The Rains in Sest
By Dorothy Hutchinson
Date: March 4, 2016
Ch. 22

“I don’t understand, Papa.”
“I suppose ‘buyer’ ain’t the right word. I found someone willing to put up a good bridal price for you. You won’t be with us long, girl. Your wedding is set for eight days from now.”
“May I ask who I’m to marry?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know the buyer’s name, just the name of my contact. But I do know that if you mess this up for me, well, I suppose you can guess what will happen. And if you ever mention the beatings to anyone, I’ll tell everyone you’re a witch, and they’ll give you worse than a beating.
“You deserved each and every beating, girl. Do you realize all the times people looked at me with contempt for raising a white girl? I used to be popular enough around here—poor, but popular. I thought you was a gold mine, you but wasn’t worth the price.”
“I’m sorry, Papa; I didn’t mean to make your life miserable. I never knew about any of this.”
“You don’t know nothing, do you? All that money they had me waste on your education, and you don’t have a lick of common sense.”
She didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. This was like a bad dream. Her father had suddenly turned into a stranger spouting gibberish. And he was sober.
“Girl, did you really think a couple acres of crops and a few pigs, milk cows and chickens could possibly provide the money for tutors, good food and expensive clothes, and also pay for all them trips you took to Brighton City?”
Was he saying that someone had paid him and Ma to raise her?
“And now comes the big pay-off, so if you screw this up for me…”
“I understand, Papa. You don’t need to worry.”
“Good.” He gave her a hard look, then continued riding up the drive.
Karen, numb with shock, pulled Becky up beside him.
“Ma will be checking you again when you get home, to make sure you’re still a virgin. If she finds otherwise, I’ll switch you like never before, girl, because the buyer won’t want a whore.”
“Tommy’s a gentleman, Papa.”
“Maybe it ain’t Tommy I’m worried about… And remember, girl; not a word about none of this to nobody. Not even Ma.”
“I won’t say a word to anyone, Papa.”
They rode to the Wilson’s house. The horse-and-buggy was hitched up by the barn.
Mrs. Wilson stepped out onto the porch to greet them. “Howdy, Bob. Hi, Karen. Have you eaten breakfast?”
Papa smiled. “Yes, we have, Violet, but thanks for asking.”
“Ah, Bob, you know my table is open to you and yours anytime. And right now, I’ve got a cherry pie in the oven.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have time, Violet. Karen can’t keep Clare waiting in a strange town. Clare’s a city girl, and I’m afraid she’d be frightened by the sight of some of the rougher-looking men in town. And I gotta’ get some plowing done today if we’re planning to eat this summer.”
“Okay, well, I’ll save you some pie for later, if you want to stop by.” She poked her head into the doorway. “Are you ready, Tommy?”
“Coming,” he called. He came right out, carrying a picnic basket and a bag. He loaded the buggy while Karen took Becky’s saddle off and put her into a stall in the barn.
Karen and Tommy said their good-byes and headed toward town in the buggy. They’d barely made it a mile before Tommy stopped the buggy and started octopussing her. His tentacles and lips felt so good, and with what had just happened with her father, she needed and wanted Tommy more than ever. But she had to apply the brakes now, or she might not be able to at all.
“Stop, Tommy.”
He didn’t stop.
“Tommy, stop. Now.”
He gaped at her. “What? It’s been three days, for God’s sake.”
“Clare will know, and she’s got a big mouth. Papa will find out.”
“How will Clare know?”
“She knows everything; don’t ask me how. She’ll smell it on us, or figure it out, or something. You wouldn’t believe how smart she is. To hear her talk, you’d swear she was forty-one, not fourteen.”
“Is she an empath, too?”
“Tommy, I told you, we can’t talk about that, ever.”
He spread his arms wide and looked around. “Do you see anybody, anywhere?”
“We can’t get into the habit of talking about it. One slip is all it could take. You know how paranoid people are and how suspicious they are of white folk, so I’ve already got a strike against me.”
Tommy sighed. “Alright. You seem upset. Did something happen?”
“Papa just gave me some news, bad news that I need to think about. I’m sorry, Tommy, but right now I need to think, and I can’t while I’m next to you. I need you to get out of my range, please.”
“Can’t you just shut your—uh, gift off?”
“When I do, it’s like I’m deaf and blind, like I’m only half myself. I need to be whole right now, because the news was really disturbing, and my head is spinning.”
“Alright. What’s your range?”
“Sometimes I can feel you from a half mile off.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Well, then, I guess I’ll go a mile to be safe. How much time you need?”
“A half hour.”
She got out of the buggy, and Tommy drove off.
She walked into the woods and sat down. She tried deep breaths to calm herself, but she could feel Tommy’s worry, so she couldn’t completely relax. Finally, Tommy’s presence faded and she was able to still her mind and calm her body.
She went over everything that had happened with her father this morning, trying not to react emotionally to it. So much of it was disturbing, but at least now she finally understood the resentment Papa had always felt toward her.
What disturbed her most was that she hadn’t figured any of this out for herself. Somehow her father had figured out she had special abilities, and yet she, an empath, hadn’t figured him out. This failure of hers might well have cost her life—if he would have reported her as a witch, she might be burning at the stake right now. Probably the only reason Papa hadn’t reported her was because it would have prevented him from cashing in on her. She’d have to be much more careful and observant in the future.
What should she tell Tommy? She didn’t want to provoke him into rashness—when she’d told him about Papa’s beatings, he’d seemed ready to kill Papa. So maybe, for now at least, she should just tell Tommy that Papa had arranged for her to be married.
But would it be fair to Tommy to tell him even that much? She didn’t want to pressure him into marrying her; doing so might well doom their marriage before it even got off the ground. But then again, if she didn’t tell him now, he probably wouldn’t propose to her today, and he might never get another chance to; and that seemed even more unfair to him.
She kept going over the situation in her mind, but she couldn’t make a decision. She’d have to play it by ear, letting the day unfold as it might.
Tommy returned, and they headed toward town.
Tommy seemed more relaxed now. “I think I know what happened. Your father told you he’d arranged a marriage for you, didn’t he?”
She gaped at him. “How did you know?”
“People have been whispering for years about your parents and all their money. People say your parents was flat busted when you arrived, but suddenly they was buying up all sorts of expensive clothes, jewelry, wine and fine foods. So everybody knew some rich white folk were paying your parents to raise their kid. And tomorrow is the first day your parents can collect the bridal price for you.”
Karen rubbed her forehead. “I feel so stupid. Everyone knew but me.”
“You was too close to the situation to get any—what’s the word?”
“Right, perspective. And no one felt right in breaking the news to you.”
“You know, for the longest time, I thought Papa and Ma were my real parents.”
“Seriously? You thought a pair of brownies had given birth to a white girl?”
“I was just a kid.”
He smiled. “You were two when they brought you here. I remember the day I first saw you, right after you arrived; it’s my earliest memory. I’d never seen a white girl before, and it was like you were an angel girl sent from heaven. You’re still my angel girl.
“Which is why I was going to wait until tomorrow to ask you this question, because tomorrow you won’t be an angel girl anymore, you’ll be an angel woman. But I might not get to talk to you alone tomorrow, with your friend here and all. And I was going to ask your father’s permission, but now I can see that’s out the window, so I’ll just ask my question anyway. Will you marry me, Karen?”
She flew into his arms and burst into tears.
He somehow managed to pull the buggy to the side of the road. And then somehow, his lips were on hers, and she was starting to lose control. She unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off.
They were both gasping, and she wanted him so much she could hardly bear it. But somehow she pulled away from him. “We have to stop, Tommy, or we’ll ruin everything. Ma is going to check me again tonight, and if I’m not a virgin, they’ll never let me see you again. I’m sorry, Tommy.”
He swallowed. “I understand. I have to go into the woods for a bit. I’ll be back.” He picked up his shirt and headed toward the woods.

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