Book Sample
Shiloh's Pool






Chapter One 

Life in the white-washed village that clung to the side of the Alpujarra Mountains had lost its romance. In recent years, many of Shiloh’s neighbors had died. Except Crazy Lewis, who looked much older than he was. Most were too aged to straddle over the uneven stones that made up the path weaving up and down the tiny Andalucian pueblo. This forced them to relocate to the North to be near their children. Some went to Madrid or Barcelona, others to the South of France where the money was.

It was during the crisis. Shiloh had to kiss her husband good-bye for another winter as he headed to England to work. She wasn’t alone. Shiloh would need both hands to count the wives she knew in similar situations. 

If only Shiloh had been well. Able to sleep and breathe. It was arthritis that took her from England and arthritis that would keep her away for long stays. Life in her new country had healed one ailment, but brought on another, leaving her to feel abandoned. Even after all her years of suffering with asthma, it had never come to mind that renovating a 400-year old home would stir things up. Old plaster. Dust. Ancient chestnut beams that had blackened with age. There was the campo, too, that strung out a good distance to the north of her little townhouse that sat at the far end of the pueblo, the last in a row of four. 

Her allergies, along with the altitude, the old house, and the wood-burning stove set her off on a downward spiral. The worst culprit of all the irritants, though, was the black mold and mildew in the home. It was common knowledge to the Spanish natives that this was a recurring problem. The building standards were far inferior to those in Northern Europe. Houses were never damp-proofed, especially not 400-year old houses. Being foreigners, even as much as they had read up on Spain before they bought the old ruin, they had no idea about such things and could not have prepared themselves for the seven years that followed.

Shiloh and Jack were on the fast track to learning that Spain took no prisoners. While that little nook where they lived in Iberia could boast to have the best climate in Europe, that claim was only good for the air outside. Inside the homes was a completely different story.

To make matters worse, once the housing market crashed in, they had to resort to plan “B”, as it was obvious they would not be able to make a living in property development on their small budget, with no one buying. Through a friend of a friend, they took up residence at a newly developed resort on the coast. Well, almost developed. That was where they came in. Jack was going to help Robredo, a Spanish native, finish his small, quaint resort and Shiloh, well, Shiloh was going to help Robredo market it.

Robredo appeared nice enough. Shiloh, who was a good judge of character, wasn’t so sure she was sold on the misses, Andrea. She seemed rude and edgy. And a bit lazy, to be precise. She didn’t like to cook. She didn’t like to clean. She wasn’t creative. Do not ask her to garden or bake, or really anything. Admittedly, she would profess that she was quite boring. All she liked to do was watch movies.

It came to Shiloh’s attention, after being around Andrea for a couple of weeks, that quite possibly Andrea came from money and probably had servants while growing up. It also came to Shiloh’s attention, not long after that had moved into the large, three bedroom, poor built property manager’s house, that there was only one important person out of the four of them: Robredo. There was no convincing Jack, though. Jack was committed. In his world, the number one priority in life was the boss. Please him first. Then others. And lastly, Shiloh. This was a sure area of contention and one that built a large wall of resentment between the two.

That, and the fact that Jack was the type to bury his head deep, and deeper, if need be.

To spare the reader the unnecessary and grim tale of the first fourteen weeks (for that is another story in itself, one to be told later), it must be noted, for the sake of coming to know our main character, Shiloh, that she packed her bags and headed back up the mountain to her home in the charming, old village. Jack did not blame her for leaving, but he was determined to stick it out. Shiloh never pressured him to follow her, though she hoped he had the senses to; she knew that making demands would only lead to further resentment on his part. There was already enough flowing out his mouth stemming from the guilt he carried for leaving his three children between Oxford and Belfast. The oldest was on her own, the middle child, the oldest son, refused to relocate to Spain and sought a room in the town they had been living in, and the youngest was with his mother in Belfast. 

Jack hadn’t been the same since leaving England; Shiloh knew that deep down he blamed her for his guilt, rightly so or otherwise. She also had the keen insight to see that they were never going to get paid for their work at the resort, at least not for years. Juggling the emotions, making the necessary adjustments that arise from major changes in life such as a new country, a new culture, a new language, a new home, a new family without a support system, was extremely stressful. 

And then the big rains let loose from the heavens with all fury. In three weeks four years’ worth had fallen. Roads were collapsing. There were landslides all over. The earth was shifting. 

The result from all the damp and moisture in the property manager’s house where they had been put up in on the resort grounds was fungus, mold and every kind of mildew, including mushrooms descending from the wooden ceiling in one of the guest bedrooms. The two had sacrificed a lot by going to work with Robredo. They would not see any money until it started pouring in. And Shiloh could discern it was years, if ever, from happening. 

Worse than the rain and the mushrooms was the lack of appreciation the couple received from their boss. And his wife was not very forthcoming with thanks, either. Andrea was less than kind to Shiloh, almost as if she was threatened by her. 

Just to give you an idea, one day she came over steaming, and burst through the front door. The two houses sat side-by-side with only a few feet between them. Demanding to know where her wine opener and her pizza knife were, she fingered through the silverware drawer to find them. Upon success, sweeping them up in a hurry, she turned her nose up to Shiloh. “Huh! You have my wine bottle opener and my pizza knife. If you want a pizza knife, buy your own. This is mine!” And off she stomped without making any further eye contact with Shiloh.

To be fair, Shiloh had not even known they were there; it was Jack who drank wine and ate pizza. It was he who did not return the borrowed items. Shiloh kept her distance from Andrea ever after. And when the rains came, and the mushrooms, along with all the ill treatment and lack of gratitude shown her, she left. Jack came up to see her on the weekends. There she sat in that cold, little village away from all civilization without a car, without any family, without friends. 

It would be nearly a year before her husband reached his breaking point; Shiloh waited, and waited, and waited.

After that episode, Jack was fed up with standing knee-high in cement and the following winter he left his home and his wife behind to take up contract work for the season at his old firm, making racing cars for Motorsport. But he had to go alone; Shiloh simply could not live in England due her arthritis. This was what drove them from England to begin with. The pain was debilitating, so bad, in fact, that Shiloh had lost the use of her right arm. But no one in Jack’s world seemed to notice, or to care. They were so thrilled, as they should have been, that he was returning home to them for the winter. Whether Shiloh accompanied him or not was of no consequence.

In fact, when his parents, former missionaries in Uganda, had learned the two were looking for properties in Spain, they called them over to their house for a meeting. Shiloh would never forget it. The parents sat properly in their high-back seats at one end of the long room. At the other end sat Jack and his wife on the settee. 

Even before any questions came, it all felt very awkward. The older ones had their hands tented and were playing the role of ascendancy. The American stared at them with that familiar foreboding sense that overtook her in their presence. The interrogation, the harangue, began.

To spare the reader the frustration of their boring words, Shiloh was told that when she married Jack, she married his children; it was of no use to abandon them and run off to Spain. The two had a responsibility, and that was in England. In the back of Shiloh’s mind came the question her father asked her some months before, “While you are so busy trying to please Jack and his whole family there, who is taking care of you?” It burned in her mind. And it was with all certainty that Shiloh knew she had the right to take care of her own needs for once, and she needed to leave England. Even if Jack’s parents thought less of her than they already did.

Immediately after their departure to their new homeland, about a year after the aforementioned summons, Jack’s mother was in bed for seven weeks from depression for missing her son. The news came as a surprise to both Jack and Shiloh for two reasons. One, because his mother had scarcely a nurturing bone in her; she had feelings, after all. Two, because early in Jack’s parents’ marriage they abandoned their own homeland for Africa. How could they hold uprooting to Spain any different? They defending their thinking by responding that they had been called to do the Lord’s work in Africa, assuming the Lord hadn’t called Jack and Shiloh to Spain.

The guilt from the relocation had been spilling over Jack by the gallons. He could only blame Shiloh for his misery. The fact that she couldn’t live in the house he built made matters worse. Unemployment had surpassed 25% in Spain. Any miraculous job that could possibly be available most likely wouldn’t interest Jack or pay very well. It was easier just to take work back in England.

Four winters after Jack had begun returning to his old firm for contract work through the season, Shiloh was numb. Was it regret steaming her mind making her sight cloudy? She sat quietly on the bus that made its way slowly through town, city and countryside on its course to Marbella. Shiloh had been there before, and was imagining the surroundings along the coast in the upscale communities that surrounded it. Puerto Banús. Sotogrande. She tried to calm herself. To convince herself she and Jack were fitted for the job she was seeking, and worthy of it, to serve diplomats, lords and the filthy rich. What would the house look like? What about the man she was going to meet, who was going to interview her? Would he be kind? Humble? 

As she looked out the windowpane beyond her reflection and the sights rolling through from the other side, she wandered back in time, far beyond Spain, to her childhood.

How did she make her way so far from home? What brought her to that place in time as she sat there? Just thinking about it made her shiver.

Was she blessed or was she cursed?

She had advocates on both sides. Some revered her; some feared her. Whatever the case, she was not considered normal by anyone. In that moment, reviewing those two lists was not even on her mind. All she had were thoughts of her early childhood as she labored her way from past to present on the long, dusty trail.

If she didn’t have her sister, Emma, to relive her memories, she might not think they were real. Once or twice a year they had long talks on Skype filled with thoughts and events that would bring even the coldest heart to tears. Usually a long pause would come at the end of the call before they said their good-byes.

Shiloh thought of the only house she lived in until she married. The only garden that her little feet graced, where she played until sundown. The house that her parents built with the breezeway and sandbox, the pool she swam in as a toddler. The maple canopy bed she coveted in her sister’s bedroom with white and pink lace spilling all around.

Downstairs in the basement there was a long table with an enormous Hotwheels track. It was she and Emma’s favorite toy. Just thinking about the loss of it brought a pain to her chest and made her close her eyes. Was it to try and escape the memory or to search for it? Perhaps to look upon that play set as best she could remember, to take one more glimpse of it?

Her thoughts and the path of pain led her upstairs to a stark house with naked walls. Every picture removed. Not one piece of furniture remaining. She sat on one side of her mother, with Emma on the other side, each cradling her, weeping bitterly. It was the end of life in that upscale part of town. It was the end of the family.

As they lay broken, the two sisters could see their father outside in the car waiting for them through the giant window in the front room. It was time to tarry no further but to make their way out of that place. What was going on? What did her mother mean they weren’t going to live with their father anymore? Was it possible?

Where was he going? Who was going to kick the ball to them and chase them in the garden? Shiloh was trying to process it all as she got in the black, Toyota sedan. So many questions.  Now wasn’t the time for speaking. There was only silence. Long, dark silence that brought a gloom she had never tasted before.

It was bitter.

No one said a word. Was Emma grasping it better? Did she have the same questions?

Shiloh wanted desperately to know. Her eyes were round and big as she put her fingers onto the window as if she could touch what was outside. The neighborhoods they were passing through were unfamiliar. They seemed unclean. Unattended. Uncared for. And the people in them.

Why did the car suddenly stop? Why were her parents getting out? Wasn’t that the moving van that left their house now sitting in the same parking lot they had just entered?

Shiloh gulped in horror as she saw her father follow a scary looking man down a long, narrow sidewalk and hand a key to him. Her father stepped up two steps and opened the door. There were around ten units lining the row of townhouses and another ten directly across. Theirs sat in the middle.

Their father held the door open while Emma entered first and Shiloh came along with her mother grasping her hand firmly. Then came that awful moment. Her father stood with sad eyes, the tears now coming.

“I am leaving, girls,” he said lowly. His eyes were brown, almost black, and while they were generally full of kindness, they had only held sorrow as of late.

Shiloh looked up at her mother quickly. She was so beautiful. The suburbs of Chicago were no place for her. She belonged in Hollywood. All of Shiloh’s life, no one ever matched her mother’s style. Her father constantly reminded her, too, that he was disappointed she didn’t have her mother’s class.

No. Shiloh was an artist. Full of adventure. She was petite. Fragile. With eyes that flickered and almost appeared lavender, framed with coal eyelashes and hair to match that was always spilling over her face.

“Where are you going, daddy?” his daughters sadly asked.

“To stay with my parents until I find a job and a place of my own.”

“A job?” questioned Shiloh. He already had a job. He was the most successful nightclub owner on the Fox River.

“Shut up, Shiloh!” Emma tried to say quietly, but was unable to cap her annoyance.

Her father looked down in shame. It wouldn’t be for years that she would learn her mother spent all his money, didn’t pay any bills and that is the reason they lost the house. And his business. That was the straw that broke the marriage. Rafa couldn’t look at Sophia anymore without contention or a deep loathing.

“Shiloh,” he firmly replied, “now isn’t the time. What you must decide is if you are going to stay with your mom or come with me.”

What? What was he saying? She looked at her mother strangely. “Come with me, darling,” her mother coaxed. 

Shiloh looked at Emma for guidance. Emma withdrew, tipped her chin to her chest looking up with the biggest frown. She had rosy, puffy cheeks. They were drooping now, along with her big, blue eyes.

“I can take care of you, sweetheart,” assured her father. 

“You are better with me,” said their mother.

Emma and Shiloh looked back and forth, listening to their parents. Who should they believe?

Shiloh could not remember how things came to pass. Without hesitation, though, Emma moved carefully to her father, taking refuge behind his leg and cleaving to it, peering out at her mother. Shiloh did the same.

She had no recollection of the words exchanged after that, if there was animosity or threats made. It all became a blur. As it happened, Shiloh and Emma moved in with their mother and were reduced to seeing their father once a week, on Sundays.

Life all but stopped. The sisters no longer had a bedroom to themselves. They had to share a room, as well as a bed. Emma snored, kicked the covers, tossed and turned. She wanted the bed to herself. That was what she was used to.

Shiloh was afraid to be in the dark on her own; she wanted the comfort of her sister. She wanted Emma to tell her stories and help her fall asleep. To giggle again. For her and Emma to take their pillows, place them under the door jam, and fall fast asleep like they used to whenever their parents entertained, to hear the hustle and bustle, the sound of clinging wine glasses amongst chatter. 

Friday night was the worst. Cartoons were on at 6am, and Shiloh thought mornings were never going to arrive. Emma used to say, “If you roll your head on your pillow from side to side, morning comes faster!” Then she would demonstrate, soon falling asleep.

Shiloh came to a decision that what her sister suggested was impossible. She tried it time and again. When there was no success, she would keep rolling her head faster and faster, even to the point of it looking almost violent. Her frustration would build, as well as her agitation. The night dragged on relentlessly. Mornings never came faster. Shiloh could find no rest. It would be years before Shiloh stopped seeking her sister’s council.

Shiloh’s thoughts jumped to a time while living in that dingy townhouse when she and Emma dressed like gypsies. They climbed a dirt mound on a building site by their home and were casting spells on people at random. It could have been someone driving by in a car or passing on the sidewalk at a distance across the street. It could have been a neighbor in the garden or checking their mailbox. Pretending to hold magic whistles and play songs, they wiggled, danced and paraded about as they played.

Their older neighbor, Eileen, began the silliness. How had she conjured up the idea? Soon after, she went inside to eat leaving them to look silly on their own. Eileen was not a nice girl. She was big, mean and selfish. She was demanding, too; things were always the way she wanted them. She was always the teacher or the one deciding what dolls they were going to play with or choosing the music they listened to. 

Shiloh always wanted to listen to Donny Osmond. But if Eileen didn’t want to, they certainly wouldn’t. On her own, though, Shiloh could put on one of his albums whenever she wanted, without having to battle over it. She would drift away trying to imagine his world.

“They are Mormons,” her mother used to say, speaking of Donny and his famous brothers.

“What’s a Mormon?” Shiloh wanted to know. The conversation came up one day as they were riding around in the car with their aunt Karen. Shiloh and Emma had just been given the latest Osmond Brothers LP and were holding it, looking it over. They giggled at the sight of the five brothers parading about in their while suits before white, billowy clouds and blue sky.

Her mother gave them the brief on Mormons that day. It had something to do with religion. That was all Shiloh could comprehend. She was trying to make sense of all her mother was saying.

“The song, ‘Let My People Go’ is taken from the Ten Commandments and Moses.”

“Who is Moses?” asked Emma.

“Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.”

“Why? What is an Israelite?” they asked, more confused than when the conversation began.

“Someone from Israel,” their mother replied. 

“Where is Israel?” they asked.

“Israel is in the Middle East. A place of constant chaos! Has been for thousands of years. It’s the oldest land in the world.”

Shiloh and Emma were quiet as they tried to imagine such a place. It sounded so mysterious.

Their aunt Karen chuckled as she drove her old, butter-colored, Chevy with a black crop-top. The girls considered her their coolest and favorite aunt. It was approaching her 30th birthday. She had long since left her drunk and abusive first husband and was single again. “Tell them more, Sophia,” Karen quipped, amusing herself.

“Well,” continued Sophia, turning around occasionally to address them, “Israel and Egypt are lands far away. They are very old. Life began there. And there was a bad ruler who stole the Israelis from their land. God told the ruler to set the people free, but he wouldn’t. There is a movie about it. You must watch it one day.”

“So, Donny Osmond wrote a song about it?” Shiloh asked.

Her mother and aunt laughed out loud. Why was that funny? “Kind of. I guess the song is supposed to be similar to that story in time, only, it is about the Mormons and how they wanted to be let go and practice their own faith.”

“Their own faith? What does that mean?”

“Uh, if we believe in God. That God created us, even though he is invisible,” Sophia struggled to reply. She strived to find the words to explain. It had been years since her catechism class in the Lutheran church.

“Yeah. That Mormon men can have many wives,” added Karen. The two were chuckling again, knowing they had foiled the subject of religion, but caring nothing of it. 

So this was Shiloh’s recollection of the introduction to God for her and her sister. That was Religion 101. Nevertheless, Shiloh was suddenly intrigued with the idea of God, perhaps not this Mormonism thingy, or the parading brothers in all white. Surely there was more to God than that. Her eyes fixated on the album cover with the utmost curiosity.

Emma was grinning beside her as if to read her mind. Even then, the whole thing was so cheesy to her. She did not know what to make of it all, either, religion, God, Mormonism, bad rulers. Even so, she loved the Osmonds. Together, sitting there in the back seat of the convertible with the top down, cruising about through life with the wind in their hair, she and Shiloh sang out the chorus of a song on the LP again and again, “Let my people go…nanana…let my people go!”

Emma and Shiloh embraced the pop star brothers the entire duration they lived in that apartment complex, between two and three years. The memories were returning to Shiloh bit by bit; there were not many worth recalling. She would rather not remember the times her mother would shout at the television or the airplanes flying above her, telling her daughters “they” were looking for her.

Who were “they”?

Whoever they were, they were coming for Sophia. She would run about the townhouse in a frenzy, clinching her fists, shaking them out the window. One day Sophia ran up the stairs, crazed, holding a candelabra. A Cessna was flying overhead and Sophia was cursing at it, telling it to get away. 

“Get away from me!” she shouted. “Go on! Away! Leave me alone! You can’t have me! Dirty bastards!” She paid no attention to her girls. Not even to Emma running behind her in tears.

“What is wrong, mom! What is wrong! There is no one there. Just a plane!” The eight-year old tried to plead with her mother.

Shiloh backed off, frightened. She was in shock. The blistering sound of shattering glass scarred Shiloh ever after as her mother launched the candelabra out the window as if to hit the plane going over.

Emma and Shiloh screamed and then cowered. 

Who came to the rescue? Did the neighbors? Did she or Emma phone Sophia’s family? Their father? Shiloh grasped for the answer in the recesses of her mind but could not find it. Emma would know. She remembered so much more than Shiloh. For now, there would be no telling.

Shiloh did recall that she and her sister were taken to their grandma’s, the mother of their mother. She felt so out of place there, so unwelcomed. It was one of the longest weeks of her life. She could discern at the dinner table that the words about her mother were not kind, but she was too young to comprehend. The entire situation was out of her control.

It was so difficult to be young. Her desire to be grown-up was so severe, to get out of the youth that trapped her. Shiloh thought as an adult, she could be away from people she didn’t like, from places she didn’t want to be. Never again would she have to eat things she didn’t want to eat. Or subject herself to things that made her ill. Never having set her eyes upon a palm tree or the ocean or the seashore with the wonderful stench of fish upon the misty sea air, this would be the first place she would run to as soon as she was able. She could escape her present reality and create an entirely new one. 

“Where’s my dad?” she asked her grandma.

Her grandma was small and round with big, blue eyes that held a fury. She was very direct and disapproving of Shiloh, her mother and their life. Grandma Hitvany had been primed for life by surviving two world wars and the great depression amongst the impoverished. Her father was one of the casualties on October 29, Black Tuesday. After losing ten of thousands in the Wall Street crash, he jumped out of his office window on Wacker Drive in Chicago. The old woman knew sorrow, suffering, sharing and responsibility at a young age. She also carried a chip on her shoulder that her children and her grandchildren didn’t have a real gratitude for what they had been given. Life was too easy. “He is at work. I am looking after you while your mother is in the hospital.”

Shiloh wanted desperately to know when her mother would be released, and to her grandmother’s annoyance, asked more than once a day. Grandma Hitvany was abrupt with the girl and would get on with the household chores, working around the child, ignoring her. She didn’t know when Sophia would be released, or what was going on with her in the mental ward. All she could think about was how much her oldest child had put her through.

Sophia was a shy, timid and unconfident little girl all the while growing up. It wasn’t until she began dating her first husband that she became a rebel and had a real craft at finding trouble. She eloped and moved away to Topeka, Kansas when her husband was given his first assignment after he made it through boot camp in the Air Force. She borrowed a bit of money to help with the finances from the move. And Jackie, her younger sister, was constantly back and forth from Aurora to Topeka to keep her sister company. This both irritated their mother and made her envious.

Mr. And Mrs. Hitvany smelled trouble all through the stormy relationship with Sophia and Rex and were not surprised to find out just how often he had been unfaithful to her. Even though the young couple eloped straight out of high school, Sophia’s parents were broken hearted when the two divorced. They were even more broken hearted when ten years later Sophia married a Mexican. Her parents never let her forget it. 

In Gertrude Hitvany’s mind, it mattered not to her when or if her daughter was ever released from the psychiatric unit.

Emma just kept eating gingersnaps.

“You like those, don’t you Emma,” said the grandma in a softer tone through her giggle. Why were the people in Shiloh’s mother’s family so much nicer to Emma? Was it because she looked more like them? Fair-complected. Blue eyes. Dishwater blond hair. Was Shiloh a constant reminder of her mother’s failure, disobedience, and lack of consideration to her white-supremacist parents?

Shiloh was dark like her father and the Spanish blood that ran through him also ran through her veins. “You mean, my mommy might never get out of the hospital? Is she so sick? I don’t understand,” she whined, not wanting to move on from that conversation. Her hair, parted at the side, draped across one eye like it always did. She was looking up through it.

“That is why she is there right now, Shiloh,” said the grandpa butting in, “to find out how sick she is.” He spoke so unbothered, only looking up at Shiloh briefly with indifference from his chair with his fingers tented, rolling his thumbs. His attention was drawn back to what was out the window. “Almost pheasant hunting season. Almost.” He continued to rock back and forth with ease.

Shiloh noted that he always wore flannel shirts this time of year with sturdy boots. She kept her observations to herself, turning toward Emma to see she if she was still eating cookies. Shiloh wanted her mother to be well. She wanted to see her parents together and go back into her old house, her old bed.

Some days later her father appeared at the door. What was the news? Where was her mother? The girls raced over to him at first sight. In turn they each jumped up and he gathered them into his arms, kissing them.

Rafael informed her parents that Sophia would be released the next day, and he would go and pick her up. Mrs. Hitvany was unimpressed. It had only been a week. How could they let the paranoid woman out so soon? She was in total disbelief that the doctors had found nothing wrong with her. What else could explain such scattered thinking? Gertrude Hitvany gave neither time nor consideration to answer her own question. The whole while, it was in her midst, but she was too self-absorbed.

It was she and her husband that had to commit Sophia. The word of Rafael wasn’t enough, as the couple was separated. Rafa had to involve them; they signed their daughter into custody of the hospital without hesitation.

Standing there in the kitchen doting on both his sweet daughters, Rafa was melting; he was also heart broken. He would soon have to leave them again. The whole event was so bittersweet. 

Addressing Sophia’s parents, he was speaking over his girls as if they couldn’t hear, didn’t understand or weren’t there. Shiloh was extremely sensitive. She felt so unimportant. 

Here we must stop to note that Shiloh was being overtaken by her painful past. She didn’t want to be overwhelmed by so much melancholy. Although it was difficult, for there were not so many nice memories to file through and pick from, Shiloh strained to find something in her past more pleasant to think of, still in the long attempt to answer the brooding questions she was deliberating over.

She was drawn back to the moment in the schoolyard when she was on the swing beside her best friend, Crissy, being pushed by the two most popular boys in class. Jim Clock was the one attending her. He was laughing with a friend on his left and then suddenly bellowed out, “Shiloh! Do you want to marry me after school?”

“Today?” She said as if it were a normal affair. She was all of age seven.

“Yeah! I’ll come by and call for you.” He seemed serious. He had large, oval, blue eyes and a kind smile. They had a lot in common. Speed Racer was their favorite cartoon. For Shiloh, this was just a hair ahead of Josey and the Pussycats and Mighty Mouse.

She looked to her friend and giggled as she swooped down on the swing.

“Is he serious?” her friend questioned in a stern mode.

Shiloh loved Crissy. She thought she was beautiful with her long hair. They often competed to see whose was longer. Shiloh used to say it was hers, though she knew it was dishonest. One day in class they each put their cheeks on their desktops, letting the locks drop toward the floor. It was more than obvious that Crissy’s hair was nearer the floor, only inches away. Upon seeing this, Shiloh dropped her head off the table, lowering it to let her hair drop as close to the ground as Crissy’s. She was cheating. No one had longer hair than Crissy. There the two sat on the swings, their hair swishing forward and then back as they swang.

“Okay! Let’s get married! Come on over. But I’ll have to ask my mom.” Crissy sat beside her best friend, mouth to the ground, totally stupefied. Were they really going to get married after school? What had overcome the two? Had they liked each other so much, and Shiloh held it a secret all the while? It was news to Crissy. She frowned, slowing down the speed of her swing. Looking over at her naïve friend, watching her bubble with enthusiasm, smiling upon her with such delight, her heart softened. No. Certainly this was all just a whim; Shiloh kept no secrets from her. And she was overcome with joy herself, seeing her friend so happy. 

It wasn’t long after recess that Shiloh waved good-bye to Crissy, found herself on the school bus and took a seat beside he sister. Shiloh anxiously sat there until it was time to get off the bus. She wanted so desperately to blurt out her secret. But she knew she mustn’t!

When they stepped off the bus, she was so giddy, she wasn’t being as cautious as her sister in trying to avoid the mud patches and puddles. The result was a thick blanket of mud gathering on her soles. But she hadn’t a care; her heart was delighted so much that she just had to skip along. She wanted Emma to skip with her, too. “Emma! Emma! Guess what! I’m getting married soon!”

Emma gave a thousand eye-rolls and shook her upper lip. “What are you talking about now, Shiloh?”

“Jim Clock asked me to marry him! He is coming over for the ceremony soon. He said he would bring some friends.”

Shiloh and Emma came home from school to find their mother resting in bed. The warmth of the sun was beaming upon her languid face. “Mom? How are you?” asked Emma.

“I am okay,” she replied, unconvincingly.

Emma turned to her sister who was standing in the doorway. “I don’t think you’re gonna get married today, Shiloh,” she said shaking her head with regret, sensing her mother was in no good spirit.

“What?” said Sophia, lifting her head slightly. 

Emma couldn’t help but chuckle mockingly. The idea was so ridiculous. “Shiloh is getting married to Jim Clock today.” She spoke it so matter-of-factly, all the while knowing her mother would not take to the idea.

“No, she isn’t!” Sophia hollered in complete disbelief at such nonsense. Then she lay her head back down, exhausted from the weariness of raising two daughters alone.

“Oh! Please, please!” begged Shiloh, preparing to be broken-hearted.

“No. You’re not marrying anyone today. You are only seven years old!”

Emma, who was only eight herself, stared at her mother giving her a glance of reason. She sent mental messages to her. “She is not REALLY getting married, mom,” she thought, hoping her mother could hear.

But Sophia was too tired to reason. “Come, take a nap with me and then I’ll cook us a nice dinner.” Sophia, like her mother, was an excellent amateur chef. In fact, all the girls in her family cooked well: her two sisters, her mother, her mother’s mother from England. Emma had a real appreciation for her mother’s food. But not Shiloh. Shiloh was fussy. If it weren’t from a can, she wouldn’t eat it.

“Please, momma!” Shiloh pleaded weakly, knowing her one last attempt at asking was futile.

“No, Shiloh,” sighed her mother.

The girls lay down on either side. About ten minutes later the doorbell rang. “Uh! It’s Jim! He came! He really came!” squealed Shiloh sitting up, giggling.

Emma was amused, too. “Mom,” she said in a pleading voice.

“No! Don’t even answer the door. And hush.” Sophia brushed her tired brow with her slender fingers. Her extremely long, hot-pink fingernails led the way. Was young Shiloh really planning a wedding?

The knock was persistent, growing louder. Voices were becoming more elevated and distinguishable.

“Oh my head! It’s Greg! Greg Clock is here! He is so cute!” gasped Emma. “I can’t believe Greg Clock is at our house…and I can’t answer the door!” Now she was really feeling Shiloh’s pain. 

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Emma! Go answer the door. Tell whoever is there Shiloh is not coming out.”

Emma looked at her mom strangely as she popped up from the bed and high-tailed it out the door, asking as she fled, “Okay, mom, but why not?” If there came a response, Emma could not hear it.

Shiloh fine-tuned her ears to hear every word. She imagined how cute the groom must have been standing at the door. Did he bring flowers? Was he dressed up? She wasn’t delusional by expecting him to be wearing a tux, but did he dress for the occasion?

Emma answered the door to find Jim, and his cousin Greg along with three girls she didn’t recognize, perhaps because they were younger than she and Shiloh.

She held a long gaze upon Greg as he spoke up. “Hi, I’m Jim’s cousin, Greg, and I am here to perform the wedding ceremony.” Greg was tall with shoulder-length, blond, loose curls, two years her elder. There was no doubt that he would one day grow and woo the ladies.

Even then Emma had fluttering eyes. “I know who you are,” she flirted. He grinned valiantly, pleased with himself. Emma stood there in disbelief. There stood Greg Clock ready to perform her sister’s wedding. She was so excited. How could her mother deny this moment in time?

Shiloh was listening. Her heart was racing. She didn’t want to reveal it to a soul. Staring down at her annoyed mother with her hair hanging across one eye, trying to distract her thoughts, to relieve the heartache, she said, “Mom, I think Emma has a crush on Greg Clock! We hardly ever see him, though. He is older. In a different class.”

Sophia observed her youngest daughter. Her heart was melting. The child was so sweet, naïve of life. Shiloh had no idea of all the things her mother suffered alongside her. She had no idea of her mother’s past. Would Shiloh one day understand it all? Would she ever know how her mother became so jaded? How she got so hard and full of paranoia? But Sophia had a tender side, too, though it didn’t make frequent appearances.

Whatever hesitations Sophia had had vanished. She found the strength to sit up. Her platinum-blond hair lit from the sunlight that was making its way through the upstairs window. Shiloh thought even her worn-out mother was glamorous in her tight, polyester brown slacks and striped top.

“Shiloh,” Sophia smiled, “Why don’t you go ahead and go outside and play. But no honeymoon, do you understand?” she gently remarked.

Shiloh’s eyes lit up. How beautiful the grey tone suddenly turned to lavender, offset by her thick, black eyelashes. Was it true? In an instant she had permission to marry Jim Clock? “Really, momma? Really?”

“Yes. But be back before dark…and don’t go far!”

Just as Emma was telling the groom the sad news, Shiloh bolted down the stairs in her sweet, white flock with tiny, blue tulips. “Hi, Jim!” She was delighted and her whole body told of it.

Jim’s mouth dropped to the floor. His eyes grew big. He couldn’t help himself. He began to stammer, “Sh-sh-Shiloh, you-you look b-beautiful.”

“Thanks, Jim,” she said in a normal tone, pretending not to notice he was stammering, not wanting him to feel afraid. She reached out to grab the dandelions and blue wildflowers that Jim had gathered on the way.

Greg looked on, thinking them both silly. He could not see the attraction. “Okay. Let’s get started. Where shall we go?”

“Let’s go in the garage. There won’t be any cars in there, because people are still at work,” said Emma, again matter-of-factly. She led the way, excited by all the commotion. 

There the seven of them stood in the huge, empty garage block with room for six cars. Greg faced the crowd, with the bride and groom in the front row, facing Greg. Shiloh never remembered what it was that Greg was saying. It was all a slow-motion blur. She was so full of happiness, holding Jim’s hand. She was also full of fear. Was Greg going to say, “You may kiss the bride”? Would Jim? Would the marriage be legal if she refused? Yikes was the one word to describe how she was feeling. “I’m only seven!” she reminded herself.

Nothing the one leading the ceremony said was registering. Nothing, that was, until Greg said those words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife. Jim, you may kiss the bride.”

“WHAT!” exclaimed Shiloh. Just as Jim turned to kiss her, she bolted.

“But I am supposed to kiss you now,” he frowned, a bit surprised by her sudden distance.

“YOU HAVE TO!” laughed Greg. “Go get her!” he blurted to Jim.

As the sound of his cousin’s prompting, Jim set out after her without delay. Her legs were moving fast. 

“What are you doing, Shiloh?” said Emma in disgust wishing it were her own wedding day with a certain someone in mind. She was on the heels of Greg. Emma knew her sister wouldn’t get far, being asthmatic. She chuckled at the thought of her silly sister thinking she could escape.

Shiloh ran to a gully that separated the apartment complex from the factory beside them with thoughts of running into the forest behind the house. No sooner did she get to the gully than she tripped over a stone. She laughed nervously; she knew Jim was upon her.

“Kiss me!”

“But I’m afraid!” she confessed.

“Really? I’m not!” he replied, raising his brows, “I’ve been looking forward to it all day!”

Emma giggled. Her cheeks flushed. She looked out of the corner of her eye at Greg. The young girl cousins laughed hysterically, barely able to comprehend what was taking place.

Jim moved closer towards Shiloh. He puckered up, but not too much or too over-the-top. Before she knew it, it was done. Over. The moment came and went. It didn’t hurt. Was no big deal. Kind-of fun, in fact. 

Jim stood up and turned to realize everyone had been watching. He felt embarrassed, but that feeling soon vanished as they all continued to run around playing for a bit longer. Soon the bride and groom were separated. Darkness was coming upon them. He promised to call on her the next day. His blue, oval eyes revealed his satisfaction of the afternoon events.

Little was said to their mother at dinner. She asked some basic questions but got generic or vague answers. Questions like “Did you get married? Did you get kissed? Did you like it? When will you meet again?” Sophia knew straight away that she was stepping into forbidden territory. Though the intrigue was nearly bursting through her, she refrained from asking any more questions. 

Unable to sleep due the overflowing warmth from inside her, Shiloh Garcia replayed that afternoon over and over again. She was married. Was that what marriage was suppose to feel like? 

Crissy was pleased to find out that Jim Clock and Shiloh were married; she was also pleased that marriage hadn’t changed her friend one bit. When the next afternoon came, both Jim and Greg arrived to the Garcia’s after school. Emma and Shiloh joined them outside as they all rode their bikes around the blacktop. “Jim,” Shiloh said, “I think I wasn’t very cooperative yesterday. I think we should kiss again.”

To her great surprise, Jim looked shocked. “No way!” he retorted. “No way!”

Why not? She wondered. She stared at him blankly, shrugging her shoulders.

He motioned for Greg to follow him. The two rode quickly off, side by side.

“Where are you going?” she asked in bewilderment.

“HOME!”

“But, why? I thought we were married?”

“Well, consider yourself DIVORCED!” and away they went. Just like that. Just like that, she was married. She was divorced. The two rarely spoke to each other again.

Shiloh, however, liked the idea of being married. A few days later in class, she proposed to her neighbor, Marcus Tescala. He accepted, though thinking it odd. He was not at all enthused, either. Shiloh dreamed about what his kiss might be like with his thick, pink lips. 

“Meet me on the mound by our house after school,” she directed. Shiloh did not tell anyone about her next wedding. Not even Emma. It was going to be a small, private affair.

Shiloh waited. And she waited. Fed up with standing on the mound watching for him to come out his house, she finally gave up and knocked on his door. Marcus answered. Half hanging on the door, very shyly he told her, “I cannot marry you today, Shiloh. My mom won’t let me.”

“You told your mom?” she said in disgust, her shoulders dropping. He shut the door. She walked to her bicycle and circled up and down the sidewalk, hoping his mother would change her mind like her mom did. As the darkness fell, she stopped riding and stared into his apartment. She could see him practicing guitar, his mother standing over him. Marcus wasn’t coming out.