Today's breakfast conversation was about the upcoming holiday, Easter.
Heath's first year had been such a learning experience regarding Barkley holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas had just about scared him off and now another holiday, at least this wasn't a gift givin' time. A smile crossed his lips when he thought of what his Mama use to say about people who had too much time and money. "La-De-Da Disease" was what she named it. Heath thought to himself, these folks sure have a bad case of it. Audra talked on and on, not giving a chance for anyone to reply. Heath was happy when his plate was clean, he excused himself and hurried out to the North Pasture, where damaged fence line was summoning him.
Lunch time came and in his haste to leave the breakfast table Heath neglected to pick up his lunch from the kitchen. Heath worked hard, his breakfast was long burned off and the thought of skipping the noon meal made his stomach growl louder. The early spring was already producing hot afternoons, the heat helped Heath decide he needed a lunch break and more water in his almost empty canteen. He laughed to himself as he mounted Charger, "Heath, your gettin' spoiled! You missed many meals in your life. Nice it's a choice to miss a meal, not lack of food or money." He urged his horse faster,the breeze blowing in his face felt pleasing.
Arriving at home and doing a quick clean up, Heath headed to the dining room. The others were gathering, except for Jarrod who would be home by Friday from San Francisco. Jenna was sitting in Heath's chair beside Audra.
Sweet Jenna, now there was a girl Heath could like! Her green eyes danced when she laughed, an Boy Howdy did that girl love to laugh. She wasn't all fussy and uppity like a lot of the girls he'd met. She had long dark hair that she tied back with a single thin ribbon, a blue one. She came up to his chin and had the softest hands. Last week at Audra and Heath's scheduled orphanage visit, they had played tag with the children. When Jenna was it, the kids yelled for her to tag Heath. She chased him down, laughing while in hot pursuit, they ended up in a heap as she grabbed his arm and he whirled her around in front of him. He recalled her soft small hand wiping a smudge from his cheek as the children flocked around them laughing.
That's where he had met her, at the orphanage where he and Audra volunteer once a week. Heath loved helping with the kids, he had a connection with them. He understood hard times and feeling lost. Watching them play was like magic to Heath. As a child he didn't have toys and the good folks of Strawberry preferred their children not play with the town bastard, so he was left alone or with his Mama to play. Since both of them worked to make ends meet, there wasn't much time for childhood games. When they would finally arrived home after a long day, they were tired and hungry, sleep would come early most nights.
Jenna grew up at the orphanage. Her parents died shortly after coming west and she was a sickly little girl, no one wanted a sick child. When she finally was healthy, she was older and it seemed that folks either wanted little ones or boys. She now worked at the orphanage and part of her pay was room and board. She wasn't like the rest of Audra's cronies that were always being matched up with Heath. Why didn't Audra match him up with Jenna? Maybe Jenna didn't care for him. Maybe a cowboy tossin' her on the ground playing tag wasn't a way to impress her! Jenna didn't attend the town dances and even declined when invited to Audra's socials at the house. Suddenly Heath heard Nick saying somethin' loud and embarrassing to get his attention.
"Heath, are you with us or out there in dreamland?"
"What?..Were you talkin' to me? I was thinkin'?" Heath rejoined them.
"Don't you know you're not suppose to think on your lunch break?" Nick laughed and encouraged everyone to join him. " I was just askin' how far you got this morning on the line? Will it be done today?"
"I'll make sure it's finished, don't worry Big Brother." Heath answered, giving his customary grin.
"Heath, do you have a little spare time this afternoon to help prepare the eggs for the Easter Egg Hunt for the children?" Audra asked.
"Now Audra, I'm sure you and Jenna can handle it. You even have Mother and Silas to help. Heath has work to do, Little Sister, and that work ain't dying eggs for a kids hunt. Ain't that right, Heath?" Nick was often willing to answer for his younger brother. Nick mistook Heath's quietness for uncertainty. As their relationship grew, Nick felt a greater need to protect Heath from questions and prodding, even from family.
All eyes looked to Heath. Many times he just gave a nod showing that he agreed with his Big Brother's assessments. This time Heath had an intrigued look.
"I shouldn't, I do have to finish the downed fence, but I'll hurry and try to make it back. Never dyed eggs before, sounds interestin'." He had once again caused his family to reflect on the privileges they've known and those Heath did not.
Victoria had been quiet to this point, "Heath, I think the fence line could wait until tomorrow, don't you Nicholas?"
Nick knew, since she was using the name Nicholas, agreeing was the way to go if he didn't want to have her really upset with him. "Sure, I might even stay myself. I was always the best Barkley at colorin' eggs."
Victoria smiled at her middle son. This afternoon had turned into a family project, that in future years would become tradition. She wished Jarrod could be there to share Heath's first time dyeing eggs.
Silas, for several days had been gathering red onion skins, orange peels, red cabbage leaves and spinach leaves to use for dyeing. After several dozen eggs were boiled, and pans with the vinegar, water, and coloring agents were prepared they started to create. Heath was wonderful to watch. He made Victoria's heart fill with an even greater appreciation for her newest son. She also noticed how he and Jenna worked as a team and watched as their eyes met and they made silent communication. Sparks, she could definitely see them.
Her grown children bonding over something as simple as colored eggs. This afternoon she would long hold dear in her heart.
That night, as the house quieted she couldn't get the picture of Heath at the table holding up his first dyed egg out of her mind. Such pride over an egg! She found herself tying her robe and walking toward Heath's room. His door was open and the lamp was low, but he wasn't inside. She heard some clamoring from the kitchen and knew where to find her young cowboy.
She came down the steps quietly and found him with a bowl of colored eggs on the table. He took a long drink of milk and holding up a one of his works of art whispered, " Mama, maybe La-De-Da Disease isn't so bad after all!"
The smile on his lips assured her of his contentment. Victoria chose not to interrupt her son's moment, she'd have time to share the memory of this special day with him in years to come!