Nancy Powell
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Whom Shall I Fear

Chapter 1

er long red hair waving in the August breeze, Anna leans against a post and gazes across the pasture. She was eleven when a flash flood roared through the valley, threatening to uproot that sycamore. The leafy giant stands beside a lazy creek, still holding her tree house and swing. As each storm thundered in, tugging at roots and thrashing branches, she prayed for her tree. From its shade, she and Dad shot targets along the creek bank, and before her sixteenth birthday, she could hit the center of every bull’s-eye. Like that tree, Mom and Dad were supposed to remain. She did not know they were in danger, or she would have been on her knees, praying as never before.
She glances toward the farmhouse. It looks the same as last week, except Mom is not calling from the back door, offering lemonade, and Dad is not here, a hand on her shoulder, giving advice. He was careful. She cannot believe their death was an accident and wonders if Jaeger realized her Dad had suspicions about activities on the nearby farm.
A family friend turns onto the dusty lane. An appaloosa dealer, he promised to find good homes for the horses. Panic tightens her chest at the sight of his trailer. “He’s coming for the horses, another chunk of my life.” Clenching her teeth, she steps forward.
The slim old man slides from his truck, adjusts a sweat-stained hat, and grabs Anna in a tight hug. “I wish I could help.

I loved your daddy like a brother, and your mama was . . . .”
She pulls away. “Thanks, Mr. Prince, but today, let’s not talk about Dad and Mom. I don’t want to start crying again.” Fingernails digging into her palms, she strides toward the barn. “I fastened the horses in the lot. I’ll lead them to your trailer.”
“Anna, let me pasture Polkadot while you’re away at school. I know how you love that mare.”
“I’ll be there four years. Just find her a good home.” She turns her face away, her lip quivering. “Although, I want to meet Polka’s new owners before I sign. She needs someone gentle.”
“I’ll prepare the papers.”
Anna hardens her emotions until the old man drives away. Sitting on the porch swing with daylight fading, she allows tears to flow from her brown eyes. The ranch is quiet—no horses stomping and snorting, or neighing for a colt. There are no lights in the kitchen, no one to ask about her day, or give advice for the future. Even the fat old cat is out hunting.
A pickup turns onto the lane. She stands. “Jaeger! I don’t want to see him.” Stepping inside, she hooks the screen, takes a bottle of cola from the fridge, and sits at the kitchen table, out of sight from the front door.
The screen door rattles with his loud, demanding knock. “Anna, I saw you on the porch when I turned off the road. I had to work late, or I’d have been here earlier. I know you’re upset, but don’t shut me out. I came to help.”
She clears her throat. “Jaeger, all I need is time. I have a lot of decisions to make.”
“You shouldn’t make big decisions now. Your mind’s confused with grief.”
A vision of two flower covered caskets flashes through her mind, and she gasps, trying to choke back sobs.
“I’ll come by after work tomorrow and feed the animals.”
She takes a deep breath. “There are no animals. Everything is gone, except my cat.”
He slaps the wall. “You—you sold the horses. I wanted some of them.”
“Mr. Prince offered a fair price.”
She hears him stomp across the porch and kick an empty feed bucket that she should have taken to the barn. It rattles into the yard. “You didn’t make an offer—Mr. Prince did.”
“But you knew I wanted the stallion and some of the mares. Dad bought forty acres on the north side of this farm. I planned to move them over there.”
“That land is covered with brush. You need pasture for horses.”
“Has old man Prince paid you?”
Gritting her teeth, she breathes deep. “Mr. Prince will pay me when he sells them.”
“Tell him you want them back.”
“I gave my word.” She scoots her chair away from the table, slams the cola bottle against the red-checked tablecloth, and plods across the room, her boots echoing on the oak floor.
“Tell him your fiancé wants you to keep them.”
“I am not your fiancée, not even a girlfriend, and I never have been. Dad told you not to come over here again.”
“Anna, I know your dad didn’t like me, but I can help you through this.”
“Goodnight, Jaeger.” She locks the wood door, turns on the air conditioner, and sits in the dim kitchen, arranging a pile of sympathy cards that came in the mail. Waiting for Jaeger’s truck to disappear, she clicks on a lamp and lifts an envelope from Bart—her best friend.
She remembers the time Jaeger came by and found Bart sitting on the porch swing with her. Jaeger yanked him from the swing, threw him into the yard, and began yelling insults.
She grew up with Bart protecting her. He would have fought to his last breath if Dad had not stepped out with the bullwhip and ordered Jaeger to go. Too bad Bart’s leave was over, and the Marines refused to give him more time. She did not want him to join the military and go away, but he said that would enable him to get an education.
Thinking she cannot bear another word of sympathy, she takes the cards to her room and drops them on her desk, beside her last English composition. Seeing the paper, she can almost hear Mr. Wilson’s deep voice telling the class, “I’m sick of reading about traffic accidents. Kill your character some other way.” She followed his directions, but this story is real. Dropping onto her bed, she cries, “God, change the characters and bring back Mom and Dad.”
The next morning, before seven, Anna unlocks her parents’ antique shop. The sign on the door states, “Open 9 to 5,” but she wants to label things for quick sale. Suzanne, the little girl she watches most evenings, has gone to spend time with her grandmother. Anna can work late.
At five, she turns the deadbolt, closes the drapes, and clicks on the porch light. At six, Jaeger beats on the door. “Anna, if you don’t let me in, I’m calling the cops to check on you. I know you’re in there. I saw your car through the storeroom window.”
Her throat dry, she swallows. “Go away. I have work to do. I don’t need distractions.”
“I won’t get in your way. Come on. Open the door and take this cola before the ice melts. I stopped at the drive-in and got you a large. The least you can do is take it.”
* * * * *
Thinking clearer than she has in days, Anna sits on the side of her bed and wipes a strand of hair from her forehead. She wonders if the sheriff has learned anything more about the driver that killed her parents. Green paint was the only evidence found at the scene.
Closing her eyes, she remembers Dad’s loving arms and understanding ways. She stands and takes an old stuffed bear from a shelf. He gave it to her years ago. Hugging it, she whispers, “Dad was tough but gentle—taught me to hunt, fish, and was proud when I beat him at anything. Jaeger is tough but mean and jealous of everything. My biggest mistake was letting Jaeger into my life. He took over as easily as if I was—” She opens her eyes wider.
“Drugged! That’s it. From the first hour that I let him into the shop and took that Coke, everything is a blur. When he wasn’t around, Cara, his hateful mama, was fixing me drinks and giving orders. I had to be out of my head to let them get away with that.”
Shaking the bear gently, she continues as if it can hear. “Yesterday I spilled the punch she gave me into the bathroom sink. That’s why I was sane enough to disagree with Jaeger last night.”
She runs a hand over a worn Bible. “Dear God, I’m a prisoner and only married a few days. I barely remember a wedding. It can’t be legal. God, please, please help me get out of this mess. Eve took an apple—I took a cola. I should have known better; Dad and Bart warned me.”
Anna looks in the mirror. Her hand trembles as she touches a large bruise puffing the left side of her face. “What did he say about beatings I’ll get in South America? South America?”
The exhaust on her father-in-law’s old pickup pops as he slows to turn. Gravel crunches when he pulls into the driveway. The chain on the porch swing rattles, and Jaeger’s boots stomp out to the truck. She peeks around the curtain as they drive away.
“He’s going with his dad and leaving the car.” She plops the bear on a shelf, grabs clothes from the chest of drawers, runs to the bathroom, and is dressed quicker than she has ever dressed in her life. She needs to leave before his mama arrives.
The car is hers—a high school graduation gift from her parents—and registered in her name. Jaeger acts as if he owns it, never lets her drive, and does not allow her to have more than five dollars in her purse, joking that she could not get far on five bucks. He does not know that she hid an extra key and most of her graduation money behind a broken piece of sheetrock inside her closet. She shivers at the memory of what he tells her each morning, “Remember, my name means hunter. If you run, I’ll hunt you down, and you’ll die slow and painful.”
Many times she has heard her mom quote the 27th Psalm. It comes to her as clear as if her mother were beside her. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
She pulls out the money and key and looks for her suitcase and overnight bag. “Did he get rid of them?” The fight last night was over her parents’ things—he was moving them out of the master bedroom.
After Jaeger hit her, she went to bed with an ice pack on her face and did not watch TV or drink cola. “I wasn’t drugged yesterday. That’s why I can analyze this.” She nods to the stuffed bear. “I have to get out while I can. If I stay, he’ll kill me for sure.”
“I would have walked away from that wedding, but I couldn’t think straight. Jaeger’s bratty sister stuck her foot on the tail of my dress and wouldn’t move. While everyone sat bewildered, Jaeger’s mother laughed. His cousin lifted Helen’s foot.”
She blinks at the bear on the shelf. “Strange, I don’t remember the ceremony, only that incident—her foot on Mama’s wedding dress. Who planned it? Who was there? I don’t remember. Within days of the funeral, how could I? I wouldn’t have—he drugged me. God, forgive me, for I can’t help the hate.”
Anna crams clothes inside plastic bags, runs outside, tosses them into her red Mustang, and slams the trunk before hearing Jaeger’s mama turn onto the lane in her old blue Chevy. Helen, Cara’s sullen, look-alike daughter, sits beside her. Anna stands silent, hope sinking.
Cara rolls out, holding a hand against her chest, wheezing. “Last night, Jaeger gave me the key and said I could use his car to go to town. Take those things out of my trunk and put them in his. I’m short of air from rushing.”
Suppressing an urge to attack the old woman, Anna holds out her hand. “Toss me the keys.” Cara tosses one, then the other, while clinging to her door.
Taking a bag from Cara’s trunk, Anna drops it beside the car, with the Chevy key on top. “Oh, something’s burning. I bet Jaeger left a pan on the stove.” She pushes the button to lock her Mustang and darts toward the house with Helen following. Slamming the door, Anna twists the lock and runs to turn off a burner under Granny’s coffee pot—he broke Mama’s glass one.
The house rattles as Helen kicks and bangs at the entry.
Purse on her arm, Anna props a foot against the door, unlocks and opens it enough to turn the lock so it will catch when she steps out. Helen tries to get in, but Anna pushes against her and pulls the door closed. The bolt clicks.
“I want a drink,” Helen whines.
“Here.” Anna thrusts a bottle of water toward her. “Drink this. I haven’t opened it.”
“I don’t want water. I want cola.”
“I don’t have any.”
“Yes, you do. I saw them yesterday.”
“Jaeger drank them.”
Helen cries and runs to her mama. “You said I could get a cola from Jaeger’s kitchen.”
Cara, dragging her feet, plods toward the house, mumbling, “We’ll get a drink.”
While Helen clings to Cara and cries, Anna climbs into the driver’s seat of her Mustang and starts the motor.
Cara turns and yells, “Put those bags in the trunk.” She stomps toward Anna. “Get out of that car. Jaeger told me I could use it today.”
Anna punches the gas pedal. The mirror brushes against Cara’s sleeve. Loud curses echo as the car roars out of the yard, down the lane and toward the highway.
A letter from her parents’ lawyer is in her purse. He has a cashier’s check waiting from the proceeds of her college fund and Mom and Dad’s bank accounts. There will be more when the farm and antique shop sell. She was lucky to get the letter before Cara or Jaeger got their hands on it, and lucky it came yesterday—a day she had sense enough to collect the mail.
She parks in the alley behind the lawyer’s office. Maybe Cara will not see the car if she is following. Looking left and right, Anna enters through the back door, gives her name to the receptionist and sits to wait her turn.
The lawyer listens as Anna describes what she remembers of the wedding, and tells a watered-down version of the abusive treatment she received from Jaeger and his family. “Is it possible for me to get an annulment? If not, I want a divorce. Jaeger tricked me. I never loved him. I didn’t even like him.”
Seeing Anna’s bruised face and hearing her explanation, the lawyer calls a friend at the courthouse and gets a copy of the marriage license, and the application faxed to him. He and Anna go over the forms together. Jaeger filled out the license application but did not state her correct age. She was four weeks short of eighteen.
Mr. Aaron promises that he will have no problem getting the marriage annulled. “Anna, if you want, we’ll have him charged with abduction and abuse. That bruise proves the abuse.” He snaps a picture.
“Thank you; I just want to get away. He threatened to kill me if I left. I believe he’s capable, but he shouldn’t have a reason when the annulment is official, and he has no claim to my property.” Anna leaves with a handshake and a promise to call with her new address.
She stops at a drive-through for a sandwich, swallows two headache pills with a gulp of cola, takes a bite of hamburger and pulls back onto the highway. It is afternoon before she parks in a shady spot at the University of Arkansas. After a deep breath, she whispers, “Stay with me, Mama. Both of us want this.”
The asphalt parking lot is like a hot grill. Through thin sandals, her feet burn and she runs to a shade where she can stop in the grass before going into the building. Inside, she stands close to a vent, fans her blouse, and remembers words her mother spoke: “Anna, your dad and I wanted to attend college, but we could never afford it.”
Anna fills out a form she gets from a receptionist and stands in line for a counselor.
The man frowns. “You may not get the classes you want at this late date.”
She breathes deep and swallows. A tear rolls from under her long lashes. A trembling hand slaps it away. “I filled out papers for classes I want to take. You should have them. I’m sure Mama mailed them.”
“Young people amaze me—so smart, but irresponsible.”
She dabs at a tear. “I completed the forms. Please, look again. I know she sent them.”
“Check with your mama and come back. There’s a line of students waiting. You should have sent them online.” He frowns and glances at a paper on his desk.
“But a hit-and-run driver killed my parents the week after graduation.” A sob escapes her throat.
The counselor looks up. “I’m sorry to hear that.” The middle-aged man frowns and hands her a tissue. “Maybe a clerk made an error. I’ll cross reference—Chapman, Anna Marie.” He punches computer keys. “That’s what happened. Someone changed your name to Chopman.”
Afraid to trust her voice, Anna reaches for another tissue.
He stares as if first seeing her. “What happened to your face?”
“My husband hit me.”
He glances at the computer. “Your application doesn’t show you as married.”
“My lawyer’s getting it annulled.” She breathes deep. “After my parents died, I couldn’t think straight, and I wound up married. It was a big mistake.” She shakes her head. “He and his mama planned to cheat me out of my inheritance. He took over my car, wouldn’t let me have any money, and tried to keep me prisoner.”
“This is not the Stone Age. Husbands can’t do that.”
“But he did. Today I escaped with my car and went to see Daddy’s lawyer. Mr. Aaron said his law firm will get the marriage annulled, sell Daddy and Mama’s property and put the money in a trust for me.”
The counselor stares at her. “He hit you hard enough to put that bruise on your face?”
She nods. “I disagreed with him. His answer was a fist.”
“Do you want to charge him with assault?”
Anna shakes her head. “I want to stay away from him.”
He rubs the frame surrounding a photo of a young woman. “I don’t usually interfere with family problems, but I had a sister your age. You need to file a police report—get pictures on record, in case he tries to harm you again. My sis thought she could walk away.”
She touches the bruise, flinches and asks, “How can I do that?”
“The chief is a friend of mine. I’ll ask him to send an officer to take your information. Besides, I have some papers they need to pick up.”
“Jaeger ran off all my friends.” She wipes the corner of her eye. “Call your friend. I’ll file a report. Jaeger may try to kill me. He said he would.”
The counselor bows his head. “Filing a report is a wise decision, but I don’t think you’re in danger while on our campus. The University has security officers.”
* * * * *
At a military base in Europe, Bart reads a letter from his Aunt Alice.

Dearest Bart:
Son, I have bad news. Anna and Jaeger got married in a quick ceremony at the church. I wasn’t invited, but heard about it and went. Anna seemed to be in a daze. If I didn’t know her so well, I would say she was drunk or high on something, but maybe she’s still in shock after losing her parents.