This story is by Roxanne Adams Holcomb and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“What’s with your friend?” I asked my twin brother, referring to the guy with the attitude with whom he was building the hunting cabin. I’d never met the guy before and he made some snide remark about not getting my new shoes dirty. I’d just thrown out a dilapidated pair of Salomoms and was wearing these new hiking boots to break them in while I was at home.
“What’d you mean, Sis?”
I was visiting my brother, Curt, for the first time in two years – the longest stretch of time we’d ever been apart. I’d finished grad school and a highly stressful, somewhat dangerous position in Philadelphia. I flew straight from Philly to Luxembourg to backpack Europe for a year and now I was back in the Blue Ridge for several weeks.
My brother had this building project a few miles off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I was tagging along to spend time with him. I woke up, made coffee, packed us a lunch and announced that I was his step-and-fetch man for the day.
Our parents had moved to a retirement village in Alabama and Curt bought their house. Mom and Dad just kind of lived to become empty-nesters. Not having nurturing parents might be what helped to form mine and Curt’s bond and loyalty toward one another.
During the course of the day I kept up with handing the guys tools and supplies, but a mean bout of cramps was settling in, and it was a damp, raw day. When I wasn’t helping them, I rested on a Beech stump and mindlessly watched them measure and cut until I realized it wasn’t mindless. They were about to cut a board a foot short.
“Hey guys; you’re a foot short with that board.”
“We didn’t have to go to college to learn to build a house.”
What is his problem? What a jerk. Now I realize where I am in his pea brain…I’m a silly college girl.
“I don’t know dude; she’s pretty smart,’ Curt shot back. ‘Let’s just measure it again.” Well how about that! Curt just called me smart instead of smart-ass for the first time in our lives.
In my mind I jumped, fist-punched the air and danced around them when they re-measured and were…you got it! A foot short. In reality, I sat quietly, inspecting my freshly manicured nails and let the moment linger.
That was how those first few days went. This guy was really pleasant when he wasn’t insulting me; I even liked his old-school playlist, (Neil Young, The Band, Jet, Tracy Chapman, Keb’Mo’) but he obviously had an issue with me being on the job site. Too bad. I was spending time with my brother before I had to take off again.
Leaving these hills again is something I was not looking forward to. I’d take the misty, cold days in these woods before a warm sunny day anywhere else. Standing on the top of this property, gazing into that ridge of mountains in every shade of blue made me grateful that Curt was able to carve out a life for himself here, that he wouldn’t have to leave to be able to support himself. And I could always come home to visit.
On Friday night when Curt and I were getting into his F-150 Roy called over from his Toyota Tundra, “You stopping over at Buck’s for a beer later?”
“Sure. See you about 9,” Curt called back. The poor guy didn’t know that when Curt and I are together, we’re a package deal. Where’d he come from anyway? He’s not a local and has a watered-down southern accent, probably Florida.
I have a problem with minding my own business. It’s just in me to people-watch…their eyes, body language, clothes, how they carry themselves. I was into my fourth beer when I kept watching this young woman, maybe too young to be drinking; although, she wasn’t drinking. But something was going on. Something I’m not used to seeing in these hills, but I’ve seen plenty of in Philly. She was with two men, wasted, maybe heroin, and she was not making the decisions for herself.
“You want another?”
“He asked you if you want another beer.” Curt said.
“Yeah, no. I’m good.”
I kept my eyes on the trio and the girl was being treated like a rag doll. And then, there it was. The money carefully came out and an exchange was about to go down. I slipped a note to the bartender to have our Sheriff Tommy come with two squad cars, four cops.
Without a thought, I was off of the stool and had my hand on her arm. “She’s not going anywhere.” The man ready to hand over the money did an exit-stage-right. He wasn’t sticking around to find out how this was going to end.
“You best mind your own business little girl.”
I caught a glimpse of Curt and Roy standing close by and gave Curt a subtle shake of my head to let him know to back off. This could get uglier than it had to if they got involved.
“Human trafficking is my business big boy.”
He took a step toward me and I took one toward him. “This is the deal here, Gomer. If you don’t take yourself out of here right now, all of these people will see a big boy like you get your ass kicked by a little girl; and I promise you, I will hurt you. The cops should be here right about…Hey Tommy!” I gave Tommy the lowdown as the creep was cuffed and being ushered outside. I asked him to get the girl over to the hospital for the night. Tomorrow I’d arrange a transport for her to a rehab, if she’d go.
Monday morning was a bit different with Mr. Critical. Right out’a the gate, he was different. He was even shaved, hair combed and was wearing a brand-spanking new flannel, with manufacturer’s fold marks still in it. “So…are you trained in some martial arts or something? I mean, what would have happened if he’d hit you?”
“Well, you’d be building this place by yourself. Curt and I would have gotten our behinds handed to us. Yeah, we’d be in traction. My legs were shaking so hard, I thought they’d give out.”
“You mean…you were all talk?”
“All talk. Thankfully he’s watched too much TV and believed me; no big lug like him wants to chance being beat up by a 5’5″ 125 lb. girl.”
“What happened to the girl?”
“She called her parents when she woke up, and they came to get her. She ran away last week and that scumbag was at the station just looking for a poor lost soul to rescue. She’ll probably need to spend some time in rehab and therapy.”
That Thursday after work Roy was wiping down and putting away his tools and said to only me, “You wanna go into Floyd, listen to some music and get some dinner tomorrow night?”
And that’s how it happened. Curt and Roy sold the cabin and started on another build and Roy and I got married a year later. We bought a farm outside of Rocky Mount and restored the farmhouse on weekends. Now our twin boys tag along on the work sites on their days off school. Roy, indeed, is from Florida, a lovely town called Winter Park. His mama said that he came out of the womb an outdoorsman who belonged in the mountains. He loves us like nobody’s busines.
I helped establish a retreat home for young girls who have been trafficked. I work there two days a week.
But that’s not all that happened. Unbeknownst to us, Curt couldn’t get that little brunette off of his mind. He made up some cockamamie story about finding her watch and got old Mrs. Bittle at the hospital to give him her parent’s number. I mean…who wears a watch these days? Curt patiently cultivated a friendship with Madeline while she worked through some hard stuff. She began to trust again as Curt visited her every Friday night and all day Sundays. They went back to church together. Madeline’s a lovely, intelligent girl who is one of those naturals at everything that has to do with making a house a home. She’s taught me a lot. Madeline has made Curt a very happy man by becoming his wife. Curt respects and admires her in the most tender way, while honoring her as his partner in marriage. They are expecting baby girl Charlotte in the fall.
All has not been perfect. Life has its way of humbling you. We’ve been through some difficulties together as a family. The rewards of our trials have knit us together in the sweetest of ways. Despite what life throws at us, our boys and Charlotte will grow up knowing the security and comfort that nurturing parents provide.