Friday, July 25, 2014

Chapter 6



"You the new Mrs.?"

I just stood there like a post and slowly edged in front of the boys so that the man in front of me didn't have a clear line on them. Just because a man has some gray in his hair doesn't mean he isn't dangerous. I knew that from Dad. The boys tried to run at the man but I jerked them back.

"Hey! What's the idea?! Turn loose!"

Then there was a piercing whistle and Sid turned to me and griped, "I'm gonna tell Uncle Sloan. He don't like anyone man handling us."

I still didn't say a word - or turn them loose - and was eyeing the stranger who suddenly called, "Over here Boss!"

Sloan walked into the orchard with a smile on his face but it wilted a bit when he took in the scene. He came over and said calmly, "Teaghan, this is Dan ... Dan Cummins. He's the Site Coordinator for the business and a damn fine one at that."

Remembering the name I said, "Dan ... he can restore almost anything."

"That's right, I told you about him last night. He's already looked at those bookcases and said they aren't as bad as they look and he can have them fixed before nightfall."

I started to relax and realized I still had a death grip on the boys collars. I had managed to embarrass myself again. Mumbling a hasty apology I told them all, "I'll leave you to your business." But when I tried to make my escape Sloan startled me by putting an arm around my waist and pulling me closer to him.

"C'mon. Let me introduce you to everyone. They don't bite, I promise."

I could feel Dan staring so I did my best not to make more of a fool of myself but it was strange to have some man's arm around me like Dad used to do with Mom. I felt like I was playacting and decided Sloan must be too, trying to put everyone at ease.

The boys tried to complain about how I'd been working them to death and then nearly strangled them on top of it. Sloan told them, "You don't seem near death's door to me and a little work never hurt anyone."

"A little work?! Uncle Sloan we've been carrying baskets ALL MORNING LONG! How much longer do we have to do what she says? She's a ... a slave driver!"

They sounded so much like my brothers used to when they were younger that I had to smile. But Sid spoiled it by snarling, "What are you laughing at Ugly? You can't ..."

POP!

Sloan had popped the boy square in the mouth, not hard enough to do damage I could see but definitely to make an impression. "I hear you talking to her like that again and you'll think last night was a sweet dream!"

Sid and Silas both got mean and mulish expressions on their faces as we all stopped half way between the orchard and the house. I sighed. "Honestly, I'm starting to think that you two are even more hard headed than my brothers were and I didn't think anyone could be that bad. Look, I'm not asking you to love me to bits and pieces 'cause frankly you aren't exactly all that lovable to me right now. I'm not sure I even care if you like me or not. But whatever beef you've dreamed up in your heads get over it and take the time to see I might have some good points. Things don't have to be as rough as you are trying to make them for your uncle."

"Ain't trying to make them rough for Uncle Sloan. We just want you to go away you heifer."

Sloan had raised his hand again but I put mine on his forearm to forestall what the boys were just begging for. Instead I shook my head at the them. "Well I'm not going. I made a contract with your uncle. A legal and binding one. And I don't break my word. If you want to keep making yourselves out to be donkey's behinds I really can't stop you but I will warn you that you aren't going to have your way so in the end, all you are doing is going to make your own selves miserable when you could be having some fun with all this."

"Oh yeah right."

"Fine. Think but you want. But until you two stop acting like a couple of little jerks I'm not making you any of my pies and I'm not going to tell you where all my brothers' best secret spots are. And I know them all 'cause I spied on them and they never even knew I was around. Granted, you might be able to find a few on your own but you won't find the best ones without my help. And when you see how much your uncle likes my cooking you'll wish you had behaved a little better too. I will also laugh my butt off when you run into Watchit or some of the other surprises around here all for lack of a little warning."

Sid said, "Don't care about your cooking, you're probably just going to poison us. Don't care about your dumb ol' brothers dumb ol' secret places either. And this place doesn't belong to you anymore." But Silas followed up with a cautious, "Who's Watchit? That's a dumb name."

I ignored Sid though his words had been too close to being hurtful and told Silas, "So says you. But trust me, the name fits."

Sloan was angry. I was thinking maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut and given the boys less ammo but at the time that wasn't my way. Sloan's arm fell from my waist and I stepped back as he marched the boys to the porch leaving me uncomfortably alone with the man called Dan.

He said, "The boys ain't at their best."

I shrugged.

"They've had it rough and this ... er ... situation has caught most of us off guard."

I nodded. "Wasn't exactly how I saw my life happening either," I told him before sealing my lips again against any more potential foolishness.

There were a couple of men on the porch already. In fact there were men all over the place and I could feel a panic attack coming on. I tried to back up but Sloan stepped off the porch and called me over. "Teaghan!"

I squared my shoulders and tried to walk bravely into the lion's den and I think Sloan somehow sensed it 'cause some of the heat left his eyes. "I want to introduce you. The sooner you get to know who belongs and who doesn't the less jumpy you'll feel. You've already met Dan." I nodded. "Well these two men here are Charlie and Duncan ... they're the camp cooks."

It nearly turned me cross eyed when they said, "Ma'am." I felt my face grow hot and for some reason it was easier to take the closer I was to Sloan. I almost wanted to hide behind him but he turned and drew me forward.

To the men who had suddenly gathered all around Sloan said,"I explained the situation and told you what put us here. Give Teaghan some space to get to know you, she's had a rough time and hasn't been used to having more than her father and brothers around for a while now."

I glanced up at Sloan and realized he was trying to be nice. I felt ashamed of being a coward and that's something I'd never thought I was. I squared my shoulders, straightened my spine, and though I couldn't look at anyone of them square in the face I said, "How do you do? I'm sorry we're meeting for the first time under such ... er ... unusual circumstances. Would anyone care for some cool apple juice? Or water? I put some jars of tea brewing for supper but it should be ready by now if you'd prefer that."

Charlie stepped forward and said, "Water would be fine. Leave the tea for what you planned it for. This lot ain't that particular. But if you've got a moment, Boss said there might be some things out of the garden we can use to feed the crew with so we can stay out of our supplies."

I looked at Sloan and he nodded. "Some will have to be used to feed the men. Burdock might be expecting that he keeps getting as much as he has in the past but our needs and the company's need come first. Foolish to trade off only to have to purchase more."

Nodding my understanding. "OK. But ... um ..." Dad and the boys would have listened to my reasoning but I wasn't really sure what my place was. Sloan looked at me like he was waiting so I took a breath and said, "Well, to avoid foolishness how about using what has come in a bumper first?" I turned to the men Charlie and Duncan and said, "I've got a hundred foot row of turnips and their tops that are ready. My brothers used to take a truck to the farmer's market once a week and could get rid of the whole load but ..." I shrugged and stopped trying to think in that direction, of how things would change even if no one meant for it to hurt me. "And there's rows and rows of potatoes that need to be dug before too much longer that can be boiled while the greens are cooking. And if you are going to be working you'll need some protein so how about for supper I pull out a roast and cut it into stew chunks and bring up some quarts of hominy and a man-sized hominy stew can be made. I'll throw in a strawberry and rhubarb cobbler and for those that might not like that I can make a peach cobbler."

Charlie's bushy eyes were up in his hairline but Duncan piped up and said, "Save the taters for tomorrow, too hot to be digging out a hill at a time today. If the turnips are sweet we'll bake 'em and mash 'em."

"I ate one raw just like an apple day before yesterday to save heating up the house in the middle of the day."

Duncan smiled and nodded like he approved and when they asked me to point them in the direction I decided to show them since it would be easier. Sloan followed and stayed at my side after assigning the boys to Dan who proceeded to put them to work emptying one of the many storage trucks parked along the road. It was strange but made me feel safe at the same time to find Sloan's arm on my waist once again.

We came to the turnip field and Charlie whistled. "Sweet mother of God, that's a lot o' turnips."

"My brothers made some of their extra spending money off the turnips every year. I'm sure that if they even are thinking of what they were forced to leave behind they'll just be happy they aren't going to waste." I turned away, once again caught off guard by how much it hurt to realize I'd never see the two oversized pains in my backside ever again. Being ten years older than me they had been both brothers and second fathers in their own way.

I stepped away to stare at the trunk of a tree and try and compose myself while the men talked with Sloan. It finally penetrated that I heard buzzing and looked to see the beehives that Jeremiah had set up were battling with something that had crawled up into the box.

"Lovely," I said after spotting the snakes tail hanging out of the entryway. "Just flaming lovely. Ticked off bees and a ticked off snake." Mumbling and grumbling about stupid snakes that didn't have the brains God gave a stump I drew my glove onto my left hand and pulled my pistol out of my holster with my right. I turned to look at the men and chirped a whistle to get their attention and when I had it I told them, "Hold your ears."

I reached over, grabbed the snake's tail pulled slow until it was most of the way out then gave a yank and a throw. I shot as it went flying and saw with no small amount of personal satisfaction that the body went one way and the head, what was left of it, went another. I stepped over to make sure that I had identified it correctly and nodded with with yet more satisfaction. Sloan came over at a run and then snapped, "What the devil?"

"Young rattler. Might have been after a mouse or something. We had a population explosion of them last year when some brainless wonder introduced them to take care of the rats in his silos. I'd druther he'd gotten cats ... cats you can at least fix to control the population. None dare show their face around the barns and such ... Watchit and her family makes sure of that ... but we started finding them in the gulley and in the fence rows this spring. They've turned into a nuisance."

Charlie chuckled and said, "Ma'am I don't think he was talking about the snake so much as your shootin'."

I turned to Sloan wide-eyed wondering if he thought it was improper for a female to carry a gun. "Uh ... mmm ... er ..."

Sloan just kept looking at me while Duncan said, "You're mighty damn quick."

"Oh. Well. Dad and my brothers ... they were soldiers ... they said that if I was going to carry that I had to learn to shoot because they didn't want to have to pick a stray one out of their backside." I shrugged uncomfortably and added, "They kinda rode me until I was as proficient as they thought I needed to be."

Sloan put his hands on his hips and snorted. "If that's just proficient I'd hate to see what they considered real talent." Not sure how to take what he said I just kept silent and then slowly, even though it nearly killed me, offered him my revolver.

He took it and looked it over. I knew it wasn't exactly the prettiest gun ever made, it was the one my grandmother used to carry and was older than Dad had been, but Dad had carved new insets for the handle for my sixteenth birthday and it felt like an extension of my hand when I held it. When Sloan handed it back to me I almost couldn't believe it and some of the relief must have shown in my face because he asked, "Family heirloom?"

"Uh ... from my grandmother. It was hers. She gave it to me when her arthritis made shooting it too painful. I was nine but Mom wouldn't let me carry it regular until I turned twelve."

Charlie's chuckle turned into an outright laugh and he said, "Oh you're gonna fit in just fine." He nudged Duncan who joined in the laugh and then said they were going to go back and get a wagon.

Sloan and I followed more slowly and as soon as the other men were out of earshot I asked quietly, "Was he being sarcastic? About me fitting in?"

"No," he answered and then placed his arm at my waist again. "I suppose I should be grateful that you didn't shoot me yesterday."

Remembering I grimaced. "Sorry."

"I'm not. I am however glad you got over your fright as quickly as you did. I hope you'll do the same with the men. Some of them are rough around the edges but we've all worked together for years now and I can testify that there's not a bad egg among 'em."

"Oh ... I'll ... I'll do my best."

2 comments:

  1. Yay! Thankyou for the chapter. I already like Teaghan so much!!

    ReplyDelete