Love Me Tender (Seven Brides, Seven Brothers)

By: Belle Calhoune

Prologue



Nicholas peered into the fridge, biting his lip as an almost empty jar of pickles stared back at him. He was down to pickles and a half loaf of stale bread. A spoiled onion stared back at him. He hated onions! There was a bad smell coming from inside the fridge, one that made him scrunch up his nose. His stomach was groaning with hunger. It was making noises now. Loud, rumbly noises. He was so hungry. Could a stomach explode from not eating? He wondered.

And he didn't feel so good either. All the food Mama had left for him was gone. Maybe he could walk to the store on Smith Street and use the money he'd stashed away in his sock drawer to buy something to eat. Mama would beat him if she found out he left the house, but she'd lied to him, so what did he care anyway? She'd told him she was coming back in two days. As far as he could tell, those two days had turned into twelve days. Twelve whole days and nights all by himself. This was day thirteen. And he'd only cried a couple of times. When it was late at night and things got really dark outside and he heard strange noises from the alley he didn't feel so brave. It was so scary. He'd crawled into his bed and pulled the covers over his head. And he'd cried himself to sleep.

He knew he should be a big boy like Mama said and not be scared, but he couldn't help it. The scratching of the tree limbs against his window when the sky looked like a black hole made his heart pound like crazy. He kept thinking someone was out there like in the scary movies. The bogeyman was real. He just knew it!

Why was this happening to him? He'd tried so hard to be a good boy. But what had it gotten him? Nothing! With a ragged sigh he reached into the fridge and took out the jar of pickles. He unscrewed the jar and stuck his fingers inside, pulling out two before putting them down on a tin pie plate. He reached inside the bag of bread and pulled out two pieces. Using a knife he scraped off the moldy part. The knife slipped and nicked his finger, causing him to howl with pain. Blood pooled on his finger. He put the knife down and ran to the hall closet to look for the plastic box with the cross on it. Reaching up on his tip toes, he managed to grab hold of the box. When he pried the lid open with one hand, an empty box was staring back at him. No band aids. And no clean towels or napkins either. He reached down and grabbed a dirty towel from the floor. With a sigh, he looked out the window, through the blinds. He could go across the street and borrow band aids from Mr. Hutchinson. He was kind of nice. Whenever his ball went over to his yard, Hutch didn't mind if he went to the side yard to get it.

With blood still trickling from his finger, Nico shuffled to the front door in his footed pajamas. With trembling fingers he turned the knob on the front door and peeked his head out. No one was outside. He bent down and placed a rock in front of the door so he wouldn't get locked out. As fast as he could, he darted across the street, making sure to look both ways before he crossed. He walked straight up to the front steps and pressed the door bell. The ding dong sound of the bell made him giggle. Ouch. His finger still hurt and there was a big slit in it. Even with the towel pressing against it, his finger still ached. Suddenly, Hutch was standing at his door. With his big belly and white whiskers, he looked like Santa Klaus. Right now he looked confused, Nico thought.

Hutch opened up his door. “Nico. What are you doing outside in your pj’s?” Hutch looked around as if he half expected his mother to be nearby.

“Mom sent me over for a band aid. She's not feeling so good today, so she's lying down.” The lie rolled right off Nico's lips. He was used to telling lies. Most of 'em were because he'd been told to lie by his Mom, or his Dad if he was around. Lately, he hadn't been around hardly ever.

He pushed the screen door open. “Come on in, son. Let me look at that hand.”

Once he'd followed Hutch to his kitchen, his neighbor poured him a tall glass of milk and put out a plate of chocolate chip cookies. His stomach did flips at the sight of them. With his good hand, he reached for one and shoved it in his mouth. It tasted like Heaven.

Hutch sucked in his breath when he unraveled the towel and saw the cut. “Son, didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with knives?”

“I wasn't playing. I was—” He stopped himself, not wanting Hutch to know he'd been fending for himself over at the house.

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