I woke up to “thwak … thwak … thwak … thwak.” I cracked an eye open and there was Daniel bouncing a ball beside the bed. My first thought was to try and remember the last time he’d played with a ball. But once I started wondering why I was wondering why he was bouncing a ball the rest of my head started waking up and I remembered it all.
I sighed and asked, “What’s up Daniel?”
He wasn’t exactly pouting but he wasn’t happy either. “You didn’t go to bed.”
“Sure I did. I’m lying in one aren’t I?”
He gave me a look that told me that I’d better come up with something better than that and quick … or else. “Look Daniel. I’ve been putting it off but we need to talk.” I was under the covers so I could at least sit up without embarrassing myself. I took a breath and decided to give the story I’d concocted a try. “Daniel, you’re twelve years old … too old for me to be treating you like a baby. I need to let you grow up more.” I hadn’t said what he’d expected me to say and for a moment, wonders of wonders, he looked at my face … really looked … like he was taking notice of something he saw there and trying to understand it.
He mumbled, “I’m not a baby.”
“I know, that’s what I said. And I shouldn’t treat you like one. You’re passed old enough to have your own room instead of me sleeping in there with you.”
I kept waiting for the tantrum but instead he just said, “OK. I’m hungry. When are you getting up? Abel said I couldn’t bounce on the bed to wake you up. I didn’t bounce on the bed. Abel can’t make biscuits or muffins or …”
Stopping what I knew could turn into a pretty long list if I let him continue I asked, “Where’s Abel?” while I tried not to make a big deal of him making the connection between him bouncing on the bed to wake me up and him bouncing a ball to wake me up. It’s not the kind of subjective connection that Daniel usually made.
Daniel put the ball in his pocket and told me, “Abel’s with the chickens.”
An unhappy voice from the doorway said, “Abel is not with the chickens. Daniel I asked you not to wake Day-cee up.”
Daniel started to pout and I said, “I need to get up anyway. But Daniel,” I waited until he’d looked in my face. “Next time mind Abel. Just like Dad, OK?”
He mumbled a disgruntled OK and then left the room. After Daniel was several feet down the hallway Abel turned to me and said, “I am sorry if I ….” He was struggling to translate it exactly as he meant but he didn’t need to. I could tell he wasn’t really sorry about getting onto Daniel but about it upsetting him.
“Don’t feel bad. He needs to learn to listen to you all the time, not just when he feels like it. I expected to start having trouble with him around now anyway.”
Abel gently sat on the bed. I brushed his hands away when he tried to pull back the covers to look at the bandaged area on my leg. He didn’t exactly give up but he didn’t push either. Instead he asked, “Why do you expect to have trouble?”
I shrugged, “Hormones, puberty, whatever you want to call it. Dad used to talk to me about it. He was worried Daniel would get to a point and get too be hard to handle, especially for Momma since she babied him a little … well, a lot. He’s scrawny by nature though he comes by it naturally. Dad’s side of the family are late bloomers. But he’s getting almost as tall as I am and one of these days he’s going to fill out and really be bigger than me. If he won’t mind me he needs to mind you … um … I’m assuming ….”
“Assuming what Querida?”
“That you don’t mind being the big brother or father-figure or … or …” I stopped then sighed. “I shoulda asked Abel. I know what you say with your mouth and I believe you, I do. But I shouldn’t just assume anything. It’s just I … I trust you to do right by Abel more than I’ve ever trusted anyone else except maybe Jeff and even he didn’t treat Daniel the way you do. I know you had a cousin that was like Daniel but still I didn’t have any right to just … just … put it on your shoulders like that. It’s just things are too dangerous to let him just go his own way all the time to keep him from throwing a tantrum. He has to remember what boundaries are but he needs to learn to be flexible too. I … I don’t know if I can do it all when he gets bigger than me. What if … what if he takes it into his head to go off and I’m not strong enough to stop him?”
I was blathering but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Quietly Abel interrupted and told me, “I am honored Querida. I will not let you down.” I nearly melted with relief. I’d thought he wouldn’t mind but I felt bad for never asking. He looked at me closely and said, “You have given this much thought.”
“Yeah. I put off for a long time dealing with it but since you came … I haven’t been so scared that I would wind up doing something wrong and losing Daniel or making him worse. I can’t explain it exactly.” I shook the fog out of from between my ears and added, “But it isn’t going to happen overnight and I need to get up … so scoot.”
He smiled playfully and asked, “And if I don’t?”
It was getting harder to go back and forth between there being something serious between Abel and I and for us to be just friends. I knew we were going to have to face it, decide which direction we were going, but I wasn’t ready yet and thankfully Abel understood that … or acted like he did. We were both friends and something more but we kept the two parts separate most of the time so that we would have someplace to retreat to when one role or the other got the better of us. I sighed, “Abel, I need to get up. I need to get some clothes on and then go and wash up and then feed Daniel before he drives us both bonkers. What time is it?”
He figured out real fast I wasn’t in the mood to goof around or be tempted. He wasn’t upset but he did say, “You should rest the leg Querida. Even that Josef said so. It will do no one good for you to get sick.”
“I don’t plan on running a marathon but I’ve got to do something with the forage we brought back and I need to get our things washed.” I jumped as a thought struck me. “Oh no! I didn’t think to check our gear for ticks … or Dog … or even Daniel. Let me up Abel. I’ve got to …”
“Slow down Day-cee. I checked everything this morning. No bugs. And the chicken room has been cleaned as well. I did not want you going in there with such a wound as what is on your leg. And Daniel will not starve if you want to sleep for a while longer, I will give him a treat to hold his hunger.”
Looking suspiciously at him I asked, “What time did you say it was?”
When I found out it was passed lunch I nearly did kick him off the edge of the bed. I finally convinced him to move … and not to look … as I scrambled to get my clothes from the other room with the towel wrapped around me for modesty.
Trying to put on pants was a misery. I finally managed to get shorts on by rolling up one of the legs so the hem wouldn’t irritate my sore skin. After a few minutes that bothered me too; I had to roll the shorts up so high that it felt like I was trying to walk with a small hula hoop on one leg.
I was beginning to get really cranky then I thought about finding something in Mom’s old clothes. I limped down to the storage room where I kept the boxes of their things and went digging. I finally found a skirt with a drawstring waist that didn’t fall off me. I might have finally reached Momma’s height but we weren’t built the same at all. Momma had what you would call a womanly figure; me, well if you looked in the right places I was obviously a female but harder and a lot leaner than I remember most girls my age being. Because of what our diet consisted of and the amount of manual labor we did there wasn’t a whole lot of extra fat to pad my sharp angles that should have been soft curves.
I’d never really given being a girl much thought. It simply was what I was. I realized though that I didn’t necessarily have to just tolerate being a girl and the odd body parts that sometimes got in the way. For the first time when I put that skirt on I really evaluated my looks. Eventually I realized I was primping and started laughing at myself. I felt dorky about the whole thing.
I was still smiling and digging through a box of old clothes when Daniel and Abel found me. Daniel started to say something then just stood there with his mouth open.
Pulling my head out of the deep box I asked, “What are you looking at?”
He made a face. “You won’t be able to climb the steps and go for a walk with us.”
He pointed to my legs and said, “You’re gonna get chiggers.”
That made me laugh again but Daniel didn’t get what I found funny so he just ignored it. Then he said, “I’m hungry Dacey. I’m starving.”
Obviously my playtime was over with. “Coming Daniel. Just give me a minute and we’ll have nut butter and jam on crackers. How does that sound.”
“Great!” He went off towards the kitchen and I knew I’d find him sitting there waiting for me now that he had a positive answer.
Abel leaned against the door frame and said, “Daniel is right.”
“About?” I said gathering up the armload of things I had decided to make over.
Abel took them from me and carried them to my “new room” as he said, “You cannot go walking in that.”
I sighed. “I’ll change before we go out. Any particular destination?”
Ignoring my question he posed one of his own. “Why are you wearing a dress?”
I looked up to see that Abel had just as strange a look on his face as Daniel had. “It isn’t a dress it is a skirt. I know it looks weird.” I glanced down at my hairy legs and blushed. “And I know I don’t exactly look like I should be wearing a skirt. But I was trying to give my leg a break. The pants were rubbing and making it sore again.”
“Let me see,” he said. “I have not looked this morning.”
I slapped his free hand away gently. He’d started to bend over and look for himself. “No. Last night was one thing but today is another.”
Giving me a stubborn stare as he straightened up he asked, “Why?”
I elbowed him to force him to stop looming and give me some room. “Because today I feel like a girl so I’m not just gonna flop down and hike this skirt up so you can stare at my leg, that’s why.”
Abel started wheezing and choking like he’d gotten a bug caught in his throat. I rolled my eyes and took the load of clothes from him before he dropped them on the floor. “Knock it off. I’m fine. Stretching my leg will do me some good as long as I don’t overdo it. And I’ll go back to being plain ol’ Sister Dacey before we go for a hike.” For some reason that made him wheeze and cough more and then he took one last look and walked away.
The meal of nut butter was enough for both Daniel and Abel who had been snacking off and on when it was apparent I was going to sleep later than usual. While they ate I nibbled, my appetite still in the wind. Abel had taken care of the forage on the ledge outside of the sink and we stored it in a cooler we had concealed for just such a purpose. The spring kept the plastic barrel at such a low temperature that it was like having an outdoor refrigerator.
Although I wasn’t hungry I was incredible thirsty. I decided to treat us with Vinegar Lemonade. The first time I had made it for Abel he had fallen in love with it saying it was better even than what his grandmother had sent to the field for them to drink on a hot day. It is very simple to make. For every twelve ounces of water you add one to two tablespoons of cider vinegar and one to two tablespoons of sugar. You adjust the vinegar and sugar to suit your personal tastes. I made it with cold spring water and then put it in individual canteens. Daniel doctored his to make it more sour while Abel preferred his strong but sweet. I liked mine a little watered down but as cold as I could keep it.
I reluctantly changed back into my jeans and forced myself to ignore how the material felt pressed against the bandaged area. Trying to tie my boots was out of the question so I slipped into a pair calf-high moccasins made of deer skin; beat the heck out of mending over trying to tie a bow.
We left the sink cautiously. Anyone in the area at that time would be hunting a spot to camp for the night rather than wandering the fields. But since we didn’t want to run into the exception that proved the rule we were very careful. We stuck to the trees and were just going to take a look around to see if there were any people in the area or if any changes had been made.
We’d expected to have to avoid at least one group but there was no one about. It wasn’t until we had gone about as far as we meant to that day that we saw anyone. Daniel latched onto me and tried to pull me back. I put my fingers to my lips to shush him and let Abel get close enough to see what was going on. Disaster almost struck when two men came out to the bushes to do their business.
I like to have died of embarrassment and Daniel nearly started laughing. That gave me the giggles and if Abel hadn’t come back and given us the evil eye I’m not sure if either one of us could have stopped. They were both complaining of there being too much roughage in their diet which nearly sent me off into the giggles again. But when they started talking about hiding out for a few days to avoid the patrols on the road that zapped every bit of humor out of me.
After the farm was first attacked we’d been left alone … no cops, no inspectors, no soldiers. Now these two guys were saying that there were patrols in the area. They also revealed that Alamanzor had been crazily hacked about something the last couple of days and that anyone with sense was finding a hole and pulling it closed after them. He’d already made an Example of one of his old recruits and that when he’d tried to add that man’s family to the Examples at the edge of the town he’d found that they’d already escaped and no one knew where they had gone. Apparently more and more people were escaping the town and Almanzor had decided to put a stop to it.
The two guys finally pulled up their pants and moved on. I noticed that Abel wasn’t looking at me and when he accidentally did look my way his lips twitched. So much for his evil eye … he wanted to laugh as much as we did. My leg had started to hurt from crouching in the tall grass and Abel said we might as well head back anyway.
“You are quiet Querida, is the leg giving you pain?”
I nodded and told him, “Some, but not too bad. Mostly I was thinking.”
“You are frightening when you do that. Tell me you are not planning mischief for the patrol. We do not know for sure if there will even be one.”
I gave him a sneaky look and said, “I hadn’t gotten that far yet.”