Leah caught up to me as I pulled open the door of the truck.
I threw my purse inside and turned. â€œWhat is it?â€
Her caramel-colored eyes were pained when she said, â€œDonâ€™t pay any attention to Dinah, okay?â€
I looked back at the house, imagining Dinah glowering at me from her kitchen window. She was probably mad about the breakfast dishes. Normally, that was one of my jobs.
Leah was waiting for a response, so I forced a shrug. â€œIâ€™m used to it.â€
She grabbed my hand and squeezed. â€œDonâ€™t let those two get to you.â€ She lowered her voice. â€œI think sheâ€™s going through the change. Itâ€™s probably why she keeps bringing the baby thing up.â€
I almost laughed out loud. The way Leah said the change made it sound like Dinah had developed bubonic plague. On impulse, I hugged her. â€œItâ€™s okay, Leah. I promise it doesnâ€™t bother me. Maybe it used to, but not anymore.â€
She pulled back, doubt in her face. â€œAre you sure?â€
â€œTotally sure.â€ I released her, then climbed in the truckâ€”something that was way easier in pants. Through the windshield, I saw Jackson walking over from Pattyâ€™s house. â€œThatâ€™s my ride,â€ I told Leah.
â€œOkay. Well, good luck today.â€ She closed the door, then put her chin against the bottom of the open window. â€œJust remember, anything is possible with Heavenly Father on your side. Sarah was ninety when she conceived Isaac.â€
I gave her a solemn nod. It was a nice Bible story, but something told me Thomas wasnâ€™t willing to wait that long.
But Leahâ€™s expression was so sincere, I forced a smile and said, â€œIâ€™ll keep that in mind.â€
She returned the smile, then backed away from the truck and started for her house, waving to Jackson as she went.
He climbed in the cab and slammed the door. â€œYou ready?â€
â€œYes. What have you been doing?â€ I leaned away from him. He had huge sweat stains under his armpits, and his face was streaked with dirt.
He swiped an arm across his forehead, then stared down at his plaid shirt sleeve. â€œDad had me pouring concrete at four this morning.â€ He drew himself up and said in a low, measured voice, â€œNothing builds character like manning a pump hose, son.â€
â€œI hate to break it to you, but thatâ€™s just his way of getting cheap labor.â€
Jackson slanted me a skeptical look as he started the truck. â€œYou mean free labor.â€
I just shook my head. That definitely sounded like Thomas. He owned one of the most successful construction companies in Jefferson City, and the secret to his success was that he employed mostly family members. Dinah ran the office from home and handled everything from payroll to zoning permits. Leah helped with accounts receivable and general bookkeeping tasks. At some point, all the boys in the family had worked various jobsâ€”for little or no pay.
â€œSo howâ€™d you talk him into letting you take this job, anyway?â€ Jackson asked as we drove down the long gravel driveway away from the houses.
â€œIt was Dinahâ€™s idea. She said times are tight, so it made sense for me to work.â€ What she really said was that it made sense for me to work since I didnâ€™t have any children to care for, and that I should at least cover my room and board so I wasnâ€™t a burden on the family.
Jackson didnâ€™t need to know that, though. It was too embarrassing.
He turned the truck onto the main road leading out of town. We passed a few groups of boys walking along the sidewalk, probably on their way to work detail.
Jackson drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. â€œIt doesnâ€™t add up,â€ he said suddenly.
I looked at him. â€œWhat doesnâ€™t?â€
â€œWhat Dinah said about times being tight. Iâ€™ve seen what Dad makes, and there is no way heâ€™s hurting for money.â€
â€œWell, he has to tithe. A lot of it goes to the faith.â€
He shrugged. â€œI guess. Not that theyâ€™re doing anything productive with it,â€ he said, nodding to the old school building. At one time, the town had operated a small public school, but the state shut it down after some sort of audit claimed too many kids were being passed through grades despite missing months of school at a time. Families had gone back to homeschooling, and the building had fallen into disrepair.
We passed the town center with its small grocery store and town hall. Jackson slowed the truck to a crawl, glanced left and right, then rolled through a stop sign without stopping.
â€œHey!â€ I exclaimed.
He glanced at me. â€œDo you want to be late on your first day? Besides, thatâ€™s Theron and Bragg.â€ He jutted his chin toward a white extended-cab truck idling near the intersection.
I squinted at the truckâ€™s dark windows but could only make out two shadowy figures in the front seat. â€œSince when are they working security?â€
He gave a humorless laugh. â€œSince they went crying to their mom about being given shitty jobs. Now theyâ€™re living the dream.â€
I wanted to scold him for swearing, but I heard the pain and confusion under his bravado. It was an open secret in the family that Thomas favored Dinahâ€™s children over all the othersâ€”a situation that had only grown worse since her oldest son, Thomasâ€™s namesake, had been excommunicated and forced out of the community. The night he left was the only time I ever heard Dinah raise her voice to Thomas. Sheâ€™d begged and pleaded with him to intercede on their sonâ€™s behalf, but he stalked from the house and slammed the door, leaving her sobbing on the kitchen floor.
Thinking to comfort her, Iâ€™d crept downstairs and placed my hand on her shoulder, only to jump back when she jerked away.
â€œI donâ€™t need pity from you,â€ she spat.
â€œItâ€™s not pity, Dinah. I justâ€”â€
â€œWhat? Come to gloat?â€ She glared at me with such malice, I stumbled back a step.
Then she stood and smoothed her skirt. She squared her shoulders, the broken, weeping woman of seconds before replaced by the cool, dominant head wife. â€œGo back upstairs,â€ she said. When I turned to go, she added, â€œAnd remember, he might want you in his bed, but Iâ€™ve borne his children.â€
The white truck grew smaller in my side mirror as we drove out of town.
Jackson gripped the steering wheel with tight fingers. I didnâ€™t blame him for being jealous. His half-brothers were driving around in air-conditioned comfort, enjoying power and prestige, while he toiled at construction sites and ferried his fatherâ€™s wives around.
â€œThanks, by the way,â€ I said.
He looked at me. â€œFor what?â€
â€œFor driving me into the city.â€ I dug in my purse and pulled out my driverâ€™s license. â€œEven though Iâ€™m official now.â€
â€œNo kidding?â€ He leaned over so he could see the picture. â€œYou need that for work or something?â€ When I nodded, he said, â€œYou gonna start driving yourself into the city now?â€
I sighed and tossed the license back into my purse. â€œI doubt it. Thomas said itâ€™s a waste of resources to leave a car in the city all day.â€
â€œYeah, I guess. So what will you be doing, taking care of cats or something?â€ He cast a pointed look at my scrub top.
â€œVery funny.â€ I reached over and gave him a playful punch on the arm. â€œItâ€™s an urgent care center. Like a mini emergency room and doctorâ€™s office all in one. They do drug screenings for employers, too, so I might help with administering those sorts of tests.â€
â€œSounds cool, Liz.â€
I smiled. He was the only one who ever called me that. Heâ€™d been just ten when I married Thomas. Back then, my main job had been helping Patty, who homeschooled all the children. Sheâ€™d been pregnant with her youngest at the time, so I took over her teaching role in that first year. Jackson had Pattyâ€™s dark eyes and hair, but he was nothing like her in temperament. He was a jokester and something of a troublemaker, but he was so kind and lovable it was hard to get mad at him.
We drove in companionable silence for a few minutes, then he asked, â€œWant some music?â€
He turned the radio on, filling the cab with Taylor Swiftâ€™s â€œI Knew You Were Trouble.â€
He nodded his head to the beat for a second, then glanced at me. â€œI can change it if you want.â€
He shrugged. â€œWell . . . if you like it.â€
I hid a smile. â€œI donâ€™t mind it.â€
â€œThen I donâ€™t, either.â€ He gave me a knowing look, a little grin tugging at his mouth.
I lost the battle with my smile and let out a laugh.
After a second, he joined in.