'How dare you!' I said. 'My Mama's so sick and you throw away our supper?' And then I said things that didn't make no sense. 'That's for the baby! You take away everything and I don't even have no brother!'
He grabbed my pole, making my arm jump like I'd got the biggest fish in the world on the line. I wouldn't let go and he jerked and jerked.
I slipped and fell hard on the green slime creek rocks and when I came up sputtering, he shoved me back in the water before breaking my pole over his knee.
Only the splashing and yelling stopped me from the murder I was thinking.
'You can't push a girl!' one of them boys was saying. It was tall and skinny Jeremiah Wakefield, sticking his chest out, stomping through the water, pushing Eli's shoulders with both hands, pushing him away from where I was standing. 'It ain't right.'
I cried then, everything hurting so bad I sat back down in the water, watching a snot string dangling from my nose like spiderweb and then dropping in the water; I cried for the fresh mound on the hill and the new baby born dead and my Mama sick with fever, but I said, 'The fish . . .'
I pull that curtain shut. What kind of fool have I been, thinking Jeremiah would want me for a wife with that as his first real memory of me?
Betsy sprawls across the whole bed. Maybe I ain't leaving this house after all. Maybe I'll be sharing this bed with Betsy until she's the one getting married, until her husband is the one taking over Papa's farm because a spinster daughter don't get nothing if there's a man around to claim it. Maybe Jeremiah didn't mean a thing by making Eli leave me be, by helping Papa with the rope and the horses. Maybe he was only ever being neighborly and all those kisses I let him steal really were only for practice.
But then I think of his hand on my arm, how he stood me up, saying, 'You go home, Rosetta,' his blue eyes a surprise with that dark hair, and him holding out my pail with four fish back in it but cleaned and gutted too, and how I listened when he said, 'You go home now.'
'There's more sewing and mending than Betsy and I can get to,' Mama says, settling down Papa's plate of eggs.
Papa looks up at Mama 'cause he knows I want no part in a sewing circle, but she has already turned back to the popping eggs. Then he looks at me. I shake my head, begging him to take me with him. There has always been Mama's world inside, and Papa's world out there, and me toeing the path between.
He shrugs, telling me he ain't up for a fight. 'Course,' he says. 'I've got to fix the North gate, since that fool horse kicked through it. But I suppose I can get it hung without my farmhand.'
'Well,' Mama says, sliding my plate in front of me, 'I would be grateful for the help.'
After breakfast, Mama sets me to peeling and chopping potatoes for the supper soup, and when that is done we all sit down around the woodstove with the sewing. Mama is still trying to teach me about being a good farm wife and Winter is the best time for women's work, but that don't mean I want to be kept inside with her and Betsy, pricking my fingers and drawing beads of blood.
All Summer Jeremiah helped us bring our hay in, telling Papa he knew farmhands were scarce, and I thought it was a good thing, him seeing me be Papa's right hand, him knowing I could do what needs doing. But now I am stuck inside mending and he hasn't come and I ain't so sure.
The skirt I am holding slips down to the floor and I can't sit another second. I stab my needle into the pincushion and stand up. Betsy giggles when Mama asks me, 'What is in your bonnet?' but I just let her question fall like the curtain I keep pulling back and make for the door, banging on the way out.
Excerpted from I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe Copyright © 2014. Excerpted by permission of Crown Trade, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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