"Addie," he said, hugging her tighter than ever before. He smelled like sweet oats, she thought as he stepped back and looked her up and down, nodding in approval.
"Guess I've grown a bit," she said, uncomfortable with his silent appraisal.
"Bet you noticed a few changes in me too." He took off his hat as if to give her a clearer picture of him. He'd obviously wet and parted his long hair, which was sun-bleached at the ends and dark on the crown where light rarely hit. His skin was dark too, which made his green eyes, twins to her own, shine solid as wet stones.
"You remind me of Pa," which was true, but as she said it she knew it wasn't what he'd want to hear.
"That ain't exactly a compliment," he said. "Unless maybe you're comparing his face to my..." He fell shy at the word he intended, and instead patted his rear.
Addie laughed and the pair hugged again; this time it wasn't the firmness of the embrace Addie noticed, or the length, which was considerable, but the sincerity of it. She'd never felt anything near it, not from her mother, and certainly not from her father. In fact, she couldn't think of a time in her entire life when anyone other than her brother had held her in their arms this way. If they had, it was when she was too young to remember.
"Where's your bag?" Tommy asked.
Addie cleared her eyes with her sleeve. "A sack is all I got." She held it up, and it sagged beneath her grip like a long-dead fish.
"Was you robbed?"
"I was not. And remember that you left home with nothing but a jar of whisky." Her brother smiled at the memory. The ease between them was like old times, and Addie felt her suspicion of the place begin to melt. Then she offered a quiet start at the sight of a man not far behind her brother. It was a coolie, she figured, John Chinaman, just as the woman on the train described. He was small, with narrow eyes that gleamed black, and he had a braid that hung from the back of his head nearly to the ground. Maybe it wasn't exactly a tail, like the woman on the train said, but it was close.
Tommy turned to see what had startled Addie. "Oh," he said.
"That's right." He stepped closer to her. "Don't have no dealings with them if you can help it. They'll shake on a bargain with one hand and pick your pocket with the other. One talks to you, just walk away, and don't be like old Lot's wife."
She told her brother about what the woman on the train said, and he didn't dispute any of it except the last part. "Don't make no mistake, Addie. They're men all right, which makes it all the worse because they live like animals and they'll do any job for half of what a self-respecting white man will do. And I tell you something else. There's something brewing around here. I can feel it, and I sure wouldn't want to be ol' John Chinaman about now."
"You talking about a fight between the whites and Chinamen?" "Not talking about anything really. Just got a feeling if things don't change, there's going to be bullets flying."
As Tommy led her away, Addie looked back one last time.
Really, the man didn't look so dangerous, she thought. But then he turned as his eyes met hers, and again a start went through her. It wasn't that his gaze was hard or penetrating, but that it was persistent and indifferent. Though Addie knew she was still moving in the direction of her brother, she couldn't actually feel her steps - Lot's wife on casters.
The walk to where they were staying wasn't long. Tommy explained that it was too late to ride out to his homestead, which was a half day's travel, but that he'd secured a roof over their heads for the night, a bite to eat, and some drinkable water. She took in as much of Rock Springs en route as she could, which wasn't hard to do. Though there were a number of buildings constructed at least partially of stone, Rock Springs seemed a town made mainly of dirt and scrap lumber as far as she could tell, the former seeming the greater of the two materials in some buildings. Then there was the structure that looked like a ship-size long-legged insect dragging itself out of the hillside - the coal mine, she guessed. She'd thought that Orgull was slapdash, but by comparison, her hometown measured up pretty well. Even at this time of day an unspecific but persistent rattle from the mine works jabbed itself in all directions, but none of that noise came from the sound of people talking to each other. This wasn't a ghost town. There were inhabitants, nearly all grown men, each going about their private business. Not one acknowledged Tommy and Addie as they passed, though a few did at least take notice.
Excerpted from Take Me Home by Doris Haddock. Copyright © 2010 by Doris Haddock. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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