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The Lock Box

Posted on Tue Jun 7th, 2022 @ 2:15pm by Addy Stone

Mission: The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Weysmith Farm, Sweethome
Timeline: Mission Day 10 at 1300

The side door to the farmhouse had a failing piston. It was meant to close slow-like, giving the entrant time to come into the kitchen. Instead it banged shut if you didn’t guide it back gently, threatening to catch your heel if you didn’t keep moving.

“Watch the damned door boy,” Hank Weysmith growled from where he sat at the farm’s large kitchen table as the slap of aluminum against wood cracked through the space. His expression was pained, more annoyed than angry.

Thumbs tucked into his pockets, Peter stopped just shy of the table. He’d learned a long time ago not to give away anything. No weakness. No reaction at all was best. So his face remained blank at his father’s use of the term boy. He’d hated it before, but more so now that Addy was gone. He was the eldest and set to inherit the farm. Could hardly be considered a boy anymore at 22.

“Fan belt’s frayed and needs replacing on the planter,” he informed Hank simply. “Gonna ride into town for a replacement.”

“Shit,” was Hank’s response, one hand running back through already unkempt sweaty hair. Mid-day was hardly the time to find any of the Weysmith family at their cleanest. Both men had been up since sun up at their chores. Addy’s departure had been a rude awakening for Juliet who was also somewhere about the farm working. She’d been learning the ropes a few years, but with two elder siblings well into the running of the farm she’d gotten more reprieve than they had. Now she found herself thrown into things and Peter thought she was far from well suited for the work. Another thing he needed to bring up with his father.

“Get it out of the lock box,” Hank said resignedly. “Can’t be without the planter.” He fished a key out of his pocket and held it out to Peter.

Peter’s carefully neutral facade almost broke at that. Almost. The lock box was a black hole so far as the Weysmith siblings were concerned. Even Addy had never been given permission to access the box on her own. They’d used to joke that their father kept secret riches in the lock box. Gold. Rubies. Diamonds. Each time they told each other the story the treasure got wilder.

Rough worn hands accepted the key and Peter pocketed it quickly, not waiting to make his way back into the house.

“You bring that key right back, you hear?” Hank called over his shoulder, not bothering to look at his son as he left the room.

The lock box itself was tucked in his parents’ closet in their bedroom. Peter had been in the room only rarely. That was a space for his parents as far as he was concerned and ‘side from his siblings being the obvious product of some amorous activities he didn’t care to think about what went on in there outside of sleep.

The box was just big enough to hold the important things. Papers like the deed to the farm. Birth certificates and the like. And the cash that Hank Weysmith kept on hand for moments such as this. Peter resisted the urge to flip through the papers. His fingers itched to look at the deed itself, curious about the aged yellowing document. He found the envelope with the money quickly and counted out what he expected he’d need.

As he moved to put it back, though, he froze. Beneath the envelope was a rubber band-wrapped stack of envelopes, the one on top was addressed to Addy and, from the look of it, had been through hell and back to get to her. Curiosity won over sense and Peter pulled the stack out, carefully unwinding the rubber band and thumbing through the whole pile. There had to be at least 20, maybe 30 letters in the bundle. Every one inscribed with Addy’s name and not a one appearing to come from the same location.

It was a moment before the thought connected with memory. The boy from Deadwood. Addy’d been preoccupied with him for years. Peter, himself, only barely remembered the man. He’d been 12 at the time he was on the farm and was more distracted by the goofy look and strange mannerisms of his sister who’d never so much as batted an eye at a boy before then. But she’d received no letters. None that Peter could recall, at least, and that was hardly a thing Addy would have kept to herself.

Feeling like he was trespassing on something private, Peter pulled the first letter from its envelope, eyes skimming just long enough to confirm. A sick feeling of suspicion twisted in his gut. This. This was the man Addy had left to find. This was why she was gone.

Shoving the other papers and the money envelope back into the lockbox roughly, Peter turned the key and yanked it. He pushed the box roughly back into its place and then, letters and money for the fan belt in hand, he hurried back downstairs, boots thundering through the wood boards.

“Sound like a herd of–” Hank started to say, the same annoyance in his tone, as he turned to find Peter back in the doorway of the kitchen. He stopped when he saw Peter’s face, his own turning stony and cold. Dark eyes dropped to Peter’s hands where he clutched the stack of letters and his lips pressed into a thin line.

“You got something to say to me boy?” he asked before Peter could even manage to formulate his thoughts.

By the time he’d reached the kitchen Peter had a full head of angry steam running. All these years. All this time and Addy hadn’t been wrong after all. How many times had their father told her that this boy was dead or had deserted her? How many times knowing full well that wasn’t the case. He wanted to refute it. To find some explanation, but his brain could find none.

“Addy hasn’t seen these, has she?” he finally asked, holding the letters up.

“No,” Hank said simply. “She has not.”

Something in Peter cracked then, splintering at the sheer unapologetic gall of the man before him. “Why?” he said, anger lacing his tone. “Why would you keep these from her?”

“Didn’t need the distraction,” Hank said simply. “We had plans and Addy was part of ‘em. Some poor soldier boy bats his eyes at her and she’s putty in his hands. Ain’t no use to the family with her like that. So she never saw ‘em.”

“But he’s alive?” Peter asked, incredulous. “You told her he was dead.”

“I said likely dead,” Hank said matter-of-factly. “Very well could have been true. The letters stopped coming shortly after the war anyway. Mayhap he’s dead now.”

“This is why she left, Pop. You know that. She left looking for him.” Peter’s eyes were wide with the disbelief he felt, the lines of his face usually so carefully neutral frozen in his anger. “She’s gone ‘cause you didn’t let her sort this herself.”

Hank held his son’s gaze, unapologetic, the way a parent might look at a toddler who was throwing a tantrum over a broken toy. “She’ll return and we’ll sort it from there. Maybe he’s dead. Maybe he’s alive. Maybe she does find him. He’s not going to want her after she didn’t come to him years ago. Been ten years of her not answering him.” Whether Hank was as certain as his words seemed was unclear, but there wasn’t so much as a waver in the way he said it. “She’ll return,” he said again simply and then shrugged.

For a long moment Peter stood there, letters in hand, struck dumb by the sheer hubris of it. “You’re an idiot,” he finally said, voice low and quiet with the storm that threatened to break in him.

Hank’s demeanor was a picture of certainty. He had turned away from Peter almost dismissively, returning to what he had been doing at the table. His tone, though, was deadly calm. “Say that again boy and we’ll see if you can still speak when you’re done.”

He meant it too. Peter knew it. Hank Weysmith’d never hit his kids before. But he had a breaking point for sure and certain and this, Peter thought, might be it.

When his son said nothing further Hank spoke again, the same deadly calm in his tone. “How’s about you be the keeper of those letters then. You can give ‘em to her when she returns. You’ve got to step into being man of this farm sooner than later. Part of that is learning what needs doing for us. For our family and our farm. It’s not all rainbows and roses Peter. You do what needs doing and you move on.” Rough hands reached for a mug of something on the table and tipped it into his mouth before he continued. His tone had shifted again, back to the annoyance before, as if none of the conversation had even happened. “Best you get on the road if you want to get back and fix that belt before dark.”


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