No Rest For The Wicked (TDATT AU Story)

CHAPTER ONE

Nothing had been easy since the point she’d met Willard Russell. If anything, her life had gotten significantly harder. She had learned that sometimes the hardest thing to do was also the right thing to do. She’d never regretted her decision on that matter, even now as she stood in a completely different country trying to find him. It had taken her years to save the money to get to this point. A bunch of hard work, dedication, and the undying hope that she could see him again. Maybe now that it would be safer. More for him than her. She’d already been warned about going to America and she was finding, as she made her way to his hometown, no one was wrong about that. Still, none of that had ever mattered to her or even really bothered her. Back in Japan she wasn’t too well liked either. Not after making the choice to save his life like that. Something that had bought incredible dishonor to not only herself but her family. She hadn’t been willing to let a man die when she had every ability to help him, it hadn’t seemed right. If there was a God or a higher power she couldn’t have imagined that’s what He’d have wanted either. 

Getting to Meade had been the hardest part of the trip. Figuring out trains and busses mostly. Hitchhiking did not in any way seem like any sort of good idea for her because of who she was. What she was. The more into the backwoods of the country she got the more people didn’t like her and it had been bad enough when she arrived in New York, passing through immigration. She understood the mentality, it was still leftover from the war, but she wasn’t going to let it stop her. It hadn’t stopped her when she found him curled up in a field that night nearly seven years ago and it wasn’t going to stop her now. 

Trying to get anyone to talk to her was an extraordinary pain in the ass. By then her English was good enough to be fluent. She’d gotten work as a translator many times even though primarily, by that point, she was a nurse. Even if she was sure they could understand her perfectly, they seemed to pretend not to. If they even tried to talk to her at all. The women were a bit kinder than the men but this place in Ohio was positively the worst. She was ushered out of a few different stores before she could even get a word out. Not to mention the fact that as good as her English may have been, some people were downright incomprehensible to her due to their heavy accents. That had been a massive stumbling block when she’d first come across Willard. At least they both understood enough of the same words at that point to communicate, even if he hadn’t known any Japanese. 

She could see directly on one map she had that she was close to the right place. In her pocket she still had a decent chunk of money. Not that it would last her forever but since she did have the skill set of a nurse it wasn’t as if she also couldn’t be useful to some people if she absolutely had to find work. It also didn’t help that she couldn’t exactly pronounce the city name of Knockemstiff anyone would also acknowledge as correct. Either she was saying it wrong or they didn’t want to send her there. It was hard to tell. Eventually she found a diner that decided not to immediately scream at her to leave. She wasn’t dressed like any of the women there, all she’d had was her more traditional outfits from Japan leaving her in a kimono which was perfectly comfortable for her even if she got stared at constantly. Even if she had been ready to trade that for what these other women were wearing she didn’t have the money. 

The waitress that came over to the table where she sat at least smiled at her in a genuine way that didn’t seem forced. Though she was staring, she seemed to be trying to hide it as well. A more polite version of getting a look while also not being blatantly obvious about it. Something she appreciated way more than the outright gawking. She was hoping that she was close enough to Willard’s hometown someone might know who she was talking about. At least she had the dog tags to prove she wasn’t just making it all up. They were tucked away in a pocket and she took them out any time anyone seemed helpful. That just wasn’t very much. She looked at the woman as she reached to get her pack of cigarettes. The staring continued probably as this woman tried to think of what to say, or guess if she even knew English to begin with. 

“I can get a cup of coffee here right? I have money. I will pay. I do not want to cause any trouble.” She said after a moment, hoping to make it clear she wasn’t some sort of hustler or scam artist. Which she wasn’t. At least she’d been able to do the bare minimum to get buy, keep herself clean and presentable, so she also didn’t look like a bum. 

“You speak English then? Whew…that’s a relief.” The woman said. Kind of rude, but at least she was speaking normally instead of slow and stupidly as if there were going to be a comprehension issue. 

“Yes, I do. I’m a nurse.” She said, “I am just passing through looking for a man. He lives in Knockemstiff. I think I’m close.” She reached into her pocket and got out the dog tags to hold them up. The waitress leaned in like she was looking at some kind of rare treasure even though it was just a few hunks of metal with identification information on it. She grabbed one of the tags to look at it closer. 

“Willard Russell? Oh yeah everyone knows him. Mostly cause he married a girl who used to work here. She got real sick and is in a bad way. Sometimes we get them food if we got any to spare around here.” The woman said, “Gonna be hard gettin there if you don’t got a ride though.” 

“It was hard enough getting here.” She said, “But if you know anyone who can help and can be trusted I will gladly pay them for the effort.” 

“Of course, darlin. Why are you lookin for him anyway or is that uh…not really any of my business?” She suddenly sounded very interested. She was also young and this was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to her in the entire month, if not the year. She moved to sit down across the table, leaning in very curiously. “Where you from anyway? Japan right? You look like it.” 

“Yes, I am Japanese.” 

“That’s a long way to travel to find someone like Willard. He knows you been looking for him?” She asked. Though this wasn’t really any of her business and she’d been right about that, she was the first person the entire trip that was even trying to have a legitimate conversation with her so it was nice. It was nice to talk to someone who wasn’t treating her like a sideshow circus act or subhuman. 

“I wrote some letters but they would have been sent from Japan and if he got them I did not get anything back.” She said, which was the truth. She did theorize it was possible someone got them but because they were from Japan they were trashed. They hadn’t been sent to this Knockemstiff place, it had been somewhere else. What she assumed was his house, which was what had brought her to Meade. Overhearing people talk and getting information out of some other people as sparing as it was she’d managed to overhear the city name. It seemed to be a more current address. It was a good thing that people didn’t think she could understand what they were saying, but knowing the city name wasn’t a location. She didn’t think she was likely to get that but she believed if she got to the place she’d stick out like a sore thumb. Sooner or later Willard would either hear about her or see her in town himself. It was her best bet. 

“Oh, sounds real sweet but…he is married.” 

“You mentioned that. I am not here because of romance I…helped him recover when he was in the war. Something pulled me here, I guess I had to see for myself. See if he was okay.” She said. At the time there had been feelings, intimacy, and a connection but they had both known it was temporary and incredibly wrong for who they were. Something that went unspoken for the past few years. She knew she’d more than likely show up to find him in an entirely different situation with a family but she was okay with that. She really was just curious about how he was and she’d had nowhere else to go anyway. It was worth the price of the adventure to her even if it ended up bringing her nothing. She knew she’d get work in America and she certainly found it more interesting than Japan. 

“Right…so old friends then?” 

“Yes, you could say that. Might be nice to see how he lives here. This is a very…unique country.” She said, trying to be nice about it. “My name is Rika, by the way, if anyone asks.” 

“Rika?” The girl repeated, though she was aware that had to sound like a bizarre name around there everyone always looked at her sideways when she said it. Got even worse if she said her last name which she quickly found out was not her first name here and gave up trying to use it in most capacities because Rika sounded like more of a name to these people. “I’m Scarlett. Nice to meet you.” She held her hand out across the table. It was the first time anyone offered to do that, and even if it wasn’t very customary where she was from she knew what it meant here. She smiled and shook the woman’s hand firmly, then offered her a slight bow out of habit. 

“I do appreciate this, even if all we end up doing is talking.” She said. 

“I’m gonna help you. I think you’ve come all this way, maybe there’s a reason and someone’s lookin out for Willard. He could really use a nurse right now. Not many folk like them too much. He’s a bit…weird but I’ve been friends with Charlotte for a while. Ain’t nothing gonna make me think the man she chose isn’t perfect if she chose him.” Scarlett said and stood back up. “I’ll go grab you that coffee and ask around to see if anyone can’t help you out a bit.” She nodded and lit up her cigarette. It seemed like she might finally be making progress with this, but it remained to be seen if all of her work would actually pay off. 

*****

She tried to enjoy her coffee but she kept getting side glances and sometimes glares from other people in the diner. Even if all she was doing was staying quiet and looking out of the windows to watch the people on the street, this seemed to be a problem for everyone. Scarlett was friendly enough, even brought her a slice of pie on the house. Said something about it being really American. She’d had pie before, it wasn’t as if the same thing didn’t exist in Japan but she was hungry and it smelled really good. It was about the time that she finished she realized that she was probably overstaying what little welcome they were even allowing her. She got out her money and started to try to figure out the currency, again, because it still confused her. 

“Oh hey! That’s him!” Scarlett called across the restaurant, dropping what she was doing to run out of the door. She looked up but only saw the woman run past the front window, her heart skipping a beat wondering if that was Willard. It had to be, right? She couldn’t imagine that reaction about someone else with what they had just talked about. This left everyone looking right at her so she just put a few dollars on the table to avoid trouble even though it was way more than enough for what she’d been given, grabbed her bag and hurried out of there keeping her head down. Instead of trying to follow in that direction she went the opposite way, keeping herself as small as she possibly could, unsure of what made her suddenly lose her nerve. “Where you going I found him, imagine this him being in town right now.” The woman was way too loud for her to pretend she didn’t hear that and also pretend she didn’t understand English. Her mouth completely dry and her hands shaking she turned around to look. 

At first Willard seemed annoyed and possibly in the slightest way, drunk. Then his eyes focused more and his jaw went from tense to relaxed. He was staring at her, right in the way she remembered his gaze. The last time she’d saw him. Almost as if he was attempting to burn some memory of his face into her brain, or the other way around. Maybe what he’d wanted was always to remember what she looked liked. She knew she’d never forget him. Not with those intense green eyes or those amazingly full lips. How soft they’d been on her skin. Completely forbidden but entirely worth the risk. She hadn’t regretted a second of what they’d done even if it had probably only happened cause he was sure he’d die before it counted as some type of sin. 

“You came.” He said. It wasn’t a question, it was a very specific and firm statement. Almost confident. As if he’d been expecting this somehow. Which was very odd but she didn’t really remember him as normal in the first place. It was what she liked most about him. The way he thought and what he talked about, even if half of it was hard for her to understand. She could still feel it within her soul. 

“To see you, yes.” She nodded. He moved past Scarlett who seemed overjoyed on the behalf of both of them and stepped up to her. Since she only stood at five feet tall and did not wear heels like every other woman around there she seemed positively tiny compared to this man looming over her with what looked to be tears in his eyes. 

“I prayed for you…for help from the lord and he sent you here.” He said more firmly. “You saved my life out there and you will save another you…are here to save my wife aren’t you?” That wasn’t really the first thing she wanted to hear. Not because she had any ill will against him for being married, she was very happy about that. She was glad he came back and got married, possibly started a family, because she knew it could have been different. She’d seen the fallout working as a nurse in her own country and what became of some of those soldiers. Some of them did very well and some of them crawled into a bottle and never came out. He’d seemed to have found peace, at least enough to also find a wife but now she could see in his face and hear in his voice he was struggling. The last thing she wanted to do was give him false hope but she didn’t want to shut him down entirely. 

“I came here to help you, Willard yes. I don’t know how much I can say about your wife but if I am here then the lord brought me to you for a reason.” She said, hoping that would be good enough. She was aware of the western and very Christian concepts of the lord and what Jesus was to them but it wasn’t her religion. She was respectful enough not to trample on his beliefs though, he’d been like this years ago too just…less passionate about it. 

“Let me take you to her then, you can see her you won’t know until you see her, right?” He asked, sounding even more desperate than the night he’d pleaded with her not to let him die out there alone in that field. 

“Of course, I am a nurse now. Maybe I can be of at least some assistance.” She agreed. At very least she could take a look at this woman, make her comfortable, help around his house if he needed that. It wasn’t as if she had much better or more to do. She’d come there for him and she’d stay until that invitation had worn out. He pulled her into a tight, almost suffocating hug. 

“I prayed….for you. I sacrificed and I prayed Rika…and you came here. You came.” He said. She let him hold her, it felt nice. Probably the best thing that she’d experienced since she’d gotten there. Even if he smelled faintly of booze and cigarettes it was still familiar and so welcoming. She wrapped her arms around him as well, surprised he remembered her name like that but she was very glad to hear it. As far away as she was from home she felt she may have already found it once again in his arms, no matter how bizarre the circumstances. 

CHAPTER TWO

“You remember that night then? When you found me?” Willard asked, pretty apropos of nothing. He hadn’t said much, walking back to the car. He had carried her bag though. She only had one but it was huge because it contained her entire life. Anything else that she owned was shoved into different pockets to keep it handy. Cigarettes, a box of matches, and what little money she had left. She looked over at him, not really having a clue what to say until the point when he spoke first. Of course she remembered that night. She remembered everything about it. 

“Yes, I do.” She said. At the time, she hadn’t thought much about herself. She’d known going out there was not going to end well for her. What everyone would think, what they would say, how they would treat her. It hadn’t been fair though. To leave him like that when he was suffering. At one point calling out even for his Mama. Painfully pathetic and nothing anyone could understand but her. She was sure that even if she hadn’t spoke English, just hearing the pain and desperation in his tone would have brought her to him. It just so happened she did understand and could communicate but not easily. She hadn’t been nearly fluent in English at the time. Just enough to be able to comfort him and let him know that she was there to help. 

*****

She hadn’t been back on the island for more than two days at the point in which Willard stumbled into town. It was the dead of night and he was yelling for help. At first it was random names. Names she recognized as very American and different titles for officers that would be in an army. He didn’t sound very coherent but he was definitely loud. His sheer volume was explained when she got over to her window and saw how huge he was. Bigger than any man she’d ever seen in her life. Even in the city. She hadn’t expected that even if she had expected to see an American and a soldier. Her mother and grandparents owned an inn, just on the outskirts of town by the coast. It was near the harbor where all the fishermen came in and out. They got a lot of traffic and a lot of business. Made a decent profit which allowed her to go into the city and get her education. She was the first to leave the island to do that at her mother’s insistence that times were changing and it would just be a better life. Things did seem like they were looking up until the war hit. Now she was back home and this was what greeted her. 

He stumbled past her view and around back, through an alley that was between their inn and would head out towards a field. It wasn’t a very large village and a lot of it was used for farming. Her room was tiny but it was private so she really didn’t have much to complain about. She had to share a room in the city with other girls in a dormitory. It may have been a larger area but it always felt too crowded and noisy. Out here it was quiet, usually, unless of course there was a very injured and possibly delusional man yelling for someone to help him. She could see others closing their windows from where she stood but she could still hear him. Even as he moved off into the distance and she lost sight of where he was going. He still wanted help, was yelling about how he was dying, didn’t want to die and then begging outright to not let him die. She sat down on her bed and tried to ignore this. Though it was loud, since no one else there understood English they could probably tune it out as just noise and assumed he’d eventually either pass out or die and it wouldn’t be their problem. It was when he started calling for his Mama that she couldn’t sit there any longer. 

She got up and grabbed a lantern, lighting it before putting her shoes on to slip out into the main hall of the inn and out towards the back where she’d seen him go. Her grandfather was very quick to block the exit to the inn, glaring down at her intently. She knew that look and she knew he was angry. She wasn’t blind to why either. This man was the enemy, they were fighting the Americans and not supposed to help them. However, to her that was a group, this was one man, and he had  never done anything to her. He hadn’t done anything to this village and he was hurt. To leave him like that despite no personal offenses to her or her family seemed more dishonorable than doing nothing at all. 

“You will not leave here to help that man.” He said. 

“I will do what is right and what is right is to help him. He’s suffering. You don’t hear that? Mama sounds the same in our language too.” She pointed out. “I won’t let him die like this.” 

“You do this and you will dishonor your entire family.” 

“I think what is worse would be to let a man die when something can be done about it.” She countered, shoving past him to get to the door. He was old and she knew even if he was angry he’d never hurt her so even if it was painful for her to disobey his wishes she knew she had to.

“He may be too far gone to do anything about, Rika.” He called after her as she walked down the path in the back towards the gate. 

“Then I won’t let him die alone and it will not be anything for you to worry about. If he survives until morning I will bring him back to my room and none of you will have to say a word to him.” She said confidently. 

“If he survives…ha.” Her grandfather laughed. She heard the door slam as he headed back inside. She shook her head, she was sure to prove him wrong, even if it was only willpower she would keep this man alive and show them that he was not a monster. She stopped by the well to get some water, filling a nearby canteen. After closing it up, she headed out into the field, using his loud cries to guide her until she was only a few feet away. He seemed like an absolute behemoth compared to her. It appeared that his hand could possibly crush her skull if he grabbed it hard enough. She swallowed hard and came in closer, dropping down by him as she drew the light closer to his face. Despite the fact that he was covered in blood, cuts, and what definitely looked like vomit (smelled like it too) she couldn’t ignore how beautiful his eyes were. She’d never seen a color like that. Didn’t even know it was possible. 

“Mama?” He asked, it didn’t seem like he knew what was going on, but that was probably for good reason. 

“No, I am named Rika. I am from the village.” She said in English. She only knew simple words and phrases but she believed it was enough to help him. “I brought you water. Where does it hurt?” He blinked a few times, his glossy eyes coming more into focus as he turned his head to look at her. 

“Y-you’re Japanese…” He whispered. 

“And you are American but I am still here for help.” She insisted, attempting to wedge herself under him a bit so she could sit him up more. She opened the canteen and cradled the back of his head in her hand, lifting it enough to try to get him to drink. He didn’t struggle but he wasn’t being anywhere near helpful either. That was until he realized it actually was water she was offering him. That got him to sit up, knocking her back. He started to attempt to chug it down. “NO! Go slow….get…sick! Don’t want that.” Surprisingly, he actually listened, quickly lowering the canteen. He took a deep breath and coughed. Then he shifted to look at her.  

“Thank you…for doin this.” He said after a moment of looking her up and down. He then took another sip of water, a small and slower one. “I know you didn’t have to.” 

“It was the right thing.” She nodded. “Do you have a name? I am Rika Takashi.” 

“Rika…” He said slowly, then paused to take another sip of water. She could tell from how hoarse his voice was he had to be incredibly thirsty. Though she couldn’t see outright what might be wrong with him or why he’d been yelling like that, thirst always seemed to be a major component. Possibly heat exhaustion, but part of her believed he wouldn’t have been that desperate if it was. He must have faced that before as a soldier. She wondered if he didn’t want to appear weak to her because not only was she the enemy she was a woman. “Name’s Willard. I appreciate this.” 

“I know. Can you tell me where it hurts?” She asked again, because that was the best way she knew how to phrase it, she wasn’t sure how to ask about injuries or anything in more specific terms, she could barely say that right. He was looking at her, and she knew her accent compared to his was like night and day. Maybe he wasn’t understand right. “Where does it hurt…what is…wrong with…uh…your body?” 

“Hurt?” He asked, though he said it a lot different she could tell it was the same word. 

“Yes…hurt.” She nodded sharply. 

“Got an infection see…real bad. Hit with shrapnel and…got separated from the others.” He was speaking a lot slower now. She didn’t know if it was because he was tired, trying to help, or thought she was stupid. Maybe all three. She did appreciate it, because if he didn’t slow down she’d have not caught most of those words. Some of them she didn’t understand but she did know what he meant by infection. 

“Can I see? Uh…infection? Where?” She asked motioning to him, she didn’t see anything currently but it was also dark and the lantern was only lighting the upper half of him. He nodded and motioned to the lantern. 

“May I?” 

“Yes.” She nodded. He picked it up and very, very carefully shifted to face her, as he did she saw his side, even before he moved the lantern towards it. That definitely explained what she was also smelling. Though she didn’t know much about medicine, and probably not anything about the type he was used to, she had smelled that before. Usually around other people in the village. She tried not to react too much as the light got closer and she saw that this thing he seemed to be trying to downplay as minor was very…very bad. The side of his uniform had been shredded and there was all sorts of metal in him. It was swollen too, there was puss and blood, it also looked like he’d been severely burned. Without thinking about it she reached to touch his face to see if he was hot, he moved back. “Oh uh…sorry very much but I want to check for fever. Just touch your face.” 

“Oh…okay. Suppose that’s alright.” He said, relaxing a bit more. She offered him a smile and he moved to set the lantern down where it was before. It allowed her to see into his eyes better and she really, really liked them. She’d never seen anything so beautiful before. She put her hands on his cheeks gently, not really minding the blood or dirt, she could always get clean again. She would need to get him clean but it meant keeping him alive until dawn. Probably awake as well. He was very hot and there was no way he didn’t have a bad fever. How far he’d walked like this was unknown but it was nothing short of a miracle he had. If he’d started on a battlefield that was far. He’d have been wandering for days. Have bugs eating him alive, been in the sun, no clean water or food. Perhaps it was just his size and determination that had brought him to her village. “You smell nice.” He said his eyes closing as he leaned into her touch. She wasn’t sure he meant to say that as much as he probably meant to think it but it made her smile. 

“I think anything smells nice after where you have been.” She said. He laughed softly then his eyes opened. She knew that look so she scrambled to slide out of the way narrowly avoiding his puke. It was mostly water, which was why she had warned him not to drink too fast. There wasn’t much of it the rest seemed to be what she would guess was bile from her limited knowledge. 

“Sorry bout that…think you was right about not drinking so fast. Shoulda known better.” He said and looked at her kinda sheepishly. 

“It is understandable, you must have been many days with no water.” 

“No food either, not sure how I made it here. Might be dead already.” He said, reaching for the canteen again. He took in a mouthful of water and swallowed it slowly then just laid down again. The puke being so close didn’t seem to bother him but she didn’t see why it would because he definitely already had a bunch on him. “Am I dead?” 

“If this was death you would not have much pain as your are now.” She said then moved to get to the other side of him so she wasn’t near the puke. She slid around to the top of where his head was and knelt under him lifting him up a bit so he could put his head on her lap. 

“You sure I’m not dead? You seem an awful lot like an angel. Soft and beautiful…so kind…” He muttered, she smiled looking down at him, her fingers running through his hair a bit hoping she was soothing him at least a bit. 

“I am sure this is not death.” She said, “This is important part though we need to get you to morning and you get to morning you will live. I promise.” 

“You promise?” He asked. 

“With all of my heart.” She told him as she looked right into his eyes. Though it wasn’t something she could promise, she desperately wanted to believe it and even more, she wanted him to believe it. If he filled himself with good thoughts and good energy then she knew they would see the sunrise together and she could take him to better shelter and get him better care. Even if she had to do it entirely by herself. 

“Don’t think you can promise what none of us is sure of. That’s up to the lord.” He said. 

“Maybe he send me to help instead because he is busy with all the war.” She told him. He smiled at that, a very big smile before laughing breathlessly. It caused him to wince in pain then cough. His eyes started to close. 

“Is that so then…Rika?” 

“It is, Willard. You will make it to morning.” She said. He chuckled again, far more softly that time before dozing off. She could tell that was what happened because of how it felt. There was something different about this than there was to passing out or dying completely. She’d seen people die and it wasn’t in that manner. Besides, it was only moments later before he was snoring which kind of made her giggle. It was going to be long and uncomfortable but she knew it was much worse for him so she would wait it out. He had to be okay because she couldn’t bare to lose the light behind those amazing green eyes. 

*****

As she turned to look at him she noticed pretty easily that the light that she had seen, even in the darkest of nights for him was much dimmer. Not completely out but it seemed to flicker in and out. He was suffering but this time it was far more because of other things. Not physical pain but surely his wife being sick was not helping. It didn’t seem from what that Scarlett woman said people liked him much in town either. She had mentioned something about him being weird. She may have remembered him as weird but that was also because he was American and very different from her. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t weird to everyone in this area. They already had that in common. It didn’t matter what they thought she remembered who he was and she remembered it well. He had been a good man, a genuine soul with a big heart. It was still going to be in there somewhere even if it was buried under the wreckage of war. 

“Stayed there with me all night, said you was sent from the lord cause he was busy. Remember that?” He asked. She nodded. 

“I would guess that war makes God very busy. Lots of death so probably souls to sort out, sometimes he probably needs a little help.” She chuckled softly, reaching out to put her hand over his, since one was resting on his lap. She wasn’t used to trucks like these. This one also didn’t seem to be in very good shape but it was probably better than not having a truck at all. His hand turned upwards to grab hers firmly. He smiled and gave her a glance then looked back onto the open road. They were practically in the middle of nowhere and had been for at least an hour at that point. 

“The Lord works in mysterious ways, like sendin you back to me right when I needed you most. I knew…you’d come though. I knew He’d send me my salvation. I’ve been good to him, with my prayers you know. Made a lot of sacrifices.” He nodded. The way he was saying that, because he’d already mentioned it when he first saw her, she was pretty sure he meant something else. Something that wasn’t going to be very normal. Probably one of the reasons people thought he was weird. If she had to guess. She didn’t want to judge a man who was this desperate to save his wife who he most definitely loved with his entire soul. 

“Sacrifices like…” 

“Blood,” He told her like it was a completely normal explanation. “Animals you know. First it was not workin, don’t think I was doin it right but then…I got a goat. I could have done much more with that, eaten well for a long time but I gave it to Him and he provided for me. Like I knew he would.” He said, sounding very certain of this. All she could think about was how that was an insane coincidence on his part. Even if she had felt drawn back to this place she’d have never said she was called there by an actual higher power. If he wanted to believe these things it was fine. She wasn’t sure she had that much issue with sacrificing a goat as much as she was bothered by the idea of wasting food but it was otherwise fine to her. The concept of offerings was not a foriegn one. She may not have been Christian but there were many offerings to altars in Buddhism so following his logic it was about the same thing but more important because it had been a life. She wasn’t entirely sure it worked that way but she wasn’t his religion. Maybe it did. She didn’t have proof to say he was wrong other than personally knowing God did not tell her to come there personally. 

“What is wrong with your wife?” She asked after a moment, not wanting to confirm his beliefs or deny them either. Seemed harmless in the long run as long as he was generally a decent person and not harming any human. 

“Cancer,” He said, “Real bad cancer, she’s not been responsive…few days now. You’ll wake her up. I know that.” 

“Willard, I don’t think I can assure you anything. I told you, I am here to help you, that’s why I came and-” 

“You will help me by helping save my wife, do you understand that? Huh?” He snapped at her. She didn’t see a way out of this. At least for the time being. They were in a car and she didn’t want to risk anything. He could go off the road and it would certainly be much easier to hit her from where she was sitting if he wanted. He did have one hell of a temper when he was hurting, she remembered that part even if she understood it and he had been very apologetic about it in the past. 

“I will help you by doing what I can to help you, Willard. I can only promise to try my best, you know that.” She said after a moment, hoping to diffuse this argument at least a little bit. He grumbled something under his breath but sped up and didn’t speak much after that point. She just went back to looking out of the window. Even if this was all very weird scenery to her, it was beautiful. Peaceful in a lot of ways. She’d spent so many years working in a big city that it was nice to get out in the fresh air. Where things weren’t busy and all crammed together. The green of the trees against the blue of the sky was very calming. There was a lot of work to do here and she knew once she heard cancer there was no way she was going to save this woman. The best she could hope to do was save him from going off the deep end because she could tell he was incredibly close to it already and someone needed to be around to shove him back to the edge before the fall. 

CHAPTER THREE

It was, very luckily, a warm night. Not too hot, just warm. There was a nice breeze coming from the ocean as well. It wasn’t too far from where they were. She stayed there with him like that for hours. Keeping close watch to make sure that all he was doing was sleeping or dozing and hadn’t slipped into something deeper. She’d wake him periodically, doing it in as gentle of a manner as she knew how but never for very long. Just enough to get him to say something, anything, so she knew he was still relatively okay. She couldn’t let him die and she had to prove her grandfather wrong about this. No matter what. 

When light started to appear over the horizon and he was still with her, still alive, she smiled. Her hands moved to his face and head gently. He was still burning up. Something would need to be done about this fever. She had an idea of what to do but it would all depend on getting him to move if she could which wasn’t going to be very easy with his condition. She gave him a bit of a shake to wake him up again, to tell him the good news. He groaned softly, his eyes opening, he looked up at her. 

“You made it to morning.” She said softly. “You will be okay, like I promised.” 

“I…I did?” He asked. His eyes shifted from side to side then he sat up and looked around, squinting as he found the sun. He laughed softly and turned back to look at her. A grin bigger than any she’d seen yet crossing his face. “I did make it. Like you said.” 

“But now I need you to come, follow after me. We have to do something. About…fever.” She said, hoping that was the right word. She got up to her feet, realizing how dirty her night clothing was from his hair, body, and sweat. It was easier to see in the light but she didn’t care too much as long as he was still alive. That was more important than clothes she could wash. 

“You stayed awake here? All night? For me? That’s what you just did?” He asked. She reached for his hand, wanting to get him to his feet, but at her tiny size compared to his she wasn’t sure how much it would even help. It was more meant as a friendly gesture than real help she guessed. He stared at her hand like it was a completely alien appendage to him, for a very long moment, before he took it and pulled himself up to his knees first, then managed to get to his feet. “Maybe you really were sent…by the Lord.” 

“I told you he is busy with war.” She said. This Lord thing seemed to be very important to him and she knew others around who were like this. Very spiritual, talked about Gods or God and praised Him for all of that. More than likely a different type of God but she was guessing the stories and principals were similar if not the same. She only had a vague passing of Christianity from being in the city. Something to do with a baby named Jesus and a cross. It was weird to her. 

“I don’t care where you came from. You’re good people, Rika…right? That’s what you said your name was?” He asked. She nodded. 

“Yes. Now, follow after me, we need to go to the uh…river. It is cold and it will help with all the heat. From the fever.” She said. 

“How far is-” 

“It is not far and if you walked from where you were to this spot you are now. You can make it there.” She insisted. 

“You promise?” He asked. 

“I promise.” She smiled. 

*****

It was a bigger house than she was expecting, nicer too. Seemed like it had to cost a lot of money but also, given the scenery around, it didn’t seem like he had much. Might have been a situation where he spent all his money on his house and didn’t have much left after. Not that she could blame him. Having the house was the most important part because it was shelter. It had very little to do with what it was filled with. She got out of the truck, which wasn’t easy in the kimono she was wearing. Maybe getting a few dresses was the better idea even if that was so weirdly American to her. Willard got out of the truck next and went around to the back to grab her suitcase, carrying it as if it were nothing. To her it was the heaviest thing ever and she was glad she had lugged it all the way there but she was also glad he thought he was supposed to carry it for her now. 

“We don’t got much space here, not sure where I can set you up but…I’ll try to find you something. Might make Arvin sleep on the couch. He won’t mind too much, once I tell him who you are.” Willard said as she climbed up behind him on the front porch. He hadn’t mentioned that name yet, but she would guess from the context it had to be his son. 

“Arvin?” She asked. 

“Yeah my…my son. I didn’t mention that yet did I? Sorry, must have slipped my mind. Got a lot goin on up there. Never expected to see you again for one. It’s a lot to handle.” He replied. She followed after him until they got to a small room kind of in the back of the house. It definitely looked like the room for a boy, probably even a teenager. How much time had passed and how old was this kid? “He’s gonna be comin home from school now, any minute. I’ll take care of any problem he thinks he might have with this but he’s a good boy, shouldn’t put up much of a fuss.” 

“I don’t mind sleeping on a couch if it’s going to be a problem. I’m just glad to be in a house again.” She said, which was the truth. She’d sleep on the damn floor if she had to. She wasn’t a very high maintenance type of girl when she knew the other option was sleeping outside. She’d already had to do that a ton while traveling to get to this place. 

“Nonsense, you ain’t getting nothing other than a bed with what you’ve done, why you’re here. I wouldn’t hear of it, nor would He.” Willard insisted, gesturing upwards when he said HE to indicate that he definitely meant God. She doubted God was really watching them that closely but, whatever helped ease his mind was fine by her. Her biggest problem was not that he was thanking the LORD for everything but that he had way too much faith in her and the idea she could fix any sort of what was going on. Cancer was just cancer. It was going to kill his wife. 

“Thank you, I appreciate it very much I just don’t want to be a bother or-” 

“This ain’t gonna bother him and if it does he’s gonna learn right quick why it shouldn’t. Ya hear?” He insisted. 

“Yes, of course.” She said. 

“Now, I’ll let you get settled a bit, gotta check on my wife anyway. You uh…come in there when you’re ready. It’s just down the hall. She won’t mind none, I’ll tell her bout you first.” He said. She nodded and he left the room shortly after, closing the door behind him. She really didn’t want to take over this poor boy’s room. It was painfully obvious they basically had nothing and now she was invading his space. She hadn’t even met him yet. He was at school. Something she was glad to hear because Willard’s education seemed very limited and it might be easier to explain to this kid about what was happening with his mother. Prepare him for the inevitable truth that Willard was so staunchly avoiding. She didn’t know how much time she had to prepare him either but with the tone of everything going on around there and even how thick the air was, she knew she wouldn’t have a lot of it. 

****

The did make it to the river with little to no issue, but Willard did not let go of her hand the entire time they were walking. It wasn’t as if they had to climb through the jungle. The river was regularly used by the village for a lot of reasons, so there was a path. He could have let go at any time he just didn’t. She also doubted merely holding her hand was keeping him upright or helping with his balance. If he fell, he’d fall on her and she’d be pretty useless to stop it unless she got out of the way in time. When they did make it there she turned to him and reached up to stroke his cheek again. 

“Here, you can get clean and you will cool off in the water. I will uh…not look because this is where you should probably remove clothes. Keep them dry, until I can clean them or find something else.” She said. Finding almost anything else was going to be impossible because of his size but she certainly could wash what he did have. He was carrying a huge pack of stuff with him too. Something that amazed her more than anything because he hadn’t taken it off, had laid on it most of the night. Had he not been exhausted and probably close to death she didn’t think he’d had slept at all. The only thing her lap had really done was kept his head from hanging backwards over this pack of stuff which would have been seriously uncomfortable. 

“Got some clean things in my bag here…didn’t want to change or stop. Thought if I stopped movin I might never start again.” He said. “Seems like I was right, least til I found you.” He smiled then finally let go of her hand and headed for the water. He slipped the pack off of his back and set it on the shore. After that he very, very carefully started to remove his shirt. He wasn’t facing her or paying attention and though she knew it was wrong to watch this, she couldn’t help herself. He was the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen. Though a lot of it was just the novelty of him being American, there was more to it than that. Almost as if he had a certain glow about him. 

“I…I will stay close by but I will not watch if-” 

“You need to stay close.” He cut her off, “Maybe this ain’t somethin you should be seein but the others they…they ain’t gonna like me here in this river are they?” 

“No, not if they find you alone.” She said, because he was right about that much. She came closer, trying not to outright stare at him as he finally managed to peel that gross shirt off of his body tensing then shuddering with the pain. His side was very wounded and incredibly hurt. Maybe it just looked so bad because of all the dirt and blood. She’d have to see what it looked like once he was clean, or rather, as clean as he was going to get it in the river. He started to lean down, to try to get to his boots. A strangled cry of pain left him and he stood right back up straight. She scrambled down to his feet to help him. “Let me. I can get boots for you.” 

“I don’t need-” 

“Yes, maybe you think you do not need help but what it is…that you do not want help.” She tried to explain. “You will take help because that is what I came to do. Help. It is just us here now. No one knows.” He sighed, sounding kind of annoyed with this idea but he was clearly too weak to fight it too hard. She unlaced his boots and pulled them off, moving them to the side, getting his socks as well. She then reached her hands up going for his pants without thinking much about it, other than that wasn’t going to be easy for him either and they probably should be moving faster. He kind of just stared down at her, as she unzipped them before seeming to realize what she was doing and shoving her back. Not in a rough manner but more startled. 

“Uh…sorry I uh…you shouldn’t be doin that neither. M-Maybe the boots but not this.” He said, taking a few steps back to do it himself. 

“Could be hard to-” 

“Yeah but I can manage that part. I promise.” He assured her. She nodded and moved to sit down on a large rock only about two feet from where he was standing. She made sure to angle her head so she wasn’t looking right at him and could just barely see him out of the corner of her eye. It took a bit of struggling, and him using some words she’d never heard before but assumed were bad words in English before he slipped into the water. Once he was about up to his waist she turned to look at him, that was when he removed the last of what he was wearing, which had been a good idea as the water would have obscured her ability to see anything from his waist up. 

“Does it feel better?” She asked. 

“Lots,” He confirmed, “Needed this pretty bad, thank you for bringing me here. Know it couldn’t be easy goin against your own kind.” 

“What is right is not always easy but it will be worth the reward.” She told him. 

“I ain’t done nothin in this war to deserve someone like you.” 

“You have not done anything to me or my family that I should not help you.” She told him coming a bit closer. “You came seeking help and I offered, I will keep offering until things have passed.” 

“Or until I die.” He said, “Might as well, out here…deserve it.” 

“That is not for you to decide.” She said. 

“It ain’t for you either.” 

“Then we do not decide it and you keep going as long as you can go.” She said. He nodded, getting a bit deeper into the water. He started to try to clean himself off, which was going pretty fine until he got to the point where he needed to do something about his wounded side. She could see he was struggling with that more than enough but it was going to have to be done and this was the best place to do it. She got up and headed into the water, though she stayed in her nightgown to do it. He tried to back away from her but she reached out her hand and took his arm gently. 

“I can do this myself.” He said. 

“Maybe you can in time but we do not have time.” She said, “This in your side it needs to come out. This metal and…and dirt. I will do it.” 

“You really gonna touch all that?” 

“Yes,” She said, it wasn’t preferable that she do it but someone was going to have to and if she left it up to him it would take forever. He more than likely didn’t want to mess with it because his own mind was already telling him how much it was going to hurt. His body wouldn’t be very happy about him causing that much pain to himself. “I will go quick but it will be…uh…painful.” 

“You sure about this?” 

“I am sure.” She insisted. He gave her a look then a sharp nod and took in a deep breath. She shifted over to his side, the water much higher up on her than it was on him because of how tall he was. Not that she needed to worry, she knew how to swim and this river was not very rough, if at all. She gently started to rinse the area, getting away the surface dirt and debris. She could hear his breath hitching in pain but for the most part he was staying very still. It was then that she started to pick out some of the metal shards and other larger things embedded into his skin. He really began to struggle to hold back at that point, so she moved faster. Every so often she’d rinse the area off, making sure to clean what she could. 

“Y-You almost d-done there?” He panted, “Not sure I…I can stand much longer feel kinda…light headed.” 

“Yes, just a bit more. You can do this.” She told him. He groaned, closing his eyes as he started to waver on his feet so she knew she didn’t have a ton of time. She went back to what she was doing, getting the largest piece of metal out last. Something which made him scream out in pain. There wasn’t a ton of bleeding, it seemed like because the skin had been so burned that had helped a lot. Also, nothing was really in there too deep, just enough to be stuck to him. She rinsed the area off just as he kind of collapsed backwards, stumbling for a few steps into thankfully a more shallow area before sitting down entirely. Unfortunately, she got pulled with him, ending up on top of him once they were both settled. Right in his lap. “See? All done.” She laughed kind of nervously. After a moment, he did too, his voice breathless and kind of shaky. 

“You were right. Don’t think I coulda done that on my own.” He whispered. She smiled at him, her hands coming up to cup his face gently, cleaning off the dirt he had missed. They sat there like that for awhile as he recovered and she got him a bit more clean than he had been, since he was certainly getting too weak to do much more on his own. He did feel cooler though, not by much but enough that she wasn’t as worried about the heat of the fever. It was when he started to shiver that she insisted it was time to get out, having to really help him over to the shore where the rest of his stuff was. By that point he was much too tired to put up a fight about it and since she was not willing to let him die she ignore the fact that he was very naked and she was not supposed to see a man this way. She went to his pack of stuff and started to go through it. Inside she found a mostly clean shirt and some pants similar to the ones he’d been wearing before. 

“We have to get you dressed then back…back to the inn. You will be in my room.” She told him, trying with every bit of strength she still had left in her to get him dressed. He was as helpful as he could be with this process but still kind of out of it as it was. 

“I really don’t think I can move like that…not after all this just…you’ve done enough you can…leave me here.” He told her. 

“That will not happen.” She replied, “I am not going to leave you, not until I know it is safe and it will not be safe here by the river. Not when the others come out for the day.” He looked at her with some of the most pathetic yet pleading eyes she’d ever seen in her life. It took a moment for her to pull herself from a gaze like that and get him dressed just enough to be covered. The water soaking into the fabric of his clothes but he was much cleaner than how he started and with the dirt gone he probably would have a better chance of healing…right? At least back at the village she’d be able to get him some medication and hopefully bring his fever down. Help him fight this infection so it didn’t claim his life. 

“I can’t make it back there.” He said. 

“You can and you will. I know it.” She struggled to get to her feet as she was exhausted herself staying up all night like that. She knew it couldn’t have been worse than how he felt, or even close. She had to push through it and she had to get him back. She could rest once it was done and she’d use that idea as motivation to get them both there. Leaning down, she grabbed his arm, wrapping it around her shoulders and pulling up, trying to get him to his feet. It was like trying to lift a giant bag of sand. That was, until, he seemed to realize she was serious and put effort into it himself. As much as he could. The process was slow but eventually he was on his feet even if he was leaning on her heavily. She grabbed his bag, not wanting to leave it out here for anyone to steal. He looked at her, seeing what she was doing and took his from her hand himself, getting it over one of his shoulders, the one opposite to where he was leaning on her. 

“You really thing I’m gonna make it back like this?” He asked breathlessly, “Look at how much work it took just…just to get up.” 

“It will only take a bit more to get you back. It is not as far as you think it is.” She said, which it really wasn’t if someone weren’t in as bad of a condition as he was. He looked up ahead on the path and then back down to her. 

“You promise?” He asked. 

“I promise.” She replied and then took a step forward, hoping to encourage him as well. If he didn’t try with her, they wouldn’t get back, but she needed him to get back and she needed for all of this to be okay. 

CHAPTER FOUR

After getting herself situated, though she didn’t really unpack that much, she headed out of the room towards where Willard appeared to have walked off to. Even though the house seemed huge to her, he also seemed to barely fit in it properly. Even seemingly ducking down just a bit to fit through the archways. When a man was the literal size of a door himself, she could see how that also might be a problem. She was guessing having a house was better than having no house so there was no real room for him to be complaining about that sort of thing. Was probably used to it at his height. He’d have been like that his entire life. 

The door was slightly open, in what looked to be the main bedroom of the household. She could see in and she could see Willard by the bed with a woman who looked to be in far worse shape than she’d anticipated. This was the final stages of cancer and there wasn’t going to be any coming back from this. Nothing short of a miracle, at least, but she’d been around enough dying people for various reasons that she knew that never happened. She wasn’t sure she believed it ever could or ever would. She knocked on the door lightly. He didn’t look up. She opened it a bit more and stepped inside, trying to stay quiet. It wasn’t until she was standing by his side that he bothered to acknowledge her. 

“Go on…” He said, “Do something.” 

“I know this isn’t easy to understand but there is not much help I can offer her. I can help you, I can ease more of her pain than probably what the doctors will tell you to do but I cannot fix this. I’m sorry.” She said, there was no way in hell she was going to give him false hope. As hard as it was to tell family and loved ones that their child or spouse or sibling was sick like this and not going to recover she had always found it to be the better option. Trying to pass it off as just a sickness or giving them any idea there was a way to recover made things far worse when it just didn’t work because nothing would. It gave them time to accept the situation and find a way to grieve before they actually had to say goodbye. It was never easy, for anyone, but the people who lived in denial or were religious like him, seemed to be even more hard headed than that. 

“No, that’s not…that’s not right. I prayed for you and there was a sacrifice a real…sacrifice Rika. I asked the Lord to help me to help us and that means her too.” He said, getting to his feet, “I will not let you stand there and tell me HE sent you for you to deny his…his ways.” 

“I’m not denying his ways but you…maybe what the Lord thought was best was allowing me to guide you to the right answer and the answer is death.” She said. He shook his head, his eyes filling with a pained rage the likes of which she hadn’t seen for a long time. It had only happened once before when he witnessed her Grandfather striking her for bringing him extra food. He hadn’t understood their conversation and she’d never fully told him that the food he was getting was mostly hers, because they wouldn’t give her anything to feed him. She’d had money and other abilities to go out and scrounge up food without them knowing, but she also figured she’d be okay. It was temporary. He needed the nourishment more than her so it was fine to give him the majority of what she was fed. Her Grandfather said that had to be the case but it wasn’t enough because he was so big. He’d caught her, bringing him some more soup and that’s when it had gotten bad. She felt as if Willard had been stronger at that point he may have done something for her but he’d been powerless then. It was the same thing now but far worse and he was looking to take his anger out on someone or something. Just when she believed he might actually hit her she heard someone coming into the house. 

“I’m home! You here, Pa?” 

Willard turned and looked at the door moving past her quickly to head out to greet the person she assumed was this son, Arvin, that he’d brought up all of twice. She already felt bad for the kid because it seemed like he was just an afterthought in Willard’s life based on how much he wanted to save his wife. She didn’t follow after him, instead she looked over at the medication that was on the dresser to see what they’d been giving her to help ease the suffering. It was morphine, a lot of it. She had something better with her, something much stronger. She would just have to make it. She looked back over to Charlotte who opened her eyes at that moment, taking in a gasp of air. 

“Who are you?” Charlotte asked after blinking a few times, her eyes looking more in focus by the time she spoke, “Are you the one Willard keeps talking about…says you’re gonna fix this?” 

“I’m sorry but I did not tell him that I could do that. I would if I had the power but I can’t and I am-” 

“I know,” She whispered, “I tried to tell him that…a hundred times I tried but…he just don’t wanna listen. I love him so much but I can’t see him like this and he won’t accept it.” Charlotte said, keeping her voice very low. Rika wasn’t surprised at all the woman knew she was dying and it wasn’t going to be fixed. Most people, even if it took them forever to accept, came to understand it well before their loved ones. In a lot of ways they could feel it happening, something in their brains that was just instinctual, knowing something was very wrong and it wasn’t going to be fixed. What was more surprising was that the woman didn’t know her at all and was just saying all of this. Maybe it was because Willard clearly wasn’t going to listen and she didn’t want to burden her son either. At least Willard had said something to her, enough that she retained the information to figure it out and not scream because there was a strange woman in her bedroom. 

“He’s not very good at hearing what he doesn’t want to.” Rika said reaching out to take the woman’s hand, trying to be comforting. Charlotte reached up and took it herself first, giving it a firm squeeze as she sat herself up. She squinted a bit, really studying Rika’s face. 

“How does he know you? You’re…you’re not even from around here right? Thought he had to be mistaken when he said Japanese…” 

“He’s not that’s how we met. During the war.” She said. 

“He was with you then? You ain’t here cause of a child or-” 

“No, nothing like that. I came back because of a feeling that I needed to come back but this was not what I wanted to find. I was happy when I heard he had a family, that is what I wanted for him and expected. Not this.” She shook her head, “I know it’s very weird but-” 

“The lord does work in mysterious ways. Willard always says that.” Charlotte laughed softly but then started to cough, letting go of the hand to lay back down. “I…heard you just…just now about doing…fixing the pain.” 

“I can take care of that, yes. Have something much stronger than morphine but it will not be good on your stomach, which I can help too. It’s just a matter of preparation.” She tried to reassure her. 

“You can help my stomach?” 

“Maybe a bit, more than I think it is being helped.” She said, “It would be worth a try right? Do you want me to get him?” 

“Yes…before I…I fall asleep again.” Charlotte confirmed. 

“You should wait to take any more morphine because what I want to give you is like that but stronger and I don’t want it to be too much. It will only take maybe ten minutes, can you wait that long?” She asked. 

“If you think it’s best. He says…says you’re a nurse right?” 

“Yes, in Japan that was how I saved the money to come here.” She nodded. 

“Thank you for doing all this and…puttin up with him. Know it can’t be easy.” Charlotte said then started to cough again. Rika moved back to get her some water, then helped her sit up a bit so she could take a sip. She looked very appreciative even if she also looked like she was in some serious pain. 

“I’ll go get him and take care of you, it will be very fast. I promise.” She said, “You are a strong woman I can feel it.” 

“I wish I could feel it too.” Charlotte whispered. She took another sip of water before laying back in bed. Rika moved the glass to the table by the pitcher where it was before and hurried for the door but it swung open before she could leave as Willard came back into the room. 

“You’re awake? She woke you up…see I knew she could do it I told you, Rika I told you that you were here and-” 

“Willard…can you get me some…water please?” Charlotte interrupted him. He just nodded and jumped to do what she asked. Even though Rika knew that the woman had just had water she could see that she was trying her best to get Willard off of this delusional train of thought that she was going to live. Maybe it had been a seriously brief first encounter but she already liked this woman and was very sad that it was going to have to end this way. 

“You’re gonna do that uh…make that stuff right that you said would help?” Willard asked, glancing over at her. 

“Yes right away, don’t give her anything until I do. It will take only ten minutes. I promise.” She said, which she knew meant she had to do it in ten minutes because any time she said she promised Willard something it always happened. Even if it was ridiculous like him waking up in the morning or being able to walk back to her room at the inn. This was a far more simple promise but she didn’t want it to take more than ten minutes. She hurried out of there towards the room where he’d insisted she set up only to find Arvin in there looking around. She didn’t care that he was, it was just being curious and he wasn’t snooping. “Hi, you must be Arvin. I’d love to talk but I have to make some medicine for your mother so it can wait or you can talk to me while I do this.” 

“Oh uh…please don’t tell him I came in here I wasn’t supposed tuh be snoopin around and-” 

“I don’t mind, you were curious. Guessing you never met anyone from Japan.” She chuckled softly. What she had brought with her was a bunch of medicinal herbs and plants. More used for eastern medicine which she believed in as well. Not so much that she also thought it could cure anything but she had definitely seen it help a lot of people. She was surprised how unnoticed this went during customs. Probably because it was all dried or powdered and there was no reasonable way for those stupid officers to really know what it was beyond what she told them they didn’t have a choice. That or they didn’t care and weren’t paid enough to stop her. It wasn’t like she was some obvious criminal looking thug of a man. They’d have no reason to suspect anything and that was what she’d been banking on. 

“You speak English pretty nice for someone who ain’t never been here before. That’s what my Daddy said at least.” He said, his voice a bit shaky like he was nervous. She doubted he’d ever seen anything other than white people before so she wasn’t all that shocked. 

“Thank you. I appreciate it.” She said. The kit was in her suitcase. Hand carved by her great grandfather and something her mother sent to her once she became a nurse. She wasn’t supposed to have any contact, not after what had happened but her mother being the way she was found it hard not to at least communicate. It had been a nice gesture. Her great grandfather had been an expert in herbs and plants; it was where she’d learned most of her knowledge on the subject and what had ended up saving Willard’s ass the first time. 

“What’s that you got there? Looks real pretty.” 

“This?” She held the case up, “It’s medicine I have to prepare it for your mother. I just need some water to be able to make it, can you get that for me?” 

“Yes Ma’am, right away.” He nodded then hurried out of there. What she took out was a bag of poppy seeds next. They were unwashed and untreated and that was the important part because what she was going to make with them was an opium solution that would be several times more powerful than the morphine his mother was currently getting. She took out a small cup meant for measuring liquid quantities and before she could even open the bag of seeds, Arvin was in there again with a glass of water. Which was all she needed anyway. “Here you go.” 

“Thanks.” She said. She filled the smaller medicinal cup about half way with the poppyseeds then covered them with water. After that she placed her hand over the top and shook it up to make sure to mix the solution very well. It wasn’t the seeds that would do anything but the dust of the coating on them. Arvin just stood there, watching like she was actually doing magic when it was really simple stuff. She offered him a quick smile and grabbed a strainer which she used to pour the mixture into one of the small teacups in the kit. The water looked kind of murky but still mostly clear. It was going to be odd for them but it definitely would work. She’d done it before, many times, and more than a few times specifically for Willard. She didn’t know if he remembered that part though. “There, all done.” 

“That’s it? A bunch of seed water? It’s gonna fix her?” Arvin asked, sounding incredibly confused. 

“No, just help her better with pain than the morphine.” She told him and wiped her hands off on her Kimono which was what he was staring at when he wasn’t also staring at her face. The only other thing she grabbed were a few small pieces of candied ginger. Something that she didn’t see laying around there at all and would help with stomach pains and other issues caused by the opium which was going to suck to come down from. It also never really had to happen if they just kept giving her more before the effects wore off. She’d just have to make more of the solution when she had the chance. “Come on, I need to give this to your mother okay?” 

“Uh…yeah right…” He agreed kind of rubbing at the back of his neck a bit. She could see so much of his father in him. If he hadn’t been so small, he’d have been an exact copy of Willard just far less loud and stubborn it seemed. He took a few steps back and walked out of there heading for his mother’s room. “She got the medicine!” 

She definitely liked how excited this kid was for her ability to do very simple things. No one was impressed by that back in Japan and even people who weren’t doctors knew that trick. She doubted that poppies in general were very popular around the area and she was already considering at least trying to grow some. With how humid and hot it was around there, it might be possible she just also thought unlikely. She came into the room after Arvin holding the teacup and the ginger. 

“What? That’s what you made? Tea?” Willard asked, pointing at the cup. 

“Yes but it’s going to work. I gave you some a long time ago but it’s very strong so if you don’t remember then I will not be surprised.” She told him. Charlotte sat up a bit even though it looked painful for her to do and reached out for the cup. Willard took it before she could hand it off herself but didn’t say anything. “It isn’t going to taste good, but there isn’t a lot of it and it will help. After, you can eat these, it will help with the taste and your stomach.” She held out the ginger to show them both. Willard took that from her as well. 

“This ain’t nothin but candy.” He said, and to his credit because it had been coated with sugar and treated to make it a bit less harsh than it would be completely alone it looked exactly like anyone would think candy would. 

“It’s ginger, it’s good for soothing the stomach, nausea, and easing digestion. I take it a lot myself.” She said. 

“You mean to tell me candy can do all that?” He asked her like she was stupid. 

“Okay if I’m wrong, then at least she’ll get some candy which I think is always nice, right? What do you think, Arvin?” She asked, hoping to get someone on her side with this. 

“Mama does deserve something nice, especially if it’s candy and that medicine don’t taste no good.” He agreed. 

“Fine,” Willard said, “You want this then Charlotte?” She’d already downed the poppy liquid which made sense because she was also already more than likely used to taking medicine that also tasted terribly. 

“I think maybe you should trust that she’s right if she came all this way. Might be a bit different than what we are used to but you did pray for her to help. Would the lord make a mistake?” Charlotte asked. She held her hand out, weakly, and Willard put the two small pieces of ginger in her palm. She popped them into her mouth and started to chew them, which also made her smile. “Ain’t never tasted nothing like this…it’s really good.” 

“I like ginger too. I also know what I’m saying is right. You can try it yourself next time you have an upset stomach Willard.” Rika told him. 

“Might have to take you up on that cause I can’t see how candy’s gonna do anything for anyone’s stomach cept make it worse.” He said, “You let me know if anything feels bad, okay Charlotte.” She smiled at him, kind of, because that was a really stupid thing to say. She already had cancer not much was going to get worse from that. 

“I certainly will but I’m sure I’ll be fine.” She said and laid back down, “How long before this stuff works and…what’s it feel like?” 

“It should start to take effect in about ten or twenty minutes, reach full effect in no less than an hour. It will make you very sleepy, kind of confused and a bit dizzy but, it will also take away much more of your pain.” Rika explained. “I’ll make sure to have some more ready for when it wears off, if you like it that is.” 

“How long’s it gonna last?” She asked. 

“About ten to twelve hours on one dose.” 

“What?” Willard asked, “That’s….that’s much more than the morphine they keep telling us to feed her. You gotta be bullshittin right now.” 

“I guess if I am you’ll find out if the pain comes back.” Rika shrugged. It was kind of annoying that he was so doubtful but it was understandable. She’d introduced two incredibly new and foreign concepts to all of them. Things they didn’t even know existed but were common to her. Since she also knew that there was no way the poppies wouldn’t work, even if it was debatable if the ginger would help much, she wasn’t too concerned. Ginger was only meant for minor stomach troubles and upset so there was a limit to what it could do. However, it wasn’t going to hurt the woman either and if all it did was lighten her spirits because it was essentially candy, that was probably good enough. 

“I think she’s right, honey, she’s a nurse…you told me that.” Charlotte said softly, reaching for his hand. 

“Yeah well I ain’t never seen no nurse give someone candy and call it medicine.” He muttered, taking a seat before taking her hand in his. “Can you give us a moment, she ain’t been awake for awhile and I need some time.” 

“But what about-” 

“Now, Arvin. Show Miss Takashi around the place, she’s gonna be here for a while.” Willard snapped. 

“Yeah but-” 

“I SAID NOW!” Willard yelled. The poor boy glared at his father, obviously just wanting time with his mother while she was awake but he seemed to know better than to argue any further so he just nodded. She was going to have to have a talk with him about this because it wasn’t fair and he was going to need to get his closure just as much as his father was. 

“Come on Miss. Takashi this way…” He said, sounding like the most defeated person she’d ever heard in her life. 

“Thank you for your help.” Charlotte said. 

“Anytime, and if you need something else just tell Willard and I’ll see what I can do. Rest well.” She said. After that, she followed Arvin out of there. Maybe if he couldn’t be with his mother she could try to comfort him or answer any questions he may have. If she could prepare him for what was to come it would be for the best because she doubted there was any way she could prepare Willard with how fast she could see that this was going downhill. 

CHAPTER FIVE

He did make it back to her room at the inn. Though the moment he got to her bed he collapsed, she yelped softly as she was pulled down with him, but on top instead of under. He looked up at her, breathlessly for a very long moment. Their eyes meeting and holding together for a very long time. She could see how grateful and relieved he was to be in a bed again, in a house. She was almost positive this was going to end in a kiss but then he shifted, quickly, getting his bag out from under him and onto the floor next to the futon mattress. 

“This ain’t like the beds we have at home.” He said as she pulled back from him, her stomach fluttering as she wished he would have kissed her. His lips were perfect for that as raw and sun damaged as they also might be. “Practically on the floor here.” 

“Makes things easier. Can roll that up in the morning and have more space to work.” She said, which made perfect sense to her. Why keep a bed around all the time if it was just used for certain periods of the day. He chuckled and shifted again trying to get comfortable. He was much taller than the length of the mattress so his legs kind of hung off the end. 

“Better than where I was sleepin,” He nodded, “Soft too…very soft.” She grabbed a blanket and draped it over him gently. It wasn’t a big mattress by any means because it was meant for storage so she just sat next to him, reaching out to stroke his damp hair. 

“Good because you need rest.” She told him with a sigh. She did as well but she probably wasn’t going to get much once her family found out she’d been serious about taking him back here to her room in order to get him well again. He yawned and his eyes started to close. 

“I’ll never be able to thank you enough for this. You know that right?” 

“I did not do it for rewards I did it because it was right.” She replied, eyeing the door intently. Even his softest voice seemed to be very loud. It was still early, by their standards. Most of the business at the inn was late at night. Though usually her grandmother was up to offer breakfast and take care of people coming and going, most of them worked at night and were not early risers due to that. 

“Not many good people like that around, not even where I’m from.” He told her. She looked back at him as his hand reached out to take hers. It was huge, she could probably fit both hands in one of his. He gave it a gentle squeeze then rolled over onto his side that wasn’t hurt and curled up a bit. “You should get rest too.” 

“I will be okay, I can get tea.” She said. 

“That ain’t gonna be better than coffee.” He snickered. 

“Perhaps you haven’t had the right kind of tea then.” She laughed and patted him on the head. He snorted a bit but soon his breathing became more slow and steady. As much as it could for the type of pain he was in with how badly he was injured. She knew this had to be an infection because of the fever and the smell. All the signs were there. Once he was asleep she quietly left the room to grab what supplies she could before anyone caught on to the fact that she was trying to save the enemy. 

*****

“So….how’d he meet you anyway Miss Takashi?” Arvin asked once they were outside and had gone through a quick tour of the entire house. She wasn’t sure she should answer that accurately. Willard seemed like the type that would not want to be portrayed as anything other than strong and brave. It would be about choosing her words wisely and selectively. 

“He stumbled into my village in the middle of the night. He was very hurt, had been traveling on his feet for days. No food or water. Just very determined not to die. I was impressed by that, if you had seen him well…I think personally I’d have just curled up and let the tigers come for me.” She laughed softly, “But not your father. Very strong willed that one.” 

“Yeah I know,” Arvin said then smirked a bit, “He tell you about the lord at all?” 

“He thought the lord sent me to him then but he had a fever for the first few days I knew him so I kind of passed it off as a delusion of some type. Once the fever broke it didn’t mention it that much.” She shrugged. That had been the truth, other than after they had messed around and done a bunch of stuff he’d referred to as ‘sinful’ and then made him pray with her so God would forgive the both of them for such carnal acts of lust. Not that he didn’t seem to really enjoy them while they were happening. If anything he was far too excited about the prospect and super repressed. She’d thought, at the time, that Japanese men were bad enough but he was far worse. In her culture it wasn’t as if everything was a sin as much as it had been about honor but being with a man in such a way wasn’t seen as nearly as bad if it was kept very private. At least not in the way that someone would go to hell. Willard had kind of stumped her on that one. 

“He thinks the lord sent you now but you don’t think the same?” 

“No, I don’t. Sorry.” She shook her head. Though she could be very respectful of their beliefs she wasn’t going to tell them that she believed in it herself. It seemed counterproductive, and nothing in her wanted to jump into conversion either. 

“Then what you got out there to believe in? Who’s watching over you?” He asked. 

“Nothing, not really…it’s more a concept of spirituality and the human condition. We believe in the four noble truths. That suffering and happiness are part of human life, suffering comes from pleasure and desire for material goods, people can overcome this to reach nirvana which I think is like what you would call heaven, and there’s a whole thing about and eightfold path that…it gets complicated.” She stopped trying to explain it when he was just staring at her like she was saying the most insane thing he’d ever heard in his life and she didn’t think it would benefit either of them. 

“That’s a religion?” 

“Kind of, not sure it is as much as the institute of Christianity and all of your churches no. Some similar concepts like we do have altars and give offerings.” She said. It was nothing to the level of killing an actual goat like Willard told her but they did offer food and other things so it was at least relatable. 

“You got churches?” 

“More like temples but I guess they are similar to what you would call a church. Lots of it has to do with nature and being one with the earth and things around us.” She told him, his eyes kind of lit up when she said that. He smiled. 

“Then maybe it ain’t that different. Guess I can see why my Pa likes you so much.” He nodded and started to head off in another direction and down a path. She followed after him because it seemed like that’s what he wanted. It wasn’t like she had anything better to do than follow him around until she was called back for something else. “He prays outside too.” 

“I wouldn’t exactly say it’s outside all the time but it can be done that way.” She tried to clarify. It puzzled her how Willard said something about sending this boy to school but he was also pretty slow for someone who was allegedly getting an education. Maybe it just wasn’t a good one or maybe he was a bit too dimwitted to understand what he was learning. 

“Yeah but that’s where he goes, he learn that from you?” He called over his shoulder moving a bit too fast for her to keep up properly in what she was wearing. She hadn’t explained much to Willard about Buddhism when he was there. At least not to a point she thought he was paying attention. When she had talked about it, he had been very sick and at a point where she did think he would die. All she could think of to comfort him was telling him about enlightenment and suffering and nirvana. Whatever came to mind just to keep him alert. The idea that if he fell asleep before the fever broke he’d succumb to the infection. Maybe it had seeped into his brain more than he realized, or maybe this was just a huge coincidence. 

“Where does he go?”

“I’ll show you but…not sure he wants that if he didn’t bring you himself. He’s busy with mama so we can just be quick.” He assured her. She found all this extremely interesting and she felt it might give her better insight into Willard’s state of mind. She’d always been a bit of a nosy snoop herself so anything that allowed her to have information she’d take. She could already see on a few of the trees there were home made crosses until eventually they were at a fallen log right below a large cross nailed to a tree above it. From there she could see that this log was definitely blood stained and some of it seemed relatively fresh. If she’d gotten there that fast after he’d killed this goat then no wonder he thought that’s what caused the two things. He was seriously confusing causation with correlation but she knew that there was no way to change his mind in that case. Not with how religious he was. 

“This is…intriguing.” She said after a moment, even though it kind of smelled awful where they were because of the obvious and recent fresh kill. She could see rotting flesh here and there as well as the partially decaying head of a goat. Not to mention several other things she couldn’t immediately identify. 

“We go here a lot to pray, more him than me, I’m not too good at that. Sometimes I think he don’t want me around cause I ain’t doing it right.” Arvin confessed. 

“If you ask me there is no right or wrong way to pray, this God or higher power he’s all around so wouldn’t he hear you anyway?” She asked. 

“Not what my Daddy thinks.” Arvin said. “We should get back before he notices something.” 

“Alright,” She nodded and followed after him as he left quickly. She didn’t think it was the weirdest or even worst thing she’d ever seen in her life. She was glad she had been told this because it was going to help her a lot. Arvin seemed to believe less than his father and she believed she could work with that to prepare him for his mother’s inevitable death. She also very possibly could try to talk to Charlotte more but she knew she couldn’t make that a priority above the two of them. With how tightly wound Willard was, he was likely to snap if he wasn’t properly prepared for losing his wife and she had yet to form any idea as to how she could wind him down. If she could even do it at all. 

*****

The best she could do for him was try to reduce his fever and fight the infection. There were herbs for that around, a lot of them. Unfortunately from her limited education in the city so far, she was aware more than others that if the infection was bad enough it wouldn’t work. She had learned a lot about traditional medicine in her time there. More modern things than herbs and tea. Even if she believed that both had their benefits it seemed that if someone was bad off enough they would need more than that. At least from what she had seen. She also had to figure that his size and general health before all of this happened would play a part. It wasn’t as if he were weak or already ill when he got injured. He was a large man, muscular, and in decent shape. His body could very well help him fight off the infection as long as he was kept clean and dry. If someone cared for him. 

She very quickly and quietly stole everything she would need for a matter of days in her room. There was a small fireplace to brew tea and keep herself warm in the colder seasons at night so it wouldn’t be a problem to make any of this stuff without alerting her family to the fact that she was doing it. Bringing him food would be a much bigger problem because there was no way they wouldn’t notice she was doing that. She did take some rice with her and a few things to cook with but that wasn’t going to be enough for a man who was knocking on death’s door. She’d have to figure out something else. 

She headed back to the room and very quickly mixed up the poppy seed water, something she had no idea she’d be doing again for his wife years in the future. As she was working she heard him wake up and groan softly. He shifted into a sitting position and looked at her, blinking a few times like he was trying to remember where he was. Once he realized what had happened he rubbed his eyes and took in a slow, pained breath. She smiled and held the small cup of medicine out to him. He looked at it but didn’t immediately jump to take it from her either. 

“What’s that?” He asked, “Kinda looks like…muddy water.” 

“It is uh…poppy. I think that is the word for it, opium.” She encouraged, still trying to get him to take it. Hopefully he knew what the hell that was if she knew the right word for it or had translated it right. She wasn’t positive but she was at least pretty sure that was what she’d just done. In her language it was different. He looked down at it again. “If I was going to give you something bad or let you die, why would I have come out and done all this to start? Hmm? Easier to leave you in the field. You are giant.” He chuckled softly when she said that. 

“Alright, suppose you gotta point.” He said softly, finally reaching to take the cup from her. He smelled it and made a face. 

“It will be bitter and not very pleasant but I am making tea which will be sweeter. Will help with the infection and fever.” She assured him, motioning to the water she had on to boil. He still looked pretty skeptical. 

“This really is opium? I heard about this but ain’t never tried none. They said to stay away from it.” He said. 

“In normal conditions I would say the same but this is not normal. It will help with the pain. It is unnecessary entirely for treatment but may ease the suffering. It is up to you.” She said, which was the truth. She wanted his pain to be reduced, but if he didn’t want that or didn’t want something that extreme she wasn’t going to insist on it either. He held the cup back out to her. 

“You take some first,” He said. 

“It will make me very silly if I do,” She told him. She had definitely tried this a few times and while it lasted it was very fun but the hangovers were awful. “Just a little maybe I have half and then you. If you like it I will make more but it won’t make me….uh….un-functional to help you.” 

“Think you mean dysfunctional but…alright. Got yourself a deal there.” He said. She laughed and drank just enough that she’d only taken half. She did it without any hesitation before holding the cup out to him and, surprisingly, without asking any more questions he downed it like a shot. She thought he’d still try to interrogate her about being poisoned or something but maybe seeing her do it was enough to convince him that it wouldn’t kill him either. “You’re right, that tastes like ass…uh…pardon my language.” 

“It does taste like ass. You are just being honest.” She giggled. Not that she knew what ‘ass’ tasted like but she did know what donkeys and mules smelled like so she got the general idea of what he meant. He laid back down and she checked the water, it wasn’t quiet boiling yet. 

“How long this stuff take?” He asked. 

“You mean to work?” 

“Yeah…what’s it gonna do?” 

“Well it makes you feel very um…happy and then kind of like floating. Disconnected I guess. It is a very warm and fun feeling. Good dreams. Colors and sounds and smells…all more vibrant. You will like it I think, after all this. Nice escape from what happened for just a few hours.” She told him. 

“Few hours?” He asked, “What if-” 

“Shhhh, I am here you are safe, it will not be scary.” 

“You promise?” He asked. 

“I promise.” 

*****

“She says her stomach…well it’s better. She wants to try to eat again. How’d you do that with candy?” Willard asked, coming out onto the porch looking confused as hell. She was sitting out there writing in her journal. I was in Japanese so it wasn’t as if she had to worry about any of them finding it and reading it. Mostly she was just documenting her thoughts and experiences, hoping that she could figure out a better solution to this problem with Willard and Arvin. 

“If she wants to eat then chicken broth is good and gentle.” She said. 

“We ain’t got no money for that.” He shrugged, “Any other suggestions?” 

“I have some money.” She replied then reached into her pocket to get out the pouch where she kept it. She held it out to him because she knew she had to stop trying to be as damn cheap as she was. Normally she was always looking for a bargain or to get something entirely for free. Talking to Arvin about Buddhism and how she was supposed to behave reminded her that was not any sort of way to reach enlightenment. If there was a good way to do that, at all, it was to give it to people who needed it way more than her. These people were those people. 

“I can’t take your money, Rika.” 

“You aren’t taking it, I’m offering.” She said, “Anything you need. You deserve it, your whole family. You asked for help and I have brought that help. I think it might be rude to tell The Lord he was wrong about how to help. Right?” He furrowed his brow and opened the pouch he’d given her. He started to look through it, getting a bit more frantic and excited as he counted through it. She didn’t quite understand his reaction because she had no concept of the conversion rate. Especially because she’d arrived there with a couple hundred thousand yen only to be handed back a few thousand dollars. She’d believed she’d been cheated but she also hadn’t had the wherewithal to defend herself on that one. She’d done well so far, things seemed to be super expensive to her based on what little she did ‘get’ of the conversion but it was still very alien to her. 

“You got 2500 dollars here.” He said after a moment. 

“Is that good? If it is not enough I can get-” 

“This? This is more than enough. How….how do you have this much?” He asked, sounding more stunned than she’d ever heard him sound. 

“It is my life savings. Well, what is left. Still cost maybe 500 or so to travel here, with rooms and train and bus tickets. Food…that sort of thing.” She nodded. He stared at her and though he hadn’t explained anything she was getting the feeling that her comprehension on this had been all wrong and what she’d brought him was a fortune. 

“Not too late in the day if I go into town….could you stay with her? Charlotte? She seems to like you.” He said. “Think you’ll take good care of her and if she wants to eat I should get her something to eat.” 

“You should.” She agreed. “Just, take that and get whatever you think you’ll need.” 

“All of it?” He asked, “I couldn’t do that I-” 

“It’s fine, I trust you to do the right thing. Just as you’re trusting me.” She leaned forward and patted him on the hand gently. He got up, looking very happy, an actual smile on his face. A look of absolute disbelief as well but the smile was there. She was intent on going into the house, if Charlotte was awake and still talking then that was a good thing. There was a lot they probably should be discussing while they had the time but more importantly, she wanted to get Arvin in there as well. Before she could say anything else he grabbed her and pulled her into a hug, starting to pray about something or other. Thanking the lord for sending her there and blessing this house and his wife. That he knew things were going to be okay and he was answering all their prayers. She didn’t stop him, even though she knew that whatever was going through his head was just going to be all the more crushing when he realized that none of it was going to cure his wife. He let go of her and looked down into her eyes, his hands caressing her face gently as they had so many years ago. 

“Thank you…from the bottom of my heart I mean it, Rika. You’ve saved my family.” He said then hurried down off of the porch towards his truck. “I won’t be too long and…and I’ll only get what I need for her.” 

“Might want to get more than that, I can cook you know.” She called, “Just whatever is useful, okay? I promise I won’t be upset.” He really didn’t seem like the type to run off and be stupid with all that money. Not with how much he feared the lord punishing his giant ass if he sinned or lied or whatever these qualifications were. He nodded and she watched him climb into the truck and start it off. He rolled the window down. 

“I won’t be long, I promise, you tell her that. That I’ll be right back okay?” He called.

“Of course!” She called back, then waved to him as he drove off. She sighed with a bit of relief that she could improve the situation even more than she had. It made her smile as well, to see him like that again if just for a moment. It would be heartbreaking when it wore off but if he could just have that to hold into for a minute or an hour, it was definitely worth all the money she currently had in her pocket. She hated to think that she still loved him, but she really did, even if she didn’t ever think she was going to get it back. 

CHAPTER SIX

“Where’s he goin this late? Someone needs to get dinner-” 

“I can take care of that I’m sure.” Rika said, cutting Arvin off as he came out of the house. The truck was loud so she wasn’t surprised he’d heard it, though she hadn’t really known he’d even come back in the house or saw where he went. “But he is going to get food I gave him money so maybe it can wait a bit. We need to talk.” 

“Bout what?” 

“About your mother.” She said and motioned for him to have a seat nearby. He looked her over slowly and she already knew this was going to be bad. Luckily, Willard wouldn’t be there to yell at her or him. Since Charlotte had already tried to tell him herself, she was hoping that maybe the woman had also tried to tell her son but she had no way of knowing. 

“What about Mama? You’re gonna fix her right? She’s awake and she wants food. I can tell that-” 

“She’s not getting better.” 

“But she hasn’t ask for food in days and Pa says-” 

“Your father is wrong.” She told him firmly, reaching forward to take his hand in hers firmly. She paused for a moment trying to find the strength to do this. She’d had to do it a few times, but it had never been harder than this. Mostly, doctors handled it but a lot of people never wanted to accept it so she had found herself in a position to tell them again, help them understand better. Usually more when time was running out and it had to happen and the doctors had moved on to something else. By then, the nurses were mostly taking care of things since there was nothing else to be done. “Your mother will not recover from this. I know that it is very hard to hear, Arvin, but it’s better to hear it now than expect the impossible.” 

“No that…that’s not right. You came here cause…cause we prayed and…and the goat. That’s…it worked right he promised it would work!” He yelled getting understandably angry. “You have to do something you can’t…you can’t let her die like this.” 

“It’s not up to me and if it was, I would fix it.” 

“NO! You come here and you…you just want to steal him back!” He yelled at her angrily rising to his feet, “YOU FIX HER LIKE YOU PROMISED!” 

“I never promised you that, I never promised your father that. I told him I was here to help him, that there was not much I could do for her.” She said staying calm, even though he was a lot more intimidating than she thought he could be, seeing as how she’d initially thought of him as cute and kind of dimwitted. 

“But he said-” 

“I know what he said but he’s not right, Arvin.” She shook her head, “And he shouldn’t be saying these things, thinking them either but he’s not right. It’s a coincidence that I showed up after the goat, nothing more than that. She told me that she’s already mentioned this to him that she wants him to understand and she wants-”

“She does say that but she don’t know, no one really knows-” 

“ARVIN!” She snapped, getting up herself even though she was considerably smaller than him too, which wasn’t too shocking. All these Americans seemed generally huge by comparison. Especially the men. She grabbed him by his arms and gave him a bit of a shake to jar him out of his train of thought. “This is how my father died. I’ve seen it not just with him but many, many other people. I am not here to lie to you or ruin your family. This would have happened if I showed up or not. This has nothing to do with me, or God, or anyone being bad or sinful. This is cancer. It is a disease. Some people get it, some don’t. It cannot be controlled that way and if it could we’d stop it. I would stop it. You have to stop doing this.” 

“Why? WHY THOUGH? Ain’t there any…any sort of…of hope?” He asked, his voice breaking up quite a bit by that point. He pulled back from her, turning away and rubbing at his eyes. He started to sniff and she could see how hard this was hurting him, how much he was struggling to keep it together. 

“The most hope you have and the best thing you can do for your mother is give her what she wants and say goodbye.” She said softly, coming up behind him to put a hand on his back gently. He turned towards her, fast enough that it was kind of startling. He shook his head, really starting to cry by that point and she pulled him into a hug. He was kind of awkward at first, but she was guessing that Willard wasn’t even close to the hugging type so he probably didn’t get this near as much as he needed to. Eventually he hugged her back, pulling her close, like he was clinging to her for dear life. Something her father had done a few times when he thought he was dying back when he was sick. 

“I don’t wanna say goodbye, this ain’t fair.” He sniffled, pressing his face into her shoulder tightly. 

“I know it’s not.” She said, “I wish there was more I could do but I can’t. I understand if you don’t want me around or…or this being hard for you to hear but it is the best thing for-” 

“How?” He demanded angrily, shoving back from her, “How is this any better than thinking them goats or…or all that praying won’t do nothin? Huh?” 

“Because it won’t.” She said, “This will help you feel better. You can tell your mother goodbye and she can say it to you, I bet she’s tried before hasn’t she?” 

“Yeah but I-” 

“You didn’t wanna hear it. I know, I didn’t want to hear it either. I barely understood it when it was my father I was much younger than you but old enough to know what it was.” She said, “Trust me, I know where you are right now and I know it’s not easy but she is suffering, not just from the pain but because she wants closure. You know, so many people don’t get that chance, to say goodbye. Death can happen so quick so sudden. You are left with all those feelings of what you wanted to say. What you wished you had said and then in a blink of an eye it’s just gone. You have the chance to do that, a chance so many people don’t get. Learning to accept this and having that moment with her will heal you and it will help her feel better.” 

“She ain’t gonna want-” 

“Isn’t she? You just said she’s been trying to do it.” She whispered, reaching out to stroke his face gently, “Why keep it from her any longer, Arvin, she knows too. Just about the only person who doesn’t is your father and…we all need to be strong because of him.” 

“I just I kinda always knew.” He sniffed, wiping his face on his sleeve, “I didn’t wanna think that way, that he was so wrong and just…stupid. That his damn prayer log ain’t workin. Nearly screamed at him before but he just…he don’t listen.” 

“I know.” She said, “He’s been like that a long time.” 

“You…you gonna fix him then? Cause that’s what you said you’re here for him…if you can’t help her can you help him? Please?” He asked, “Cause he’s gettin that look and I think he…when he gets drunk he talks about bigger sacrifices. Not had time to do it since you got here but he’s done it a lot. He means people.” She didn’t want to hear that, really didn’t, but she kind of wasn’t surprised. He’d already bought and killed a damn goat he couldn’t afford to murder and waste like that because he was so desperate. It certainly wasn’t a long leap from that to actual humans and since he was in the war she she knew a bit of what he’d done and seen (thanks to his opium dreams and rambling) she didn’t doubt he could or would kill a person. 

“I am not going to let him do that.” She said firmly, “Now, what he has there’s no real cure. It is sometimes called shell shock or battle fatigue. It’s…hard to explain. Just a lot of stress and nightmares, sometimes while he’s awake too. He can’t really get away from that place he was in the war. His brain is always fighting, thinking there is danger. With all this stress and the house with the money-” 

“He told you bout the money?” 

“No, just kind of guessed when he saw the money I gave him.” She said, “He needs time off, he needs to rest and he needs to let someone else handle it. He cannot be cured but he can get better. More than he is now. We need to both be there for him when your mother passes because he’s not going to accept it and he will get very bad after that but we can pull him out of it.” She knew that was the case because she’d seen it happen, done it before. The war always stayed with these men to some extent but with the right attention and support a lot of them came out of it and were able to function. More than Willard definitely was if he was also considering actual murder. She would just have to work overtime to keep that in check. With the money she had, she knew that it could go a long way. She also was a nurse, could make medicines, sell things while they lived off of savings. It would really just be a matter of convincing him to slow down and take a deep breath. 

“You ain’t gotta give us all your money, that ain’t right either.” 

“It is right, remember I told you about suffering coming from the pleasure of material possessions? I need that money for pleasure, you need it to survive. One need comes above the other, and this is what is right. Nothing else.” She said, “Even if you make me leave after, with nothing, I will go.” 

“I ain’t gonna…I don’t hate you for tellin the truth. I know you ain’t doin it to hurt us I…I’m just angry.” He sighed. 

“And you have every right to be. I was too, after my father, for a very long time. It hurts, but every day it gets better and you will feel better having that talk with her.” She said, “Go to her now, before your father gets home. I don’t want him pulling you away from her like I saw him do earlier.” 

“Thank you, Miss. Takashi I uh…I’m sorry I got all mad and said some of those words.” He said very sincerely. 

“Don’t worry about it, you should hear me when I get angry in Japanese, if you could understand it at least.” She smiled. He laughed a bit and she gave him another quick hug before moving away to let him back into the house. She took her seat on the porch again, watching the driveway for Willard. She hoped she’d bought him enough time for this and she hoped Willard would take enough time to give Arvin this moment. Charlotte was very clearly close to her death and there wouldn’t be much more time. A few days or a week at most. The better prepared they were for the inevitable, the better chance they had in helping Willard cope once he lost this battle he thought he was fighting against the devil. 

*****

“This is…is this heaven…right here?” Willard asked apropos of nothing. She had been sitting across from him, by the fire, going back and forth between poking it a bit with a stick and staring in his direction. Both of them had had the same dose of medication, but she was handling it a bit better than he was, having been used to it and all. She couldn’t help but stare some of the time because of how beautiful he was. It made her question entirely why any of them were fighting and how such a gorgeous man could fall here into her lap essentially. She’d been told so many things about the Americans. Heard it on the radio and saw it in the papers when she was in the city. Her mind had built them up to all be monsters. Hideous and destructive creatures hellbent on the genocide of her entire nation. Yet, the man she saw sitting before her was the opposite. He was practically an angel. So tall, muscular, and sweet in his own way. It went against everything she had been told to believe. 

“It’s Japan,” She giggled after she could process what she wanted to say enough back to English to reply to him. She checked the rice she had been making, it was finished, so she moved it away from the fire to cool down. It wasn’t much but it would be better for him to eat something than have nothing at all right now. She sighed and came towards him, sitting down next to him on the bed. He slowly turned to look at her. 

“Yeah but you can’t be anything but an angel. Bringing me into this warm house with this bed, and I…I ain’t…I did some bad things out there.” He said, only looking at her for a few moments before looking down at his hands. “Did some bad things.” 

“You didn’t do them to me.” She said, reaching out to put her hand on his gently. He looked down at her hand, staring for a long moment, then turned looking back up to her face. 

“Look like a…a damn angel to me….” He whispered, slipping his hands from hers to put on her face. He really was huge and feeling him touch her that way really only reinforced the size. He could probably suffocate her easily enough with just one of those giant things, yet, he was so incredibly gentle. Even if his hands were rough he knew how to touch her and he was doing it well. Though his eyes were glossy they seemed genuinely fascinated by what he was seeing yet, very lost at the same time. “So…beautiful.” 

“Th-thank you…” She said breathlessly, feeling her face start to get hot because she felt the exact same way about him. 

“But I’m thinkin thoughts that no man should be thinkin about an angel,” He said. 

“Mmm like what?” She replied. 

“Like…given you a kiss…” He replied, his voice barely above a whisper by that point. She smirked, resting into his touch more. Her tongue darted out to lick her lips slowly, just thinking about kissing him was amazing. She had to believe he was good at it with lips like that. 

“Who’s going to stop you?” 

“N-No one I…I guess unless…would you stop me?” 

“Never…” She breathed. He stared into her eyes, only for a moment longer before pulling her into a hungry kiss. One which she returned with equal passion. Maybe it was the opium, maybe it was the tense situation, and maybe this was all just because he thought he was going to die. She didn’t know if she cared, the only thing she wanted was to be with this man while she had a chance. There wasn’t ever going to be a second one…right? 

*****

Arvin came back out onto the porch before Willard got back, maybe about ten minutes later. She hadn’t been monitoring the time because she’d gone back to recording her thoughts. She heard the door open and watched him as he stepped out. He looked hurt and painfully heartbroken but at the same time there seemed to be relief. Like some giant weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. It was more what she saw in the grief level of someone who had accepted it was time to say goodbye but was glad that they did it and there was some finality before they ran completely out of time. She closed her journal and stood up. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms, took a deep breath and turned towards her. 

“Thank you, Miss Takashi you…you was right about that.” He said, “Weren’t easy to do but you was right. Think she feels better now, a bit, I do too even if it still hurts.” 

“It’s okay for it to hurt.” She assured him, reaching to put a hand on his arm, rubbing it softly. “It will hurt for awhile but the pain will end, eventually. You have these good memories, your whole life, and now you know that things will be okay. Nothing left unsaid, right?” 

“No ma’am. Just…I don’t know what to tell her about the house and Pa ain’t givin her any straight answers on that neither. He keeps telling her not to worry cause she’s gonna live and he’ll take care of it but-” 

“What about the house?” She asked. 

“He ain’t paid it off and she’s worried we’ll lose it.” He said, “She don’t want that to happen, she wants to know it’ll be okay. Part of me thinks that’s why she waits around here. Wants to know I’ll have a home.” That made a lot of sense to her, even now considering the reaction Willard had with all of that money she was trying to tell him to use. Now she was finding out that they seemed to have this threat of losing the house looming over their heads, on top of everything else. No wonder this poor man was stretched to a breaking point. 

“Is your mother still awake?” She asked. 

“Yes’m, actually she wanted me to come here, says the pain is back and…if you got any more of that medicine.” He nodded. 

“Of course, I will get her some.” She told him and gave him a quick hug the walked into the house to prepare the opium mixture like she had before. It didn’t take very long because it wasn’t all that hard to do, and when she entered Charlotte’s room she saw her sitting up in bed, looking out of the window. “Arvin said you were asking for this? I have some more ginger too. Just in case.” 

“Thank you,” Charlotte said softly, “I don’t think I need it, not just yet I…mostly I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you helpin my boy like that. I know his father loves him but he’s not doin much to help Arvin cope.” 

“I could see that, it is why I took matters into my own hands.” She held up the teacup and then showed Charlotte where she was putting it, definitely within reach, for when she was ready to take it. It wouldn’t hurt her to take it again by that point as enough time had passed but she’d still have been feeling the effects from the first round to some level. Not as intensely as someone who wasn’t suffering in agony but it was still probably working a bit. Maybe even better than the morphine because the woman was still sitting up even if she looked a bit dreamy. “I know it is very much not my business but Arvin said something about money and losing the house? How much do you still owe on that?” 

“Hmm? It’s not really something you need to worry yourself with.” 

“I’m curious, because if I can find any way to help then that is what I want to do. He deserves to keep his home and Willard may need a bit of a break from working so hard so much.” She tried to explain. “I have seen things like this before with men, who come back. They are never the same. Time off and rest and they relax and a lot of them get so much better. Willard is…he’s kind of near a breaking point. If I can stop that from happening it is worth whatever money I have if I’m being honest.” 

“You’re really serious about this, huh?” Charlotte asked, “You really didn’t come here cause of that goat?” 

“I promise it was just a coincidence.” 

“I know I was kind of joking,” Charlotte said then laughed softly. She coughed a few times but pulled herself up more and took a deep breath, “I don’t know what on God’s green earth told you to come when you did or is telling you that you need to help now. You don’t owe us nothin. You never even…you met Willard in the war?” 

“Yes,” She said. 

“Why’d you help him then? He was the enemy.” Charlotte asked, but she didn’t sound angry she just sounded confused. Just as Willard had been and just as everyone around her had been. Including her own people. 

“Well, long story short, one night he came stumbling into my village. He was yelling for help. First American names then officer names then…he was yelling for Mama. The word sounds the same in our language but, it was bad enough before that because I knew English. Not as much as I do now but enough to communicate. It took me some time to fully understand what the word ‘ain’t’ meant.” 

“Yes I can see how that might have been confusing.” Charlotte smiled, “So you went out to him cause he was yellin for his Mama?” 

“That and he was dying. I thought…he never did anything to me personally, he did not come there to hurt us or my family. He was just lost and suffering. My grandfather, he said that Willard would not survive the night and I said I would prove him wrong and if I did not then he would not have to die out there alone because I thought no one should. Told him that when Willard survived the night I would take him to my room and I would care for him and they would not have to bother. So, as you can see that is what happened.” She said, “And why he is here today.” 

“He never mentioned any of that.” 

“He had a very bad infection, a fever, his side was all torn up and there was metal and dirt in it. I helped him get clean. I also gave him pain medicine, like I gave to you. Same thing. He may have more considered it a dream or wondered what had happened. Or he may have, I guess, buried it because I was the enemy and I showed him mercy for no reason other than it was right.” She nodded. 

“You keep doing that, though, don’t you? For us now even. You don’t know me either.” 

“I don’t need to know you to also know you are a mother and you are human and we should all do things right by each other because that is the path to enlightenment.” She said, “Besides, the past ten years to save up here to come and do this I have been very greedy and cheap so maybe I need to make up for that.” She laughed, which gave Charlotte a bit of a chuckle as well. 

“Did you two…when he was there I mean…” 

“How much will me answering that help you with anything?” She asked. Charlotte paused and looked out of the window for a long moment. Just long enough for Willard to return and scramble out of the truck. She turned back and took a deep breath. 

“Maybe I don’t want an answer but what I want to tell you is that…if something like that did happen out there I prefer to think that he was able to feel love somehow, even if I was not there with him. I can see you are a good woman and this is a complicated situation so…I have no reason to be angry with you either. Just…don’t tell me anything more. Okay?” Charlotte asked. 

“Of course not.” She nodded, “I should go help him, I can make some dinner with what he brought back, are you still hungry?” 

“A bit, yes.” Charlotte said. 

“It won’t take very long I told him what to get.” She replied then headed for the door. 

“We still owe six hundred dollars. I didn’t want to mention it cause…I don’t want you to think you’re obligated but he ain’t gonna tell you and Arvin doesn’t know. Charlotte said, causing her to pause by the door. Willard had said something about her having 2500 dollars when he was counting it. It would be a bit less by the time he came in there with all the food he was carrying, which was a damn ton of it, but nothing that seemed like he’d wasted her entire fortune. It that were the case she had enough to cover it and she would happily do that. If she could get Willard to agree, at least. That seemed like that might be the hardest part. He was so damn proud and he thought he could take care of this all himself anyway. She nodded. 

“Thank you for letting me know. I’ll make you some dinner.” She said and walked out of there to greet Willard. With any luck she could try to turn things around for all of them so Willard wasn’t stretched so thin all of the time, but it was like picking at threads. Things were okay for the time being, but if she picked the wrong one, it could possibly unravel all of the sanity that man had left. 

CHAPTER SEVEN

“I…I don’t think we should be….doin any of this…” He panted, as their kiss had progressed to something much more intense. Light groping at first but then, it was like they just couldn’t stop. It more than likely was intensified from the opium. All of the pleasurable feelings of skin to skin contact magnified to make it hard to resist. She believed there was the emotional component as well. More for him than her but some feeling of desperation. Needing to be loved and cared for in the way only a woman knew to do because he’d been here and at war for so long. Something different to him. Something that didn’t feel terrible and wasn’t violent. 

“Yes but…how does it feel?” She whispered against his lips before gently laying him back on the bed. She moved down to get his pants open. Before going to the city she had very little experience with this sort of thing but in the city, this was very common and fun. She’d learned a lot about being with boys and she’d never hated it. She knew that it wasn’t very accepted in general but she did not understand the idea that having fun in such a way was wrong if she chose to do it. Life was about the simple pleasures and joys that she could get, especially for free, and sex was one of those things. Plus, it was interesting and there were so many versions of it to try. He clearly did not feel the same if he was trying to stop it but she felt maybe a bit more coaxing could convince him otherwise. An idea she wouldn’t have had, had she also not been as high as him. 

“It feels…amazing but we…I can’t. It’s…it’s sinful.” 

“To who?” She asked. “You think that sex is a sin when it is such a beautiful thing? Hmmm? It feels so good.” She got his pants open and reached her hand inside, very curious to experience his cock because she knew it would be different and that entire idea excited her far more than it should have. 

“But in the eyes of the lord-” 

“Maybe he is not watching Japan because the war is so awful,” She giggled and pulled his cock out, running her hand over it slowly. Her eyes went wide once she realized how damn big it was compared to what she was normally used to. Not that she would say the other men were abnormally small, if anything she liked all the sizes she had seen but this was different entirely. Then again he was huge himself, so why wouldn’t other parts of him be huge. 

“But the lord sent you-” 

“If he sent me then he knows that I know what is right and then you should trust that because I am his messenger.” She told him breathlessly. Not that she believed any of that, but she was also kind of sick of hearing about the lord. A concept she didn’t believe in herself and didn’t know much about other than in passing. Buddhism was very different from what he was trying to go on about and since she was high she really didn’t care. “I think that the lord will forgive you for feeling pleasure in such a time of pain and suffering. Just for a minute.” 

“But…but you’re…that makes you…a traitor…” 

“Mmm yes a dirty evil little traitor trying to steal your American seed all for myself.” She purred, leaning in to nuzzle her face against his cock before running her tongue over the length of it. He let out a strangled cry, his hand moving down to her hair to grip it firmly but he was also not trying to pull her back from him either. If anything, he was trying to force her more towards him. “You like that? Hmmm? Me being the…evil slutty Japanese harlot?” 

“Fuck…” He groaned closing his eyes, “That…that you are, woman…you want this American cock huh? Gonna take it?” 

“I am going to have my way with you, soldier boy…” 

*****

It didn’t take her very long to prepare some chicken soup for Charlotte. Mainly because all it really ended up being was some chicken broth and rice. Something Willard had been smart enough to get cans of so she didn’t have to make any stock herself. Even though it would have been preferable to make the stock, something she could do with very little issue it was also a huge process that would mean waiting hours. This was more convenient and it tasted fine. It would be easy enough for Charlotte’s stomach and filling as well. After she set some of that aside she added other things to the soup, vegetables and some spices so the rest would be more appetizing for Willard and his son. Arvin had gone off on a walk somewhere, said he needed a bit of time to himself to think. He didn’t seem to want to have to deal with his father immediately after that and she didn’t really blame him. 

He came in just about the time that dinner was ready, though Willard had already taken the bowl of soup to Charlotte while she was finishing up the meal for the rest of them. He sat down at the table and just looked at her. Willard had returned what was left of her money, and it was sitting in the pouch on the counter. He’d actually spent very little of it but had gotten enough food to last a while. Mostly canned stuff because they didn’t have any refrigeration. This also included things like rice, pasta, and dried things like beans. All stuff she could work with even if she was used to and preferred much fresher materials. 

“You didn’t have to cook for us too. All you been doin here is work.” Arvin said after she set a bowl down in front of him. 

“I realized that you two need far more rest than I need and I like cooking so it is not a problem. I just hope you like my cooking.” She smiled and went back to the stove to get a bowl for herself as well as Willard. 

“It’s gotta be better than anything Pa comes up with, just…don’t tell him I said that. I know he tries but it ain’t good.” He said softly. She laughed, because she could very much imagine that was the case. 

“Your secret is safe with me.” She assured him. A moment after that, Willard came out of the bedroom and right over to her, taking her arm firmly trying to pull her away from the stove. 

“Hey just wait a minute let me turn this thing off so it doesn’t boil over.” She told him, reaching to turn the stove off. “What…what is it?” 

“She’s eating…a lot…look come and look.” Willard said. She sighed because she knew this didn’t mean much of anything. Yes, it was good, and Charlotte should eat if she was hungry but it did not mean she was fixed and this caused her to fear how hard he was going to crash once he realized that it was just something that happened and not a cure. She followed after him anyway back into the bedroom. “See?” 

“Yes, I’m glad you like it.” She said after a moment. 

“Willard, I’m telling you this ain’t such a big deal this doesn’t mean-” 

“You weren’t before though you…not for days. You didn’t even move or talk and she comes here and gives you this medicine-” 

“It’s not a cure,” Charlotte told him firmly. 

“I told you to stop talkin like that. The Lord didn’t send her here for no reason. You don’t know that, Charlotte you don’t know-” 

“I do know, Willard.” Charlotte replied firmly then looked in Rika’s direction, “He’s acting like this has never happened before but it has.” 

“Not for a long time!” Willard insisted. 

“Or is it more that you are seein things that ain’t there because you are so stuck on this idea that I can be saved when I keep telling you-” 

“STOP!” He yelled at her. Charlotte didn’t react to that nearly as much as Rika did because she was not expecting his voice to be that damn loud. In fact, it cause her to jump a bit because he sounded so damn angry. She guessed the more time she spent with him the more used to this she’d get but she wasn’t used to it at the moment. It wasn’t that common where she was from to hear people that loud. Even when they were angry. “I ain’t doing this with you again, not in front of her.” 

“But she’s right, Willard.” 

“Right about what? She been tellin you that you ain’t gonna get better too?” 

“No, I told her that-” 

“WHAT KIND OF NERVE YOU GOT BRINGING THAT BULLSHIT IN HERE? TELLING HER ALL THAT NONSENSE!?” Willard yelled, storming towards her angrily. She backed up quickly, into the wall but that didn’t stop him from getting right in her face and being possibly more intimidating than any man she’d ever met in her life. “I called you here to do the Lord’s work and you are doin it, you have no right…” 

“I told you I can’t cure her. I never promised that. She already knew that-” 

“SHE DON’T KNOW WHAT SHE KNOWS!” Willard roared then grabbed her arm, “You need to know what this is, Rika…you need to be brought to the Lord and you need to beg him for more of his help, thank him for the powers that he already gave you!” He was ranting as he started to basically drag her out of the house, which she was powerless to stop because he could have picked her up and thrown her if he wanted. She guessed she was lucky that all he was doing was forcefully pulling her somewhere. 

“Willard, stop this, your lord didn’t send me anywhere that’s not even anything I believe in and-” 

“You will believe and you will THANK HIM FOR WHAT HE’S PROVIDED!” Willard continued, his voice getting loud enough to easily top hers. As scary as it was, she was far more irritated by ignorance of this man and even more heartbroken by his desperation to fix everything and save his wife. She somewhat understood that he lacked the ability to truly comprehend the situation because of his faith but it wasn’t working. It was failing him so instead of trying to be reasonable he was just doubling down on his own bullshit. This was an even more stubborn version of him than she’d remembered from the war, and she’d have said he was already stubborn enough at that point. 

When she started to try to drag her feet, just to be difficult, that phased him very little and he picked her up. She started to scream at him, struggle, and attempt to get him to put her down but he didn’t care. Eventually she was thrown down by that damn prayer log that Arvin had shown her earlier, right in the dirt and what she was pretty sure was some blood but as it was getting dark out she couldn’t see it as much as she could smell it. She really didn’t want to look down to check either. She scrambled to her feet and he was right there to shove her back to her knees. Except, she wasn’t ready to submit to him so she got back up again. 

“GET ON YOUR KNEES WOMAN!” 

“NO!” She yelled at him. He glared at her but she knew someone needed to stand up to him because if they didn’t this was only going to get worse. If this man didn’t get some sort of reality check and quickly he was going to lose his mind completely instead of just being halfway to the loony bin. He reached out to grab her, forcing her to her knees again. She was no match for his physical strength but she was sure she at least matched him in her damn willpower not to do anything she didn’t want to do. She got to her feet again and that’s when he hit her. Backhanded her so hard her ears started to ring as she collapsed to the ground. The air almost entirely knocked out of her. 

“If you know what’s good for you, you’re gonna stay right down there and do what I say.” He growled breathlessly. She barely heard him because of the ringing in her ears but once her brain allowed her to comprehend what he tried to tell her to do she just got angry. She didn’t take orders from no man, or woman. She did what she thought was right and it was not right to bow or pray to a God she did not believe in unless she chose to do it herself. She glared up at him, making sure there was direct eye contact as she slowly but surely got back to her feet. 

“Make me.” She hissed. 

“Why you little-” He raised his hand to strike her again and she stood there, unflinching, trying to prepare herself for this when Arvin yelled out. 

“HEY! DON’T YOU DO THAT TO HER!”

She was downright shocked that he was trying to defend her. Not with how she’d seen him acting before. Hell, she didn’t even blame him because he was scary as shit, and she was sure he’d been so much worse to the boy than she’d ever experienced in just the past three minutes or so. Willard turned towards him instead, bringing one hand to the other to crack his knuckles. She really didn’t like where this was probably going and Arvin, he just kind of stood there. It didn’t look like he had much of a plan other than yelling to stop. To his credit it had worked but Willard was just going to refocus his anger not stop entirely. 

“Oh you a man now huh? You gonna defend her?” Willard taunted, then laughed, “You really gonna take her side, coming into my house telling my wife all this shit about-” 

“She’s right!” Arvin yelled, “She’s right about Mama!” 

“What’d you say to me, boy?” Willard asked, storming up real close to him, his hand clenching into a fist. “You best not think of repeating that before you get down to pray, pray you survive what I intend to do to you for this.” 

“You need to stop, this ain’t helpin anyone. Least of all you!” Arvin yelled at him. That seemed to do the trick and before she could even blink he had punched the boy in the face. It didn’t seem like he held back much either. Arvin collapsed to the ground, but that still didn’t seem to be enough as Willard pulled his foot back with the obvious intent to kick him too. She screamed out, running towards Arvin and managing, somehow, to throw herself over him, which only got her kicked in the back, causing her to scream again. That had really not been fun, but she’d be damned if she was going to stand there and watch him hit a kid. His own kid. 

“GET THE FUCK OFF HIM HE DON’T DESERVE NONE OF THAT FOR WHAT HE SAID!” Willard threatened, “YOU DON’T MOVE YOU’RE GONNA GET THE SAME!” 

“FINE!” She screamed at him. 

“Are you serious woman?” He demanded. 

“THIS IS YOUR SON!” She screamed, “THIS IS A BOY WHO NEEDS YOUR HELP AND YOUR LOVE! THIS LORD YOU PRAISE SO MUCH IS ALREADY GOING TO TAKE HIS MOTHER AND THE MORE YOU RESIST THAT THE MORE YOU HURT HIM!” 

“Don’t you tell me-” 

“WHAT? THE TRUTH? This is not helping what does this fix? You can beat me you can beat him but this will not change anything about your wife, Willard. Nothing. Not a damn thing. Killing that goat, hurting everyone else. I know you are angry but this is not going to fix your problems!” She screamed. He glared down at her for a long moment, a very long one. “If I truly believed any of this, if I knew this would work I’d let you give me to your damn log, I would, but I know in my heart it’s not going to work and you…if you check you know that too! Maybe you should talk to this God some more and you tell him that if he has to take your wife then he takes good care of her because he’s going to do it anyway!” He continued to stare at her until eventually he kind of stumbled back. Taking a few steps he collapsed down onto his knees by the prayer log, clasped his hands on it and started to pray. 

It wasn’t easy for her to breathe after being kicked like that. She’d be lucky if he hadn’t bruised a rib if not entirely broken it. She didn’t care because she had seemingly shut him down, at least for now. Arvin groaned softly and she forced herself up to look at him. His face was swollen and his eye already wouldn’t open. She ran her hand over it gently. His other eye looked up at her, he seemed stunned. 

“Get up,” She said, “Get up we have to go back to the house.” 

“He stopped…? 

“Yes but I don’t know for how long, get up.” She ordered him. He glanced at his father who was still locked in prayer mode but as she got to her feet he scrambled to his and took her hand tightly, pulling her back up towards the house with him and fast. Even though her body did not want to move like that after how she’d been hurt she knew it was probably best to get some distance between her and that mad man. She didn’t know how this was going to end but if there was any sort of justice in the world he was just going to battle with this crazy ass thing he called God now instead of taking it out on them any longer. 

CHAPTER EIGHT

It was quite the experience with Willard as it did appear that she may have been doing these things with him for the first time. At least her mouth on his cock. He was holding onto her for dear life, pushing her more into him. Seemed to really like it when she gagged. She may have minded far more had she not been on opium but it took the unpleasantness that may have normally existed completely away and it just felt good. Even if it hadn’t she surmised that his moans would have made up for it, so loud and yet so good. His voice deep and seductive. She imagined the vibrations of it traveling through her own body, saw colors before her eyes as her own arousal grew tenfold, working heavily to get him off. Swallow him down and get a taste. This was something she only had very minor experience in herself but she knew enough. Her biggest problem was his size but she was determined to make it work. That was until he shoved her back roughly. 

“Mmm can’t take my evil powers soldier boy?” She purred then started to giggle, her hand wrapping around him anyway as she watched him squirm breathlessly under her against the mattress of the futon. 

“You…fuck you gotta stop this…I’m gonna-” 

“I know what’s gonna happen soldier boy and I’m gonna make you beg for mercy…” She purred. It was obvious he was trying to warn her that he was about to cum but that was what she was trying to do anyway. She was curious as to how it might taste compared to the few others she’d tried. Would it be different or the same? Better or worse? She’d heard rumors some place that American men would have acidic secretions which she highly doubted. Mostly because she was sure it would burn them and that wouldn’t make sense. She leaned back in to run her tongue over the head of his cock firmly as she looked right at him, moaning softly herself. 

“You…you really are a…a fucking traitor…oh fucking GOD!” He yelled. 

“Mmm I am but you like that? Don’t you?” She breathed hotly against his skin, “You want to give it to me don’t you? Want to make me take it, feed it to me like the little whore you think I am…” 

“Fuck…fuck yes…yes I wanna give it to you…little…teasing…bitch…” He barely got any of that out before he came. Since she was kind of not expecting it in any capacity she yelped, getting some on her face and in her mouth before backing away, quickly. She kept stroking him with her hand though, part of her somewhat believing that maybe this would help reduce the heat of the fever. If not, then at least he’d feel good and maybe relax a bit more. It wasn’t going to hurt him. That was for sure. He took in a gasping breath then sat up a bit to see her, licking her lips slowly. Savoring the taste of him. It was different but not unpleasant. Almost kind of sweet. Maybe that was because he was sick. “You really did that…huh?” 

“Of course I did, I said I was going to have my way with you.” She smirked, raising her hand to her mouth to lick off what else she could of the cum. Seemed easier and better than getting up to get clean she could just do that after. It didn’t matter. He sat up even more leaning in to watch her. 

“You like that stuff?” 

“It is very good, yes…” She purred, irrationally turned on by all of this when none of it should have been doing anything for her. There was something about it that was just so taboo and wrong that it seemed to circle back into erotic territory without her being able to stop it. She didn’t think she’d ever been this turned on in her entire life. “It is what I came here to take you know, your big American co-” He didn’t let her finish before pulling her into a rough and hungry kiss, reversing their positions and pinning her down onto the mattress. Not in a threatening or violent way but it was passionate. She gasped, looking up at him as his large hand stroked her face gently, a finger tracing over her lips. 

“Maybe it’s my turn to have my way with you…how’s that sound?” 

*****

Once she was back at the house with Arvin, she was pretty damn surprised that he actually got there. He was worse off than she was and she was sure of it. She took him to his bedroom because she definitely did not feel right about stealing it, or more accurately his father giving it to her. He tried to protest but she didn’t listen to him and shoved him towards the bed to lay him down. He shook his head and went to sit up but she pushed him back again, gently. She knew why he had to be panicked but he needed to stop. She wasn’t going to let this happen anymore no matter what it took. 

“He’s gonna be mad he’s gonna come back here and he’s gonna-” 

“No, he won’t.” She said firmly, “And if he does I will not let him hurt you.” 

“Why though? Why are you doing this? It ain’t got you nothin but hurt and he don’t care about you. He don’t care about me neither just his prayer log and-and…” 

“Arvin.” She said to stop him, putting a hand on his chest, “I’m going to pay off the house. Hopefully this will allow your father to take time off of work and give your mother some final peace.” 

“What?” 

“I have enough money, more than enough, with a ton left over to keep you fed and clean for a while. Maybe get some plumbing installed too because, and I really don’t mean to be rude but you all really need to bathe more.” She said, stroking his cheek gently. It was something she was entirely not used to because of her culture versus theirs. In New York everyone had plumbing and showers and baths that hadn’t been a problem. This place was as old world as her damn village. She was ready to get the bath water and do it herself if she had to and she realized she was going to have to. There was no way she, herself, was going to be this unclean and they were worse off than she was. If no one else would do it then she would. She had thought she’d known poverty and suffering before but it was nothing compared to what was going on here. 

“Pa says we don’t even need that cause-” 

“You do.” 

“But it’s for rich people.” 

“Well, I’m rich so…that’s what I’ll get you.” She said, “You can’t tell me you’d not be happier with that right? I really don’t mean to offend but…this is something you have to know.” He sighed and closed his eyes. 

“I do know…at least you’re tryin to be kind about it.” He muttered, “And it would be better, specially for school.” 

“Good, I’m going to check on your mother and tell her what I told you okay? Do you want to come with me or do you want to stay here?” She asked. 

“Just gimme a moment I’ll be in.” He said. She nodded and walked out. The first thing she did was grab the pouch with all of the money in it off of the table. She wanted to actually show the woman she had the money and wasn’t lying to her about paying the house off. She felt like it might help her to find peace to know someone was here to at least take care of Arvin no matter what happened. Even if his father had gone entirely insane over this prayer log thing. She headed into the bedroom to see Charlotte sitting up, still awake, looking pretty sedate. She noticed the rest of the medication she’d brought in was gone. 

“How are you feeling?” She asked coming over to the bed to take a seat where Willard usually sat because she was done respecting him after that. 

“I heard all that you know…him and…and you were screamin. What’d he do?” Charlotte asked. 

“It doesn’t matter because I got him to stop.” She said, “I want to show you something, now it’s not much but it’s all I know how to do it Willard will accept it.” The woman turned towards her as she opened up her pouch and pulled out the money she had left in there. It was mostly hundred dollar bills but there was a lot of other tender as well since Willard had gone to the market. Charlotte’s eyes went wide. 

“Where did…this is all yours?” 

“Yes, this is what I meant by being cheap and greedy for ten years. This is my life savings and this will go to buy your house.” She said firmly. “What is left they can have to live on so Willard can take time off and rest. He will need it.” 

“You can’t do this I can’t let you this is…this should be yours.” Charlotte said. 

“Why? What do I need it more for? More than your son?” She asked, “Maybe, maybe right now I am angry and I think Willard doesn’t deserve it but he kicked me so I know I am just bitter. In my heart…my soul no matter how angry I am at him I know this is the right thing. Especially for your son. Knowing what I could do here is more important than what this could buy me and I am a nurse. It is a skill. I can make more money. Faster. Willard cannot, your son needs school. This is what you all need and it is not the only amount I will ever have. I promise you that.” Charlotte reached out with a shaky hand and took the money slowly, looking it over herself. 

“You really think that much about us…about…carin for Arvin?” 

“I know what I saw out there and I know that-” 

“Ma?” Arvin said from the doorway. She turned to look as Charlotte did with a gasp, seeing his face like that had to be a shock. He came over to the bed, getting in with her and she hugged him close. Both of them crying, though she knew better than to try to interrupt this. She nodded her head sharply and got up, leaving the room and the money to head out into the kitchen. She needed a drink but she knew more than likely she’d end up drinking some of that opium herself. This was far too much for her to handle in one entire day and  she would lose her mind herself if she didn’t do something to control it. 

*****

“Miss…uh…Miss Takashi?” 

After the point in which she’d taken the opium mixture the night before she hadn’t exactly had the wherewithal to stay awake. She’d just gone to Arvin’s bedroom and laid down. Something she thought would just be for a minute but now she was hearing his voice. Very calm and quiet like. It was close though. She opened her eyes slowly and saw light was spilling into the room. She looked up at him with concern. 

“Are you okay?” 

“Yeah I…I’m fine but I think uh…Ma is um…” 

“Shit.” She whispered and scrambled to her feet. She hurried towards the bedroom to check. Though she wasn’t exactly surprised by this she really hated that Arvin was the one left to find it and it hadn’t been his father like it damn well should have been. She got down by the bed where Charlotte was and reached to take her pulse and check. She barely had to do that because the woman was definitely dead. Cold to the touch, stiff, and just completely gone. She frowned and turned to look at Arvin, shaking her head slowly. “Arvin I’m so sorry I should have been here I should have-” 

“It’s okay, really. It…it hurts but we talked again last night. A lot more and I think…I think she was ready. I was too.” He said, “I’m sad but it don’t hurt as much you know. Got to say goodbye but…Pa…he-” 

“Did he stay outside all night?” 

“I don’t know. I guess. He’s done that a lot before I didn’t check. Thought it might be dangerous to tell him alone.” He said. 

“You aren’t wrong about that. I’ll go do it.” She said. 

“He’ll kill you.” 

“Someone is going to have to tell him and I’d rather it be me than you.” She said, though she really didn’t intend to allow that to happen if it did then maybe it would stop him from being even worse and killing his own son. Someone had to break the damn chain of insanity around there. 

*****

As she was heading down the path to the prayer log area of the property, Willard was heading back up it and they met somewhere in the middle. He looked down at her, his eyes kind of blank but they were desperately sad. She really hated that she was going to have to be the one to tell him this but she knew it was better to do it right here and away from Arvin. He’d been through enough, his face was still busted up, and if she made herself an easier and closer target then that would benefit everyone. He didn’t deserve any of that from his own father. It was already terrible that he was so young as well. 

“Why you comin down here anyway? Not like you believe in any of this.” He said softly. 

“It’s about your wife.” She said. 

“I know what I gotta do now, I talked to Him. He told me. He needs more, right he needs a bigger sacrifice. A life for a life, if I do that-” 

“It’s not going to work, Willard. That’s not how any of that works.” She sighed. 

“You said last night that if it would work you’d let it be you.” He muttered, “Right?” 

“But it won’t, that was my entire-” She didn’t get to finish as he grabbed her by her throat and lifted her from her feet. Clear off of the ground. Something which was not only painful but horrifying. He turned back towards the direction he’d came in and started to walk. She kicked at him the best she could, clawing as his hand, but she did not think she was going to get him to let go until he wanted to let go. By the time he did, they were back at the prayer log and she was on the ground, gasping for air. “THIS WILL NOT WORK!” 

“Tell me one good reason why not,” He demanded, “This is gonna work because you said-” 

“I was…it was not what I meant and you know it.” She rasped, bringing her hand to her throat as she struggled to get back to her feet. From his pocket he pulled a switch blade and brandished it in her line of sight. She took in a sharp breath as he grabbed her hair, turning her towards the cross and yanking her head back. 

“Lord, I know that you sent this one here for this purpose now…you will take her…take her instead of my wife and you will spare me and my family for what I do here lord.” He announced loudly, the blade getting a bit too close to her throat for comfort. She kept trying to jerk away but he had a really good hold on her hair. None of this should have been surprising, she should have guessed that his grief roasted insane mine would have jumped to this conclusion. If she’d have phrased it differently then maybe it would have been different. 

“WILLARD!” She screamed at him. 

“LORD I KNOW YOU WILL ACCEPT THIS SACRIFICE BECAUSE I LOVE HER TOO! YOU WILL TRADE HER AND SPARE MY WIFE FOR-” 

“LET HER GO!” Arvin yelled, “This ain’t gonna work and I ain’t gonna let you hurt her no more.” Willard paused and she felt him shift as he obviously turned to look at Arvin. She was thrown down again, which caused her to fall right by the log. She scrambled to align her senses and catch her breath. Turning, she focused on Arvin who had actually brought a shotgun this time and was aiming it at Willard. 

“You gonna shoot me? Huh? Think you’re a real man now?” Willard asked. 

“I am not going to let you hurt Miss Takashi, not after what she did. She ain’t done nothin but come here and suffer like the rest of us and…and instead of leavin or…or…writin you off completely which she should have done long ago she keeps helpin. You have done nothin right and if the lord did send her…then she is what the message of the lord is supposed tah be. Kind…selfless, and…and not even concerned with her own self above strangers, Pa.” Arvin tried to explain, though he didn’t sound overly confident about it. She was still impressed because that was a side of him she wasn’t sure even existed. He’d just lost his mother and now he had to deal with the potential ramifications of shooting his father to save her. Which she didn’t want him to have to face either. Willard took a step towards him slowly but he didn’t back up, he held his ground and only aimed the gun better, upwards and more towards Willard’s head. 

“This is what HE wants, don’t you see? My mistake with this woman, layin with her in times of war and betrayin you and your mama for…for all that-” 

“You said you loved her…I heard that, is that the truth?” Arvin demanded. 

“I…well…” He stumbled and looked back at her. She had spent enough time with him at that point, in those moments, to have known that what he felt for her over time was definitely love even if it was very brief. He was trying to deny it now, or even desperate enough to think that his love for her and then his sacrifice of that for his wife would work, but he wasn’t really doing it out of hate. It was still incredibly twisted and fucked logic but she could see how he’d come to the conclusion either way. “I did love…I do love her for what she’s done that’s why if I take her life-” 

“It won’t work, Ma is dead. She died this morning I was with her.” Arvin said. 

“She what?” 

“You were out here all night concerned with your…your damn prayer log and sacrifices when you should have been with us! We tried to help you but you…you don’t ever damn well listen!” Arvin yelled at him. “Takin her life now will change nothin. You wanna do good by Mama you pray for her soul, you don’t take another.” Willard stood there, frozen, tense, and incredibly angry. He screamed with rage and raised his knife to do…something. She actually didn’t know what but she was so scared she screamed at him in Japanese to stop and put the knife down. Like he had been hit with an actual bullet, this seemed to take all the wind out of his sails. The knife fell from his hands and he dropped to his knees. Then he stayed there, completely still. 

“Willard?” She asked after a long moment of absolute stillness. Arvin kept the gun up but she rushed to him grabbing the knife and throwing it out of any sort of grabbing range for either of them. She then put her hands on his face and looked into his eyes. He was still technically there but also very far away, she’d seen this look a thousand times before in the eyes of the traumatized and shell shocked vets she’d worked with. 

“What’s wrong with him? He gonna be okay?” Arvin asked after a moment. 

“He’s…well yes eventually but…he’s kind of gone for now.” She said, which was the best way to explain it. Something like a flashback or a completely detached state. “It may have been when I yelled just now. I doubt he’s heard angry Japanese like that for years, must have triggered something inside of him. In his mind I’m guessing he’s back in the war.” 

“Well how long does that…will it last?” Arvin asked. 

“I’m not really sure,” She said, “Could be minutes could be days. It’s at least stopped him for now and he’ll be more manageable. I’m going to get him back to the house and sedate him.” She said then grabbed Willard’s arm trying to pull him up. Arvin didn’t seem to want to move away with the gun but she didn’t blame him. If he wanted to grab her and snap her neck at any point he could so it seemed like a fine idea to her to have someone armed and ready there. After a very long period of trying to yank his arm he turned his head towards her. 

“Rika?” He muttered. 

“Yes it’s me, can you get up please? Just need to get you back to the house.” She said. Very, very slowly he got to his feet, leaning heavily on her. To a point where she could barely move. “Come on let’s go soldier boy.” 

“This don’t look like Japan though…” He muttered, in an odd way sounding exactly like the young and very inexperienced man she had met so long ago. Haunted and innocent. There was far less bile and vitriol in his voice than there had been just moments earlier. 

“I know,” She said, “But I’m going to take you some place nice where you can rest. You’d like that right? You need to rest.” 

“I need…to rest.” He agreed kind of mindlessly, finally starting to walk with her. This seemed like this was possibly the final breaking point for him, in which he had entirely snapped and she had managed to catch him. Not just herself but with Arvin. He very well may have slit her throat had the boy not shown up to do what he had done. He was broken, shattered even, but he was still there and alive. It would take awhile to fit these pieces back together but they weren’t entirely destroyed. It could and would be done in time. She’d done it once before already, there was no reason she couldn’t do it again. 

CHAPTER NINE

It was kind of apparent that he had no idea what he was actually trying to do, which was cute, but somehow made the moment all the more erotic. He had her on her back on the mattress and was very clumsily shoving her nightgown up over her hips. He moved in to press his face right against the crotch of her panties then he groaned, loudly. She was lucky that somehow, no one had heard this. Maybe they were just ignoring it entirely because they were reluctant to involve themselves with an American soldier. Maybe they thought his shouting and moaning was him dying and didn’t want to look. No one in her family spoke English so they’d have no chance of understanding this conversation. 

She felt his nose against her, then his tongue over the fabric. He groaned again and muttered something that she didn’t quite understand. It was either thanks to his accent or his voice being muffled. Though she had heard about this sort of thing, even read it in some dirty magazines, she hadn’t had it done to her before. She never thought a guy would and she didn’t think she’d ever ask for it but it felt…amazing. In his high as fuck opium soaked brain he probably thought if she’d just done it to him then he owed her the favor in return even if he was clueless about how. He eventually shoved her panties aside and started to full on use his mouth and tongue. Very little hesitation. He said something against her again. Something she barely understood. She covered her mouth to muffle her moans. 

“This ain’t….no good…can’t resist…the taste…” He was muttering, maybe, that’s what it sounded like, but she was only hearing bits and pieces of it because he had decided to speak while he was going at her. Not that it was even a bad thing. His voice was so low and deep that it vibrated into her and against her in ways she’d never thought were possible. Ways she couldn’t ever do to herself. She arched up towards him, grabbing his hair trying to press his face in more, get to that spot right where her clit was just brushing against his nose. She was close to orgasming as it was, from what she’d done before. How he’d been talking to her. She only needed a little bit more of a push. “That’s right…make me do it…bad boy…such a bad soldier boy…” She heard him but then he was really tight against her, his tongue slipping into her. She bit into her hand tightly. He added in a few of his fingers. Slipping them into her in order to stimulate her more as his mouth moved to focus entirely on her clit. 

Had she not been terrified of getting caught she would have screamed but somehow managed to hold back as she started to climax. Which only seemed to make him work harder. His tongue and lips firmly on the most sensitive nub of her most private of parts, pulling climax out of climax out of her until she believed she could die. He pulled back after what seemed like an eternity of this. His eyes closed as he sucked on his bottom lip, seemingly in a state of absolute bliss. She pulled her hand away from her mouth. She’d bitten into it hard enough it was bleeding. Taking a moment to catch her breath, she sat up soon after and fixed herself as best she could while he stayed here on his knees, eyes closed, still humming and sucking his lips. 

“You need to lay down and rest, Soldier boy.” She whispered in his ear. 

“If this ain’t heaven I don’t know what is.” He said, collapsing heavily to the mattress looking like maybe he was in actual paradise. She giggled softly and grabbed the blanket to put over him. She settled down beside him, stroking some hair out of his face, leaning in to kiss his lips softly. He kissed back. 

“This earth and heaven is what we make it.” She said softly, taking his large hands into hers. 

“Then I ain’t leavin any time soon if it’s this good here with you.” He yawned and pulled her in close to him. A firm almost protective embrace that she didn’t want to get away from. It was comforting and soft. Unlike anything else she’d ever felt. She just allowed it to happen as the opium took them both over and they drifted off to sleep. 

*****

It was a day after the funeral and not very much had gone well with that. She supposed it was good that a ton of people hadn’t really attended for one reason or another. He didn’t seem to have too many friends himself. Charlotte had some but not him. No family came in either. Arvin said something about them being too far away to come in on such short notice. Not like anyone could really be called either. Willard was so cataonic and far away he seemed surprised he even had a wife, and what was even worse was the looks she did get from Charlotte’s friends. As if she’d killed the woman herself. That was everyone other than Scarlett who was very kind, understanding, and still wanted to gossip like they were best friends. Something that would have been insanely annoying if she weren’t so hungry for friendship herself. 

The only thing left after that point had been to get Willard back home. She’d taken the time to clean up the master bedroom. Changed the bedding and clean the best she could. He just went to the room and laid down, staring dead at the wall. He hadn’t really said too much, usually just repeated back what was said to him, which was normal for a state of mind like this. He didn’t even respond to Arvin. Really only to her, and it wasn’t much at that. She did the best she could for the boy herself but hardly knowing him that much to begin with wasn’t helping them either. She really had gotten there right in time because had she not, all of this would have collapsed in the blink of an eye. 

She was working on breakfast when Arvin came into the room and sat down at the table. He looked better than she expected after all that had happened. At least he’d gotten closure with his mother and been with her for her final moments which seemed to do wonders for his peace of mind even if he was obviously still grieving. What made it worse was he had to do the same with his father now. Not that he wouldn’t ever get better but he had sort of lost the man at the same time. More so than he probably believed that he had. She looked at him as she set down a plate of food. It was breakfast, more western style. Eggs and a few pancakes. They weren’t hard to make, she’d learned a while back how to do that because it was really cheap to prepare basic food when she needed to.

“Gotta pay off the house, Landlord’s comin by today to get it.” He said. 

“I’ll give you the money. If he gives you any shit I’ll kick his ass.” She replied then chuckled softly, “Sorry, pretend I didn’t say that part.”  

“It’s okay, guess I ain’t expect a lady to have a mouth like that.” He smiled and started to eat. She laughed, no one ever expected that and she wasn’t lying when she told him she was worse in Japanese. It certainly didn’t make her very many friends but she never wanted them. All the rumors already circulating about her as it was, people just thought she was strange. Almost untouchable. Save a man’s life and this was what she got in return. Yet, she still had such a deep love for Willard she believed that it wasn’t too bad and she could deal with all that. 

“He said he loves you.” Arvin said after a moment, “And even though he tried to cover for that later I think that…well he does love you Miss Takashi. Why’d he say that?” 

“Do you think it will help you to know?” She asked, since she had asked the same thing of Charlotte. She thought it was only fair to ask and allow him the time to consider if knowing the information would be more painful than not. 

“I can’t say I know if it’ll help or not. I do know that I only ever seen my Pa love my Ma. How he was with that. I also never heard him say he loves no other woman either. I think if he says he still loves you then there’s a reason and it ain’t a bad one.” He said, “But I also think he’s so gone in his mind he ain’t thinkin clearly and I just wanna understand. Was it a delusion or does he got reason to think that?” 

“Fair enough question.” She nodded, “During the war we had a bit of a romance. Which…I know you don’t want to hear about your father but he never mentioned you two either. If I’m being honest I’m not sure I’d have allowed that to change much because of how I felt but I genuinely didn’t know. I probably would have tried harder to stop it.” 

“He ain’t mention me or Mama?” 

“He was very sick, very delusional from fever. Didn’t help that I kept giving him opium for his pain and to…calm him…down…” She started to trail off as she realized giving him more now night actually help his condition. It would improve his mood, take him out of the fearful and shocked state he was in, and hopefully allowed him a bit of respite from the waking nightmare he was probably in. She knew that long term was not a good plan because of the chance of some sort of addiction but for a short period of time it might help. 

“What? What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing, just realized opium might help him now too but there is no hurry.” She said, “So, as I was saying, he was hurt. He had an infection. Think you know that part. I was the only one who could understand him and also cared for him. My grandfather didn’t want me to. Said I would be a traitor and he was a traitor anyway for being there. That maybe it was a plan for an ambush or something. He’d rape me I don’t know…uh….sorry about that language there.” 

“It’s fine, I understand.” He nodded and went back to eating. 

“Well, none of that ever happened.” She said, “He was skittish at first, thought I was trying to poison him when I first offered him opium. Made me drink half of it to prove it wasn’t poison. I’d had it before so I did. He drank the other half. Things kind of spiraled out of control from that point because of what happens but it wasn’t unwanted from me. Not really by him either. Think it allowed him to explore things he normally wouldn’t have because he’s so repressed. Plus, he needed the break because of the war. I kind of…coaxed it out of him anyway so if you want to be mad at anyone be mad at me.” 

“I guess I’m just surprised it even worked like that, he didn’t seem at all like he’d ever be with a Jap….Japanese like that.” He said, clearly stopping himself from using the slur because she was right there. Then he just looked kind of sheepish. Even if she didn’t like hearing that, it was easy for her to accept that he’d been raised to think and speak that way and it was just a habit he was going to have to try to break. “Sorry Miss-” 

“You can call me Rika. I don’t care what your father says about that either.” 

“Alright, Rika, sorry I…I didn’t mean to uh-” 

“I get it, it’s okay. I’m not offended, your father has said worse and probably will go on to do it again. Words only have the power we give them. I know it’s easier said than done, still working on it myself.” She said. 

“So then you were lovin on him when he was there? The whole time?” He asked. 

“Yes,” She said, “Not always when we were high either, it just kept happening. The whole while the entire village and my family disowned me. I knew before going out there that they would but I couldn’t let him die. Something told me it wasn’t right. We are both humans and he didn’t do anything to me, I should help him. He didn’t want to leave, I made him. Talked to him about desertion and what it might mean. He’d go to jail and…it was just better to get him out of there. I arranged a boat for him to go back to the main island and he gave me his dog tags. So I wouldn’t forget. I never wanted to forget and I’m not sure he ever did himself even if he never spoke of it. Was probably ashamed or…I don’t really know. He was clearly married and had a kid at home.” 

“But you really did love him that much, and him…just at first sight. Like Mama.” He said. 

“Really?” 

“Yeah.” He nodded, “That’s what they told me anyhow. Think it might have been a thing you just tell a kid cause it’s easier but I know how much he loved her. I wanna hate him for this crazy bullshit but part of me understand he only did that because he’s got some weird idea in his brain it is love. Was…whatever. Hard to really hold it against him when I know he also ain’t quite right and you explained all that stuff about the war and being kinda trapped there for him.” 

“I know. I’ve seen it myself. In more than just him and far worse.” She said, coming over to the table to sit down. “He will get better with time but I can’t also promise he will go back to normal just…better. He can rest now, worry about nothing. The bills will get paid and there will be enough left over for plumbing and food for a bit. We can grow some food too maybe get a few chickens. Worst comes to worst I’ll find work. People need nurses, even in small towns.” 

“I think people might be more interested in those fancy ass potions you were given my mama. They easy to make?” He said. She laughed, he probably wasn’t wrong about that at all. She hadn’t even considered how Americans might respond to that and she could probably charge them more than they were worth because the wouldn’t know better. It was a horrible thought, and though she’d never actually do that to anyone in need some people could afford it. It was kind of all about judging the situation on a case by case basis. 

“Most of them are pretty simple, yes, but I’d need to be able to grow these herbs and other plants. I certainly have the base seeds for most of them but it’s hard to tell if they will grow in this climate.” She said. 

“Ain’t no harm to try right? We got enough land, we can get supplies. Better soil and things.” He said. 

“Not a bad idea at all.” She said. “You think you’ll be okay handling this payment stuff. This man, whoever he is, will not listen to me I’m sure of that.” 

“You just worry about takin care of Pa for now. I can do the rest. See about plumbi too. Probably have to go into town but you’ll be fine alone with him, right?” He asked. 

“I’m sure I can manage. After you pay the house off, you go down there and you use whatever is left to make improvements to the house. Better electricity, plumbing, whatever you can do. It’ll be more comfortable and you won’t regret it.” She said. 

“Food too?” he asked. 

“Food, supplies, anything that will make us self sustaining so he doesn’t have to work for a bit and I can make my potions to sell.” She teased, “You know anyone who would even be interested.” 

“Trust me, I can get people into it. Tell them how much it helped Mama…make up some other bullshit about Japanese magic, if you don’t mind.” 

“If anything I would encourage you to bullshit…sales are sales.” She smiled. He laughed and finished up his food. He started to clear off the table and she got up in order to mix up the opium she would need to give to Willard. Since he was pretty compliant about eating and drinking it wouldn’t take much to get him to down a small cup of this mixture then wait until it kicked in. Arvin wouldn’t be leaving immediately so if anything went horribly wrong they would both be there to try to combat it. She didn’t think it would though. She had a feeling that history was not only repeating itself but maybe giving both of them a second chance. 

CHAPTER TEN

“It might help if you undressed.” She explained to him on the third morning they were there together. He was in pain again, this was well after the round of opium wore off. It was now a case of feeding him what little she could scrape together and most of that was her own food. Her Grandfather wasn’t giving her extra. He said the American could starve for all he cared and if she wanted to starve in his place he could have her food. This wasn’t anything she was telling him because she didn’t want him to feel bad. He needed it more than her and she could always go around and forage or beg off of anyone who was willing to take pity on her. It wasn’t a lot of people but some of the older women in the village would. 

“What in the hell for?” He grumbled. 

“Fever is getting much worse and I have idea for that.” She told him. After going through some books they had laying around about illness and infection she had read up on how to reduce fever. There were some teas that would help with inflammation and fever reduction but they also weren’t doing too much. Not as much as they needed to do or she had hoped. She’d been cleaning his wound as much as possible but it was still pretty infected and swollen. Trying to get him to take more opium had proved pretty futile as well, more because he seemed to want to try to be tough about this. It was impressive but she didn’t think there was any reason for him to continue with a charade like that. 

“Why’s it gotta do with me being naked?” 

“Because that is part of the treatment. You get naked and I get sheets. I take them out and get them wet with water from the well and drape them over you. It will help with a cooling effect maybe to…drop the fever.” She said. There was always a chance that it wouldn’t work but it was damn well better than doing nothing. All she had been trying was a cooling compress to his forehead. Short of getting him back to the river and in actual cold water this was the best she could think of. She’d seen it done before and it seemed to work if someone were to ask her. 

“Don’t see why I-” 

“Have I been wrong yet?” She asked. He grumbled but pulled his shirt off very, very slowly. She knew he was still in a ton of pain because of the wound in his side which was looking worse if anything. No matter how much she cleaned it, which wasn’t much because he was a pain in the ass about it. She was going to need to do more for it because there was still dirt in there and he would barely let her touch him. “I also think that you should take more opium.” 

“I told you, it ain’t that bad. I can handle this.” He insisted. 

“I am sure you can be man and handle all of this but it needs to be clean, more. Lots better. You know that too you can see it.” She pointed out. He looked down at his side for a long moment and frowned. It was obvious from his expression he knew that she was right. “Just one more dose is all I ask. If you want more after then I will give but I only need this time and I will clean you up best ever. Okay?” 

“Fine but…I ain’t gonna need it again after this. You’ll see.” He insisted. 

“Yes, I’m sure you won’t, Soldier boy.” She said with an attempt to humor him. He didn’t look very amused as he started to work to get his pants off. As he did this, she grabbed an extra set of sheets and headed out of there to get to the back where the well was. He had a blanket to cover himself with until she got back to keep himself modest. She just hoped that any of this worked because if it didn’t she feared that the fever was never going to break and he would die completely in her arms in a day or two. As grumpy and stubborn as he was, they did seem to be making it work and got along for the most part. Talked a lot and told each other stories. He was miserable but it seemed to be less since she was there to take his mind off of it. She would just continue to do that until there wasn’t a need for it anymore. She hoped that the reason would be because he got better though. He was far too good of a man to die this way, even if he was an american. 

*****

A few days passed, then a few weeks. She had been giving Willard opium on and off, nothing too regularly either. She didn’t want to risk some sort of dependency or addiction which she knew was a thing. It was seemingly helpful, though not by much. It allowed him to relax and get some sleep. Otherwise he’d just lay there tense as holy hell and stare at the wall. He never said much. Sometimes he would repeat back phrases she said to him and taking care of him was getting harder and harder. Within that time period they were lucky enough to accomplish what needed to be done. Namely, getting a bathroom and running water through the house. Other than the one bathroom which they’d all end up sharing there was a sink put into the kitchen. With the last bit of money that was left over they’d managed to get a refrigerator and a bunch of food. 

Normally, what she’d had on her would have probably not covered all of that. Except, she knew how to work the system. Between pretending not to speak English or understanding prices and the sob story Arvin was giving about his sick father and his mother dying, they were able to pull off a lot more than they should have been because it was a small town full of good Christian folk. The amount of food they managed to stockpile would last months thanks to the nearly brand new refrigerator and the running water made everything else so much easier. Arvin was happier showering daily and she was able to go back to her baths which were extremely relaxing after entire days trying to take care of Willard. She knew that eventually he would start to show signs of improvement. Every day it was at least something. It wasn’t like flipping a switch, though, and he hardly even seemed to recognize who Arvin was. They had tried that. 

Arvin was very helpful with setting things up so she could grow herbs and flowers for what she was going to be making. He also hadn’t been wrong about knowing people who would be interested in what she could make. Though a lot of it was legitimately helpful for minor aches, pains, and illnesses, a lot of it was just going to be sold based on the fact that she was from Japan and people thought that she knew magic. Some sort of novelty thing. They especially loved it when she spoke with her heavy accent and talked about the stars, spirits, and planets. Gave bullshit horoscopes and what not. It was bringing money in, and all of this allowed Arvin to go back to school pretty full time. Which he needed. She helped him with his homework and deal with any other problems she could when she wasn’t also trying to balance out what the hell Willard was doing and needed. 

What surprised her the most was one day when Arvin had gone into town for supplies she looked out of the window and saw a very pretty young woman standing there. She wasn’t dressed like the usual girls around town. She was wearing pants and a small T-shirt that kind of showed her belly. Nothing very slutty but it was a bit more boyish than feminine. Her hair was bright red and reached all the wait down to her waist. She had a ballcap on much like the one Avin favored wearing and she was kind of tiny. Way too pale. She seemed to be looking around and trying to get up the nerve to come up to the porch. Rika stopped working on the medication she was bottling and headed outside to greet her. 

“Can I help you with something?” She asked. The girl jumped back and then pushed some of her hair out of her face nervously. 

“Yeah uh…this is where Arvin lives right?” The girl asked. 

“He does but, he went into town for some supplies. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.” She replied. 

“You’re the one they been talkin about? My mama said to stay away from you cause you ain’t no good. Work with the devil or something.” She said then laughed, “My mama ain’t been right in the head since my Daddy died though so that’s how I know you’re probably fine. She ain’t too nice about the Japs cause of the war.” Rika nodded slowly, as dumb as this girl spoke she also sounded pretty smart so it was kind of confusing. 

“If you want you can come in and wait for him, I’m sure he won’t be long. It’s hot out and I can get you something to drink.” She offered. 

“Mighty kind of you but I wouldn’t wanna be a bother. Just live a bit down the road. We only moved in a few weeks ago.” The girl said. 

“No bother, really, and no matter what your Mama said I’m not in the business of poisoning anyone if that’s what you’re worried about. It would kind of kill my business model.” She chuckled. The girl smiled, instantly understanding that was meant as a joke which was so refreshing considering how a ton of people just stared at her blankly when she said something stupid. Hopefully this girl was interested in dating Arvin. She’d definitely be good for him. “I’m Rika, what’s your name?” 

“Cordelia Banks.” She replied and came up onto the porch, “I heard his daddy ain’t right in the head now too, cause of the war. I say at least his daddy came back.” She sighed. 

“That’s one way of looking at it.” Rika said, this girl certainly was interesting, “Have a seat. Want some lemonade? Just made it this morning so should be nice and cold by now.” 

“That sounds great.” Cordelia said and took a seat at the kitchen table, “This where you make all them potions everyone’s talkin about?” 

“What gave it away?” She replied looking over at the counter where all of her stuff was set up. Cordelia chuckled as she went to get her a glass of lemonade. She set it down on the table before walking back over to the counter. The young woman picked up the glass and looked at it before taking a few gulps. 

“They say that yous a witch or something but we learnt in school that Japan ain’t like that too much. Something about eastern herbal medication. They don’t tell us too much cause of the war cept maybe that you all live in mud huts unless you are in a big city.” Cordelia said, “But I don’t think it’s like that, I think they just make up stuff cause the war happened and it’s just barely over.” 

“It’s not inaccurate to say that some people still live in more primitive areas but, sorry to disappoint you, it’s not mud huts and it’s not all just herbs and magic for healthcare.” She laughed. It really would have been offensive but she didn’t think this girl was saying it to be mean. She figured she wanted to learn and she already had seemed to deduce that they weren’t telling her the whole story. She wasn’t like the others who outright said shit to her and meant it, or treated her like she was a circus act. It seemed more like curiosity, in the way that Arvin would sometimes say stupid things but only because he didn’t know any better not because he actually thought those things about her. 

“Yeah, don’t make no sense it would be like that.” Cordelia shrugged. “How’s Arvin’s dad anyway? People say he’s uh…well he’s kind of slow in the head after his wife died. I try not to take too much stock in rumors though.” 

“It’s called shell shock but specifically he’s catatonic right now.” She explained, “I was a nurse in Japan after the war for ten years I’ve seen a lot of this. He’s slowly getting better though. Every day just a bit more progress.” 

“That’s good, Arvin don’t like to talk about him too much but we just met so I don’t really blame him.” She said, “Seems like he could use a friend and I don’t got any seein as how I just moved here.” 

“You’re not wrong about him needing a friend.” She laughed, “I don’t think he’s doing too well with only me around.” 

“He don’t talk mean about you.” Cordelia said, “He don’t say much either but…I just don’t think he’d be friendly with you if there was something wrong about it.” 

“Uh…thanks.” She replied, deciding that was meant to be some sort of compliment. She finished bottling up what she had for her next order then started to write some random Japanese bullshit on a card to attach to it. Nothing that was anywhere near significant but since none of them could understand it anyway it didn’t matter what she wrote as long as it looked fancy as hell. Usually she wrote “thanks for the purchase you american idiots” because it looked pretty. “He said he had a nurse here to take care of his father I’m guessing?” 

“Yeah about that much and that you’re real nice and pretty and you help him with school a lot. He didn’t say anything about being Japanese but given all the rest of the talk around town I kinda figured it out. Never thought I’d see one up close neither.” Cordelia said. 

“Well I’m not a circus act despite what everyone would have you believe.” She chuckled. 

“Oh…oh God no I didn’t mean it like that I’m sorry I just-” 

“It’s okay, I understand.” She said smiling gently. “I have to go tend to Willard, he needs some medication so just make yourself comfortable. Arvin will be back any minute and if he’s not then I will make you something to eat.” 

“Japanese food?” Cordelia asked, looking insanely excited at that idea. It was probably the first time anyone had asked her to make anything like that at all. Though she did make it for herself quite a bit, Arvin never asked to try any of it. Maybe he seemed curious but he hadn’t said anything about wanting it. She didn’t dare try to give anything like that to Willard and make whatever hellish flashback he was going through worse so she just ate it herself. If Arvin ever did ask she’d be more than happy to get him some but he didn’t. 

“Yes, I’d really like that actually.” She smiled, “Just give me a few minutes okay?” 

“Alright, if you need any help then let me know I guess. I’m pretty good with horses when they get scared.” Cordelia said. Rika chuckled at that idea. As insane as it sounded, it wasn’t really that bad of a thing to consider. Mostly because Willard was practically the size of a horse compared to her. The only problem was that Cordelia was about the same size as she was. Probably two was better than one if it came down to that but she didn’t want to risk Cordelia getting hurt if there was some sort of freak out. Something she didn’t really expect to happen but there was never any way of knowing with someone in a catatonic state of mind. 

She grabbed a bottle of opium mixture that she had prepared earlier and headed into Willard’s room. He was still as he usually was, laying on the bed staring at the wall. Except, this time, when she came over to the bed to greet him he sat up by himself and looked at her, blinking a few times. She smiled at him, not really making a big deal out of it because she didn’t want to startle him into thinking anything was abnormal about this. She had to encourage normal behavior while discouraging the abnormal stuff. 

“Got your medication.” She said, holding it up so he could see it. 

“Who’s here?” He asked slowly, “Another girl?” 

“Yes, she’s the neighbor I guess. Said they moved in a few weeks ago.” She confirmed and opened the bottle. She held it out towards him wondering if he would take it voluntarily or she’d have to get it into his mouth again like she usually did. He looked at her for a moment before reaching out to take it. He drank it himself then held the bottle back out to her, making a bit of a face at the taste. 

“Never did like how that tasted you know, could you do something about that?” He asked. 

“Never complained before but yes there are ways to mask the taste if you’d prefer it.” She nodded, “How are you feeling?” 

“Better, I think…” He said, “Don’t know. Something different about today. Wasn’t sure if I should have said something before but it’s like…more clear than usual. Is…is that good?” 

“Clear?” 

“Like I ain’t trapped in my mind or somewhere else, just watchin my body. More like uh…that I’m here. It’s happened before kinda briefly but then it stopped. This mornin when it did that I figured it was just one of those times again but then it didn’t stop.” He said, “Feel like maybe I’m comin back but then I get scared that what if I’m wrong. What if…it don’t stop?” 

“I can’t promise you that it won’t, but I can tell you that if it does then I will be here to take care of you until it stops again. How about that?” She asked, putting her hand over his. He smiled at her, weakly and blinked a few times. She had been hoping for just one moment of lucidity in the past three or so weeks and she was finally getting it. He was right about the fact that he may just go back into catatonia but the more moments like this he had, the longer they’d last and the better he’d get until eventually it would just stop. 

“You been takin such good care of me.” He said, “I ain’t got a clue how I’d ever repay you for any of this and that…that boy….” 

“Arvin, you mean your son?” 

“I don’t get none of that. He ain’t that old.” He insisted, which was what he had said at least one time before and then shut up and went back to staring at the wall. It was what alerted her to the fact that he had no idea what year it was and for some reason still thought he was back in the war. Something she was really going to have to work on with him. 

“Where is it that you think you are?” She asked. 

“Japan of course, it’s why we met. I still don’t think this look like Japan but how are you gonna be anywhere else?” He asked, “I missed you I know that much. Been awhile. I love you…always held on to that too.” 

“Well, it’s not Japan this is your house. In Knockemstiff.” She said, “Your son Arvin is sixteen and your wife passed away from cancer almost a month ago now. You remember any of that?” He shook his head slowly. She wasn’t surprised he had put a huge block on that, but he was talking now so she could work up to helping him remember later. 

“Only wife I ever damn well wanted was you, pardon my…language there.” He said. 

“I don’t think that’s true but…I’ll take the compliment.” She reached out and took his hand giving it a gentle squeeze, “Come on, I think you’d feel better after a shower and a bit of food, I’m going to make something for our visitor and Arvin will be home soon. It’s almost dinner.” 

“Is she Japanese too?” 

“Who? The visitor?” 

“Yeah,” He said and slowly got up. It wouldn’t be long until the opium started to work, so at least it would make him a bit more cheerful and calm. She wouldn’t have to worry too much about him around a new person. Cordelia didn’t seem like she’d cause too much trouble anyway as it was. The girl was a bit ignorant but not harmful about it. Seemed like she could learn a lot if she was just told the right way to do things. 

“No, she’s the neighbor girl. I told you that. Her name is Cordelia. Does that sound Japanese?” She asked as she helped him balance a bit so he wouldn’t fall. He paused like he was thinking about it then rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms and shook his head. 

“I ain’t no damn expert on Japanese girl names.” 

“Well that’s not Japanese if it was I’d have said Keiko or something.” She chuckled, “Come on soldier boy let’s get you to the bathroom.” She wrapped her arm around him and guided him a short way down the hall to get him in there. He seemed surprised there was a bathroom, more so than usual. It was like he kept forgetting that part. It was only about a week old so she wasn’t shocked that was the case. He was slowly adjusting to it. She started the water for him and checked it to make sure it wasn’t too hot. 

“This is very nice, you did all this?” He asked. 

“Guess you could say that, but Arvin helped too.” She told him, “Now, get clean I’ll go start dinner. How’s that sound?” 

“I’m hungry enough so…yeah sounds mighty fine.” He said and started to undress. She watched him for a moment before forcing herself to pull her eyes away and leave the bathroom. She shut the door behind her and took a deep breath. It was getting harder and harder not to think about him in that way, especially not with all the memories she held of him in the past. 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

When she came back out to the kitchen, Arvin was there sitting at the table talking to Cordelia. She could tell by the way he was looking down and kind of bashful he probably liked her so it was cute. She went to the counter to clean up what she was doing so she could actually make food. They were talking softly. Something about a school dance and Arvin saying something about how he didn’t really want to go because he didn’t have anything to wear and couldn’t dance anyway. She frowned and started to get out the stuff for what she wanted to make for dinner. It was about that time in which Cordelia seemed interested in what she was doing again. 

“Are you really going to make Japanese food?” Cordelia asked. 

“Yes, usually make some for myself and make normal western stuff for them.” She said, “It’s easy enough to do everything at the same time on a stove like this.” 

“You don’t have to make two meals you know, I’d try some of that stuff.” Arvin said, “I ain’t never ask cause I didn’t know if you wanted to share or not.” She laughed, that definitely seemed possible for how he was. Maybe just a bit too polite because of how he was raised. She had never really known his stance on that. 

“Okay, but do you think your father will eat it?” She replied. 

“I think he’s gonna eat anything you give him cause it ain’t like he’s in here trying to help. If he’s hungry enough and it’s edible…well it can’t be worse than anything he ever cooked.” Arvin said. “Not like he complains much as it is these days. Barely moves.” 

“Not true, he’s a bit more lucid today but still seems to think he’s back in the war so don’t get too excited about that.” She told him. 

“Oh that’s right, I did hear you two movin around back there.” Cordelia said, “Maybe I can meet him.” 

“If you wanna stay then you go right ahead but he ain’t friendly and if he still thinks we are in the war then he ain’t gonna wanna deal with you either.” Arvin sighed, “Guess him movin around and talkin is better than nothin right?” 

“It’s progress.” She said, “Might still be a bit off from him coming all the way back but you’ll probably prefer this to him not doing anything at all.” Arvin nodded, he didn’t seem entirely overjoyed by the idea but he also looked slightly less depressed than when his father was laying around and doing nothing. All this meant, right now, was that there was more hope for recovery than there had been in weeks past and she hoped to keep working up to it. With any lucky there wouldn’t be another major setback along the way. 

*****

The fact of the matter was that she knew Willard was not getting enough food. Something she hadn’t wanted to think about or even face but as she headed out of her room to get some clean sheets so she could also soak them in water, she could smell dinner being cooked. She’d been giving up most of her food for him, which was fine by her but he was huge. Something else was going to have to be done about this. It would also need to be done very carefully because they would not want to spare food for this white man they could only see as the enemy. It wasn’t as if they were poor or starving, if anything it was the opposite. Their business was always thriving because there was always a need for it. That didn’t mean they weren’t going to be selfish, though. That was the main problem. She headed for the kitchen to see how many people were in there and how easy it might be to sneak out some food, even if she’d have to prepare it in her room herself. She’d already done that a few times with rice but that was not going to be enough to keep Willard alive. She had to get something far more substantial. Her last option would be to go to the river and fish, as well as hope to not get caught by anyone who would be around as they would question why she was doing it. 

Her mother was the only one in the kitchen, at the stove, making what looked like it had to be just a basic stir fry dish. Something easy and quick. There was also soup being heated. Her stomach growled and she tried to ignore it. She just walked over and feigned interest in what was going on, reaching to try to take a piece of carrot for herself, only to get her hand slapped with a wooden spoon. She yelped and pulled it back quickly. 

“No, none of that. It is bad enough we are still feeding you let alone that animal who lives in your room.” Her mother said. 

“He’s not an animal, he’s a human being like you or me.” She said, “He’s also dying, can’t you have any compassion?” 

“Do you think he has any compassion for any of the Japanese men he has killed? Their families? And don’t you stand there and tell me he hasn’t defiled any of our women either. That’s what they all do, Rika.” As her mother spoke she started to wave the spoon around and point it accusingly, causing her to back up. She was seeing that, at least for the moment, she was not going to easily get away with taking anything out of the kitchen. It would have to wait for later. 

“I really don’t think he’s defiled any women, mom, he talks about the lord a lot and if-” 

“We aren’t human to his race. You know that. He probably doesn’t think it counts.” She insisted. 

“Which is really funny because you call him an animal, but I think the real animals are the ones who leave a man to die when he can be saved. American or not, Japanese or not, he is a person and that is what matters.” She insisted right back. Her mother didn’t want to hear any of this, which made everything all the more frustrating. It was getting harder and harder to keep Willard alive and his fever was only getting worse. She was lucky she’d gotten away with everything she had currently but he was going to need more. If she didn’t figure out how to feed that giant, then his body was not going to be able to fight off the infection and he would die no matter what else she did. It was probably time for plan B which also meant heading down to the river. 

“You ask him, what he did in the war, hmmm, how many men he’s killed. I’m sure he’s counted and I’m sure he shed a tear for none of them.” Her mother said, seemingly ignoring the point she just tried to make. “You aren’t giving him any more of our food either.” 

“What if this was me? Huh? What if this was me and he was my only chance and he did nothing and then later you found this out…as my mother. He has a mother, he has a family. They love him and care about him. You think about hearing that your child died while everyone watched and did nothing. Japanese or not, why would you let another mother ever experience that if you could stop it?” She asked, but before her mother could come up with some smart ass answer to her question she stormed out of there. She’d be losing daylight soon and if she wanted any chance of properly catching any sort of fish to bring back she couldn’t stay. It wasn’t as if it would help anyway because she didn’t think anything she could say to her mother would change her mind. No matter how hard it was for her, personally, she wasn’t ready to give up. She was just grateful that Willard couldn’t understand any of the things they were saying about him as she didn’t think it would ever help with his recovery. 

*****

As she was showing Cordelia how to make fried rice, which was the easiest thing she could think of making at the time to teach someone who was new to Japanese cooking, Willard came into the kitchen. She only noticed this because she heard him walking in there. He was not quiet as he lumbered around the house. Possibly because the opium would have made him very weird and sluggish. She looked over at him and so did Arvin who was at the table and had a beer. He was still kind of young to be drinking but she understood why he’d want to so she’d never really tried that hard to stop him. He sat down at the table and glanced in Arvin’s direction. 

“Who are you again?” Willard asked. 

“Arvin, your son.” Arvin replied, not seeming very amused by this. He then started to chug his beer. 

“My son ain’t as old as you.” Willard insisted, “And what in God’s name are you making?” 

“Dinner,” She sighed, “You liked this just fine when I gave it to you before.” Which was the truth, she’d gotten him fried rice when he was in Japan during the war. 

“Smells good.” He muttered, then went back to staring at Arvin who only took a few seconds more of that before he got up and came over to where the both of them were. Cordelia had stopped helping entirely in favor of looking at Willard. That was until she elbowed the girl for staring which got her to turn around again. 

“He’s huge.” Cordelia whispered. 

“I know but he’s more bark than bite.” She replied, which wasn’t exactly true but she didn’t need to scare this girl off. It was good for Arvin to have a friend around that was more his age. Arvin stepped up to the other side of her a moment later and looked at the food then her. 

“When’s he gonna remember anything about me?” He asked softly. 

“I don’t know, but trust me, this won’t be forever. He’s still processing all the shock of what happened and your mother dying.” She said, “I realize it’s very hard but hang in there, it will get better okay?” She put an arm around him and pulled him into a quick hug. 

“That’s the neighbor girl then? What’d you say her name was?” Willard asked. 

“Uh…Cordelia…I’m Cordelia Banks.” She introduced herself and headed over towards the table. Arvin quickly pulled away at that point and followed after his friend. He’d know more than anything that Willard definitely wasn’t more bark than he was bite, which was why she didn’t try to stop him from being just a bit protective. 

“You don’t look Japanese,” Willard said. 

“That’s cause I’m not, sir. This is Knockemstiff.” Cordelia explained. 

“Everyone keeps sayin that but it don’t explain why Rika’s here.” Willard insisted, “How’s she gonna be here? Huh? How’d she even find this place?” 

“She had your dog tags you gave them to her during the war.” Arvin said, sounding very annoyed. “I thought we been over this.” 

“This is my house then?” Willard asked. 

“Yes, Pa, this is your house.” Arvin said slowly. 

“Don’t make no damn sense…” She heard Willard mutter. It wasn’t easy because even if she was a nurse she didn’t fully understand how any of this worked. There was definitely something in his brain blocking out information, and probably because it hurt him too much. Like the fact that he had a wife and she died and he wasn’t even there when it happened. Arvin had already been prepared for that so he had processed it better but he hadn’t. Some mental part of him had shut down and not allowed him to experience it properly. She did believe that subconsciously he had to know that it was the truth he was just in some pretty extreme denial. 

“Well that’s just how it is,” Arvin told him, “Sooner you realize that the better.” 

“Alright dinner is ready.” She interrupted everyone, hoping to diffuse this conversation before Willard could get agitated and probably violent. 

“I’ll help!” Cordelia said happily and hurried back over to where she was in order to help start serving everything and setting the table. This left Arvin and Willard to keep glaring at each other until she came over and put a gentle hand on his arm to move him to the table so he could sit down. It didn’t really stop the glaring but it made things less tense. At least with his father high and sedated like that, she knew any violence he might attempt would be far less powerful. The glaring continued as they all started to eat. 

“So…my daddy was in the war too but he died.” Cordelia said completely out of nowhere after five minutes of very awkward silence. At very least it got Willard to stop glaring at his son and look at her instead. 

“He was?” 

“Uh yeah his name was Peter Banks actually.” She nodded, “I was real close with him too, Mama hasn’t really been the same since he didn’t come back. Was tellin Miss Rika that.” 

“Why do you think this is gonna be helpful?” Arvin asked her softly. 

“I wasn’t tryin to be helpful but he looks about ready to snap your neck with the way he been glarin so maybe someone needed to say somethin,” Cordelia hissed back. It was almost impossible not to laugh at this because in a lot of ways it was right, but also Arvin had a point about it not being super helpful. Maybe. She really couldn’t figure it out so she looked back to Willard. 

“I didn’t ever meet anyone named Banks, don’t think.” Willard said after a moment, “Definitely ain’t no one there with red hair neither.” 

“I get it from my mama, Daddy had brown hair.” She nodded. 

“You was close to him?” Willard asked. 

“Yes sir, he taught me all sorts of stuff. Huntin and fishin and how to defend myself against idiot boys who don’t know how to treat a lady right.” She laughed softly but it sounded kinda sad, “Aint never got along with my mom that well and when he died she-” 

“Cordelia,” Rika said slowly. 

“Let her finish.” Willard insisted, “What happened when he died?” 

“Well, she grabbed a gun and tried to kill herself. Didn’t work out too well cause she lived. Lost an eye though. Then they had to give us a bunch of money cause of something about an unsecured weapon and a pension or…well I wasn’t payin attention but that’s how we got this nice farm here.” She shrugged. 

“Your mother did what?” Arvin asked softly. Rika was kind of shocked that this girl was outright explaining this over dinner but that she sounded kind of okay with it. Then again, she didn’t know how long ago it had happened but it definitely seemed pretty well in the past. The war had gone on for a long time so it wasn’t as if she hadn’t had time to get better from it. She also knew there were many different ways of coping with trauma but one of the best ones was not keeping it bottled up inside and accepting it for what it was. However Cordelia had gotten to the point she had, it seemed it was working for her. The most shocking part wasn’t really how candid the girl was but how closely this mirror Arvin’s own story in a lot of ways. Up to and including the fact that she was already positive had she not triggered some sort of massive flashback with her Japanese, Willard would have jammed that knife into his throat and they’d all be in the same position. 

“Your Mama shot herself after hearing that your Daddy was killed in the war?” Willard asked slowly. 

“Yes sir, as I said it didn’t work. Now she just prays a lot.” Cordelia shrugged and went back to eating. 

“Why would she do that?” He continued. 

“I dunno sir, guess she was just really sad that he was gone. Ain’t gonna bring him back, think she realized it was a mistake when she lived. Said that she deserved to lose an eye for her sinnin and such.” She said. 

“But she still had you and a girl needs her mother,” Willard pointed out. Arvin looked completely dumbfounded by this entire exchange. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something but instead he stood up and stormed out of there, slamming the front door behind him. “What’s his problem?” 

“Oh…you don’t know the half of it.” Rika said, getting up to follow after him, “Cordelia, are you going to be okay here for a minute? I should go talk to him.” 

“Yeah I’ll be fine.” Cordelia nodded, she looked kind of confused by this but also seemed to recognize this might be a private matter and it wasn’t any of her business. It didn’t seem like Arvin had told her a whole bunch but as it had happened less than a month ago she didn’t blame him. It had to have been pretty raw and hearing all of that from his own father, who barely remembered who he was, definitely struck a nerve. She didn’t know how she was going to fix all this, but she knew she had to try. At very least Willard may have started to gain some clarity into this situation which was a good thing. Him coming back and realizing what was right and wrong. How long it would take him to wake up to the fact that he had made his own mistakes was a question she could not answer. It was exactly why she didn’t know how she could even begin to help Arvin understand why this was ultimately more good news than bad. 

CHAPTER TWELVE

It wasn’t easy to keep up with him while still wearing a kimono. Especially not while they were also outside and it was mostly dark. She kept tripping but the upside was that she could see where he was headed. It was down the path towards his father’s church or prayer log. Something. She supposed they could call it a church in a weird way but she wasn’t sure what to call it. She also hadn’t been down there since before Charlotte had died. Not completely. Half way like when she went to find Willard that morning but no more than that. 

“Arvin!” She called, hoping to slow him down, but that didn’t work. It seemed as if she was going to just have to keep following him until he stopped. Considering the direction he was going she knew where that would be but it was a long way from where she currently was. Even worse, she wasn’t wearing shoes. 

*****

“Your daddy taught you all them things then? Really? Bout huntin and fightin?” Willard asked her. She nodded then kind of glanced at the door. She wasn’t too worried about being left alone with Willard but she was worried about how Arvin was handling this. Rika definitely knew him better and would probably be better at handling this but she liked the guy and felt bad for him. 

“Yes, sir.” She said. 

“You any good at it?” 

“I mean I guess. I can do it and it gets done. Mama ain’t never liked having to guy and scale fish or clean rabbits and such. Only ever got my own deer once. Daddy was so happy. Taught me what to do with it after but…never happened again.” She said. It probably only hadn’t because he also had never come back from the war. 

“How old are you?”

“Gonna be turnin eighteen in a few days. I know it don’t look it cause I’m kinda small.” She said. “Arvin is gonna be seventeen in like a month. Guess it’s kinda weird that I’m the older one huh?”

“Arvin…” he said slowly, as if he were pondering it. He took a few bites of food and she sighed. 

“Yeah, your son.”

*****

After what felt like a painfully barefoot eternity later, they were both at the prayer log. Except Arvin was in the act of kicking and stomping on it like he was trying to break it. She picked up the pace and came towards him, attempting to grab his arm to pull him back. He yanked away from her and kept at it. She tried again only to get slapped. Yelling out angrily she punched him in the side of the head. Something which caused him to stumble then turn and look at her in shock. She didn’t think any of that was because she was strong, he probably wouldn’t even bruise. She more believed he was just shocked that a woman would punch him in the side of the head. Like how his father had been confused about her repeatedly standing up after he’d hit her. It was a moment after that in which he seemed to realize her had hit her and looked insanely upset about it. 

“Shit…I didn’t mean ta-

“It’s fine. You are angry I get it.” She said. 

“That don’t make it okay to do! Are you-“

“I’m fine. Really. I appreciate the concern. You need to calm down.” She said. He shook his head and turned back to kick the log again. “What is breaking this stupid log going to accomplish.”

“I don’t know what it’s gonna do but maybe if he thinks he’s still in the war then it won’t matter. He didn’t have no prayer log before that. This thing been more trouble than helpful anyway.” He said, and he kind of wasn’t wrong about that. He kicked it again. She reached out and put a hand on his arm, one again trying to stop him. 

“Arvin,”

“YOU AIN’T MY MAMA Y’KNOW!” He yelled angrily. 

“I know and I don’t believe I ever tried to be, but could you please just hear me out before being destructive. If you do this you will be no better than your father and I thought that was something you were trying to avoid.”

*****

“Keep saying that kid is my boy and he ain’t. I know cause he ain’t that old. None of this makes no damn sense.” Willard insisted. “How I’m in American supposedly but then Rika is here.”

“She traveled here. The war is over, sir.” Cordelia said. Possibly the only reason this didn’t bother her so much was the fact that she’d already met men like this. Ones that weren’t right in the head because of the war. Men who she would say were probably more crazy than he was right now. He may have gotten the year wrong but he didn’t think he was in active combat either. “My daddy already died in the war. We talked about that. If that’s the case how can you still be in the war?”

“People died a lot in that damn war and-“

“The war is over, sir.” She cut him off. “I ain’t me no disrespect over this but that boy is your son and you ain’t doin him any service right now.” 

“But my wife-“

“She died. A month ago. I know that ain’t nothin you wanna hear neither but I think part of you knows it’s true. Don’t know why I think it but I do.” She sighed and finished the last of her food. It was after that point that she got up and cleared her plate because it was the polite thing to do. Then she started to clean up a bit around the kitchen to make things easier for Rika once she got back. 

“Maybe I just ain’t ready to accept it.” He said after a long moment, surprisingly enough. She turned back to look at him from where she was at the counter, wondering if she’d heard him right. 

*****

“I know that it looks bad right now and I won’t pretend it doesn’t feel bad to have your father say those things but this is very good.” Rika tried to explain, he seemed above and beyond skeptical about it. “He at least has the clarity to understand what Cordelia’s mom did was bad.”

“Well he ain’t puttin two and two together. Feels more sorry for her than he does for me.” 

“That doesn’t mean eventually he won’t come around. This isn’t like flipping a switch and making all things better. This is progress just not what you think of as progress.” She said. “I am aware that it is very hard and even that I can’t comprehend where you are coming from. The best I can say is that when my dad was very sick at the end he sometimes forgot who I was. It’s not a pleasant feeling but…he was sick. So it is your father. Right now. Only difference is that your father has a chance to get better. Mine never did.” 

“Are you tryin to-“

“I am not trying to make you feel bad for me. My father died when I was younger than you are right now. Much younger. I have made peace with it. I’m pointing out that as much as it doesn’t feel like a good thing, try to put it in perspective.” She said. He looked at her then sniffed a bit and turned away. Then he looked like he might go after the log again, but ultimately he just sat down in the dirt and put his face in his hands. She watched him for a moment before kneeling down by his side and placing a hang on his shoulder.  

*****

“I know this is all my fault and I ain’t ready to tell him.” Willard said. 

“What is your fault, sir?” 

“The cancer and…his Mama. Lord told me about that. Gave me insight. It’s for lovin another woman which I can’t do nothin about cause I do love her.” He continued. It took a moment for her to realize that the only possible woman he could mean was Rika. She wasn’t even entirely sure how they’d met or what that story was. Obviously, it had been during the war somehow but no one had gone into detail with this and her. “You saw your Mama almost die?”

“Yes, sir. I was there when she tried it.” She nodded. “It was a few years back.”

“You don’t hate her?”

“No, sir. Guess it ain’t fun knowin she did all that and was gonna leave me too but I don’t think she was in her right mind when she did it. Guess I can also understand that losin someone she loved like my Daddy could cause that kind of heartache. Maybe I felt it a bit too I just didn’t wanna die like that. Don’t think Daddy would have liked either of us goin that way when he fought in a war to protect us in the first place. Then he’d just give his life for nothin. Mama seemed to realize that…eventually.” She explained. “She’s a bit better now but I had to grow up real fast. Take care more of her than she does of me.”

“But you don’t hate her?” 

“She’s my Mama. I don’t think I ever could even if I ain’t too fond of how she is now. She wasn’t like that before the war and I know that’s not who she is. With time I think maybe she could get better but I don’t personally think the lord gives us stuff we also can’t handle.” She said. “Maybe it don’t seem that way but he knows what he’s doing. He likes to test the faith of the strong. Like Job.”

“You go to church then?”

“Every Sunday. Not sure I like that new preacher too much but Mama sure does and it makes her happy and it don’t cost nothin so what do I got to lose?” She asked. At that point in her life she was use she didn’t believe in any of this nearly as much as her mother but she knew better than to say it. She also knew it might be risky to say it to Willard. To her it appeared the older generation was all about the lord and other crazy bullshit and it was just easier to play along. She didn’t completely dismiss the idea of God or even Christ himself but she wasn’t too happy with them either. She certainly wouldn’t have said she was devout, she was just good at faking it. 

“He ain’t gonna like me too much.” Willard said. 

“He won’t hate you. He just wants his Daddy back.” She said. “I’d give anything to have mine again.” 

*****

“It ain’t fair that he acts like this. I ain’t done nothin to deserve this neither.” Arvin said after a very long moment of extremely frustrated crying. She had just sat there with him, letting him have it out as it seemed like the best way to get him to vent without him also being violent. 

“No one would ever say you did deserve it.” She said, “But it is part of the…suffering is part of being human.” 

“Why would any sort of loving God wanna do this to anyone?” he questioned. 

“I don’t know, we don’t believe in the same God. My whole system of belief prepares us for all this suffering anyway. Think I might have a different experience than you and I don’t really relate to all this sinning or…the same things you think of as bad or good.” She told him. He sniffed again then rubbed his eyes and turned to look at her more. 

“What do you believe? You can’t sit there and tell me you don’t think there is evil or people don’t do bad things. Gotta have a word for that.” He said. She laughed softly and reached out to wipe some dirt off of his cheek. 

“Karma is the closest thing I can think of.” She told him. 

“What’s that?” 

“It means the intent behind a specific action and what consequences it leads to. Usually more directly. I suppose in a way it’s similar to sin. As in, if you do bad things then bad things happen to you. You do good things then good things happen.” She said. 

“What if you keep tryin to do good things and bad things keep happenin? Got a fix for that?” 

“I told you that I already believe suffering is part of being human, I think that it still shouldn’t stop a person from doing what is right. There is good karma and bad and I think that if you keep doing the right thing, even when bad things keep happening, eventually you are rewarded. You start doing bad things because bad things are happening, then they are not going to ever get better.” She explained, “I mean they may never get better if you keep doing good things, but you won’t make anything worse. It will get worse if you keep doing the bad things.” 

“But how am I supposed to do anything good when none of this is fair in the first place? I ain’t done nothin to-” 

“Do you think I did anything to make my father get cancer? Deserve it? Didn’t stop me from coming here and helping all of you out. Didn’t stop me from saving your father when no one else would. Doing what is right isn’t always easy but your father wouldn’t be in that house right now had I let myself become bitter over my life.” She said. “I saw a war on my own island, something you never had to see and even through all that I knew that the right thing to do was to save your father. I won’t tell you what to do, Arvin. You are right, I am not your mother, but I do know that you know what is right. It’s time for you to decide how you are going to behave. No one else can.” She said and got back up to her feet slowly. He looked at her and took off his hat before wiping his brown on the sleeve of his shirt and raising to his feet as well. 

“You still love him like you did in the war?” 

“I don’t think I would still be trying to do any of this if I didn’t.” She said. 

“But you’re the one out here preaching that you do the right thing and everyone should do that no matter how hard it gets.” 

“Yeah but I’m not a saint. People have their limits and I’m still only human.” She smiled, “Trying to do the right thing doesn’t mean you never make mistakes or have some additional motive but we can’t all be perfect. Not you and not your father.” 

“When you saved him you didn’t know him or love him.”

“No, I just did it because it was right.” 

“And it brought you here. Probably to an even bigger hell than whatever was goin on there. You deserve this least of all after all you seen.” He said. 

“I put myself in this situation. I also didn’t say any of that to make you feel bad. I don’t feel bad either. It is just how it is and all things are temporary. This too will pass.” She told him. He chuckled softly then took a step forward and pulled her into a hug. She hugged him back, resting her head against him. Hopefully this stuff was getting through to him. All of their other talks had seemed to help at least a bit. “It’s okay to be angry you know, no one is saying it’s not, but you shouldn’t let that blind you to what’s right and wrong, no matter how hard it might be to do that as well.” 

*****

By some miracle she had caught two large fish right before the sun had set. It would definitely be enough to feed him and herself. Not that it would be the best meal in the universe because all she had additionally was some rice and a few random vegetables but she could prepare it in her room. Try to figure out how to make it last. Possibly make some kind of broth or stock for soup. It would be better than only trying to feed that man rice because he wasn’t going to survive if that was all he had in his system. She started to hurry back to the house because she was losing what little light she did have. 

As she was hurrying through the back door she was grabbed and yanked back then struck pretty hard across the face. She cried out, dropping both of the fish as she fell to the floor herself. None of that had been expected so there also hadn’t been any time to prepare for it. She scrambled to grab the fish first, but was stopped when her grandfather stepped in front of her, blocking her path. It wasn’t surprising that he was the one who had done this. She cried out angrily and looked up at him, getting to her feet. Not an easy task considering she’d barely eaten in three days and was very tired. 

“Where do you think you are going?” He demanded. 

“To my room.” She said, “I told you that this was nothing you had to concern yourself with.” 

“I do not want that man dying in my house! Think of all the evil his spirit will bring.” He insisted. She laughed. 

“Well, it certainly won’t be evil to me because it will know I tried to do something.” She told him, which only got her struck again. She yelled out angrily but shoved him back only so she could grab the fish and pick them up again. He may have wanted to hit her but she didn’t intend him any harm. She had to get back to Willard as it was. “Maybe if you don’t want malevolent spirits you shouldn’t act like you do.” Not wanting to stop or continue this conversation because it wouldn’t change anything she headed for her room. As she turned the corner she saw the door was open and Willard was standing there, somehow, leaning against the frame. He looked like he was about to collapse at any second and she had no clue why he was up. “Lay down Soldier boy.” 

“What’s goin on out here?” He asked, just as her grandfather stepped up behind her, grabbing her by her hair to pull her back. She screamed again yanking away from him so hard that he took a chunk of her hair with him. She turned back, angrily, wondering why he was doing this when he didn’t have to take part in it. He also didn’t care if Willard died or not so as far as she could see, none of this was his concern. 

“You will not talk to me like that.” He insisted, “This is my house. Not yours. You are lucky I still let you live in here let alone that…animal.” He motioned angrily to Willard. What he was saying was in Japanese because he didn’t know English but that certainly did not change the tone or make it sound any less insulting. She was pretty sure that even if the man couldn’t understand a word of that he’d know the intent behind it. 

“He is far less of an animal than you or mom. I can tell you that much right now!” She snapped back at him, still in Japanese. Wasn’t going to do her any good to speak in English and she figured she could just explain this to Willard once they were alone again. Though she knew she shouldn’t have said what she said seconds after it left her mouth and got her slapped again. Hard enough that time to make her ears ring. She stumbled back, keeping a death grip on the fish. He definitely seemed like he would take them away from her if he got the chance and she wasn’t gonna let him. 

“HEY! You leave her alone there!” Willard yelled at her grandfather. 

“Get back in the room, Soldier.” She said. Even if her grandfather couldn’t understand English there was no way he wasn’t going to understand that was some sort of command. This was confirmed to her a few moments later when he shoved her aside and stepped towards Willard instead. By some miracle, Willard straightened himself up so he wasn’t leaning anymore. Instead, he was practically towering over her grandfather as a force to be reckoned with, staring down at him. Despite their height difference, he didn’t seem to be even slightly intimidated by this, just irrationally angry. 

“You will die in there and it will be agonizing. I look forward to it.” He said after a long, tense moment where she honestly believed someone was going to hit someone else. His voice was cold, and biting. The only thing that made it better was that he couldn’t understand what was said even if she knew he could figure out it wasn’t nice. 

“I ain’t gonna let you hit her again, you hear?” Willard asked. “You got a problem you deal with me directly old man.” She saw his hands clench into fists, he started to shake. He shouldn’t have been able to stand up, let alone continue standing there actually making himself look scary. She didn’t know if her grandfather was scared and just good at hiding it, or already knew there wasn’t much Willard could do because of how weak he was but none of that even mattered. She was incredibly touched and even impressed by the fact he was trying to do something when he really shouldn’t be wasting any of his energy on this. Her grandfather laughed, loudly, right in his face then stormed off. He didn’t bother asking for her to translate even if she knew he had to at least be curious. It was probably more just to spite her in an attempt to show how little he cared about or respected Willard. Once he was gone, Willard stumbled back and leaned heavily against the door. She hurried over to him. 

“Okay…I think we’ve had enough of that we need to get you back in bed.” She said, putting an arm around him. He placed his hand on her shoulder, leaning on her heavily as they moved back into the room. Once he was back down on the bed, she went to her door and slid it shut. Taking a moment to compose herself she rested her head against the door and turned back to look at where he was now laying. He looked like a wreck but at the same time, kind of pleased with himself. 

“I know I don’t speak no word of Japanese, not one, but I ain’t letting him hit you like that again.” Willard said. 

“Thank you, for doing that.” She replied. It was tempting to yell at him, tell him that he was stupid and that he shouldn’t have expended his energy on her. Which she also believed. At the same time, the fact that he had stood up for her and he wasn’t even Japanese was more meaningful than anything she believed she’d ever experienced. They all wanted him dead, what her grandfather had just said proved it but he’d done it anyway. He’d managed to get past whatever thoughts he may have previously had to do what was right and at very least attempt to show her what it meant to him. The gesture was strong enough for her to realize that even if she couldn’t change the hearts and minds of everyone on the island, she could change the heart and mind of one man. It was something that seemed to make the entire ordeal worth it. 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

When they got back to the house, Willard wasn’t at the table and for some reason, Cordelia was cleaning the kitchen. Not that she wasn’t grateful for the help in all of that but she really didn’t expect it. That kind of made her realize that this girl probably didn’t want to go home and what she was saying about her mother was a bit downplayed. Since she could use the extra help and company and she was sure Cordelia could as well, she didn’t intend to say much about it. Arvin just went to the table and sat down. 

“Where is he?” He asked after a moment. 

“Went back to his room,” Cordelia replied, “He didn’t say much to me.” 

“Did he say anything?” Rika asked. 

“We had a talk about my Daddy and my Mama. He asked if I hated my Mama for what she’s done and I said I didn’t. Thinks Arvin’s gonna hate him for something about lovin another woman then he just kinda left.” Cordelia explained. 

“I ain’t gonna hate him, already know what he feels about Rika anyway.” Arvin sighed. “Maybe I understand why too, but he could have just said this to me.” 

“I’m not sure he’s ready.” Rika said, “You should give him time.” 

“Why? I could just be a man and confront him my damn self.” Arvin pointed out. 

“Look, I ain’t no expert on this but you’ll probably just cause a fight. Took me forever to learn that with my Mama. She came around though.” Cordelia said, “I ain’t gonna stop you I just think…if you can wait a bit then you should try. Maybe let him think things over.” Arvin sighed and picked up his fork, poked at his food for a moment, and then started eating. 

“I can heat that up again for you if you-” 

“It’s fine,” Arvin said, “I ain’t that hungry anyway and it don’t taste bad kinda cold.” She nodded and looked at Cordelia who took a seat next to him at the table. Most of the kitchen, otherwise, had already been cleaned up so there wasn’t much that she needed to do, other than check on Willard. 

*****

“Okay, drink.” She said, holding out another cup of opium liquid towards him. He looked at her like he once again thought it was going to be poison. She gave him a very tired look back. After a moment he took it from her and downed it quickly. “Good. Did not want to go through the poison thing again.” 

“Ugh…it ain’t that, more that I just don’t like the taste.” He said. She giggled softly and took the cup back from him then set it aside. 

“I know, I am making soup though and it will be almost ready in no time.” She told him, going back over to the fireplace. The soup didn’t have a ton in it, other than the fish she’d caught, rice, some carrots and onions and that was about it other than salt. She wasn’t sure she cared because it smelled good enough but she was so hungry she’d probably have eaten just about anything. 

“Thought you all ate your fish raw or something.” He said. 

“We eat it cooked too and it’s not all types of fish just certain types.” She said, “Oh and it’s good, have you even bothered to try it?” 

“Why would I want raw fish?” 

“Why would you assume something you have never tasted is bad? Hmmm? You have not had this soup before.” She pointed out. He laughed, but it was short lived before he groaned in pain as his side hurt him and he shifted positions to get more comfortable. 

“That smells good, it don’t smell like no raw fish.” He said after another moment of trying to catch his breath. 

“Sashimi does not smell like raw fish, I think you mean that rotten fish or…fishy smell. If it smells like that it is not good fish. Should only be mild smelling.” She nodded. Once again, he looked at her like she was insane but it wasn’t like she was going to get him any sushi soon so it wouldn’t be a problem he’d have to deal with in the short term. 

“What’d he say to me out there anyway?” 

“You mean my grandfather?” 

“Who else was out there speakin Japanese?” He asked then chuckled again. She looked the soup over to check that it was finished. She didn’t want to give him any immediately because she wanted to be able to clean out his wound first. Since it was basically done she moved it over slightly so it could stay warm but not burn or boil over. It was when she started to work on sterilizing what she intended to use to clean out the wound and boiling some water so she could do it as cleanly as possible. It would definitely be cleaner than river water. Luckily she also did have have some regular soap which was going to be better than no soap at all. 

“He said he hopes you enjoy your stay here.” She lied badly. 

“And…?” 

“That you do not die and go to hell or suffer.” 

“By which you mean he doesn’t want me here and thinks I should suffer and die?” He asked. She smiled but didn’t really confirm it. She was guessing her tone of voice had conveyed what she really meant even if she hadn’t said the words. He certainly understood it. “I don’t wanna die here, Rika.” 

“You won’t, he is just mad because he does not understand why I am doing this.” She told him, grabbing a few things to move over to where he was laying. She laid out a towel, working to get it under him because she didn’t need his blood or other fluids staining her bed. There wasn’t any way she was getting another one after this. 

“I don’t even understand why you are doing this.” He said, “Other than that thing where you said you was sent from the Lord.” 

“You said that, I just did not deny it.” She told him. He gave her a sideways glance, showing that he wasn’t very pleased with her answer to that. However, it wasn’t entirely false so he probably didn’t have much of a counter argument as it was. “The real answer is because I know it is the right thing to do.” 

“That’s it?” 

“That’s it.” She nodded and moved back to the fire to tend to what she was doing before, “Let me know when that stuff kicks in so I can get to work.” 

“Rather eat first.” He said. 

“So would I but I do not need puke everywhere when the pain hits, you will be better off eating after.” She told him. He rolled his eyes then closed them. This was pretty much the last step she could take in order to try to save him. Get the wound as clean as possible and then hope that between her fever reduction techniques and his own body’s defenses, he somehow got through the infection and came out on the other side. If that didn’t happen then he would die here, in her room, and she really didn’t like that either. Her thoughts on what her grandfather had said about his malevolent spirit probably weren’t inaccurate. Though she didn’t think it would haunt her forever, it would certainly not be happy with anyone else in the house, or village. She’d get blamed for that and it would just make everything worse. If he lived then he could just leave and they wouldn’t have to worry. It remained to be seen how much of an actual help she would be, though. 

*****

A few days had passed and, unfortunately for everyone, Willard had stopped talking again and took to staring at the wall. The only good thing about it this time was she could mostly tell that he wasn’t catatonic anymore. He was aware of his surroundings, he just wasn’t talking. She was pretty sure he was massively depressed and just trying to cope with it his own way. Arvin hadn’t tried to do anything to confront him and they even ended up having a very nice birthday for Cordelia. She made some traditional Japanese foods, at least as best as she could with the supplies she had around, and a cake. It didn’t seem like she had a ton of friends either and from what could be gathered it had something to do with her mother being a religious fanatic much like Willard was. That and she was somewhat new in town as well as very different from the other girls. 

This was ultimately what led her to deciding that she was going to go talk to the new preacher in town about Willard and see if maybe he could help. She said she was close with him because her mother was always making her go to church to help out and volunteer her time for the poor. Whatever else needed to be done. Though it didn’t really seem like she was fond of the guy, it looked like she had some idea that Willard might be okay with it, or be better off with people who were holy and actually knew how to pray right. Rika wasn’t sure it was going to do any one any good because she was far from Christian and believed in the bible just about as much as she believed in fairy tales. 

With how much Cordelia kept putting it off she started to think it was never going to happen and it was just a random thought. Yet as time passed and Willard kept refusing to move, speak, or do much of anything, they were all getting a bit more desperate for hope. It was why that Friday afternoon when Arvin walked in after school alone for the first time in a long while she was kind of surprised. 

“Where is your little friend? Did she finally go to the church?” Rika asked as he came into the kitchen. She was looking over recipes to cook for dinner, trying desperately hard to learn and get used to American food. Trying to integrate both types of cuisine into their diets as a compromise. 

“Yeah, she said she’d been puttin it off too long and it won’t take but a minute, then she’ll be right back over here.” He said, “She don’t know if she can get him here right away but she said that he knows her well enough that he’ll try to make time soon, if not.” 

“Good,” She nodded, “I’m not sure how much it’ll help so don’t-” 

“The prayer log ain’t never do shit for us, I have even less faith some seriously shady alleged man of God is gonna do more than that. Probably better off grabbin a random chicken from the market and killin it.” He chuckled darkly, opening his bag to get his books out. At least he seemed to be talking a lot of sense there. She did hope that despite what this preacher’s reputation appeared to be between what Arvin and Cordelia was saying, the girl was going to be okay. Something about it just really didn’t sit right with her. 

*****

As Cordelia approached the church she felt very nervous. She had never actually tried to talk to Preacher Teagardin alone and for good reason. He was always trying to hug her way too much, put an arm around her, stand real close. She had mentioned to her Mama that she did not like this but her Mama couldn’t see past this man’s smooth talking heavenly ways. Told her that she should be lucky he even paid attention to her with how she behaved. Dressing weird and not acting like a lady. It was why, that day, she’d chosen to wear a dress instead of her usual jeans and t-shirt. She’d taken her hair down as well, wanting to appear as helpless as possible. Her best guess was that she might look just pathetic enough he’d listen to her and hurry his ass over to the Russells which would cut down on her alone time with him. Her hand raised up to knock on the door to the church when it opened before she could. He was standing there in his fancy ass suit, his hair kind of slicked back, looking as handsome as he did evil. Almost like a snake. 

“Cordelia…to what do I owe the pleasure?” He asked, leaning against the doorframe looking as smug as the cat that just swallowed the canary. 

“Well, sir…I was wonderin if maybe you could go see a friend of mine. His Daddy hasn’t been too well since his Mama died and-” 

“Bit too hot out here today, think we’d do better inside, don’t you?” He interrupted. Though she was irked by that and didn’t really want to be alone with him, he kind of had a point. It would be shadier in there and maybe a couple degrees cooler than where they were currently standing. She gave him a smile that she hoped didn’t seem forced and nodded her head before stepping in past him. She didn’t go too far before turning, and he stepped back from the door. It shut and he locked it. Her mouth went dry as her nerves flared up. This was a mistake and now there probably wasn’t much wiggle room to get out of it either. 

“As I was sayin-” 

“You just had a birthday right?” He asked, “How old are you again?” 

“Eighteen sir,” She said, taking a small step back as he came towards her, hoping not to appear too suspicious of him. If she did anything to piss this guy off it would get right back to her mother and she did not want to have to deal with that type of mess. 

“Don’t look a day over fifteen if you ask me, maybe it’s because you’re so small. The Lord did bless you kindly with those looks though. The gift of youth. Should not be squandered.” He said, reaching out to take her hands in his. She laughed nervously and nodded, keeping her head down. It was kind of a weird thing to say, though he wasn’t wrong about it either. She’d always been on the small side and when it came to her age versus how she looked it was hard for her to even believe she was eighteen at that point. 

“Thank you, sir but if we could just-” 

“You know what this means right? To be a woman?” He asked. She looked up at him, that was definitely far more weird than the first damn thing he said. His hand came up to caress her cheek. He’d done this before, kind of. Certainly not as intimately as he was trying to do now, but this was one of the weird things he was always doing that she had never liked too much. As he spoke, his thumb brushed over her lips and she twisted her head away, taking a step back from him. 

“Look, I just came here to ask about help for my friend if that’s gonna be too much trouble-” 

“What I find troubling is your lack of appreciation for what I’m trying to teach you here, child.” He stepped forward, grabbing her arm, “Now, I know you wanna be a good girl right? Behave proper and obey His word? What would your mother say if she knew you were defying a man of the cloth?” Though she did not think anything he was about to suggest was with any sort of good or Godly intent she did fear her mother. The woman that she had to live with and couldn’t escape. A situation which would become absolute hell for her if she heard anything about her own daughter disrespecting a preacher. Since they already had a decently rocky relationship which she was desperately trying to repair, his word against hers would mean that he would win. There would be no retaliation and her mother would lose her mind. She may have been an adult but there wasn’t a real option to leave. Her mother couldn’t survive on her own with her current mental state and dependency on painkillers for her eye. This preacher either picked up on that or he was making a very educated guess on the fact that he now essentially had her trapped. 

“Of course I do sir,” She nodded, “I just don’t think that it’s right to-” 

“To what?” He asked, “If God has blessed you with this…womanhood then I think it’s only right that you use His gift properly.” 

“What exactly do you think that is?” She asked him slowly, “Cause I ain’t supposed to do nothin until I’m married, isn’t that what you keep sayin about women and purity?” 

“That is about all those other men you know, not a man of the Lord. A man that will treat you proper and inform you about all that you should be avoiding. We all have these needs, Cordelia. You have them, I have them, but there are ways to find release and there’s no better way to find them than with a man who can properly guide you on that journey.” He said. She knew the exact thing he was talking about was sex. There was no way around that. She also was certainly not whatever his version of pure was going to be. Hadn’t been for awhile. Though she was technically still what anyone would refer to as a virgin, she had taken a few chances to fool around with a couple of boys in her class before moving to Knockemstiff. They had only come there just recently from West Virginia. It was why she hadn’t made any friends other than Arvin. A guy that she liked but wasn’t sure he was more than a friend so she hadn’t done anything about it yet. Since her mother had never found out about this and damn well still thought she was some sort of virginal princess she knew she had to keep acting that way, but she wasn’t stupid. In fact, she was starting to wonder how many other girls he’d possibly done this to who were far more naive than she was about this sort of thing. 

“I ain’t got a clue what you’re talkin about sir, I was just askin-” 

“You can’t possibly expect to get something for nothin can you? That is not how a good Christian works.” He said. “Help thy neighbor, treat others how you wish to be treated, the golden rule. Are you forgetting your virtues so fast? I do know you leaned them, been here every Sunday with your Mama for over a year, right?” 

“Yes but I thought-” 

“What you think you know, is not nearly what I know and what I know is that if you want something from me, you gotta earn it.” He said, stepping towards her and taking her arm, to pull her in close to him. Uncomfortably close, to the point where she could damn well feel he was aroused as she already knew what that was. She looked up at him, attempting to resist every urge she had in her to defend herself like her Daddy had taught her and run. This wasn’t any type of situation she could win. 

“I’m not sure I like this, sir.” She said after a moment. 

“You ever try it?” He asked, looking just as smug as he sounded. She knew the answer to that couldn’t be yes even if it was the truth so she shook her head and looked away from him as he started to rub against her. “Well, how are you gonna stand there and tell me what you do and don’t like, especially when it’s never been attempted. Kind of…delusional on your part right? Wouldn’t want to have to go around telling people you were delusional now, would I?” She shook her head, and looked up at him. 

“No, sir.” She whispered, “Just…tell me what exactly I need to do here and…and then I won’t be a bother anymore.” He smiled at her, his hand coming up to roughly pat her cheek before he released her arm. She quickly took a step back from him, watching as he glanced around the area, seemingly checking the windows and if anyone else was around. She took in a deep breath as he turned back, eying her hungrily as he licked his lips. 

“Get on your knees, I’m gonna show you how to pray.” He grinned. 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“Wonder what’s takin her so long,” Arvin said about an hour later, looking up from his school work. She came over and set a glass of lemonade down in front of him. He kind of did have a point. Considering where their house was in relation to the church it shouldn’t take this long. She also knew that preacher had a car. She had not formally met him, had actually gone out of her way not to talk to him but she’d seen him in town. It wouldn’t have taken this long. She didn’t like it. If she was going to walk there it would only take about twenty minutes or so and she’d already had a bad feeling about the guy as well as the rest of them. 

“I’m going to take a walk.” She said. 

“I can just drive us there, it’s easier than-” 

“You need to do your school work and there’s nothing to worry about.” She said, “Besides, someone does need to stay here with your father.” 

“Why? He ain’t do nothin but lay in bed and stare at the wall.” He sighed. 

“Just in case, okay?” She said, “It won’t take too long to walk there and if she’s having trouble convincing him I’ll just use some of my Japanese magic to change is mind.” 

“You said that stuff ain’t nothing but snake oil.” He laughed. 

“Most of it isn’t, some of it is genuinely helpful but it’s certainly not magic.” She smiled. He glanced at her, tapping his pencil a bit nervously over his notepad. She could tell that he didn’t think this was a good idea but was hesitant to be too pushy about it since ultimately she was the adult in this situation. 

“If you ain’t back in an hour I’m comin, in that truck, with my gun.” He said. 

“And I’d say that if I’m not back in an hour you should do that.” She replied. After slipping her shoes on and grabbing her purse, just in case this idiot wanted to ask for a donation for his help she headed out of there quickly and on down the road. She didn’t exactly know why she felt half panicked at the idea that Cordelia had been alone with this man for so long. He was a preacher after all, how bad could he be? Maybe it was just the whole disconnect between herself and what Christianity was but she had a feeling that she was going to find out that this wasn’t the case. The idea caused her to move even faster than she normally would have. 

*****

As she knelt there on the ground, doing considerably unspeakable things with her mouth as he guided her roughly, she considered biting him. More than a few times. She knew that she couldn’t do it maliciously but she was supposed to be new at this whole thing. Could he really get that mad if she accidentally did something. Used her teeth in a way she wasn’t supposed to? It would certainly get him to stop and the gagging he was causing was very quickly getting tedious and painful. Not wanting to subject herself to this any longer than she had to, she closed her mouth just enough for her teeth to scrape across him. Before the point she had done that he was oddly silent, just staring down at her intently. Not that she looked at him too long before glancing away. It was hard to tell what kind of pleasure he could possibly be getting without a response. She’d never done this before, anything she had tried was with her hand but the two guys she’d ever done it with had really loved it. The feel of her teeth caused him to let out a strangled cry. She was shoved back and slapped across the face roughly. Then he grabbed her hair and yanked her head back. 

“Now, what did I tell you before we started about what you should be doin with that mouth?” He asked as if he was speaking to an actual dog instead of a human woman. 

“S-Sorry sir, I ain’t done nothin like this before…told you that.” She replied once she was actually able to catch her breath. His lip curled into a sneer and he started to pull up on her hair. She knew this meant he wanted her on her feet so she complied to avoid any further pain. It was then that he pulled her down the aisle towards the actual altar at the front of the church. Behind the podium where he always gave his far too long and stupid sermons she nearly slept through each week. He shoved her towards the table back there bending her over it quickly, shoving her dress up over her hips. His hand running over her ass before squeezing it tightly. He leaned into her with his full weight, keeping her in place. It was another hold her Daddy had taught her to get out of but she knew better than to do anything to hurt him. He was lucky as well because she knew she could have fucked him up if it weren’t for the one thing he was holding over her. 

“If you ask me, you’re actin like a little whore right now. I don’t think you’re tellin the truth about this. I think you’ve been with a lot of them boys, I see you hanging out with enough of them.” He growled in her ear. It was quite an exaggeration that there were multiple boys but he wasn’t wrong about her only friend being one boy. Arvin. Since they were together a lot around town, she wasn’t surprised she’d at least been spotted with him. “You’re gonna tell me you ain’t been givin your virtues to that sinful Russell boy? Everyone knows what he’s doin up there with his Daddy.” 

“And what is that?” 

“Are you lyin to me, girl?” He demanded, completely changing the subject, his voice rasing and without warning she was slapped across her ass. She screamed out, more in surprise than pain, turning her head to look back to him. “I know what things his filthy mind must be comin up with livin with that Japanese woman and her snake oil.” 

“What she’s sellin ain’t no worse than what you’re tryin to sell.” She hissed, which only got her another slap on the ass, this one far more rough. Her scream echoed through the church and there was no way she believed that she wasn’t going to have a hand shaped bruise on her ass come morning. 

“I’m gonna show you exactly what you’re good for, and it ain’t but one thing…” He panted in her ear, his hand forcing itself between her legs towards the crotch of her panties. She gasped, closing her eyes tightly as her body tensed up and his fingers grazed over the fabric. Despite all her anger and fear she couldn’t help but feel something nice, and she hated herself for it. She shifted, trying to get away from him but she had never been touched like that before and apparently her body really liked it even if her mind didn’t. “That’s right…you feel that? I knew you were nothin but a little tease. Comin in here dressed up like a-” There was a sudden knock on the door of the church and it was loud. He couldn’t have let go fast enough scrambling back from her and jamming his cock into his pants. She stood up quickly, pulling her dress down before attempting to fix her hair and look normal. She couldn’t risk him saying anything to anyone about this no matter who it was. 

Once he was presentable again and it didn’t look like he was just trying to have his way with her he headed for the door and took a moment to compose himself. He glanced over his shoulder at her, giving her an icy cold stare. One that told her that she better damn well behave or she was going to be in a lot of trouble once he got rid of whoever this person was. He then turned back, unlocked the door, and pulled it open. To her great surprise it was Rika standing there, her fist raised like she was about to knock again. The woman just as tiny as she was, somehow seemed like far more of a force to be reckoned with and she couldn’t have been more relieved to see her standing there. No matter how out of place she was in her kimono. 

*****

Rika could tell just from the look on Cordelia’s face (as much as she was trying to hide it) that there had been something sexual going on in there and as she looked up at the preacher she was pretty sure she could smell it faintly as well. With the poor girl all the way in the back of the church as she was, she didn’t want to start making accusations or threats but she did want to get Cordelia out of there as fast as humanly possible. Preston looked down at her like someone would look down at a cockroach they were about to smash under the heel of their shoe. 

“Can I help you, Miss? Come to finally hear the good word of the lord?” He asked, in a slow and condescending manner as if he didn’t expect her to understand English. 

“I came to get Cordelia, actually. Glad to see she’s here.” She replied, shoving right past him which only probably worked because he didn’t seem to want to be touched by her so he backed away the moment she took a step forward. Ignoring him entirely, she went to the back of the church, stepping up to the terrified young woman. “Come on, you have a lot to study for and I’m sure your mother is not paying me for a tutoring session that you are not getting.” 

“You mean to tell me you are teaching her stuff? What could she need to learn from you that she cannot learn in the Lord’s house?” Preston demanded, coming back towards them as the door shut loudly behind him. 

“Thank God you are here,” Cordelia said softly, “We need to go.” 

“I know.” She whispered back then turned towards Preston who was rapidly approaching them. “Anyway, I would like to make a donation and thank you for your time doing…whatever it was you were doing here. Bible study is what you’d call it?” 

“What I would call it is the lord’s work teaching this one her…manners. It is not something anyone like you needs to be concerned about.” He told her, that sneer crossing his face once again. She was used to the general racism in this town but she kind of didn’t expect it from a man that was supposed to be calling himself a preacher. It wasn’t too shocking given that it was so obvious what he had probably been trying to do to Cordelia before she interrupted it. 

“Manner lessons are over so how much do I owe you for your service?” She asked. 

“I couldn’t and certainly wouldn’t take your money.” He said, “I will see you back here then on Sunday, with your mother right?” The second part of that was directed at Cordelia and it sounded so completely evil that she could have sworn the temperature in the room dropped by five degrees. Cordelia nodded quickly. 

“Yes sir, of course.” She said, side stepping him like she didn’t even want to risk being touched. She hurried for the door and then out of it like someone running from the devil himself. She wasn’t nearly as intimidated by this creature who called himself a man of the lord. “I don’t know what you were doing in here but you won’t be doing it again.” 

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Seems to me like some nosy little Jap do gooder wouldn’t want to cause a fuss with that girl’s mother. I’d tell you why but if you are gettin paid by the woman for some sort of lessons…you already know.” He said with the smuggest smile she’d possibly ever seen on a man. Everything about him made her skin crawl but he probably had a point. This would need to be dealt with but it was going to have to be done delicately. She’d never met Cordelia’s mother. All of that had been a lie just to get them out of there quicker. However, from what this guy was saying now and what Cordelia had said she could understand the predicament. Why the poor girl hadn’t done more to stop him and why he wasn’t in a position to be stopped. Not yet. 

“There won’t be any trouble from me at all.” She said. He stared at her for a long moment and she stared right back at him, very tempted to backhand him across the face when the door opened again. 

“Can we please get back, Miss Takashi, I don’t wanna be late.” Cordelia called. 

You are so lucky I’m not as violent as a person as I want to be right now. She said to Preston in Japanese. He quickly stepped back, as if she had just spit poison on him. She shook her head then walked out of there, hurrying to catch up to Cordelia. As much as she didn’t understand Christianity herself, she had been taught that it was about being and doing good. Yet, she didn’t believe she’d ever been in the presence of anyone more evil than Preston Teagardin. Not even during the war. 

*****

“Hey, I gotta go out. Won’t be but a few minutes and Rika ain’t here either so just…don’t do anything crazy.” Arvin said, poking his head into his father’s room. He had decided he didn’t want to wait anymore and shouldn’t have let Rika go alone as it was. He’d given it about twenty minutes before he knew he couldn’t focus on what he was doing. That preacher was bad news and he should have insisted he went instead. By himself. Rika would have been better off alone here with his father anyway. At least he recognized who she was. He did wait for a moment to see if his father had anything to say but he didn’t react. With a sigh, he turned back towards the door to leave. 

“Arvin?” He asked, right before he would have been out of earshot to hear it. His voice wasn’t anywhere near loud. Part of him wondered if he was supposed to hear it in the first place. He stopped and turned around. 

“Yeah?” 

“I did meet her in the war. We fell in love.” He said, though he was not moving or doing anything other than staring at the wall, his voice was pretty monotone and blank. Nothing that he had said was too shocking, he’d already figured out this stuff for the most part. It was almost nice that his father was actually saying it. 

“I know, Pa.” Arvin sighed, “And she went out there by herself-” 

“This is why the Lord gave your Mama cancer. It’s my fault and…I understand if you can’t forgive me for that.” He said. 

“Mama didn’t get cancer cause you did that, it ain’t how the lord does things.” Arvin said, at least, he didn’t think that was how it worked. Maybe before he met Rika he’d have bought into that but listening to what she had to say about the ways of the Lord and her own religion he had started to think that maybe sometimes bad things just happened. That the lord liked to test people. That cancer of all things was just a sickness and some people got it while some people didn’t. He didn’t have a connection to the lord also wanting to give that to other people to punish anyone. He also figured if God was going to do that then his father would have gotten cancer. Not his mother. “I don’t think that’s how it works.” 

“That is how it works, I was with that woman when…I did violate the sanctity of our marriage and that…that ain’t right.” He said. 

“Look, I understand that you made a mistake but you was in a war okay? The way I understand it you was dyin and Miss Rika says-” 

“Miss Takashi-” 

“She told me to just call her Rika and drop the MISS you know.” He interrupted, “I ain’t mad at you for what you done. I ain’t mad at her because if she didn’t do that you wouldn’t be here in the first place, and whatever you wanna believe about Mama and why she got sick, you do that too. I ain’t mad that she died. I got nothin against you other than the fact that you won’t be a man and at least try to be a father.” 

“You don’t hate me?” 

“No, ain’t none of this your fault. I guess I was mad at first but after talkin to Rika and meeting Cordelia I see it different now is all. I can’t change what you believe and I won’t try to but I don’t hate you, Pa.” He said, “I still have to leave, I ain’t got a choice. They are gonna need a ride and someone to check up on them.” 

“Why?” 

“They went to visit that Preacher Teagardin and he’s a snake if I ever damn saw one. They shouldn’t be alone there at that church.” Arvin explained. 

“No one should be at that church.” His father muttered but also didn’t get up to try to do anything. Arvin would guess that if Rika was there she would say him talking at all was a lot of progress so he shouldn’t expect anything more than a conversation. It was why he wasn’t going to try to insist his father get up or help or do anything. He should take what he could get in small doses and not expect more than that. It was still better than his father being catatonic and believing he wasn’t himself and they were all back in the war. They were slowly getting there, Rika hadn’t been wrong about it. The situation was frustrating but since he could see her methods working he didn’t want to question or change them either. 

“They probably ain’t even there no more, just walkin back. Would be easier to give them a ride. It’s hot. You gonna be okay here for a minute then?” Arvin asked. 

“I’ll be fine.” 

“Good, won’t be long.” Arvin said then turned and left. He had already taken time to load the shotgun they owned and place it by the door. Made it easy to grab before leaving and getting in the truck. As much as it would have been nice to stay there and continue this with his father, he did believe the women were in actual danger and that was going to have to take priority over hashing this out with his Dad. He could take care of it later. 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Rika asked about five minutes of awkward silence into the walk. Cordelia kept looking behind them like she expected this preacher to follow and she didn’t blame her either. She kind of felt the same but confident enough in her abilities to fight the jerk if she had to, so she wasn’t as scared. 

“Huh?” Cordelia replied, sounding just as distracted as she looked. “Yeah I…I’m fine I guess. I don’t wanna go back there but I’m fine.” She paused then spit to clear her mouth and made a face before continuing to walk. 

“I don’t want you to have to talk about anything you don’t want but I’m not blind to what he was probably doing. It’s not right to do and it certainly isn’t your fault or anything you did.” She said after another moment of trying to figure out what to say. Much like with Willard, she was aware forcing anyone to talk about anything uncomfortable was never a solution but she also didn’t want this girl to feel guilty either. She did not control that man or his evil actions and she shouldn’t feel like she had to be responsible for it either. 

“I know it was wrong and I know that it ain’t my fault,” Cordelia said then shook her head, “I did it cause I can’t have him going and saying those things to my Mama.” 

“I kind of figured that part out with what he said to me.” She said. 

“What’s he sayin to you?” 

“He heavily implied blackmail of some type, he brought your mother up and said that I wouldn’t want to concern her with this and I should know why. I don’t really, because I never met your mother, but I can see from how you are acting and what he said it seems like that is the right idea. I think?” She asked. If it was up to her she felt like maybe the better idea would be to tell Cordelia’s mother first, before the Preacher had a chance, and cut off any ability for him to have the first word. However, she didn’t know how this woman was and she knew even her own mother had turned against her when she saved Willard. Even after seeing what it was doing to her and how bad it was hurting her. Mothers didn’t always get along with or even agree with their kids. No matter what the evidence said otherwise. 

“I know you don’t know my Mama but like I been sayin, she ain’t right in the head. Real religious type, believes in everything holy with the lord…we ain’t got along since Daddy left for the war. Then he died and it got worse. She says that I just remind her of him and I don’t act much like a girl or her daughter. I take care of her cause I know that she loves me, she wasn’t like this before all that but it ain’t easy. I don’t know what I can tell her, and she loves that damn preacher so much she may just think I led him on or I’m lyin or somethin. Not sure I’m willing to take that risk.” Cordelia explained. “It’s over now and I know better than to get alone with him again, I’ll be fine, been through worse I suppose. Just as long as it don’t happen again this don’t need to be fixed.” 

“We shouldn’t let him get away with-” 

“Who’s gonna believe us above the word of that preacher? Huh? Outside of us, everyone loves that guy. No offense but you are Japanese, they think you are a witch or something. I believe you are good people but you backing me up? That’s just gonna make it seem like more of a lie I’m sad to say.” Cordelia said. She was right, even if it sucked to hear. If she came in there trying to corroborate the story and everyone already thought of her the way they did, it would make them both look like they were evil. Probably devil worshippers. It was bad enough people thought she was a witch and not in a good way, it would get worse if they both attempted to destroy the preacher of that town even if he deserved it. 

“If you want to talk about any of it or need help then you can talk to me. If you want.” She offered, “If not then that is okay but don’t let it fester inside and become like…well you saw Willard.” 

“I know.” Cordelia laughed softly, “It ain’t gonna be like that either but I appreciate it.” 

“Is there any way to get out of going to church on Sunday or…?” 

“Not really but everyone’s gonna be there. He can’t do too much other than bein creepy. I won’t let him get me alone again. Won’t be fun but it won’t also be as bad. Just gotta suck it up, you know?” 

“You’re a very strong young woman but remember you don’t always have to be strong.” Rika said. Cordelia smiled at her and they stopped to hug just as a truck came barreling down the road towards them. She cried out and pulled Cordelia back and more to the side but seconds later the truck stopped dead in the middle of the road. She easily recognized it as Arvin and the truck from his house. It backed up quickly and as she had thought, he was the one behind the wheel. 

“Need a ride?” He asked, since the passenger window was already down. 

“I don’t know you look kind of scary.” Cordelia joked, “Ain’t supposed to get in trucks with scary men.” 

“I look scary?” Arvin laughed, “Can you tell that to the guys at school who are always on my ass?” Cordelia laughed and opened the door then got in and reached for Rika’s hand. She took it and pulled herself into the truck as well. It was kind of a tight fit but it worked because they were both small. 

“Thanks,” Cordelia said and gave Arvin a kiss on the cheek. Something that seemed to make him get super flustered in a heartbeat. Rika thought it was cute, though they had only acted like they were just friends before that, she figured it would eventually be something more. They were a good match. Not to mention how he was driving like a bat out of hell to get to that church, because it was the only thing he could have been doing. She didn’t fail to notice the shotgun on the dash either. He was coming to protect them, and she didn’t think it was only because of her. 

“Ain’t never seen you dressed like that before. You get changed after school?” He asked Cordelia. 

“Yeah, thought maybe he’d be more likely to listen to me in this dress.” 

“Did it work?” 

“Not as well as I wanted it to. He’s a creep and I just…can we go?” Cordelia asked. Arvin looked at Cordelia then Rika but he nodded and put the car in drive. She didn’t know if the girl intended to tell Arvin any more details than that, but that was all up to them and not really her business. What was important was keeping away from that preacher now, especially if there was nothing they could do about it otherwise. 

*****

When they got back to the house, Cordelia and Arvin headed off to his room. Something she should have maybe been concerned about because they were teenagers and probably kind of stupid about sex, but she knew that she should be checking on Willard so that’s what she headed off to do. When she got to his room she saw it was empty. It concerned her, but she decided not to panic because the most likely place he probably went otherwise was to his weird prayer log in the middle of the forest. She headed out of there quickly, but quietly, not wanting to alert the other two that something might be wrong. 

It took quite a while to traverse the path because she was already tired from the walking she’d done before and her shoes were not comfortable. She knew it was about time she stopped insisting on traditional Japanese clothing and updated her wardrobe. She’d made enough money she could get a few dresses and far more sensible shoes. She just wasn’t sure she’d look right in Western clothes like everyone else did. Half way down the path she took her shoes off and just carried them because it was far more comfortable. When she got to the prayer log she was right about him being there and praying. At least it was something more than laying in bed all day doing nothing. 

“Willard?” She asked. He looked up and turned towards her but stayed kneeling down. She came over to him, “Are you feeling okay?” 

“Needed some time to pray. Arvin said he was goin to get you and Cordelia from that church. Why was she even there to start with?” He asked. She wasn’t sure she should tell him the real answer because she could also see with his own beliefs there was no way he liked the mainstream version of church. With what she had seen with that preacher herself, she wasn’t so sure that his version was the wrong one. If anything, Willard had a slightly better grasp on what this was even if it was also insane. His version didn’t include preying on young girls either. Animal sacrifice, sure, but so did many other religions and she wasn’t against any of those. 

“I’m not really sure, something to do with her mother I guess.” She replied vaguely, reminding herself to also get back to Cordelia on this one so they could keep the lie up. 

“I don’t like that church.” He said, “Ain’t never liked it. Didn’t feel right, that’s why I got this out here.” 

“I can see that.” She said, “How are you, though?” 

“I don’t know.” He shook his head, “I did all that was right, or I tried to, and it still didn’t work. She didn’t deserve none of that for my mistakes.” 

“You believe I’m a mistake then?” 

“No…that ain’t it either.” He shook his head, “I did love you then, that wasn’t any sort of bullshit and…I know I still love you. I knew the moment you came back but that don’t mean I didn’t love her the same.” She sighed and got down by him, only because she was tired and it was just easier to sit on the ground, she didn’t kneel though. 

“Love can be many things for many people and many reasons. This is a very complicated and unique situation but I promise you that Charlotte’s cancer was not a punishment from God.” She said. “Neither was my father’s cancer.” 

“Your father too?” 

“Yes, I was very young but it was cancer from what they said.” She nodded, “I saw what it did to him and I know what it did to me. My whole family but as I got older and then went into nursing I learned that it is just biology. Not much controls it other than how we are born. If she had met you or not, she would have gotten it. Nothing could have caused this.” 

“Why would God make people that way?” 

“I don’t know. I especially can’t answer that because we don’t believe in the same thing. My system says suffering is part of life anyway so…whatever happens just happens and is part of the human experience.” She said. 

“You don’t believe in God?” 

“Not exactly. I more believe in a certain way of life and the teachings of Buddha.” She said, “Not a simple matter to explain in summary. I also don’t believe I’m right or have all the answers. I do not think you loving me caused cancer. I am far from an expert on Christianity but from what I do know your God and this Jesus man they preach love and compassion. Exactly what I showed you and you showed me during a time of war. God would not punish you for that, me either. That is what he wanted. People to help other people because that is what you do.” 

“Then why would he make her born like that?” 

“You’d have to ask him,” She shrugged, “What I can say is that…maybe this God doesn’t give people more than what they can handle. Maybe the entire journey for her in this was leading you to me or maybe we just don’t get to know the answer. If you do still love me that does not take away from how you loved her or your son. It’s just another kind of love and your God tells you to love. Not hate. You are on the right path.” 

“Sure don’t feel that way.” 

“I know,” She said and put a hand on his arm, “But maybe you should keep praying and you will get there eventually. You were so lost before but you started to find your way and that is something isn’t it?” 

“Why tell me to pray for something you think is bullshit?” 

“You don’t think it is and I don’t think I’m right. For all I know, you are. I’m not willing to fathom a guess but I do admire your passionate faith and if you believe it helps you then I would never tell you to stop.” She smiled softly. He looked at her for a long moment as something vaguely resembling a small smile crossed his face. He looked, in that moment, happier than she’d seen him since she’d gotten there. It wasn’t by much, if anything it was by a super small margin but it was there and the light was coming back to his eyes. 

“You have done so much for me and I ain’t still never done nothin for you.” He said moving in to pull her into a hug. She hugged him back, resting her face against his chest and closing her eyes. 

“You’ve already done enough and you shouldn’t have to worry about doing more. It’s not why I helped you anyway. I did it at first because it was right and then because I fell in love.” She said softly. He kissed the top of her head and she relaxed into his touch. She had been waiting for another moment like this for over a decade and it felt amazing to be back in his arms like this after so much time. Even if it was an agonizing journey to get there. 

*****

For the next few days things were kind of touch and go. Willard was getting out of bed more than usual and at least attempting to have a relationship with his son again. Something she saw as a bit awkward but he wasn’t being aloof and he seemed to want to put effort back into it. When Cordelia was around he seemed a bit more happy and relaxed. He seemed to really like the girl, especially watching her with Arvin and how they got along. She wasn’t sure if they were technically dating yet or still just friends or what, but they were practically inseparable after that church incident. If it was effecting Cordelia at all she didn’t appear to be too bent out of shape about it. She also didn’t really seem to like going home either. 

It wasn’t until one night, during dinner, that Cordelia’s mother showed up at the house. It was a Friday night and the girl had chosen to stay instead of going home. It wasn’t exactly rare for her to stay for food and leave later but it seemed like this was not a decision she should have made that night. Arvin was the one to answer the door and only seconds after that did things really start to get complicated. The woman stormed into the house, brushing past Arvin like he wasn’t even standing there without a word. She came into the kitchen, right over to her daughter and grabbed her by the hair, yanking her out of her chair where she collapsed onto the floor. 

“I told you about not comin here and sitting with these people and that witch!” Her mother yelled. 

“Mama, she ain’t a witch!” Cordelia yelled back. 

“Hey!” Willard interrupted getting to his feet, “That’s enough of that, not going to be lettin you hit on your daughter in this house.” 

“I don’t care what you think,” Her mother snapped, “The lord hasn’t looked too kindly upon this family and probably for good reason with what you’re doin out in those woods. We all know.” 

“Mama stop!” Cordelia yelled, getting up to her feet, “I’ve been here a lot and ain’t nothin happened to us. They are good people.” Her mother slapped her across the face, grabbed her arm, and shoved her towards the door. 

“I warned you about this place, it’s evil.” She hissed, “And you…Arvin is it? I don’t want you anywhere near my daughter. She’s too good for you.” 

“Listen, Miss-” 

“SHUT IT, DEMON!” She cut Arvin off before he could continue, “I will not stand here and listen to your lies or let any of you corrupt my child further than you have. Not with that bitch, puttin spells on the whole town with her potions and…and…black magic.” 

“Mama that ain’t-”

“We are going home, and I’m gonna make sure you have a talk with Preacher Teagardin about this. Maybe he’ll set you right.” Her mother insisted, stepping up to grab her once again to physically pull her from the room, obviously trying to avoid touching anything as she looked just about as paranoid as she sounded being in there. “These people are devil worshippers, every last one of them.” 

“HEY!” Willard yelled, going after them. Rika got up and quickly stepped in front of him, putting a hand on his chest. 

“Pick your battles, this isn’t one you’ll win.” She said softly. 

“She can’t do that!” Willard insisted. 

“That’s her kid, we don’t have a choice.” Rika said, “Please.” She hadn’t seen him look angry like that since she’d also seen his reaction to her grandfather hitting her years ago. Arvin looked seriously annoyed and it was probably because Willard didn’t have any qualms about hitting his own son but maybe it was just the simple fact that Cordelia was a girl. 

“We can’t let her take Cordelia back to that preacher.” Arvin said softly, taking a moment to shake off his annoyance at this. 

“I know,” she said, “Right now we have to let this happen, we get in the way she’s going to get worse. Trust me.” 

“How do you even know this? Why are you just gonna let-” 

“Because, I dealt with this. Do you remember how my family got when I kept fighting back against them. How much worse it was when you tried to fix it? It’s going to be bad enough for her when she gets home. We have a choice, either we let the consequences stand as they are now or intensify them. She’s strong and she’s smart, we will do something but now is not the time.” Rika insisted. When she said that, for whatever reason, Willard started to relax. She could feel it under her hand because she still had it on his chest trying to push him back. Not that he really had to have stayed there. He was still twice her size and could have shoved her down or thrown her across the room if he had wanted. He looked out of the kitchen at the door that the two had just left out of then stepped back and went to sit down where he was before. 

“You’re givin in? Just like that?” Arvin asked, “Seems you like her more than you even like me at times.” 

“First of all, you’re a man you can handle much more than that poor girl and with a lot of this shit you should already know better. Secondly, Rika’s right. It’s about pickin your time. We ain’t gonna cause her nothin but more trouble if we do anything now. We will pick our time.” Willard said firmly. Arvin looked at both of them like they were insane but since he also appeared to realize that he wasn’t going to get any back up here, he came back over to the table and took his seat. She didn’t like letting it go, but she knew with her own family and mother the best person to do damage control for now was Cordelia. Just as much as she knew that her own interference would make everything worse because of what people thought of her and what they all apparently thought of Willard. She’d had some idea but not until a woman with an eye patch barged in there and outright said it. Whatever had happened to this woman, was not good, and Cordelia had seriously downplayed her explanation of it. She had probably not wanted Arvin to have to worry about anything more than he currently had in front of him. What she did know was between this preacher and that demon bitch of a mother, something was going to have to be done. 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

“Take a deep breath,” She told him, he glanced at her for a moment then closed his eyes and did as she asked. This wasn’t fun for her either, and it smelled. It was almost like he was rotting from the inside. She could barely believe that a living person could make a smell like this and not be dead. Hell, he’d literally just gotten up and walked out of there to defend her. It seemed like nothing other than an actual miracle could have done that either. Since he was definitely nice and high on the opium by that point, she started to work as quickly as she could. 

For the first ten minutes or so he was doing extremely well. Tense and breathing hard but well enough. It was when she got into the deeper part of the wound to attempt to remove the debris there that his hand came up and smacked her right in the side of the head. She yelled out in Japanese, all she really said was what the fuck because she hadn’t been expecting that. She heard him gasp and picked herself up to see him attempting to get to a sitting position. 

“No, no no no no, no…” She said hurrying to her knees to gently ease him back down, “It’s okay.” 

“I did not mean to do that I-” 

“I know you didn’t, it hurts and it’s okay. I’m more stunned than actually hurt. It was kind of a weak hit.” She chuckled softly. Which was true. Though forceful, it hadn’t been painful, more like a shove to get her to stop doing what she was doing. She wasn’t surprised that he had eventually given up on holding anything back and his body’s defense mechanisms kicked in. It had to have been a reaction to just get the pain to stop. “I’m almost done, I promise so can you try not to do that again?” 

“How much is left?” 

“Well, the water is mostly running clear right now so not much.” She said, getting down closer to his side to look into the wound. It was a good thing she hadn’t eaten yet because she had a feeling that if she had, she’d have started gagging. She could swear she saw something in there. Part of her believed it could be a trick of the light but she didn’t know for sure. If something was still in there and that deep he wouldn’t heal and the infection would just get worse. “Close your eyes.” 

“Why?” 

“Just do it, soldier boy.” She said, “If you see what I’m going to do you might hit me again. Harder this time.” 

“I ain’t gonna-” 

“Trust me.” She cut him off, “I will be quick, have small fingers and fast hands. How about you count, out loud to thirty. If I am not done by that time I will stop. Deal?” She didn’t think she could stomach sticking her fingers in him like that for longer than thirty seconds anyway and she figured it would give him something to focus on other than the pain if he also had a task to completely. 

“Alright but I don’t see how this is gonna help.” He said. 

“Then just discount it as a silly Japanese thing that doesn’t have to make sense. I’ll start when you start. Okay?” She asked. He nodded and took a deep breath. The one hand he had struck her with went back to resting above his head where it had to be for her to get to his side. The other grabbed the mattress under him tightly and he closed his eyes. 

“One…” 

She took a deep breath and held it, sticking two of her fingers into the wound, it was definitely big enough to do that somehow, but maybe only because her fingers were so small. Thanks to the way he had been injured a lot of it was scar tissue and it was bleeding far less than it should have been but it was still pretty open. She had some idea that the burning shrapnel that had hit him would have sealed things up as it entered which had prevented more bleeding. She already knew about cauterizing wounds, they did it all the time in the village. He let out a strangled cry but continued to count. 

“T-two…” 

“That’s it, keep going…” 

“I fucking…hate…you…three…” 

“I’d hate me too right now…” She laughed softly and kept moving her fingers. They brushed up against something that definitely wasn’t supposed to be there. It felt like metal. She tapped it with her finger for a moment just to be sure. Whatever it was, it was really stuck in there but this had to be half the problem. He kept counting, and his eyes stayed closed. He was struggling, the hand above him clenching into a tight fist. She wiggled her fingers a bit more, attempting to get some sort of hold on this object. 

“TWENTY…” he hissed through clenched teeth. 

“I know…I know…getting there…” 

“The fuck are you doing…TWENTY-TWO!” 

“That’s cheating…” She breathed feeling she got a good grasp on the thing. She took another breath and watched him for a moment, she pretty much had one chance to do this and it was really going to hurt. 

“Twenty….five….Rika PLEASE!” 

“I’m sorry about this.” She told him and moved her hand back quickly, pulling the metal with it, somehow. He let out the most horrific scream she had heard yet and she jumped back from him just as his fist came down right where she was. Something that definitely would have clobbered her in the head if she had stayed where she was sitting. 

“Dear…sweet….baby Jesus what did…you d-” He rolled over and gagged, dry heaving a few times. She looked down at her hand and what she had pulled out of him. It wasn’t big by any means but it was metal. She grabbed a metal poker she had in the fire and used this chance to come back and cauterize the area before he could bleed too much. He screamed again and tried to swat at her just as she pulled back a second time. The opium in his system making him slow and not nearly as effective at attacking her as he probably would have been if he had been sober. 

“There…done…I promise it’s done.” She breathed. 

“I still hate you.” He muttered but it was followed by a laugh. She smiled and looked down at her hands again. She was pretty sure, as bad as all of that was, it would save his life. He didn’t have something deep in his side causing an issue anymore and now the worst he was going to have to worry about was healing from the burns. She believed he could do it as long as she continued to feed him and give him water. It was just going to be very touch and go from that point forward.

*****

The next day, Arvin had gone off to school and he had left very early because he wanted to see if Cordelia was there. He had said something about how if she didn’t show up he would go to her house to check on her he didn’t care about her mother. She had tried to caution him against that but she believed that even if he did agree not to go, he’d be lying. It wasn’t that she blamed him for his anger with the situation but she also knew better than to allow him to get into that kind of trouble. This woman seemed like someone who would call the cops on him pretty easy and then that would cause more problems than any of them currently needed. Willard headed out to his prayer log shortly after Arvin left and she was in the kitchen cleaning things up so she could work on her next set of medicine for the people who had left orders. It was a weird system because no one wanted to talk to her directly. They would leave these requests in the mailbox with money and she, in turn, would make their orders and label them and leave them back out in the mailbox. She would see, on occasion, people picking them up but they never said anything to her. 

She set up her usual things on the counter and then headed out to the garden to get some of the herbs she was running low on. There were more that needed to dry out as it was and some of them had to be fresh. As she was stepping down the stairs she saw a car pull up to the house, a nice once, and the man she recognized inside was Preader Teagardin. Her heart dropped into her stomach. She was alone at the house right now. The prayer log set up wasn’t too far away but she wasn’t sure it was within screaming distance either. As to why she feared this man so much when she barely feared the absolute powerhouse that was Willard, she didn’t know. It was possibly because Willard was not pure evil. Misguided with some serious anger and mental issues, yes, not evil. He always had that underlying bright light and goodness in there with genuine peaceful intent. This man didn’t. It was almost as if she could directly see his soul was black. He got out of the car and she turned right back around to head inside. 

“Miss Takashi, I was hopin you’d be here on this fine morning.” He said loudly, as if to emphasize he’d already seen her and she wasn’t going anywhere. She cursed under her breath in Japanese and turned back to look at him. As fearful as she felt she didn’t want to show him any of that. Seemed like he was the type of man who would get off on knowing he was intimidating someone with his presence. That was probably why he was doing all that stuff to a young girl like Cordelia. She was an adult woman even if she was tiny and didn’t look it. That shit wasn’t going to fly with her. 

“I was hoping you’d know this was private property and you were not invited here so…how about you leave?” She asked him nicely. 

“I would be doin a disservice to myself and this community in general if I were to leave without talkin to the woman who’s causing such a stir around here with her potions.” He said, heading for the porch as if she didn’t tell him to get the hell out of there in the first place. She stared at this man, stunned at his audacity to treat her in such a manner. “Been hearing through the grapevine that they work. Now, I wouldn’t be a very Holy man of God if I allowed that to continue would I?” 

“I don’t make anyone buy my medicine, which is what it is, not magic. They ask for it. I think I would be doing everyone a disservice if I stopped.” She said. He stepped right up to her, staring down at her with some weird almost kind of perverted intent. He reached up and grabbed her hair. Something she hated. It was very long when it was down, reached nearly to her ankles. To put it up like that took a lot of time and effort and any time anyone messed it up like he was doing, she had to fix it all over again. It was like he was trying to tangle his fingers into it as much as he could even with how tightly she’d braided it in the first place. 

“You have been touched by the devil. The hubris in believin you have such powers is not-” 

“What?” She hissed, “I’m a nurse and I am from Japan. Not hell. Not Lucifer’s house. Not whatever you think. This is medicine. All it does is help people. Naturally. This is stuff you God allows to grow from the earth and you don’t want it to help people?” 

“My God? MY God…do you mean to tell me you do not accept MY God and the almighty Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?” He asked, sounding like this was the most offensive thing he’d ever heard in his entire life. 

“No and even if I did I don’t think he’d much like you hurting women.” She hissed. He laughed and used his grip on her to pull her forward so she nearly fell down the stairs. She had no choice but to walk with him because of how he had managed to grab her hair. It was an oddly impossible and very practiced move on his part. He was trying to get her to his car. That was when she started screaming. Reaching up towards his arm she grabbed it, digging her heels into the dirt and swinging on him blindly. One of her fists managed to catch him in his side and as the air left him he was forced to loosen his grasp on her just enough that she was able to rip away even if he took some of her hair with him. “WILLARD!” 

“Of course…you would call upon that evil man to…to force me out of this unholy place…” He hissed after he took in a few deep breaths. “I am trying to save you Child…cleanse your wicked ways to set you…on the righteous path to the LORD!” She really didn’t like how he said the last word; it was far too drawn out, dramatic, and longer than it had to be. 

“How? With your cock?” She hissed at him. He lunged towards her and she scrambled back quickly. 

“HEY!” Willard’s voice came from behind them just as she fell into the dirt. He was approaching very quickly at that point, “What do you think you’re doin to her huh? Get the hell off my property boy or you’re gonna be in for a world of hurt.” 

“This…this is not over. Not until that woman comes to accept our lord as…as…” 

“I’ve seen your lord and I don’t need him.” Willard snapped back, getting down by her to help her up to her feet. “Get out of here or I’m gonna do somethin about it. Somethin you ain’t gonna like, and don’t you lay a hand on her again, you hear?” He glared at the both of them but seemed to realize he was half of Willard’s size and wasn’t going to be able to compete with that. He got into his car and slammed the door, starting it up to peel out of there backwards. He drove off quickly and Willard pulled her into a hug. She was stunned that the man had tried anything like that at all and it had been a close call considering that Willard potentially might not have even heard her screaming like that from where he had been. 

“Thank you,” She breathed. “You…heard me all the way down there?” 

“No.” He muttered, “I ain’t hear nothin I just got some bad feeling you needed help. I don’t know why but I started to head back. Think if I hadn’t been where I was on that path by the time you screamed I’d have never heard it.” She looked up at him, he seemed pretty bewildered by this revelation but she did think he was telling the truth. She wasn’t sure what made him come back. Instinct or the actual Lord but she was glad that he did. Only a few more seconds and there wasn’t any way he wouldn’t have seriously hurt her or possibly have gotten her into his car. 

“Then maybe you are right about your Lord versus his.” She said softly. He chuckled and kissed the top of her head. 

“C’mon. Let’s get you inside, you okay?” 

“Have a slight headache but nothing that I won’t recover from, what about you?” She asked as he started to guide her back into the house. 

“Better than he would have been had he not left.” He chuckled. She smiled, feeling incredibly safe with his arm around her like that. She didn’t put it past this horrible man to try something again, and be far more crafty about it the second time. This seemed very spur of the moment but now he knew the house and the area. He’d had a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. It was probably the same with any situation or girl he ever preyed on. This wouldn’t make him give up, it would only make him smarter and she knew that something had to be done about him. She just had no idea what that thing was just yet.  

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

“You…you doin okay in there?” Willard called from just outside the bathroom door. She turned, smiling a bit at how shy he was with her. It was cute. Even after all of this he’d been as polite as she believed he had the ability to be. She turned to look at the door and took a deep breath. 

“You can come in. If you want. This isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.” She said. There was a pause, one in which she thought he might say something to her but instead, the door started to open slowly. She turned to look at him from where she had been standing, working to take her hair down. It wasn’t easy because it took a lot of pins and ties to put it up. Most of it was braided but not all of it so there was a process involved. She had already gotten undressed, though, the kimono was dirty enough and she’d decided to spot clean it for the time being. Attempt to prevent any sort of stains. 

“I ain’t seen nothin like this since…I mean…with you. The war and…uh-” 

“I know.” She said, stepping towards him to get a bit closer. She put a hand on his chest softly. “It’s okay, this can’t be easy for you. It’s certainly not for me but we got through it once before we will continue to-” He pulled her into a kiss before she could finish. One that she couldn’t resist because it was very long in coming and she’d wanted it since the moment she’d first seen him when she’d arrived in Knockemstiff. 

*****

There she sat, in the church, her stomach in absolute knots. He wasn’t there, which was a good thing, but she wasn’t supposed to be anywhere but the church at that point. Her mother had made it very clear to her that her only job was to head there instead of school. Every day for a week. Some arrangement made with Preacher Teagardin about the bible instead of school. It was nothing she wanted to do but she wanted to threaten her mother’s wrath even less than that. It wasn’t like they had to put up with her. They didn’t need to live there. Worst of all, that wasn’t their mother and even as much as this was a very trying time for her she knew it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. After seeing Willard and hearing from Arvin where that had gone, she was pretty grateful that it wasn’t worse. At least her mother was something resembling functional. The only good news was she had seen Willard get better over time. It still hadn’t been the same for her mother and the best she could think to fix that was to do what she was being told. 

She glanced at the clock on the wall, it was well past the time that they were supposed to meet with each other. Slowly, she got up from the pew where she had been sitting and headed for the door. If he wasn’t going to show up for this then she wasn’t going to sit there and wait for him. Her best bet was to go back home and explain to her mother that the preacher hadn’t been there in the first place which made her being there pointless. The only problem was the moment she tried to picture that reaction she realized that she would get yelled at. Her mom would tell her that she could have just stayed there and prayed or found the lord or something. She frowned, her hand moving away from the door and just as she was turning back to head down the aisle it opened behind her. 

“My apologies for being late, had some business to take care of.” Preston said, she froze on the spot. Just the sound of her voice made her feel physically ill by that point, but now they were alone and there wasn’t much she could do about it other than let it happen. At least for as long as she could stand it. Since she couldn’t go to her mother, maybe she could go to Rika. If she could fix someone as bad off as Arvin’s dad, then she must have some idea what to do for a much more mild situation. 

“Oh it’s okay, wasn’t waitin that long.” She lied, because it actually had been about two hours and she only hadn’t left out of fear of what consequences would befall her if she dared to even step foot outside of there. 

“Glad to see you were punctual,” He said, coming up behind her. She still hadn’t turned around, she didn’t want to look at him, “Next time wear a dress. It’s much nicer to look your best in the house of the lord.” He rubbed her arm and she winced, just slightly. She’d worn jeans and a button down shirt on purpose. If he was going to do this to her he certainly wasn’t going to have as easy access as if she was in a dress. 

“I ain’t got but one and it’s still dirty,” She lied. 

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Take care of it before tomorrow.” He whispered in her ear then swatted her across the ass before moving past her and turning to look in her direction, “Now…how ready are we to pray?” 

*****

He had her against the wall in the shower, something she hadn’t expected to happen because he had seemed like such a narrow minded, vanilla, only under the blankets in the dark kind of guy. It wasn’t really a complaint because she liked this, a lot. The way he held her, pinned himself into her as he penetrated her as deeply as possible. There was a mix of pleasure and pain she didn’t believe could work so well to keep driving her to ecstasy. There was only one time they had done this before and he’d been too out of it and weak to be nearly as dominant with her as she was sure he wanted to. Now he was physically fit as he ever was, literally having to hold most of her as he worked his hip. Her legs wrapped around his waist tightly, her hands clawing over his back, her moans muffled by his mouth which never seemed to want to leave hers. 

“Fuck…” He breathed against her lips, “It ain’t been like this…since…” 

“I know…” She panted back, “Never thought it could be again.” He groaned loudly, his hips speeding up, his mouth slipping over her cheek down to her neck and then shoulder where he bit sharply. She screamed out, her nails cutting into him. She could feel the skin tearing and hear the hiss of air as it escaped him in a gasp of pain. His hips twitching and jerking. 

“You close?” 

“Like you wouldn’t believe…” She muttered back, tilting her head to the side to allow him more access to her neck. He started to lick and suck at the skin there as the water ran over both of them, drenching them completely. With one last and considerably brutal thrust he cried out in climax. She was right after, nearly screaming in her own pleasure. Her body rocked forward, her legs attempting to pull him even closer to her as she orgasmed a few times. He continued to work his body against hers passionately until both of their pleasure had began to ebb. He kept hold of her until she was able to lower her legs down to the floor but as he tried to pull back, her knees buckled and she fell towards him. He caught her easily enough and she laughed breathlessly. 

“That was uh…gonna need to do some prayin about that.” He muttered leaning down to kiss her. She smiled and pulled him into a hug, resting her head against his chest. 

“Well whatever you would refer to as my lord says all of that’s fine so I think I’m good.” She replied. He laughed loudly and wrapped his arms around her as well. Despite what had happened with Preston just moments earlier, she was starting to feel a bit more normal again. If Willard kept up this kind of passionate pace then things really only could get better from where they were. 

*****

What she hated the most, in all of this was that it had actually felt good. In the worst way possible, this insanely gross snake of a man knew how to do things to her own body that she couldn’t have ever dreamed up herself. She’d tried, of course, she was only human and she wasn’t sure there was much wrong with it if she was keeping it private but Preston was certainly on another level of understanding what he was doing to her. She wasn’t caught up to him and it was something that was magnetic and repulsive at the same time. Things that she definitely enjoyed but not with him. It made her feel even worse when she thought about Arvin and the fact she really hadn’t told him much of anything about this man or this situation. 

His hands had been on her again, just his hands, it was after a bit of a struggle not to give up her actual virginity. Something that she didn’t think would work every single time he tried it, but it had worked for the day. A compromise that ended up with her getting an orgasm only after she’d taken care of him first. With her mouth. She was left there in the church on her knees and she was supposed to be praying for something. She had not been paying attention to what he’d said because she hadn’t given a shit about it. If there were any sort of God she didn’t see why he hadn’t stopped this from happening in the first place and she wasn’t about to be sorry for something that she didn’t want to do and had been forced into in the first place. 

The door opened behind her and she cringed pretty violently, thinking that he had come back from whatever he had gone off to do. Her breath hitched in her chest as the tears started to burn in her eyes. Someone was approaching. She squeezed her eyes shut and clasped her hands tighter, hoping that it wasn’t Preston and this wasn’t some sort of bizarre round two of his perverted bible study school. She felt a hand on her shoulder and she instinctively pulled away from it with a gasp, turning to look up. It was Arvin. She couldn’t have been more happy to see him even if she didn’t have a clue how he’d found her there. 

“Arvin!” She cried, scrambling to her feet to pull him into a tight hug. He was kind of stunned for a moment before awkwardly hugging her back. 

“You weren’t at school and I got worried. Specially when they said you was here.” He said, “Took me awhile to get that information or I’d have come sooner.” 

“Please get me out of here. Please.” She begged, pulling back to look at him. 

“That was kind of my intent, just in case he was here.” He replied, putting an arm around her to lead her out of that place. She never wanted to have to come back, not after what was destined to happen if someone insisted on her being alone with this Preacher over and over. He knew exactly what he held over her and what she was going to have to keep doing to him unless someone or something else put a stop to it. Right as they reached the door it opened again. Arvin quickly pulled her back and away as Preston stepped into the church, looking at him as if he were merely dog shit on the bottom of his shoe. 

“To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, boy?” Preston asked. 

“You don’t. I ain’t gonna be here any longer than I need to take her home.” He said, stepping back to put an arm around her protectively. 

“Don’t think her mother would like that much. You don’t wanna go around upsetting that poor woman now, would you?” Preston asked. 

“You ain’t gonna be holdin this over her no more.” He replied forcefully, “I see right through this, you are the biggest sinner in the damn city with what you’ve been doin.” She looked up at him, not sure how he knew. She certainly hadn’t said anything to him about it, not specifically, but Arvin had always been smarter than he looked and she couldn’t entirely say it was impossible to pick up on with how she’d been acting. Especially her insistence that she didn’t want to ever be alone with him again. Maybe that had been clear enough that she hadn’t needed to say it. 

“And just what is it you think I’ve been doin?” 

“I know enough,” Arvin said, “Which is why we are leaving and she ain’t comin back.” 

“Think her mother will see to that being a very wrong statement on your part, boy.” Preston insisted, chuckling darkly. “The way I see it, you got two options. Leave her hear and I won’t say nothing about this to her mother, take her and well…I can make it a lot worse. Two to three weeks here instead of school. What do you think’s gonna happen in that time?” Arvin looked at her, and he looked torn. She didn’t blame him for it either. This was the same shit he had pulled with Rika and considering Arvin had now seen her mother and what exactly was wrong with that situation he had every reason to second guess himself. 

“Just go, one week is better than three.” She relented softly. “Ain’t no one gonna believe our word over his. You know why.” 

“My Pa will,” Arvin said with very little hesitation. 

“Yeah and no one’s gonna believe him neither,” Preston sneered, “Guess that puts you right back where you started, boy.” Arvin glared at him for a moment, looking like he was about to punch the guy right in the face then he shook his head. 

“I ain’t leavin, you can save her soul then you save mine too. That is your job, right preacher?” He challenged. Preston didn’t look incredibly happy about this but it looked like Arvin had beaten him in his own game. At least for now. She was almost positive this man was evil enough to somehow involve the poor guy in his debauchery as soon as he figured out how to do it. 

“Arvin, it’s okay just-” 

“No, I wanna be saved if this man thinks it’s that big of a deal. Sure he’s got time for a sinner, don’t he?” Arvin said with a grin, “Go on, Preacher…save me.” 

*****

“What was that about this mornin? I mean, what all he say to you before I got there?” Willard asked as she was standing in his bedroom trying to fix up her hair while it was still wet. He was sitting on the bed, both of them had eventually gotten cleaned up enough from the shower by that point. She was in a nightgown because immediately putting another kimono on seemed too hot and complicated for what the day had turned into. 

“Something about how I was a witch and needed to be stopped. Wasn’t too much different from whatever you heard.” She said. He had really only caught the tail end of it but she figured that was enough to explain what the problem was. Maybe. 

“He looked about ready to murder you though,” Willard said, “You say somethin to him to rile him up like that? Not that I think you was askin for it, just wonderin why he got so mad.” She looked at his reflection for a long moment in the mirror then finished pinning her hair up. She turned towards him and walked to the bed. Then she took a deep breath. 

“Just rumors. Sometimes I hear them in town about what he’s doing to girls at his church when he gets them alone.” She replied, not wanting to explain further that she definitely knew what it was because she’d seen it and that at least one of the girls in question was Cordelia. Though she didn’t have direct knowledge of him doing it to any other girl it just seemed logical to her that he had to be. Willard nodded slowly. 

“You think that’s why Cordelia was makin such a fuss about having to see him?” 

“Probably,” She said, “I mean if you listen around town it’s not that much of a secret but-” 

“Think I should go have a talk with him.” He said and stood up abruptly. She watched him, kind of shocked that he was that quick to jump into action on this. “Maybe someone needs to set things straight here.” 

“Willard-” 

“It ain’t gonna be nothin but a talk, between two men. I promise. Won’t even bring my gun.” He grinned, “Not this time I don’t think.” 

“You need to be careful here. I may not have a problem with you and Arvin but the rest of the town does. I don’t even think you’re unaware of that. If you don’t do this right, things will get worse.” She said firmly. 

“What was all that malarkey you was givin me about doin the right thing even if it’s the hard thing?” He asked, heading for the door. She followed after him quickly. She didn’t want to stop him because someone definitely needed to at least put the actual fear of God into Preston but she wasn’t sure he was nearly in the right mental frame of mind not to murder a guy if he actually found out how bad any of this was. Not that Preston didn’t deserve that either but Willard couldn’t be getting in trouble with the law or outcast by the entire town because he lost his temper. 

“I know but I’m not sure you are ready. Let me get dressed and we can go there together.” She said. 

“No, I ain’t lettin him within a country mile of you again.” He said, “You ain’t a witch you saved my life, Arvin’s too. It’s just gonna be a talk, Rika. I ain’t lookin to get more blood on my hands. I promise.” 

“You absolutely promise?” She asked. 

“With all my heart.” He said, and then he was gone. She watched the door for a while, until she heard through the house that the front door had opened and shut. It did not seem like he had stopped at any point to grab a weapon. She hoped what he was saying was true because if it wasn’t, they were about to have a ton more problems on their hands than a bit of shell shock and whatever Willard’s mental state had actually become.  

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Things were not going well, to say the least. Mostly because this had turned into some very weird sermon about what the hell Arvin wasn’t supposed to be doing with young women. Specifically her. Something he seemed very amused by but she was kind of mortified. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t heard of what he was saying, she’d actually done some of it, but there was no need for him to be so graphic about it and spell it out for both of them. If he had some idea they were doing this already, Arvin wasn’t taking it seriously, and if he didn’t think they were doing it already he seemed to not realize he was just giving the guy ideas. None of which she’d be opposed to in general but she did not want to be later fooling around with Arvin only to think about this guy preaching to them about all the dirty things that could be done with a mouth or tongue. Just when she thought she was going to scream at him to stop, someone started banging on the door. The three of them turned at once to look over in that direction. 

“Well then, looks like we got another sinner comin to pray.” Preston said, heading down the aisle towards the door, which he had locked. That was another thing she’d found entirely too unsettling in this entire equation. She watched as he pulled the door open, only to nearly get shoved down the instant it was by a very irritated looking Willard. He outright ignored the preacher in favor of them. 

“Arvin what the hell…never mind, get out to my truck. Take her too. You ain’t need to see this.” Willard told them. 

“See what?” Arvin asked. 

“I don’t think he’s gonna answer that,” Cordelia said, “Even if he is I don’t wanna know, can we just leave?” Arvin looked at his father, then the Preacher and nodded. It looked like he agreed she was probably right about this. 

“Hey! That girl is under my care for-” 

“No she aint, she’s goin. Now. You wanna stop her you stop me first. Who you think is gonna win that, Preacher?” Willard demanded. This enabled the both of them to be able to slip right out of the door which shut behind them. As soon as they were outside, thunder clapped overhead and rain started to pour down like a waterfall. 

“Come on,” Arvin said, motioning to his father’s truck which wasn’t parked too far from where they were. She nodded and hurried through the rain to get away, the truck seemed a lot more appealing than the church, even in a storm like this. 

*****

“You can’t come here, to the Lord’s house and start takin my students. He don’t want you here, you ain’t welcome.” Preston said angrily, losing just a bit of his facade at that point, his language and accent getting far more acidic with every breath. 

“I can do just about damn well anything I want after the shit you pulled today.” Willard warned, “Now, I’m willin to let that go. I’m a fair and forgivin man, just like anyone decent would be. Not that you know shit about that either so you got a choice. You leave Rika and that girl alone and we ain’t gonna have a problem. Ya hear?” He stopped to consider the fact that Rika may have been right about him not being ready for this because he already felt a blinding, passionate rage that made him want to beat the absolute shit out of this man for what he already knew about. Or thought he did. Though he’d had very little contact with the guy, it was almost instinctual. Part of him was sure he could smell it somehow. 

“You’re gonna have to take a lot of this up with her mother.” Preston said, “It wasn’t my idea and that girl ain’t on the right path. She’s far from the L-” 

“Don’t you be givin me nothing about no Lord here.” Willard warned him, “He ain’t in this house if this is what you’ve been doin. I promise you that. You will not lay hands on either of them again, and you will not get near my son.” 

“I cannot just allow such Evil to flow through our community uncontrolled and-” 

“You can and you will. Come on my property again without being invited and I’ll shoot you.” He said, his voice as serious as he could possibly get it in that moment. The only problem was that every word he spoke only made this guy look more determined to fight back. He’d certainly be stupid to do so but there was nothing in him that believed that Preston was near afraid of this situation. If anything he looked more determined. Whatever he believed he was doing, he also believed it really had something to do with the lord. Either that or he was so sure that he had such a good thing with victimizing two women that had no option but to take his shit he didn’t want to let it go. He wasn’t unaware of Rika’s position around there, and seeing how Cordelia’s mother was, it would make them easy targets. Perfect for someone like Preston to not only get his hands on but crave like a drug. How often was it that he got two women to fuck with that had little to no recourse to stop him? 

“I will do what is right by the Lord and I will make sure that you are seen for what you are.” Preston attempted to threaten him back. 

“You do that, people already don’t care much for me as it is. Imma keep this civil, now, I catch you doin anything again you ain’t gonna like what happens. I can promise you and your LORD that much.” He said right back. Since he was now getting the overwhelming urge to snap this man’s neck he knew he had to leave. That was exactly what he did next. He stormed out of there and back to the truck where the other two were waiting. He climbed inside and without a word started the thing back up and began to drive. He already anticipated this was about to be a problem with Cordelia’s mother which was exactly why he didn’t intend to take her home. Someone was going to have to deal with that woman as well. The problems were going to stop, and he was going to be sure of that before he’d be able to ever sleep right again. 

*****

“He’s gonna tell my Mama everything, she ain’t gonna-” 

“Your Mama is gonna need to learn that Preader is bad news.” Willard cut her off quickly. She frowned but not because she didn’t agree with him. She knew that he was right. The problem was trying to get her mother to believe that. Much like with Rika attempting to back her up she knew Willard’s word wouldn’t mean anything. Her mother believed that the Russells were devil worshipers or something. Not that she really knew why, because she’d never been told that part. It didn’t seem to matter, she knew they weren’t like that. There was no way Willard could be with how he’d come in there to save both of them. 

“There’s gotta be something we can do to make her listen.” Arvin said. 

“She ain’t gonna listen I already tried,” She sighed loudly, “She said if I don’t stop with that then I ain’t gonna have a place to live either.” 

“Then you come to my house, we ain’t gonna bother you there.” Willard said, “Not gonna let any of this happen and if she won’t listen then we’ll take care of it. You ain’t goin to that church no more. Not with how he is. Saw it myself.” 

“I couldn’t possibly-” 

“You can and you will.” He insisted, “We’ll work somethin out. Make sure you get to school and learn what you need. Almost about to graduate anyway right? Like Arvin?” 

“Yes sir.” She nodded. 

“Good, only a few more months of that anyway then we’ll give you a place.” He said, “Unless you already got plans after that.” 

“No sir, thought about college but I ain’t got the money and Mama wouldn’t like that anyway. She just thinks I need to get married or somethin.” She said. It annoyed her because she would prefer to be educated. Her actual dream was to be in the military because of how much she respected it after what she’d learned from her father. It was nothing that her mother would hear about but she knew they were accepting women now, and she was an adult. The only real problem was the war in Vietnam, though women weren’t really being sent into combat for that. She wanted to sign up to be a nurse. “I did think about the military but-” 

“I ain’t sure that’s somethin you wanna do.” Willard cut her off. 

“I understand your stance on that, sir, and why, but they ain’t sendin women into combat. I just thought I could be a nurse. It’d be safe in any case. You know, like Miss Rika was doin for the soldiers.” She said. He looked at her for a moment before turning his head back so he could keep his eyes on the road. It was understandable why he’d have that reaction and it wasn’t like she didn’t understand her mother’s point of view, but she didn’t see why it should outweigh her own desires for what she should do with her life. 

“Look, I don’t wanna be like your Mama, tell you what to do and what not, what I meant was that if you think that’s something you want to do you might want to think a bit harder on it, is all.” He clarified. 

“You wanna talk to me about it then, you mean?” She asked. 

“He probably would know best,” Arvin added, “But he’s gonna look at it like a soldier and I don’t think they’re gonna have you doin the same stuff.” 

“No, but I’d be around it.” She said, “It would at least give me some idea of what to expect and if I want to try or not. More realistic than my Mama with her fire and damnation nonsense.” 

“I respect whatever it is you wanna do with your life but I think he may be right too so, glad you’re at least willin to talk about it.” Arvin said. She smiled and took his hand into hers. The worst part was she knew that if she went ahead and did this, she would be shipped off to some other country and be away from him for years. Something she didn’t want to do because she had just only started to get to know him. The best she could reason was it wasn’t something that she had to do immediately, it seemed like there was always just gonna be war and they would always need people to help. Maybe she’d give it a bit of time and hear about it before taking the plunge. There wouldn’t be any harm in waiting. 

“Thanks, both of you. This ain’t nothin you need to be doin for me but I appreciate it.” She said. 

“It’s the right thing to do.” Willard said, “And I can see how much my boy gets along with you, wouldn’t wanna take that from him either.” Arvin gave his dad a look like he couldn’t have been more mortified by that which only made her giggle. It was kind of cute. She reached over and took his hand, giving it a small squeeze which drew his attention back to her. This softened him a bit and made him smile. He looked at her like no one else she ever knew in her life and she was happy to have him, even if the day had started out the worst way possible. She was hopeful that things could be fixed with her mother as well but if that never happened it already seemed like she may have found a new place, and a new family. One that she was vastly more happy with than the one she’d already been handed. 

*****

To say that Cordelia’s mother was angry was a vast understatement compared to what actually happened. It wasn’t discovered for a few hours that she hadn’t gone home. Namely because her mother wouldn’t have noticed anything was off. The weird thing was that Preston hadn’t seemingly done anything himself. At least not right away. Perhaps this was on purpose, to make all of them unsettled for as long as they possibly could be. Eventually, what ended up happening were police officers showing up at the house. Rika quickly figured out as she stood at the door that not only did they want to talk to Willard they were extremely racist. She wasn’t surprised by either of those things. 

“Willard is not here right now, not sure how many times I have to say that.” She repeated, because they didn’t want to listen to her at all. He had gone into town to get a few things, though he wasn’t exactly clear on what, she thought she could handle herself and the house until he got back. He didn’t seem to think it would take very long. 

“Is there a man here then, darling?” The first officer asked slowly, as if she couldn’t clearly understand English. 

“Who? You want to talk to Arvin? He’s here.” She said. 

“That will be just fine.” He confirmed. She muttered under her breath about how idiotic these people were and why they couldn’t just talk to her about whatever this was but they were racist morons. She headed away from the door and back towards Arvin’s room where he was sitting on his bed with Cordelia. They were playing cards. It was kind of sweet that they were doing that instead of a number of other activities, like making out or more than that. She hung around the kitchen just to monitor what was going on because she didn’t want anything to happen either. She also wanted some idea of how the police in this town might operate. 

“Is Cordelia Banks here? Now?” The officer asked. 

“Yes sir, in my room.” Arvin nodded. 

“Can we see her?” 

“I guess, ain’t nothin wrong with her.” He shrugged, “Cordelia!” A few moments later she walked into the kitchen and looked at Arvin then the police. She sighed loudly and sat down at the table looking about ready to scream. 

“I’m fine, officers, I’m stayin here now.” She said, sounding as if she were struggling to stay calm about it. 

“Your mother-” 

“I am an adult, I just turned eighteen about a week ago, is it illegal for me to leave the house without her permission?” She asked, turning to look at the police officers finally. 

“No Miss, it’s not.” 

“Then tell her I’ve made my choice and I’m stayin here for a bit.” She said, “They ain’t holdin me hostage neither. I chose to come here and I’m choosing to stay here. Okay?” The officer that was looking at her turned to his partner. They muttered something between each other then the first guy nodded. 

“Sorry to bother you then, miss.” He said and shortly after that they walked out of there. Arvin hurried over to Cordelia and put a hand on her shoulder gently. 

“You okay?” He asked softly. 

“I’m fine…I mean…I will be fine.” She said, “Don’t think she’s gonna be lettin me come home any time soon though.” 

“You can stay here as long as you need.” Rika said, “Pretty sure Willard’s fine with it just don’t let him catch you two…well…you know.” 

“It ain’t like that…” Arvin said. 

“Really?” Rika asked. Cordelia giggled and stood up, Arvin looked kind of confused by this so he turned towards her. She didn’t think that he hadn’t thought about it independently but she also believed that he hadn’t really had enough courage to try anything with her either. Arvin was just as polite and respectful as she was sure his father raised him to be so she wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t also trying to make moves on her all the time. 

“You…like me? I mean like…more than friends?” He asked. 

“What do you think that kiss was the other day?” She replied, taking his hands into hers. He looked down at them for a moment then back to her with a bit of a goofy smile on his face. 

“I just thought you was happy I showed up in time is all.” He said, “Didn’t think it was much more than that.” 

“Well…it is.” Cordelia said then leaned in and gave him a very gentle kiss on the lips. Afterwards, she pulled away from him and headed back towards the bedroom. That’s when Arvin turned to where she was leaning against the counter. 

“You uh….how long did you know?” 

“Pretty sure even your father knows.” She laughed softly, “So be careful because I’m sure you can also figure out how he’s going to feel if you’re doing anything before you are married.” Arvin nodded but didn’t stick around to talk much. Instead, he hurried out of there to get back into his room with Cordelia. It looked like they were going to have a lot to discuss and she was going to have to get lunch started as it was. 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

For the next week or so things went very well. Everyone was getting along and for the most part, they were left alone. Rika was surprised that Cordelia’s mother or that awful preacher hadn’t shown back up there to try to start shit. Cordelia seemed pretty happy as well, even though she didn’t really have her own room. She was sleeping on the couch, because for obvious reasons, Willard was not interested in letting her sleep in Arvin’s room. They were most outwardly dating and made a cute couple. The only problem with this was the three times she caught them fooling around with each other and told them they needed to be more careful. She really didn’t give any sort of crap if they wanted to do that but if Willard caught them they were going to be in much more trouble than her walking in on it. She’d have thought that after the second time they wouldn’t have been dumb enough to try it again but, they were also horny and idiotic teenagers. 

The next problem only came on that Saturday night, during dinner. They were all eating and talking as they normally would and things were pretty calm until there was a knock on the door. Willard got up to answer it, as he’d been surprisingly more normal than he had ever been since she’d gotten there. He still had his ups and downs, as well as obvious moments when he would drift off and have some war flashbacks but she was always there to help him out of it and take care of him. As a team, they were learning to deal with this problem. Arvin and Cordelia as well. Between the three of them they were managing to keep Willard as stable as he was probably going to ever get, which was a borderline miracle considering how things had started with him. 

Rika waited for just a moment before getting up from the table as well. She’d finally, and not much by her own choice, started to dress in more appropriate western clothing. At first it had felt incredibly weird to her. Over a few days, though, she realized how much more comfortable their style of dresses were. They also weren’t nearly as hot in this climate. Though she did still love her kimonos and Japanese style in general, the dresses that she’d managed to purchase there were so much better and easier to wear. So were the shoes. She also felt like she fit in a bit better than before and didn’t get near as many stares even if there were still some problems. The only thing she refused to do was cut her hair. It was still as long as ever and still a pain in the ass to maintain but she couldn’t bring herself to do much of anything about it either. Other than to keep it up in the usual style she was accustomed to. At least it didn’t look too out of place with her new clothing. 

She came into the room just in time to see Willard open the door, only to reveal Cordelia’s mother looking as angry as possible. Everything about this woman was eerily normal, including the dress she’d decided to wear but at the same time, the eyepatch was kind of unsettling. By that point, all of them knew very specifically what had happened to her eye, so maybe that was where it got creepy. It was an injury that was specifically self inflicted in an attempt to end her own life and yet she was still standing and she was still as bitter as she ever had been. 

“I’d like to see my daughter, please.” The woman said. 

“I don’t think she wants to see you,” Willard replied, and without much more thought went to shut the door. Rika rushed forward to stop him, putting a hand on his arm gently. He turned to look at her. “I ain’t lookin to start another fight at dinner.” 

“I’m not here to fight,” The woman said, “Let me introduce myself, I’m Beth and you obviously know my daughter Cordelia already so…nice to meet you.” She held her hand out for Willard to shake. He looked at it for a long moment before deciding to shake it. Rika was not offer anything more than a scathing sideways glance before Beth’s attention turned back to Willard. 

“Willard, this is Rika.” He said, “I don’t want no disrespect for her neither.” 

“I already said that I ain’t here to fight,” Beth repeated firmly, “I just want to talk to my daughter.” 

“About what?” Willard asked. 

“Think my business with her is my own.” Beth replied, giving Rika another dirty look.

“I ain’t lettin you in my house if you keep lookin at her like that.” Willard said, “You can stay out here and I will go ask your daughter if she’s interested. If she says no, you’re gonna leave without a fuss.” He backed away from the door and headed into the dining room where the other two would have been waiting. Rika did not follow him, mostly cause she didn’t want the woman coming in there anyway. They were about the same size so it wasn’t like she’d be easily overpowered. Beth cleared her throat and redirected her attention. 

“You’re Japanese, right?” 

“Yes but you already knew that.” she sighed, “I would prefer to avoid the small talk if that’s all you are trying to do.” 

“Japanese killed my husband, her Daddy. See why I might have a problem with her being around the likes of you?” Beth asked. 

“She doesn’t have a problem with it, maybe because I, by myself, am not the entire country of Japan and I have nothing to do with your husband’s death which, I am very sorry for.” She said trying to stay calm and sound sincere. She actually was sorry that her husband had died in a war like that. In her own country. That was terrible, but she was annoyed that this woman had also decided to take it completely out on her as if she had any control over it or knowledge about it. 

“How’d you even meet Willard anyway?” 

“During the war actually, I saved his life. When no one else in my village would or even wanted me too. Maybe not all of us are evil.” She said. Before Beth could make any comment on that, Willard came back in the room with Cordelia following behind him. 

“Alright, talk to her, she don’t want me to leave she said.” Willard told them. 

“Is that even true?” Beth asked. 

“Yes, Mama, after what you did last time I’d prefer Mr. Russell was here. Miss Rika too. He didn’t insist on this or make me agree to it.” Cordelia confirmed, “What do you want?” 

“I want you to consider what you are doing to me here, and that you need to come home and to church. Find the lord-” 

“I may not know where the Lord is but he certainly ain’t in that church and that preacher is a snake.” Cordelia told her, “I ain’t sure what I do believe other than it ain’t that.” 

“Cordelia, the Lord is-” 

“What?” She asked, “I seen how this works. The lord killed Daddy, nearly killed you, and left me with this life. What do I have to say to the Lord. Specially after Preacher Teagardin has treated me and Miss Rika.” 

“I don’t know what happened with him but, he’s a good man-” 

“He’s not.” Cordelia insisted, “I ain’t goin back there. I’ll thank the Lord my own way every night with my own prayers. I ain’t need no church to do that.” 

“You aren’t willing to do this? Not even for your own mother? We all gotta make choices here. Do things we don’t like. No victory without sacrifice…remember?” Beth asked. The really odd thing about this, specifically the last thing she said was it really seemed to grab Willard’s attention. Something Rika only noticed cause he took a step forward when she said it. 

“What was that?” He asked. 

“No victory without sacrifice. We can’t be good to the lord unless we sacrifice to a higher power.” Beth clarified. Rika nearly laughed, and not because any of this was funny. It was far more just the sheer irony of the fact that both of them had their own issues and yet had somehow come to the same weird conclusions about sacrifice and the lord. She was sure they’d never even met before this point so there was no way for them to get on the same page of this other than whatever mysterious ways this crazy Christian God seemed to work. 

“Really?” Rika asked. 

“Why? You got a problem with that?” Beth snapped. 

“Mama-” 

“No, I doubt she believes in any lord other than…whatever tree round here she’s chosen to pick as an idol.” Beth interrupted. 

“That’s enough of that.” Willard said, “Think we’ve reached a point where ain’t nothin is gonna change if you keep insisting she go back to that church. Maybe, your sacrifice is losing your daughter til you learn some personal respect.” 

“Who are you to tell me-” 

“I’m someone who actually listens to her.” Willard snapped, “Get off my property if you ain’t gonna do her the same.” He moved past Rika to put his hand on the door. 

“I just want my daughter back.” Beth said, slapping her hand up on the door to try to push it back. “I made my sacrifice Mister Russell and I pay my penance every day.” She motioned up to her eye. 

“I don’t see what that’s got to do with the price of tea in China.” Willard said, trying to shut the door anyway. Beth was oddly strong about this and managed to start to push back. To be fair, Willard was definitely not trying to be as forceful as he could have been, probably because he didn’t want to hurt her, which was really the only reason she was continuing to stop him from shutting the door entirely. 

“You ain’t do nothin with that than try to leave her here alone without any of her parents.” Willard said. 

“It was a mistake, and I have made my peace and my own sacrifices. How many more you wanna ask me to make? What have you done here, Mister Russell what do you have for the Lord?” Beth challenged. 

“I got my own way and it’s workin just fine.” He said, “I ain’t no devil worshipper either, nor is Rika, so you stop all your nonsense and when you calm down you can come back and try again. Don’t be bringing that Preacher round here neither. I’ll shoot him.” With that, he shoved the door closed entirely. Then he locked it. Beth screamed, sounding completely enraged as she started to pound on the door violently. Willard shook his head and turned to look at Cordelia. 

“Thank you,” She said, “I appreciate that but I apologize for it as well.” 

“You can’t control her behavior, nothing to apologize for.” He said, then walked towards her, “Come on, dinner’s gettin cold and we got some stuff to talk about here.” Cordelia nodded and followed him back into the dining room. Rika stood there and looked at the door, she felt bad for this woman but she wasn’t sure how to even begin to help someone like this. That one thing she had said about victory and sacrifice was oddly similar to what Willard believed, and she kind of wanted it explained further. She just didn’t think she was going to get an explanation any time soon, which was what ultimately led to her walking away from the door and allowing Beth to finish her tantrum on the front porch. 

*****

The next afternoon, after lunch, Willard asked Cordelia to take a walk with him because they were going to have a talk and he wanted to show her something. Rika wasn’t insanely sure this was a good idea because it was pretty obvious to her what he was going to try to explain. Willard told her that it was fine, that he was sure she’d understand if she’d already been through this before with her mother. She didn’t think there was any way to stop him and all she could really do was hope that it worked instead of scarring the poor girl for life. Since she had more medication she needed to work on because the orders never seemed to stop, she began to set up in the kitchen for preparing things. 

Once again, she needed to replenish some of her supplies. There were a lot of plants that had been left to grow in the barn for various reasons. Mostly herbs and other plants that needed the humidity but couldn’t be in direct sunlight. They were also safer from varmints in there that might try to come by and eat them. Not so much insects but that was a more minor issue, she found, as there were natural ways to keep those types of pests away. Things that didn’t work on smaller animals like rabbits, rats, birds, or even deer. She didn’t need her entire supply eaten up when it took long enough to grow in the first place. When she reached the barn she slid the door open and entered like she would do on any other day. She grabbed a pair of smaller shears from the wall so she could cut what she needed. As she was working, she got a very weird feeling of being watched. Like someone was behind her. Just as she looked up, out of the corner of the eye she noticed someone standing there. It wasn’t Willard or Arvin. She turned her head, only to see him slide the barn door shut and latch it from the inside. It was none other than Preston Teagardin. Once again he had managed to get there in the exact right moment to make sure that he was not going to be noticed. Now they were in the barn, Willard was definitely down at his prayer log with Cordelia and it was very unlikely even Arvin would hear her screaming from where they were. She gripped the shears in her hand tighter. 

“Weren’t you told not to come around here again? Believe Willard said he’d shoot you. I know he told me as much.” 

“I told you how much of a disservice I would be doing this community if I let you keep spreading your potions and lies around.” He said, coming towards in a slow but very intimidating manner. Maybe it was just his size, or the look in his eyes, possibly both, but she didn’t like it. She stood her ground, once again refusing to show him any fear. “Gotta remove the source of your devil powers and lead you back to the path of our Lord.” 

“You know I don’t even have a problem with your Lord, that is if you mean the Christian God. I do have a problem with you as an individual.” She said, pointing the shears right at him. “Now, you might have me confused with someone like Cordelia because I’m small and I look like a teenager but I’m in my thirties and I will fuck you up.” 

“Such language on what I suppose would be a beautiful young woman if she wasn’t so tainted by the evil of Lucifer himself.” Preston replied with a chuckle as if he was way more amused by this than threatened. He lunged forward without warning and grabbed her wrist, the one that currently held her only weapon against him. She screamed and tried to strike out at him with her other hand when he twisted her arm painfully and turned her to get it up behind her back, easily grabbing her other arm to restrain that as well. There was no way he hadn’t done this before it was far too practiced and calculated. “Gonna need you to stop tryin to fight it, probably best to just let it happen.” 

“You can go to hell.” She hissed. 

“I think I’ll be the judge of that.” He breathed in her ear, his fingers digging into her wrist right at the tendon, making it impossible to keep hold of the shears like she wanted. As her grip loosened he slipped his hand up and grabbed them himself. Then he grabbed her hair. She screamed again, because all she could think about was him trying to cut it for whatever reason. Something she really didn’t want either. “Now, I think we can figure out an agreement here, but more importantly, we need to figure out the source of all your devil work. If I had to fancy a guess I could tell you where I’d find it.” He made very quick work of slipping the pins out of her hair, even with how she was struggling. His size wasn’t a match for her but nor was his strength, it was uncannily strong for how he actually looked. She managed to slam the heel of her shoe onto his foot the moment she felt her hair fall from where it had been pinned and stumbled forward. All she’d done that day was put it in a braid then tie it up on her head so it was still in that braid it was just hanging down instead of being up. Of course, this made her an easy target and he was able to reach out and grab it, wrapping it around his hand tightly to pull her back to him. 

“If you do this, I promise you, there won’t be any second of any day you don’t regret it.” She breathed. 

“Seems to me that if I were wrong about this you wouldn’t be nearly as upset.” He growled in her ear, even worse there was no way he wasn’t aroused she could feel it because she couldn’t escape it. If anything he was making a point to rub up against her so she’d know it. “I take your hair, I take your power.” 

“That is…so positively ridiculous…” She snapped at him. 

“Is it?” He laughed releasing enough of her braid to shove her forward and in one very quick slice, cut it away from her head, getting most of it off. She screamed and stumbled forward, not expecting that at all. Her hands went up to the top of her head as she turned to look at him. He’d taken quite a bit of it, actually the vast majority. Her hair hadn’t been this short since she was a child. What was left of it seemed to rest just below her ears. She glared at him. “Look better like that anyway.” He smiled, as her eyes moved to the braid that was wrapped around his hand almost like a whip. She screamed, getting up to rush at him, slamming into him with such force that it did get him to stumble and fall back. She punched him in the face hard enough that she was sure if she didn’t break his cheek she certainly broke her own hand but she also wasn’t sure she cared. He yelled out, scrambling to get dominance back, struggling and fighting until he was on top of her and had her pinned into the dirt, his arm on her throat, starting to cut off her air. 

“This won’t…end well for-” 

“That’s enough of that. I don’t like it when you little whores are too mouthy…” He grinned. 

*****

Cordelia was heading back up the path with Willard. What he had just explained to her was interesting enough. In fact, it didn’t sound too much different from what her mother had believed and taught her. Though he took it a bit further than her mother ever had, she was kind of surprised that there hadn’t already been animal sacrifice. She was thinking the only thing that stood between her mother and that level of weirdness was the fact that she had a weak stomach and had never been one for blood. It would have kept her from destroying a live animals for her beliefs but it also seemed like it might only be a matter of time before she was able to go against that in the first place. She wasn’t sure she believed either of them, but if she had to choose who seemed to be more correct about this, it was going to be Willard. She really couldn’t deny all that the Lord had seemed to provide him after he’d killed that goat and Rika appeared. She had never been so sure it would work that way but how was she supposed to explain all of this otherwise. He had more of a point than her mother ever did. 

“How often are you makin these sacrifices then?” She asked as they walked. 

“When they are needed, He usually shows me what needs to be done.” Willard replied, “Ain’t been nothin since the goat but probably need to figure somethin else out, namely to thank him for what he has provided after I initially asked.” 

“Guess that makes sense.” She nodded, “How are you gonna know when and what?” 

“The Lord will provide, don’t worry much about that until I get a sign.” He said. She nodded, she guessed that was as good of an explanation as any. 

“What kinda sign you get? I mean is it like-” Before she could continue he stopped where he was and put his hand up signifying that he wanted her to be quiet. Not in a rude way, more in a way that it seemed like he noticed something was wrong. She could see the concern on his face immediately even if she had no idea what he was reacting to. “Sir?” 

“Get to the house, stay inside.” He told her. 

“But-” 

“I said get.” He ordered. She nodded, because she hadn’t heard him sound this serious since the day that he’d busted into the church to save her and Arvin. He’d done so much for her already that she was willing to just take him at his word, so she hurried back to the house, hoping Arvin was still in there so whatever this was she could feel at least a little safe. Once she was on the porch she turned back to see him hurrying towards the barn. Something was definitely wrong, and she was even more sure of it when she came into the kitchen and saw all of Rika’s stuff on the counters but no Rika. 

“Arvin!” She called, “Think we got a problem!” 

*****

The final scream had been the loudest, but he’d shut her up quickly after that point. A hand clasped tightly over her mouth and nose, to a point where she could hardly breathe. He was fucking into her from behind, having made pretty quick and easy work of it because she was in a dress instead of a kimono which would have at least slowed him down, it wouldn’t have stopped him. In the position he had her pinned, especially with the entire weight of his body, she wasn’t able to do much other than lay there and take it, and despite how hard she was trying to bite him to get him off of her she wasn’t able to find an opening to cut into his skin. Any noises she could make were severely muffled, so she could only stare at the door to the barn with abject horror and agony, as she realized that this probably wasn’t going to stop until he was ready. That was until someone tried to slide the door open. It just didn’t work because it had been latched shut. This grabbed Preston’s attention easily enough and he paused. 

“RIKA!?” Willard yelled, “You in there?” 

“Stay quiet.” Preston hissed in her ear. Hell if she was going to do that, she wanted him off of her and she knew if Willard was that close she had to do something about it. She screamed as loud as she could into his hand, which was a stupid mistake because it only got the stupid gardening sheers driven into her shoulder brutally. “I told you to be quiet.” He hissed. 

“RIKA!” The door rattled again, but only for a moment before it became clear that Willard was attempting to kick it in. Preston scrambled back and off of her. 

“HE’S IN HERE HE STABBED ME!” She screamed. 

“You…you’re gonna regret this…” Preston panted as he fixed himself up, taking a few steps back from her. 

“Not as much as you are.” She hissed, weakly reaching behind her to yank the blades from her skin. 

“WHAT’D I TELL YOU ABOUT THIS PREACHER?” Willard roared. There was another bang as his foot hit against the door a second time. Then the wood started to crack. Preston looked about ready to crap his pants. The only problem was there was a window behind them, not a few meters away. Which is what he ran for next. She may have tried to do something about this if she wasn’t so hurt and still struggling to get a grasp on the handle of the sheers. Something that was causing her tremendous pain in the moment. 

“HE’S MAKING A RUN FOR IT!” She yelled. There was one more good kick and the wood splintered enough away from the latch on the door that it broke free and Willard was able to shove it open and hurry over to her. He got down by her side. “Get him…just…I’ll be okay.” 

“No, let him run.” 

“Willard you need to-” 

“What was it you said? About picking your battles? Tried to teach Arvin the same shit before you got here. You’re right. He’s gonna run but there ain’t but one place he’s gonna go. How much do we need to give chase?” He asked. She couldn’t deny that he was right about that and she was going to need some serious help with this injury. Something she wasn’t going to be able to take care of alone. “I’m gonna pull them out and it ain’t gonna be nice.” 

“Yeah I know but…I’ve done worse to you so have at it.” She whispered. She heard him chuckle softly, but a second later he yanked the blades out causing her to scream in pain and double forward. A moment after that she felt his hand press tightly over the wound, probably in an attempt to stem the bleeding. 

“What happened to your hair?” 

“He cut it and took it. Was still…in his hand when he ran off.” She whispered. 

“Why?” 

“He thinks it’s the source of my power.” She muttered, turning to look at him, “I mean it’s not but I really…really liked my hair.” She was unable to stop the tears at that point, it was kind of a more stupid thing to be upset about than the fact that he’d been actually fucking her against her will. She was almost sure she’d have preferred to keep her hair and let him do that if those were the consequences she had to face. He sighed and pulled her into a tight hug, his hand adjusting to press over the wound again once he had. She just closed her eyes and sobbed against him, her face pressed into his chest tightly. They were tears of agony but also relief, maybe even a bit of happiness because he’d gotten there when he had. There was no telling what else that evil slime of a man might have done to her if Willard hadn’t come along and she was thankful that she knew she’d always have Willard around to protect her. She was also sure that Preston had just made the gravest mistake of his life. 

CHAPTER TWENTY

Willard carried her into the house so quickly they managed to avoid much questioning by Arvin or Cordelia who were waiting at the front of the house to see what was going on. She only was able to glance at them quickly to see how incredibly confused they were but it was about two or three seconds before he had gotten her into the bathroom, shut the door, and locked it. He set her down at the side of the tub and looked at her. She was fine by that point, at least emotionally. Physically, she was in a ton of pain. More than she believed she should be in and it also just be a mild wound. She looked up at him. 

“You need to get a doctor out here, an actual doctor.” She said. “Can you do that for me?” 

“It’s that bad?” He replied. 

“Yeah,” She nodded, “Could be nerve damage but even more than that I’m worried about possible infection or tetanus.” 

“Tetanus?” 

“It’s a blood infection it’ll kill me if I don’t get a shot and I mean basically now.” She said, “Look I’ll pay for it I have money saved up I can-” 

“No.” He shook his head, “I’ll take care of it. You need any help?” 

“I should be fine cleaning up by myself for…for the most part. He uh…there were some things that he did where uh…” She looked away from him because she couldn’t bring herself to outright say what had happened. He seemed to get the point, though. 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there faster.” He said, “I didn’t know.” 

“I don’t blame you for what he did. You had no way of knowing.” She replied, “But right now, it’s important to get me help. We can worry about him later. I don’t think he’s going to go very far because he’s too confident about being right.” Willard nodded and looked at her for another moment before stepping out of the bathroom and shutting the door behind him. As much as it hurt her to move around and do anything she knew that she didn’t have a choice and she didn’t want to have him deal with it. She was worried that if he dealt with too much of her pain or screaming then he would go into a flashback and then no one was going to benefit. It hurt, and it was terrible, but she could handle it for now. Until the actual doctor got there, at least. 

*****

Willard ran plenty of interference with the other two to keep them away from her even when she was laying in the bedroom trying not to scream from the pain in her shoulder. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, whatever it was. An infection wouldn’t have set in that quickly, so it was something else. The only issue was she didn’t know what the hell it could be and she couldn’t think straight because of how painful it was. She was too scared to mention it to Willard and have him lose his shit. It had been bad enough when Charlotte had been sick, that had barely been a month ago. He didn’t need to go through that again. She heard a gentle knock on the door. 

“Come…come in…” She called weakly and shifted to look in that direction. She had put on a nightgown before collapsing on the bed to lay where she currently was. The door opened and Willard came in with a man behind him that had a bag that she definitely recognized as metal. It felt like an eternity to get him out there but in reality it couldn’t have been more than an hour which was still way faster than she expected for such short notice. Willard looked like death warmed over, especially when he saw how bad she probably looked. She didn’t know, but if she looked half as bad as she felt then it was going to be noticed by him pretty easily. 

“Does she speak English?” The doctor whispered. 

“Yes…I speak English I just told you to come in you piece of-” 

“Rika,” Willard cut her off, “She’ll understand you just fine doc, she said something about uh…tetanus?” The doctor nodded and came over to the bed, getting behind her to look at her shoulder. Rika looked at him and he closed the door but stayed in there with her. It wasn’t like he hadn’t already seen her naked or had sex with her and all the doctor needed to do was slide down part of the nightgown to get to her shoulder. “I’m going to give you something for the pain first, might help me examine this.” 

“What?” She asked, “Morphine? Injection?” 

“Yes…” He said slowly. 

“She was a nurse, in Japan, that’s how she knows what these things are. Far more than I do.” Willard said. The doctor nodded and went into his bag to get the medication he needed. She was relieved that it was even offered because she wasn’t sure how to explain to make the opium stuff properly. It was just something she kind of knew and beyond the point where she could even explain exact measurements. It was also something that could be easily dangerous if there was to much or completely ineffective if there wasn’t enough. She’d just been lucky enough to have practice at it to know what it was. Mostly from watching her grandfather do it. 

“I probably just need a tetanus shot.” She said. “I was stabbed with…metal shears.” 

“Was this an accident?” The doctor asked. 

“For all intents and purposes, yes. I fell.” She said. The only reason she wasn’t trying to claim anything else was she knew how bad it would be for all of them if she did. No one would believe it and things would just get worse. The only chance they had at getting any sort of justice here was letting Preston believe that he was going to get away with it and then strike when he was least suspecting his comeuppance. That was if she could convince Willard to wait that long. With how he was looking at her now she wasn’t sure he would wait for a minute after the doctor actually left. 

“Alright I’m going to inject you now. Eight milligrams. Any objections?” He asked. 

“Do you also happen to have an antiemetic with you?” She replied. 

“Guess she really is a nurse.” The doctor chuckled and looked at Willard. 

“Yeah, might wanna have this conversation with her, I ain’t have a clue what she just asked you for.” Willard told him, sounding annoyed. 

“Willard, you know that ginger candy I have can you…get me two of those please?” She asked him. What she’d just asked for was to prevent nausea and vomiting which could very easily come with morphine and she knew it. She also knew that it wasn’t super commonly given even in hospitals even though in her experience if someone knew to ask about it they were likely to get it. Possibly. There was no way that was something this doctor would carry standard in his bag and she had mostly meant it as a joke. It hadn’t landed very well. The doctor took her arm and cleaned it off before injecting the morphine into the vein. She groaned softly and closed her eyes. The rush of hot euphoria coming over her pretty quickly. It didn’t exactly take the pain away as much as it made her not care that she was in pain. Willard came back and sat down on the other side of the bed, giving her the candy she had asked for which she quickly started to chew on to help counter the effects of the nausea. It was debatable if it would even work but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. 

“You okay?” He asked softly. 

“I’ll be fine, it just really hurts but pain is temporary. I won’t die.” She said. He seemed to need way more reassurance than he did. She reached for his hand and he moved to hold his out to hers so she could take it. It was about then that the doctor started to poke around at the wound and she held her breath to keep from screaming. 

*****

At some point she had passed out, she wasn’t really sure if it was because of the pain or the morphine or both. She just was out. When she came to it was quick and she sat up feeling very sick. She hurried for the bathroom, managing to make it to the toilet just in time to puke. A lot. Something in which she instantly felt better after doing, for the most part. She groaned only to hear the door open a second later. She reached forward and flushed the toilet but got to her feet, surprised she had been able to move into the bathroom so quickly in the first place. Maybe it was because the problem was her shoulder and not her legs. 

“You okay, Miss Rika?” Cordelia asked softly. She was surprised to hear that voice and not Willard, who had been quite the ass about keeping Cordelia and Arvin away from her before. 

“I feel better now, yeah,” She laughed softly, “Morphine does that to me even if I also really needed to have it.” She got up slowly and headed over to the sink, running the water to splash some cold water on her face before reaching for her toothbrush. Her stomach started to growl and she was surprised to find that she was hungry. 

“You sure?” 

“Oh yeah, definitely. I feel a lot better than I did when he stabbed me that’s for sure.” She nodded and put some toothpaste on the brush. 

“Who?” 

“Okay guessing he didn’t tell you…” She said slowly, “It was Preston. Thought that might have been obvious but I guess it wasn’t.” 

“Preacher Teagardin?” 

“You can call him Preston, I’m sure he doesn’t deserve the title right now.” She said and put the toothbrush in her mouth. Cordelia frowned and came more into the bathroom. She walked around to the tub and sat on the edge of it slowly. Rika could see her reflection in the mirror. 

“What all did he do to you?” 

“Other than cutting my hair?” She asked, motioning upwards. To be honest it didn’t look too bad, she just wasn’t used to it. The problem was that it was such a hack job that she was going to have to trim it up herself at some point, but she’d worry about that once her shoulder wasn’t still kind of numb and she had the ability to move better. 

“It don’t look too bad your know.” Cordelia said, and she saw the girl move her hands to her own hair which was very long. It actually reached down to her waist. It seemed like she almost looked guilty for having her hair that long. “I could probably use a cut too you know, if that-” 

“Don’t cut your hair for me. It’s hair it’ll grow back.” She said, “Besides, your hair is really pretty. I’ve never seen a shade of red like that. It would be a shame to get rid of it.” She smiled, faintly and nodded. 

“He went out, he said you’d probably be asleep for a bit longer so not to worry. Took Arvin with him.” Cordelia explained after another moment. She spit out the toothpaste in her mouth, unsure she liked the sound of that. Maybe she had been right about Willard not being able to stop himself with how angry he had seemed in the first place. Fuck. 

“Did he say where he was going?” She asked then ran the water so she could rinse her mouth out. 

“No…but now that you mention that it was Preston who done that-” 

“Did it seem like that’s where he was going?” She interrupted. 

“It was hard to tell what he meant but he didn’t seem angry or nothin. He said he had to run an errand…get some medicine for you or something.” Cordelia said. That was definitely possible, because she doubted if the doctor had left a prescription for anything he also had it on hand. It was a weird situation and injury. It would have left him to have to go into town to get it and it was certainly possible because it wasn’t incredibly late in the day. It was still light outside. She tried to tell herself not to worry about anything that she didn’t also have direct information over. 

“Then that’s probably what he did.” She said. 

“But-” 

“Look, it will be useless to panic over something we don’t know about or currently have no control over. Won’t it?” She asked, “Now, I am very hungry and if I recall right I’ve been teaching you how to cook so I probably need you to put those skills to use now more than ever because my arm is numb.” She finished rinsing her mouth out and smiled before heading out of there towards the kitchen. Other than her head buzzing a bit from the residual effects of the morphine she felt pretty good and she knew getting food in her stomach was going to be the next step to helping her feel better. 

*****

As Cordelia was cooking food and she was kind of supervising (which she found she didn’t need to actually do much of) she heard the truck pull up into the driveway outside. She headed to the window to look out only to see Arvin and Willard get out with a bag of stuff. She smiled because it didn’t seem like they had gone and done anything yet, she also kind of doubted he’d bring Arvin to do that but he wasn’t someone she would have said was of sound mind or near it so she didn’t know. She headed towards the door and opened it to greet him. Smiling as he came up the steps. It was when she realized something was wrong. Very wrong. 

“Willard…” she collapsed entirely and everything else around her went black. 

*****

When she woke up she felt like she’d been slammed into by a train at full force. She groaned, her head hurting more than anything she’d ever felt in her life. At least it was dark outside by that point and the lights were not on in there so it was slightly more bearable. The door opened seconds later, maybe because someone heard her. She squinted, trying to adjust to the light in the hallway when she saw Willard there, even if he was more like a blurry line. He was reaching for the lightswitch. She cried out in Japanese for him not to turn on the light. Her brain temporarily not wanting to work in English. 

“What?” He asked. 

“Light…don’t…” She managed to get out. What the hell was wrong with her? What had just happened? This wasn’t good. 

“Arvin went to see about getting a doctor and-” 

“What happened? Tell me…maybe I…understand it. Sorry, English is…bad.” She muttered. It was starting to come back to her but something had definitely happened and it had to have been neurological because her brain was like mush and desperately trying to catch up to what she wanted to say. “Aphasia? Do I…make sense?” 

“Other than that one word yeah,” he nodded, “Aphasia?” 

“It uh…when you say words but they…it’s gibberish but you don’t know it’s gibberish.” She didn’t know a better way to explain it but since she wasn’t doing that and he seemed to understand her that meant it wasn’t aphasia it was just really fucking weird because her brain wasn’t allowing her to translate things to English. “What happened?” Willard came over to the bed and sat down next to her. 

“You came out there and you collapsed, then you were on the ground havin some kind of fit or whatever? I ain’t never seen anything like that.” He said, “I thought you just said something about tetanus.” 

“Yes.” She nodded, she had said that but what he was talking about was a seizure. A really bad one if she was this slow. “Seizure.” 

“That’s what is…what now?” 

“Fit like…brain not working.” She motioned to her head. “Why?” though the question was more for herself than him because there was no way in hell he was going to know the answer if she didn’t. This had to have been the direct result of the stabbing but it had been nowhere near her brain or spine and there wasn’t a head injury so…why else? She wished she could process that information but seeing as how she could barely speak English that wasn’t a thing that was going to happen any time soon. 

“It was him, wasn’t it?” 

“What?” She asked. 

“That demon…” He growled. 

“I am sure there…is other reason but…can’t think.” She said, “Need to lay down.” 

“I saw what that was out there that ain’t good. Thought I’d lost you for a good long moment.” He insisted, “I don’t know what he did to you but he ain’t getting away with it.” She shook her head. As evil as that man was he didn’t have the power to give her seizures. That was a whole other thing. The only problem was that even if she had the power of her English back she didn’t think there was any damn way to explain this to a man like Willard. A man who believed that cancer was a punishment from God. If she had to guess, a seizure to him would look like she was momentarily taken over by demons and the fact that this had happened within hours of Preston attacking her and taking her hair, was going to be a very bad coincidence for her because he was going to start to draw conclusions that weren’t there. 

“Willard, there…he did not do this.” She stressed. “I feel…bad. Need…rest.” She laid her head back down on the pillow and closed her eyes. 

“This ain’t over.” 

“Please for me…stay here. Do not…right now with him. Stay here.” She said softly, reaching out towards him even though it took way more energy than she wanted it to. She had to get him to stay because the last thing she needed him to face was a murder charge over something that could and probably would only be temporary. She heard him sigh but he did sit back down on the bed and take her hand gently, giving it a squeeze. She just had to get through it enough to figure it out. Right now, the aftermath of a fit like that, wasn’t going to give her any ability to think. She was going to have to recover and it was going to take a few days. That was if it didn’t happen again, she had no way of knowing. This was going to have to be figured out though, and he was going to have to get an explanation because if he didn’t then this very thing might break him to a point of murder and that was the last thing she wanted. 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

It was day three and she could not keep any food down, not to save her life. She still kept trying, desperate to make something change. Her english wasn’t getting much better either and she’d had at least two more seizures. If she didn’t figure out what the hell was going on, and fast, she was pretty sure she was going to die because this wasn’t good. If she was very, very slow with drinking water she could keep that down. Which was more important than food at that point and with how dry her mouth was, she constantly needed it. All of this indicated to her that she’d been poisoned by something but she didn’t know what. She was too feverish and borderline delusional to even attempt to comprehend what the hell might be happening. If she had been poisoned she didn’t know how, had it been Preston? Had he done something and she just hadn’t been paying attention to her? 

The days were mostly a blur to her. The only way she knew it had been three days was that as she lay in bed, staring at the wall, feeling like she’d already died she could hear Willard yelling about it and Cordelia yelling back at him. She could also hear the desperation of the girl trying to tell him that this had nothing to do with demons, that Preston may have been a lot of things and had the power to manipulate people but he did not have the power to infect anyone with demons. Nothing that Willard even wanted to hear at that point because he was seemingly losing his mind over the fact that he thought she was dying. She wished by that point she could tell him otherwise but she was starting to think that he was right. That man had put a demon in her when he’d taken her hair and she was not going to come out of this. This was the end and she was going to lose everything she worked for. Everything she had tried to fix. 

If she was going to die so senselessly after doing so much work all she could see was red. Blood red vengeance and the last agonizing moments of that so called Preacher’s life. Especially before hers because she didn’t deserve this. She’d done everything right only for him to take it all away and leave her in this dying miserable bed being powerless to stop it. Had he been right about her hair? Where her power was? The door opened and Willard came in there, looking tired and fed up as holy shit with everything. Probably looked as angry as she felt, it was just not an emotion she could express in the moment. 

“I will not let you die.” Willard said, “This ain’t gonna happen not on my watch and not after all you done.” 

“Willard…” 

“No, this ends now.” He insisted. “What I do, I gotta do because it’s the only thing that’s right.” She looked at him and she didn’t want to stop him. She barely had the words to express it but she believed he wasn’t wrong. That he was onto something and that he very well should do it. Maybe had she not been out of her entire right mind as it was, she’d have tried to stop him but she could find nothing in her that felt pity for that man. Not anymore. 

“I want to watch.” She said after another moment struggling to to find the words. He nodded. 

“It can be arranged. You just…you hang in there.” He said, “I’m comin back and you’re gonna be alive because we will beat this.” She nodded back at him, for whatever reason the conviction in his voice inspiring her to truly believe in him and his ability to fix this. She hadn’t before, but she did now. She believed harder than ever that if there was any man on this planet that could save her it would be him because she’d done this back in the war. He was there with her in her darkest hour and he would return the favor. That was exactly how karma worked. 

*****

“Look, I know this really ain’t my place, sir but I don’t think-” 

“It’s not your place.” Willard cut her off abruptly. He knew what he had to do. He had to get that man’s blood and he had to make a sacrifice. One life for another. Maybe it hadn’t worked for Charlotte because maybe Rika had been right about the cancer thing. People were just born that way or it just happened. Whatever she had said about a genetic mutation or being in the cells already. He could believe that, he could accept that. What he could not accept was that what he had seen was Preston attack Rika and then this reaction right after. There was no way that the demon that masqueraded around that town pretending to preach the word of the lord had not infected Rika with his evil and there was only one damn way to cleanse it. 

“Okay but you should think about-” 

“All I damn well care about is that woman in there who I love. She saved me and I will save her. There ain’t no better answer than that.” He said. 

“You’re talking about murder!” 

“We all make sacrifices.” He said, “Now, if you’re gonna walk out on this I ain’t gonna fault you for this but you ain’t stoppin it.” He knew that it had to be done, no matter what anyone else thought and above it all, Rika had just told him to do it. She wanted to watch. It was what was right and it was what would save them. Save the entire town. How could he stand there and wait another second. That man had three days to repent for what he’d done and he hadn’t even tried. It was up to him to force the hand of God now. It wasn’t going to be pretty either. 

*****

Getting to the church was hardly part of the issue in this, nor was getting inside. The doors were unlocked, and as he had assumed, Preston was in there just sitting in a pew looking at his bible as if nothing in the world was wrong. That was until he turned and saw who had just kicked the door open. His eyes went wide and he scrambled to his feet, not even trying to defend himself, just making a run for it. Something which was considerably stupid because there were very few options. Willard watched him, amused for a moment, until it became clear that the little snake was going for a window. Much like he had before when he’d attacked Rika in order to get away. This made him pick up the pace, striding over to the man only to punch him in the jaw and send him to the floor. 

“You ain’t gettin out of this one, Teagardin. You know what has to be done.” Willard told him, as he watched the man cower by his feet. 

“The lord-” 

“You’re gonna meet him soon enough. Say what you gotta say then.” He chuckled, raising his foot just enough to kick the man in the head to knock him out. What he was going to do he would have to do quickly. It was broad daylight and if anyone should happen to come upon the activity, he was going to get caught. It wouldn’t be good. However, he was afraid if he didn’t act as quickly as he possibly could then he would run out of time. He had to do this while Rika was still alive, otherwise it wasn’t going to mean shit. He grabbed Preston, picking him up with all the care of the sack of shit he was and headed out of the church to his truck. Throwing the unconscious man in the back, he looked around and grabbed the rope he’d brought to hogtie the guy in place. Once he was restrained, not just by his wrists and legs, he made sure to tie him into the bed of the truck as well. He’d had his chance to run and he’d been too smug to take it. That was over now. This was his kingdom come.

What he did not notice as he worked was a woman approaching the church. Possibly because she was just small enough to go unnoticed. She paused where she was, figuring out what was going on and who was doing it. Maybe, just maybe, had this been someone else she’d have run off screaming tried to get help. Luck was on his side that day because this wasn’t just any woman. This was Beth Mongomery. The mother of Cordelia. The very person who had dared to mutter the hushed motto…no victory without sacrifice. She hadn’t failed to hear from those in the know what had happened to Rika. That she’d been attacked but she wasn’t saying who by. Something had happened. Most people had believed it to be Willard himself and that the poor woman was just too scared to say it. She knew better. Perhaps her and the Russells had their problems but the one thing she’d been certain of, since the day she’s talked to that Japanese woman, was that Willard would never hurt her. Namely because of the fact that she knew Willard owed her a life debt and Japanese or not, he was a decent enough man to stick by it. Which meant, if she was watching what she could see now, Preston had to have been the one to attack Rika. 

As Willard drove off like a bat out of hell, he never seemed to notice where she was standing, if he had, he never glanced in her direction. Deciding that there had to be a good reason for a man to risk every last thing he owned to behave so brashly in the light of day, she walked down the road, changing her path from the church to the Russell property. It wasn’t too far from where she now stood and she wanted to to be able to understand what was going on here. Before anyone else. With no intent to stop it either. No, she wanted to watch, because something in her heart screamed that Willard had to be right about this and if he was right about this, then what Cordelia had told her wasn’t a lie either and if that was the case, this man was about to get exactly what was coming to him. 

*****

As much as Cordelia was angry with Preston for what he had done and had been doing, she could not accept that he could possess anyone with demons. There was no way he had that power. He was a man, an evil man, but mortal. Like any of them. If Rika hadn’t been delusional with whatever was going on, she’d have thought that too. Instead, the most rational out of all of them and the only one who could talk Willard down had just agreed that this was something resembling a good idea. Arvin wasn’t there because he’d gone to try to get a doctor and they still had yet to get a phone on their property. She was left alone with Rika and she was left alone to take care of this herself. She paced for a long moment before heading into the bedroom to see Rika sitting up in bed. 

“Okay, you know as well as I do that man ain’t put no demon in you.” She said, “And I ain’t lettin Willard kill a guy for-” 

“Do we know?” Rika snapped at her. “He does this and then this happen and I…I don’t know but…feels like death. His death…his death will bring me back.” 

“No it won’t! You know that! You ain’t never thought like this in your life!” She cried, coming over to the bed quickly, “Rika-” 

“This is right.” Rika said, “I want his blood.” 

“You ain’t thinkin straight you…you…this has an answer and it ain’t demons.” She insisted trying to get the woman to lay back down only to get shoved back. Rika somehow got to her feet and started to walk out of there, looking as if she was just as insane as Willard had been when he left the house in the first place. “You need to lay down.” 

“I need to do this.” Rika breathed. “I want his blood.” 

“There’s another reason for this!” She yelled, “Sit down…go sit down and I…I will figure it out okay? You…you can give me that much right? Sit down, sit down and…and I will go check the barn maybe I’ll figure it out. Has anyone done that yet?” Rika looked at her, swaying on her feet, looking nearly like someone who had just been raised from the dead, but not quite alive. As if she straddled the plane of the living and the dead and was about to cross over at any moment. Or maybe she already had and clawed her way back to the living just because her hate was that strong. Either that or the way she loved Willard was such an impossibly strong and loyal love she just refused to leave the earth without him. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t one she could explain because she already didn’t understand how the woman had any power to get up and walk with the condition she had been in. 

“Fine. Until he comes back. Clock ticking.” Rika said after a moment. Cordelia nodded and helped her out onto the porch where she was safely seated to wait for Willard. She really didn’t know how much time she was going to have but it wasn’t going to be long. She ran down the steps and towards the barn. The door hadn’t been fixed since Willard had kicked it open so it was easy enough to get in. She started to look around, the shears hadn’t even been moved, nor had the blood. Not that it was really still there as much as a patch of red stained the lighter dirt on the floor of the barn. She grabbed the shears and looked at them. They were covered in dry blood. She turned them over in her hand and looked at them in the light. There was something on the tip. It looked like the petal to a flower. What had Rika been doing in here most likely before Preston had arrived? Getting stuff for her medicine. The herbs…right. She’d have been cutting them. 

She hurried over to the rows of planters that held countless herbs, berries, and flowers. All of them different and labeled in Japanese. There was nothing actually helpful here for her to identify anything. She was going to have to do that with the petal on the blades of the shears but it had dried and been partially stained with blood. This wasn’t going to be easy but it seemed to her that whatever Rika had cut had to be the source of this infection or sickness. Whatever it was. That made the most sense. The woman had once told her that a lot of these plants were good in the right balance but too much could be deadly. It was why no one was really permitted to go out there and mess with them other than her because she knew what she was doing. Whatever she had cut right before Preston had stabbed her, must have gotten into her body that way and that was what was doing it. The only question remained was to what that plant had been and how deadly it would become in her system or if it would just go away. Rika was the only one who would have the answer to that and maybe even an antidote if it existed. 

In a blind panic, she started to try to match up this one petal with the living plants that existed in front of her. A task that seemed completely impossible with the little that she’d been given but if she didn’t get the right information here and she didn’t do it quickly, a man was going to die. A considerably evil man that she couldn’t give two shits about, but that wasn’t what bothered her. She didn’t want any of them to take part in it because of what it would mean if they were found out. There was no way none of them wouldn’t instantly be suspects and how would they cover something like that up? How would it be stopped? The police would come and she’d lose all of them, Arvin would too. This couldn’t happen because, no matter what, it wasn’t the right thing to do. The harder thing was to let this man live, and as Rika had been saying all along sometimes the hardest thing to do was the right thing to do. It meant that it was now her turn to do the right thing and save the life of a man she absolutely hated because murder was never going to be the correct answer to this. She was damn sure of that part, even if everyone else around her had gone insane enough to think that it was. 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

When he pulled up to the house in the truck he noticed Rika was sitting on the front porch, looking pretty shaky. He wondered when or even how she’d gotten out there but it really only indicated to him that he had to be doing the right thing. She was getting her strength back. He got out of the truck and walked around to the back, pulling Preston out easily enough and throwing the man over his shoulder. He was still pretty damn passed out which made since because it hadn’t taken more than ten minutes to drive there. He looked over at Rika. 

“Stay there, for now, gonna get him tied down, make sure he can’t do nothin to you.” He called to her. She nodded and he headed down the path towards the prayer log. He had definitely made his last mistake, attacked his last woman, and cursed the last human beings that he could possibly come across in his days. There was no way that any of them were going to leave this man around to do anymore damage than he already had. It was only a few minutes after he had vanished down the path that Beth appeared from around the corner. She looked at the truck and realized that she had to have missed Willard. Then she saw Rika on the porch. 

“He dead yet?” She called at the woman. 

“Not yet.” Rika called back, “Why are you here? I will not let…you stop this.” 

“I ain’t gonna stop it. I wanna watch.” Beth told her, “I been hearin things around town and wondering if they ain’t right. Maybe I was wrong about what Cordelia has been sayin, maybe this is what needs to be done.” She headed up towards the porch, climbing up the steps slowly. 

“He poisoned me.” Rika said plainly. 

“Can see that,” Beth nodded, “You really say Willard in the war?” 

“Yes.” 

“Why?” 

“I am not a monster. He was dying. He did not hurt me or my family. Anyone I knew. He deserved help as any other human.” She explained, “Village turn against me, treat me like…I am the monster.” 

“You think it was worth all that?” 

“Never regret it. Not for one second.” She sighed, “I love him even if maybe you think this is not what Japanese do. I would have not done…things to your husband either. If it had been him…would have saved him to. Was not my call to make.” 

“He love you then?” 

“More than anything now I think. Have to ask…him.” She said, as she didn’t want to speak for what Willard might say but she could feel it when he was around. See it in how he looked at her. Not to mention the fact that he was apparently willing to kill this snake of a preacher to save her life. Something she was okay with because the last three days of her life had been the most agonizing she’d ever experienced and she wanted someone to be punished for it. 

“Where’d he go then? I hear stuff around town bout some church he got in the woods.” Beth said, vaguely motioning in the distance. 

“Took him there. Yes. Said he would tie him down. To be sure.” She confirmed. 

“I’m going to go have a word with him, how do I get there?” Beth asked. Rika looked at her wondering if this was a good idea but the woman seemed much more agreeable and subdued than she usually did. Even said that she wanted to watch. She’d arrived there having a clear idea of what Willard was going to do. If that was the case and she really hadn’t been okay with it, then there was no way she wouldn’t have also shown up with law enforcement. Rika slowly got to her feet and motioned in the direction of the path that would take Beth to the prayer log. 

“Follow the path. Five minute walk. Less if you are hurried.” 

“Thanks, I apologize for…well…all that before.” Beth said and headed down the steps quickly. Rika smiled, a small chuckle escaping her. She was pretty sure that was the best she was going to get in way of any sort of apology by that point but she was okay with it. Beth hadn’t had to say anything like that to her and she saw it as a small step forward. It seemed like things might actually end up okay. As long as they were able to take that man’s blood. 

*****

It took forever for Cordelia to match up the plant to the petal of the flower that she had found on the blades of the shears. Once she did that, and she was sure she had the right one, she yanked the label off of the side of it and jammed it into her pocket. She threw the shears down, because she didn’t want to risk tripping and falling on them as she ran to catch up with the others. She’d already heard the truck pull up and saw Willard get out of it. She knew the clock was really ticking then, and she had to hurry. She didn’t have a choice. It was something that threw her into a panic and enabled her to also miss the fact that her mother had arrived at some point and Willard had even returned to get Rika to take her back down to the prayer log. Once she was outside of the barn again she realized she had to get down there and fast. Picking up an axe at the side of the broken door, just in case, she slung it over her shoulder and started to run down the path. Willard had just taken her there a few days back so it was easy enough for her to find. 

When she arrived down in the weird forest area that was also somehow like a church with all the man made crosses and the altar that was also the prayer log she saw them. Not just Rika and Willard but her mother. The three were holding hands together and standing in front of Preston who was very restrained to the log yelling at them to stop, something about how God would strike them down and they were making a mistake. She knew that they were, but not because she believed he deserved to live. It was because she knew they were all better people than this and did not deserve to have blood on their hands for all the evil that he had brought upon them. She was also certain by that point that the sickness was just an insane coincidence and because of this she had to keep them from doing the worst thing possible. She ran forward as Willard released Rika’s hand and pulled a knife. She screamed loudly, which was possibly the only thing that stopped him from going right for Preston’s throat. He paused to look at her. 

“YOU CAN’T DO THIS! PLEASE!” She begged, sliding across the dirt and tripping until basically she was able to throw herself on top of the guy. Something which made her skin crawl but she knew there was little chance of Willard stabbing her. She also knew he could shove her off with one hand if he wanted to. For the moment, he was just looking at her like she was crazy. 

“Have you lost your damn mind?” He asked. 

“Have you?” She breathed then coughed a few times, she’d run all the way there carrying a damn axe and it had not been easy. “You ain’t like this, she especially aint, and I don’t have any clue why my Mama’s came down here cause none of you is even friends.” 

“We came to an understanding.” Beth said. 

“Well the point here is that Preston ain’t got no powers to be putting demons in anyone.” She continued, “I can prove it.” She got up off of the man but stayed close reaching behind to her back pocket to pull out the label of the plant she’d taken. She held it out towards Rika who looked down at it. 

“What’s that?” Willard asked. 

“I can’t read it, that’s why I brought it to her.” She said. 

“You’re doing the Lord’s work, Cordelia.” Preston said. 

“I’ll chop your damn head off myself if you don’t shut it right now.” She threatened him, because she especially was not doing it for him and he was far too delusional to see that. He didn’t need to be tempting her wrath when she was just as angry at him as any one of them. Rika grabbed the label and looked at it closely. “This…this is what was on those shears it got into the cut. That’s gotta explain somethin right?” Rika muttered something in Japanese, looked at Willard then her and laughed softly. 

“It’s poison…” She whispered. 

“What?” Willard asked. 

“How much was…on them the…uh blades?” 

“I don’t know there was a flower petal I think…” 

“This says juniper.” Rika told her, pointing at the writing that no one but her could understand. Something that she herself barely believed was a language but Rika certainly knew what it meant. “Wouldn’t have been a flower but…the skin of those berries yes…bright blue. That is…makes sense.” 

“What makes sense?” Willard asked, “He ain’t put a demon in you?” 

“No, it’s poisoning but…not enough to kill me. Just has to get through…uh…body system maybe…a week?” She said. “Make more sense than…demon.” 

“I told you the Lord would see through to my salvation, save me from all you devil worshipping-” 

“I still want his blood.” Rika cut him off. “After what he did.” 

“HE DOESN’T DESERVE DEATH!” Cordelia screamed. 

“No…I agree but does he not deserve punish?” Rika countered, “Punishment…which word?” 

“Alright…” Willard said, kind of breathing this up, “You got poisoned from some berry and not him, but that don’t change the fact that he was havin his way with you. I ain’t gonna excuse that. Her neither.” 

“What?” Beth asked, “So it is true, you saw it?” 

“I seen enough to know what he was tryin to do and I heard it. That’s why we let her stay here until you wanted to listen.” Willard said. 

“Now hang on a moment there, this ain’t…you can’t pass judgement on me like that. Only the Lord knows.” Preston was still trying to argue with them for some reason. Beth stepped forward, yanking the axe from Cordelia’s grasp. 

“And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and. cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee. that one of thy members should perish, and not. Matthew 5:30.” Beth yelled at him and swung the axe down without much warning. It was a perfect shot, something she’d never seen her mother do in her life. It was quick too, and it effectively removed Preston’s hand from his wrist. It probably helped that it had been tied to the tree so he couldn’t flinch out of the way, but she screamed and stumbled back. Her scream was in no way louder than Preston’s though. Rika shouted something in Japanese which none of them could understand, being louder than Preston somehow. Willard rushed towards Beth to yank her back just as she was attempting to swing the axe again. Cordelia just stood there, staring at the mess in front of her, wondering how this man wasn’t going to die with his hand being chopped off like that. Things started to get blurry, she hadn’t wanted to see him die and she hadn’t expected her mother to do anything like that. 

Somewhere, in the commotion, Rika yanked off Willard’s belt and scrambled down by Preston, wrapping the leather around his forearm and pulling back tightly before fastening it in place. Acting before any of them could think to do anything other than stare in horror that it had happened in the first place. Well, her mother just looked angry, and hardly even phased by the blood or the incoherent man screaming about it. Rika kept talking loudly in Japanese, seeming to not realize no one could understand anything she was saying, least of all the guy who had just lost his hand. That’s when she slapped him and he shut up, collapsing against the log. 

“Finally.” She breathed softly, getting it out in English. “Could not remember words for…uh…the mouth.” 

“Shut up?” Willard asked. 

“That.” Rika nodded, “I fix that…see? Slow bleeding but…uh…heat. On there. Stop it completely.” 

“You’re insane. All of you.” Preston breathed, attempting to yank back from them, then he puked. For some reason, Cordelia found that more gross than all the blood, yet ironically a whole mess of it had gotten on that prayer log. It was what they were trying to do in the first place, so maybe they had all reached a compromise. 

“Fire?” Willard asked. “Cauterize it. You want that?” 

“Yes.” Rika nodded. 

“WHY ARE WE TRYING TO SAVE THIS HEATHEN PERVERT!?” Beth screamed suddenly, she pulled away from Willard again but only for a moment before he was able to grab her and pull her back, easily and very effectively restraining her. She wasn’t an inch over five feet tall, putting her at the same height as the rest of them there but, weirdly it looked like he was really struggling to keep her in place because she was putting up one hell of a fight. Cordelia stepped closer, grabbing her mother’s arm. 

“Mama, stop. We ain’t like him and we done enough.” She said calmly. 

“He deserves more.” Beth insisted. 

“Sometime…what is right is not what is easy.” Rika said, turning to look at her, “Listen to daughter.” 

“How much time we got, to burn that stump?” Willard asked. 

“He might live if we don’t but…hour give or take. Bleeding slow. Salt work just as easy.” She pointed out. Cordelia was kind of fascinated by this discussion, especially that Rika not only knew how to apparently kill people with all sorts of plants but heal them. She glanced at Willard who was listening to her very intently. 

“What’s gonna hurt more?” Willard asked. 

“Salt.” Beth panted. “Let me do it. It will be my pleasure.” She glared at Preston and threw the axe down, obviously in an attempt to show she was no longer intent on chopping his head off. Just to be sure, Cordelia leaned down and picked up the axe in order to move it from her mother’s direct area and it was only then that Willard actually let go of her. Preston was as collapsed on the ground as he could be, panting and muttering something. 

“Right, I ain’t gonna touch him, didn’t want to in the first place.” Willard said, “Guess we’ll be gettin some salt. This way Miss-” 

“Beth is fine.” She said and started to head back up the path. Willard was close behind her, watching her like a hawk. With how unpredictably she’d acted in the first place, Cordelia didn’t really blame him from wanting to be able to catch her and stop her if she turned back to do anything else. She watched them for a moment before turning to Rika. 

“You figure it out…” Rika said. “Thank you.” 

“I didn’t do it for him you know, and I ain’t sad my mom chopped his hand off.” She said, leaning down to spit right in Preston’s face. He growled softly, glaring up at her intently, but as he was tied to the log by his other wrist there wasn’t much he was going to be doing to get up and leave. Rika chuckled softly, and pulled her into a tight hug. 

“I know you do this for us.” Rika said, “We will be okay and I get my blood.” 

“Got a lot of it.” She whispered and hugged the woman tightly back. In a weird way she felt a lot better. It was a strange event to bring them all together, especially her mother but it had still worked. Even if it would have been entirely wrong to kill this man because they weren’t nearly that evil it did feel right to at least do something to him. Get the sacrifice for the prayer log and all be able to heal together at the expense of the man who had tried to take so much from them in the first place. 

*****

“How much salt we gonna need here?” Willard asked once they got into the kitchen together. She glanced over at him as Cordelia helped her over to a chair by the kitchen table. She sat down heavily and took in a deep breath. It had taken a lot of effort to get her down there in the first place and all she really wanted to do was lay down but she was going to need to rest for a moment to make it all the way back to the bedroom she was already sure of that. 

“I’m guessing just enough to cover that stump.” Beth said, “If you’re worried about me usin all the salt you got, don’t worry I’ll happily buy more.” Then much to her great amusement, she saw Beth start to pull cabinets open at random trying to find salt. Willard sighed loudly and rolled his eyes. 

“Ma!” Cordelia whined and hurried over to her, “Stop that, it’s in here.” She reached to a cabinet above the sink and took out a box of it. 

“Thank you, sweetie.” Beth said, taking it from her, “You’re a good bunny.” 

“Bunny?” Rika asked slowly. 

“Just a story Mama used to tell me about being selfless, ain’t sure how it applies to right now though.” Cordelia laughed. 

“Bunny on the moon?” Rika asked. 

“Yes that would be the story, something from one of her Daddy’s letters. Quite a few years back, she weren’t that young.” Beth said, “Just thought it was a good story is all. Same with the snake one but it ain’t gonna sound right if I call her a snake.” 

“Your husband? In a letter?” Rika asked, “Like in the war?” 

“Yes,” Beth nodded, “Alright, I’m going back down there to literally rub salt in his wound, who’s with me?” 

“I’ll…go. Uh, think we need a moment and think Mister Russell should stay here with her.” Cordelia said, motioning to Rika. 

“I ain’t sure I trust your Mama isn’t gonna…well-” 

“I know how it looks but I think I’d rather see him suffer. Death is easy. I rather do like the idea of him havin to walk around without that hand for the rest of his days.” Beth said, and odd grin twisting across her face. 

“Take the shotgun then, remember how to use it?” Willard asked, but he was asking Cordelia. She nodded and headed into the other room to grab it. She had to hurry too because Beth had left shortly after that point, leaving her daughter to run and catch up. None of this was as confusing as to why Beth’s husband would know that bunny story, she was trying to figure it out. “Hey, you okay?” 

“Yes…fine, but her mother is talking of…uh…Japanese story. Just wondering where her husband hear it.” She said after a moment.

“That is interesting.” Willard agreed. He walked to the sink and got her a glass of water, bringing it over to the table and setting it down in front of her. She grabbed it and took a small sip, though she didn’t feel nearly as nauseous as she had when the day started even if she did feel considerably weak. “What’s the story about?” 

“The bunny that lives on…the moon.” She chuckled, “I know it silly but it is about how bunny offers to sacrifice his body for…old man to eat because he has nothing and then…old man is God and is impressed. Takes bunny to live with him on moon. Like uh…heaven. It’s about being selfless, like Beth says.” 

“That’s what Cordelia just did, right?” Willard asked, “She ain’t got much to benefit from savin the preacher’s life, but she got all of us to stop.” 

“That and-” 

“What you did for me in the war.” He said. “Think that makes you a good bunny too.” 

“Thank you.” She said and took another sip of water. He reached across the table and took her hand in his, giving it a small squeeze. “I still wanted his blood.” 

“Think we all did.” Willard said, “And I think we’re all gonna come to an understanding if he wants to leave this place only missin one of them.” She laughed and pulled his hand up to her lips to kiss the back of it. It shouldn’t have made any sense that such an act of violence would bring them closer together but it had. It was a combination of beliefs that had made it work. Willard’s, Cordelia’s, Beth’s, and her own. Something which she had always thought made the most sense. Not isolating oneself to a group of the same thing but many different things. Something which had aligned to set the universe in perfect balance instead of keeping it lopsided. For the time being, that had created a perfect harmony. One that was hard to deny but would also be hard to break. She just wasn’t sure how the hell any of them were going to explain this to Arvin when he got back. Seeing as how she didn’t need a doctor anymore, sending him out to get one again had been pointless and yet, she hadn’t wanted him to have to experience that anyway. Not after all he’d been through with the violence created by the hands of his father. In a way, it really had lined up perfectly but now it was up to them to keep it that way, and she didn’t think it was going to be all that easy either. 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Over the next few days as she was able to get more and more water into her system, as well as food, the poison started to dissipate. The hardest part after the point in which things were mostly taken care of was trying to explain what had happened to Arvin. At first he wasn’t overjoyed to hear about it but he hadn’t been angry either. It was more that he was upset with his father resorting to that level of violence than anything having to do with Preston himself. It really didn’t seem like any of them actually gave a crap about that man’s feelings or pain in any form. The only problem was that they still actually had him there. He was tied to the log and no one had done much for him other than bring him water. It was getting to a point where they were going to need to do something because it was already suspicious that he had been gone for so long. People had been looking for him. Luckily for them, they were the only witnesses to the whole event, including the kidnapping so between their group, it was hard to get any story other than none of them knowing anything about it. Beth seemed to be the most trustworthy of the group because of how well she was known at the church. The rest of them were already on the outs but she’d managed to keep anyone from sniffing around there, amazingly enough. 

It got to a point where it was a problem they weren’t going to be able to ignore, and Beth had eventually started a whole thing about Preston leaving for a while on missionary work. Something which surprisingly got very few questions. It was buying them time but they weren’t going to have an eternity to work with this. After about four more days her head was clear, her English was back to it’s normal capacity and she was able to start a discussion about this with Willard in which she actually could be understood. 

“I know we can’t leave him out there forever but he’s just gonna turn us in.” Willard said. 

“He’d be pretty stupid to do that,” Arvin said, “Cause then he’d have to tell them why we did it.” Rika looked at him as she set food down on the table. It was certainly an interesting breakfast conversation. She had finally gotten to cooking again, something which Willard tried to talk her out of but she had really wanted to get up and do something since she was feeling back to normal. 

“You don’t think he’d just lie?” Cordelia asked. 

“We got Beth though,” Willard said, “You think she’s gonna let him get away with that. Them church goin morons may not believe us four but they’d believe her if she said it.” 

“He’s not wrong.” Cordelia nodded. 

“Then maybe someone needs to go talk to him and inform him of this situation.” Rika said, “I’d like to see him before we send him off anyway.” 

“Why?” Willard asked, “I mean I ain’t gonna say no I just kinda don’t get it.” She sat down at her usual spot at the table and started to serve herself some food. The entire conversation was interrupted as everyone took what they wanted and then, as usual they said grace led by Willard. Something she was still slightly irritated by but respected. Especially after coming to understand that if she liked it or not the Christian Lord that she didn’t believe in seemed to play a huge role in the lives of these people. 

“A bit of closure I guess.” She said, “Also, if there’s anyone that can scare him it’s probably the woman that thinks he’s a witch.” 

“He also thinks he got your power when he took your hair.” Willard said, “No offense.” 

“None taken,” She said and reached for her fork. Since that point, Cordelia had helped her trim it up a bit so it didn’t look like someone had actually hacked it away with garden shears and it looked nice. She intended to grow it out as much as she possibly could for a second time but for the moment, it wasn’t that bad. It was so hot where they were all the time having less hair made her less hot. She was ready for a bit of a break from that as long as she could take it. “Though I can always point out to him he was wrong about that anyway because it didn’t stop you from taking him here and it didn’t stop Beth from chopping off his hand. Also, I didn’t die.” 

“I’ll go down with you then, after breakfast. We’ll have a chat. Just don’t want him attempting to do anything to you or…well…you know.” Willard said. 

“Not really but I understand why you’d be worried.” She said. “Now, let’s all just have a nice breakfast and worry about this later.” 

*****

After breakfast was finished and everything was cleaned up, she grabbed a glass of water as one of them usually did to take down to Preston around that time. She was kind of amazed he was still alive and not completely insane. It wasn’t as if she had seen him, but she did talk to Willard about it. He went down there the most, sometimes Cordelia or Arvin went with him. She hadn’t been down there herself yet. Only because she hadn’t felt up to it. She wasn’t sure what to expect other than a total mess of a man who was probably going to look the least threatening she’d ever seen him. 

Willard joined her on the walk down there, they didn’t have much to say to each other but they didn’t really need to. He kept his arm around her the entire time and it was very nice, even though they were also heading to do one of the weirdest things they possibly could together. When they came into the clearing they saw Preston asleep against the log, looking more miserable and disgusting than she had after three days of agonizing juniper berry poisoning. She pulled away from Willard and walked over to him, getting down by his side carefully, trying to avoid the disgusting mess of human excretions that weren’t very far from where this guy was laying. 

“Hey,” She said to him. “Wake up, we need to talk.” Her jerked and opened one eye, then he saw it was her and kind of scrambled away, as much as he could considering he was still tied to the log and had no way to get himself free because he didn’t have another hand to untie himself with. She saw that at some point the stump had been bandaged up but she didn’t know who had done it. A nicer thing than he deserved because she was pleased with the idea of him getting eaten up a bit by bugs. 

“I ain’t need to talk to anyone but the Lord about what you have done here.” He hissed. 

“The lady is tryin to be nice, Preacher.” Willard said, “And if you are thinkin about gettin out of here alive you might wanna listen to what she has to say.” 

“She is-” 

“I am what?” Rika cut him off, “You raped me, you stabbed me, you coincidentally poisoned my body and when I was down here last I was the most sick and delusional I probably ever have been in my entire life. Even through all of that, the only reason you didn’t die is because I stopped the bleeding. The Lord didn’t do it, I did. You still don’t think you owe me anything? Because the way I see it, I’m here holding water for you and telling you that I will let you go if we come to an understanding.” 

“You should have let me bleed…” He hissed. 

“I swear to God this man-” 

“Willard,” She stopped him, “I can handle it. It’s okay.” 

“He’s tryin my patience and I ain’t given him too many more chances, just warnin you both right now.” Willard said. She nodded, she could see why this would irritate him because of how extremely irritating she found it to be herself. 

“Preston,” She continued, “You are only alive because we allowed it to happen. We could have left you here, we could have done nothing about your arm, we could have done a lot of things but we didn’t. What I would suggest is leaving this place entirely. Moving on to a new town and coming up with some completely fictional scam about how you lost your hand saving orphans in a burning building. I really don’t care what you do but if you can’t agree to that then I will wash my hands of everything here and watch you starve.” 

“I don’t get why you would save me.” He replied. 

“There was a man, sitting by a fire one day, when suddenly a snake fell from a branch and into the flames. He quickly reached in and pulled the snake out by his tail, but the snake bit him which caused him to release and drop it back into the fire. Despite this, he reached his hand in a second time, yanked the snake out and tossed it into the grass behind him. The snake slithered away, relatively unharmed. His friend looked at him and asked, why did you save that snake after he bit you like that? To which the man replied, It is in a snake’s nature to bite but it is within my nature to help. Maybe, ultimately that’s why I did it, why we all did it. We aren’t snakes.”

“Alright…alright…maybe I get the point.” He breathed. “But this ain’t-” 

“If you’re gonna sit there and say this ain’t over I’ll get my shotgun and end it.” Willard told him pretty firmly. She almost laughed, even though that wasn’t exactly supposed to be funny she guessed it tickled her that he would phrase it in such a manner. Preston weakly turned his head to glare at Willard then looked back at her. 

“Fine…I suppose I can find a way to be thankful that maybe you are not entirely the monsters I believed you to be but…I ain’t gonna forgive any of you neither, and she’s still goin to hell.” He said. That did make her laugh, not just because it was ridiculous but also because he was so caught up in his own pious ego he couldn’t fathom saying anything else to the woman who had saved his life. She stood up and threw the water in his face, causing him to gasp, looking outright shocked that she had the nerve to do that in the first place. 

“Then I’ll see you there.” She said and looked at Willard, “Untie him.” He looked hesitant for a moment but then nodded and got down by Preston to release his other arm from the log. 

“You listen to me and you listen good, I don’t care where the hell you go after this and I don’t care what the fuck you do but I’m tellin you right now…you stop hurtin them girls. You don’t come back here and you don’t try nothin again with Rika or Cordelia. If you even think about it I’ll find you, and if you hurt anyone else…you’re gonna wish you had died here today. Understand me?” Willard told him in one of the most gravely serious voices she had ever heard him use. He kind of just stared up at the man in horror, only then appearing to grasp the seriousness of this situation and what would become of him if he were to try anything to hurt them again. Preston swallowed hard and gave a sharp nod of his head. Willard released him and he pulled his arm back, flexing his hand and looking at it for a moment. She took a step back and Willard stepped in front of her as Preston rose to his feet. He looked at them for a long moment. 

“You ever wanna repent for what you done here today, you know where to go.” He said to them both. 

“Get the absolute fucking hell off my property.” Willard told him, motioning up the path. Preston sneered but started to walk. She snickered and he put his arm around her. They both fell into step behind the man because as difficult as he was still trying to be, there was no way he wouldn’t need an escort. Either way, it was still a very lovely afternoon for a walk. 

*****

The days passed and turned into weeks. Eventually both Cordelia and Arvin graduated from High school and the summer hit, bringing even more heat than the spring had. Preston, surprisingly hadn’t left town because to no one’s surprise he did use the missing hand as some sort of bullshit story about how the lord had done something or other. She wasn’t sure of the details and she really didn’t care. None of them went to church anymore, and that even included Beth. All of them had somehow adopted more of Willard’s beliefs which in a weird way worked better than the scam Preston was running at the church. They had not heard from him though. Losing his hand seemed to be the one thing that actually taught him not to try anything further than he already had. 

Spending time with Willard one on one, now that they were safe and he was much better than he had been when she first got there, was amazing. It was like the courtship that she’d always wanted but had never gotten. They were closer than ever and at the same time she got to enjoy watching the young love blossom between Arvin and Cordelia. Something which ultimately made her decide to hold off on the military, at least for a few years, so she could spend time with him. Arvin had found a job working in town, and Cordelia had taken a job as a waitress at the place where Charlotte had once worked. They were working to save money to maybe get their own place. An apartment first, then save for a house. She was insistent that at least one of them go to school, even if it was just a trade school or something simple. A slave labor job wasn’t going to help them too much in the future. Especially if they wanted children or to start a family. They were both young and idealistic though, not wanting to plan for the future like that. 

One beautiful Friday night, Arvin and Cordelia had left on a date. Dinner and a movie in town. She and Willard stayed behind as they usually would to spend time with each other. She made him dinner and they stayed in for a bit listening to random music on the radio and talking with each other. It was one of her favorite things to do. It was then, out of the blue that he suggested that they go for a walk. She agreed, because it would be very nice and probably a couple degrees cooler out in the night air. They walked aimlessly for a bit before he started to insist they go down the path to the prayer log area where his church was. She didn’t go down there too much, not because she had a problem with it but because she didn’t entirely share his beliefs. She respected them but she hadn’t wanted to ever join them in prayer. He was okay with that, only because he’d actively seen how her own beliefs still made her a good person and she never made much of a fuss about any of his praying or the very few animal sacrifices that seemed to continue. 

“You know,” he said, as they reached the log, which was very nicely lit in the light of the giant full moon above them. “After what happened with Charlotte and then…all of that, I never thought we’d be here right now. I really did think that God was tryin to punish me for what we did back in that war.” 

“I think that I should tell you that, well, I talked to Charlotte about that. Before she died. She asked me if we had been together. I didn’t want to lie so I very gently admitted to what had happened. What she told me was that, she was glad that you did have someone in such a horrible time in your life just…she didn’t want to ever hear more than that.” She said, “I guess I should have mentioned it sooner but there never seemed to be an exact right time to say it.” 

“That…that’s what she said? She knew?” He asked. 

“Yes. I thought maybe she’d discuss it with you but-” 

“No,” He shook his head, “It never came up but…I am relieved to hear that. More than you might think cause…there’s something very important I gotta do now.” 

“What is that?” She asked. He looked away from her for a moment before taking her hand and dropping down to one knee. Reaching behind him and into his pocket he pulled from it a ring and held it up for her to look at. She knew what this was, but she’d never been expecting it in a million years. What she believed they had was enough and she had already made peace with the fact that he probably would never ask her to marry him after Charlotte. This was, a surprise to her but nothing unwanted. 

“I want…you to do the honor of being my wife if you’ll have me.” He said, “Think I know now that it ain’t a mistake to ask. If you can’t-” 

“Yes, Willard. I can and I will. You barely even had to ask.” She breathed, getting down to pull him into a tight hug. He laughed, pulling her in tightly and hugging her back. He had given her all she had ever wanted. Maybe she had to walk through hell to get it, maybe she had to wait an entire decade but here it finally was. As he slid the ring onto her finger and she was wiping tears away from her face she realized that finally everything had come full circle and into complete balance. What she had been telling Arvin about doing the right thing and karma, what Willard had been saying about his prayers and his church, and what Beth had always said to them in her own weird way with her own beliefs. There really was never going to be any victory without sacrifice. The sacrifices she had made to keep Willard alive, the sacrifices that he had made to protect his family, and the victory that had finally been reached because ultimately there was not a thing in the universe that could ever stop true love.