The sun was slowly setting and the boys were still nowhere to be found. The goats had to be fed and it was their duty to gather plants and stems for the goats.
Lesley humped in anger and stamped her foot. She considered ignoring the chore; it wasn't hers after all, but in the end, her good sense won -she had to feed the goats herself. She stormed into the tool shed and searched for a machete throwing her hands up in the air and stamping her foot yet again when she realized the only machete in the shed was more of a blunt metal than a real machete, and then she looked around for a bag to gather the plants. She was about walking out of the yard when she realized that her oversized dress would only slow her down. With a determined stride, she walked into the boys' room and looked for pants that would fit her. Fortunately, the twins were about her size though two years younger than she was. She dressed in a shirt and a pair of trousers, thinking to herself that her brothers would probably throw a tantrum if they saw her in their clothes especially because they didn't have much anyway. She chuckled evilly and thought, serves them right. She pulled on her old boots and tucked her hair under a bonnet before heading out.
Cutting down stems and grasses with a dull machete gave her blisters on her palm but she worked on till the bag was full of goat feed. Finally, tired and hurting but satisfied with her work, she dragged the bag home.
The sun had begun to set when she approached the farm. She could see her father's old battered truck outside the house and sounds of laughter emanating from the house filled her ears immediately she entered the compound. There was an extra set of boots at the doorway. Lesley's brows furrowed in her confusion. They rarely had any visitors. But from the laughter coming from the house, this person was familiar to her parents. She talked to the goat's pen, dumped the bag and pulled out stems and leaves for the goats before washing her hands and face.
She had just turned fourteen and was discovering her feminism. She found herself being more self-conscious around Jake than ever. Just yesterday, when she heard his voice calling out to her while she was cleaning the chicken coop, she had hurriedly washed her face and rinsed her mouth before responding to his call. Jake had looked at her strangely and smiled. He probably knew what she was going through after all his sister Abigail was her age. She smiled ruefully as she trudged up the steps in a deliberate slow walk.
"I'm home!!" Lesley called out as she closed the door behind her. A younger, similar, macho version of her dad sat on the battered couch in their parlor and the twins sat at his feet, staring up at him with awed faces, obviously enthralled by him.
"Hello princess. There's someone I want you to meet." Her father sat beside her mother and beckoned to her. She walked over to him and sat on his legs. If there was anyone Lesley would never feel self-conscious around, it was her beloved father. "This is Thomas, he said, my baby brother and only sibling ".
Lesley gasped. She had figured the connection from the resemblance. But to hear her father say it still came as a shock. I didn't know you had any siblings. . . Or any family for that matter. "
Her father's chest rumbled with laughter. Lesley scowled at him. He sobered up. "I know I don't talk about my family much princess ".
"Now would be a good time to talk, father ". Lesley said in a deceptively calm voice that effectively hid a slowly building irritation with her dear father.
Her father cleared his throat and began to talk of his family, his parents and the life he left behind. His parents had been against his relationship with her mother and they kicked him out when he blatantly refused to give her up. He concluded by saying he was blessed to have a beautiful family and that he would do it all over again. The house was silent for a while after he finished speaking. The twin's didn't look is so happy to have the enchanting stories of their uncle cut short and shot daggers with their eyes at Leslie who was too immersed in her father’s tale of love and sorrow to pay them any heed.
Vanessa broke the silence by announcing that dinner was ready.
As the night wore on Lesley got more comfortable her uncle. He regaled them with stories from the city and of his childhood with their father. They laughed well into the night before the kids retired to bed leaving the adults to continue their merry.
Lesley woke up the next morning to do her chores and was shocked to see her uncle already cleaning the goat pen. She hurriedly tucked her ruffled hair behind her ears and smoothed her dress before approaching him.
"Good morning Uncle Tom. You're up early. "
"Good morning Lexie you can call me Tommy".
Lesley giggled. "My mother would have my tongue if she ever heard me call you by your name.”
Thomas grinned. "She's a tough one eh?
Lesley nodded emphatically. "As tough as nails ".
Thomas came over and whispered. "It could be our secret."
Lesley smiled and pushed away. "I don't have time for secrets Uncle Tom. "
Thomas' head reared back as though he'd been slapped in the face. He seemed to peer at her and then shook his head. "You're your mother's daughter. "
Lesley waved at him and went to the well to draw water for the animals to drink.
By noon Lesley was done with her chores. She had a bath and dressed in clean clothes. She braided her hair and left for Jake's place. Her brothers had found summer Jobs helping out as ranch hands in a ranch not too far from their home. Jake had secured the land next to his father's farm and had expanded it.
Lesley found Jake grooming his horse. "Hey, Jake."
"Hey! Whoa, you're wearing pants!"
"Yes. Those dresses are getting restrictive for my chores. I like the freedom to move without hindrance. "
"Yes. But it makes you look like a boy. "
"I don't mind. She indicated to his horse, He's beautiful ". She took the brush from him and began to groom the horse. Jake shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. Lesley slanted her eyes to look at him. He had changed so much in the last four years. His voice was broken, black hair dusted his chin and his shoulder was much more defined. Lesley thought his washed-out shirt fit him more snugly than before. And his sleeves were rolled to reveal his forearms which were streaked with veins from all his hard work. Her hands began to shake as she stroked the horse and her eyelids fluttered.
Jake grabbed her shoulders and shook her. "Are you alright? He shook her again. "Lesley!"
Lesley felt his fingers burn through her shirt. She swooned. Suddenly she was lifted. She was floating.
Lesley opened her eyes a few minutes later to find herself lying down on a couch in Jake's house. Abigail stood over her stroking her hair. Jake was pacing and his younger sisters huddled close and whispered fervently to each other.
"What happened?" she asked, her voice still groggy from passing out.
Jake was beside her in an instant. "Are you alright?"
"I think so. What happened? "
Lesley gasped in horror. "What?!” She had never fainted before. "How?!" Suddenly everything came rushing back to her. And with the memories came the sensations. She remembered Jake's hands on her shoulders and her back arched as hot moisture pooled between her legs. Abigail saw her reaction and tried too late to hold back a giggle. Lesley was horrified. She threw off the blanket and bolted out of the house. She didn't stop running until she entered her room and closed the door. Then she slid to the floor and cried. She cried until she fell asleep. She awoke minutes later to the sound of her mother's voice.
"Lesley. Honey. Are you OK? "
"What's wrong with me?"
"What happened? Tell me everything. "
Lesley explained everything in a gush pausing occasionally to sniff or blow her nose. Her mother listened intently without interrupting her. At the end of her story, Lesley looked at her with confused eyes. "Will I be OK mama?"
Vanessa hugged her baby girl. Her little Les wasn't so little anymore. She had thought this moment would come sooner but Lesley had turned out to be a late bloomer. Her breasts had only begun to form and could hardly be noticed through her boy clothes. She was yet to have her period. But obviously, her hormones were already kicking in albeit too fiercely. It was time to tell Lesley about her body and sex before someone else did it for her.
"Les. There's something you need to know. ".
When Vanessa finally stopped talking, it was well into the evening and Lesley was dry-eyed. Everything made sense now. The hair that was sprouting in all her hidden parts, her itching breasts and the sensations she felt in the pit of her belly when she saw Jake. Her brows furrowed as a sudden thought hit her.
"But mama, why do I feel that way only when I see Jake?"
Vanessa smiled at her indulgingly. "Because you are attracted to him."
Lesley blushed and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Oh".
"But," Vanessa lifted her daughter's chin to look at her, "you don't have to do anything about it right now. You're both young and you have your whole lives ahead of you. Focus on growing up and putting your life together first. Then, you'll know true love when you see it. "
Lesley nodded and hugged her mother.
"Now that we've gotten that out of the way, can we go prepare dinner?"
The next week passed uneventfully. Lesley revealed in the new exciting things she was going through. She had seen her period for the first time two days ago. She wasn't so startled because of her mother's forewarning. Her uncle had been a little distant since their encounter a week ago. In truth she was relieved. She had thought that conversation a little strange but not strange enough to tell anyone about it. Not even Jake.
Lesley raised her hand to shield her eyes. The sun was scorching hot. Having finished her outdoor chores Lesley thought it might be a good idea to have a little nap. The house was empty as her father had taken some of the animals to the market to be sold. And her mother had gone to a big ranch with her boys to earn some extra cash helping out. Her uncle was nowhere to be seen. Lesley stretched out on the couch. Her shirt's top button was undone and her shirt was tucked into her pants. Her mother had disapproved of her wearing slacks. She had argued with her over it and won. Lesley smiled as she remembered that argument and soon she was asleep.
Someone was tugging at her shirt. Lesley felt a cold finger on her skin. She shifted. The hand was gone. Just as she was about to drift off again she felt a hand on her right breast squeezing through her shirt. She swiped at it and turned on her stomach. When she opened her eyes she was alone. She looked down at herself and noticed that two more buttons were undone. A chill ran down her spine and she hugged herself. She sat frozen until she heard Jake's voice outside. She ran out of the house and flew right into his arms. Jake held her as she shivered. Finally, he let her down.
"What's wrong, Les?"
Lesley held on to his shirt and shook as she told him what happened. Jake was filled with rage. He held Lesley's hand as he scouted the farm. They checked everywhere and couldn't find anyone. Jake held Lesley and whispered consolingly to her. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you ".
They heard a noise in the front and ran out to see her mother coming in with the twins. Jake walked up to her and told her everything Lesley had told him. Vanessa looked at her daughter in horror. Oh no. Not my baby. Please God, not my baby. Vanessa drew Lesley close and hugged her. "I won't let that creep come close to you again. Do you hear me? "
Lesley nodded and held her mom.
Lesley could hear her parents arguing. She was shocked. She had never heard them arguing. Somehow she felt it was her fault. If she hadn't freaked out over that little incident. She had always thought she could handle herself. How could she take care of her brothers if she was always crying over little things? The voices grew louder and she held her pillow over her ears.
Jake made it a duty to check on her every day after that incident until she stopped him. It had been so long without another incident that she had begun to think she had imagined the whole thing.
It was noon and she was back from gathering feed for the goats. She dragged the bag of goat feed into the pen and bent to untie the bag to free the leaves and stems before letting the goats out of their stall. Suddenly she heard a twig snap behind her and turned sharply. Lesley heaved a sigh of relief when she saw who it was. "Hey, Uncle Tom. Then she turned back to what she was doing.
Lesley felt an arm sneak around her waist. Her heart skipped a beat as she remembered that afternoon on the couch. She opened her mouth to scream and felt a hand clamp down over it. She was lifted and thrown down face down on the floor. Lesley struggled to catch her breath as her worst nightmare unfolded before her eyes. Her uncle tore at her shirt in frenzy and tugged down her pants as he sat on her. Lesley felt tears sting her eyes as she gasped in horror. Thomas lifted himself off her for a moment to unbutton his pants giving Lesley a chance to suck in air and scream. She heard the door to the pen burst open the same time she felt a blow to the back of her head.
Jake was livid with rage. He punched away at the piece of garbage (Tom) as he struggled to button his pants. Thomas had a broken nose by the time he managed to stagger out of the pen and run away. Lesley lay in a corner shivering. Jake knelt beside her. "I'm sorry I wasn't here soon enough ". He took off his jacket and wrapped her in it, and then he took her home.
That night there was no argument in Lesley's house. Only silence. The following morning her father announced that they were leaving. Lesley only looked on. Vanessa sat beside her daughter and stroked her head. "This will be good for us. A fresh start. If we stay here, you'll never feel safe again."
"When do we leave?
Jake brushed his horse so hard the poor stallion whined in protest. She had been so vulnerable,he thought. If he hadn't heard her scream, her life would have been ruined. He threw down his brush and looked for something to expend his energy on. He had just picked up an ax to chop some woods when he sighted a familiar figure in the distance. He froze as Lesley's face came into focus. Her thin shoulders were slumped and he could feel her unhappiness. He jumped over his short fence to meet her just as she reached it.
"How are you? he asked, his brows furrowed in concerned as his face searched hers.
She stated it in such a blunt matter-of-fact manner that it took a moment for Jake to digest what she was saying.
"What?! Why? " he almost yelled.
Lesley kept her head bowed. "Father has been contemplating moving to the city for a while now. The incident. . ." her voice broke as she spoke and Jake reached out to touch her but she raised her hand in protest and cleared her throat before she continued. "The incident has decided for us. So we're leaving for New York City. "
"When are you leaving?"
Jake jerked. "Today? Who are you going to stay with? Do you have enough money to care for yourselves? What about school? "
Lesley raised her hand and touched Jake's face. "Mother has family in New York. We're going to stay there until we get our own place. "
She put her hand in her pocket and brought out a locket. Her father had made it for her during her graduation from the sophomore. She placed it in Jake's palm and leaned in to kiss his cheek. "I'll never forget you.
A lone young man looked on from his yard as Taylor's truck pulled out from his yard. He clutched Leslie's locket in his palm and brought it to his lips as tears fell from his eyes. He might have lost her for now but he knew at that moment that this wasn't the last time he would see Leslie, he would turn the world over to find her. But not like this, not as a young, helpless farmer. He had to grow, to evolve into a man capable of caring for his family and giving the only girl he had ever loved from his boyhood on, the kind of life she truly deserves. All in time, he thought, all in time.