It’s not what you think …
I swear I’d never hurt you …
Now look at what you made me do.
Jillian woke up with a start. The old T-shirt she’d been sleeping in clung to her sweaty skin.
She took in a deep, choppy inhale.
Breathe. Everything would be all right if she could simply find her breath.
There. It was back. She felt her cheeks.
Dry. Which meant she’d only been crying in her sleep. Maybe that was progress.
She glanced at the clock. A few minutes after four in the morning. The funny thing was Connie would probably be waking up in an hour to do her morning chores and get a head-start on her day at the farm.
As much as Jillian had loved this place as a child, she was a city girl now. Orchard Grove was no place for her.
Yet here she was.
She sat up in bed, running her hands through her hair to see how knotted it was. She’d been thrashing around so much lately she sometimes woke up and looked like her mom’s honeymoon pictures from the eighties with her hair teased. Why anyone from any decade would voluntarily tangle their own hair was a mystery Jillian would likely never solve.
At least these tangles weren’t too bad. Nothing a few minutes with a brush couldn’t fix. The problem was she’d been too tired last night to unpack, and even in the spring, the attic was cold enough that she hated to think of freeing herself from her pile of Grandma Lucy’s prayer shawls and quilts.
She made a few valiant attempts to fall back to sleep before jumping out of bed and pulling on some sweatpants and socks. She was dying of thirst, which wasn’t too uncommon after these sorts of nightmares.
She felt her way gently down the stairs, each one slightly uneven in the home her grandfather had built by hand. Skipping the one step in the middle that always creaked, she relied on decade-old memories to help her grope her way to the kitchen where she was forced to turn on the light over the sink.
Water. A full, refreshing cup, a trip to the bathroom, and then maybe her brain would decide to drift back to sleep.
But if personal history was anything to rely on, she shouldn’t set her hopes too high.
She reached for one of the crystal glasses. Here at Safe Anchorage, her aunt and grandmother had no concept of plastic or generic. Everything was dainty, costly, and fragile, even back when Jillian had been a clumsy kid who broke her fair share of teacups. Fortunately, Grandma Lucy was a saint in just about every definition of the word and never scolded her for her numerous accidents.
If only other Christians were that forgiving.
Jillian filled up her goblet and drank the water down. That was one thing she could appreciate about life at Safe Anchorage. Fresh, clean well water. She guzzled her first serving and turned on the faucet for a refill.
“I thought you might be awake.” The warbling voice was unmistakable.
She’d hoped to go back to sleep rather than engage in conversation, especially the kind of conversation she knew must be coming up, but Jillian’s heart still quickened slightly at the sound of Grandma Lucy’s voice, her spirit swelling with memories of her summers spent here in Orchard Grove, memories of simple and happy times long before life turned so chaotic.
Her grandmother stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Jillian’s neck, declaring, “You’ve gotten so tall. I can hardly reach you.”
“You say that every time I see you,” Jillian reminded her.
Grandma Lucy smiled. “And each time it’s just as true.”
“Well, I’m done growing now.” Jillian pulled away. There were so many things Grandma Lucy still didn’t know, didn’t realize about the past several years. So much time had passed …
“Did you have a hard time sleeping?” Grandma Lucy asked, and without waiting for Jillian to answer, went on to add, “I had a feeling you were up.”
Of course. Grandma Lucy’s bizarre premonitions and stirrings as she sometimes called them were infamous in these parts. Neither Jillian’s strictly conservative religious upbringing nor her passing knowledge of secular science could explain her grandmother’s uncanny intuition.
Grandma Lucy took her by the hand. For a woman so wrinkled, her skin was remarkably soft.
Maybe all those goat soaps and lotions they made here at Safe Anchorage really worked.
Without another word, Grandma Lucy led Jillian into the farmhouse’s only modern addition, which had served as a greenhouse, a sunroom, and a place to serve guests tea, but was most commonly known as Grandma Lucy’s prayer room. Here Jillian’s grandmother would spend hours a day alternately reading her Bible, talking out loud to God, humming hymns or making up songs to sing to her Creator, and napping in her giant rocking chair.
Ever since she’d solidified her plans to move back to Orchard Grove, Jillian had foreseen this meeting, this conversation right here in this room. Without waiting to be told, she sat in the overstuffed chair across from Grandma Lucy’s famous prayer rocker and waited for whatever lecture or interrogation was coming her way.
Her hands felt clammy, but otherwise she wasn’t nervous. After all, she’d had a week to mentally rehearse the whole conversation, starting with the part where Grandma Lucy told her how worried she was for the state of Jillian’s soul, how she questioned her eternal destiny and prayed for her salvation.
As if what had happened to Jillian was enough to kick her out of the kingdom of heaven for good.
Jillian had practically been raised inside the church, sitting every Sunday, and most other nights of the week, in uncomfortable pews. She was a preacher’s kid, after all. Church had been the one constant in her life.
Until even that was stripped from her.
“Well, now.” Grandma Lucy eased herself into her rocker with a groan. She looked just like she had a decade ago when she’d sit Jillian in this exact same chair to practice memory verses. Grandma Lucy placed her hand on Jillian’s knee, the touch somehow transmitting far more heat than was to be expected on a morning as chilly as this.
She smiled serenely, as if Jillian had been the one to call this meeting and Grandma Lucy was simply waiting patiently for her granddaughter to start the discussion.
Casting nervous glances around the room, Jillian wondered where she should start. How much did Grandma Lucy already know?
And how much more wretched and guilty would she feel after their conversation was over?