Annabelle’s eyes grew large as Pop-Pop described Goldilocks’s close encounter with Abel Grimley. Pop-Pop gently touched her hand and gave her a grin.
“Pop-Pop, wasn’t Goldilocks’s scared?”
“Sweetie, fear is part of living. Of course, Goldilocks felt fear.”
“How did she stop being afraid?”
“The same way everyone else does, Princess. You focus your energy on the things that matter the most to you. If you focus only on your fear, you’re unable to take the next step.”
“I see what you’re saying, Pop-Pop, but I don’t understand.”
“It’s okay. One day when you are older you will.”
Pop-Pop spent a few more minutes with Annabelle and then kissed her good night on her forehead. Her fever skyrocketed at night. Her skin grew clammy, and Annabelle pulled the covers tight as she drifted off to sleep.
Goldilocks drew near to Wooten’s General Store and tied her horse to the hitching post. She smoothed down her blouse and skirt and started for the store. Her Aunt Hilda met her at the door.
“Look at you,” she gushed as she wrapped her arms around Goldilocks. “You’ve grown so much since we saw you last.”
“Hi, Aunt Hilda. Thank you for letting me stay with you for a while.”
“Hush, child and come on in the house. Aram would want to see you too!”
Aram stood behind the counter, a white apron tied around his waist, and he looked up when the tiny bell latched above the door chimed.
“Oh my,” he muttered as Hilda and Goldilocks walked toward him. “Your father is going to need more guns to run the boys off.”
Goldilocks wrinkled up her nose cutely and wrapped her uncle in a warm hug. Aram stood an average height, weighed about 160 pounds, and had the mutton chops men in those days favored. His blue eyes shined brightly as he looked his niece over.
Hilda’s soft face bore a warm smile while her husband fussed over his niece. She smoothed down her hair, but gradually her smile became sad. For all their trying, Aram and Hilda never had a child of their own. They made up for this absence by spoiling their nieces and nephews.
“Come on,” Aram said as he put his arm around his niece, “let’s get you settled in. Then, you can tell us what brought you out here to Guntown.”
He led her to an empty bedroom on the second floor and put her bag on the bed. The small room had a desk and a lamp. A cruse of oil sat next to the lamp, and a candle illuminated the room.
“You get settled in. I’ve got to get back to the store.”
“What is it sweetheart?”
“I ran into Abel Grimley. He said you better have what he ordered or there’s going to be trouble.”
Annabelle stirred in her sleep and cracked her eyes open. Her room was dark, and the wind blew softly outside her window. The leaves shook and sounded like the rattling of old, dry bones. A small desk sat in the corner of her room; her diary sat on top of it.
She got up and walked over to the desk. She opened her journal and began to write.
“If something should happen to me, I want to be remembered as a fighter. Like Goldilocks. I’ve dreamt of her since I’ve taken ill. She won’t back down from the Grimley Brothers. I just hope that I live long enough to see how the story ends.
I hurt inside. It burns.
Pop-Pop will come in the morning. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.”