The McComber Switch
By Karen Singer
Chapter 68 Part 3 of 3 – Two Much Confusion
April 25 – 26
On Sunday morning, Reverend Cosinger stood in his usual spot and watched the people coming into his church. He smiled as he noticed Valerie and Ashley come in together – just as they usually did. Five minutes later, he saw Rose come in as well. But not with Jacob.
As he waited for the time for the service to start, he grew more disappointed that he didn’t see more McCombers. Only those few women – who were the ones who most often came to church. Not even Brian or Pete came, and they were both also members of the church board. And Brian was the current President of the board. Pete though, more often than not, didn’t bother coming…like most of the men. That is, they didn’t bother coming until about the time the twins started coming to church as each other, back before Christmas. Since then, Jacob had been sending the entire McComber clan to church, almost every single Sunday. They were all coming every week, until he had screwed up and chased those blasted twins away from the church – on Easter Sunday. Arguable the busiest and most special church day of the year.
He still felt he was right in doing it. He still felt that those two twins were nothing but an abomination before God. Where in the bible did it ever mention anything about transgendered? Where? But like it or not, for right or for wrong, he knew he had screwed up. And now his job was on the line, and consequently, the lives of him and his entire family. What were they going to do if the church board, which was mostly McCombers…who all danced to Jacob McComber’s tune…what if they suddenly decided to fire him? Which he was almost certain was the most likely case. What was he going to do?
He knew his best course of action was to somehow plead his case with the board members. But he really needed to somehow apologize for his actions – which he did know were absolutely wrong – abominations or not! He knew he had to apologize to the entire McComber clan, and especially those two blasted twins that he had turned away. And if he did it in church – in front of the entire congregation, he knew it had to carry more weight than if he just drove up to their land and did it at their home where no one else could see. It was wrong to turn those two blasted twins away – even on Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the year. No matter how he really felt, it was wrong, and he needed to apologize. He needed – to save his job! His wife and kids were depending on him.
With a shake of his head at the disappointing McComber turnout, he headed away to prepare to begin the service.
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For Jade, the best thing about Sunday now, was that they weren’t going to church again. No school, and no church! Hooray! The bad part about that Sunday was, for her and Jimmy Joe, having to go over to their Uncle Brian’s house first thing in the morning to have more blood drawn again for testing. Ouch! But they had done it before, and with their father looking on, the blood was soon taken and they were able to go home for breakfast. They walked into the house to the smell of pancakes cooking on the stove. The perfect way to recover after the arduous trauma of having blood taken.
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Jacob dumped the heavy sack into the back of his pickup truck, right behind the sack of sugar, the bottle of malt, the box of yeast, and his two rifles. He raised the tailgate on the truck and headed back into the house. He didn’t bother telling Rose what he was going to do. He never did. Why should she care anyway? He glanced at the clock, but he already knew it was late enough in the morning. Most likely, the entire family had been out of bed hours ago.
Heading into his home office, he picked up the phone and dialed. The phone was answered after three rings.
“Hi Dad,” Susan replied. “What can we do for you? You need to talk with Clint?”
“Nope,” Jacob replied. “I need to talk with that…with…Jade, I guess. Let me talk to that one.”
“Of course! Why not?”
“No reason,” Susan replied quickly. “I’ll get her.”
Jacob waited almost two minutes before the phone was picked up again.
“Jade,” Jacob replied. “What you got goin’ on this morning? Anything important?”
“Uh…Jimmy Joe and me are still trying to figure out how to make this dress for our Home Economics class,” Jade replied.
“Uh-huh. Listen, put all that away for now. I need you up here today. Okay?”
“Up there? What for?”
“Just put away whatever you’re doin’ and get up here. The sooner the better. We got lots to do today, you and me. Lots!”
“Like whatever we decide to do. Now I’m waitin’. And if your mother has any objections, have her call me. Oh, and better wear a sweater or jacket. It’s a might cool out there still.”
Jade was about to reply, when she realized that her Grandpa had hung up the phone. He wanted her up there? Now? “Mom!”
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It was nearly twenty minutes before Jacob saw Jade walking up the hill. And when he saw her, he winced. The closer she got, the less happy he was. The boy’s legs were totally bare – from the tops of his sneakers to the bottom of the all too short shorts he was wearing. The pink hooded sweatshirt he had put on with big bold letters spelling out the word “PINK,” did nothing to help the situation. What was it, the sweatshirt wasn’t pink enough? They had to write the color on the front of it in case anyone was colorblind?
He shook his head. Jade, as he…or she was, was what he had to work with today. And his main goal was to spend the day showing that boy that he wasn’t the girl he looked all too much to be. He had to show him that, and make it stick! It would have been much better though if the darn boy had worn a pair of regular pants instead of…almost nothing at all from the waist down!
“What’s up, Grandpa?” Jade asked as she finally got up to the back of his truck where he was waiting.
Despite how Jade was dressed – and despite how much he looked like a girl, Jacob smiled. “Get in the truck. We got work to do!”
Jacob just nodded and smiled before heading to the driver’s seat of the truck.
It didn’t take Jade long to figure out that they were heading for Jacob’s still again, something that had her fairly excited. “We’re going to the still?” she asked.
“Looks like it,” Jacob replied as he turned off the road and headed back behind the big equipment building. A few minutes later, he had parked his truck in the clearing and they were getting out. Jacob opened the tailgate of his truck, and was about to hand Jade one of the big sacks to carry, but quickly looking him over, made him think better of that. Jade didn’t look strong enough to even lift one of those heavy sacks, let alone carry the thing through all those thorn bushes all the way to the still. Like it or not, he was basically dealing with a young girl here, a young girl that he had to convince today that he wasn’t a girl at all – and didn’t really want to be!
“Here,” he said as he handed Jade the yeast and the malt. “You carry these and I’ll get the corn. We’ll come back for the rest.” He hefted the sack of cornmeal up onto his shoulder and led the way toward the still, twisting and turning along the route he had done so many times, for so many years, that his feet pretty much knew the way without his brain even thinking about it.
With totally bare legs, Jade had to be extra careful walking behind her grandpa. All those thorns they had to get past made her wish she was wearing long pants that day…or maybe a suit of armor instead. She breathed a silent sigh of relief when they finally made it through and the still stood in front of them.
Jacob dropped the sack of cornmeal and turned around. “Just put those things over there,” he said to Jade. When his hands were free, he added, “Now let’s go get the rest.”
Jade wasn’t all that interested in walking back through those thorns with bare legs. “There’s only the one bag left,” she mentioned. “I’ll wait here.”
Jacob shook his head. “There’s more than that,” he replied. “It’ll take both of us. Now let’s go get it.” He turned and headed up the path, happy to see that Jade was following – like it or not.
Back at the truck, Jacob grabbed the small sack of sugar. “Get them guns,” he said to Jade. “I’ll tote this thing.”
“The guns? What do we need them for?”
“Target shootin’!” Jacob replied. “We gotta do somethin’ while we’re waitin’ for the still to boil.”
Jade shrugged and reached into the truck to grab the two small caliber rifles, while Jacob went to the cab of the truck and grabbed a box of ammunition. Once again, the two of them made the trek through the dangerous thorns.
The first order of business once they were back to the still, was for each of them to take a sip from the bottle of moonshine he kept there. Jacob told Jade that it was for a little bit of inspiration so that what they were trying to make would be just as good – or better. Of course, Jacob’s real reason was to start getting the potent drink into Jade before he tried to take him hunting, hoping the liquid fire in his stomach would ignite the courage that the boy seemed to lack.
Jade didn’t really like the moonshine her grandpa was pretty much forcing her to drink. It tasted awful and it burned horribly all the way to her stomach. But her grandpa wasn’t giving her the option not to drink any as he stood in front of her and anxiously made sure she took an overly healthy swallow of the junk.
“Good, isn’t it?” Jacob said happily, before taking another swig himself.
Jade had other thoughts on the matter. Was her tongue going numb?
“Okay,” Jacob said. “Let’s get busy. Help me get the top off this thing.”
All through the process of setting up the still, Jacob paused often so each of them could get a bit more moonshine. The only good part of that, as far as Jade was concerned, was that after her third all too big mouthful of the stuff, she was no longer tasting it at all. Her mouth by that time was completely numb. But her grandpa seemed to get happier and happier, and Jade figured that the reason she was getting happier too, was because her grandpa was happier.
Forty-five minutes later, the fire was lit, and the “batch” began heating. Jade wasn’t really sure why, but her head was spinning so badly she was afraid she’d fall down. And of course, that was when her grandpa pulled out the guns.
“He, he!” Jacob laughed a bit as he shoved bullets into one of the rifles. “This ought to be good!” He picked up the other rifle and handed it to Jade. “You know how to load that thing?”
“Sure,” Jade replied. “No probwem,” she said, for some reason fumbling over saying the words. She had said it was no problem, but she did seem to want to work as well as they should have and she dropped a few bullets as she tried to load the gun. But before long, the easy task was done.
“Good!” Jacob exclaimed as he laughed again and slapped his leg. He looked all around, trying to pick something out to shoot at. His eyes fell on one of the trees off to the side of the clearing. He raised his rifle, but a slight movement made him pause. “See that!” he half whispered as he looked more intently at the branches of the tree. “There’s a damn squirrel up there. And he’s just beggin’ to be shot!” He raised his rifle again and sighted, and pulled the trigger. The gunshot wasn’t nearly as loud as most of the guns were that the family usually hunted with, but it was more than loud enough for Jade. “Damn!” Jacob swore. “Did you see that! The bugger moved just as I was pullin’ the trigger! Damn him!”
Jade said nothing. She was simply glad the cute little squirrel hadn’t gotten shot. Not that she had even seen it, but if her grandpa had said it was there, then she had no doubt.
“Your turn,” Jacob told her. “Shoot somthin’.”
“Shoot something?” she asked.
“That’s what I said. Shoot somethin’.”
“Anything. Just pick a target and shoot.”
“But I don’t wanna kill anyfing,” she said, her words stumbling again.
‘I didn’t say you had to kill anything,” Jacob replied. “But you sure can if you want. Just pick somethin’ and shoot at it.” He paused a moment before adding. “Just try not to hit the still. Make sure you aim well away from it. Okay?”
Jade shrugged and looked around. She figured the tree her grandpa was shooting at was a good enough target. She aimed at the trunk of it, and pulled the trigger. The gun roared, but she didn’t see any kind of mark where the bullet should have hit.”
“Ha!” Jacob exclaimed. “Just missed! Good try. Now try it again. Just take your time with it.”
Once again Jade lined up the sights on the gun, and once again she pulled the trigger.
“Got it!” Jacob exclaimed happily. “Good shot!”
This time Jade could clearly see the spot where she had shot the tree. Not in the center of the trunk where she had been aiming, but more off to the left. But at least she had hit the thing. She smiled, even as her grandpa took another swig from his jug of moonshine…before passing it on to her for a drink too.
Once again Jacob searched the tree branches for any kind of squirrels to shoot at. “Nothin’!” he complained. He shook his head and looked around again, then chose another tree trunk to shoot at instead and pulled the trigger. Despite all the moonshine in his system, he hit the trunk of the tree square on.
“Good one,” Jade said.
“Your turn,” Jacob replied.
Jade pulled her gun into place and aimed at the same spot where her grandpa had hit the tree. She pulled the trigger.
“Ha! Good shot!” Jacob exclaimed happily.
Jade looked. She had hit just a bit to the left of where he had hit the tree.
Once again Jacob picked the jug of moonshine up, took a swig, and passed it over to Jade. After Jade had finished another good drink, Jacob again looked around for something to shoot at. He looked long and hard, but didn’t see anything moving. “Darn it!” he exclaimed. “Nothin’ much out there. We must have scared everything off.” He looked around for a moment more, then came to a decision. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go find something worth shootin’ at.” He led the way back through the thorns. Jade wasn’t exactly happy, but she followed along behind him.
“Ouch!” Jade exclaimed as she got too close to some of the thorns and they scratched her leg. She backed away quickly, only to get scratched on the other leg by the thorns on the other side of the path. “Ouch!”
“Careful there,” Jacob cautioned as he paused to look back. “Those things are sharp!”
“You don haffa tell me!” Jade tried to complain. She continued on, following carefully after her grandpa. “Ouch!” she complained once again. It was maddening. Her head was spinning round and round, and those stupid stickers were everywhere. She had a number of small scratches on both legs by the time they got back to the truck, and two of them were bleeding a little.
“Huh!” Jacob grunted as he looked down at Jade’s scratched legs. “You shoulda worn long pants.”
“You dinin telw me what we were doin,” Jade complained.
“No, guess I didn’t at that,” Jacob agreed. “But you know we gotta keep this here still a secret! You are keepin’ it a secret, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes! Of couse!” Jade replied quickly, once again stumbling over the words. Why was her entire mouth so numb? She couldn’t even talk straight. And why was she getting so darn dizzy?
Jacob nodded. “Good!” He turned to one of the paths off of the clearing that led away from the still. “Let’s go this way.”
Once again, Jade followed behind. Why was she carrying the stupid gun? She should have left it behind at the still. She for sure wasn’t going to shoot at anything – living!
Very slowly, Jacob followed the path deeper into the woods, his eyes constantly scanning the tree limbs the entire time. “They’re a might harder to see now that the trees are full of leaves,” he whispered to Jade.
Jade didn’t reply. Her mouth was too numb.
A few minutes later, Jacob stopped dead, his eyes locked on one of the tree branches. Very slowly and carefully, he raised his gun and aimed. The sharp report of the rifle echoed through the woods. “Yeah! Got em! Did you see that?” Jacob exclaimed as he hurried forward. A moment later, he snatched the dead squirrel up from the ground. “A good fat one!” he declared. “The start of another good squirrel stew!” He looked down at Jade. “But we’re gonna need more than this for a good stew.” Once again he led the way deeper into the woods.
Jade stumbled a bit over a root…she thought. When she tried to look down to see what she had tripped over, she didn’t see anything. Her head was still spinning horribly. She really just wanted to go home and go to bed until the world settled down into something more reasonable, but she was still following her grandpa while he was out shooting at more squirrels. Poor little things. So cute! And his grandpa had to kill them! It was horrible! She really hoped she wouldn’t have nightmares about it all night. She had a bad suspicion though that she would.
Jacob stopped suddenly. His eyes locked onto another tree branch. This time he knelt down and waved to Jade to come closer and join him. Jade stood next to him. “Look up there,” Jacob whispered.
“What?” Jade replied.
“The squirrel!” Jacob replied.
It was a few moments before Jade could see it. “Cute,” she replied happily.
“No! Food!” Jacob told her. “Your grandma’s squirrel stew! Now take your gun and try to get a good aim at the thing.”
“Just do it!” Jacob told her. “Don’t even think about it. Just aim that there gun and get a good sight on that thing.”
Shooting a cute little squirrel was the last thing that Jade wanted to do, but she raised her gun anyway, and tried to find the squirrel in the gun’s sights. It wasn’t easy, but eventually, she found it. “Huh!” she finally grunted. “Found it.”
“Good! Now pull that trigger nice and easy and shoot ‘em!”
Shoot it? Sighting down the barrel of her gun, Jade watched the squirrel playing on the branch. It was so cute! Darling. It was having fun…with another squirrel right up there with it! Two too cute!”
“Whatcha doin’?” Jacob asked. “Shoot it!”
“It’s pwaying wit anotha squirrel,” Jade tried to say.
“It don’t matter what it’s doin’ up there. Just shoot it!”
Once again Jade watched the squirrels playing over the barrel of her gun. But pulling the trigger and killing them was simply beyond her. Even drunk, she suddenly had visions of the squirrels dying – because of her, and she couldn’t do it. Even drunk, her imagination conjured up images of herself as a squirrel – and then suddenly getting shot. She imagined the sudden horrible pain…and then she imagined the nothingness that would follow. With tears suddenly falling from her eyes, she fell to her knees and wretched horribly. She couldn’t stand it. It would be so horrible! She knew her grandpa wanted her to kill it, but she couldn’t. She just couldn’t! She sobbed bitterly and wretched again, mostly clear moonshine coming up out of her stomach, burning more coming back up than when she had drank it.
She felt her grandpa’s arms around her as she tried to recover from being sick. “Easy there darlin’” Jacob said softly. “Easy.”
Jade let herself fall to the ground where she laid on her side and cried. She couldn’t face trying to kill such cute wonderful little animals. She couldn’t! She didn’t ever want to kill anything. She felt so awful! So sick. And still the images of being a squirrel and then suddenly dying were racing through her mind. Between those images and being so sick, she cried hard tears. “I can’t,” she cried. “I can’t. It’s so awful.”
“What’s so bad?” Jacob asked, trying to sound comforting.
“Dying like that.”
“You’re not dyin’” Jacob replied.
“Not me, the poow wittew squirrs,” she replied, her tongue once again failing to work properly.
Jacob closed his eyes and shook his head. He had hoped that the moonshine would be enough to help Jade get over her fear of killing things. But obviously that wasn’t the case. “It’s alright Jade,” he said softly. “Don’t worry about it.” He gave her a few more moments before saying, “Come on, let’s get back to the still. It should be startin’ to turn out that fresh batch pretty soon.”
Jade wiped her nasty mouth off with her arm. Slowly but surely, she struggled to her feet. The world was still spinning around, but she managed it. With her grandpa holding both guns, and also keeping an arm on her shoulders, he led her all the way back through the thorns to the still.
While Jacob tended the still, Jade sat back and just watched. She was too upset to do anything else. She did allow Jacob to give her a few more sips of the moonshine – from the fresh batch they were making. It helped to clear the taste of where she had thrown up from her mouth – what little she could actually taste.
It was hours before they were done…not that Jade had done much of anything except sit and watch, and hope her head would stop spinning around. But the fresh batch of moonshine was eventually finished and all poured into jars and jugs, waiting for someone to drink it. Jacob shut everything down and made sure it was all safe, then he grabbed the two squirrel guns and led Jade back through the thorns and back to his truck. Once again Jade’s stumbling bare legs suffered for the trip through the thorns back to the truck.
“Next time, you wear a good pair of jeans!” Jacob told her as he helped her climb up into his truck. He drove her all the way back to her house.
Clint heard his father’s truck pulling into the driveway. He went out to meet him. “How’d it go?” he asked his father as Jacob got out of the truck. He asked the question, but he really had no idea what Jade and Jacob had been doing.”
Jacob shook his head. “Some good, some not so good?”
“Oh?” Clint replied. He saw Jade in the truck, not yet trying to get out. “What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice suddenly full of concern as he hurried around to the passenger side of his father’s truck.
“She’s okay,” Jacob told him. “She’s just a bit…drunk. That’s all.”
“Yeah, well, I thought maybe a little moonshine in her gut would help her get over her problem of bein’ able to shoot somthin’.” He shook his head. “Looks like I was wrong. Didn’t work at all.”
Clint nodded. “Nice try Dad,” he replied, although he wasn’t sure whether he should be glad that his father had been trying help Jimmy-Jade again, or if he should be furious at him for what he had done. In truth, he was more furious.
Jade opened her car door and started to get out. Halfway out of the truck, she fell to the ground. Her father was there quickly to pick her up and hold her in his arms. He immediately noticed all the scratches on her legs. “What happened?” He asked quickly. “Your legs are all cut up!”
“The forns,” Jade mumbled, trying to tell him what had happened.
“The forns,” Jade said again.
“My mouf is num,” she said, trying to form the words properly. “I can’t tawk wight.”
“What?” Clint said again, this time asking his father.
“The thorns! The sticker bushes,” Jacob replied. “I’m afraid she got a bit too close…more than a few times.”
Clint shook his head. “Maybe I better put her to bed. She’s gonna need to sleep this one off.” He stared at his father for a moment before adding, “Susan is going to be furious!”