Bumps in the Road

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Chapter Six

Beep! Beep! Beep! Emily’s alarm sounded. She groaned and rolled over, slamming the top of her alarm clock with her palm. Keeping her eyes shut, Emily rolled onto her stomach and pulled her covers all the way over her head. It had been a long night – she hadn’t slept well – so she was really tired. It felt as though her body would fall apart if she got up. But before Emily had the chance to fall back to sleep, Joe pushed the door open with his nose and hopped up onto the bed. The weight of the dog landed in the middle of Em’s back, and jerked the girl awake. He was quick to lick the girl’s face, and then slobbered all over her. Emily wasn’t planning on taking a shower, but now she would need to. She wiped her face with the blanket and sat up. Joe’s face was an inch away from the girl’s nose, and she could feel his hot breath on her skin. The dog simply stared at her with his tongue hanging out of his mouth and his tail flapping in the background.

“Good morning to you, too,” Emily said, patting Joe on the head.

Joe simply wagged his tail and watched as the girl climbed out of bed. She shuffled over to her closet and dug threw her clothes. She hadn’t gone to church very much, so she wasn’t sure what she should wear. As Emily went through all of her clothes, she figured a nice pair of jeans and a nice shirt should be fine. The girl picked out her outfit and placed it on the bed. She then grabbed a clean pair of underwear and a bra and headed to the shower. Joe followed her all the way to the bathroom and then trotted downstairs. Emily took a really quick shower, washing off all of the dog slobber that covered her face. When she was done, she wrapped a towel around her body and wandered back into her room. She put on the clothes she had previously picked out, brushed her hair, and then made her way downstairs. Pa was in the kitchen making breakfast, which smelled delicious. Em could smell the bacon as soon as she reached the living room. Once she made her way into the kitchen, she noticed that all three of the men were sitting around the table dressed in their best. Johnny was no longer wearing bib overalls; he was wearing jeans, a button-down shirt, and suspenders. Brian was dressed very similarly. And Jackson had on a nice pair of jeans, a large belt, a teal button-down shirt, and a cowboy tie. Emily had a feeling that he liked to dress up but didn’t get a lot of opportunities to do so.

“What’s for breakfast, Pa?” Em inquired, sitting down at the table next to Jackson.

“Bacon. Eggs. Toast,” Pa grumbled. He limped over to the table carrying a large platter. “There you go,” he commented, setting down the plate. Pa navigated around the table and fell into his chair. He folded his hands and closed his eyes; everybody followed suit. “Dear Lord, thank you for the food we eat. We pray that this Sunday is a day of relaxing and joy. And I would also like to thank you for helping Emily feel at home here at the ranch.” Emily opened her eyes and looked at her grandpa. “Amen.” The old man opened his eyes and noticed Em was staring at him; he gave her a weak smile.

“Dig in!” Brian slightly hollered. “Bacon is my favorite!”

Jackson kindly filled Emily’s plate with food and then handed it to her with a smile. Em’s cheeks blushed slightly as she smiled back, but then she quickly shoved food into her mouth. As Pa ate, the girl noticed that he was dressed very similarly to Johnny. Then again, Pa always wore clothes like that; they were just a little dirtier. All of the men looked very nice, and Emily felt a little out of place next to them. Her shirt wasn’t shiny in any way, and she had decided to wear a pair of her skinny jeans that had been neglected over the weeks. She didn’t look like she belonged on the ranch, or in Texas for that matter. But nobody around the table seemed to notice; they were all too busy eating.

The food on the table disappeared really fast. Brian ate almost all of the bacon, and actually had to take some off of his plate so everyone could have a taste. Johnny and Jackson seemed to split the eggs into two servings and just left crumbs for everybody else. Pa seemed very content with his toast and jam. And Emily ate the food that Jackson had put on her plate. It wasn’t a lot of food, but it would be enough. She didn’t want to intrude on the men’s breakfast. Em figured that this type of food was only served on Sundays by Pa, and the men looked forward to it all week long.

“So,” Pa grumbled with food in his mouth, “what kind of paint do you want for your room?”

“Oh,” Emily thought, “well, something colorful. I was thinking maybe green or blue. I need something to match that quilt.”

“Green or blue. Got it,” Pa registered the information. “And do you want other decorations?”

“Yeah, maybe some pictures or posters. And maybe some shelves,” the girl responded.

“Why do you need shelves?” Brian spoke up, chewing on some bacon.

“To put stuff on,” Em replied as though he should’ve known the answer.

“Well,” Pa sat back in his chair and rested his hands on his chest, “we can get all of that at the hardware store. And while you’re looking, I can look for stuff for the ranch.”

“Sounds good,” Emily replied, and then went back to eating.

Jackson stared at her for a few seconds, and then looked up at Pa. “I can help her pick out paint, if you want,” he said.

A slight grin spread across the old man’s face and he shared a look with Johnny. Jackson looked between the two men with a confused expression. He hadn’t said anything wrong, but they seemed to be making fun of him.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Pa slightly chuckled. “That would be fine.”

Jackson’s face slightly turned red as he went back to picking at his food. Everyone finished eating breakfast, and then Pa started doing the dishes. Emily noticed he was struggling, so she decided to take over. He thanked his granddaughter and then limped away from the sink and leaned against the counter. He gripped his chest for a minute, which Em thought was odd, but she didn’t ask. Pa noticed the girl staring at him with concern, but he was quick to reassure her that everything was fine. He patted her on the arm and joined the rest of the men in the living room. Emily wasn’t very happy about all of the men resting while she did the dishes, but there was no point in saying anything about it. There weren’t very many dishes to do, and Emily would be done by the time one of the men decided to help. Once she was done with the dishes, the girl wandered into the living room and leaned against the wall. She noticed that Dusty was curled up in her spot on the couch, and Joe was sitting on the stairs watching everyone.

“So when’s church?” Em asked nervously.

Pa looked at his watch and raised his bushy eyebrows. “We should get going,” he said, “or they’re going to start without us.”

Everyone hustled to pull their boots on and then grab their cowboy hats. Emily wasn’t going to wear her hat, but she grabbed it anyways because she wanted to fit in with everyone else. The five of them marched outside and over to the old truck. Emily stopped short and stared at the vehicle. She barely remembered riding in it when Pa rescued her from the field, but she didn’t realize how broken down it looked. It was even worse than Dana’s station-wagon. There was rust everywhere, and the back looked as if it was going to fall off at any minute. And the cab was extremely small; how in the world were they all going to fit? She watched as Pa climbed into the driver’s seat, and Jackson and Johnny climbed into the back. Brian opened up the passenger’s door but didn’t get in. He looked back at Emily and motioned for her to get in first.

I guess I’ll be sitting in the middle, she grumbled to herself as she climbed into the rickety truck.

Brian squeezed in next to her and slammed the door shut. Em reached behind her to retrieve her seatbelt, but then realized there was no seatbelt for her seat. So she just gripped onto the sides of her seat as Pa started driving. The church wasn’t very far away. All Pa had to do was drive out of his ranch and then into town. The church building was on the edge of town, so Emily had missed it when her and Dana had first arrived. As Pa pulled in to the parking lot – which consisted of gravel – she noticed that a lot of people were already there. The parking lot was almost full with cars that looked as rusty as Pa’s truck. There was one red shiny car in the corner, though, which Emily thought was strange.

Everyone tumbled out of the truck as Emily continued to feel uncomfortable with the situation. She wasn’t much of a church goer, but here she was with her grandpa. She walked behind the men as they led the way into the building. As soon as Johnny opened the door for everyone, noise flooded Emily’s ears. There were different conversations happening in every part of the building; laughter filled the entire room when someone thought something was funny. And, to Emily’s surprise, nobody looked the same. She had made a comment to Jackson that everybody in Texas was the same, but this church community just proved her wrong. There were men dressed in their very best, and there were men dressed in rubber boots and bib overalls. There were women wearing pants, or skirts, or dresses, or boots, or heels. There was one woman who wasn’t wearing shoes at all. Emily was so busy staring at everything that she hadn’t realized she had stopped in the doorway.

“Excuse me,” a small voice came from behind her.

Emily turned around and was prepared to apologize, but there was no one there. She then looked down and saw a boy with pitch black hair and small round glasses. He was dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a nice red shirt. His red cowboy boots were pulled over his jeans, and he wore a belt buckle that was way too big for his little waist. Emily couldn’t help but smile.

“Excuse me,” he said again with a smile, showing that he was missing his two front teeth.

Emily quickly stepped out of the way and watched him skip over to a woman in red. The woman picked him up and kissed him on the cheek. The boy then pointed towards Emily and the woman looked over at her; her face immediately lit up. She marched over to Em – the boy still in her arms – and embraced the girl.

“I’m so glad to see you’re getting better!” Carol exclaimed, letting go of Emily.

“Thank you,” the girl replied tentatively, not one-hundred percent sure of who this woman was.

“Pa was so worried about you. And I’m so sorry about your sister. What a tragic accident,” Carol continued. “She was so young, and had so much potential. I…”

Carol trailed on and on, but Emily just let it go in one ear and out the other. She nodded and smiled at the woman, but constantly looked around for either Pa or Jackson. She eventually made eye contact with Jackson and excused herself from Carol’s one-sided conversation.

“Sorry you got caught up in Carol’s gossip,” Jackson whispered in Emily’s ear, his hot breath trickling down her neck. “Once she’s in a good mood, she never stops talking.”

Pa was in the front of the church and was looking around for the two teenagers. Brian and Johnny were already sitting in a pew, flipping through the bulletin. Pa eventually spotted Jackson and Em and motioned for the two to join them up front. Emily didn’t want to sit in the front because it was her first time at this church, but Jackson pulled her along. She ended up sitting between Pa and Jackson, with Johnny and Brian on the other side of the boy. She looked around the sanctuary and watched as people started flooding in and taking their seats. The whole sanctuary was full by the time the pastor addressed the congregation.

“Good morning!” he bellowed, lifting his arms out to his sides.

“Good morning!” everyone responded.

“Today is the day the Lord hath made!” he proclaimed.

“Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” the congregation responded.

“Welcome, everyone,” the pastor stated, using his ‘inside’ voice. “I hope everyone is surviving this Texan heat.” Everyone laughed. “I’m just glad God has blessed us with the amazing invention of air conditioning.” Everyone laughed again. Emily wasn’t entirely sure what was going on; she didn’t think either of those things were funny. “Let us pray!” Everyone folded their hands, bowed their heads, and closed their eyes. “Dear Lord…” the pastor began.

Emily squinted her eyes open in order to watch the pastor. His arms were outstretched and his eyes were squeezed shut. He was wearing a pair of very shiny brown cowboy boots with dark jeans. Around his waist was a belt with a bull on the round buckle. He was wearing a black button-down shirt with a large collar and suspenders. And instead of wearing a regular tie, he was wearing a cowboy tie just like Jackson’s. His gray hair with its receding hair line was visible because he had taken off his hat; it was sitting in the front pew, along with his black suit jacket. He had a large belly that stuck out, but his legs were rather small. Emily thought he was an interesting choice for a pastor.

“Amen,” he declared.

“Amen,” everyone repeated.

“Amen,” Emily mumbled, and then let her hands fall to her lap.

“Today’s sermon is a big one,” the pastor informed as he started to pace. “It deals with love and death.”

“Of course it does,” Em whispered to herself, but then felt a jab in her side.

“Sshh,” Pa ordered.

“One of the main themes of the Bible is love and death,” the pastor continued. “Now, for those of you who haven’t read the Bible, spoiler alert, a lot of people die. They either die because of old age, war, or God decides it’s time. But a lot of people also find love. Now, I’m not talking about the love between a couple. I’m talking about the love between humans and God. God is the source of all love. He created us in his own image, saved us from slavery, led us to the promised land. But the big one? He sent his one and only son to die on the cross for us. He sent Jesus down to earth to spread God’s love. He sent Jesus down to earth to sacrifice himself for our sins, so that we may live in everlasting life. Now, if that isn’t ultimate love, I don’t know what is.

“But even though God is love, he is also death. He has the power to give, but also to take away. We may beg him to save someone, or to heal someone, or to get someone home safely…” Emily was concentrating on chewing off a hangnail, but suddenly looked up at the pastor. “…but God has the last say. He knows exactly what’s going to happen, and he knows why. He has a plan for everyone and everything, even if you don’t agree with it. The plan may not seem clear to you yet, but it will in time. You just have to be patient, and I know it’s easier said than done. I know it’s easy to be mad at God when someone you love suffers or dies, but he wants you to trust him. He wants you to let go and give everything to him. Because what’s the point of hanging on to something that’s not meant to last forever?” The pastor paused to take a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his head with it.

“If you have recently lost a loved one,” he continued, “I’m sorry. I know how it feels to lose someone close to you, especially if you were planning on ‘forever.’ And I know how hard it is to trust in God’s plan. But it’s important that you do. If you hold on to the anger and the hate you have towards God, then you will never know peace. You will never move on. Your heart will always be slightly empty because you haven’t let God in. So let God in. I know it’s hard. I know you don’t want to. But you must. And when you do, your life will become happier, more positive, and a lot more care-free because he is in control.”

The pastor continued his sermon, but Emily zoned out. She thought about what he had just said about not blaming God and letting him in. She hadn’t really blamed God for the death of her parents, or for her sister’s coma; she just didn’t believe in him. When her parents took her and Dana to church, she was always taught that God is all loving and all forgiving and all good. When her parents died, though, Emily didn’t understand how an all loving and all good God could allow something horrible happen to good people. If a God like that existed, then she didn’t want anything to do with him. And when Dana got into her accident, she decided that he didn’t exist at all. After all, how could a good God leave a girl alone with a grandpa she barely knew? But as the pastor emphasized on the fact that God had a plan for everything, it made Emily question everything. If God’s plan was to leave Emily alone, then what was the outcome going to be? How was this going to turn into a good thing? How could Emily ever be truly happy without her parents and her sister? What was God planning to do with her life? Emily was deep in thought when church finally ended. Jackson had to whisper to her and inform her that church was over and it was time to get up. Emily stumbled to her feet and followed Pa out of the sanctuary. The pastor was standing at the doorway and greeted people as they left.

“And who is this young lady?” the pastor inquired once Pa and Emily reached him.

“This is Emily,” Pa replied, clearing his throat. “She’s my granddaughter from the city.”

“How lovely to meet you,” the pastor took Emily’s hand and shook it. “I’m so glad you were able to join us this morning.”

“Thank you,” Em mumbled a replied.

“How long will you be staying in Texas?” he asked.

Emily grew silent, and so did the three men. Pa was the only one who spoke up. “She’ll be staying for a while.”

“How wonderful! Well, have a good week, and God bless!”

Emily followed Pa out of the church, and the three men followed behind her. They all walked over to the truck, but they never got in it. Pa had stopped in front of the vehicle and leaned against the side of it. Neither Johnny or Brian seemed to be surprised or confused, but Emily had no idea what was going on. Why weren’t they getting in the truck?

“So,” Pa began with a grumble, scratching his cheek. “Emily and Jackson need to go to the hardware store to get paint and decorations for her room. Can you – Johnny or Brian – think of anything we need for the ranch?”

“I know some of the fences on the far side of the ranch need to be fixed. We could pick up some nails and rope,” Brian suggested.

“Sounds good. We’ll pick up the nails and you can pick up the paint,” he pointed to his granddaughter. “We’ll meet back at the truck.”

Pa suddenly pushed himself away from the truck and limped off. Brian and Johnny followed the old man, but Emily just watched as they walked off. She had expected her grandpa to drive in to town. She realized the church was close to the stores, but she hated walking, especially in this heat. Jackson didn’t seem to mind it, though, because he took her hand and started walking in the direction of the hardware store. Emily decided not to argue against it, though, because the feeling of Jackson’s hand in hers made her feel important. It made her feel wanted. But it also reminded her of Zach. Zach always took her hand and kissed all of her fingers before kissing her mouth. Sometimes her would take her hand and pull her into a hug, or twirl her around. Zach’s face floated around in her mind for a while, and she suddenly missed him. She missed his quirky grin and his soft touch. But as Jackson continued to hold Emily’s hand, she realized that it wasn’t Zach she needed. She needed Jackson to need her. She needed him to be there for her and reassure her that everything would be alright. She needed him to smile at her so that she knew she was home. But even if he did not smile at her, at least she had the comfort of his hand.

“The hardware store isn’t far,” Jackson informed, looking at Emily.

He led her past several shops until they came to the one they were looking for. A bell rattled as Jackson pushed the door open. The air conditioning was turned up on high, so when the two teenagers walked into the store, they were hit with cold air. It was a shock at first, but after a while Emily really started to enjoy it. Her body had slowly gotten used to the Texan heat, but the cold air conditioning was always welcome. A clerk smiled at the boy and girl as they walked by. Jackson led Em to an aisle in the back of the store; the aisle contained every color of paint they could think of. The boy walked through the aisle until he came across a color he liked, and then he stopped.

“You said you were thinking of either blue or green?” Jackson asked.

“Yeah,” Em responded, moving closer so she could see the colors.

Right in front of them was every shade of blue or green they could imagine. There was light blue, baby blue, sky blue, blue blue, dark blue, violet blue. And then there was light green, grass green, green green, forest green, dark green. Emily wanted something dark but comforting, so she went with a dark blue color. She was sure it was going to match that ugly quilt because that blanket had almost every color in it possible.

“This is the one,” Emily declared, holding a gallon of paint.

“Alright!” Jackson grinned. “We should probably get another gallon, just in case.”

Emily grabbed another gallon of the dark blue paint, and then exited the paint aisle. Jackson and Em then headed to the aisle of decorations. The girl wasn’t quite sure what kind of decorations she wanted, but she figured she would decide once she saw the options. When they arrived to the decorations aisle, though, Em was immediately disappointed; there weren’t that many decorations to choose from. There were a lot of inspirational quote stickers to choose from, but most of them were biblical. That wasn’t what she was hoping for, but she decided on four of them, and grabbed them off of their shelves. One had something to do with being a conqueror and the child of the one true king. Another one was Psalm 34:18. One had to do with the sadness of your past. And the last one was Romans 8:18. Em wouldn’t call herself a true believer yet, but maybe having a Bible verse stuck to her wall would help with that. Once she had picked out all of her items, Jackson and Emily headed to the check-out. That afternoon, they were going to repaint the guest room.

×

Everything in the guest room had to either be moved out into the hallway or covered up. The main items in the room were the bed with its ugly quilt, the end tables, and the dog bed. The end tables and the dog bed could obviously be moved out into the hall, but the bed wouldn’t move as easily. Jackson and Emily had to slide the piece of furniture to the middle of the room and drape a tarp over it. Then they laid plastic over the whole floor so to keep it clean. After that was done, they had to tape along all of the wood and the ceiling. Emily had painted a room once before, but she didn’t remember it being this much work. She had once helped her dad paint his office in their house, but that was when she was little. Her dad had done most of the work before Em started helping him; she held the paint bucket and moved his footstool so he could get around easier. She remembered painting one wall, but her dad thought it looked bad, so he painted the rest of his office. It was a fond memory of Emily’s, though, because it involved quality time with her father. The girl couldn’t help but think of it as she and Jackson started painting. It brought a smile to her face as she dipped her brush into the dark blue paint and lathered it onto the wall.

“Can you hand me the paint, M&M?” Emily’s father asked his daughter.

He was poised on top of a footstool with a paintbrush in his mouth. Last week he had decided he wanted to paint his office in their house, so he quickly went out to the hardware store and bought some paint. The original color was tan, but he wanted something brighter and more cheerful, so he picked out a teal color. He had dragged Emily with him to the hardware store, and now she was sitting on the floor of his office. Once her dad asked her for the paint, though, she got to her feet, grabbed the bucket of paint, and handed it to her father.

“Thanks, honey.”

“Mmmhmm,” she responded, plopping down on the floor.

“You know, if you wanted to be helpful,” her father grunted, reaching up to paint a spot he had missed, “you could pick up a roller and start rolling on paint.”

“But you said my paint job didn’t look good,” Em whined.

“Well, maybe if you tried again, it’ll look better.”

Emily just smirked at her father’s comment, and continued to watch him. She may be grumbly and upset on the outside, but on the inside she was actually enjoying quality time with her dad. He was always busy with work, which meant she didn’t see him very often. She spent most of her days with her older sister, so it was nice to have someone else’s company. Em watched as her father carefully lathered paint onto the tan walls. He would paint one section, then step off of the stool so Emily could move it, and then he would paint another section. This process continued until the whole room was painted teal. Her father stepped back and looked at the work he had done. He seemed to enjoy it because a smile played on the edges of his lips. Emily thought the color was way too bright.

“What’d’ya think, Em?” he asked his daughter.

“It’s way too bright, dad,” she responded with a shake of her head.

“That’s because you live in a cave,” he replied, taking a bit of paint and wiping it on the girl’s cheeks.

“Hey!” Emily yelped, jumping away from the paint.

“Hay is for horses,” her dad declared, and then started chasing her with the paint brush.

Emily ran out of the office and down the hall. Her father chased her into the living room, where her mother was busy working. Emily immediately stopped, and so did her father. He looked at the paint brush in his hand, and then quickly hid it behind his back.

“Hello, dear,” the man greeted. “I didn’t know you were home.”

“Good thing I am,” the woman smirked, “or else our whole house would be that obnoxious color.”

Em turned around and faced her dad. “Told ya,” she said.

The girl laughed to herself as she replayed the memory over in her mind. Emily and Jackson had started on opposite sides of the room. The goal was to paint around the entire room, and then the two of them would meet in the middle. Jackson had guessed that the room would need two coats, but Emily wanted to wait and see once they were done with the first coat. So they painted and painted until the first coat was on. Emily had managed to get dark blue paint all over herself, but Jackson was somehow clean. She stared at him in disbelief, but he just shrugged. The two of them stepped in to the middle of the room to inspect their work.

“What’d’ya think?” Em asked with her arms crossed. The blue paint had come out darker than she had anticipated, but she would just open the curtains to let some light in.

“I think it’s nice. A little dark, but nice,” Jackson replied.

“Do you think we’ll need a second coat?” the girl inquired.

“Well,” Jackson began, “since the paint is so dark, I think it’ll be fine.”

“Good,” Emily agreed.

The girl abruptly turned around and surprised Jackson by taking paint and smearing it across his face. The boy jumped back in shock and immediately tried to wipe it off. That only resulted in him getting paint on his hands. Emily was laughing uncontrollably at Jackson’s reaction, and she was slowly inching her way closer to the door. She knew he would come after her, so she wanted to be as close to the exit as possible. Jackson jumped towards her, and she bolted out of the room. She clambered down the steps – nearly tripping over Joe – and escaped outside. The boy, of course, chased after her. Em ran for the safety of the barn, but once she got in there she realized it wasn’t the smartest idea. Jackson knew the barn better than she did; that meant he knew every hiding spot. So once Emily entered the building, she slightly panicked and didn’t know where to go. This gave Jackson time to catch up to her and grab her. Her wrapped his arms around her waist and picked her up, throwing Em over his shoulder. The girl screeched and then started laughing. Jackson was stronger than her, so there was no point in trying to fight him. He carried her over to a corner of the barn and set her down but didn’t let go of her.

Jackson stared in to Emily’s gray eyes and, for the first time, didn’t find sadness. He saw a sparkle of happiness, which warmed his heart. In Jackson’s eyes, Em saw love. That was something she had never found in Zach’s eyes. He always looked at her with lust, but Jackson didn’t. Emily found kindness and comfort in the boy’s eyes. She felt home and whole. Jackson removed one hand from the girl’s waist and brought it to her cheek. He gently guided his rough hand behind Em’s neck – smearing blue paint everywhere – and slightly tilted her head back. His thumb rubbed her cheek as he brought his face closer to hers. Emily froze, not really knowing what to do. Of course she had been kissed before, but Jackson was a completely knew person; plus, she had actual feelings for him. Eventually, his soft lips grazed over hers, and Em released the breath she was holding. The boy slightly pulled away and looked the girl in the eyes. A smile spread across both of their lips, and then they kissed again. Emily wrapped her arms around Jackson’s strong body, feeling his muscles under her hands. He had a hand gently resting on Em’s waist and a hand supporting her neck. They felt perfectly comfortable together. Emily was no longer scared or nervous; she felt confident.

Johnny suddenly walked around the corner and saw the teenagers kissing. His first thought was to yell at them, but then he figured that wouldn’t go over well. Instead, he tiptoed out of the barn and stood by the side of it. “Jackson? Emily? Are you in there?” he called out.

Both Emily and Jackson were shocked to hear Johnny’s voice. Em pushed the boy away from her and they both began to straighten their clothes. Just then, Johnny walked into the barn and saw the two teenagers frantically fixing their clothes and hair. He smiled to himself as he marched up to them.

“Hey, dad,” Jackson awkwardly greeted. “What-what are you doing here?”

Johnny raised his eyebrows at his son, and then glanced over at Em. “Pa needs you in the house. I told him I’d come find you.”

“Alright,” the girl responded, chewing on her thumbnail. “I’ll head to the house, then.”

Emily awkwardly scooted around Johnny and away from Jackson. Johnny watched as she headed towards the barn door, and then she turned around to look at his son. Jackson slightly grinned at her, but then stopped once his father gave him a look. Em quickly disappeared outside and ran up to the house.

That was enough awkward for one day, she thought.

Jackson didn’t follow her; he stayed with his dad to see what he really wanted. Johnny didn’t say anything, though. He simply grinned at his son and shook his head as he wandered into the horse pasture. Jackson watched him go, and then sprinted up to the house. He could hear grumbles coming from inside, so he was cautious when he entered. The boy quietly walked into the living room and then the kitchen, but realized nobody was there. He then heard noises coming from upstairs. Jackson hopped up the steps and into Emily’s bedroom, where he found Em and Pa.

“It’s spilled everywhere,” Pa griped.

Just then, Jackson noticed the spilled paint that was all over the floor. He stepped into the room, shocked. Emily was standing in the corner, trying to calm her grandpa down.

“It’ll be fine, Pa,” Em sighed. “There’s plastic down, so none of it got on the floor.”

“But that’s just another mess I have to clean up,” the old man continued to complain.

“I’ll clean it up, Pa,” the girl said reassuringly.

“If you would’ve finished the job, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

“Pa –”

“What were you doing in the barn, anyways?” Pa requested. “What was so important that you couldn’t finish cleaning up?”

Emily then noticed Jackson standing in the doorway, and made eye contact with him. The old man turned to face the boy and frowned. He then glanced between Jackson and his granddaughter, his frown slowly disappearing. Eventually he sighed and rubbed his chest. Emily watched as he carefully stepped around the spilt paint and out into the hallway; Jackson moved into the room.

“Just get it cleaned up,” Pa ordered with a wave of his hand, and then he left.

Jackson looked at the mess in the room, and then watched Em as she started to roll up the plastic. The boy quickly moved all of the paint buckets that weren’t spilt and put lids on them. He set them aside and helped Emily finish rolling up the plastic. They rolled it and folded it just right so that all of the spilt paint stayed inside the plastic. Jackson took the plastic from Em and carried it outside. The girl watched him as he carefully navigated the steps, and then turned back to her room. The bed was still covered with a tarp, of course, but the space was starting to get some life to it. She stepped into the bathroom and retrieved the plastic bag that contained the wall stickers. They had put it in the bathroom so that it was out of the way. She carried the wall stickers into the newly painted room and decided which quote she wanted where. The paint was probably still wet, but she could at least decide where she wanted her decorations. Em decided she wanted the one about being a child of the one true king above her bed; it might remind her to keep believing and dreaming. The sticker of Psalm 34:18 was going to go by her closet. Romans 8:18 was going to go above her door. And the last one about the sadness of your past was going on the forth wall. That way, there was a sticker on each wall. By the time Jackson returned to the room he was panting and sweating.

“What’d’ya think?” Em asked, showing him her plans for the wall stickers.

“I like it!” he proclaimed. “We’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow to put them on, though. The paint is still wet.”

“Okay.”

“But we could probably start moving some furniture back in. As long as it doesn’t touch the walls, it should be fine.”

“Okay!”

Jackson and Emily started by taking the tarp off of the bed; the girl needed to have someplace to sleep, after all. They pushed the bed as close to the wall as possible without it touching the paint. Em noticed that the walls matched the quilt surprisingly well. The two of them then moved the end tables back into the room – one on each side of the bed – and plugged in the annoying alarm clock. The last thing to move in was the dog bed. Emily was getting used to Joe sleeping in the same room as her. Even though she still wasn’t very fond of dogs, she was warming up to them. As Emily looked around her newly remodeled room, she was secretly glad she decided not to get any shelves. There wasn’t any room for them, and it would’ve made the room look cramped. As Emily gazed at the work she had done, Jackson shuffled over to her and grabbed her hand.

“Welcome home,” he whispered.

×

It had overall been a good day. Emily had gone to church with her grandpa and she was planning on sitting down with the pastor either tomorrow or sometime this week. She and Jackson picked out paint and painted her room. And he kissed her! That was the high light of Emily’s day. Over the course of time she had been on the ranch, Emily kept telling herself that Jackson didn’t share the same feelings she did. It would’ve been awkward to date one of Pa’s helpers. But now that she knew they shared the same feelings for each other, she wasn’t going to stop liking him. He made he feel whole. He made her feel as though the ranch was her home.

Emily changed in to her pajamas – underwear and a tank-top – and pulled back the covers on her bed. She climbed in, and then got out. For a moment, the girl just stood back and thought. She suddenly got down on her knees and folded her hands. She had never prayed by herself before, and she didn’t really know why she was doing it now, but something in her told her to do it.

“Hey there, God,” she began, and then cleared her throat. “I mean, Dear Lord.” Emily paused and looked up. “I don’t know if you’re actually listening, or if you even exist, but I’m going to pray anyways. Um…thank you, I guess. Thank you for making me feel at home here on the ranch. It’s been a while since I’ve felt at home anywhere, so thanks.

“I’m still trying to understand your plan, though, Lord. First you took my parents, and then there’s the situation with my sister. And I don’t understand why,” Em started to cry. “Please help me understand, because…because I miss them!”

Tears welled up in her eyes and slid down her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away, but more came. Her body started shaking from sobs, and she threw herself on her bed. Emily gripped the pillow in front of her and smashed her face into it. She cried and cried and cried, not knowing when it was going to stop. Eventually, she ran out of tears and rolled over, heaving.

“Please, Lord, if you’re up there,” Em begged, “help me.”

For some reason, the girl expected an answer, but there was none. There was no blast of light or booming voice from above. There was just silence. Silence, and the sound of Joe breathing in the corner. Disappointed, Emily rolled over onto her stomach and tried to fall asleep. No matter how much she tried, though, sleep would not come to her. She tried counting sheep, but ended up reaching three-hundred. She tried a breathing technique, but that just made her concentrate more. She didn’t know what else to try, so Em just laid in her bed with her eyes closed, hoping sleep would come soon. It eventually did, but it didn’t come peacefully.

“Stop driving so fast! You’re gonna get us killed!” the wife yelled at her husband.

It was snowing outside and the roads were covered in ice, but the husband always thought he was invincible when he drove. “I’m not gonna get us killed. Now be quiet so I can concentrate.”

Little Dana was in the backseat, playing with her toys. She was completely oblivious of the bad weather and her father’s reckless driving. Her mother, however, continued to yell. She had always hated driving, and her husband had insisted on driving in the snow. She began chewing on her thumbnails until there was nothing left to chew on.

“Sweetie, please, just pull over. We’ll start again when the weather gets better,” the wife begged.

“It’ll be fine,” the husband declared. “Just close your eyes if you get nervous.”

The wife squeezed her eyes shut, not sure if it would do any good. For some reason, the husband stomped down on the gas pedal and sped the car up. The vehicle weaved and fish-tailed, and the husband lost all control. The car rolled off the edge of the road and down the cliff. The three passengers – the wife, the husband, and little Dana – were thrown everywhere within the car. The car continued to roll and flip down the cliff until it hit a large rock, and then it stopped. And everyone in the car was dead.

Emily bolted awake and screamed. Joe immediately woke up and jumped onto the bed; he wanted to make sure Em was alright. Sweat was dripping off of the girl’s forehead, and she quickly wiped it away with the blanket. She glanced over at the clock and noticed it was 1:30 in the morning. Em sighed as she flopped back down onto the bed; Joe rested his head on the girl’s stomach. If that was the dreams she was going to have – her family dying – then Em didn’t want to go back to sleep. She forced her eyes to stay open as tears started to slide down her face.

“Please, Lord,” Em begged. “Please.”

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