“You’ll be all right with the Lancaster family until I can send for you.” My sister called the words to me as I watched from my hidey-hole. Comfort shifted from one leg to another,ready to leave, resenting repeated explanations and partings.
“Go on,” I told her. It was easy to see that her mind was made up.
“Oh, Naomi, come out here and say goodbye, properly. Mr. Bailey bought me these new clothes and I want to show you. Things will be fine."
She didn't believe that, I could hear the doubt in her voice. "Naomi," she stamped her new boot and crouched down, peering under the rotted wood. " You can’t keep hiding under the porch. It’s not going to make this stop being.”
Maybe not, but my crawlspace under the rotten flooring offered dark protection from things I had no control over. “I don’t need to come out to see your back turn while you walk away. Go on.”
“All right then, I will.” Comfort’s voice was filled with anxiety that I could have assuaged if I had seen fit. She was marrying and leaving me behind with the neighbors. I didn’t feel like making her feel better.
I guess I didn’t really expect her to leave me there. She never had before and we’d been though some pretty rough moments.
But she called a parting remark and then I heard her erstwhile swain grumbling and knew she wasn’t alone. “I’m telling you, I don’t have time or money to take some half grown girl along with us. She’s better off here. We’ll send for her when we get settled.”
I didn’t like Owen Bailey. He wasn’t worthy of my sister, Comfort Parker. Comfort had a major disadvantage in our world—she was beautiful and poor. Even rich, handsome, women fell prey to unsavory men now that the natural order of the south had been disrupted.
But a poor, good-looking female was facing a lot of possibilities, none of them pleasant.So having Owen Bailey, a sergeant in the Union Army,tender a legitimate proposal to a rag-tag share-cropper’s daughter was too good a chance for Comfort to pass by.
I knew that—but I didn’t want to be left behind. I wanted to run begging after them. I would have but before I wiggled from my hiding spot, I heard the sounds of the horse they both rode, fading into the sounds of morning.
My only family was gone. I sat on the porch-step for a long time listening to the bullfrogs and crickets and with the accompanying cacophony of swamp music behind me, I practiced saying my introduction to the Lancaster family.
My name is Naomi Parker. I’m your next door neighbor—if you could call our place neighborly. I looked around at the rotting timber and creaky door that had to be propped closed from the inside. I pretend held out my hand.
My sister said in an emergency, I’m to run to the neighbors. I reckon…I stopped and corrected my words. Comfort was strict about my speech habits. She said that we are known by our first impression, whatever that means. I started over.
Hello, my sister has been called away on an emergency. She directed me to come here until she returns. I stopped and thought about that for a moment then held out my hand and started again. My name is Naomi Parker and I’m eleven years old.
There wasn’t any sense in putting off the inevitable. I gathered up the two things Comfort had left me, her brush and comb set, and her copy of Godey’s Lady’s Book. I scuffed my bare feet against the dirt path trying to slow down the journey. Until I reached the Lancaster place, I could pretend that Comfort would be back in a minute, and I was not alone.