Leah caught up to me as I pulled open the door of the truck.
I threw my purse inside and turned. “What is it?”
Her caramel-colored eyes were pained when she said, “Don’t pay any attention to Dinah, okay?”
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. “I’m used to it.”
She grabbed my hand and squeezed. “Don’t let those two get to you.” She lowered her voice. “I think she’s going through the change. It’s probably why she keeps bringing the baby thing up.”
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. “It’s okay, Leah. I promise it doesn’t bother me. Maybe it used to, but not anymore.”
She pulled back, doubt in her face. “Are you sure?”
“Totally sure.” I released her, then climbed in the truck—something that was way easier in pants. Through the windshield, I saw Jackson walking over from Patty’s house. “That’s my ride,” I told Leah.
“Okay. Well, good luck today.” She closed the door, then put her chin against the bottom of the open window. “Just remember, anything is possible with Heavenly Father on your side. Sarah was ninety when she conceived Isaac.”
I gave her a solemn nod. It was a nice Bible story, but something told me Thomas wasn’t willing to wait that long.
But Leah’s expression was so sincere, I forced a smile and said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
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. “You ready?”
“Yes. What have you been doing?” 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. “Dad had me pouring concrete at four this morning.” He drew himself up and said in a low, measured voice, “Nothing builds character like manning a pump hose, son.”
“I hate to break it to you, but that’s just his way of getting cheap labor.”
Jackson slanted me a skeptical look as he started the truck. “You mean free labor.”
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 jobs—for little or no pay.
“So how’d you talk him into letting you take this job, anyway?” Jackson asked as we drove down the long gravel driveway away from the houses.
“It was Dinah’s idea. She said times are tight, so it made sense for me to work.” What she really said was that it made sense for me to work since I didn’t have any children to care for, and that I should at least cover my room and board so I wasn’t a burden on the family.
Jackson didn’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. “It doesn’t add up,” he said suddenly.
I looked at him. “What doesn’t?”
“What Dinah said about times being tight. I’ve seen what Dad makes, and there is no way he’s hurting for money.”
“Well, he has to tithe. A lot of it goes to the faith.”
He shrugged. “I guess. Not that they’re doing anything productive with it,” 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.
“Hey!” I exclaimed.
He glanced at me. “Do you want to be late on your first day? Besides, that’s Theron and Bragg.” He jutted his chin toward a white extended-cab truck idling near the intersection.
I squinted at the truck’s dark windows but could only make out two shadowy figures in the front seat. “Since when are they working security?”
He gave a humorless laugh. “Since they went crying to their mom about being given shitty jobs. Now they’re living the dream.”
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 Dinah’s children over all the others—a situation that had only grown worse since her oldest son, Thomas’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. She’d begged and pleaded with him to intercede on their son’s behalf, but he stalked from the house and slammed the door, leaving her sobbing on the kitchen floor.
Thinking to comfort her, I’d crept downstairs and placed my hand on her shoulder, only to jump back when she jerked away.
“I don’t need pity from you,” she spat.
“It’s not pity, Dinah. I just—”
“What? Come to gloat?” 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. “Go back upstairs,” she said. When I turned to go, she added, “And remember, he might want you in his bed, but I’ve borne his children.”
The white truck grew smaller in my side mirror as we drove out of town.
Jackson gripped the steering wheel with tight fingers. I didn’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 father’s wives around.
“Thanks, by the way,” I said.
He looked at me. “For what?”
“For driving me into the city.” I dug in my purse and pulled out my driver’s license. “Even though I’m official now.”
“No kidding?” He leaned over so he could see the picture. “You need that for work or something?” When I nodded, he said, “You gonna start driving yourself into the city now?”
I sighed and tossed the license back into my purse. “I doubt it. Thomas said it’s a waste of resources to leave a car in the city all day.”
“Yeah, I guess. So what will you be doing, taking care of cats or something?” He cast a pointed look at my scrub top.
“Very funny.” I reached over and gave him a playful punch on the arm. “It’s an urgent care center. Like a mini emergency room and doctor’s office all in one. They do drug screenings for employers, too, so I might help with administering those sorts of tests.”
“Sounds cool, Liz.”
I smiled. He was the only one who ever called me that. He’d been just ten when I married Thomas. Back then, my main job had been helping Patty, who homeschooled all the children. She’d been pregnant with her youngest at the time, so I took over her teaching role in that first year. Jackson had Patty’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, “Want some music?”
He turned the radio on, filling the cab with Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
He nodded his head to the beat for a second, then glanced at me. “I can change it if you want.”
He shrugged. “Well . . . if you like it.”
I hid a smile. “I don’t mind it.”
“Then I don’t, either.” 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.