Cherished:The Mountain Man's Babies(3)By: Frankie Love
All because of a kiss.
A perfect, holy kiss.
A kiss I'll never forget. A kiss I received when I was just a boy; a kiss that made me a man.
I grab another sandwich, eating as I walk to the door. Honor hands me a few cookies in a napkin. "Jonah, you'll cover for me?"
"Of course, man," he says. Jonah is a solid guy—though only eighteen. He's another part of the reason I can't just leave this place. I'm scared of what might happen to him when the elders try their damnedest to tear him down. Being here ensures I can help him stand up again.
But if I can get Cherish to leave with me, I'll go in a heartbeat. She is my heartbeat. My everything.
Has been ever since we were little.
I gave her my heart and never looked back.
Out on the dusty road outside the church, I try to think it through. If she's at home, it's gonna be hella hard to get to her. Still, I head in that direction. If she is getting married tomorrow, I literally have nothing to lose.
When I pass Elder Luke, I drop my head. He is in the middle of a conversation and doesn't notice me. His house is in the center of the compound, and Honor's sister-wives are on their front porch with a bunch of little ones. The farther out on the compound I go, I pass a row of trailers and know I am getting close to Cherish's father's place.
Before the church became so fundamental, we were all living in town, in our own places, but once Luke came back with a vision of the future, everyone moved to this plot of land that he owned. My father was an associate pastor, so he got set up pretty nice—thank God too because I have a bunch of younger siblings.
Cherish's dad, though, wasn't as lucky—though the truth is, he's always been down on his luck. There has never been enough money to go around for Cherish's family... and without a mother to help, the weight of the family has been on her shoulders.
When I get to their trailer, I see her younger brother Abe out front.
"What do you want?" he asks. He's only eight but already looks like he's seen better days.
"Is Cherish around?" I ask.
"Who wants to know?"
I pull back, not expecting this. Then again, I haven't been out here in a long time. Cherish turned me away so many times, I decided to wait her out for a while, not wanting to push her.
Now I wish I'd pushed her harder, faster. Stolen a van, taken all her siblings with me, got the hell out of this place.
"Just tell me where she is. Is she inside?"
He scowls, crossing his arms. A tougher sell than I expected.
I look down at my hands. "I'll give you a cookie."
He twists his lips. "Both of 'em," he barters.
I grin, liking his go-get-‘em attitude. "Sure." I hand them over.
"She's at the creek. She's always at the creek when she's not here.
I nod in thanks, my chest constricting at the memories that well to the surface.
Of course, she would be there.
I haven't been there in years.
"Thanks, little man," I tell him, already backing away from the trailer, snapping twigs as I run.
Needing to find her.
Needing to keep her.
Needing her to know she’s always been mine.
On the edge of the stream, I sit with my guitar propped under my arm, strumming the most familiar song I know. The one that I made my personal anthem a long time ago.
Before the church became so conservative, my family used to listen to music on an old record player my mom had from when she was a little girl. And she loved the Beach Boys.
I loved If God Only Knows... and I would sing that song, playing it on my guitar until my fingers were raw.
Now I sing it, my words barely audible because my face is streaked with tears.
I've been sitting out here for an hour, not wanting to be around anyone else right now. I don't think I could bear it.
So, I’m here alone, there’s nothing here but the creek that has always run with crystal clear water. Even before Pastor Luke brought us to this land, this was the spot I would come to with James. We've always lived within a mile of these woods.
I hear a branch snap, leaves rustle. Someone is here. I close my eyes, not wanting this moment to end.
I don't want James to see me here; to ask me why I didn't come find him first. I don't want him to see how fragile I feel, how undeserving I am. I didn't choose him because I was scared and I know how much I have hurt him.