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Karen's Story - A Snippet 2

It wasn't until summertime that someone actually made friends with her. It wasn't me, though. I was surprised to learn it was my little sister. One day, I found the two of them, sitting on the ground leaning against the trunk of the old cherry tree eating tomatoes picked fresh from our garden.  An unlikely pair, they looked odd together, Karen, tall, pale and gangly next to my short, rosy faced 8 year old sister. Karen looked more bedraggled than she had throughout the school year, her long bruised legs barely covered now by her too small dress. That same dress I'd always seen her wearing to school.

Karen, shyly kept her eyes averted from me until I asked her how old she was. I was shocked to learn she was a few weeks from her 13th birthday. I was 16 at the time. She seemed so much younger playing games and giggling with my sister.  As the days went by I realized Karen was waiting outside at the edge of our property, probably since dawn, until my sister got up and went outside. So I invited her in and gave her breakfast. She didn't turn me down and thanked me profusely. That girl could put away a lot of food!

Her eyes spoke volumes. I just didn't know how to interpret the message. I thought I knew then why the guarded, sad eyes. Her mother had died and she lived in that shack with her father who left her alone to manage throughout the day as he went to work. No wonder she spent all her time hanging out with my sister. As they ran and played across the woods and pastures, the dogs lolling along with them Karen bloomed and ripened with the apple trees. I liked to think it was the three square meals we provided her every day.

A short time before school was to start in the fall I was up in my room sewing my new clothes. Farm girls did that back then. I heard the girls shreiking in joy and I went to the window to see what was going on. They were jumping up and down and going in circles, Karen holding some dollar bills in her hand. I don't know why it made me suspicious, but I went downstairs and called them in to have lemonade. Karen had the money rolled tightly in her hand as she whispered in my sister's ear and passed it on to her.

"What's going on?" I asked, wondering if the girls had stolen the money from the old man who took care of the chickens and slept in the converted cow shed. Old Jim had been a fixture on the farm since we had moved there and the landlord gave him the right to live there until he died, as he had worked for his family as a farmhand for generations. Old Jim swore like a sailor and drank too much in my opinion. I didn't care for him and steered clear. I knew he had recently recieved his social security check as his friend, Clarence with the old Bathtub Nash, had driven by to pick him up so the two of them could go into town and buy booze.

"Will you sew some clothes for Karen, for school? She has money to buy the fabric."

"And where did this money come from?"

"Old Jim."

I couldn't believe my ears. Not only did they steal the money but they were stupid enough to tell me about it. "You girls go put that money back from where you got it! Or I'm telling Mom!"

My sister, defiant, came to Karen's rescue. "But, she didn't steal it. She earned it. Jim asked her to clean up his place and gave her the money for it."

I was relieved and agreed to sew some new school clothes for Karen. It began to bother me as more money and more requests for new clothes came every few days.

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