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Young Stranger
by lynn gipson 
01/02/13
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Miss Elzie watched as the young stranger walked up her driveway. She had seen the boy walking on the side of the road when she came back from the store a few minutes ago. The sky was looking like snow and the temperature was steadily dropping, so she made a trip in to town for some emergency items, just in case.

Elizabeth Warren was known to everyone in the town of Hickory Flat, Mississippi as Miss Elzie, a widow woman who lived back in the woods in the big cabin she and her late husband, Bobby, built fifty years ago, when they owned the lumber yard and labor was cheap. She lived alone and took very good care of herself for a woman pushing eighty years of age.

Now she saw the boy coming closer to the house, seemingly hesitant and with shoulders slumped.

What in the world is he doing here? He must be lost or somethin'.

He looked to be about fourteen or so, the same age as her grandson, Tommy. Tommy lived somewhere with her daughter, and she never got to even know him. Livvy had taken him and ran off with married man ten years before, and vowed never to return.

Livvy had always been a wild one. God only knows why. She had a good upbringing. Miss Elzie stopped trying to figure that one out a long time ago. She told Livvy if she kept seeing that married man she was no longer her daughter, so Livvy just up and left with him, taking her beloved Tommy with them.

Miss Elzie reached into her kitchen drawer and pulled out a butcher knife. You couldn't be too careful this day and age, even with the young folks. She put the knife in her apron pocket and went out to greet the boy.

“Howdy, son. What kin I do for ya?”

“I just need some food ma'am. Just somethin' to eat.”The boy said, shaking.

“I seen you down on the road. What's ya name, boy?”

“Johnny, ma'am

“Well, Johnny, what ya doin' here? You runnin' from the law?”

“Sorta.”

“Sorta? I don't need no criminals hangin' round here. Jest go on, now!”

“I ran away from home, ma'am, and they got the law after me.”

For the first time Miss Elzie noticed the boy's clear eyes and the bruises beneath them. Now she understood. Her heart softened and she looked at the snow clouds in the sky once again.

“Well, Johnny, I got a room on the side of the house with a heater and bed in it. Got a coffee maker and mini fridge in there. You can stay there for the night, but tomorrow you have to move on. I cain't be harborin' no runaways, ya hear?”

“Yes, Ma'am. Much obliged ma'am. The boy broke out into tears of gratitude and followed Miss Elzie to the side of the house where she let him in.

“This door locks from my side, so don't be gittin' any funny ideas 'bout breakin' in. I keep a pistol in my room.”

“Oh, no ma'am, just need somethin' to eat, and in the mornin' I'll be on my way.”

Miss Elzie took the whole new loaf of bread she had just bought and some ham and biscuits over to the boy. She put a jar of peanut butter and one of the apple jelly she recently put up and placed them in bag and gave them to him as well. If he was gonna be on the road tomorrow, the least she could do was give him some food to take.

Johnny eyes lit up when she came into the room with the food. Miss Elzie suddenly felt sorry for this young stranger and pointed to the coffee maker and mini fridge.

“I had a man who stayed here for awhile and took care of my garden. There's coffee and staples in that drawer. I think he left some can cokes in the fridge. Hep yerself.”

Miss Elzie left the young man and locked her side of the door behind her. She sat in her favorite chair and thought about all that just happened.

I must be losin' it. Why in the world would I take in a runaway? He could be dangerous. Something told her he wasn't however, and she thought about her grandson Tommy, who she hadn't seen since he was four years old. She wondered what his life might be like now.

That night brought temperatures in the single digits and a foot of snow. Miss Elzie knocked on Johnny's door the next morning and he answered it right away. She wondered if he had slept any, from the bleary look in his eyes.

“Well, I reckon you cain't go nowhere today. You might as well come have breakfast with me, and we'll have a little talk.” Miss Elzie pointed towards the kitchen.

“Yes'm.”

The bruises on Johnny's face were darker this morning, and she noticed a cut on his forehead she didn't see before. His clothes were tattered and dirty and his hair was matted with grime.

“You got to take a bath, son. I got some clothes that belonged to my late husband. He was a slight man, about your size. How old are you, anyways?”

“Fourteen.”

“Where 'bouts you from?”

“Bridgeboro, a few towns over, Ma'am.”

“You got family to go to?”

“No'em. My mama died last spring. Just me and my step daddy and his brother. Had to get out of there.”

“Where 'bouts you headin'?”

“Anywhere but there, ma'am.”

“Okay, well go git that bath and for Pete's sake, wash that hair. I'll git breakfast ready and find some clothes for you.”

Johnny followed her to the back and took the fresh sweat shirt, jeans, socks, and underwear that happened to be just his size. Miss Elzie went to the kitchen and cooked bacon, eggs, pancakes and sausage. She just started cooking and couldn't stop, and wondered what in the world had come over her.

Johnny came into the kitchen and except for the bruises looked like a new person in his clean clothes and washed hair. Miss Elzie couldn't help but notice a resemblance to her grandson in his dark eyes and black hair. He was a handsome young man.

They sat down to breakfast and Johnny insisted on saying the blessing. Then he starting eating like there was no tomorrow. Miss Elzie suddenly noticed how thin he was. Her heart went out to this child, as she realized just how much she enjoyed having someone to eat with again. She was a good judge of character and this was a good boy.

They talked of their lives white they ate. Johnny told Miss Elzie how much he missed his mama and she told him about Tommy.

Suddenly Miss Elzie got an epiphany .“You know how to shovel snow, son?”

“Yes'm, I reckon I do.”

“Well, I guess you might stay for a while, if you do a little work around here. I'm too old to shovel snow.”

“Yes'm. Thank you ma'am.”

As they were just finishing up the last bit of pancakes, there was a knock at the door. The boy jumped and Miss Elzie saw the terror in his eyes as she rose to answer it.

“Jest sit tight. Nothin' to worry bout.” Miss Elzie said. She was a force to be reckoned with in this town.

It was Kenneth, the county sheriff. “Mornin' , Miss Elzie.” Kenneth tipped his hat.

'Mornin' Kenneth. If this is bout that speedin' ticket, I ain't payin' it! I was not speedin!”

“No'em, Miss Elzie,” Kenneth chuckled, “I know you ain't gonna pay it. I wrote that one off! I'm lookin' for a runaway named Johnny Watkins . Edgar Hawkins said he might have seen him near your woods. Jest checkin' to see if you have seen a boy 'bout fourteen anywhere around.”

Just then the boy walked into the living room as if to give himself up. He looked at the sheriff and then Miss Elzie, but before he could say anything, Miss Elzie spoke up.

“Tommy, you seen any young strangers round? Kenneth here is lookin' for a runaway.”

Johnny caught Miss Elzie's eye and said “No'em, ain't seen nobody round here but me an you.”

“Kenneth, this is my grandson, Tommy. You remember him, don't you? Livvy sent him to me after all these years. I finally have my grandson back!” Tears welled in her eyes as Tommy reached out and shook Kenneth's hand.

Kenneth looked the boy over. “Why, of course, Tommy, I'd recognize you anywhere. You sure grew up, didn't you? What's that bruise on your face, son?”

“His stepfather hit him, Kenneth. That's why Livvy sent him to me.” Miss Elzie lied.

“Buzzard. I cain't abide child abusers. Welcome home, son.” Kenneth shook his head as he went out the door.

The whole town welcomed “Tommy” back into the community and came to adore him. He was a good boy, smart, and popular in school. Johnny Watkins seemed to have just disappeared.

Johnny lived with Miss Elzie and took care of her house and yard until he went away to a college up north. A friend of Miss Elzie's up there had some clout and arranged it so Johnny could use his real name.

Livvy called Miss Elzie only once to tell her Tommy had died three months before in a motorcycle accident. She was cold and distant had nothing more to say. Miss Elzie was overcome with grief.

Miss Elzie died of a stroke in Johnny's junior year of college and left everything she owned to him. Everything which turned out to be a small fortune. Miss Elzie and her late husband had always been frugal with their money, and her estate was quite large.

Johnny grieved for the woman he came to know as the only family he had. He broke down and sobbed at her funeral. Livvy was not there.

The day after graduating from college Johnny went to see Kenneth and once again shook his hand.

“Congratulations, Tommy!” Kenneth said with a warm smile.

“I'm not Tommy, I'm Johnny Watkins, the boy you were lookin' for eight years ago.”

“Son, I knew that eight years ago.” Kenneth smiled. “Welcome home.”



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