Just John

“Who was that on the phone?”

“Just John.” Shelly spat as she strode through the living room. “I told him you were busy!

“You really don’t like him, do you?” Sadie cocked an eyebrow toward her disappearing sister. A half-smile tugged at the left corner of her mouth.

“That two-timing cheater?” Shelly yelled, “I’ve got no use for him, ever!” She slammed the kitchen door for emphasis as she headed out to feed the chickens before shutting them in the hen house for the night.

Sadie dumped the last load of clean laundry on the couch and started folding. Eight minutes later, she stacked neat piles in the basket and climbed the stairs to the bedrooms. In her room, she arranged her clean socks and underwear in the top dresser drawer, then reached under her bras in the back right-hand corner. She pulled out a small box and lifted the lid toward the window so fifty facets of a gorgeous diamond glittered in the setting sun. The detested John had given her this ring four years ago as he professed his undying love. He had never asked for it back, and Sadie knew why she kept it.

Poor Shelly, she thought as she returned the ring to its hiding place. Gorgeous, funny, and intelligent Shelly had never been able to hook just the right guy. Shelly totally believed the fairy tales about pure love and happily ever after. For her, love was either perfect or totally wrong, and there was no such thing as give and take. Sadie sighed. Poor Shelly!

When Sadie and John had started dating during their junior year in high school, Shelly, just a freshman, began paying extra attention to her own hair and makeup and started dressing to impress. Sadie had wondered more than once if Shelly had been trying to snatch John for herself. John’s family was in banking and flaunted their money. John had always been a bit of a show-off, and Sadie was pretty sure Shelly was attracted to the material security John could offer.

When John proposed at Christmas time during their second year in college, it had seemed odd that Shelly suddenly developed a week-long headache. Odder still was her behavior that spring when an old (female) friend came back to town for a visit. John and a bunch of old high school buddies were going to a movie that night and John asked her if she’d like to join them. Shelly just happened to over-hear John “committing his infidelity,” as she called it, and wasted no time phoning her sister to report the crime. And it was Shelly, Sadie was quite sure, who just happened to go to the same movie that night and posted a picture of John and his “old friend” all over social media before the night was over.

When John returned to college the following week, word was already out on campus that he and Sadie were past history. Shocked, John had talked to Sadie, assuring her that they were with a group of people all evening, that nothing had happened, and he absolutely did not intend the mess he had evidently created.

“I believe you, John,” Sadie had told him, “and I’m sorry for the trouble my sister has caused. Just lie low for a while and I’m sure all this will blow over.” She had smiled and kissed him, and he had returned the honor, thoroughly.

But it didn’t blow over. Shelly seemed hell-bent on vengeance for the shameful way John had treated her sister! Just before the end of the spring semester, Sadie and John had met in the college library and agreed that they should call off their engagement in the face of mounting social pressure, even though both of them were sure Shelly was behind all the ugliness. So the ring had lain in its box underneath her bras ever since, and Sadie had not dated anyone, in spite of the fact that Shelly never tired of trying to set her sister up with every eligible male she could find.

After college, Sadie had come back home, choosing to work in the local library instead of accepting a lucrative offer with an insurance company two hundred miles away. John had started calling after a few months, and Sadie had met him occasionally out of town.

Shelly, almost a college graduate herself, was home for spring break. Sadie had assumed Shelly would be partying with the dozens of friends she was always gushing about, but this time their plans evidently didn’t included Shelly. Consequently, she spent most of her time in the house surfing social media, grudgingly helping with farm chores only when asked. The outdoors and old-fashioned chores made Sadie happy, and she indulged herself every chance she got. That was how Shelly happened to answer the land line phone that afternoon while Sadie was outside taking the washing off the clothesline.

Sadie got four large potatoes from the pantry to boil and mash for supper. Her dad would be in after he’d checked and fed the cattle, and her mom would be home from her job at the bakery in a few minutes. Sadie knew her mom’s legs would ache from standing all day. Making supper was a small enough thanks for living here rent-free, and Sadie was happy to do it. Supper and the family conversation were always a joy for Sadie. Though her parents were well-educated, they had chosen a simple, humble life of solid values and empathetic harmony among friends and neighbors instead of the higher-paying jobs they both could have had in a city.

Shelly had never been happy on the farm, but Sadie loved it. If supper talk turned to current events, it was never critical or despairing, but rather curious, discussing the people who would be impacted by political decisions and considering how they could help, even in small ways. It was family tradition for each person to share at least one positive event at supper. Even on doomy, gloomy days, Sadie and her parents had always found at least one thing to rejoice over. Shelly, it seemed, saw life through a darker lens and seldom had positive things to share. Poor Shelly. Sadie couldn’t imagine life as unhappy as it seemed to be for Shelly.

During high school, John had been a frequent guest at their supper table. The first time it had been his turn to share a happy event, he stumbled in embarrassed confusion, but by the third meal he looked forward to the ritual. Sadie knew he was attracted to the simple honesty and acceptance within her family – well, except for Shelly. In Sadie’s family, it was important to be the right people for whatever came their way. If there was a way they could help, they would, without giving it a second thought, no matter what the cost, and they knew they could depend on their friends and neighbors for the same when called upon. John had adopted these attitudes when he was with her, and Sadie had watched him grow into the man she admired. She also knew he was ridiculed at home when his parents and friends caught him being generous without regard to his bank account, or witnessed him being kind to people who were beneath their social worth. Sadie knew John was trying to decide what he wanted to do with his life, who he wanted to be, and how he wanted to make a difference in his world. When he made that decision, she knew one family would rejoice and the other would most likely disown him. She was confident she knew what his decision would be, and was content to wait.

Sadie dumped the potato chunks into the water boiling on the stove, added a slice of bacon to the pot of simmering home-canned green beans, and snuck upstairs. After a quick reach into the back of her top dresser drawer, she tiptoed back down the creaky stairs. The aroma of leftover slices of meatloaf warming in the microwave hinted that supper was almost ready. Sadie was setting the table for four when someone knocked on the back door.

“Who’s that?” called Shelly from the living room couch.

“A friend,” called Sadie as she opened the door.

“Your parents home yet?” asked John.

“Not yet, but it’s in my pocket,” smiled Sadie, standing on tiptoe to kiss him.

“What are YOU doing here?” roared Shelly, charging into the kitchen.

“Shelly,” Sadie turned around, her hand on hips, “I love John. You only see what you want to see. It’s time you grew up and stopped messing up other people’s lives.” The potatoes boiled over and John took up the discourse.

“I am going to make my family very unhappy, Shelly.” John’s tone was earnest. “But I have chosen to live my life according to the values your parents and Sadie hold. I want to be known for my honesty, my compassion, and my generosity. My family cares more about who they know, what they own, and who knows it. I don’t want to be that kind of a person. And, as long as your parents agree, I am going to marry your sister.”

Sadie turned away from the stove. “Shelly,” her eyes were tender, “you may not believe me, but I really do love you. If you love me at all,” she paused and took a deep breath, “could you start calling him just ‘John’ instead of John?”

Shelly looked at the floor and rolled her right ankle so she was standing on the outside of her foot. Twisting her lips to one side she muttered, “I don’t know. Maybe I need to delete some things on my phone,” and walked out.

“I guess that’s a start,” murmured Sadie.

“I think so,” said John. He looked at the ceiling. “Do you think your dad would let me help him farm?”

“Farm?” Sadie cried. “You have a degree in marketing!”

“Not a bad thing to know if you’re a farmer,” grinned John. “I plan to ask him at supper. OK with you?”

“We may set a record for the most wonderful things shared at one meal, John. I hope my sister can handle it,” replied Sadie.

“I can,” said Shelly evenly from the doorway. “I’m tired of being unhappy, so,” she walked toward them, “I guess I’d better learn to get along with family, John!” She landed a punch on his arm. “Welcome, Bro,” she tossed her head as she headed for the back door.

“Time to lock up those feathered ladies for the night,” she sighed.

“Oh, and you need to set the table for five.