The Reaping Chapter Three

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CHAPTER THREE

Nonnie always said things would be better in the light of day. At seven in the morning it did. The sun rose high in a cloudless sky. A few fallen branches and leaves covered the ground. The pleasant sounds of birds singing from the trees filled the air. Squirrels and rabbits ran around in a frenzy for food. Even Ez scampered in and out of each room, anxious to go out and play.

I opened my bedroom window and breathed in the fresh morning air. Another wonderful day. Still feeling shaky and at a loss on what to do, I wondered if telling someone about last night would be the best thing. But, standing here in my nightgown, the unpleasant memories of last night seemed a bad dream.

It's only a nightmare. I hugged myself as the town bell rang, which meant service started in an hour. Today I celebrated my eighteenth year, no longer a little girl but a woman ready to embrace adult responsibilities.

I washed my hair over the kitchen sink, gave my body a quick clean, and went back up to my bedroom where my birthday gift from my grandmother hung. She'd made me a lovely white dress covered in little blue flowers. The blue ribbon in my hair, including the matching one around my waist, completed my ensemble.

After I fed Ez his breakfast, I left my house and took the lane to the town chapel while trying to ignore the nervousness eating away at me. It was a combination of residual fear from last night and the horrible sensation of those eyes constantly on my person. The empty path helped my paranoia grow. I scanned the area in the hopes of catching the person who enjoyed tormenting me. There was no one.

I continued on, more at ease while I passed people. I enjoyed how my new dress swung around my legs. The chapel came into view and several villagers entered the building. They wished me birthday cheers and happy greetings.

The choir sang hymns while the large room filled to capacity. It had been expected on this day of all days for the majority of the village people to attend this service. Nonnie sat in a pew off to the right. She made space for me to sit and kissed my cheek.

"Happy birthday, butterfly," she whispered. We grasped each other's hands in a tight grip. She squeezed mine in reassurance. The bothered expression on my face must have given her notice because she studied me in concern. Before she could ask, the preacher sauntered up to the front of the room. We all stood.

As he droned on about the great harvest to come and how grateful we should be to the Almighty for our bounty, Emma Marie sat with her husband, Thomas Andrew, on the left side of my pew. We smiled at one another. In front of them stood Emma Marie's parents and Nathan Alexander, very handsome in his white shirt, dark blue tie, and matching pants. He mouthed "happy birthday" and smiled. I lost myself in that smile, giddy.

A few rows in front of him, Gilbert Mason turned around and gawked at me, making me break eye contact with Nathan Alexander. During a hymn, he continued with his relentless cold, angry stare. I blinked and focused on the front, away from his uncomfortable inspection. The suspicion he may be the one behind my misgivings gave me chills.

After the service ended, the crowd rushed to begin the harvest celebration. There would be dancing and the sharing of food and of song.

My worries vanished when Nonnie asked me to help her set up our table under a tree near the edge of the town square.

"Before the afternoon town bell rings, you should pack an overnight bag and bring Ez. I want you to spend the night with me." Nonnie spread a cloth over the table. Her voice didn't leave any room for argument.

"There's no reason why—" I complained, but she held up her hand.

"I have the perfect answer to why I've asked this of you. Would you deny your grandmother the honor of your company on your birthday? You shouldn't be alone, with only your cat to keep you company, on today of all days."

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