Monday, July 28, 2014

Chapter 8

"Sid, Silas? Have you fin ... er ..."

I walked into the dining room to find the boys literally asleep in their empty plates and Sloan and Dan looking very satisfied if tired.

"Well, I guess it was a good thing I hadn't gotten around to plating up their dessert. You want me to get them up or leave them alone?"

Sloan got a wicked grin on and then whistled a sound piercing enough to make both Shotgun and Cheeser give him disgusted looks from the doorway. The boys jumped out of their plates and I could see that both had gravy in their ears. I sighed. "Bed time boys."

They tried to get mulish but their yawns spoiled the effect. I watched them go up the stairs to make sure they actually got there and noticed they only stopped long enough for Shotgun to lick their faces clean. I shook my head thinking once again how like my brothers they could be and then turned and asked Sloan if they wanted anything else from the kitchen like a glass of milk to wash the cobbler down with.

Dan looked at Sloan hopefully so he told me, "That and when you come back can you bring the ledger you showed me? And the one from this time last year if it is easy to get to?"

I did that and was turning to leave when Sloan stopped me and asked me to sit down and help them decipher the postings. "Nothing to decipher; all the entries should be self-explanatory. We always made sure things were clear in case we had to deal with a tax man. My grandfather had trouble of that sort before I was born so the family was kind of a stickler about it. The farm receipts are in filing cabinets up in the attic if you want those too."

Dan moaned and I thought something was wrong until I saw he was smiling and had a terribly silly look on his face like a lovesick hound. I looked a question at Sloan who was grinning and shaking his head. "Don't worry about Dan, he's just happy. You've made our next few weeks a lot easier."

"How so?" I asked finally getting curious despite my personal vow to stay out of it so I wouldn't get my feelings bunched up.

"Burdock - and through him the BOCC - are asking for an accounting."

I sighed. "You know I like Mr. Burdock, and I hope I'm not out of line here, but the one and only time I ever heard Dad say something that was aggravated about him was that Mr. Burdock likes to be too deep into people's private business."

Both men nodded. "No denying it. The man does like to know what is going on and give advice. But in this case what they are doing is taking an account of the farm's value and then they'll expect another one this time next year to compare it to."

"What for?"

Dan said, "They haven't exactly said. I think it is mostly a power trip."

Sloan shook his head, "Feels more like a threat."

I asked, "You mean like an 'or else' kind of thing? Keep things going like we want them to or else?"

Sloan nodded. I felt my first niggling of unease. I thought I'd only have to deal with losing the farm once but it sounded like there was something more going on.

I muttered, "He wants the tobacco I suppose. That's what he was after last year."

Sloan and Dan looked at each other in some silent communication. Sloan asked, "Your father and Burdock were friends?"

"Of a sort. They served together early in the war. Dad was real young ... I think he was still a Private. Mr. Burdock was only a little older but he was an officer ... Dad still ... I mean used to ... call him LT when they were joking around."

Sloan nodded. Dan opened the ledger for both years and started comparing them and then said, "Whooowee Boss. I thought I'd be having to furlough the men next month but if things compare we'll be struggling for them to have their annual time off. Lord ... have ... mercy." He looked at me in surprise and asked, "And your father and brothers handled this all by themselves?"

"I helped ... and Mom and Hannah before that. My grandparents were also around and part of things but my grandfather had a little dementia and could only work sometimes. All of them going and me being the only extra helper is why I have to do things a little different. I'll harvest and prep the stuff we keep but won't get to preserve all of it until things slow down towards the end of September and into October though that is when the apples are coming in strong and the cider press seems to be going all day."

Dan wanted to know, "What do you mean prep rather than preserve?"

"I use the big freezers and coolers. We used to have a lot more cows so have - I mean you have - a big walk in cooler that kept the milk before it went to the market. Same with eggs and hog meat. But Dad had started to cut back on the animals so that we could grow all of our own feed instead of having to purchase it so we hadn't needed the big coolers so much. Then when Mom and Hannah and Gram were taken by the virus or flu or whatever they are calling it now I kept getting behinder and behinder. I was getting frustrated and so was Dad and the boys. Then I figured out how to just prep stuff until I had more time to actually can things up. Dad and the boys thought it was a fine idea and even re-built the big dehydrator so that I can move the drying trays without help. Josiah knows what it is because he asked if I needed it cleaned out before the apples start coming in. You might actually want to talk to him about things. He might not be able to tie his own shoes but he seems to know up from down and left from right when it comes to things on a farm."

Sloan said, "You seem to have taken to Josiah awful quick."

"Taken to him? What's that mean?"

Dan nudged Sloan and gave him a look then smiled and said, "I think he probably means about like you've taken to Charlie and Duncan."

"Oh. Well I ... they're nice actually. They don't get in my space, don't track dirt in when they come to see if I have some seasoning or an extra pitcher or what have you and they definitely know what they're doing when it comes to stretching groceries and I like that. With Josiah I suppose it is because he reminds me of a boy I knew when I still went to school. He got kicked in the head by a horse when he was little and it did something to him. He was really good at measuring and building but ask him to do almost anything else and it hurt to watch him try. And I ... well ... the rest of the men are kinda ok I guess but I wish they wouldn't mob me when all I do is bring a platter of cookies down to the trestle tables after lunch. It was like watching chickens squabble over the corn ... and just as noisy too." I looked at Sloan to find a surprised look on his face and I asked worriedly, "Did my mouth run away again?"

Sloan slowly smiled and said, "No. Mine did." I didn't understand then and didn't have time to ask because he went on. "Did your father ever hire extra help?"

"Sometimes my cousins would come for a summer job but not since ... for a while I guess - time is kinda running together for me but it should be easy to find in the ledgers ... it was before the virus swept through. As far as I know none of my family is left ... not close family ... but there might still be a few in Florida but they'd be 2nd or 3rd cousins to me ... and by marriage at that. If you are looking for someone that knows more about the farm than I do I'm sorry, there just isn't anyone. And as for hiring outside the family occasionally Dad would let someone exchange work for a meal or two and a place to flop but there hasn't been much of that since Mr. Burdock has set those patrols to keep vagrants from the bigger cities from overrunning the area like they almost did right after Cease Fire One. Some still come around but they're mostly of the homegrown variety ... family has kicked them out, evictions, that sort of thing. Dad used to get irritated because people were always talking about being hard up for jobs but the few times he did want to hire anyone no one wanted to do field work ... or they wanted an arm and leg and Jezebel's crown for doing it."

Both men expressed their understanding and they asked questions for about another hour before I said, "I'm sorry but I really do need to go check on the animals before it gets too much darker and then finish up the kitchen."

Sloan looked outside in surprise and then consternation. "I meant to do that."

"Why? It isn't something your used to doing and you have your business stuff to take care of." I left before he could treat me like I was breakable again. He'd been doing it off and on all day and it was embarrassing and reminded me of what he'd caught me doing the previous night.

It didn't take as long as I had expected because Josiah had already done it, even the milking. He'd grown up on a farm before getting drafted and he had told me the animals were restful to him. After I saw how the cow with a crumpled horn took to him I knew he knew what he was doing but Dad had taught me never to take anything for granted so I checked anyway.

Back in the kitchen I finished up what I had started and was drying the last pan to put it away when I remembered there were still dishes in the dining room. I looked at the nasty water in the sink and knew I'd have to start over with clean wash water. I put a kettle on the stove to heat to boiling rather than drain it out of the cranky hot water tank as I wanted to rinse my hair before bed.

I peeked around the door and saw the men had moved to the office. I shook my head and hoped they'd put all of the ledgers they had out back themselves, grabbed the dishes, and got them to the kitchen. The men had practically licked their plates clean so wash up was fairly easy and left me time to do my hair.

I decided it was safer to take my bathing stuff and use the upstairs bathroom and was doing just that when someone suddenly got into the shower with me. I nearly shrieked and would have except for the hand over my mouth. Sloan had what I came to learn was "the look" in his eyes and whispered, "Best way to save water known to man."

I did manage to get my hair rinsed but just barely. The tub was not at all meant for two grown sized people to be in it at the same time but Sloan didn't seem to care. I was getting used to him wanting to do things all the time but it seemed every new experience was just one more way I found out how to be embarrassed, certainly having the light on was disconcerting. The only thing that got him calmed down was when the hot water ran out. His back had been to the spray and it was with some satisfaction that I saw it was his turn to nearly shriek. In fact it gave me the giggles something awful.

We both scrambled out and I was trying to hurry but when you are wet clothes just don't want to go on quickly. He was grumbling and struggling with his own clothes and my eyes happen to accidentally glance and see his backside and he still had goosebumps from the cold water. Well that set me off again and this time I couldn't hide it.

"Why you little ... I finally see a laugh and it's because ..." He mocked growled real quiet and for some reason that was funny too. I finally made it out the bathroom door and back down the stairs and into the room after grabbing a change of clothes for the next day from my old room. I was still snorting and hiccuping because the giggles are horrible things, once they attack all you can do is ride them out.

I was biting my lips trying really hard not to keep giggling when I heard Sloan open the door. "And you're still at it!" he said. I turned quick because he sounded mad only when I looked at his face I could see he wasn't. He did however have two of my dresser drawers in his hands.

"Hey! That's my clothes!"

"I know they are."

"But why'd you ... I mean ... "

"Marriage Rule #2 ... when you share a room you share the whole room." He put the drawers on the bed and then walked to the chiffarobe and pulled open the cabinet and then the two bottom drawers. He was picking up my clothes and was about to dump them in when I realized with absolute mortifying horror that it was my underthings drawer.

"Wait! Stop that!" I told him trying to take the white cotton unmentionables away from him. "No ... oh Sloan stop. This will just get in the way of your stuff."

He was holding things up out of my reach and i poked him in the side like I had my brothers when they were pulling the same prank but I guess he hadn't been expecting it at all and everything came tumbling down when he scrunched up in surprise. "Oh look what you've done. No wait! Don't look. Close you eyes right now!"

I was scrambling around trying to grab everything and wad it up so he couldn't see when he picked something up off the floor and I nearly died. "Teaghan, if it is all the same to you could you never wear this?"

I jerked the barely used nightgown out of his hands and told him, "Don't worry, it's too small ... most of what I have is. Now close your eyes."

"Nope. What do you mean most of what you have is too small."

I looked at him like he must have trouble hearing. "I mean most of what I have is too small. Now stop it and give that back."

"OK, Miz Literal ... why is most of what you have too small."

"Because I don't know who would have died of embarrassment more, me or Dad or my brothers if I had asked them to pick me up this sort of thing in town ... not to mention the one time I did tell them I needed a new nightgown they came back with that monstrosity. I mean I never even played with Barbies that was Hannah's thing when she was little and it is pink ... flamingo glow in the dark pink ... and it doesn't even fit ... it is too tight through the ... er ... shoulders. They didn't even look at what they bought, just told the sales lady they needed something for a little girl. Little. I was sixteen. It was awful but they looked so pleased with themselves ..."

Suddenly I wasn't laughing but was in danger of doing the opposite. I turned away but didn't get far because Sloan pulled me into his arms and whispered, "The rules of marriage remember? This is rule number one."

"You made that up."

"Nope. Well ... it may not have a number but that is most definitely a rule."

"Really?" I asked peeping up at him.

"Really," he told me so solemnly I was suspicious all over again.

I pushed him away, though not very hard, and went back to picking up the stuff that had gotten scattered all over. Sloan sat on the bed and asked, "Aside from the fact that your father and brothers have hideous taste in women's clothing is there some reason for most of your clothes to be too small?"

I sighed and almost called him a knucklehead but saw he was serious. It was obvious that he'd been missing out on certain realities of life. "Sloan, how was I supposed to go to town and pick out clothes? You know how things are. Females of any age can't go places without nearly having a bodyguard. We stopped even going to church because my brothers were always getting in fights because they thought someone was looking at me. I mean it was kinda that way before the virus - Hannah had it really bad with the boys being so mean, especially after they got back stateside - but at least Dad used to tell them to knock it off. After the virus killed so many Dad actually told the boys to do more of it and no one was to get close enough to even share the same breathing space as me. I mean literally. It just became not worth it. I was able to salvage some of Hannah's and Mom's stuff but I'm built different than they are ... er ..."

"Er what?"

"Different. Oh for heaven's sake ... you know they were kind of well ... pear-ish and I'm built more like Gram's side of the family ... not ... pear-ish."

He got a wicked look on his face and I was getting all out of patience. "Oh geez. Just move so I can put this stuff someplace else."

"Nope. Pick out what you want to keep and slide the rest under the bed. And hand me my note pad and pencil off the dresser."

I tossed it at him and tried to turn so he couldn't see what I was doing. It was at that moment I realized how dismally small a space my keepers actually took up. I'd patched and stitched things up as best I could - everyone had to these days unless they were made of money - but suddenly I was self conscious. I slammed the drawer shut when I realized Sloan was looking over my shoulder.

I stood up and tried to back out but he pulled me over to the bed. "I like to look Teaghan."

I closed my eyes and tried to stick my fingers in my ears. "TMI Sloan ... definitely TMI."

He gently pulled my fingers out and held my hands in his. "Stop that. I mean I like to look ... at you. I'm your husband and you're my wife. And I ... like ... to ... look."

"You are so strange. I never know when you are going to act like those men in Hannah's books and when you aren't."

"OK, Marriage Rule #3 ... stop thinking about what those fictional men were like and start knowing what I'm like. And let me know what you are like."

"Uh ..."

"You've already told me you aren't too fond of pink. What about other colors ... what do you like?"

"I don't know. Why on earth are you asking for?"

"Because I am. Now what is your favorite color? Red, Blue, Yellow ... Purple?"

"I don't really have a favorite ... I guess maybe green. Yeah, I like green."

"Green? OK ... what about flowers? You like flowers or anything else in particular?"

"I'm not particular. Why? Do you like flowers?"

He chuckled. "Sometimes. They're useful on occasion."

"Uh huh ... probably to get you what you want. Salesmen used to give pots of flowers to Mom too."

"Like I said ... they can be useful on occasion. What about lace?"

"Lace? Are you serious? Are you playing a game with me?"

"No ... like I said, I'm trying to find out what you are like ... and what you like."

"Well you're doing it in a strange way ... and ... and your hands are just ... busy. Aren't you tired?"

"Nope. Now, what have you got against lace?"

"I don't have anything against lace ... it just isn't all that practical. And it's expensive. And it itches."

"OK ... you like practical and non itchy."

"Oh now I know you're playing some kind of game. Stop making fun of me."

"I'm not making fun Teaghan," he said. "I'm having fun. There's a difference. And I want you to have fun too."

There was no getting any sense out of him after that ... not for a lot longer than you'd think a man would take after working all day but eventually he did fall to sleep. It took a lot longer for me. Sloan's marriage rules made me want to think too much.


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