Chapter 51: My Favorite Chapter of A Spent Bullet

Quick background:  This chapter, near the end of A Spent Bullet, begins with the soldier, Harry Miller, and the schoolteacher, Elizabeth Reed, stranded on the ferris wheel at the Beauregard Parish Fair. It ends with a marriage proposal and a wise lesson from Elizabeth’s father farmer.


A reminder: Today, Feb. 28, is the final day to get a hardback copy of A Spent Bullet with its companion children’s book, Uncle Sam: A Horse’s Tale.   The normal price for this set is $35 plus shipping.  Today, you can order for $20 plus $5 shipping. 

Chapter 51

Shot in the Dark

Harry checked his watch. It was well after midnight when the new motor arrived

and he and Elizabeth were finally delivered from their Ferris-wheel perch. The midway

was darkened and only a handful of carnival workers and a lone deputy were present

to welcome them back to solid ground. The deputy winked. “Looks like you two had

a good time up there.”

Harry waved him off as they made their way to the dimly lit parking lot, stumbling

around trying to locate Rob Lindsey’s old car. This didn’t bother Harry or Elizabeth

as they embraced for passionate kisses about every ten steps. He remembered his classic

statement, The last thing I’d ever want is a Louisiana woman. He had hold of one now and

wouldn’t—or couldn’t—let go. When they finally found the car, he said, “Woman,

you’re some kind of good kisser.”

Elizabeth nibbled his neck. “I thought I’d forgotten how.”

“We’ll get you back in practice.” It was a long bumpy ride home maneuvering

around the ruts and potholes. Each time Harry geared down, Elizabeth began kissing

him, and he soon began looking for obstacles to slow down for. When they finally

neared Bundick, he said, “Wonder what time it is?”

She unstrapped his watch and tossed it on the floorboard. “Who cares?”

It was getting steamy when she finally pushed him away. “I believe that’s enough for tonight.”

She rested her head on his shoulder as they wound up the driveway of the darkened

Reed home. He walked her to the porch and held her for another long kiss. From

inside the house, someone coughed and she drew away. Harry pulled her back. “You

haven’t given me an answer.”

“An answer to what?”

“Marry me.”

She stomped his foot. “Can’t you whisper?”

“Well, what about it?”

“I don’t ever make a decision without sleeping on it.” She kissed his cheek. “Good

night. You remember how to get to Ma’s house? I’ll see you after school tomorrow.”

Harry hopped off the porch, walking toward his rental Studebaker. Something brushed

against his leg and he jumped back. Hearing a whimper, Harry knelt. “Come here,

Blue.” He petted the dog, pointing toward Elizabeth’s lamp-lit bedroom. “Hey boy,

this is all your master’s fault.” Blue whined. “You miss Ben too, don’t you?” He looked

up at the canopy of twinkling stars. “I guess he’s an angel now. Heck, he was already

an angel when he picked up that bullet.”

Blue pulled his ears back and seemed to grin as Harry stroked his back. “But he

could also be a little devil at times.” Feeling silly for talking with a dog, he got in the

Studebaker. The old car wouldn’t start, so he finally got out and walked to Ma’s in the

darkness, whistling loudly. It didn’t worry him a bit. Tonight, he believed he could fl y.



Harry slept in the next morning. After wolfing down the breakfast Ma made for

him, he spent the day helping her with chores. That afternoon, he hurried toward

Elizabeth’s house. Peg was raking leaves when he walked up. She leaned on her rake

as Harry said, “Did your sister mention last night?”

“No, but I could see something in her eyes.”

“I asked her to marry me.”

“She’ll say yes.” Peg turned toward the drive. “Look, there she comes now.” She

cupped her hands. “Lizzie, your Ferris wheel partner’s here.”

Elizabeth smiled. “It was a short night, wasn’t it?” She and Harry sat in the porch

swing and talked about their day, until Harry said, “Have you thought about what I

asked you?”

“Sure, but it’s not like we have to get married. It’s not a shotgun wedding or


“But it could be a rifle wedding. There’s a rifle in my hand that’s not going away.

I probably won’t be back from Carolina until the end of November. Beyond that, it’s

anyone’s guess.” He squeezed her hand. “This is our chance to take a leap. If we pass

it up now, we might not have another chance.”

She took a deep breath and after a painful, pregnant pause, Harry said, “Elizabeth,

did you hear me?”

“I’m thinking.”

“Thinking about what?”

“You’ll need to talk to my father.”

“I’m not asking your father to marry me. I’m asking you.”

“I know, but that’s how we do it here.”

He tried to hide his frustration. “All right, I’ll talk with him when he gets home

from the sawmill.”

He spent the rest of the day helping Elizabeth at school as she prepared for

tomorrow’s opening. About four o’clock, her father stuck his head in the classroom

window. Seeing Harry, he said, “You haven’t got stuck in a desk again, have you? Or

a Ferris wheel?”

When he left, Elizabeth said, “See, he likes you. He picked on you.” She grabbed

her purse and belongings. “Let’s go home so you can talk with him.”

Reaching the front gate, she stopped. “All right, soldier, you’re on your own.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m walking over to Ma’s.” She kissed him and nibbled on his ear. “Go on. He

doesn’t bite.” Harry stood at the front door and drew a deep breath, looking back. She

nodded her head, motioning for him to knock. He clenched his fist to knock, hesitated,

and rapped four times.

“Come in.” The door creaked open and Harry stuck his head inside. Levon Reed

was sitting in a rocker, drinking coffee, a .22 rifle across his lap.

At the sight of the gun, Harry stepped back, “Excuse me?”



Mr. Reed put his finger to his mouth, motioning Harry to a chair beside him. “A

chicken snake’s been sticking its head out of the chimney. Next time he does, I’m going

to get him.” Never taking his eyes off the hearth, Mr. Reed sipped his coffee, engaged

in the age-old struggle between hunter and prey. The only sound was the ticking of

the mantel clock. Harry sat stiffly for about fifteen minutes, when he heard Elizabeth

outside. He whispered to Mr. Reed. “Elizabeth’s waiting on me. Good luck.”

She was waiting in the front yard. “Well, what’d he say?”


“Nothing? You didn’t ask him?”

“No.” He craned toward the house. “Your daddy’s in there with a gun across his

lap. I’m not talking to any armed man about marrying his daughter.”

“Poppa’s got his gun?”

“He’s waiting to shoot a snake that’s in the chimney.” Harry felt the color returning

to his face. “I was just afraid the snake he might shoot was me.”

“Oh, that’s just Daddy being Daddy.”

A sudden rifle crack rattled the windows. Elizabeth, followed by Harry, ran

inside. There sat Mr. Reed, still sipping his coffee, gun across his knees, as a sheen of

cement dust wafting across the room. Lying on the floor among shards of mortar was

a writhing four-foot-long snake with a bullet hole in its head.

“That’s a fi ne shot.” Harry whistled.

Mr. Reed took a sip. “That chicken snake won’t bother us again.”

Harry laughed. “I guess I’d better behave around here too.”

Mr. Reed’s face twitched. “I guess you’d better.”

Harry turned to the door, nearly walking over Elizabeth. He hurried outside, with

her a step behind. She grabbed his shoulder, spinning him around. “Harry Miller, if

you’re not man enough to talk to my daddy, I’m not. . . . ”

He put his hand up. “I don’t understand why I even need to talk to him. You and

I are grown people. We don’t need anyone’s permission to get married.”

Her anger softened to tears. “I know that, but you’ve got to trust me that this is

the right way.” They walked through the pasture, but she wouldn’t hold his hand and

looked away when he tried to explain. Silently, they circled back to the porch swing

where they swung for several minutes.

Crack. What sounded like another rifl e shot echoed off the roof above them,

causing Harry to duck and cover his head. An object rolling down the roof and

plopping onto the yard followed this. Elizabeth burst out laughing. “That was just a

pecan on the tin roof.” She put her hand over her mouth and began laughing all the

way down to her shoes. “Kind of jumpy, huh?”

“You’d be too if your girl’s father was carrying a rifl e.” Harry put his arm around

her. “You said he’s a crack shot and I’m afraid he might shoot another nut—me.”

The pecan shot had broken the impasse and Elizabeth couldn’t stop laughing. The

swing creaked as Elizabeth kissed him, placing her hand on his. He couldn’t remember

when something so simple had felt so good. The cool wind’s soothing song blew

through front yard cedars as katydids and insects sang in the edge of the swamp.

Harry Miller had one thought as he eased closer to Elizabeth: I believe I could



get to like this place. I really could. But he still had one thing to prove: convincing

Elizabeth’s family that marrying him was a sure thing, not just some shot in the


About thirty minutes later, Harry heard the back door slam. Elizabeth hurried to

the porch edge. “Poppa’s going toward the fi eld. It’ll be the perfect time.”

“Does he have his rifl e?”

“Sure, but he always carries it.”

Harry sprung from the porch swing. “I’m going to get it over with.”

Elizabeth grabbed the swing chains to quieten them. “Come back either with

your shield or on it.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “Gee, thanks for the encouragement.” He tromped

across the yard toward the fi eld, as if back on patrol in Red Army territory. He caught

up with Mr. Reed in the back corner of a fi eld, where he was rolling up telephone


“Son, your army sure does waste a lot of stuff.” He held up the large roll of wire.

“This is good telephone wire they left behind.”

“How will you use it?”

He shrugged. “Not sure yet, but it’ll come in handy sooner or later.” He threw

the wire over by three other rolls and removed his gloves. “I’m sure you didn’t walk

all this way to watch me roll wire. What’s on your mind?”

Harry squinted toward the .22 rifl e leaning against a nearby tree. “Sir, Elizabeth

and I are planning on getting married.”

Levon Reed picked up a loose end of wire and began wrapping it around his hand

and elbow. “Kinda quick, ain’t it?”

“Yes sir, but unusual times call for prompt decisions.”

Mr. Reed’s mouth turned down. “Prompt.” He looked up and studied Harry for

nearly a minute. “And what if I tell you no?”

“I’ll still marry her.”

Her father’s jaw tightened. “So you’re not asking for permission to marry my

daughter. You’re jes’ telling me.”

“No Sir, I am asking for permission, and I’m trying to do it respectfully.”

“But if I say no . . . ”

“I guess I’m . . . ” Harry stepped forward. “Sir, we’re asking for your blessing, not


“So y’all are going to get married or bust wide open?”

The fear had ebbed from Harry’s heart. “Yes Sir. We are.”

Mr. Reed kicked at an anthill before looking up. “You know you’re catching her

at a weak moment—what with Ben’s death and everything.” Harry bit his tongue,

knowing he needed to listen. Mr. Reed’s eyes glistened. “Son, people make poor

decisions at weak moments.”

Once again, an uneasy silence fi lled the pasture, broken only by the nearby cawing



of two crows. Mr. Reed dug in his overalls pocket, drawing out his pocketknife. From

his bib, he pulled out a twist of tobacco. With one hand, he unfolded the knife and

pointed it toward Harry, “Want a plug of Cotton Boll?”

“No Sir.”

“Well, I’ll take your plug and mine. For some reason, I need a strong chew.” He

deftly sliced off a huge chunk and tossed it in his mouth. As he worked it around in his

mouth, he never took his gaze off Harry. He spat a rich stream of amber liquid.

“Mind if I tell you a story? One time I’d got kind of dissatisfi ed with my life and

even my wife. We were having lots of money trouble and arguing. I’d even thought

about leaving. One day I came home from the sawmill just after dark and stopped at the

gate. Warm light came from inside the house and I smelled chimney smoke and bread

baking. I thought, ‘This sure looks like it’d be a nice place to live—big porch, plenty

of fi rewood, I can smell supper cooking. And look at that pretty woman working in

the kitchen. She’d probably be nice to live with. She’s good-looking and evidently not

afraid of work. I like this place. I think I’ll go inside and see if I can stay.”

He folded the knife, dropping it in his pocket. “You see, son, what kills good

marriages is when folks forgit what they have. They let it get stale and quit counting

their blessings. Then they forgit how to forgive. It’s a marriage breaker. Right now, you

love Lizzie-Beth enough to eat her with a spoon. I wanna know that you’ll love her

that much when the bloom’s off the rose.”

“Mr. Reed, all I can do is promise you, man to man, that I’ll take care of your

daughter. I love her and I know she loves me.”

Her father rubbed his calloused hands. “She got hurt, evidently by some soldier.

I’m just protecting her. I’ve done lost one son to the Army.” He gestured toward the

east. “And I’ve just buried another one over there. I’m not quite ready to lose another

child. I feel like my world’s crumbling all around me and there ain’t one thing I can

do.” Harry bit his tongue. Just listen.

Mr. Reed pointed toward his house. “I can’t ever predict what Peg will do. She

may run off tomorrow with one of those two dozen soldiers she’s playing patty-cake

with.” His voice shook and tears fi lled his eyes. “Son, Lizzie is about all I have that I

can depend on. If I lost her, it might just break my mind.”

Harry drew in a breath. “Mr. Reed, I’ve been hurt too. I know how it feels to be

abandoned. Stood up. Left out to dry. All I can do is promise Elizabeth—and you and

her mother—that I won’t do that to her.”

Mr. Reed’s face softened and the hint of a smile appeared. “I feel like they’re going

to have to send me to Pineville.”


“Pineville—it’s where the crazy house is. You know: ‘the nut house.’ That’s how

we say it around here: they’re going to send me to Pineville.”

Harry laughed. “I’ll take you there—it’s on the way to Camp Livingston.”

Mr. Reed put his strong hand on Harry’s shoulder. “If you marry that stubborn

girl of mine, you may be going to Pineville with me.”

He nodded toward the fi eld. “Have you noticed all of the stumps around here?

Earlier in this century, timber companies from up north came in, bought up cheap



land, cut all of the timber, and cleared out—leaving behind hardly nothing but

sawdust.” Mr. Reed sat on one of the stumps. “I worry that soldiers—like you—are

akin to those timber people. Get in, get what they want, and clear out.”

“That’s not how I work,” Harry said.

“I guess we’ll fi nd out, won’t we?” Mr. Reed picked up a strand of wire. “Now

get the other end of this wire. If you’re going to be in my family, I’m going to work

you to death.” He spat a stream of tobacco. “Besides, the problem ain’t gonna be with

me. It’s the women folk you’ve got to pass muster with.” He scratched his two-day

growth of beard. “The idea of you taking her off is gonna go over like a pianer at a

Church-a-Christ convention.”


“Son, if you’re gonna be in our family, you’ll need to get cultured. Them Churcha-

Christ folks don’t believe in musical instruments in their services.”

Harry winked. “Kind of like you deep-water Baptists don’t believe in dancing?”

Levon Reed spat again. “Boy, you might fi t in with this family after all.” He tossed

a loose end of wire at Harry. “Now start making yourself useful.”

Harry Miller had never been so happy to be using his hands. They worked for

another half hour with hardly a word. The only sound was Levon Reed’s whistling and

singing of the same song over and over. Harry recognized it as the tune Ma’d played

at the fi ddle contest. “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus.” As the last of the wire was rolled

up, Mr. Reed stopped. “Son, I know we seem like backwards folk to a city boy like

you, but we’re just different.”

He pointed toward a nearby lone pine. “Our tap root’s pretty deep too.”

“Mr. Reed, your tap root is way deeper than mine will ever be.” Harry picked

up a coil of wire. “I got a question that’s been bugging me: what do folks mean when

you talk about being ‘born again’?”

Levon Reed hefted three rolls of wire on his shoulder. “It’s something that happens

in a fellow’s heart.” He seemed deep in thought as they walked toward the house.

“Let me give you an example: my boy, Jimmy Earl, joined the Air Corps. He

and I both love aeroplanes, but there’s a distinct difference. He’s fl ying in them now.

I’ve never fl own in one and probably will die without getting off the ground. We

both believe planes can fly, but there’s a difference in our beliefs. Jimmy Earl believes

in planes.”

He scanned the horizon as if he expected a plane to fly over at any moment.

“He’s willing to put his butt in a seat and let someone fly him up into the wild blue

yonder. Me? I just believe about planes. I believe they can fly, but I’m not willing to


Mr. Reed pointed to his head and then his heart. “There’s a heap of difference

between head knowledge and heart knowledge. It’s commitment. It’s a willingness to

strap yourself in and trust something else or someone. I believe a fellow’s ‘born again’

when he goes from standing on the ground admiring the plane to crawling in and

trusting. It’s letting Jesus be the pilot of your life.”

“Do you trust Jesus like that?” Harry said.

“Sure I do.”



“Even . . . uh, even after what happened to Ben?” Harry shuddered at his own

question, but had to hear the answer.

Tears filled Mr. Reed’s eyes and he sighed. “That’s a good question and also a hard

one.” He removed his hat, wiping his forehead. “I’ve been trusting Jesus all of my life.

I’ve trusted him with all I’ve got, including my family. I can’t get my arms around why

God let Ben die. Been talking to the Lord about it—haven’t got a good answer yet.”

“Do you think God caused the accident?” Harry said.

“Heck, no. A boy chasing a dog ran out in front of a moving truck. That’s what

caused it. I don’t believe God caused it, but I do believe he allowed it. And I trust him

in spite of my son dying.”

“How do I get that kind of faith, Mr. Reed?”

“I believe you’re getting it.”

“But I haven’t . . . I haven’t felt any fireworks go off.”

“Fireworks ain’t a sign of being born again. I’ve seen folks jump high for Jesus

and two weeks later be back living like the devil. My experience has been that being

born again happens in an instant, but becoming a true follower of Jesus—growing to

be like him—is a lifetime process.”

Harry kicked at a clod of dirt. “I can feel some changes, but there’s a lot more


“It’s a process. It doesn’t happen at once. Let me see. . . .” Pulling his pliers out,

Mr. Reed clipped off the wire. “Son, let me think about how to best describe the

Christian growth process.” They walked in silence for about a minute.

“I was in the Great War. When my unit went across the Atlantic—The Big

Pond—I studied that big ocean liner, and watched how they adjusted course. It wasn’t

all at once. It was more a matter of the captain bumping—or nudging—that rudder

a wee bit at a time. Crossing the ocean on a liner isn’t made with 180-degree turns,

but steady bumps on the wheel. Same thing’s true in life-change. Often it’s a series of

gradual and overlooked changes that determine a man’s course and direction.”

They walked on, nearing the house. “You really love this land, don’t you?” Harry


Mr. Reed took a few steps and knelt, scooping up a handful of soil. “Son, when

you look at this, all you see is dust . . . or if it rains, Louisiana mud . . . but to me,

it’s life. This is sacred ground, homesteaded last century by my forebears. My people

have lived on this land, tried to farm it, and been buried on it for fi ve generations.”

He threw the dirt into the air, watching as the wind carried it away. “This dust blows

and irritates your eyes. But it also gets into your heart and makes it sing, and this dirt

will make things grow in a heart too. You probably look at this dirt a lot differently

than I do.”

His eyes brightened. “The same thing’s true with Elizabeth. You look at her and

see a beautiful woman that you say you love.”

Harry interrupted. “I do love her.”

Mr. Reed put up a hand. “Hear me out. You’re a young man—so was I one

time—I know how a fellow your age looks at a pretty girl. But Lizzie’s way more than



a pretty girl to me. She’s the light of my heart. Me and her momma have lost a lot

lately. We’re just concerned—this is all so quick.”

“Mr. Reed, what can I say that’ll settle this?”

He got nose to nose with Harry. “I want you to give me a promise—from one

man to another—that you’ll take care of her for the rest of your life.”

“I swear to God . . . ”

He poked Harry in the chest. “I know that you’ll promise her and God at the

wedding. I want a promise from you to me and I want it now.”

“Just like that?”


Harry put out his hand. “I promise. . . .”

Mr. Reed’s grip pulled Harry closer where the strong smell of tobacco nearly

overwhelmed Harry. “Before you promise, what about war?”

“What about it?”

“When war comes, will you keep your promise?”

“If war comes, I’ll keep my word.”

Mr. Reed’s grip tightened. “Go ahead, Son.”

Harry felt something soft and warm between their hands. “I promise that I’ll love

and take care of your daughter Elizabeth as long as I’m alive.”

“That’s good enough for me.” Mr. Reed relaxed his grip.

Harry looked at the clump of dirt in his hand. The sweat from their hands had

changed the edges of it into mud.

“All right.” Mr. Reed stepped back. “Here’s your answer.”

“To what?” Harry was trying to squeeze life back into his hand.

“I thought you were asking if I’d let my daughter marry you?”

“Yes sir. I was.”

“I’m willing to give you that blessing. But you and Elizabeth need to talk to her

mother, too. The real resistance will come from her. She’s agin it. If you go and break

Elizabeth’s heart, I’m not sure her mother will ever get over it.”

“I’m not going to break her heart.”

“Well, you’ll need to convince her of that.” They reached the barn where they

loaded the rolls of wire onto a wagon. Mr. Reed sat on the wagon’s tongue. “I don’t

know nothing about your family. You’ve never spoken of them.”

“My family’s not real proud of me.”

“Why not?”

“I haven’t turned out the way they wanted.”

“Why not?”

“Being a soldier wasn’t my parents’ idea of success.”

“Tell me about them.”

“My parents? They’re wealthy.” Harry looked into Mr. Reed’s tanned face. “But,

I’m not sure that’s how you judge another man.”

“There’s lots of ways of judging a man.”

“I’ve learned that.”

“What will your folks think about you getting married?”



Harry winked. “They’re agin it.”

Mr. Reed slapped his back. “We’re gonna make a redneck out of you yet. I got

one more question: Does your family own lots of land?”

“My father owns apartments and office buildings, but not land in the way you

look at it.” Harry lifted his chin toward the fi eld. “By the way, how much of this land

do you own?”

“I’m not sure I own any of it. It’s more of a matter of it owning me.”

As they took their boots off on the back porch, Mr. Reed knocked the mud off his.

“I do like walking my property and thinking that the mud on my boots is mine—and

the Lord’s.” He put an arm around Harry. “Now if you marry into my family, you

gotta promise me one more thing.”

“You’ve got me over a barrel, so go ahead.”

“Promise that you won’t ever sell our family land to no dang timber company.”

“Agreed!” Harry stood beside Mr. Reed as he watched through the door window

where the four women—Mrs. Reed, Ma, Peg, and Elizabeth—were drinking coffee.

They were in the midst of a lively discussion and hadn’t noticed the eavesdropping

men at the window.

Ma was worked up. “Pearline, do you remember when you and Levon fell in


“I faintly remember it.”

“Your momma came to see me. First thing out of her mouth was, ‘That boy of

yours ain’t got sense enough to pour water out of a boot with the instructions writ’

on the heel.’ I started to get my double-bit ax after her. Our families hadn’t never had

much use for one another.”

“My own momma said that?” Mrs. Reed shifted uncomfortably.

“Yep, and I told your mother that you probably couldn’t boil water without her

holding your hand.” Ma wasn’t through. “At least we two mothers agreed on one thing:

you two kids didn’t have a pot to pee in, or a window to throw it out. The idea of you

children getting married . . . ha!”

Harry glanced at Mr. Reed, who shook his head and whispered, “That’s my


Ma continued, “You know something about me and your momma, Pearline? We

wuz both wrong. Look at you and Levon.”

Elizabeth’s mother said, “But Ma, it’s different when it’s one of your own.”

“Sure it is, but it’s called life. L-I-F-E. Life. It’s meant to be lived. It’s meant to be

grabbed aholt of.”

Pearline Reed sniffed and pointed at Ma. “It’s your fault they’re even together.”

Ma put her hands on her hips. “You mean that bullet?”

“No, that fake letter.”

“You think it’s me that got them together?”

“You and Ben Franklin Reed.”

“I think the Lord put them together. It was meant to be.”

Elizabeth and Peg were giggling, so Ma turned on them. “And you listen here

Elizabeth Jane Reed. If you marry this man, you’re going to make it work. None of this

                                        Today, Feb. 28, is the final day to order your hardcover set of A Spent Bullet and its companion children’s book, Uncle Sam: A Horse’s Tale.  Order here and we’ll autograph your books and ship them with an invoice for $20 plus $5 shipping.



running home to Momma. And Peggy Sue Reed—I haven’t got time nor patience to

try to straighten out your life. That’s for another day.” Ma walked to the door and jerked

it open, exposing the two male eavesdroppers. She pointed her skinny arm at Harry.

“And listen here, melon head, you better take good care of our girl. If you don’t, I’ll

hunt you down with Ma’s double-bit ax and chop your fi ngers off one at a time.”

She turned as if fi nished before turning on Harry. “And one more thing—if I ever

fi nd out about you fooling around on her, I’m gonna use that double bit ax somewhere

else.” She stepped toward him. “Even if it means coming back from the grave to do it!”

She walked across the room. “I got one more thing to say and I’m through: It’s a

family tradition of marrying oddballs.”

She pointed at Harry. “By that I mean folks

you wouldn’t normally put in the same yoke or even in the same stall.”

Harry hoped she was fi nished but she wasn’t. “Now, one more thing.”

Mr. Reed picked up a dishtowel, waving it in surrender. “Momma, quit saying

that. We know you don’t mean that.”

“And one more thing. It’s also a tradition in this family of making it work. Lizzie,

you and ol’ melon head here are going to make it work. Make a good life together.”

“Momma, if you were a preacher, we’d let you marry them right now,” Mr. Reed


“And if I was a preacher, I’d do it.” She turned and marched out the door.

Harry looked at Elizabeth. “Was she serious?”

“I don’t know. You tell me?”

“Is she going to call me ‘melon head’ all of the time?”

“When she gives you a nickname, it means you’ve been accepted as family.”

“Well, I guess I have been.”

Elizabeth’s mother walked by. “Yes you have, melon head. I guess you have.”

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