleen rolled onto her side and lay with her head propped on one

arm. With her free hand, she stroked Bobbie’s hair, removing dried

strands from her face and smoothing them back. She pulled

sections of it out from under Bobbie’s head and ran them through

gentle fingers. Gentle fingers that suddenly tugged. “Hello. There

you are. You disappeared. So, what are you thinking about?

Bobbie, the wonder sister?”

Bobbie rolled her head and kissed Kathleen’s fingers. “Just

how close we are to Cottonwood Plains and my family but how far

apart we are at the same time. I want to visit so badly, I can taste

it.”

“That’s either dust or a mosquito caught in your mouth. You

said your sister didn’t want you to visit because Dan banned you

from the house, right?”

“Right.”

“And has that changed?”

“No.” Bobbie’s head rolled away from Kathleen’s face. Those

bright eyes were just too close for comfort. They saw too much and

loved too deeply.

“Then how could you go? Not to mention that we have a truck

loaded with a houseful of furniture, and we might be a tad

conspicuous driving into a small town.”

Bobbie willed herself not to clench her teeth when her lover

spoke the truth. “Yes, but I live six hours away and—”

“And there must be a good reason Beth told you that. She

wouldn’t make things up.”

Damn. Kathleen made too much sense. Bobbie had always

wanted a partner who was smart, thoughtful, and gentle, but she

wasn’t always happy that she got what she wanted.

She sat up and kicked her feet a little. The water splashed up,

and one drop made it as far as her face, narrowly missing her eye.

She grumbled as she wiped it away.

“Then don’t kick your feet like a petulant child. Talk to me,

girlie. You know I’m listening, and if you want me to stop

commenting, I’ll even do that,” Kathleen said.

“Could you be wrong more often, Kat? It’s tiring to love an

angel.”

Kathleen roared with laughter, even falling over onto her back.

Bobbie thought about pouncing on her, but her heart still wasn’t in

  1. When Kathleen finished laughing, she sat up and leaned toward

Bobbie.

“You are priceless. Now stop fooling around and tell me more,

so we can work this through and get you into a mood to take

advantage of me in the wild. I’ve never been taken by a pioneer

woman before, and I’m ready for it.”

“Oh sure. After you try one of those old mattresses out, you’ll

decide to put your sleeping bag on the ground, and that isn’t very

comfortable.”

“There was hay in the barn. It looked soft and inviting. Like a

roll in the hay?”

Bobbie stared at the far bank of the creek “The hay in there

will be moldy and musty. The straw might still be clean, but it’ll be

prickly and not soft at all. Take your pick. I’m sleeping on the

ground outdoors where there might be a breeze. As for the rest, I’m

thinking about dropping by to see Beth and the girls tomorrow

morning. Just for a little bit. Just some hugs. That’s all.”

“You’re serious? She said no visits. We planned this visit

because Dan’s working today and can’t possibly catch us here. But

that means he’s off tomorrow, and we don’t know if Beth will even

be home then.”

“He’ll go to the lake fishing. He goes every weekend he’s off,

and he’ll be gone all day. I’m not going to stay long.” Bobbie

didn’t meet Kathleen’s eyes. She picked at a long blade of grass

and examined it minutely.

“Okay, so he gets off at the fire station at what, seven? And he

goes home and runs off to the lake. What if he doesn’t? What if he

pulled a muscle at a fire and had to take it easy? Or gets nausea

from bad cooking?” Kathleen’s voice remained even and

reasonable, which grated on Bobbie’s nerves worse than a raised

voice would have.

Bobbie drew herself up to her full sitting height, inches shorter

than Kathleen but towering over her in attitude. “You apparently

know nothing about firefighters. On a full shift, only the best cooks

make the meals. And they aren’t going to screw it up by making

anyone sick.”

She stood up and stalked off, mind swirling like the fallen

debris in the muddy eddies of the creek. She batted at prickly

bushes as she walked by and found release in the discomfort of

small scratches. Yes, Beth said not to visit. Yes, it was on Dan’s

orders, but that was the crux of the issue. It was on Dan’s orders.

Not a mutual decision. Not even a compromise from an

authoritarian, sexist a—

Deep breath. Another slow, deep breath. A third slow, deep,

hissing breath. She’d be damned if Dan made the decisions for her.

Beth might let him, but not her. It wouldn’t be for long, and

nothing would happen. If she didn’t go, Bobbie would hate herself

for being ten minutes away from her only family and not stopping

in for a hug.

 

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