Elizabeth Randall sat next to her stepfather, Jarrod Barkley, as she sat in the church the day of her mother's funeral. Her mother, Beth Randall Barkley, had been killed two days before. Elizabeth sat there biting her lip so as not to cry in front of her new father's family.
Elizabeth and her mother had met Jarrod on a train going to Colorado. Jarrod had proposed after five days, but Beth had agreed to the marriage if Jarrod would give her daughter his name. That meant Jarrod was her father now.
Elizabeth was unsure of her feelings about Jarrod. He was kind to her on the train and had even bought her a book and candy when they reached Virginia City, Nevada. If he wanted her to love him as her father she had to admit he got an A in effort.
Elizabeth's green-blue eyes went down to the fabric of her mourning dress. When Jarrod's mother, Victoria, found out that she didn't have a black dress among her clothes, she went out and bought a dress and bonnet to match.
Elizabeth hated the dress. It was a morbid and ghoulish color. Beth would have hated the dress too. As soon as I get back to Jarrod's house, I'm putting this dress in the attic,Elizabeth thought fiercely.
Jarrod. That was still an oddity to her. A week ago he was Mr. Barkley. Now he was Jarrod, her stepfather. When Beth had married Jarrod she had told her to move to call him "Papa," "Daddy," or "Father." But she couldn't move past the name "Jarrod" to her embarrassment. It would probably make no difference an way if she called him "Father." Right now he was mad at the person who killed Beth and she was mad at Jarrod for letting it happen.
Elizabeth felt tears come to her eyes and she bit her lip harder, forbidding the tears of pain, anguish, anger, and loneliness from coming in torrents. Elizabeth clenched her hand into a fist in her lap as another way not to scream out in pain. Elizabeth nearly lost her self-control not to cry when Victoria, sitting next to her, touched her tightly clenched hand.
One lone tear rolled down Elizabeth's face and then came the flood. Tears of loss and despair rolled down her cheeks. Elizabeth covered her face with her hands and the tears rolled onto her hands and into her reddish-blonde hair. Elizabeth felt Victoria slip an arm around her shoulders as they went outside to bury Beth's coffin.
Jarrod's mother was kind and she was grateful for the woman's support.
Later that afternoon Elizabeth had just decided that she was hungry. Since her mother's death she hadn't eaten any food and she was about to die if starvation.
Elizabeth reached the top of the stairs just as someone knocked on the door. Victoria went to the door. "Hello Fred," Victoria greeted the sheriff.
"Victoria. Where's Jarrod?" Fred asked, taking off his hat.
Jarrod came into the room from the parlor. He held a small object in his hand. It looks like Mama's cameo necklace, Elizabeth thought.
"I'm here, Fred," Jarrod said, his voice devoid of emotions.
Fred looked up at Elizabeth. Her face was like Jarrod's voice; no emotion whatsoever. "I think it would be best if the child would go somewhere else," Fred said.
"I was going to the kitchen to get something to eat. Mrs. Barkley, may I get it and eat in my room?" Elizabeth asked.
"Of course. Go ahead," Victoria said, smiling warmly at her.
Elizabeth walked to the kitchen, but stopped as she heard the sheriff's voice. "I'm sorry I didn't make it to the funeral this morning. I was questioning Cass Hyatt," Fred said.
"Well?" Jarrod asked.
"Jarrod, I had to let him go," Fred said, with a hint of defeat in his voice.
"You what?" Jarrod asked, shock and anger in his voice.
"Jarrod, he didn't do it. He was at the French camp that day," Fred said.
"He could of borrowed a horse," Elizabeth said, coming into the foyer.
The three grownups turned to look at Elizabeth. "I thought you were getting something to eat, Miss Randall," Fred said, accusingly.
"I was. Until I heard your conversation," Elizabeth looked at Jarrod, guilt written all over her face. Jarrod looked upset, but not too upset.
"I agree with Elizabeth," Jarrod said with finality.
"And I say you're both wrong!" Fred exploded.
"What if we're not wrong?" Elizabeth asked, cocking her head contemplatively.
"He could have borrowed a horse like Elizabeth said," Jarrod said.
"There was no horse. What I think is that a hunter was out shooting rabbits and got scared," Fred said.
"Do you really believe that?" Jarrod challenged.
"I'm trying to tell you that it's possible!" Fred protested.
"All you're trying to do is excuse yourself for letting a cold-blooded killer free!" Jarrod raged.
"Jarrod!" Victoria reprimanded.
"All I know is my wife is dead and you're not going to do anything about it," Jarrod said coldly.
Fred stood silently as Jarrod picked up his gunbelt and tried to open the door. Victoria placed her hand on Jarrod's shoulder in a restraining manner.
"Jarrod, I didn't know Beth very well, but I do know that revenge is not what she would have wanted. Don't destroy the memory of her love by destroying yourself. Think of Elizabeth. You're the closest thing she has to a father," Victoria said.
Jarrod looked at Elizabeth. She was looking at the hall carpet. Jarrod knew that Elizabeth didn't much pick him as her father, but he had promised Beth that he'd raise Elizabeth as his own daughter and give her his name.
He nodded his head and put the gunbelt down. Elizabeth did an about face and went into the kitchen. She remembered that she had wanted to eat something.
The sound of footsteps going down the stairs brought Elizabeth out of her room where she had been reading on her window seat. It was Jarrod. He had a rifle in his arms and was wearing ranch clothes. This was the first time that Elizabeth had seen her stepfather dressed like this. By the rifle he carried it didn't take a genius to know that he was going after Cass Hyatt.
"Jarrod?" Elizabeth asked, trying to keep up with her stepfather's long strides.
Jarrod turned to face her. Where are you going?" Elizabeth asked.
"I have something to do. I'll be back in a few days," Jarrod said.
"You're going to kill Cass Hyatt, aren't you?" Elizabeth asked.
"Your mother never told me that you were a question asker!" Jarrod exclaimed, getting exasperated and annoyed.
"Jarrod, she has a valid question," Victoria said, slipping an arm around Elizabeth's shoulders as she came up behind her.
"I'm going to find Cass Hyatt," Jarrod said, walking down the stairs.
"We don't know where he is, Jarrod," Victoria said, both Victoria and Elizabeth following him.
"I'll find him," Jarrod said.
"Jarrod, Beth would not have wanted you to destroy your hopes and dreams with anger and vengeance," Victoria said as the threesome went into the gunroom.
"All my hopes and dreams were buried in the ground this morning," Jarrod said, putting bullets into his rifle and pistol.
"So were mine, Jarrod. Now that Mama's gone I have no family left to care if I lived or died," Elizabeth said softly.
"No, it's not true. You think it is, but it's not," Victoria said to both of them.
"Mrs. Barkley, if you send me away, I'd do better if you sent me to an orphanage. My father's family all died out by the time I was born and my mother's people never liked my father or myself. They think I am nothing because my father was a poor dirt farmer," Elizabeth said, her voice laced with bitterness.
"How can I make the two of you understand? Jarrod, if you do what you plan to do you're turning your back on everything you ever stood for as a man and as a lawyer. The same thing Beth loved and married you for!" Victoria protested.
"I'll take care of this," Nick Barkley said, coming into the room. Victoria left the room. Elizabeth looked at her stepfather and his brother. Jarrod looked angry and Nick looked determined.
"Now you listen to me. If you expect to leave, you'll have to get over me to do it," Nick said. Jarrod turned to leave. "Oh, Jarrod!" Nick exclaimed, grabbing Jarrod's arm and turning him back around. Jarrod's fist shot out and struck Nick square in the jaw. Nick fell to the floor unconcious. Elizabeth looked up at Jarrod. He looked into her eyes. She had never seen him like this. Jarrod looked at Nick just before he left.
Elizabeth sat looking at the scissors in her hand. Jarrod had been gone for two days now. Elizabeth had had plenty of time to think of her new status as a Barkley.
She had just recently determined that Jarrod Barkley wouldn't want her as his daughter anyway now that Beth was dead. It was exactly the way she felt about him too. She didn't want him to be her father either.
With a wince she took a long lock of her reddish blonde hair and cut it. By the time she was done it looked crooked and short enough to stuff in a hat. She then changed into a pair of pants, shirt, and vest. She then put on a pair of gloves that she found in the barn and a hat.
She had never dressed like this before. She had bought the outfit before her mother and herself had come out west. Her mother had said that the chores in Colorado would be easier to tackle if she had these clothes to do them in.
Elizabeth slipped downstairs and to the barn without a hitch. She would stay at the Barkley Ranch like Beth wanted, but she would also stay out of Jarrod's life. He hadn't wanted her as his daughter anyway, she had to keep reminding herself.
Elizabeth was brushing some horses in the barn when three riders came in. Since Elizabeth had started to work on the ranch as a stable hand a week ago, no one questioned her or asked where Elizabeth Randall had gone.
Elizabeth looked up as Nick, Heath, and Jarrod Barkley put their horses in the stalls next to Victoria's and Audra's horses. Elizabeth walked over to Jarrod's horse, Jingo. Jingo was a calm horse and sniffed the sleeve of her left arm.
Elizabeth grinned at Jingo in spite of herself. She loved horses. She moved her green-blue eyes to Jarrod. He looked terrible and had an ugly bandage around his head. Elizabeth had to refrain from asking her stepfather how he had gotten the wound. Jarrod didn't love her and she didn't love him either.
Jarrod looked over at her and she moved her eyes back to the horse so Jarrod wouldn't recognize her. Elizabeth pulled the hat she wore tighter over her head with one gloved hand. The other hand brushed the horse with a currycomb.
"New ranch hand, Nick?" Jarrod asked, turning to Nick.
"I may have hired this boy, but I don't remember it. What's your name, Boy?" Nick asked Elizabeth.
"Peter Lacy, Mr. Barkley," Elizabeth said in a low voice.
"Lacy? Sounds like a girl's name," Nick said, trying to get Elizabeth to look up or talk louder.
"Not any dumber than if you carried the name Barkley," Elizabeth said, refusing to be baited.
"Then why do you work here?" Heath asked.
"I have nowhere else to go. If I had any family I'd go there," Elizabeth said, bitterness in her voice.
"Where's your folks, Boy?" Heath asked.
"Don't have folks. my pa died when I was a baby and my ma died a week ago," Elizabeth said.
"Well, continue on, Peter," Nick said, a hint of compassion in his eyes and voice. A compassion that Elizabeth knew she didn't deserve. Now she felt like a rat for lying.
Jarrod and the others had already gone to bed when Elizabeth entered the house. So far Victoria hadn't caught her coming out of her room or going back into the room. So Far. Victoria or Jarrod might catch her one day, but it wasn't today.
Elizabeth walked into her bedroom and collapsed on the bed, falling asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She was so tired! She hadn't eaten in days, but her stomach was too upset to allow her to eat any food.
The next morning the morning sun shining through Elizabeth's window woke her up. Elizabeth blinked her eyes sleepily. She looked over at the clock on her fireplace mantle. It read 9:00! Elizabeth gasped in terror. She stood up and pulled the cuffs of her shirt.
She'd be lucky if Jarrod wasn't downstairs. On the day after she arrived in Stockton, Jarrod and taken Mama and herself to see the town and his office. Right now she hoped he was there. It would give her a chance to go to the dining room and eat without being caught. She knew Jarrod would catch her eventually, but at least it wasn't now!
Elizabeth picked up her hat, but didn't put it on. She looked both ways as she looked down the hallway. No one was there! She went down the main staircase and froze.
Jarrod was in the parlor! He was supposed to be at work! That head wound must have caused brain damage, Elizabeth thought. He’d probably kill her for working in the barn and she wouldn't blame him if he did.
Jarrod turned as soon as he heard her step. His eyes bored into hers.
"Jarrod, I thought you were at work," Elizabeth said, her voice low and even.
"Not for a week, Elizabeth. Or should I say, Peter Lacy?" Jarrod asked, his voice and eyes amused.
"You knew?" Elizabeth asked in a small voice.
"Yes I knew. You wouldn't look at me when we talked yesterday and also Peter was your father's name and Lacy was your mother's maiden name, Elizabeth," Jarrod said.
"Mama never told me that you could tell when I was lying," Elizabeth said.
"I guess I better start. I am your father-" Jarrod started.
"My father died when I was a baby. Now I have chores to do," Elizabeth said shortly.
"Elizabeth, I want to talk to you," Jarrod said, walking over to her.
Elizabeth put on the gloves 6that she took from the barn and walked toward the door. She scooped up her hair and shoved it into her hat. "Elizabeth, please," Victoria said.
Elizabeth looked at Jarrod and reverted her gaze to Victoria. "I am sorry, Mrs. Barkley. I just want you to know you're the nicest woman, besides my mother that I've ever met and I'm only staying here because Mama wanted me to," Elizabeth said, opening the door.
The spring wind gently blew her face and the tendrils of hair that poked out of her hat. The warm wind was very pleasant and was filled with the scent of the flowers and oranges from the Barkley orchards.
Elizabeth walked into the barn, preparing to clean it up. The barn was messy. Tack was strewn all over the place, horse blankets were muddied and saddles were falling apart.
Elizabeth picked up a rag and started to polish and oil all the saddles that were intact. By noon the saddles and two blankets were cleaned and mended. It had taken some tying in some places with leather on the saddles, but Elizabeth wasn't going to complain to Nick. Elizabeth rubbed her hands on a clean rag. Elizabeth walked back to the house and went up to her room.
She poured some water in a basin and dipped her hands in the water. She scooped some up in her hands. She put her wet hands on her face. The water was cold, but it felt good on her hands and face.
Elizabeth then picked up her ivory-backed comb and ran it through her tangled hair. The snarls weren't as bad as they used to be on account that her hair wasn't that long any more. She pulled it back in a simple ponytail and went downstairs, her stomach growling with hunger.
Elizabeth entered the kitchen where Silas was stirring a pot of beef stwe and dumplings. The smell was wonderful to her hungry stomach and it growled so hard that it hurt her stomach.
"Hello Silas," Elizabeth said in a low voice to the elderly servant.
Silas turned around to face her. "Miss Elizabeth, why are you in here?" Silas asked.
"The food smells good and if I'm in time for dinner I'd like to eat, if it's all right if I eat at this table," Elizabeth said, sitting down at the kitchen table.
"Why don't you eat with the Barkleys, Child? Mr. Jarrod is awful worried about you," Silas said kindly.
"I don't want to eat with Jarrod," Elizabeth said stubbornly.
"Why what's the matter with Mr. Jarrod?" Silas asked, his eyes filling with concern.
"Nothing. He's just not my father," Elizabeth mumbled, looking at her hands folded together on the table.
"Mr. Jarrod knows that. He promised your mama he'd adopt you and make your name Barkley," Silas said.
"I didn't ask for his promise to Mama or his name," Elizabeth said bitterly. The child was still angry at Jarrod for marrying Beth and for not preventing her death from happening.
"The stew 'n' dumplin's done, Miss. I'll go tell Mrs. Barkley and Mr. Jarrod that you'll eat in here," Silas said, taking a plate of dumplings up. He left the kitchen with the plate, leaving Elizabeth by herself to cry.
Jarrod sat in the dining room listening to Nick and Heath's banter. Since Jarrod had nearly killed Nick, Jarrod had felt guilty for almost doing it. He felt even worse for hitting Nick in front of Elizabeth. He wanted to apologize to her, but she had been staying away from even Victoria and Audra.
Silas entered the room with a plate of hot dumplings. "Silas, have you seen Elizabeth?" Jarrod asked.
"Yes Sir, Mr. Jarrod. She's eating in the kitchen," Silas said, filling Jarrod's coffee cup.
"Why is she eating in the kitchen instead of with us?" Audra asked, confused.
"I'm under the impression that she's mad at me. Though I'm not sure why," Jarrod said.
"Silas, tell Elizabeth to come in here please. It's time we had a family discussion with her about what it means to be a Barkley," Victoria said.
Silas turned to follow Victoria's bidding, sorry for both Jarrod and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth walked into the dining room five minutes later, after 3 minutes of arguing with Silas she sulked for a minute and left to do Victoria's bidding. She quaked in her boots at the thought of Victoria's sternness. She didn't think of Jarrod getting angry with her, but Victoria took her by complete surprise.
Elizabeth stood before Victoria, her eyes fixed on a crease in the linen tablecloth. "Silas said you wanted to see me, Ma'am," Elizabeth said softly.
Elizabeth pushed back a lock of reddish-blonde hair behind her ear as Victoria fixed her hazel eyes on her. The eyes were serious and had a no-nonsense look. "Elizabeth, won't you sit down?" Victoria said, indicating the empty chair next to Jarrod.
Elizabeth sat down without a word. Whatever Victoria had to say to her involved having her sit down with Jarrod and his family.
"Elizabeth, we wanted to have a family discussion and since you're a member of the family we wanted you here," Victoria said.
"All right," Elizabeth said mechanically.
"Elizabeth, how come you wanted to eat in the kitchen?" Victoria asked.
"Just wanted to. Is there something wrong with that?" Elizabeth asked, her chin jutting out defensively.
"You are a member of the family," Victoria said.
"Not really. I wasn't born into your family," Elizabeth said.
"Would you like to be part of the family? Your mother agreed to our marriage if I adopted you. Would you like to become my daughter?" Jarrod asked.
"Before I answer that can I ask you a question?" Elizabeth asked, looking into Jarrod's brilliant blue eyes.
"Of course. What is it?" Jarrod asked.
"Why did you make that promise to Mama for? I mean, even if you did adopt me I'm not really your daughter," Elizabeth said.
"I loved your mother. When she told me about your father dying when you were a baby, I felt sorry for both of you. She said that her family hated you because of your father and if something happened to her no one in her family would lift a finger to help you," Jarrod said.
"Ain't that the truth. So you decided to become my father?" Elizabeth asked.
"You could say it that way," Jarrod said, covering Elizabeth's hand with his own hand.
"No, thank you! I had a father, remember?" Elizabeth asked, jerking her hand out of his. She jumped up and ran out of the room.
"That went well," Audra said. The family turned to look at her.
"Audra, stay out of this," Nick said. The rest of the meal was taken in silence.
A month later things still hadn't changed. Elizabeth stayed away from the house a great deal of the time.
Cleaning the stalls and fixing saddles kept her in the barn really late. She would stumble tiredly into the kitchen, eat a snack, and then stumble tiredly to her bed. Once a week she would also visit her mother's grave, but she didn't tell anyone about those visits.
She would gather some flowers that grew along the road and grew beside the banks of the river. She'd spend that time telling her mother about the chores she did in the stables and how she was trying to like Stockton and the Barkley Ranch.
One afternoon as she was visiting the gravesite, she didn't notice that she had a person watching her. Audra Barkley had noticed that she left the ranch one afternoon every week, but she didn't know why. That afternoon, she decided to follow her.
They had buried Beth where Tom Barkley also was buried and Elizabeth was sitting between the two grave stones. She was talking to only one of them.
"Hey Mama. I miss you. I wish you could be here with me. Ciego told me that Jarrod had started the proceedings to adopt me. I wished you'd asked me if I wanted him for my father. I don't know if I want him as my father. I had a father. Mama, I wish you hadn't died," Elizabeth said, her voice trembling with sobs.
Elizabeth laid her hand on Beth's grave stone and cried bitterly. It was as if she were two or three years old when she cried. The tears ran down her cheeks in torrents.
Audra came up to the young girl. Elizabeth's shoulders were shaking with sobs as the blonde-haired girl touched her head.
Elizabeth stood up and looked at Audra, the tears rolling down her face. "Miss Barkley, I didn't hear you come up," Elizabeth said, furiously wiping her face.
"It's all right. I heard you talking to your mother. You sounded like you loved her a whole lot," Audra said.
"Yes. She was all I ever had. My father died when I was a baby. After she married my father and had me she cut all ties with her family. She once told me that if they couldn't accept my father or myself she didn't want anything to do with them," Elizabeth said.
"Do you know that Jarrod loves you and has been worried about you?" Audra asked.
"No. Miss. Barkley, it wasn't fair that she had to die. Why did she die?" Elizabeth asked, fresh tears rolling down her face.
"I don't know. But God cares for you and He knows the pain your in. Why don't you pray that God would heal the hurt?" Audra asked, holding the sobbing child in her arms.
Elizabeth sniffled, wiping her nose on her hand. "Audra, would God give me a new father and mother if I asked him for it?" Elizabeth asked.
"I think he already did. Jarrod got your adoption papers today. In the eyes of the law you are Elizabeth Margaret Randall Barkley," Audra said.
"Do you think Jarrod would understand if I don't call him "Papa" just yet?" Elizabeth asked.
"I think he would. You can call him Jarrod for as long as you want to," Audra said.
"Aunt Audra, I think I'd like to go home now. Is it all right with your mother if I eat with you tonight?" Elizabeth asked.
"Of course it's all right," Audra said, running her hand through Elizabeth's reddish-blonde hair.
Elizabeth and Auidra mounted their horses and rode back to the house.
Elizabeth and Audra walked into the house as Victoria was leaving.
"Mrs. Barkley, where's the fire?" Elizabeth asked calmly.
"Cass Hyatt's trial is today and I told Jarrod I would find out how he was going to be punished," Victoria said.
"Then in that case if you find out don't tell me. I don't want to find out EVER," Elizabeth said, putting extra emphasis on the word ever.
"I'll do that," Victoria said.
"Where is Jarrod anyway?" Elizabeth asked.
"He's in his office. I believe he's putting your new birth certificate and adoption papers in his safe," Victoria said.
Elizabeth went to the study door and rapped on it lightly with her knuckles.
"It's open," Jarrod said, his deep masculine voice sounding slightly strained.
Elizabeth opened the door and nearly snorted at what she saw. Jarrod was trying to get his safe open without much success.
"Jarrod, what are you trying to do?" Elizabeth asked, a smirk on her face.
Jarrod stood up and tried to look frustrated with the safe.
"I'm trying to open this safe if you must know," Jarrod said.
"I see. Did you forget the combination?" Elizabeth asked, still grinning.
"No. It just won't open," Jarrod said.
"Uh-uh. Care to let me try?" Elizabeth asked smugly.
"I’ll try anything as long as you get that smug look off your face," Jarrod said.
Elizabeth went to work on the safe. Five minutes later the safe swung open. "Voila!" Elizabeth shouted.
The look on Jarrod's face was priceless. "How did you do that?" Jarrod asked.
"I'm smarter than you maybe?" Elizabeth hazarded a guess.
"Uh-uh. That was not the answer I was looking for," Jarrod said.
"Well, keep guessing Jarrod," Elizabeth said, pushing a stay piece of hair behind her ear.
She walked out the door with Jarrod scratching his head in confusion. It took Jarrod all of one minute to ask her another question.
"Where are you going?" Jarrod asked.
"Upstairs. I need to get ready for dinner. I hope my dresses are still in my closet," Elizabeth said.
Jarrod was still confused, but he wasn't going to ask why she had a different attitude from a month ago.
Later that night Elizabeth was going downstairs when she heard Jarrod and Victoria in the parlor.
"They sentenced Cass Hyatt today. They gave him life," Victoria said.
"It doesn't really matter. All I feel is shame. I discovered something in myself that I didn't know I had and I pray to God that I never see it again," Jarrod said, looking into the flames of the fireplace.
"It would be best if you forgot about it," Victoria said.
"All of it?" Jarrod asked.
"No, not all of it. Not Beth," Victoria said.
"But she was part of it," Jarrod said.
"No Jarrod. Elizabeth and Beth are not part of the ugly part," Victoria said, tears in her voice.
Elizabeth turned to go back to her room, tears falling down her face. She had told herself that she didn't want to know what punishment that Cass Hyatt got. But now she knew she was lying.
Cass Hyatt had gotten off easy compared to Jarrod and herself. The tears fell in torrents as she cried herself to sleep.
Elizabeth felt lighter after a few days. Cass Hyatt was in jail and had gotten life for what he did to her mother, Jarrod and his family was making the effort to treat her like a Barkley, and Elizabeth was making a conscious effort to like her new stepfather.
Only one cloud hung over her happiness. She still couldn't call Jarrod her father or forget that she had a father once. The name on her new certificate read Elizabeth Barkley. She was happy with her new status, but sometimes when Victoria said Elizabeth Margaret Barkley Elizabeth would get this blank look on her face.
On the first day of school Elizabeth had washed her face and combed her hair carefully. A new teacher had taken over the Stockton school and Elizabeth was nervous about it. This was the first time that she had been taught by someone that wasn't her mother.
Jarrod had said his name was Hannibal Applewood and he had taught at prestigious schools all over America. Elizabeth had rolled her eyes at that and said "Oh brother".
Of course Jarrod had ignored his stepdaughter's bad attitude and kissed her forehead gently. Elizabeth had ran out of the room and spent an hour rubbing her forehead till it was pink with a rag in the bathroom.
Elizabeth braided her hair and ran downstairs to the dining room. Jarrod was at the table with his family when she came in.
Jarrod looked at his stepdaughter as she slid into her chair next to him. "Aren't you forgetting something?" Jarrod asked, a glimmer of amusement in his blue eyes.
Elizabeth stood and quickly kissed her stepfather's cheek. It still felt strange after two days. She had asked Jarrod if she could hug or kiss him like he was her father. He had given his permission, but often Elizabeth forgot to hug or kiss him.
"Good morning, Jarrod," Elizabeth said wryly.
"Good morning, Elizabeth. Are you ready for school?" Jarrod asked, after taking a drink of coffee.
"I suppose. Catherine says that she's not too eager to go to school with a man with the name like an undertaker," Elizabeth said, shivering slightly.
"He might be an excellent teacher," Audra said, putting some ham on Elizabeth's plate.
Elizabeth smiled at Audra as she took the plate. "I don't know. I'm used to my mother teaching me and I have never been taught by a man before," Elizabeth said, enjoying the taste of the ham and eggs.
"Like Audra said he may be an excellent teacher," Heath said, plowing into his breakfast.
Elizabeth grinned and took a small drink of her milk, trying to control her giant first-day-of-school butterflies. Nick was unusually quiet for the first time since Elizabeth had met him, but she wasn't going to complain. If Nick was quiet for the first time since she met him she was going to enjoy it as long as it lasted.
Elizabeth carried her schoolbooks and lunch to the schoolyard. An old man was standing on the steps. The man was dressed in a black suit and string tie. He looked as happy as the undertaker, Mr. Beckett, which was not very happy. Elizabeth walked over to her friend Catherine Gooden.
"The new schoolteacher?" Elizabeth required curiously.
"My pa says that Mr. Hannibal Applewood arrived in town late last night," Catherine said, threading her arm through her friend's arm.
"Hannibal Applewood. I still think that it sounds like the name you would give to the undertaker," Elizabeth said, wrinkling her nose.
Catherine giggled at her tall red-haired friend's comment. "Yeh, and he looks like an undertaker too," Catherine snickered.
The bell clanged loudly through the schoolyard. Catherine and Elizabeth followed their schoolmates into the building. Elizabeth paused and stared at the man on the steps. He looked back at her, his wrinkled face expressionless.
Elizabeth pushed back her hair and went into the schoolroom, shrugging her thin shoulders.
The group giggled as they settled into their seats. Mr. Applewood entered the room and set a valise on the teacher's desk. He picked up the hard wooden pointer and yelled, "SILENCE!" He slammed the pointer down hard on the desk.
"The class jolted into silence instantaneously. "Good. You follow orders. I am Hannibal Applewood, your new teacher. I've been told that you have a problem with discipline. That will stop. I have a few rules that you must abide by. All students will put their name, grade, and date in the upper right-hand corner The omission of any of these will result in a failing grade. The mark of an eraser on any assignment will result in a failing grade. There will be no talking or whispering. There will be no speaking unless you are spoken to. Now your first assignment will be to see how well you listened. I want you to take out a sheet of paper and write down the rules as I just dictated them. NOW!" Applewood screamed, hitting his desk with the pointer again. He had seemed so smug and sure of himself a few minutes ago. Now he had scared the class again.
Elizabeth pulled out a sheet of paper, handed it to Catherine, and started to work on her own assignment. A piece of paper that was folded landed on her desk. Elizabeth paused, uncertain. Should she open it? Or should she take it to the teacher and hope that he would trash it? Elizabeth made up her mind. Elizabeth touched it briefly and tried to open it without giving herself away. No such luck.
Applewood looked up and saw her trying to open the note. "Elizabeth Barkley, what is that on your desk?" Applewood asked, his voice as rhythmical as a drill sergeant's.
"Just a piece of paper," Elizabeth lied in monotone.
Apparently this teacher knew instantly that Elizabeth was not a very good at lying. Jarrod also knew this. When Elizabeth lied to him a week ago on a certain matter, Jarrod had told her he couldn't take people lying to him. He knew that she was lying! He also told her never to lie to him again.
"A piece of paper? Bring it here," Applewood said, sarcastically.
Elizabeth stood up and walked to Applewood's desk, the paper in her shaking hands. Applewood took the note and read it. Applewood picked up his pointer and walked toward Elizabeth. He turned her hand over where her palm showed.
"One for passing notes and two for being late," he smacked her hand hard with the pointer. Elizabeth flinched slightly as the pointer made contact with her skin.
"Now since you like to write so much, let's give you plenty to work on on the blackboard," Applewood said, the sarcasm dripping from his voice.
Elizabeth turned to the blackboard trying to control the tears from dripping down her face.