Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Twenty

August 15, 2006

Peter and Helena had conversed about ordinary things on the ride home, listening to their children comparing notes about their cousins and exchanging village gossip they had picked up.

Daniel, the eldest, had spent a good deal of time with John, Otto and Owain and had news of several of the eligible girls in town.

Inga was dismissive of most of them, but perked up when a couple of her good friends' names were mentioned.

Sebastian had any number of complaints -- Doris was mean, Doris was ugly, Doris thought too much of herself. Meg ignored him. Polly treated him like a baby. Andy didn't want to play with him...

Helena jostled Peter's arm with her elbow in that way that said, "Being thirteen is so hard... glad it's almost over."

It was well past dark when they finally pulled into the yard. Helena and Inga conversed a bit and got the kitchen set up for the morning while Peter and the boys unharnessed the horse from the wagon and put the horse to bed.

The wind was blowing a bit, and a few drops were starting to fall, heavy on the dusty packed earth in front of the barn.

Peter listened carefully to the wind, and sent Sebastian in. "Daniel, we had best check to be sure all the doors on the outbuilding are well secured. Looks like a big blow coming in."

Sebastian stomped into the kitchen, pulling an ugly face. Inga rolled her eyes and carried a jar into the pantry.

Helena turned from the sink, wiping her hands on an apron. "Sebastian, this is so unbecoming. What has gotten into you?"

Sebastian kicked at the table leg a little too hard and hurt his toe.

"Nobody likes me, Mother, not even my cousins."

Inga came out of the pantry with a container of flour. She put it in the metal cupboard and hung her apron on a peg. "I'm going to read a little before bed, Mother." She shot Sebastian a withering look and swished out of the room.

Helena sighed and sat down, pulling the table back in place as she did so. "Sebastian, what have you done to be liked?"

Sebastian didn't answer, just stood there glowering and rocking back and forth with one foot on the other, hands in his back pockets.

The little bird in the cage chittered and ran its beak across a stick. Helena put her hand out and pulled an old sheet over the cage while watching her son closely.

Helena tried again, "Did you smile when you got to your Aunt's home? Did you express an interest in what the others were saying?"

Sebastian's reply was incoherent, but decidedly sullen. Helena stood up and pushed her chair under the table.

"Young man, I am tired, and will not attempt to continue a one-sided conversation tonight. You may go to bed."

Sebastian took his hands out of his pockets and half-heartedly kissed his mother's cheek before he slunk out of the kitchen.

Helena thoughtfully went back to her dishes.

Rain started to hit the roof, it came from the other side of the house. Just as it arrived over Helena's head, Peter and Daniel burst through the door, jackets over their heads.

The men stopped at the door and took off their muddy shoes and hung their jackets over a metal pan. Helena handed a towel to each of them, and stepped to the stove to lift the kettle lid before it boiled over.

Peter wiped the wet from his face and neck and hands; Daniel wiped his hands, neck and face.

Helena poured some water into the teapot and the rest into a basin in the sink. She put the towels and the wash rags into the hot water and swished them around.

Daniel nipped into the pantry and came out with a bit of nut bread. Peter grabbed a couple small plates and a large knife (and the cutting board).

As Helena pulled the towels and cloths out, she laid them across a wooden rack over the drainboard. By morning, they would be dry and clean. She left the water in the basin to cool overnight.

Daniel was already pouring out the tea when Helena sat down, her apron off and her sleeves unrolled.

Peter passed a small slice of bread to her, and a large slice to Daniel. He protectively kept the cutting board on his side of the table.

Helena laughed and her eyes lit up. Peter was struck by how much she had changed since their marriage -- and how beautiful she had become in those years. It was not easy to be a farmer's wife, far from family and friends.

Daniel watched his father's face and focused on dipping his bread in his tea. "It looks like a big storm tonight, Mother. We got the outbuildings secured, but I am afraid it was too dark to do much about your garden."

Peter grunted, "The garden should be all right son, I'm more worried about the hay in the field. It's not at all protected, and it's close to harvest."

Helena listened quietly, enjoying the warm banter. She looked from her son to his father and back. She remembered when Daniel had been less than attractive in manner and appearance; and reflected that most children turned out pretty well.

Finally, the tea and nut bread disappeared, the crumbs knocked off the plates into the slop bucket by the door. Helena stacked the cups and plates by the sink and refilled the kettle for the morning while Daniel saw to the stove and Peter put away the cutting board.

Daniel excused himself, and Peter and Helena embraced. They rarely expressed their affection for each other in front of the children, a remnant of Helena's upbringing, but they were very close nonetheless.

The rain switched around the house, gusts and puffs now from this direction, now from another, coming in bursts. The plum by the kitchen porch brushed along the side of the house fitfully.

As they walked to their room, they spoke confidentially about the evening. Peter was truly glad to see Paul -- gladder because Gilly was so happy. Helena was withholding judgment, but knew that Adam's approval was thoughtful and just.

As they pulled the covers up, Helena spoke nervously, "Peter -- what if..." she couldn't finish the thought.

"What if what, Helena?" he turned to her in surprise.

"What if he has changed? What if he doesn't stay? What if..." she trailed off miserably.

Peter leaned over and kissed her forehead. "Those are questions that cannot be answered, Helena. Paul has always been solid and had good reasons for his actions. We didn't get more than a tiny glimpse into the last ten years."

Helena watched Peter's face intently while he talked.

"And Paul didn't get more than a tiny glimpse into our lives over the past ten years, either. We will have to reconnect, it is true. But I believe that Paul is a kind and decent man, and I know that Gilly is devoted to him."

The lamp guttered a little as a whiff of wind came through the window frame.

"If any family can survive this separation and strange reunion, it is they. And if any family can pull together and support them, it is ours."

Peter smiled at Helena and reached over to turn off the lamp. She snuggled against his warm back and tickled him a little with the ends of her braid.

Peter roared --quietly so as not to wake the children-- and gave her an embrace that chased away all thoughts of "what if."

There was now, and there was forever, and for a moment, they were one.

**all done for tonight, friends, my fingers are tired and there are dishes to do!**