Chocolate Kisses Ch. 09bycalibeachgirl©
Copyright @ calibeachgirl
All rights reserved, 2011
Tuesday, January 5th, 1932
The next morning, Bethany Rose stood by the car, nervously waiting for him to come out. He saw her standing there, watching through his library window.
"Well, how about that?" He finished dressing and went downstairs. He grabbed a doughnut from the plate and now found both women next outside, Bethany still at the car and Eliza waiting in the doorway.
"Who's going to watch the children? Can't just leave them here, alone."
"The reverend's wife is coming, if you can wait."
"All right, I'll get some coffee, then." He turned to go back into the house but then he heard Bethany walking up.
"I'll get it for you." It seemed like a breakthrough to him. Not a major one, by any means, but a start. At least, they were talking after two days of silence. The best thing was to be very careful at what they'd say. A single word could bring back all the pain of New Year's morning.
He saw Ruby Hunt walking up the street and hurried down to greet her. "Ruby, if I knew you were coming, I would have gone to get you."
"That's all right, James. It's not that far from the Pacific Electric. I needed the walk for these old bones, anyway."
He took her knitting basket and went back to the house with her. Eliza introduced her to the children, admonishing them to obey. Satisfied she had put the fear of God into her young son, she went back outside.
"I was thinking, I could do the grocery shopping and someone could give me a ride home?"
"That's a great idea. I don't know if the reverend's wife can keep coming over, though."
"I'll figure something out, James."
Bethany quickly got into the back seat. Eliza sat in the front and he closed the door. He decided Bethany went in first in case he decided to leave her behind.
As crushed as he was by her last minute rejection, he wouldn't do that to her. He wanted her back but was still mystified how that was going to happen and each day that went by made it seem less and less likely.
He found himself once again feeling like a cork on the water, completely out of control, depending on others to give him direction. He was tired of it and if Bethany Rose didn't give him some indication of her intentions...
The ride to the market was quiet. Eliza tried once to make some small talk but it died an early death.
Once there, Bethany quickly went upstairs. Eliza got a basket and with her list, began walking the aisles. She had not reached the middle of the second aisle when John approached her and took the basket.
"Good morning, Miss Eliza. Shopping again? You look well, this morning." His upbeat demeanor amazed both of them. Another clerk nearby was astonished at John's behavior and knew it would be the day's gossip later.
"Thank you. You... you look very nice, yourself. I've just a few things today, if you need to do something."
"No. I asked... I asked Mr. Ewart if I could help you and he said to drive you home afterwards... that is, if you'd like me to."
She paused, just enough to worry him. Had he been to forward and frightened her? He felt like a fool, standing here waiting for her to give him an answer. He was aware of the others in the aisle and had tried to keep his voice low.
"I... I would like that very much, John. There's just a few more things. Mr. Ewart wants these candies. He said he wanted full boxes, please."
John looked at the list she gave him. "Somebody's got a sweet tooth. That wouldn't be you, would it?" God, he sounded so... "I'll get them. Please wait for me here."
He almost ran into the back and quickly found a box big enough to hold the chocolate bars. 'What am I doing? She's a colored woman, for Christ's sake.'
He was happy to find her exactly where he had left her. "I've got your chocolate," he said, stating the obvious. "Are you ready to go?"
"Yes, thank you."
They walked out of the market to his car, she with her store basket and he with the box of chocolates. Driving back on State Route 1 toward Ewart's house, he glanced at her several times, seeing her silhouetted by the morning sun.
Pulling into the drive, John took the car around the back. After carrying in the box, he stood there like a boy waiting to be patted on the head, his cap in his hands.
"Would you like some coffee? We've some doughnuts. They're from yesterday, but..."
"Thank you, Miss Eliza, thank you." He sat down at the kitchen table while she set the coffee pot on the stove. As it was heating, she brought a plate and napkin to him.
"Why do the call you 'Old John'? You don't seem all that old to me."
"I was almost 26 when the War started. I guess the name just stuck when the people here found out." She did a quick calculation in her head. He was 40 years old. He didn't look it, she thought, appraising his athletic build.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the insistent bubbling of the coffee pot calling her. Filling a cup for him and bringing the sugar to the table, she set the coffee down; the cup was rattling from her shaking hand.
Ruby walked into the kitchen. Eliza stood up. 'John, this is Mrs. Hunt, she's the Reverend Hunt's wife."
John stood up. "Good morning, ma'am."
Ruby looked at him. "Yes, good morning. I'll be in the boy's room, keep them there." She left, wondering just what Eliza was doing. As much as she liked James, what he and Bethany were doing was crazy enough, but now, Eliza, too? What was the world coming to?
"May I ask you a question?" Eliza asked. She was leaning against the counter near the sink, her hands gripping the edge behind her.
"Yes... thanks for the doughnut."
"This morning, when you went to get the chocolate, I heard some of the others there talk about you. I don't know if they knew I could hear them or if they did it on purpose. They said you were in the Klan."
There it was, lying on the table between them. What answer could there be?
He didn't hesitate one moment. "Yes, that's true. I was. That's all over, now. The Duluth lynching started me thinking that maybe the Klan wasn't what I thought it was. There was a photograph taken that night that I saw. People were standing around wanting to be in the picture... like they were proud of what they'd done.
"I had seen enough killing during the War. This was just plain murder. Those boys weren't even the ones accused of the rape."
He looked at her, waiting for a reaction. She just sat there, waiting, hoping for everything, anything to justify liking him.
"I joined the Marines so that people would be free from the Hun and then came home and came face to face with that."
"Why did you join, then?"
"Look, when we came back, we were different. I was in the trenches watching men die. The ground was so full of blood it turned black and the flies, oh, Jesus, the flies. We'd fight over and over for the same hundred yards of dirt."
He took a sip of the hot coffee, his mouth suddenly dry.
"I never seen colored people... well, you know, like we're here right now. They were always in the background. We didn't have any servants. I grew up on a farm. Pretty isolated. Pa lost the farm with the Crash. Couldn't pay the seed debts."
He took another sip, watching her face. She seemed impassive, just listening, but her hands were holding the counter so tightly that her fingers hurt.
"More and more stuff happened and I finally said the hell with it and didn't go anymore. The Pacific Beach fire down by Huntington Beach was the end of it.
"What did I fight for? It seemed like for nothing.
"Why did I join? They talked about patriotism and foreigners taking all the work and the people around you are doing it. Stupid, I guess."
He wondered what she would say, for some reason, seeking acceptance from the woman. When did he stop thinking of her as a 'girl' and started thinking of her as a 'woman'?
"More coffee? I made some pineapple upside-down cake. Would you like some?"
"Why, yes I would. Thank you, very much." There seemed to be some kind of recognition of his past, both good and bad.
"Don't you have to go back to the market?" Why she wanted him to stay, she didn't know clearly, just that she did.
"No, I asked Ewart for the day off. I had to tell him I might be here; it's his house, after all. He was good about it."
Opening the refrigerator, she took out the cake and cut him a generous slice. "Here, John, tell me if you like it."
The cake was half gone before he said anything. "Miss Eliza, this is one fine cake. I... nothing. Could I have some more coffee?"
She almost jumped up to get the pot. 'Calm down, calm down,' she tried to tell herself to no avail. He was affecting her. Was this what Bethany had felt for James? Then, why did she crush his heart minutes before the wedding?
"I've got to prepare lunch. Would you like to stay?" Her eyes almost implored him to stay.
He nodded his head. The last two hours had been very interesting. It had taken him a while to understand his infatuation with her. Once he had stopped thinking of her as a 'colored girl' and began thinking of her as a woman...
All people, no matter who, well, at least most people, he decided, all they wanted was to be left alone, have a decent life, a family and a better tomorrow. He had succeeded in being alone. The other three eluded him.
"I'm fixing some roast beef sandwiches. Is that all right?"
"Yes, anything would be fine. Thank you." The morning was quite different from what he expected, waking up in his empty, almost cold room in the boarding house. "I can set the table, if you want."
She pointed to the cabinet and continued slicing the beef. He stopped.
"How many plates?"
'Five?' Who else was upstairs, he wondered. He put out glasses and then rattled some drawers looking for the silverware.
"Over here, John." She finished the sandwiches and put them on a serving plate, then walked to the stairs. "Ruby! Time for lunch!"
The two older children walked in, neatly dressed and washed and sat down. They didn't seem at all surprised to see a white man sitting at the table. Ruby came down carrying Glory. 'What a cute little girl,' he thought. Now, he knew he was in trouble.
"Hello," John said. He got two smiles back, not at all what he expected. Whatever children he had seen in the market were little hellions. A couple, he wanted to put a boot up their ass... and their mothers, too.
He was quite surprised to learn Ruby's sons had been executed for the murders of Ewart's daughters. Ewart had insisted they were innocent, even when his wife committed suicide a few months later when she found she was pregnant from the attack.
There was more to Ewart than he thought. 'What if he was wrong and they really did it? Oh, God,' John thought, 'that would be the worst thing possible, especially with these women here.' John set his sandwich down, having lost his appetite.
"Not hungry, John?" she asked. "I can fix you something else, if you'd like."
"No, no, I'm full... you know, the cake and all." 'Oh, God, oh, God... what if it was true?'
While Eliza fed the baby, Ruby watched the children, making sure they ate slowly and drank all their milk. Each got a small piece of cake.
Lunch over, they were left alone again. He didn't know where the time went. Usually it took forever to do anything, especially at the store.
Everything was good until that question entered his mind. Now, he was worried. He knew, sadly, what the Klan was capable of. Ewart wasn't in the Klan but what if he had his own agenda? What if there was some kind of payback coming? He tried to calm down, calm down, calm down.
"I'm going to bake another cake. We've destroyed this one."
He was satisfied, he finally found, to sit there and watch her make a new cake. Without asking, he got some more coffee and although it was just warm, he drank it without complaint.
"That'll be ready, soon enough. Good thing I had another can of pineapple. Mr. Ewart has been waiting all day for this cake."
"Sweet tooth? He the one the chocolate's for?"
She smiled. "No, those are all for me."
"Oh?" She didn't look like someone who ate a lot of chocolate. Not at all.
"Yesterday, he decided I needed a treat now and then. That reminds me, I've got to put these away before Bethany or the children find them."
"I'll get the box." He followed her into the library where he put the box down in the corner. Looking at the desk, he saw the photographs of Ewart and his fighter plane lying on the handwritten papers.
"Those pilots were crazy, you know. Going up there with just sticks and cloth keeping them alive. Crazy. What's this?" He held James' writings.
"Please put those down. He's writing a real history of the War. We shouldn't be in here." As she walked out, she noticed that James' photos of his wife and children had returned to his desk. During his two-week affair with Bethany, they had disappeared.
He put the papers back as well as he could and walked out, closing the door behind him, determined to talk to Ewart before things got out of hand.
"I should be going, Miss Eliza. Thank you for the cake and lunch."
"Wait, I have some cake for you." She went into the kitchen and wrapped a linen napkin over a plate with the rest of the first cake. "I can get it back from you later."
"Why, thank you, Miss Eliza."
"You can call me 'Eliza', if you wish."
"Eliza. I like that. Will you be coming to the market tomorrow?"
"I don't think so. Ruby's got other things to do besides watching my three kids. Soon enough, though. Goodbye, John." Her hand touched his for just a moment as she gave him the dish.
On the drive back to his rooming house, he felt silly. How could he be interested in the girl? ... the woman, he corrected himself. He was at least ten years older than she was and she was colored. So, why was he smiling and whistling as he ate the cake that evening with his dinner?
Wednesday, January 6th, 1932
The conversation that morning was polite but carefully worded. Inane words about the weather... couldn't do anything about it. What's for dinner? ...didn't matter because it mostly depended upon Eliza. Any discrepancies with the books? ...no, everything seems to balance.
John was waiting for them after James parked the car. Bethany walked into the store and the two men came together.
"We need to talk. You can fire me, if you want, but we need to talk."
"All right, get in the car."
James drove the car north to Imperial Highway and then west to the beach. Parking the car along the roadway there, he turned to John and said, "OK, John, what's on your mind?"
"Who really killed your family?" John was prepared to take a hit if James decided to hit him. He could see the man's hands grip the steering wheel tightly, keeping his displeasure in check.
"Why, John, why would that concern you?"
"You've got a family of coloreds living with you and I happen to like Eliza, that's why. I want to know what you've got planned for them."
"Oh ho! The Klansman is worried about a colored girl. How the fuck did that happen? And, just what the hell do you think I am going to do, anyway? Shit, John, you've really gone over the line with this one.
"You know, I kept you on because you were in the War and that meant something to me. What the hell, John, what do you take me for? I oughta kick your goddam ass. Shit!"
"Listen... I'm just worried about Eliza, that's all. You know who killed your daughters, don't you?"
James smashed his fist into the car's dash. "Son of a bitch!" He stared out the window toward the sea. It seemed every time he was angry, he looked at the water to ease his rage.
John was prepared to fight James. He was prepared to let James beat him, if that was necessary. He had to know the truth.
"Yes, I know who did it. It WAS those two bastards. Catherine told me. She knew them from helping out at the church. God damn it! She was helping them out and they raped and killed my little girls! They raped Catherine and almost killed her! She killed herself because she was pregnant. Oh, yeah, they did it."
John was scared, now. The answer he feared was the answer he got. Oh, Jesus Christ, now what? He was afraid to say anything, now, but knew he had to.
"Why did you get them a lawyer, then. From what I hear, he was a pretty good one, too."
"I wanted them free so I could kill them." He remembered his anger when they were found guilty. His vengeance had been stolen from him and he was left with nothing. No family and no vengeance... and he sank into a four year abyss of misery.
"What about these women? What about them? And, how can you talk with old lady? She's their mother, for Christ's sake."
James continued looking at the ocean, seeking an answer that would make sense. None of it made sense, nothing. Never did then and doesn't now.
Life was full of contradictions and disappointments and disasters.
Several minutes went by. John waited. He had nowhere to go and still hadn't received the answer he needed.
"It was an accident, I met Bethany by accident, I suppose you could call it. She was walking down the street. I saw her every day for about a week and for some crazy reason I stopped and offered her a job as my housekeeper. She was too well educated to do that so I brought her to the store.
"When we went to get her clothes from her sister's house, there was no way I could leave them there. As angry as I was about what happened, I knew I couldn't leave them there."
"You're sleeping with her, aren't you? It is so damn obvious, the way she acts around you."
"I was. That's over. I don't know why, it was her choice to start and it was her choice to stop. I... ah, fuck it, John."
"What about the parents? What's that all about?"
"That was Catherine's doing. She was helping them out for a couple of years before what happened. It seemed like I had to continue, even as I wanted to kill their boys for what they had done."
"Do they know?"
"That their boys were murderers? No, I never told them, they deserved better than that. I'm not... ah, I didn't."
The car was quiet.
"Am I fired?"
"No. It's all right; I had to get that out to someone. Everybody believes I think they were innocent. Leave it at that. Catherine and my girls are still dead, so are they.
"What happened with these two has nothing to do with that, I don't think... I don't know, maybe it does but not like that."
"I would like to see Eliza. Will that cause a problem with you?"
"Who am I to talk? John, if it makes you happy, fine with me. Just remember, women are different from us. They have different desires and different ways of thinking. What makes sense to us... well, sometimes it just doesn't.
"John, I don't know what happened with Bethany Rose and me. Be careful with Eliza. She's a good woman and I like her, too.
"I'm sorry, John. I really was ready to hit you."
"I know... and I was prepared to take it."
"Anything else, John?"
"Can I come by, tonight, I mean?"
"Sure, John, just be careful and don't get her heart broken or yours, either. Call her up and find out what time is dinner. And keep your mouth shut."
James had quietly told Eliza that he would appreciate the two of them going to Catherine's wardrobe and finding something appropriate. Each woman was similar in size to Catherine but just enough different to tighten the dresses at the bust and hips to show off some inviting curves.
He had felt himself getting aroused seeing the sisters and retreated to the living room to calm down and wait for John to arrive.
The knock on the door announced John's arrival. Since Eliza was busy with the kitchen and Bethany was still upstairs, James answered the door.
He shook hands with the man, their relationship forever changed by the afternoon drive to the sea and they appraised each other in a different light.