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Beard Science(6)

By:Penny Reid

“No. She likes it just fine. In fact, she wanted to add her name to the schedule.”

I grinned. “That’s funny.”

Jethro scowled. “No. It’s not funny. And don’t repeat it either. I don’t like living with Sie—” He broke off, huffing when I lifted my eyebrows at him, and began anew. “I don’t like living with my fiancée and my five brothers—each of whom have more than earned their title in my life. So we’re moving to the carriage house.”

“You’re not living with five brothers. Roscoe is gone, off to horse school.”

“You mean veterinary school.”

I nodded once. “That’s what I said, didn’t I? And Duane and Jessica leave before Thanksgiving for Italy. Who knows when they’ll return? So it would only be three of your brothers.”

He ignored this detail. “Back to the carriage house, I can do the big stuff, finish the framing and such. But I need your help with the details, doing the drywall, running the electrical. I wouldn’t ask if I had more time.”

I waved away his explanation. “Why not move into Claire’s place? Didn’t she offer it to you before she left town?”

Claire McClure was an overall high-quality person, definitely a ten. It took some convincing, but I’d tricked her into performing with me at a talent show in Nashville next month. She’d sing and I’d play the banjo. I didn’t want to win the talent show, but I did want to buy a car from one of the judges.

It was a perfect twin of a car I already owned and I wanted it. The car did not blend, everyone knew it was mine, and therefore owning two would give me the ability to be in two places at once.

Unfortunately, the judge didn’t know she wanted to sell it to me yet.

Claire was also a good friend of Jethro’s, but had recently moved to Nashville to accept a teaching position, but that was only part of the reason. The real reason she left town was to avoid my brother Billy. That story is too long to tell and too depressing.

“Yeah, Claire offered her house. But I don’t like the idea of leaving the homestead completely. After all, it is my home. Momma left it to me. And I want our kids to live there from birth.”

“You planning on having some kids next week?”

Jethro’s eyes cut away and he shifted on his feet, a pleased and guilty looking smile mounting itself on his face.

And I knew.

“Wait a minute . . .”

Jethro pressed a finger to his lips. “Shhh—”

“Sienna is pregnant!”

“Hush!” Jethro clamped his obnoxious hand over my mouth, pairing the action with a stern look. “Shut your mouth.”

“Erfrenmafma,” I said. It was nonsense, of course. His hand covering my mouth meant I could speak.

He squinted a silent warning and dropped his hand. “What was that?”

“It’s about time you impregnated that woman.”

“Cletus. We’ve only been engaged two months.”

“I know. I’ve been counting. Well . . .” I rubbed my hands together; this was great news. This was the best news. “When do we start on the carriage house? Tonight? We’ll add a nursery. Yellow is a nice color. Maybe this’ll get Drew and Ashley moving. I’ll be the godfather, of course. Cletus is a nice name.”

Now he did roll his eyes, but he also smiled. I gave him a free pass on the eye-roll because he’d just created a Winston progeny. “You’re so anxious for babies, why don’t you go make some of your own?”

My good humor deflated. Not a complete annihilation of my happiness, just a slight tempering.

“Oh, I’ll never have kids,” I responded; but before he could think too hard or too long about what I’d said, I added with a meaningful grin, “But that don’t mean I can’t spoil yours.”


“If he be Mr. Hyde," he had thought, "I shall be Mr. Seek.”

 Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


“I have some great news.”

My mother’s announcement startled me. She had this habit of suddenly appearing and making a loud proclamation. I wasn’t a loud person, and her hollering usually caught me off guard.

“What is it, peanut?” My father glanced up from his newspaper, a tolerant smile on his features. He was very indulgent of my mother ever since the lodge started turning a sizeable profit.

My grandmother said he was an enabler, and it was a good thing my momma wasn’t an alcoholic because he would’ve been pouring her drinks.

“I just got off the phone with Jacqueline Freeman.” My momma glanced between my father and me.

We were sitting at the kitchen table. It was an early Sunday morning and I’d just sat down after spending the last four hours making goodies for the bakery. Sunday was a busy day because of the church crowd.

When we continued to regard her blankly, she huffed, shaking her head at us. “Jacqueline Freeman? You know, the talent agent? In New York?”

“Oh.” My father jumped in his seat. “That’s right, I remember you talking about her last month. How exciting. This is certain to bring in a lot of revenue for the business. It’s about time I upgraded the boat.”

I scrunched my face, not quite following the conversation. “Why would you be talking to a talent agent?”

“Jennifer, don’t make that face. It’ll give you premature wrinkles.”

I rolled my eyes. This earned me a stern look from both my parents.

“Jennifer Anne Sylvester,” my mother began, scowling, “you know I don’t like it when you are disrespectful.”

“Listen to your mother, Jennifer,” my father added unnecessarily.

“Sorry,” I offered wearily, an instinctive spike of guilt blooming in my chest. I shook my head. “Sorry, I’m just tired.”

I was tired. I hadn’t been sleeping well since recording the incident at the police station earlier in the week. I didn’t know what to do, and I had no one to talk to about it.

My momma didn’t realize I’d already gone to the station and recorded the testimonial, so she wasn’t asking for the video. All the charges against Razor had been dropped. Apparently, he’d been arrested for a misdemeanor drug charge, nothing too serious, but enough to place him in jail for a few months.

Without the missing evidence, they were unable to hold him in custody.

The decision to turn in Cletus should have been cut and dry. He’d taken the evidence, I’d recorded it, so I should have contacted the sheriff and showed him the video immediately. But I didn’t. Every time I thought about making the call, I thought of an excuse: too tired, too busy, too comfortable under my covers.

I didn’t want to think about the real reason I hadn’t turned him in, because the real reason made me a terrible person.

So I fretted and baked.

“It’s all right. Now, let’s see. I think I forgot to tell you.” My momma waved her hands in the air excitedly. “Well, here it is: Jacqueline Freeman is a talent agent in New York City—like I just said—and she got a call out of the blue from the Chiquita Banana folks about you. She has a relationship with the Kraft food people and—well, never mind. That’s not important.”

I was trying to follow but having difficulty making sense of her disjointed explanation. “So, some lady in New York—”

“Jacqueline Freeman, talent agent extraordinaire.”

“Ms. Freeman got a call from the people at Chiquita Banana about me?”

“That’s right.”

“Why would they call her?”

“Because that’s how this stuff works.”

“What stuff? Why did they call at all?”

“Isn’t it obvious? They want you to be their spokesperson. They want you in commercials, you and your cakes.” She clapped her hands together and addressed her next statement to my father. “Oh, this is going to make things so much easier with the lodge investors. Once they find out about this, the deal is as good as done. Lord, this takes a load off my mind.”

Meanwhile, my stomach churned. I felt like I was going to be sick.

“Commercials?” I asked weakly.

“That’s right. TV commercials to start, and Jacqueline mentioned a cooking show in the future. But you’d begin with some guest spots on the Food Network first. Jennifer, I don’t think I need to tell you how important this is, baby. This is it, this is what we’ve been hoping for.”

My heart thumped sluggishly between my ears before taking off at a gallop. The room tilted. I broke out into a sweat. My throat and mouth were as dry as a desert.

TV? Cooking show?

“Jenn?” My momma said, she sounded far away. “Honey, are you okay?”

I don’t want this. I don’t want this.

“I don’t . . . can I . . .” I tried to swallow but I couldn’t. The room was spinning. “Can I have some water?”

“Baby girl, you don’t look so good.”

Blackness creeped in at the edges of my vision and I flattened my palms on the top of the table for balance. It was too late.

The last thing I saw before succumbing to the darkness was my mother’s face hovering over me, frantic with worry.

I woke up in an ambulance.

At the ER in Knoxville, they did tons of tests. The doctors finally decided I’d suffered from dehydration and exhaustion. Fluids were administered and I was sent home with strict orders to rest. By the time I left the hospital I felt more like a pin cushion than a person, and I’d decided what to do about Cletus Winston.