by Mrs NickB
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended by the author. The ideas expressed in this story are copyrighted to the author.
'The Weaker Vessel' was written in collaboration with 'The Voyage' by Abigail of Dreamers. In the interest of story flow, excerpts from 'The Voyage' (posted in blue) will be interspersed within 'The Weaker Vessel' and are used with the permission of the author.
Silas serves the usual breakfast fare for the family, eggs, bacon, toast, juice and coffee. They are seated at the table. Victoria looks over her family and notes the newest member is absent.
"Silas, did you see Laura this morning?"
"Yes ma'am, I'm sure she'll be down directly," he pours coffee in everyone's cups.
"With her usual grand entrance no doubt," Jarrod looks over his juice glass at Silas.
Dressed in her usual riding clothes, Laura enters quietly, looking rather listless, as she sits at her place.
"Morning," she tugs at her napkin, pulling the folds apart, with some difficulty, then places it on her lap. She looks at her empty plate, then at the array of food before her, she half heartedly takes a piece of toast and places it on her plate, staring at it. The rest of the family watch the odd behavior from the usually vivacious woman. Victoria is the first to speak.
"Is there something wrong dear?"
"Hum?" Laura looks at the woman, blinking sleepily.
"Are you ill?"
"No," she takes a sip of her coffee, makes a face and adds sugar to the mixture. She adds 3 spoonfuls of sugar in her coffee.
"Is there something wrong with the coffee today?" asks her mother-in-law.
"Seems bitter now, my first cup was fine but this isn't."
Victoria takes a sip of her own coffee, and shakes her head, "Mmm, my cup seems fine."
Her daughter-in-law doesn't seem to hear her comment, but instead absentmindedly stirs the coffee with a spoon, clinking the china. Victoria looks annoyed with the unnecessary noise. Heath stands over Laura holding a pitcher.
"Juice Laura?" asks Heath, hoping to get her to stop the clinking of the china. She looks up at him, still stirring her coffee.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I asked if ya wanted juice?"
"Oh, yes please." She stops stirring long enough to give him her glass. He takes it, pours and places it in front of her. Victoria gives Heath grateful smile. He winks at his mother.
"Ya okay?" Heath asks.
"Ah huh," she says, her chin resting in the palm of her hand.
"Are you sure you are all right Laura?" Jarrod adds his own concerned voice.
"Oh, yes, I 'm sorry. I just didn't get much sleep last night."
"Are you sure you are well Laura?" Victoria asks her again.
"Yes fine, just tired, really."
"Maybe you shouldn't go riding today."
"Oh no, I have to, I've got business to attend to in town."
"What kind of business?" Jarrod cross examines.
"Just business about the library and the Harvest Festival."
"Oh yes, I talked to the Senator about the Judicial Building and he was amicable to the suggestion that it be used as a library."
"Really? That's good," she answers yawning. She sips her coffee, and makes a face. "Goodness, this is too sweet," she pushes the cup away, and sips the orange juice instead. She makes another face, then puts a spoon of sugar in the orange juice.
"Is the orange juice not to your liking?" asks Victoria.
"It's bitter, don't you think?"
"No, not at all."
"Agh, maybe it's just me. Nothing seems to taste right today. Excuse me please."
"You hardly ate a thing Laura," complains her mother-in-law.
"Not really hungry, I'll make up for it at lunch." Jarrod interrupts again.
"Since you had such a meager breakfast, why don't you join me for lunch in Stockton?"
"That's sweet of you but I won't be in Stockton that long, you're a dear for asking." Laura walks over to him and politely kisses his cheek, then sniffs the air. "Ugh! What's that awful smell?"
"What smell?" says Jarrod; she sniffs at the strip of bacon held in his hand.
"How can you eat that? It smells awful."
"You've eaten bacon before," Jarrod protests.
"Not when it smells like that I don't. Excuse me," she winces as she rushes out of the dining room, holding one hand over her mouth and the other on her stomach. Jarrod looks at Heath.
"Does it smell strange to you?" Jarrod offers his bacon strip to Heath.
"It smells like it always does," he pulls the strip of bacon out of Jarrod's hand, shoves it in his mouth and winks at Jarrod. "Delicious," Heath adds. Jarrod makes a disgusted face at Heath.
"What's wrong Jarrod?" his mother asks.
"Lost my appetite!" he complains, looking annoyed at his mother, who smiles back at him. "Just what has she been doing in Stockton every morning? Does anyone in this family know? She has been going into town every day this week!"
"She said she was working on things for the library," offers his sister.
"What things? Has she told you?"
"No, but I'm sure they are important. Then of course there is the Harvest Festival to prepare for, that takes a lot of work. I have been working with Father Sanchez and Hope has been a big help too, with the children, she has helped...."
"Just what is going on with her?" Jarrod interrupts his sister's chatter.
"There's no need to be rude Jarrod, if you are so concerned about what Laura is up to why don't you follow her like a spy!" Audra says angrily.
"I just might do that! Someone should be looking out for her. Imagine what could have happened with the Mortons! You know how miserable those people are!"
Victoria shakes her head at her eldest, "Oh Jarrod, she was fine and she came away from there earning much admiration from them, which is more than I can say for the rest of this family. She is doing a good deed by continuing on with this library project of hers and we should all be encouraging her. Besides, it's keeps her busy and her mind off Nick, you know how much she misses him."
"I for one, look forward to Nick coming back and reining his wife back in!" Heath laughs at Jarrod's remark.
"She puts her mind on somethin', Nick isn't gonna be able to rein her in." Heath wipes his face with a napkin, still smiling.
"Well he better do something to stop her! Excuse me." Jarrod leaves the room after throwing his napkin on the table.
"What's with him?" wonders Audra out loud.
"Ah he's just worry is all, she does tend to get into things she shouldn't. Excuse me," Heath chuckles as he leaves the dining room.
"I suspect Heath knows more than he's telling us!"
"Heath always knows more than he tells us," Victoria comments to her daughter.
* * * * *
Jarrod rides into town, keeping a respectable distance from his sister-in-law. He purposely rides past the schoolhouse in hopes of seeing the new school marm. He finds the young lady scurrying up the stairs to the school, an hour before class is to start. He calls out to get her attention.
"Good morning Hope," he smiles, tipping his hat to the petite brunette as her eyes follow his call.
"Good morning Jarrod. You are out early this morning," she says in a friendly tone.
"I'm escorting my sister-in-law into town." The curious teacher looks around for the escorted lady; not finding anyone, she looks at Jarrod questioningly.
"Could you tell me how do you escort someone who is not about?"
"Not easily, if the other has a faster horse than you," he jokes back. The teacher smiles at the lawyer, holding her books a little more loosely than before.
"Sounds to me like the lady doesn't want to be escorted," she smiles with an amused gleam in her eye.
"As I said, it's not easy. Are you free for lunch dear lady?"
"I'm afraid not. I have to meet with a parent of an errant student."
"I'm afraid I am not having much luck today acquiring luncheon companions."
"How do you mean?" she said amused.
"I have had two lovely ladies turn me down for lunch today."
"I'm sorry to hear of your misfortune with luncheon
companions; perhaps you will have better luck next time."
"Perhaps," he bows to the teacher with a tip of his hat and reins his horse towards the center of town.
In town Laura hitches her horse to a post in front of a dress shop, unties a satchel from her saddle and walks down the sidewalk. When she arrives in front of the saloon she briskly walks in. Milt the bartender stops wiping a whiskey bottle and smiles at her.
"Good morning Milt," she calls to him as she walks to the back of the saloon."
"Morning Laura," he says cheerfully.
"Are they waiting for me?" she asks him.
"Yep. Nick home yet?"
"Would I be here if he was?" Milt chuckles as he
watches Nick's attractive wife open the door to the backroom.
Laura enters the backroom to find Belle and two saloon girls. Lottie and Katie are sitting at a table while Belle is standing by a wrought iron bed in the room with an old man laying in it. Laura grimaces when she sees the old man.
"Don't tell me he's left over from last night's revelry?"
"Relax that's old Ned, remember him?" Belle smiles, thinking about the time Laura had to hide out from Nick by going upstairs to a room where Ned was waiting.
"Another birthday celebration?" she added sarcastically.
"Ned here wants to learn how to write his name."
"Then what is he doing in that bed?"
"Force of habit." Laura rolls her eyes, as Belle grins slyly.
"Get him up and over to the table, I'm not teaching anyone in a bed!"
"What's got you in a mood this morning? You're not your usual rosy self, girl."
"I'm tired that's all. I have a lot to do before Nick gets home and I don't have a lot of time. As it is I've taken to lying to my family just to get out of the house."
"How are you going to continue this little school of yours when Nick gets back?" Laura sighs as she sits at the table with the other two girls.
"I don't know, I'll figure something out," she gathers up the papers in front of her.
"You know you could always bring Nick to me, I'll keep him busy upstairs," she smiles tauntingly.
"Please Belle, I don't have time for your jokes," she busily looks over the papers that the two girls have given her.
"Who's joking?" Belle smiles teasingly. Laura looks up at her tentative friend, taking up her challenge.
"Touch my husband and you're a dead woman! " Belle laughs at her, as she walks over to the old man on the bed.
"Now that's the Laura Barkley I know. What's wrong with you today, you don't look
"I didn't sleep well last night, I told you." she weakly pulls her hair back from her face as she continues to look at the papers.
"You do look kinda pale, shouldn't you see a doctor?"
"I don't need a doctor, I need more time to do all the things I have to do before my husband gets home and puts a halt to it."
"Aw, I think I know you well enough to know you'll
find a way to get around that man of yours." Laura smiles weakly at the saloon hostess. Belle pulls the old man to his feet by his
"Come on Ned, time for school."
"Hey, you ain't my ma..." Ned laughs as he looks at her.
"Get over there old man, " she pushes him towards the table, he sits himself next to Laura.
"You're a new girl, ain'tcha?" he stares out of one eye, giving her his best toothless grin.
"I'm told you want to learn how to write your name Ned."
"Oh, you're the teacher huh?" he burps in her face, she waves off his bad breathe with her hand.
"Are you right handed or left?"
"Don't rightly know."
"Which hand do you shoot your gun with?"
"This one," he holds up his right hand. She gives him a pen and puts a paper in front of him.
"Now what's your full name?"
"Ned Tucker, but it's really Charley Tucker."
"Charley? Why are you called Ned?"
"There were three Charleys at this spread I worked at so they called me Ned, so as not ta confuse us like."
"Which name do you prefer?"
"Huh?" he burps again. Laura turns her head, grimacing.
"Which name do you want to learn to write?"
"I guess I'll go by Ned Walker."
"I thought you said your name was Charley Tucker?"
"That's my ma's name."
"So your father's name is Walker?"
"Don't know, never met up with him."
"Ned, which name do you go by, Walker or Tucker?"
"Which is easier to write?" She sighs, throwing her head down on her folded arms in frustration on the table. She raises her head up again, looks at the ladies, and she shrugs her shoulders.
"Men," she complains; Ned looked concerned at her.
"You okay little lady, you don't look too good."
"I knew I should have stayed in bed."
"There's a bed right there honey, ya want company?" he cackles at her, she stares back.
"I don't want to go to bed, especially with you; ... now, have you decided what name you want to use?"
"Charley Tuck Walker, but my friends call me Ned."
"Aw hell..." she replied in frustration. The women in the room giggle.
* * * * *
Meanwhile in the saloon, Jarrod Barkley had walked in with distraught look on his face. Milt watched him warily from the corner of his eye, as he busied himself cleaning already cleaned glasses.
"Milt." Jarrod greets the bartender with a nod, as he places his hands on the bar.
"Hi Jarrod, what can I get you?"
"Sure, if I can help."
"Tell me, did my eyes deceive me or did I see my sister-in-law walk in here?"
"Laura," he gives the bartender an irritating look.
"No, sorry don't have any girls here by that name." Jarrod sighs, rolling his eyes.
"I'm not talking about a saloon girl! You know very well I am speaking about my brother's wife!"
"Oh yeah, how's Nick doin'? Like married life does he?" Jarrod lifts his hat up with his index finger, and leans his elbow on the bar.
"You know, if I didn't know better, I would say you were avoiding my question."
"Why, what did you ask Jarrod?" The sound of feminine giggles come from the backroom. Jarrod glowers at the guilty faced bartender.
"Party this early in the morning?"
"Oh that's...ah...Old Ned...celebrating his birthday again." Milt smiles sheepishly at the lawyer.
"Well, in that case I think I'll go wish old Ned a happy birthday." Jarrod walks firmly towards the backroom.
"Oh I wouldn't do that Jarrod, old Ned may be in a compromising position."
"I'm a big boy, I think I can handle it." Jarrod turns the handle of the doorknob. Inside he finds Laura Barkley sitting at a table surrounded by 3 saloon girls and old Ned.
"I thought so!" he remarks, causing Laura to immediately jump up quickly from her chair.
"Jarrod! What are you doing here?"
"I think I'll be the first to ask that!"
"You followed me! How dare you!" her anger rising.
"What are you doing here!?"
"Minding my business and I suggest you do the same!" she quickly turns her back on him, arms folded, but the gesture causes her to lose her balance, as she begins to fall back.
"WhoOHH!!" she cries out, Jarrod catches her in his arms, breaking her fall.
"What is going on here, are you all right?"
"I'm just a little lightheaded," her hands holding her head.
"Well, I'm not surprised, you haven't eaten a thing. Come sit down here," he leads her over to the bed, and sits her down.
"Lottie, get her some water. Do you want something to eat Laura?" asks the apprehensive Belle.
"Water will be fine, I'm not hungry, really."
"You wanna lay down little lady? I'll keep ya company in bed," gums old Ned, as he stands from his chair, shuffling over to the bed.
"Ned, for the last time I am not going to bed with you! Now go away!" Laura admonishes the old man.
"That's it, I want to know what's going on here!" Jarrod replies appalled.
"You know Jarrod, I think she needs a doctor," suggests Belle.
"I think you're right. Please ask one of the girls to send for him Belle."
"Lottie, go now." Belle angles her head to Lottie who darts out the door at Belle's orders.
"I don't need a doctor! And stop talking about me like I'm not even in the room!" Laura protests.
"You're in no position to argue. Why don't you lay down?" he says as he crouches down in front of her, still holding her by the arms to steady her.
"I am fine Jarrod, really. Just a little weak from not eating."
"Damnit Laura! You're going to be the death of me!"
"You sound like Nick," she replies forlornly, remembering how much she misses him.
"I wish I was Nick!" Laura stares at Jarrod in surprise.
"Jarrod!" Laura exclaims. The lawyer shuts his eyes in exasperation.
"I didn't mean it that way! I meant, oh, never mind! Either way, I'm in trouble!" Laura giggles at him. "I'm glad you fine it so amusing. You love to confound me don't you?"
"I've dedicated my life to it," she smiles half-heartedly to her brother-in-law.
"I admire your dedication, but now it's time to stop. I insist that Dr. Merrar examine you and I'm not taking no for an answer. I feel responsible for you with Nick gone and I mean to do my brotherly duties."
"How could any disaster befall me with you and Heath constantly at my heels, nagging!"
"I don't nag! And I resent that remark."
"I speak the truth!"
"You must miss quarreling with Nick." Laura breathes out a long sigh.
"It's not the quarreling I miss," she smiled sadly.
"I know honey," he replies softly, rubbing her arms as he gets up from his crouching position on the floor. The door opens and Dr. Merrar walks in with his medical bag, he looks at Laura and Jarrod, astounded to see them in the saloon's back bedroom.
"Well, the girl told me you were here but I wouldn't believe it, if I didn't see it with my own eyes. Though I am pleased to be saved a trip out to the ranch. So, what's going on here?" The doctor inspects Laura's face as he cups his hand under her chin, staring at her intently. "Never mind, I can see what's going on. Just what have you been doing to yourself young lady?"
"I just haven't been sleeping well, that's all."
"Looks more than that to me, you look exhausted! Very well, would the rest of you leave so I can examine my patient."
Jarrod escorts the ladies and Ned out of the room. Milt curiously treads over to them, as they stand outside the door. "What's going on in there? Is she sick?" Jarrod warningly points his finger at the bartender.
"You! I wouldn't want to be you when Nick finds out what's been going on here!"
"Hey! It wasn't my idea! I had nothing to do with it! Don't go getting your brother to come after me!" Milt complained to the lawyer.
"Come on Jarrod, let me fill you in, it's really harmless." Belle takes Jarrod by the arm and sits him down at a table. She proceeds to tell him of Laura's plan to help the saloon girls' by teaching them to read and write.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Dr. Merar pulls up a chair and sits down across from his patient.
"Let's talk shall we? I'll ask the questions and you answer them. First I want to know about those headaches of yours. You're still getting them aren't you?"
"How did you....oh Nick, he told you, didn't he?"
"Yes, some time ago, he is quite concerned because you refuse to come see me. Now, tell me how severe are they? Have they become worse?"
"I have two cups of coffee in the morning. That seems to help."
"I think you should drink one cup a day, you know sometimes too much coffee can bring on a headache too."
"I have been getting them in the afternoon too."
"And what do you do for that; take another cup of coffee?" he said in an admonishing tone.
"No I don't! You should be proud of me; I take an afternoon nap instead."
"No doubt because you're exhausted! The whole town is talking about you attempting to start a library. In fact my wife has already started to raid my own library at home, she plans to give them to you at the Harvest Festival."
"Really?" she smiled, pleased.
"I think you have been working a little too hard on this project. Have you been using your eyes a lot for reading?"
"Well, I've been trying to catalog the books at home and I guess I have been straining my eyes a bit."
"I think it's time you had your eyes checked. You know a pair of glasses could help alleviate some of those headaches."
"Nick would be furious if he thought this library project of mine caused me to have to wear glasses! He's already resentful of all of it taking up my time!"
"Personally I don't care what Nick thinks, right now you're my concern. The glasses you would use for reading, you don't have to wear them all the time. Now, my wife is not home and I really need to exam you more thoroughly in my office. Is there any female you would like to come with you, so that I can exam you?"
"Is that really necessary? Couldn't I just go see the eye doctor?"
"NO. Now stop arguing with me. I want to exam you further. Now we could wait for my wife to get back, but that may take a while."
* * * * *
A short time later the doctor and patient leave the saloon's back room. Jarrod walks over to the pair of them with a worried look.
"Well?" he asks anxiously.
"All she needs is good rest, good food and she'll be fine."
"Good, I will see that she gets just that. Come on, I am taking you home right now." Jarrod gathers her by the shoulders protectively.
"Not so fast Jarrod, I have a few tests I would like to do in my office. Would one of you ladies be willing to help out?" The three women look at each other.
"Do ya want me to go Laura?" Belle says sheepishly.
Laura gives her a crooked grin, "Sure, why not? You and I have some things in common, don't we Belle?"
Belle smiles slyly at her, "You know what it would do to Nick if he thought we became best friends?" Laura takes Belle's arm and smiles wickedly at her.
"It'll kill him!" The two women repeat simultaneously, giggling like two school girls as they head towards the doctor's office.
Jarrod looks astounded at the doctor. "I'm glad poor Nick isn't here to see that!" Jarrod escorts the doctor out of the saloon following the ladies.
That evening Jarrod is having a late night private talk with his mother in the billiards room. He pours a sherry for her and one for himself. He hands her the cut ruby stemware, as she sits in a chair waiting for her eldest son to speak his mind. He settles himself comfortably in the chair opposite her, and seems to contemplate his crossed legs. Victoria recognizes the look of worry on his face.
"Very well. I have been quite concerned about our Laura, she is pushing herself too much. She's making herself sick."
"She is just keeping herself busy while Nick is away, that's all Jarrod. I don't understand your concern."
"Mother, one only has to look at her! She tired, run down, she doesn't eat, she seems to be pushing herself like she's being chased by demons!" Victoria smiles at her son.
"I suspect the demons chasing her is Nick's return; she just wants everything done by the time he gets back so she can concentrate on him."
"Get what done?"
"The library project of course and the Harvest Festival is coming up in a few weeks. You know we are all busy working on that, Audra, Heath and I. We all have things to do before that is done. I imagine it would be a little easier if Nick were here to help out, but..." she shrugs.
Jarrod stands up from the chair and paces in front of the fireplace, "Now, I will concede that the Stockton Library is a noteworthy endeavor, and does keep her busy, but now she has taken on this adult literacy business, at the saloon no less! I don't have to tell you what Nick is going to do when he finds out about that!"
"It's time for Nick to learn a little more tolerance with others, especially his wife, if he's wise."
Jarrod heaves a long sigh at his mother's uttered musings, then continues,
"You have seen for yourself, she doesn't look well. As I said, I support this cause of hers, its just that it's become an obsession, and Nick's not here to reel her in."
"As if he ever could," she chuckled. "I'm quite sure she'll be fine, especially now that she is under the doctor's care."
"Still..." Jarrod sat back down, in resignation.
"Now did Dr. Merrar give you any indication to think that she wasn't well Jarrod?"
"No, he said she needed to rest and eat properly, that's all."
"And that is what she is going to do, we will all see to that and we are all going to help her with her projects."
"You mean the library?"
"Yes, I want you to help her with the library. I'm going to take over the literacy classes at the saloon."
"YOU?! In a saloon?!"
"Jarrod, I've been in saloons before and rougher ones then the Stockton saloon." Victoria finishes her sherry then stands. Jarrod also stands in respect to his mother.
"I am going to bed, it's late and I need my rest as well, I suggest you do the same Jarrod, worry lines don't become you," she gives him an encouraging smile, as she pats his chest and gives him a peck on the cheek.
* * * * *
Sometime after his mother retires, Jarrod still sits in the same chair twirling the empty sherry glass in his hands, his mind deep in thought when he hears a rustle of silk behind him, he stands expecting to see him mother again.
"Mother, I...oh sorry, it's you. What are you doing up so late? You are under doctor's orders to get plenty of rest," he chides his sister in law, pointing an index finger with his glass.
"I was sleeping, but I woke up, I was coming down for a glass of warm milk to help me sleep again when I saw a light still on here. I thought it was you," she smiled knowingly.
"Am I that transparent?"
"I wish you were, then I would know if you were angry with me or not."
"Of course I'm not angry...but I am quite concerned about you. You have been running yourself ragged with this library business and now you've taken on this literacy campaign of yours. You're doing too much and making yourself ill in the process!" Jarrod wags his finger at his sister-in-law. Then fearing he may have overstepped his bounds with his brother's wife, he turns his back, looking silently into the unlit fireplace.
Laura moves meekly towards him, touching his shoulder from behind, "I'm sorry Jarrod, I wish you wouldn't be upset with me, I'm fine, really." Finding her meekness encouraging, he turns around swiftly, moving away to avoid looking at her soulful sapphire eyes, so that he may continue his scolding.
"...And then you got involved with the Mortons of all people! Do you realize how dangerous that was? Just having a Barkley set foot on their land is enough to provoke those people into violence!"
"Now that's not fair Jarrod, no one warned me about them! How was I to know? Besides, I did get a tremendous amount of books for the library in the bargain." The lawyer gives a loud sigh. She folds her arms in front of her, also taking in a deep sigh. "Honestly Jarrod, you can be worst than Nick sometimes!"
"I resent being compared to my brother!"
"No you don't, you admire him and we both know it!" she smirks with a teasing gleam in her eye.
Somewhat embarrassed by her keen observations, "I envy him too," he said quietly, as he smiled sheepishly at her. Laura slowly walks over to him. Her hand gently cups his face as she kisses him. He automatically closes his eyes to the touch of her lips on his. She moves away from him, smiling.
"Thank you for that," she moves towards the doorway, then stops to face him.
"I love you Jarrod, you're such a dear to me. I hope you know that." she smiles as she walks out of the room with a wave of her hand. Jarrod watches as the door closes, a reflective look on his face.
"I love you too Laura." He muttered to himself.
Early afternoon, the next day, Laura poked her head in Jarrod's library office.
Silas just mentioned that you wanted to see me?"
"Yes, Laura, come in. I re-designed your posters. I think I made a small improvement that you'll like." She moves close to him as he stands behind the desk, "Really, show me."
"Here," he holds out the legal pad, with the new design.
"Jarrod's it's the same one I showed you this morning that I designed," he smiled at her.
"Ahh, but you don't have the eyes of a lawyer my Dear! Always read the fine print," he points to the bottom of the sign, she reads it out loud: 'No books to donate, fear not, monetary donations gladly accepted! Make checks out to, Stockton Library Fund in care of Laura Barkley.' Ohh Jarrod, you're brilliant!" She gives him a hug which he gladly accepts. "I should have thought of that myself!"
"Well, you're not a brilliant attorney like me!" he teased.
"Still, brilliant attorney, the fine print should be bigger! Like that!" she takes the pad from his hand, and makes a gesture with her fingers two inches apart. He laughs and wags his finger at her.
"Ahh, now you're thinking like a Barkley! Because that's the plan, at least three inches bigger."
"I bow to your brilliance Mr. Jarrod T. Barkley, Esquire. I am truly humbled by your presence," she bows in a mock curtsey.
"I accept your praise Mrs. Barkley, even if I know the only reason you are praising me is to get me to take this to the Stockton Eagle, to deal with Sam Gruber myself!"
"Would you please?" she flirts, "The man's a weasel, I can't stand him!"
"Fortunate for you my Dear, I am an expert at dealing with weasels."
"So I've heard!" She laughs.
"Let's celebrate. Sherry?" Jarrod moves over to the wet bar.
"It's too early for me. Why don't we have coffee instead? Silas just made a fresh pot," she hands him back the legal pad, and leaves him at his desk.
"Very well, coffee is good," he places the pad back on his desk admiring the design, then makes changes on it with a pen. While she's gone, he pours himself a short drink and gulps it down. Then sits at his desk staring at the poster, " ...care of Laura Barkley..." he read to himself. His mind recalled the night before, her grateful kiss, he touched his lips with his fingers then shuts his eyes tightly, shaking the thought from his head, '...she's your brother's wife for god sakes!'
Laura enters carrying a tray, Jarrod immediately rises up
from the desk, moving to take the tray from her.
"Thank you Jarrod."
"I see only one coffee cup here, and a glass of milk? But you love coffee!"
"Dr Merrar has put me on one cup of coffee a day and that's in the morning."
"That explains that huge cup Silas brings you every morning," he laughs.
"Now, Dr. Merrar didn't say what size the cup had to be, he only said one cup!" She smiles as she pours a cup of coffee, serving it to him.
"Thank you." They both sit down on leather chairs with the serving tray between them on a small table.
"Are you still suffering those headaches?" Jarrod asked concerned.
"They're not bad really, I've almost gotten use to them."
"When I think about that, I only wish I had ...."
"Jarrod, I don't want to talk about it, or even think of it. And you have no reason to feel guilty because none of it was your fault!"
"Still, if I had told Nick about that gunslinger..."
"Please Jarrod! I don't want to talk about that!" she stood up, moving toward the window, she tries to contain her anger as she stares out into the distance, "...What does Heath say about wishes?"
"Ain't no point in wishing 'cause ain't no way ta go back an' change it," Jarrod attempts his best Heath imitation, breaking the tension between them. She laughs then resumes sitting in the same chair.
"Mother should be back soon from Stockton," he sips his coffee, wisely changing the subject. Laura picks up the glass of milk drinking it.
"Wish I could have been there to see Belle's face when your mother walked in, instead of me. Belle loves to give me misery about Nick's past indiscretions."
"No matter, that was really a very long time ago. Believe me, most of that is in Belle's fertile imagination," Jarrod dismisses it with a wave of his hand.
"I know, but thank you for telling me that anyway."
"You're welcome." An impish smile curls Laura's lips as she waits for Jarrod to take a sip of his coffee, "Have you experienced Belle's affections as well?" a teasing smile escapes as she watches Jarrod choke on his coffee.
"What kind of question is THAT to ask me?!"
"The kind that gets a reaction," she laughed heartily.
"What is it with women these days trying to bait me?" he places his cup on the table, stands and seats himself behind the protection of his desk.
"Ohh, having women troubles are you Jarrod?" she taunted.
"Why don't we get on with this Harvest Festival business, shall we?"
Laura continues her prodding, "I heard you were kind of sweet on the new school teacher."
"Who told you....Ah, never mine,... Audra, of course! Well, not that it's anyone's business, but we are just good friends."
"Really? Are you sure?"
"Quite sure," he stated emphatically.
"Ohh, too bad."
"Now, I thought you were working on getting Heath married off."
"Oh I haven't given up on Heath. But I have to find the right girl for him. He needs someone who can tolerate his incessant silences. He's much too quiet, it would drive most women to distraction!"
Jarrod laughs, "Yes, I can see how that would pose a problem for most women!"
"And you have cleverly changed the subject. We were talking about the perfect woman for you not Heath! Now, if this teacher isn't the one, then who is? Just what kind of a woman does Jarrod Barkley want?"
"A quiet one! A woman who knows her place."
"I'm serious!" she pouts.
"So am I!"
Laura places her empty glass down on the tray then begins pacing the floor back and forth as a lawyer would, one hand on her hip and the other tapping her chin. "Hmm, lets see now, Counselor, whom would be a most likely candidate for you?"
Jarrod grins, his eyes twinkling as he watches her pace. "Why do women want every man married?"
"It's not that we want every man married, we want every woman married."
"Why?!" he asked incredulously.
"It cuts down on husband stealing," she winks at him.
"I don't think you have to worry about losing Nick to another woman." She chooses to ignore his remark as she continues, "Now lets see, a woman for Jarrod Barkley. She would have to be intelligent, strong, elegant, a perfect hostess, attractive of course..."
"Thank you for that."
"You know whom I just described?" she turns
"Pray tell, who is the wondrous woman?"
Jarrod laughs, "Every boy wants a wife like his mother."
"I'm afraid poor Nick wasn't so lucky."
"Not at all, you just described yourself so well."
"You're very kind." There is a knock on the door, a shock of white hair pops in.
"Hello, how is the library coming along?"
"Beautifully, come in Victoria, see our poster?" Laura shows her the legal pad.
"Very nice, the donation lettering should be bigger though." Jarrod smiles at his sister-in-law, "What did I tell you, think like a Barkley!" he taps his index finger on his temple.
"Tell us, how did the schooling go?" Laura questions Victoria.
"Very well, they all sent their regards to you, Laura; especially an elderly gentleman named Ned. He said something about wanting to celebrate his birthday with you. He asked me to be sure I extended an invitation for tomorrow for the back room of the saloon. He said he hoped to see you there." Victoria gave her daughter in law a teasing grin.
Laura rubbed her forehead pushing another headache away, "Oh Good Lord..."
Is that coffee fresh?" Victoria tactfully changed the subject.
"Yes it is, would you like a cup?"
"Yes please. Laura dear what are you drinking?"
"Milk?" her mother-in-law repeated, "not coffee, milk?"
"Yes, I like milk."
"I see," she pulls her gloves off thoughtfully and folds them neatly under her waistbelt. Laura opens the library door.
"Let me get you a cup and saucer, excuse me." Laura makes a hasty exit. Jarrod stands with the legal pad in his hand, admiring it, "Do you really like it Mother?"
"Yes Jarrod," Victoria moves over towards the tray, she inspects the empty milk glass, making a face.
"Something wrong Mother?"
"I hate milk, I can barely tolerate the smell of it."
"I suspect it's your old milk maid history that leaves you with an aversion to milk."
"True, my mother always made me milk that cow every morning, she loved fresh milk."
"Obviously so does our Laura, does it bother you Mother?"
"No, not at all, it's just I've never seen her drink it before."
"Really, I hadn't notice, but I suppose you're right. Although, she did tell me that Dr. Merrar told her she would have to curb her coffee drinking, so that's why the milk I suppose."
Laura walks in with another cup and saucer. "Here you go, I'll pour for you." She pours the coffee in the cup and hands it to the older woman. Then Laura yawns, covering her mouth. "..*.yawn...* Oh, excuse me, I think I'll take my nap now."
"Laura, I would like to talk to you about something."
"Of course Victoria, but I'm quite tired, surely we can chat later, please excuse me." Laura quickly left the room.
"I think that girl's avoiding me."
"Mother, that's not possible; no one would dare! Excuse me too, I'm off to see Sam Gruber. You know I think I'm going to advertise for a librarian for our Laura, this task is really too much for her, it will give her more time to rest."
"Did you speak to her about that first?"
"Do you think I should?" he waves the idea away with his hand, "No, I think I will surprise her. Of course she can interview the person so she will have a choice of whom we hire."
"Hmm, that seems fair." Victoria finished her coffee then took the tray out to the kitchen.
Several days later:
Silas always knew where to find Mrs. Nick these days; she was in that bedroom by the kitchen, surrounded by all those books! Never in his life had he seen so many books at one time! Not even the Barkley's private library had as many books as Mrs. Nick had been collecting for the Stockton Library, he thought to himself. Silas knew each one of those Barkley books intimately as he had dusted each one hundreds of times, and he sure hoped the new books she collected wasn't going to be more of the same. Mr. Jarrod had promised to arrange for a library building for all the books and Silas knew full well that Mrs. Nick was going to hold him to that promise or give him what for!
After a timid knock, he opens the bedroom door to find the lady asleep, surrounded by 'all those books.' Silas pads over to the bed she is laying on and gives her shoulder a gentle shake.
"Mrs. Nick? Missus?"
Her sleepy blue eyes flutter open and she pushes her self up from the bed, she sits up swinging her legs back on the floor.
"Oh Silas, I'm afraid I fell asleep again, thank you for waking me."
"You're welcome Missus." She notices a paper in his hand.
"What is that Silas?"
"Well with Mrs. Barkley gone all day with Miss Audra I need someone to decide about the menu for dinner this evening."
"Very well, what do you have?" she looks over the list, " Oh this is one of Nick's favorite, I wish he was going to be here to enjoy it, " she sighs, rubbing her head as another headache surfaces.
"He'll be home soon, Missus."
"Not soon enough for me Silas. Two more days, I can hardly wait! Yes, why don't you serve that, I'm sure everyone will enjoy it. I thought Heath was going to catch some fish, he promised me that he would."
"He hasn't had time to go fishing with all he's doing, getting ready for the Harvest Festival, but iff'n Mr. Heath promised ya some fish, yer can bet he'll keep that promise! He's been teaching some of the school children about carving."
"I didn't realize he was doing that."
"Yes Ma'am, he's been staying after school to teach 'em," Silas smiles.
"After school?" she replied amused, "You mean he's been going into town to the school?"
"Yes Ma'am, staying after school," he chuckled.
"No wonder he's been late for dinner these last few days. Well, we'll still wait dinner for him, just in case he does make it home in time."
"Yes Mrs, Nick," Silas agrees as he leaves her alone again. Laura looks down at her attire, trying to brush all the wrinkles out of her dress.
"Goodness, look at me, I'm a mess," she says to no one. She walks over to a bureau by the bedroom wall, and pushes aside a stack of books, to view her reflection in the mirror. The mirror reveals tired blue eyes surrounded by a pallid face.
"Ohh, it's a good thing Nick isn't home I look ghastly! How am I ever going to convince anyone to donate books at the Harvest Festival. One look at me and I'll frightened everyone away!"
"At least it won't last," she thought to herself. She was fortunate to be able to sneak into Stockton that morning to see Dr. Merrar without Nick's well meaning family asking a hundred questions, as to why she was going into town in the first place. Jarrod and Victoria had taken over all her duties since the incident at the saloon. Jarrod was working with that awful Sam Gruber of the Stockton Eagle on the Festival advertising, and Victoria has taken over her literacy class at the saloon. She smiled to herself, at the thought of Victoria and Belle locking horns. She knew full well that Belle didn't have a chance intimidating her mother-in-law!
Laura pinches her cheeks, to tempt some of the color back in them. "Agh, useless! Maybe I should use some of that make up Lottie gave me. That might do it." She heads out of the spare room and walks into the foyer.
It's true that she didn't feel that well but she was relieved to find out from Dr. Merrar that is wasn't serious. She had started feeling poorly a few days after Nick had left for Boston. She knew she really had been doing too much, trying to get the books donated from the ranchers. She was very grateful that the Mortons has donated their entire library, because that freed her to work with Lottie, teaching her to read and write, but of course like everything else in her life these days, that got out of hand too.
'Poor Jarrod, he had been furious with her when he found her in the saloon, he acted the same way Nick would have, except that Nick would have hollered at the top of his lungs, at least Jarrod spared her that. Insisting that she see the doctor when she had gotten dizzy. And then when she arrived at the doctor's office that morning...
"Why don't you sit down Laura," the doctor pointed to a small, black leather chair aside of his desk, then Doctor Howard Merrar had settled himself comfortably behind his desk, his hands resting over several scribbled papers spread out in front of him. Laura settled herself in the chair as directed, a bit anxious as she really didn't want the family to know she had left the ranch at all that morning. She had promised them that she would rest, but she needed to know what the good doctor found out with all those tests he took a few days before.
"Good Lord Doctor, is the news you have for me that bad that I need to sit down? I know I haven't been sleeping or eating well lately but surely it cant be..."
"May I get a word in?"
"Sorry," she looks down at the folded hands on her lap, apologetically, "...you know when Nick gets home I'm sure I will feel better. I just haven't adjusted to his not being home, that's why I haven't been eating or sleeping well."
"Granted, but that's not the reason..."
"You mean I'm really sick? Isn't there some kind of potion you can give me? At least so I won't be so tired. You know I wake up from a nap and I'm tired again, it's very disconcerting."
"I'm sure it is, but it won't always be like that."
"Of course Jarrod said that I was..."
"Young woman, would you be quiet for once and listen! It's a wonder Nick isn't suffering with headaches instead of you!"
"I beg your pardon!" she cried indignantly. The doctor shakes his head.
"Would you please be quiet," the doctor waited for his request to be complied with. "Thank you! Now, about those headaches, have the glasses you got from Dr. Hadland helped?"
"May I speak?" she said sarcastically.
"You may," he matched her sarcasm.
"Yes, the glasses have helped alleviate some of the headaches, and so has having less coffee. But I do need that first morning cup, it is the only thing that cures that morning headache that I always seem to wake up with. Please don't ask me to give it up."
"I won't, if it helps you with the morning headache then you can continue it."
"Thank you," she says relieved. "May I leave now? I really don't want my family to be upset, if I leave right now I could be back before...."
"Young woman, don't you ever stop talking and let a person get a word in edgewise? Do you want to know the results of your tests or not?"
"Well, of course I do that's why I'm here and I wish you would tell me so I can leave before my family knows I'm gone....believe me it was no easy task getting away from them!"
"Neither is my telling you about your tests results!"
"Well tell me then! ...Am I dieing or what?!" She said as she gave a good imitation of a 'Nick bellow'.
The grandfather clock beneath the stairs struck four, bringing her out of her daydream, as she stood with her hand still on the banister about to ascend the staircase. 'Goodness, look at the time, it's so late and they will be home soon I must do something about the awful way...' a stealthily pair of arms clutch her waist in a vice grip causing her to yell out...
"Is Milady missing a knight?" came the happily familiar voice in her ear.
"NICK!" she cries out, arms releasing their grip enough for her to face her assailant. "You're home! We didn't expect you until Friday!"
"Want me to go and come back?" he teases her with a delighted smile.
"NO! Oh I missed you!" her arms tightly hugging him around the neck, as he squeezes her firmly around the waist, raising her up from the floor. She covers his face with joyous kisses.
"Boy, did I miss that!" he says, enjoying her attentive kisses.
"You have no idea how much I've missed you, Sweetheart!"
"It still isn't half as much as I missed you!" his arms still locked around her, he gives her a seemingly limitless kiss. She lets herself melt into his masculine embrace, heart racing, savoring his touch once again. He slowly lowered her to the floor.
"I love you so," she says between the kisses, breathless.
"I love you," he returns the sentiment, his finger tracing her soft cheek
She takes his hand and kisses his open palm, "My Love, I've missed you so."
He steals another delicious kiss.
"Nick..," she pulls away, biting her lower lip, " ...no one is home except you and me. Silas is in the kitchen, we have the house all to ourselves. We have a whole hour before anyone gets home!"
"Really?" he smiles back at her.
"Yes, it a rare opportunity!" she bites her lower lip in anticipation.
"I know, it's never happened before!" he says excitedly.
"Remember on our honeymoon, what you said we would do when the house was empty?"
"I'll never forget it," he embraces her again with another long kiss. She gently pulls away from his kiss.
"Then lets go, before everyone comes back for dinner," she pulls at his hands, urging him upstairs, he stands his ground.
"We can't," he says sadly.
"What do you mean, 'we can't '?"
"We're not alone."
"There's three of us here."
"Three of us? You're not talking about Silas are you?" she quizzed him.
"No I'm not," he smiled impishly.
"Why do you say there are three of us?"
"Because I'm responsible for it!" Nick smiled happily.
"Responsible? How did you know...I mean...Just what do you mean?" She said breathless.
"I have a surprise for you; stay right there, don't move."
"I won't." Nick walks back to the front door, then turns to look at her once again.
"Ya know, ya look beautiful." He marvels at the sight of her.
Her mouth curls into a wide grin, pleased with his comment. "Really? I look all right to you?"
"Perfect. Well a little thinner than I'd like. Have you been eating okay?"
"Of course I have," she lied to him.
"Well, okay now, stay right there; don't move. I've got a surprise for you..." Nick opens the door again and reaches his arm out, pulling a woman's arm into the house. The disembodied arm, as Laura soon discovers is attached to her aunt.
"Aunt Polly?!" she said stunned, her eyes widened and mouth agape.
"Laura, darling," smiled the small, rotund woman with graying blonde hair. She rushes towards Laura and wraps her arms around her niece. Laura's arms were locked at her side. Still in shock, Laura didn't move from where she stood as the woman hugged her. Regaining some of her composure, Laura returned a respectful hug.
"What...I mean... Why?" she struggled to form a coherent sentence.
"Nick darling, I told you she would be in shock if you brought me here! See, I told you!"
Polly Thomas laughs, as she turns to Nick still at the door.
"That you did Pollygirl!" said Nick as Aunt Polly giggles at the nickname he had given her. She turned to smile at Laura, who's face had lost what little color it had.
"Ah Laura, your husband is such a darling! You are so lucky to have him! He's just the dearest man I've ever met!" she pats Laura's ashen face. "Dear, you don't look well. In fact you look positively awful, what have you done to yourself?"
"Excuse me, I have to tell Silas there will be two more for dinner...." She turns quickly and almost runs into the kitchen.
"Laura? What the hel...." Puzzled, Nick called out to her.
In the kitchen, Silas looks up from his work, as Laura rushes in, her eyes brimming with tears.
"Mrs. Nick are ya alright?"
"There's two more for dinner Silas..." She cover her face as she ran up the back steps. Nick runs in the kitchen, just as a shadow of her dress rounds the corner of the steps. Silas smiles at Nick.
"Mr. Nick, ya got home early!"
"Yeah, Silas, I brought a guest would you take care of her, put her up in the guest room."
Nick follows Laura up the staircase. When he gets upstairs he enters the bedroom to find his wife on the bed crying into a pillow. He rushes to her and sits on the side of the bed.
"Honey, what's wrong? Why are ya crying? I thought ya would be happy I brought your kin here."
"I am, I sorry, I just... I don't know, I'm sorry, forgive me Nick, I'm so sorry..." She sits up and buries her face in his chest.
"Polly said ya might react this way. She said seeing her might remind ya of your mother's death. Ah honey, I 'm sorry, she's right, isn't she?"
"I'm sorry...." She continues crying , he strokes her hair, trying to comfort her.
"I'm sorry Honey, looks like it's another one of my famous mess ups."
"No, don't say that, I'm just being silly. You did nothing wrong." She wipes her eyes with her hand. He pulls a handkerchief out of his breast pocket for her to use.
"Poor Aunt Polly is all alone downstairs."
"No she's not, I had Silas take care of her, she's gonna be fine."
"At least one of us has sense, I better go see to her." She stands up from the bed drying her tears with the handkerchief. Outside the bedroom door, Silas walks by her with a some of her aunt's baggage.
"Where are you taking that Silas?"
"To the guest room next to yours."
"No, you mustn't... please put my aunt in the guest room across the hall next to Heath's room."
"Well, that's a smaller room."
"It doesn't matter she'll be more comfortable there. Where is she?"
"Downstairs, Missus, in the parlor."
"Thank you, just move her things to the other room please Silas," Laura heads downstairs, Nick watches his wife from the opened bedroom door, then decides to follow her. Just as he gets downstairs his mother and Audra arrive with packages. The pile of packages they hold hide his presence from their view. Nick smiles when he sees them loaded down with boxes in their arms. He stands at the bottom of the steps with his hands on his hips.
"Don't you women know how to do anything but shop?!"
"NICK! " The both said in unison as they drop their packages on the table and rush to him.
Hugs and kisses all around, Laura stands in the parlor with her Aunt.
"That's Nick's mother and sister, come on, I'll introduce you."
"Mother, Audra, I want you to meet Laura's Aunt, this is Polly Thomas, Polly, this is my mother, and sister Audra," Nick starts the introductions before Laura can speak.
"Welcome to our home Miss Thomas. Whenever Nick goes on a trip he always seems to come back with a surprise and you are certainly a pleasant one. How fortunate for Laura to have family here. Laura did you see to your Aunt's comfort?"
"Yes Ma'am, I had Silas put her in the guest room near Heath's room."
Victoria eyed her daughter in law, taking note of the quiet tone in her voice. "Oh, well, I hope you'll be comfortable there Miss Thomas."
"I'm sure I will be fine."
"Mother, when is dinner?"
"The usual time Nick, six o'clock."
"Good, that will give you enough time to get acquainted with Polly, and ah, I'll go upstairs and unpack my bags. Come help me Laura."
"Sure Nick, excuse us." Laura moved toward the stairs taking his offered hand.
"Nick?" Audra smiles at them as they ascend the stairs.
"Don't you think you should take your bags if you're going to unpack them?"
"Oh, yeah right, thanks Sis." Nick walks back down the stairs and retrieves his bags. Audra smiles slyly, Nick gives her a peck on the cheek and a good natured sneer, with a wink, "Stop that!" then carries the bags upstairs.
* * * * *
Later that day:
Jarrod walked into the house, hung his hat on the hat rack in the foyer then greeted his mother with a wide smile on his face.
"How was your day lovely lady?" he says as he kisses her cheek, blue eyes twinkling.
"Very successful. You look like you had quite a successful day yourself, what happened?"
"Ah I had the most wonderful news from Sacramento. I got word that the State is giving Stockton the deed to the Judicial Building to do with as they will, and the Stockton Town Council has generously agreed to let it be used for a library, so our Laura has the library she wanted. Where is she? I can't wait to see the look on her face when I tell her. She thinks I have no interest in her project, but I intend to prove her wrong, then she will have to humble herself in an apology to me," he chuckles as he makes a point with a finger wave in the air, the other hand on his waist.
"Ah good, if she's not resting I'll go see her." Jarrod trots happily up the stairs, Victoria raises her hand up to him.
"Please don't go up there Jarrod. Nick's home."
Jarrod stops, taking a slower gait back down the steps again, his face unwilling to hide his disappointment, "Oh, I understand. We didn't expect him until Friday. She must be pleased. Does that mean a late dinner tonight?" he replies with a veiled sarcasm, Victoria smiles at her eldest.
"I'm afraid so. I told Silas to wait until they came down."
"Well, that might take a while, I'm glad I had a small bite to eat in town before I came home."
"Jarrod!" she chided him with a half smile.
"I'll be at my desk catching up on some work. This library business of hers has made me back-logged; I'm glad it's almost over," he replied with some annoyance.
"Oh before you go dear, you should know we are having a guest for dinner. Nick brought home Laura's Aunt Polly from Boston."
"Really? Laura must be pleased since she hasn't any family here anymore, other than us of course."
"That remains to be seen I 'm afraid."
"Ohh?" Jarrod's eyebrows rose.
"I 'm not sure, but I have a feeling that our Laura is not too keen about our houseguest."
"She not one of those tedious, old maids with a whiny voice, is she?"
"Actually she quite interesting, seems to be very sweet. But I'm guessing Laura would have been more delighted if Nick had left her relative in Boston."
"Oh dear. Well, we all should enjoy the quiet around here while we can. I have a feeling it may get stormy again soon. Call me when dinner is on the table." Jarrod turned toward the library.
* * * * *
Upstairs, the reunited couple are enjoying each other's company as they luxuriated in bed, sleeping. Laura is the first to wake up, happily encased in her husband's strong arms again. She lifts her head, smiling at her sleeping giant, then rests again in the crook of his arm. Nick begins to stir, he opens one eye, looking down at the tousled blonde hair resting by his side.
"Are you awake?"
"No, I am dreaming that I am in my handsome husband's arms again and I don't want to wake up and find out that it's not true, so don't wake me," she feels his chest shake with laughter. Nick reaches over to the nightstand and looks at his pocket watch.
"You know they are waiting supper for us, don't you?"
"Yes, I know." Nick laughs.
"You don't care do you? You wicked woman!" She joins him in the laughter.
"You're right, I don't! I am quite comfortable right here in my husband's arms." He wraps his arms around her tightly.
"Me too... Honey?"
"What are we having for dinner?"
"Your favorite, beef steak." Nick pulls his arms away from her as he bolts from the bed. Laura laughs as she leans on one hand under her head, watching him pull his pants on.
"I knew Nick Barkley's stomach would win out!" she said teasingly.
"That's not true, you come first with me, and now that you're taken care of, I'm taking care of my stomach."
"I'm taken care of huh?!" she throws a pillow at him. He catches it in his hands laughing.
"Stop pouting! You know I worship the ground you stamp your feet on Milady; but I'm hungry for some home cooking!" He throws the pillow back at her, she catches it and pushes it under her arm to lean on.
"I do not pout!" she complained good naturedly. Nick grabs the wash pitcher, and heads out the door.
"I'll be back," he says. Laura rose from the bed, wrapping her robe around her. She heads over to her vanity table, sits and brushes her hair. She smiles at the reflection in the mirror, noticing the color back in her cheeks.
"Now that's better!" she pinches her cheeks to get even more color. Nick comes back with a filled pitcher.
"I've got some nice warm water. Want to wash first?"
"Of course I do." She moves over towards the dry sink. Nick begins to unpack his valise, he pulls out a box. She scrubs her face with a sponge.
"Bought Milady a gift." Laura stops washing, her face still lathered with soap.
"You did?! What is it?"
"French perfume," he smiles as he holds up the box wrapped in gold paper near enough for her to take it, but as she grabs at it he pulls it away.
"Oh no you don't, this is only to be worn at certain times, he teases with an roguish grin.
"What certain times?"
"When you wear nothing else," he smiled impishly.
"Oh you are going to be so sorry you teased me, I promise you!" she turns her back and continues washing. He pounces on her, grabbing at her robe, he snatches it off so that it just covers her arms, pinning them behind her. He turns her to face him.
"NICK! I thought you were hungry?!"
"I am!" he says as he gives her tiny wet kisses on her neck and works his way down to her shoulder, she moans as he dots each kiss with a tiny nibble, setting every nerve in her being on fire.
"Nick, we mustn't, everyone is waiting...we already..."
"Two weeks Laura, all I've done is dream about ya for two weeks, let them eat without us, I rather have my feast here."
She lets her robe drop on the floor, as she surrenders in his arms, "Maybe I should open that perfume bottle..."
"Trust me, you don't need it. You smell delicious..." Nick seizes her in his sinewy arms and carries her back to the bed again.
The clock struck six-thirty, Jarrod finished a second glass of sherry when he eyes his mother, who is sitting patiently on the settee with Polly Thomas, who's stomach had been audible for some time.
"Oh, excuse me," Polly said with an embarrassed grin, rubbing her stomach.
"Maybe we should have our dinner now. I don't expect Heath will be joining us and I'm sure Nick and Laura will join us in time. Shall we?"
"By all means and at haste," Jarrod offered each arm to the ladies.
Once the family had gathered in the dining room, Victoria cast an eye on the hungry diners with pity and smiled invitingly, "Would you care to say grace Miss Thomas?"
"Thank you I would: Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts we are about to receive from your bounty, In Jesus' name, Amen.
"Amen. Thank you Miss Thomas. You may serve Silas." Silas bows slightly as he begins to serve the late dinner.
"I'm sorry my youngest son won't be joining us this evening, but he's working rather late for the Harvest Festival."
"Harvest Festival?" asked Polly.
"Yes that's a traditional celebration we have every year at harvest time. It's become quite an
event as the years have gone on. Your niece has been collecting books for Stockton's first public library."
"Really?! Well, I highly approve of that. I hope I can help in some way while I'm here."
"I'm sure Laura will find something for you to do, she's managed to get us all involved with the possible exception of Audra, who is busy with the orphanage," Jarrod volunteers as he uncorks a wine bottle at the sideboard.
"That's not true Jarrod, I have donated quite a few of my reading books for the cause, which is more than I can say for you Stingy." Audra admonished her attorney brother.
"I am not stingy, just because I wouldn't let our lovely sister-in-law raid my law books; I'm still using them."
"Now you know I am not talking about your dusty old law books, I am speaking about your Twain and Dickens books."
"My first editions! Not a chance, I won't donate those! Twain indeed! Miss Thomas can I interest you in some wine?"
"Just a taste please," she holds up her wine glass for him.
"I imagine our Laura has every book in the valley by now, she's worked very hard, but I wish I could get her to help me just a little at the orphanage, but she always has some excuse."
"Now Audra, Laura has done more than enough, you shouldn't be asking her about that, the poor girl is already tired with all she's done," chided Victoria.
"Oh I'm not surprised Laura wouldn't help you with that. Laura wouldn't dare set foot in any orphanage." Laura's Aunt replies as all three pair of questioning eyes stare back.
"Why do you say that?" Audra asked, no longer able to contain her curiosity.
"Didn't she ever tell you? Laura's mother was killed in an orphanage."
"Oh my!" gasps Audra.
"We had no idea, she never told us. She only said that her mother had died in an Indian uprising." said a surprised Victoria.
"That's true, she did. Meredith was tending to an outbreak of measles at the Indian orphanage when they were attacked. She died instantly, an arrow through the heart. Laura was only about ten at the time."
"We had no idea," replied Victoria holding back tears in her voice.
"Oh goodness when I think of how I begged her to go! I'm so ashamed!" cries Audra.
"You didn't have any idea," Victoria's voice cracks. "...none of us did."
A loud voice calls out in the parlor. "Hey! Is there any food left?!" shouts Nick, as he walks in smiling, holding his wife's hand. All eyes turn towards the doorway as they see the smiling reunited newlyweds. Victoria is the first to regain her composure, as she stands to greet them, hugging both. Laura notes Victoria seemingly to linger with her.
"Did we miss something?" Laura asked wondering what her Aunt might have said to cause such a reaction..
"Not at all, we were just about to celebrate," Jarrod chimes in a bottle of wine still in his hand.
'Celebrate what now?" wonders Nick as he kisses his mother on the cheek then seats himself in his usual seat near his wife.
"First of all, that we're finally eating dinner," Jarrod winks at Laura who blushes. Nick laughs as he pulls his napkin from its folds. Jarrod walks around the table filling everyone's wine glass. Laura covers her glass with her hand.
"None for me Jarrod, thank you."
"Are you sure? You know you really should have at least one to celebrate."
"No thank you, and you still haven't told us what we are celebrating?"
Jarrod sits at his chair, having given everyone their fill of wine. "Well first of all we must toast the newest member of the family, Miss Thomas. Welcome to the valley Miss Thomas."
"Here, here Pollygirl!" Nick raises his glass to her. She giggles at him.
"You are such a dear Nick. He just started calling me that soon after we met, Nick is such a tease, but we had such a wonderful time traveling across the country, didn't we Nick?"
"We certainly did Pollygirl," Nick laughed.
"It's wonderful to have you here Aunt Polly, I'm afraid I didn't properly greet you and for that I'm sorry."
"Not at all Laura, you weren't feeling well dear."
"Laura, are you ill again?" Jarrod asked troubled.
"No, I'm fine Jarrod. I think I was a bit overwhelmed with Nick being home, and certainly Aunt Polly was quite a surprise." Laura leans over to her side and gives a lingering kiss to her husband, he returns the kiss but with a concerned look toward his wife...
"Again? You're better now ain't ya honey?" Nick asked concerned.
"You bet I am, now that your home, sweetheart." They kiss again. Polly Thomas clears her throat loudly.
"Really Laura, I am sure you know better than to do such things in public."
"Now Pollygirl, you can forgive us, we haven't seen each other in two weeks." Nick smiles at the interfering woman.
"Really Nick, there's no need to apologize. The rudeness was in the accusation, not the act!" Laura reflected a steely gaze toward her Aunt.
Jarrod attempts to
defuse the situation. "Well now,
everyone seems to forget this is a celebration."
"That's right Jarrod, and you have yet to tell everyone the news, now please do," Victoria encourages her son, thankful for Jarrod's tact in these matters.
"Yes well, as I was about to say. I do have an announcement to make; and this will be of great interest to our Laura," he stands with a wine glass in his hand as if he is about to propose a toast.
"Please tell us," she smiles at him, also grateful for that same tact.
"I'm happy to say that all your books my Dear, have found a home."
"Jarrod, you got the state to donate the Judicial Building?"
"Better yet; the Great State of California has turned the deed over to the good people of Stockton, and has promised to match renovation funds dollar for dollar collected by the Stockton Library Committee, by the way, Laura Barkley has been named chairwoman of said committee, by the Stockton Town Council, no less!" he points to her with the wine glass in his hand. Laura jumps up from her chair and hugs Jarrod. The rest of the family applaud the news.
"Oh Jarrod! Thank you!" she plants a kiss on his cheek. Not to be outdone, Nick steps up to give her a congratulatory hug and kiss.
"Congratulations Sweetheart, I'm proud of ya. I didn't think you could pull it off, but ya did!" proclaims Nick. Heath enters the dining room, smiling.
"Boy howdy, what's all this hugging and kissing, and how can I get me some of it? Welcome home big brother!"
Heath and Nick hug each other, patting themselves on the back
"Thanks Heath. Where have you been? I've been home for hours!"
"Well Mister travelin' man, I work for a livin'. Somebody's got to take care of things while your out gallivanting across the country!"
"Pollygirl I want you to meet my younger brother, Heath. Heath this is Laura's aunt, Polly Thomas." Heath wipes his hand on his pants and extends his hand to shake hers, as he moves over to the other side of the table.
"It's a pleasure Miss Thomas. I can see where Laura gets her good looks from," Heath grins when he notices Laura shooting him a disapproving glare. "So what's all the hugs for and how come I didn't get one?"
Laura smiles as she walks over and hugs Heath, "You'll get yours Heath Barkley."
"Thank you sister dear," he grins impishly, giving her a peck on the cheek, "I'll go wash up, and be right back."
* * * * *
After dinner everyone settles in the game room to chat and watch the men play billiards.
Jarrod and Heath stand by as they watch Nick take his first shot; only one ball rolls into the corner pocket.
"Whoaaa! Is that the best you can do?!" complains Jarrod.
"That is some rusty I 'd say," Heath smirks at his older brother.
"Heath, I do believe we have an opportunity here to make some easy money this evening." Jarrod leans his arm on Heath's shoulder, as he points to Nick.
"That's right! Kick a man when he's down!! Ya know I haven't played in weeks!" sneers Nick.
"That's not much of an excuse Nick, ya always were a lousy player," Heath smiles as he leans on his pool cue, with Jarrod by his side chuckling.
"Yes, Heath's right, you're just more so this evening," Jarrod says with a wink to the ladies amused by the banter.
"I have missed those three with their competitive quarrels," Victoria comments as she pours tea in Polly Thomas' cup. "Lemon or cream?"
"Is it always like this?" wonders Polly, "Thank you, cream please."
"Always," Victoria laughs, " and I wouldn't have it any other way."
Laura sits on the chair happily watching her husband enjoy his brothers' teasing, while she embroiders a sampler with careful stitches. Audra watches her sister-in-law, admiring her handy work.
"I wish I could do as well as you."
"Goodness Audra, you do wonderful work with your embroidery, how can you say that?"
"Oh but I do such small little things like handkerchiefs, I just haven't any patience to do such a big project like you. What is that, a pillow case?"
"Yes, but you know me, I often take on more than I can manage. I will be happy if I finish by Christmas," Laura states as she pulls the needle into another tiny stitch.
"Oh, is it a Christmas gift? Maybe for me?"
"Possibly, but I won't tell," she teases her sister. "Now, tell me, speaking of the holidays and all, how are your plans coming for the Harvest Festival?"
"Oh it's wonderful I am really pleased the way things are turning out. I actually got a few people to make brand new clothes for the orphans. For once those poor darlings will have new clothes especially made for them and not hand me downs. I would have asked you to sew a dress or two, but I knew were too busy with the library."
"Oh I wish you had, I would have liked to make some little girl a new dress. I certainly could have found the time Audra."
"You mean you would have? Really?...But I thought you didn't care for the orphans."
"My goodness Audra, what ever gave you that idea? I love children."
"But Sister dear, you never want to, ...well...of course I understand it now."
"What do you mean? Understand what now?"
"Laura would you like more tea?" Victoria attempts to change the subject.
"No thank you Victoria. Please explain what you mean Audra. Why in the world would you think I didn't like the children?"
"Audra would you like more tea?" Victoria interrupts again. Laura gives her mother-in-law an exasperated look, which she ignores by concentrating on the pouring of tea.
"Oh dear I'm afraid I said too much. I am so sorry, had I known about your Mother, Sister dear I would never have...." Audra apologizes, her face turning crimson.
"My mother? What does she have to do with anything?" she winces in pain as the sharp needle pricks her finger.
"I'm afraid it was my fault Laura," Aunt Polly interjects. Laura dully places her needlework beside her on the small marble table near her chair and slowly stands, her gaze firmly planted down on her Aunt's face.
"You have spoken about me, to my family behind my back?"
"Dear, I had no idea your family didn't know how your Mother met her demise."
"So you took it upon yourself to inform them," her hands now on her hips.
"When Audra brought up the fact that you avoided going to the orphanage, I offered it as a possible explanation of your actions." Laura notices Audra's downcast eyes brimming with tears, then turns again towards Aunt Polly.
"How dare you attempt to explain my actions to my family!!" The three men stop playing and listen to the angry exchange. Polly rises from the settee she shares with Victoria to defend herself.
"I'm sorry Laura dear, I was only trying to help."
"The only help you have ever given me is help away from the only family I had left on this earth. I may have been a child but I knew it was your idea to have my father send me away!"
"It had to be done at that time, you had no idea how devastated your Father was when your poor Mother died in that Indian orphanage!"
"And so you told Audra that I hated orphans because of it?!"
"Only as a possible explanation dear..."
"How dare you! You have no idea how I feel about anything and you had no right to tell tales.
You don't even know me! And I would appreciate it for hopefully the short time you are here that you would keep you opinions to yourself about me! These people are my family and I will thank you to not attempt to take them away too!" Laura seethed with anger as she labored for each breath, choking back hot, angry tears.
"Laura, take it easy, you don't know what your saying!" Nick placed a calming hand on her shoulder, but she shook it off with a huff, and a quick wave of her hand.
"I will not! She hasn't any right to talk about my Mother! She never liked her anyway!"
"That's not true!" Polly defends herself, "I cared a great deal for Meredith, your Father adored her, how could I not love her too, she made him very happy."
"Don't lie! You hated the fact that they loved each other because you were jealous of them! You're just a bitter old maid!"
"Laura! For God's sake stop this now!" Nick admonished her while trying to control his own anger.
She glared at her husband, "What ever possessed you to bring her here?! All her presence does is dredge up awful memories!" she turned back to her aunt, "Damn you!"
'LAURA!' Nick yells as he throws the pool stick down on the table. She glared at Nick, then stormed out of the game room.
"LAURA, COME BACK HERE NOW!" Nick blared, then
turned to Polly who had collapsed in tears on the settee. "She had no right to say those
things! She doesn't know the
Polly looked up with teary eyes, "Please Nick! I don't want to come between the two of you. I will leave in the morning."
"YOU WILL NOT! You are staying here as our guest. My wife owes you an apology and I will see to it that she does apologize to you! I'm going to straighten her out on a few things!"
"Nick, you mustn't. You promised me that you wouldn't tell her!"
"Polly I can't let her treat you like that! You don't deserve it! She has no right! She needs to learn the truth!"
"And I will NOT have my brother's memory sullied! So I insist you keep your promise to me! Please Nick!" the older woman pleaded as she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief from her sleeve.
He lets out a surrendering sigh, shaking his head. Then he pointed his finger at the older woman. "FINE! I won't tell her but, YOU ARE NOT LEAVING HERE! And she will apologize to you, if I have to take her over my knee and ..."
Victoria bolted from her sitting position, toward her son, "YOU WILL NOT TOUCH HER NICHOLAS!" She held up a defiant finger under his nose.
"What?!" Nick said, startled by his mother's actions. Victoria shook the warning finger in the air. "You will not harm her physically in any way, Nicholas! Do I make myself clear?!"
"Yes mother, I didn't... I mean..."
Victoria's demeanor softened. "Please be gentle with her, don't upset her, she really hasn't been well these past few days, please Nick!"
"I will mother." He gazed over to his sympathizing brothers then left the room without another word, heading toward the stairs.
* * * * *
Upstairs Nick stuck his head in as he opened the bedroom door to find his wife sobbing on the bed for the second time that day.
"Go away!" He walked in the room, closing the door behind him.
"Now, you know I'm not going to do that." She sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed, wiping her tears with a handkerchief.
"You're not here to scold me are you? Because if you are...!"
Nick walked over to the bed, "Nope, came here to talk."
"I don't want to talk," she wipes away more tears with an already soaked handkerchief. He pulled out another handkerchief from his back pocket and gave it to her, as he sat beside her on the bed, he rested his hands on his knees.
"Even better. You can listen," he noticed a slight smile curl on the corner of her lips.
"Ya know the whole idea of bringing your kin back with me was to make ya happy, but ya sure don't seem happy since I brought her here."
"Oh Nick, I don't mean to be ungrateful, but..."
"I guess I should have listened to your aunt when she said ya might be upset if she came here but ya know me, I never listen."
"I'm so sorry Nick, I know you meant well. You must hate me."
"Yup, you're right, I do hate ya." Laura tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh, and Nick joined her, chuckling.
"Don't make me laugh!" She warned him as she wiped her tears again.
"Come here," he grabs her arm and sits her on his lap. She wraps her arms around his neck. "Never thought my saying I hate you would make you laugh," he said teasingly with his arms around her waist.
"I love you so much Nick. I don't deserve you."
"Yeah, that's true, but I've told ya that already." She laughed all the more, as she playfully hit him on the shoulder.
"Everyone in town tells me what a fine catch that Nick Barkley is."
"There ya go, what did I tell ya?" he placed his hand ever so gently on her face, his eyes melted into a look of love, "You're a fine catch yourself Milady, and don't ya forget it 'cause Nick Barkley says so!"
"I am sorry for being so angry."
"It's your aunt you owe an apology to," he gently prodded.
She quickly rose from his lap, "No!" she turned her back, arms folded in front of her. He stood from the bed. "Okay, then there's only one thing I can do," he caught her again from behind, around the waist, and gave her a quick kiss on her neck.
"What?" her hand reached up to touch his cheek.
"To make you happy I will take your Aunt Polly out and shoot her!" he gave her a peck on the cheek, making her laugh again.
"Would you be serious!" she chided, slapping his arm.
"I am! I'll shoot any one of your kin ya want me to shoot! Anyone of them to make ya happy!" He released his grip on her.
"Nick, for heaven's sakes, stop it!" She moved out of his grasp, but he clutched her hands so she couldn't leave, and turned her to face him.
"Did she really say anything so terrible? Was she telling the truth about the orphans?" his hazel eyes giving out a softer glow, making her feel ashamed of her behavior.
"Nick I don't hate children," her eyes begin to fill with tears.
"I don't mean about the children, I'm talkin' about the orphanage. Audra has never been able to get you interested in going with her, and I believed that disappointed her a bit. You know Audra loves you. Your the sister she always wanted!"
"I love her too like a sister, she's wonderful and I know the orphanage is very dear to her, but I... I can't bring myself to go there."
"Because of your mother, isn't that right?"
"That's part of it," she turned her face away from him.
"What's the other part?"
"Please don't ask me that, I'm not ready to talk about it yet. But it hasn't anything to do with the children! I love children! I would have gladly made a dress for any one of them if Audra had asked me!" she said with downcast eyes, he released her hands and cups his fist under her chin and raising it up with his finger, "I know that Honey." She embraced him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Tell ya what, let's forget about all this. I'm still on a little vacation here, so what do ya say you and I go on a picnic tomorrow for lunch? We'll go to that place we had our first picnic together, remember that?"
"Oh I most certainly do," she smiled, "Oh Nick that a perfect idea! We can be alone to talk."
"Talkin' wasn't what I had in mind," he laughed.
"I know what you have in mind, it's what you always have on your mind, but we need to talk Nick."
"About things that happened while you were away."
"Am I gonna like this?" He cocked a wary head to the side.
"Well, I didn't get arrested!" She smiled teasingly.
"I suppose I should be grateful for that anyway!" They both laughed hugging each other.
* * * * *
Later that evening Victoria escorted Polly Thomas to her room, her arm around her shoulder, pointing out the different rooms.
"Now, just a reminder, this is the bathroom, the door is always kept closed so you will have to knock before you go in, with a big family one never knows who's in there. Across from that is Nick and Laura's bedroom. Now here..." Polly pulls away from her.
"I should go in and apologize," Polly hastily moved toward their bedroom door. Victoria quickly grabbed Polly by the shoulders stopping her from knocking on the door.
"Polly, may I call you Polly, since we're practically family, and I do hope you will call me Victoria."
"Of course Victoria, but I would..." Polly pointed to the newlyweds' bedroom.
"Good, I'm so glad. You know, being in a rather large family we can sometimes get in each other's way, even in so large a house as this one. So we have rules that we all follow to help all of us respect each other's privacy, and one of those rules, ....actually a rather new one these days, is we never knock on Nick and Laura's bedroom door when they are both in there. You understand don't you Polly?"
"Never." Victoria shook her head to make the point. "Unless the house is engulfed in flames of course, which thankfully has not happened," Victoria smiled at her new house guest, rubbing her shoulder in friendship.
"But what if you want to speak to them?" Polly looked incredulously at her hostess.
"Anything we have to say to them can wait until morning." They hear laughter coming from Nick and Laura's room. Victoria smiles at Polly.
"There, you see, they are fine, quite happy. Tomorrow morning is time enough to talk to them. Everything always looks fresh in the morning as I always tell my children. I wouldn't worry about Laura, I'm sure Nick has talked to her and she has forgotten all about how angry she was."
"She does have a temper, doesn't she?" she smiled knowingly at Victoria.
"That she does," Victoria smiled back with an agreeing nod of her head, "but my son Nick has just as powerful a temper."
"They make quite a pair, don't they?" Polly smiled.
"Believe me Polly dear, you have no idea." Victoria continued their house tour.
Much later that same evening, Laura very meekly knocked on the guest room door, in case her aunt was already asleep but a small voice called out, inviting her in. She gingerly opened the door, peeking her head in.
"Yes Laura," she answered from her bed.
Laura stifled a hint of a laugh when she caught sight of her Aunt Polly who wore a blue quilted bed jacket, and a crisp white nightcap that covered most of her hair. On her lap sat a small well-worn black bible, and brown wooden rosary beads where tangled in her wizen fingers.
"May I come in?"
"Please do. Close the door behind you. We wouldn't want to wake the house should you decide to unleash your temper again!" Laura softly closed the door.
"I didn't come here to quarrel, I came here to apologize for my rudeness to you in front of my family."
"You call them your family Laura, is that to exclude me?"
"No, of course not, but they are my husband's family and that makes them mine."
"However, despite how you feel, I am the only living relative you have, on the Thomas side anyway."
"And the only one here, thanks to my dear husband."
"He is a dear husband you know; I hope you appreciate him." Laura bristled at her aunt's comment.
"I don't need you to remind me to appreciate my husband!" Laura turned to leave not wanting to start another argument with the woman.
"Please don't go Laura."
"I came here to apologize and I did that, now please excuse me."
"I think we need to start over again. I am sorry that I spoke out of turn to your family. It was wrong of me. Gossip seems to be a weakness that I continue to confess to the priest, almost daily. I do fear he is tired of me confessing it.
"Then maybe you should control your inclinations better. Good night." She starts to leave the room once again.
"Laura, possibly you could introduce me to your priest so that I might go to confession for the time I am here."
"I don't have a priest, Aunt Polly. I suggest you have Audra take you to the orphanage; it is run by a mission priest, Father Sanchez, many call him Padre Sanchez, but he answers to both," she turned to leave again.
"Laura, you don't practice your faith?! Were you not married in the church?!"
"I was married here by Reverend Stacy of the Stockton Community Church, the family attends that church, as do I."
"I scarcely believe my ears! Your dear mother was a very faithful Catholic and she raised you to be the same! What happened to change this?"
"My mother died, my father send me away for 12 years, with your blessing, to a secular school where Catholicism was not practiced. Now, you tell me how a 10 year old girl practices her faith when there is no one to show her?!"
"...and you never remedied the situation?"
"I never felt the need too," she chafed at the thought.
"But surely you must..."
"I am perfectly happy the way things are and I do not intend to change. Good night." She quickly left her aunt's room, muttering to herself. "I go there to appease my conscience! To make peace with her and she makes me angry again! I should be grateful the witch didn't send me to a convent school!"
Laura rushed toward the back stairs to the kitchen where she found Audra heating a pan of milk. Audra smiled at the sight of her sister-in-law.
Couldn't sleep either?"
"Hi Audra, no, I couldn't sleep. What's that you're cooking?" she looks over her shoulder.
"Warm milk, there's enough for two, do you want some?"
"Yes, please. I'll get the glasses."
"Good, it's almost ready," she says as she stirs the milky substance with a spoon. Laura sets the glasses on the table and sits down.
"Audra, I wonder if I could ask a favor."
"Of course, what is it?" she brings the pan over to the glasses and pours the hot mixture in them.
"You may not be so eager if you knew what I was going to ask you."
"You have some absolutely hideous man you want me to dance with at the Harvest Festival Dance,"
Audra said teasingly.
"You may wish it was only that."
"Uh oh, now I am worried," she smiled as she sat down at the table.
"It's my aunt, she wants to go to the orphanage to meet with Padre Sanchez."
"Oh goodness, that's not a problem, I'll be glad to do that for you. I'll be there most of the day tomorrow, so she'll be out of your hair."
"Oh Audra, thank you, you're a treasure," she squeezes her arm in gratitude.
"Goodness, it's the least I could do, I felt so guilty when she told me about your mother."
"It's not your fault, she didn't have any right to say that. It would have been better if I told you myself, but, well. I knew I could never bring myself to go to the orphanage but I didn't know why until my Aunt said what she said. It was, ... never mind, I don't wish to discuss it any more. It's difficult for me to talk about my parents and how ... I'm sorry," she bites her lower lip attempting to stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks. Audra pulls a hanky from her robe pocket.
"Oh dear, now I've upset you all over again! I'm so sorry! I promise I will never bring it up again," with eyes glistening, Audra reaches over to hug her.
"I'm sorry too. It is something I must face, but I just can't now, not yet."
Victoria enters the kitchen. "I see I'm not the only one who is having difficulty sleeping." Audra stands, turning her back so her mother won't see her wiping away her tears with her fingers. "Well Mother, I'm feeling a bit tired, so I'll go to bed now. The warm milk helped. Good night."
"Good night Audra. Thank you for sharing your milk and for the favor." Victoria takes Audra seat. The two women watch her leave the kitchen.
"Audra is doing you a favor?"
"She's taking Aunt Polly to the orphanage. She expressed a desire to meet Padre Sanchez."
"Would you like me to warm some milk Victoria to help you sleep?"
"I always had a dislike for milk, I only drank it when I was in a family way. I'm glad to see you're drinking it though."
"I like milk, always did."
"Odd though, I've never seen you drink milk before."
"It's very refreshing."
"Refreshing;... at night,... to help you sleep?"
"Is there something on your mind Victoria?" she smiles. Victoria smiles back resting her elbow on the table with her chin in a cupped hand.
"Not really. Is there something on yours? Maybe something you would like to talk about?"
"Yes, you know you can tell me anything." Victoria encouraged her.
"Can't think of a thing, really." she sips her milk, eyeing a suspicious Victoria as she does so.
"It's nice having Nick back." Victoria had decided to change the subject.
"It's great having Nick back! ....Victoria?"
"Yes Laura, is there something you want to tell me?"
"Yes, there is Victoria."
"Oh good, I'm glad. Please tell me." Victoria grinned from ear to ear.
"I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your taking over the literacy classes at the saloon; and I was wondering how it was coming along?"
"Oh, ...that." Victoria didn't attempt to hide her disappointment. "Well, Lottie is fast learner, and Katie is doing well enough; then there's Ned."
"What about Ned?"
"Well, he finally decided on a name, so that is what he learned to write."
"Which name did he choose?"
"Ned Tuck. He liked it because it was short." Laura started laughing, Victoria joined her.
"And how is my old friend Belle doing?"
"She's been asking about you."
"Yes, apparently she felt quite privileged to have escorted you to Doctor Merrar when you fell ill. She's been quite concerned about you."
"Well, you did reassure her that I am fine?"
"Why yes I did, but she suspected that you were, ... ah,... well... How have you been feeling these days?"
"Fine. You know I better get back to bed, I wouldn't want Nick to wake up and find me gone. Good night, see you in the morning."
"Laura dear... I really would like to...." Laura quickly scampered up the back staircase, much to Victoria's chagrin.
* * * * *
Upstairs she softly crawls into bed next to her husband, being very careful not to wake him, she pulls the covers up, and presses her cold feet near his warm ones; he gives a slight grumble and moves his feet away as she smiles at his reaction. Laura leaned on her elbow watching him sleep.
"You look just like a little boy when you sleep, a little boy who needs a shave anyway," she gently touched his face with her finger tip, he makes a guttural sound and swats her hand away, making her smile more.
"I love you Nick."
"Are you sleeping?"
"I bet you haven't noticed have you?"
"Mmmph,....yeah...." he said sleepily.
"No you haven't. Men never notice these things. Don't even think about women's problems."
She blows out the light and rolls over, sleep comes almost immediately. Meanwhile, Nick's eyes suddenly open. He turns over and pulls himself up to stare at her.
"Notice what?" he growled.
At about 4'o'clock that same morning, Laura woke up from a fitful sleep, she pulled on her robe, and glanced over at her husband; she envied how he always slept so soundly, she wished she could do the same. She hoped she would have slept better when he had gotten back, but it still was the same for her, at least she was spared her usual morning headache; the Good Lord decided to give her new aches and pains this morning as she hurried to the bathroom. The bathroom door opened unexpectedly.
"Oh Heath! You startled me!"
"Sorry Laura, didn't 'spect anyone up this early." He stood fully dressed for the day in his stocking feet, holding his boots in his hands.
"You're up earlier than usual for you Heath."
"That's true enough, but who could sleep with the Union Pacific in the next room? That old Aunt of yours sure has a mighty powerful snore! Dang, even Nick ain't that bad!"
"I'm sorry Heath," she tries to hide a smile. Heath points to her with his boots in hand.
"Ya know ya owe me again!"
"Aww Heath... not again?!"
"That's right, again!"
"I'm going to get you married off if it's the last thing I do Heath Barkley; and for your wedding present I am giving your bride my raisin bread recipe!"
"Ahh Sis, ya'd miss me. No one appreciates your raisin bread like I do."
"You just like to keep me over a barrel."
"Aw now, that's just a little bonus for me," he winked slyly.
"You're a scoundrel Heath Barkley!"
"Now that's another little secret we'll keep just between us." Heath gave her a little peck on the cheek and headed down the back stairs.
* * * * *
Much later that same day Victoria arrived home after teaching a literacy class in the Stockton saloon, she hears some noise coming from the spare bedroom where Laura has kept all the books for the Stockton Library. She peeks her head in to find her daughter-in-law shuffling the books around to different parts of the room.
"Goodness Laura, what in the world are you doing?"
"Trying to make some manner of order here, and failing miserably I might add."
"But dear, I thought you said you were going to have a picnic lunch with Nick today."
"Oh, I'm afraid that didn't go as planned. While I was getting things ready one of the men came in and needed Nick to go someplace. I forgot where, some small emergency I think. Do you mind if I plan the dinner today?"
"Are you sure you're up to it? Surely you must be tired."
"I'm fine, really."
"Laura! Are you wearing glasses?!"
Laura pulls them off quickly and folds them into her pocket. "Ohh, I forgot I had them on. Please don't tell Nick. He'll blame it on this Library project of mine and he'll be furious."
Victoria shakes her head. "Just how many other secrets do you have that Nick doesn't know about?"
She smiles at her mother-in-law. "One or two."
"Hmm, very well, but he will find out you know."
"Yes I know, he will find out in time."
* * * * *
Polly Thomas had always been a devote Catholic, and being so far away from her own church back in Boston wasn't going to stop her from practicing her faith! How lucky that the children's orphanage in Stockton was run by the Catholic missionary priest. Audra Barkley had been kind enough to introduce her to Father Sanchez and she certainly needed some priestly advice after hearing the disturbing news about her niece. She knelt at the Madonna statue until she heard the jangle of wooden beads behind her. She stood to face the kindly priest.
"Miss Thomas, sorry I had to leave a moment ago, a little matter to take care of with one of the children. Now, Audra said you are an aunt to the younger Mrs Barkley?"
"That's correct Father, Laura Barkley is my niece. Do you know her?"
"Well, no, not well, we've only met once, but I consider all the Barkleys my friends. They are a very generous family to our mission here."
"Yes, they are wonderful people." She gave quick sigh, anxious to say what was on her mind.
Sensing this, the priest invited her to speak, "Now Miss Thomas, how may I help you?"
"I'm from Boston Father and...."
"I gathered that from your accent Miss Thomas. I have another friend here who is also from back east and she sounds just like you," the priest chuckled good naturedly. But Polly ignored the comment as she is fully intent on speaking her mine.
"I am a Catholic, Father."
"I'm happy to hear that. Welcome to Stockton Miss Thomas I hope you will be gracing us at mass this Sunday, it's at 9 o'clock."
"Well, I certainly hope to, thank you for the invitation. But, you see, it's my niece I want to talk to you about."
"Mrs. Barkley? What about her?"
"She is also a Catholic."
"Really? I had no idea. I thought she was of the same religion as her family. They attend services at the Stockton Community Church."
"Yes, so my niece told me, much to my dismay! I was so hoping Father that you would talk to my niece."
"Well, of course I will be glad to, just have her come see me," he smiled pleasantly.
"Oh goodness, she would never do that! You would have to go to her."
The priest shakes his head and his hand at the same time, "Oh no, I could never do that! If your niece has a desire to come back to her faith she must seek it out. I could never solicit. All the Lord's children have free will. It is your niece's choice to join the Stockton Community Church, I would never interfere with that! It is her decision."
"But Father, my niece is a Catholic!"
"Not if she chooses not to be Miss Thomas, and I think that she has chosen that path."
"Pardon me, but it's a path to Hades! Why she isn't even married! She's living in sin!"
"Miss Thomas, your niece was married by Reverend Stacy of the Stockton Community Church. I was there, I witnessed it myself."
"You witnessed my niece's marriage? Then you gave them your blessing! Oh Father I feel so much better!" She puts her hand on her heart and breathes a sigh of relief then turns to seat herself on one of the pews. The priest followed in kind.
"You misunderstand me, when I say I witnessed the marriage, I mean it to say that I was one of the many guests at the wedding. It was a lovely wedding by the way."
"Then you didn't give it your blessing?"
"Not an official church blessing, but I pray for all young married couples, no matter what church they are married in."
"But my niece is Catholic! And she was NOT married in a Catholic Church, which means she not married in the eyes of God."
"Miss Thomas the Good Lord recognizes all couples who have made a loving commitment to each other. Once a man and woman take that path it is a true marriage no matter what church they are married in."
"But my niece is Catholic! She must be married in the Catholic Church!"
"I beg to differ with you dear lady, your niece chooses not to practice her faith therefore she is not Catholic."
"This is very disconcerting Father! It is very upsetting indeed!"
The priest breathes a deep sigh then tries to soothe his new parishioner. "Has your niece had any of the sacraments Miss Thomas?"
"Well, I know she was baptized because Merry Margaret would insist on that!"
"That's my niece's Mother, she died when Laura was ten."
"Then she didn't have any of the sacraments once the woman died?"
"I'm afraid not, my brother was very distraught about losing his wife and he put Laura in boarding school."
"I assume it wasn't a Catholic one."
"Well no, my brother wouldn't hear of it. He certainly didn't want his only daughter to become a nun. Oh Goodness the thought of my niece becoming a nun! She would have made the worse nun on God's earth! The mouth on that girl! She shows no respect whatsoever! You should have heard the way she talked to me the first day I came here! Well, I can't even repeat what she said to me!"
"Did you upset your niece Miss Thomas?" He eyed her with an admonishing look.
"Well, I suppose I did speak out of turn myself. That is my downfall father."
"Downfall? What is Miss Thomas?"
"Gossiping," she looks down contritely at her hands folded in her lap.
The priest smiles at her, "Would you like to confess Miss Thomas? I am available now."
"Here?" Not in a confessional?"
"It is a poor church we make due with what we have. No one is here Miss Thomas I will be glad to hear your confession." The priest reaches in his pocket and pulls out a small purple alb placing it around his neck.
"Ready Miss Thomas?" Polly Thomas bows her head and makes the sign of the cross, "Bless me Father for I have sinned, my last confession was two weeks ago. I was on a train you understand." She looks up at him, he smiles slightly.
"I understand. Please continue."
"Well, when Nick brought me here it really was to please his wife, my niece, but instead she was rather cold to me, in fact, she was down right rude to me at times!"
"Please tell me your sins not your niece's."
Nick Barkley stood in the foyer of his home, his hands on his hips looking around at a seemingly empty house. He was already angry because his planned picnic with his wife was spoiled when one of the men got hurt on the job, and with Heath pulling another one of his disappearing acts, Nick was the one who had to take the injured man into Dr. Merrar's.
"Where in blazes is everybody?! LAURA! BLASTED!"
Silas pattered into the foyer to meet the loud cowboy as there was baking in the oven and he didn't want Mr. Nick to be the reason for it falling down and getting Mrs. Nick all riled after all her hard work. It was his favorite cake and Mrs. Nick wanted this dinner to be very special as she was cooking it all herself!
"Mr. Nick, please don't shout, there's a cake in the oven."
"Oh, sorry Silas. Where's my wife? She's not in with those damn books again is she?"
"No Sir, she is in the kitchen. She's preparing a special dinner for ya." Nick smiled at the thought.
"Well, what do you know, she's cooking dinner for me even after we couldn't go on that picnic
I promised her. That's my girl!" He throws his hat on the settee in the corner and heads into the kitchen. He finds her with hands white with flour. He grabs her waist from behind kissing her on the neck.
"Nick careful, I'm up to my elbows in flour." She reaches for a towel and wipes her hands before she turns around to give him a hug.
"Silas said you were making dinner tonight."
"Yes, for a change I thought I would do it. To celebrate your being home, and to show off my cooking skills to Aunt Polly," she stands with her arms wrapped around his shoulders.
"Well, I'm glad you two made up, I would hate to have to take her out and shoot her." Laura swatted his shoulders. He gives her another kiss on her cheek, "It's good to see you out of that damn book room, of course I prefer to see you in our bedroom buck ..."
"NICK! Please, Silas will hear you, behave yourself." She turns her back on him, he nuzzles her ear, "This morning was a great surprise, we usually don't make love in the morning," he whispers in her ear.
"I usually have a headache in the morning, it was different this morning though."
"I'll say, where did you learn that?!"
"NICK! I was talking about my headache not that! Would you please be quiet!" She whispered back.
"Where is everyone?"
"Audra took Aunt Polly to the orphanage, she wanted to meet Padre Sanchez. Jarrod is working at his office in Stockton, and your mother in at the Saloo... ah....I mean she's in Stockton as well. I don't know where Heath is. The last I saw of him was this morning at 4 o'clock heading out someplace, boots in hand. He complained about Aunt Polly snoring too loud; it woke him up."
"Yeah, she does do that. I had to sleep sitting up in another car just coming back home, the woman sounds like the Union-Pacific going through a tunnel!"
"That's what Heath said." She laughs as she moves away, clattering pots and pans.
"Better Heath than having her in the guest room next to us. You were smart to move her out of our way."
"Oh I didn't move her away from our room because she made too much noise, I moved her because we make too much noise!" She winked at him.
"Smart woman!" Nick laughed.
"Do you want to help me cook?"
"Hell no! Are you out of your mind woman?!" he was shocked at the thought of her even asking him.
"Then get out of the kitchen! I'm busy!" She shoos him away with the wave of her hand.
He headed to the doorway but stopped in his tracks. "Oh listen, I forgot to tell ya, guess who's gonna be a father? McCall told me this morning, Your horse Tipper! Three mares it looks like so far." Nick quickly leaves the kitchen in a very good mood.
"Hmmm, good for Tipper, he's not the only one who's going to be a father," she said under her breath, smiling.
The autumn was beginning. Leaves turned new and brighter colors, then
floated slowly to the ground. She
sighed as she gazed out the window of the schoolhouse.
“I’m sorry for keepin’ ya, Miss Dougherty,” came a small voice from a little girl bent over her needlework.
“I wasn’t sighing about that; I’m glad to help you. I just love the fall season.”
Little Maddie Benson pricked her finger. “Ouch!” Hope walked swiftly to the girl.
“What’s the matter?”
“I pricked my finger,” she replied as tears welled up in her eyes.
“That’s alright. Here, set that down and I’ll take care of it.”
“Miss Dougherty, I got blood on it!” The girl began to cry.
“Now, don’t you worry; if you let me take that for tonight, I’ll get it out and hang it out to dry. Then tomorrow I’ll give it back." Maddie sniffed and rubbed her cheek with a chubby little hand.
“Really. Now, dry those tears. What do you say we sit on the front steps to work on this some more?”
“Okay." The girl sniffed again.
“Do you mind if I bring my own embroidery along? I’d like to catch up a bit, but it’s alright if you say ‘No.’”
“That’s fine. Kin I see it?”
“Sure, once we get outside.”
Hope picked up her bag and took Maddie’s hand. Together, they walked to the door and opened it to continue on the front stoop.
“I didn’t realize you were still here,” Hope said to Heath and Bobbie. “Do you boys mind some company? We wanted to come outside to finish up for today.”
“I don’t mind. Do you, Bobbie?”
“No, miss. Mr. Heath’s just helping me get this here right." The girls sat down and Maddie began on her stitchery again.
“Looks good, Bobbie. Now, Maddie, I want you to slow down a bit and make that stitch smaller. That’s right. Just keep that up, but stay away from the spot I’m going to clean. I’ll try to keep an eye on how you’re doing but if you need help, just ask. I’ll be right here working." Hope opened her bag and pulled out a folded piece of thick cloth. After she retrieved her needle and several bright colors of thread, she unfolded the cloth. It was an embroidery of a Madonna and Child, with deep, rich, and still startling colors and a gold rim around each figure. Christ looked majestic but childlike, and the image was breathtaking.
“Miss Dougherty, that’s beautiful!” Maddie cried. “Wish I was that good.”
“I’ve had a lot of practice, Maddie. If you work hard, you’ll do better than this someday." Hope fixed the embroidery circle on one section of it.
“I don’t know. Are you gonna enter it in the festival?”
“I hadn’t thought to.”
“Hope, I think you should,” Heath added, looking at it over her shoulder.
“I can’t enter this; it’s for the church.”
“I’m sure God won’t mind gettin’ an altar cloth with a blue ribbon on it." Hope burst out laughing at Heath’s remark.
“He mayn’t at that, but it’ll be done by the end of the week and I promised Padre Sanchez to have it to him. Seems the last one met a beautiful demise but all the same a demise.”
“You should enter something,” advised Maddie in a very old, grown-up tone.
“She’s right, Hope.”
“It’s not important.”
“Maybe not, but I’m going to tell Audra, and if you don’t she’ll be on your tail faster’n a mosquito on a hot summer night.”
“Alright, I’ll think about it. No promises. Bobby, how is your horse coming there?”
“Come now, Bob, it’s comin’ great, ain’t it?” Heath prodded.
“Certainly looks like it to me,” Hope said with an awe-filled tone.
“And Miss Maddie,” Heath said in his most gentlemanly drawl, “looks to me like you’re doin’ real fine.”
“You think so?” the little girl asked hopefully.
“Of course he does, or he wouldn’t say it, and I think you’re doing wonderfully, Maddie,” Hope replied.
“Wonder what he’s doin’ here,” Heath said with a directional shake of his head. Jarrod’s carriage pulled up to the school and he got out and walked to the foursome sitting on the front steps.
“Hello, everyone. School’s running a little late today, I see.”
“We’re just working a bit extra for our festival projects,” Hope explained.
“Ah, I see.”
“Is there something I can do for you?” Hope asked.
“Well, I was just looking for you to see if you’d like to accompany me to the dance at the end of the festival.”
“I’d love to, but I promised your sister to help with the refreshments. I will certainly save you a dance, but that’s all I can do.”
“I understand completely. Audra enlists everyone she can in everything. I believe Heath’s setting up the entire festival again.”
“Yep. Don’t know how she does it, but Audra can get me to do anything.”
“Our sister is very sweet, but she is also quite skilled at getting what she wants from whom she wants.”
“Every girl has to know how, or she’d never get anything in this man’s world,” Hope finished with a smirk.
Jarrod sighed. “Ah, I believe
I shall do what men have had to do in this woman’s world and keep
mum." Hope laughed. “Well, I have an appointment soon, so I bid
you all farewell." With that he
got back in his carriage and drove away.
“Are ya gonna marry Mr. Barkley?”
“What sort of a question is that?”
“A loaded one,” Heath muttered. The teacher smiled.
“A question question. Are ya?”
“I don’t think so, and certainly not now.”
“What about Mr. Heath?” Maddie piped up.
Eyeing Heath with mischievous glare, Hope replied, “Well, he hasn’t asked me.”
“You gonna ask her, Mr. Heath?”
“Well, no, Maddie, not before she promises me a dance at the festival." Two hopeful heads turned to look at Hope, who angled hers down at Bobbie’s and Maddie’s.
“I’ll think about it. Now, you two, it’s nearing four o’clock. I wrote out a note for each of you explaining that you aren’t in trouble, just working on your project. I’ll take care of yours, Maddie, and Bobbie, you can take yours home. Here are your notes. Bobbie, make sure you thank Mr. Heath for staying after.”
“Thanks, sir." Heath ruffled the little boy’s hair.
“It was nothin’, Bobbie. Glad to stay.”
“Thank you, Miss Dougherty.”
“You’re welcome, Maddie. Now, scoot before your parents worry about you."
The two children scampered off in different directions.
“They’re sweet, aren’t they?” Hope asked.
“Yep, sure are. You like kids quite a bit.”
“Well, if you’re the second oldest of ten, you’d better.”
“Wish I’d had that many brothers and sisters growin’ up.”
“Well, some is better than none."
“I didn’t grow up here. I didn’t
have any brothers and sisters growing up.”
“But... oh. Then I guess your only option is to be grateful you do now.”
“Am I ever." Heath had decided to test her reaction on a whim, and he was glad with her response. “You never answered my question.”
“About the dance.”
“Of course I’ll save one for you. Just don’t tell Jarrod he’s not the only Barkley brother with a dance.”
“Nick may offer one out of courtesy, but don’t be surprised if he gets caught up with his wife.”
“That’s as it should be. He can be as discourteous as he pleases on that account. Oh, dear, I think I’ve kept you too long.”
“It’s alright. With round-up over, I don’t have too much to do. Actually, I have nothin’ planned for this afternoon. Worked extra all week to get this afternoon off.”
“Well, then, would you mind if I took a little more of your time?”
“Not at all. What can I do for you?”
“Well, this is an unusual request, I know, but, well, I was wondering... could you tell me a good place to fish?”
“Well, yes, I’d say that’s a bit unusual from a girl.”
“I love fishing. You can’t not enjoy it when you leave on the ocean.”
“Fishin’s a lot of fun. Sure, I can tell you where. You know, fishin’ sounds like a good way to spend a Friday afternoon. I can take you there, do a little fishin’ myself, if you don’t mind, of course.”
“Not at all. You’ll have to show me where the best spots are and the sort of bait you use. I didn’t bring a pole, but I can make one there. Just have to get some strong thread.”
“Don’t worry about that. I always keep some line in my saddle bags.”
“I have a few old needles we could bend into hooks.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Alright, then; let’s go.”
* * * * *
Everyone dressed for Laura's dinner party which was a success, but again the only one absent from dinner was Heath, which annoyed Nick. Victoria placed her arm around her daughter-in-law, as they walked into the game room for after dinner conversation.
"That was positively delicious Laura, you are to be congratulated."
"I agree," adds Jarrod as he pours glasses of after dinner drinks for everyone, " it was excellent! My compliments to the chef!"
"Thank you kind sir," Laura curtsies to Jarrod.
"It was a wonderful dinner Laura. Just perfect," adds her aunt.
"Thank you Aunt Polly, I'm so glad you enjoyed it." She looks around the room, "Where's Nick?"
"Oh he had to excuse himself Laura," Audra contributes, "my guess is he needed to take his jacket and tie off."
"Oh for once, you'd think he would dress like a gentlemen," Laura sighed taking a seat by her aunt.
"You know Nick, only on Sunday will he tolerate a jacket and tie, and this being Friday....well..."
"And add the fact that Heath isn't here to share in his misery of dressing for dinner," Victoria joked as she took a sherry from her son. Suddenly the jangling of spurs was heard, Nick walked in the game room having changed his suit and tie for his everyday clothes. Laura stood as he entered.
"Nick, what in the world are you doing?!"
"I'm gonna look for Heath!"
"You said yourself no one has seen him since 4 o'clock this morning, I'm goin' out lookin' for him and he better have a damn good excuse for missin' your dinner party!"
"Actually that's not true, " Jarrod interrupted, " I saw Heath in the school yard earlier today he was...."
"In the school yard?! What the hell was he doing there? He should be here working not playing in some school yard!"
"Heath didn't know I was having a dinner party!"
"That's no blasted excuse!"
"Nick, please be reasonable, Heath will be home, let him be."
"NO!...I gonna go and look for him!"
"And what will you do if you find him? Beat him for not coming home for dinner?"
"I just might! You went out of your way to make that fine dinner and he shoulda been here!"
"Nick, I didn't do it for him, I did it for you and Aunt Polly."
"I don't give a damn I'm going!" Nick left the room. In a moment they heard the loud slam of the front door.
Laura shook her head, "He's going to end up fighting with Heath, I just know he is."
"Oh, I'm sure that's not true dear, why Nick hasn't a violent bone in his body," stated her aunt. They all stared dumbfounded at Aunt Polly.