The house was buzzing with activity. The women had taken over the living room, preparing to make new curtains and share a round of juicy gossip. The men were busy repairing the kitchen and the sound of carpentry, mingling with constant chatter, filled the air.
Dale woke, disturbed by the confusion, and sat up. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes then noticed Kheri standing in the hall, staring at him.
Kheri froze in the doorway as Dale stirred, fears flooding back to his thoughts.
Dale arched an eyebrow at Kheri then stood. “Excuse me,” he said to the room in general before threading his way through a maze of chairs to the front door. The hen party in the living room ignored him and gaily prattled on. He stopped at the door and stood watching them for several seconds, then shrugged and went outside.
Kheri stood in the hall, fuming. One of these days, he glanced over his shoulder at his aunt’s bedroom door, I’m gonna punch that guy right where it counts! He imagined pushing the doctor off the Goldwin Bridge, then slumped against the wall, and stared into the living room.
The women were deep into gossip, nattering about the lives of various neighbors.
Kheri wrinkled his nose in disgust. Wonder how long it’ll be before they start talking about me? A loud burst of laughter punctuated the sound of sawing from the kitchen and he took a step in the direction of the men, but stopped. I’ll just get in the way. Besides, I’m no good with a hammer. He sagged against the wall again listening to the women.
“…that nephew of hers…” one of the women clucked, the rest of her sentence drowned by a sudden clatter from the kitchen.
Kheri scowled, stood away from the wall, and strode into the living room.
The women pointedly ignored his presence, switching their chatter to the new addition to the Tucker family.
He strode through the room to the front door and went outside, slamming the door with more force than necessary. As he stepped onto the porch, the deep green scent of nearby fields blew past on the breeze. He took a deep breath, glanced around.
Dale was sitting cross-legged on the front lawn under a massive oak tree, watching him.
Kheri stood in silence, thinking back over the last eighteen or so hours, then stepped off the porch and headed toward the tree.
“It’s hotter out here,” Dale said as Kheri drew near, “but a lot less noisy.”
Kheri dropped down on the ground beside him. “Yeah. They’ll be here till dark, too. They won’t leave till everything’s fixed.”
Dale nodded, then winced and wrapped his arms across his stomach.
Kheri’s mental fantasies turned at right angles to the reality in front of him and stuck out their tongues. “What’s wrong?”
Dale sighed in relief as the hunger pangs faded. “I haven’t eaten for nearly three days now.” He leaned back against the tree.
Kheri stared. “Three days?” In his imagination, Dale had become a supernatural creature complete with fangs, horns and the ability to breathe fire. Do demons eat?
Dale placed his hands behind his head, laced his fingers together, and closed his eyes. “It wasn’t by choice.”
Kheri got to his feet and went back to the house. When he reached the stairs, he paused and glanced over his shoulder at Dale then stepped up onto the porch. Taking a deep breath, he jerked the door open, entered the house, and strode up to Maw Tucker. “You brought food, right?”
“Sure did.” She beamed a smile at him, her hands moving rapidly as she stitched.
“Where is it?”
“It’s out in the wagons.” She gestured in the general direction of the back door. “Why? You hungry child?”
“A little bit, but…” Kheri looked over his shoulder toward the front yard. “Dale hasn’t eaten in a couple days.”
“Land sakes!” Maw exclaimed. “Why in the world didn’t someone say something? Why, no wonder he was sound asleep in the middle of the day!” She clapped her hands sharply and rose to her feet. “Ladies, we can do this later. We need to feed these men folk right now!”
The hen party scrambled to its feet and scurried into the kitchen behind her. A great deal of shooing and, “You can do that later,” drifted into the living room then Maw Tucker stuck her head out of the kitchen door. “Go call your friend and the two of you come eat.”
Kheri grinned at the scents drifting past his nose, nodded, and went back out onto the porch.
Dale was still leaning against the tree trunk, his eyes closed.
Kheri set his jaw then descended the stairs and cautiously approached the tree.
Dale opened one eye as he got close. “I wasn’t asleep.”
“How’d you know…?”
Dale sat up away from the tree. “You know I’m still tired. I’m sitting here with my eyes closed. If I’d just recently had a shocking experience when I tried to wake someone up, I’d be walking like I was afraid to get too close, too.”
“Oh.” Kheri thought this over, and then shrugged. “There’s food in the kitchen. They said to come eat.”
Dale nodded, stood up stiffly, and stretched.
“Dale….” Kheri asked hesitantly, as if he really didn’t want the answer he was sure he’d get.
“Where are you from, anyway? I mean, you told my aunt it was fairly far away but….” His voice trailed off into uncomfortable silence.
“I’ll tell you later. After I get some food in my stomach and this commotion is over.”
Kheri nodded, unsure if he was relieved to be put off or not. “All right.” He turned around and they started back toward the front porch. “My aunt said you could have whatever it was you wanted as long as it wasn’t her cow.”
Dale grinned at him. “I don’t have much need for a cow.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Where are the clothes?”
“Up in the attic, in an old trunk.” Kheri gestured toward the shuttered attic window as they climbed the stairs to the front porch. “I’m not sure how good they are though; they’ve been locked away up there for a long time.”
Dale glanced up at the window, and then nodded and entered the house.
Kheri punched the wall next to the door in frustration, made a face, and followed him inside.