After a fifth swipe of the wet rag, Kathryn was finally satisfied with Grace's face. It had been covered with sticky blackberry syrup. Kathryn refused to visit the field of her new husband while his daughter looked as if she'd stuck her face in a bowl of fruit. Somehow her young charge had even gotten a drop of the sticky sweetness in her eyebrow. Kathryn might have even left it there if she didn't need to impress Luke; Grace had been quite adorable covered in the black stains. And both Grace and Susannah had loved the corn fritters, praising them with each bite. Kathryn had to hold in giggles as Grace tried to devour an entire fritter in one bite.
As soon as Grace's face was clean, she ran to the door, excitement rippling through her little body. "Can we go see Daddy now?!"
"Yes, Gracie," Susannah laughed, tying the strings of her bonnet beneath Grace's chin. "Let's just clean up these blankets your Daddy didn't bother folding."
"Oh, I'm sorry, that was my fault," Kathryn said quickly, rushing to her bedding.
"No it wasn't, if a man uses blankets, he should clean them up," Susannah insisted, carrying the neatly folded pile onto the pallet.
"He didn't use them, I did."
Susannah spun on her heel and eyed Kathryn suspiciously. "Please tell me that man didn't make you sleep on the floor."
Kathryn immediately regretted her admission over the blankets. She should have just left it alone. Susannah believing Luke a slob was far better than what she had to be thinking now. "Well I just woke up there…"
Susannah began to utter something under her breath, obviously enraged by her brother-in-law's actions. "We'll make you your own mattress after we take lunch out to the men. I think Grace will enjoy the project, and we'll make sure it's far more comfortable than what Luke is sleeping on. I cannot believe him! After you've been on a boat for two months…" She continued to grumble as she got things together to take outside. "Just wait until I get my hands on him!"
Kathryn felt nerves bubble in her stomach as she filled the basket for the men. She was so eager to please her new husband; it was absolutely essential that he liked her. "Will Jonathan be in the fields with Luke?"
Susannah stopped and looked up, thoughtfully. "You know, I think he did plan on going over this morning. He usually stays home to work on the books and shipments, but I remember him saying something about the fields."
"I'll pack something for him as well."
"I know he'll appreciate that," Susannah laughed. "My husband is always hungry."
The walk out to the fields was wonderful. Kathryn couldn't remember the last time she had seen trees in full bloom, and grass so long it tickled your knees, or such startling sunshine. It smelled like dew and flowers, the foreign fragrances of nature making her almost giddy. She had never realized how constricting the London air was, but now she wondered why anyone would choose to live in a cramped city when places like this existed. Kathryn was enjoying the outdoors so much that she had completely forgotten the reason for the excursion until she heard male voices crying out at one another from the far corners of a field that stretched out before her.
Nerves returned immediately. She felt her eyes grow wide, and her skin was moist. Gripping the basket more tightly than before, she kept moving, following closely behind Susannah, watching as Grace ran through the grass that almost swallowed her whole as she pushed through the blades. Luke was giving instructions to someone as she plowed into his leg, tipping him sideways as he withstood the blast. The vision of it loosed the tension within. Kathryn watched, prepared to watch her new husband soften under the influence of his daughter, but he didn't. He merely patted her on the head, and loosened her grip before turning to scream at the workers once more.
Kathryn couldn't understand it. How could he just push her away? And yet, what she had just witnessed was almost familiar. Her father had treated Melanie, Allie and herself in much the same way after their mother had died. They would grasp for his attention, only to be disappointed when he stumbled into their home, drunk and filled with grief. She shook her body quickly, hoping escape the memories that clung to the corners of her soul like spider webs in a neglected cabin. Kathryn promised herself to always bestow joy and affection on this little girl.
Beside her, she heard Susannah intake a breath quickly, then sighed in disappointment. "I wish he would give that little girl a hug."
Kathryn nodded, swallowing down the lump that had formed in the back of her throat. "She's such a sweet little thing."
"That she is. I'm afraid she'll lose some of her sweetness if he doesn't pay her some attention soon. He's still so grieved over Mary, and Grace looks so much like her. I think he's afraid that if he gets close to her, he won't be able to bear it if he loses her too."
Kathryn sighed, Luke's emotions made sense. She couldn't fault him for them, especially with the way disease and the hardship of this land seemed to take the people that called it their home so quickly. Luke still hadn't paid them any mind, and Grace scampered back to the open arms of her Aunt, seemingly unaffected by her father's disinterest.
"Daddy is busy," she said quietly, clinging to the woman who held her tightly.
"Yes, love, he is. We'll leave his breakfast with Uncle Jonathan, I'm sure he'll enjoy it when he gets to it. Now, you, Ryn, and I are going to go make a mattress so Ryn doesn't have to sleep on the floor again."
Grace let her head fall to the side. "Ryn can share my bed!"
Kathryn smiled, thrilled by the sentiment of the young girl. "Thank you, Gracie, that's very kind." How amazing that she could be so filled with love for a stranger after being ignored by the only parent she had left.
"It is kind," Susannah added, beaming with pride. "You are the sweetest girl I've ever met. But, Ryn needs her own place to sleep, remember, she's staying forever."
"Oh right!" Grace giggled, leaping from her Aunt's arm and into Kathryn's. "I am so glad!"
Grace wriggled down to the ground and tugged on both women's hands. Susannah screamed some fleeting instructions to her husband who wasn't far from where they stood and let her niece lead them back toward the cottage where they could gather the supplies they needed to make Kathryn's mattress.
The day passed in a delightful way, with Grace doing her part to fill the mattress with the softest material they could find. It grew so plump and plush that Kathryn couldn't help but imagining herself sinking into it that evening, finding comfort for the hard work that this landscape seemed to require. For the first time in a very long time, she had not spent her day doing someone else's bidding; she did something for herself, and had even enjoyed herself. It seemed that life in America would be a wonderful adventure, even if her husband held contempt for her presence. A detail she would work most diligently to change.
Luke stomped home, afraid of what he might be waiting for him there. His breakfast had been delicious, despite the fact that it was cold, which only made him wonder how good it had been when it had come off the skillet. Hopefully it was a chance occurrence and dinner would prove something else he could despise her for. He'd always had a traitorous stomach, but he was determined to not let himself be swayed, not this time. Surely a man could appreciate the food a woman cooked without appreciating the woman.
Smoke billowed from the chimney of the one roomed home, which signaled that dinner was being prepared. Heaving a final sigh, Luke leaned into the door with his shoulder, hoping to scare the mouse of a woman with his abrupt action. His entrance didn't prove as terrifying as he'd imagined, in fact, both women in the room ignored that he had even arrived. Grace was on the floor grinding flower petals on a rock with intensity, her four year old eyes focused on her job. She always noticed his entry, a piece of him felt stung by the lack of attention. Every night she ran for a hug, which Luke would allow but never return, his policy to keep her at arms length was still firmly in place. So, why should it matter to him that she ignored him today? It was one less hug to avoid, one less disappointed stare to push to the back of his mind, one less scolding from Susannah.
While he stood at the doorway, Kathryn noticed him. "Good evening, Mr. Reid," she said, like a well-mannered servant, her gaze not reaching higher than his throat.
He chose not to respond, merely closing the door before going to retrieve his clean clothes from the shelf that held his possessions. Grace still hadn't looked up from her work. With clean clothes in hand, he had every intention of leaving once again.
"Oh, um, excuse me. Mr. Reid? Dinner will be ready in less than a half an hour, perhaps you'd like to stay."
"I don't eat with a sweat soaked shirt clinging to my skin. I'd like to wash up," he growled, not turning to look at her while he responded.
He stomped back out of the house, irritated that she would even question his actions. Reaching the creek, he stomped into the cold water. The temperature seemed to cleanse his sticky skin as well as dousing the flames of his anger. Making quick work of his bath, he redressed and went home, prepared for an evening of uncomfortable silence.
When he entered this time, Grace sprung at him with her usual fervor and much to his own surprise; he gave her a quick squeeze in return instead of his usual gentle push. Grace backed away, wide eyed, a small timid smile pulling at her lips, Mary's lips.
"Look, Daddy! We made Ryn's bed!" she pointed proudly to the corner where Kathryn had spent most of the previous night. Instead of the bare floor with a tangle of blankets, there now sat a mattress neatly made with a pillow and quilt.
Guilt tugged on a corner of her heart. He should not have let her sleep on the floor last night, and he should have been the one to stuff a new mattress for her. What was he, a savage? Stop it, Luke. Don't go soft now, you have no responsibility for this woman, she'll only be here for a little while. Don't let her in, you can't handle it. You don't want her, you don't know her, and she's not Mary. Keep other men from objectifying her; provide a roof, that's all.
"That's good, Grace," he answered stoically.
"Ryn said I could sleep with her tonight. She said its radishun."
"Radishun?" Luke asked, not understanding what his daughter was trying to tell him.
Grace swung around, focusing her attention on Kathryn, who was stirring something over the stove. "Isn't it radishun?"
Kathryn turn around, a smile filled with amusement tugging at the edges of her lips, her eyes sparkling with pleasure. "Tradition."
Luke let a single laugh fall from his chest. Grace looked at him clearly puzzled by his response while Kathryn looked shocked. After just a moment's hesitation, she regained her composure. "I think that's the twentieth time I've told her today. In my family, whenever we got a new bed, all of the sisters climbed in the first night to break it in."
"How often did you get new beds?" The question fell out of his lips before his disinterest or common sense could stop it.
He forced himself to look up, hoping that Kathryn would ignore the question he hadn't meant to ask. Truly, he didn't care to know the answer. What he saw was a blush that flooded Kathryn's cheeks, an answer on her tongue. A story ready to tumble out of her mouth.
"Every few months, perhaps four times a year. Because my father was in debtor's prison, we were often thrown out of our residence. When we got a new place and new beds, I tried to make the experience a bit better by a night of snuggling with my sisters. We would spend the first three nights of our stay rotating through each of the new beds, snuggling and giggling all night."
Luke wasn't sure what she should say. The memory was obviously touching, and it was apparent that she missed her sisters. It was also clear that her father was in debtor's prison, a criminal, a man who couldn't tend to his responsibilities. With a shake of his head, he cleared compassion and concern from his mind. He would make no response. "Is dinner ready?" he said instead.
Kathryn's green eyes flickered, hurt reflected there, unsure of what had just happened. Luke turned away he couldn't care, wouldn't care. "Yes, have a seat," she said quietly.
Luke plopped down onto the bench and waited to be served, which Kathryn did swiftly. Grace took her seat at the table as well, smiling like a queen while Kathryn filled her bowl as well. Finally, Kathryn filled her own dish and joined them. Kathryn bowed her head and blessed the food, then invited them all to enjoy the stew she had prepared. And Luke did enjoy. The meal was delicious, and the company wasn't as terrible as he had once imagined. Had it not been for his stubborn desire to remain indifferent, he might have enjoyed the conversation she and Grace had while they ate. She had only been there one day, and he was already in trouble. Perhaps he hadn't realized how lonely he was. But it was no matter he would have to try harder tomorrow.