" We think boys are rude, unsensitive animals but it is not so in all cases. Each boy has one or two sensitive spots, and if you can find out where they are located you have only to touch them and you can scorch him as with fire." – Mark Twain
I looked down and saw Beau giving me those big pitiful eyes and I thought, “Oh no, he’s gotta go.” Why he hadn’t asked to go earlier I don’t know; or maybe I just hadn’t noticed. Stupid me, I know he needed to go out before bed time every night. I sighed and reached for my rain slicker that I kept hung by the cave door just in case and looked at Rufus.
About that time I saw Rufus coming back in the cave with the most disgusted look on his face, shaking a different paw after every step. “Sorry Kitty.” He didn’t appreciate my snicker and took a half hearted swipe at my leg as he passed by. He didn’t mean to do any damage, he just wanted to make a point.
I heard from back in the cave, “Whoa that is one wet cat.” Then, “Hey! I was just stating a fact you crazy feline!”
I snickered again, but it turned into a laugh when I heard Mischief mimic a slow laugh. “Ha … ha … ha … ha.”
“Bella, you’re animals are crazy!”
“No they aren’t!” I called back. “Just a little eccentric. I gotta take the pup out for his business. Be right back.”
I heard him start to say something but the rain pounding on my rain hood and on the umbrella I was holding for Beau drowned him out. Yeah, I was so dorky I held an umbrella over a dog so he could do his business in the rain. How lame does that make me?
It didn’t take Beau long and we were both slipping and sliding to get back in the cave. Lee met us with funky orange, felt towels and took charge of Beau while I shed the coat and dried myself off. Then he helped me to slide the plywood in place.
“Think it is cold enough that it’s gonna sleet or freeze?”
I thought about it then said, “Close but no cigar. Unless we get a late Indian summer we’ll get some ice soon though. I’ve heard they’ve already got several feet of snow over on Mount Mitchell.”
“Always have snow on Mount Mitchell by now.” I nodded and stepped inside the cave to find a tent heater going and Rufus and Beau acting like they’d died and gone to Heaven, all splayed out in front of it.
“Hey! Where’d that come from?”
“From my gear. I started out with a boatload … literally … after Dad dropped me off as close in as he could. I’ve been moving it closer and adding stuff that I could find as time has gone by. When I figured out this was the place I got all my caches and brought them thisaway.”
“How on earth did you carry all this stuff?”
“Didn’t. Put it in the skiff and pulled it along in the rain.”
“In the …?! Boy, are you three parts crazy?! You coulda got hurt or worse!”
He looked entirely too gratified at my concern and I bent down to scratch Rufus where he liked it and pull Beau’s backside a little further away from the heat to keep him from getting singed when he wagged his tail.
As I was standing up Lee asked me, “Any particular reason you use plywood instead of a door?”
I shrugged, “Hadn’t figured out how to make one yet. Daddy was a stone mason not a carpenter or joiner.”
“Well my dad is a carpenter, so are about half my brothers and brother in laws, both my grandfathers and most of my uncles.”
I chuckled knowing he wasn’t exaggerating. “Well it’s a good thing you liked it then because you would have had to learn if for no other reason than self defense.”
“You know that’s right,” he said nodding his head. “And the only thing we need to do to put a door here is to build a frame and then custom fit a door. I can probably make a bolt out of some rebar and a bar for the door out of more of it and a good, stout piece of post. You want me to?”
“I would if you want to. But maybe hold off on it. I’m trying to figure out a way to add an entry way at the front of the cave so I can finish the fireplace out there.”
“Yeah, I noticed what you were doing. I just about broke my neck on it when I stumbled across this place. If it hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have found exactly where you were at. What’s the trouble? Got it as high as you can lift things?”
“No, not yet. It’s more I’m worried about building it and then having to unbuild it.”
“Why would you have to do that?”
“I haven’t figured out how to put a roof on yet … or a door … or set the window properly,” I said in extreme grievance.
“How about we look at it tomorrow. It is probably just a matter of framing just like this was. You’d be surprise what can be fixed or messed up just from the framing.”
I was starting to feel washed out but I didn’t want to go to sleep. Lee noticed my quandary and understood it. “eyHeyHHHey, I’ve found you so we’ve got all the time in the world but you had a scare today and a good sized soaking. And you’re starting to limp too. Why don’t you sit here and let me take a look at it and then we can both grab a little shut eye before the beasties get up in the morning and have to get taken care of.”
I groaned but it was only because he was telling the truth. I sat on a stump of wood that I’d brought in to use as a stool and then stopped when I realized what my legs looked like. Lee just rolled his eyes, once again reading my mind.
“Bella, I’ve got a mother, too many sisters and aunts to count, and eleventy dozen assorted other female relatives. Ain’t much that is gonna shock me. And in case you haven’t thought it through, the reason why I ain’t shaved in a month of Sundays is because the razors are all gone and Gram threatened great bodily harm if anyone of us snitched her sewing scissors again. Your hairy legs are not going to turn me cross eyed.”
I reached over and pulled a Rufus and swatted him. “It would have been more polite if you had pretended not to notice.”
“Why pretend? It’s the truth.”
“Well … no teasing. I just haven’t had company in a long time so I haven’t bothered.”
“You’ve got razors up here?”
“A couple of straight razors. Uncle Jerry was a cheap ol’ skinflint and didn’t believe in girls shaving their legs until they got married. Claimed he thought those that did it were loose, especially the higher they shaved. All your women kin are blonde so have hair that hardly shows. I look like Bigfoot’s half sister on his mother’s side.”
Lee laughed at that but said, “Hush, it really ain’t that bad after a guy gets used to it. Them magazine women always shaved off too much to suit me anyway.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
He wheezed like he’d got strangled on his own spit and then ignored the question leaving me to wonder what he’d let slip that went over my head. When he started messing with my foot I jerked it away involuntarily when he made it twinge. “Did that hurt?” he asked.
I rolled my eyes but said, “Not much, just stop turning it.”
He put my sock back on and said, “I think it’s just bruised. How sore is it and be honest.”
“Wasn’t bad but now that I’m off of it it is starting to get sore. If it is any worse in the morning I’ll soak it in water and some tincture of arnica.” After thinking a minute I asked, “I never even thought … did you get any bumps or bruises untangling me today?”
He shuddered. “No. And don’t bring that up. My heart still starts racing every time I think on it.” He stood up and then gave me a hand up so I did have to put too much pressure on my foot. “Think you can sleep now? Better turn this heater off.”
Beau made a soft, disappointed doggie sigh and then got up and followed Rufus into the tent. Lee just shook his head. “Do they sleep in the bed with you?”
“No. They have their own spots on one of the rugs.” Hesitantly I added, “Let me change before coming in.”
Lee reached out and gently pulled a lock of hair that had fallen out of my hair bob. “I said I ain’t gonna jump on you Bella and I mean it.”
“I … I trust you Lee but I’m not just gonna turn all floozy all of a sudden you know.”
“I’m not asking you to. I brought a ring … it belonged to my Aunt Pet. She willed it to me ‘cause I spent every summer helping her out when her own grandkids didn’t think to. Got some other things that belonged to her in here too that Gram said you’d likely appreciate. She said this way you’d know that the family approved of it and I wasn’t just haring off and doing something crazy.”
Knowing how his grandmother could be I appreciated her thoughtfulness but I wasn’t going to be pushed into anything. I told him, “You’re crazy all right, I’m still deciding which kind is all.”
Lee seemed to understand and just smiled that smile that used to make the girls mad at me for being his friend and likely is part of the reason that the rumors started and then got back to Uncle Jerry. I always figured it was some silly jealous girl that had started it all.
I was changed and sitting on the edge of the bed in a fresh flannel gown and robe when Lee called, “You in bed yet? Can I turn out the light?”
“Might as well though I ain’t in bed yet.”
I flipped on the lamp by my bed so he wouldn’t break something coming in and then picked up my Bible and picked back up where I’d left off and then groaned realizing it was the first chapter of the Song of Solomon.
“You OK?” he asked.
“Then why are you moaning?”
“It wasn’t a moan, it was a groan. And don’t laugh. I just realized what my next chapter was.” I flipped of the book to show him the place and he busted out. “I told you not to laugh.”
“It feels good to laugh. And maybe that’s another one of them providential signs you talk about.”
He gave a few more chuckles and sat down to start easing off his boots. To deal with the quiet I asked, “You got enough covers? Is the mattress all right?”
“Stop worrying at it. I’m fine. This is the Biltmore compared to the way I have been sleeping since I left the dorms. I had a corner in the hayloft and had to share with most of the unmarried men in the family and not a few of the boys. We all wound up with fleas when one of the kids brought their dog up there and the biters got into the hay beds we’d made.”
“Ew. How awful.”
“Yeah it was.”
I turned to try and not look, though my traitorous eyes kept peeking out of the corner under my lids, as he started taking off some of his layers. I heard him flop down all the way on the bed and sigh in comfort. “Now this is more like it. Say, do me a favor?”
“What?” I asked cautiously.
“Read out loud?”
“What? My Bible?”
“Yeah. Mom used to read to Dad at the end of the day and I always imagined you doing the same. Sometimes it was some magazine story or the newspaper or something out of the Daily Bread but most of the time it was straight out of the Bible.”
Surprised but willing I said, “Well OK. I usually try and get a chapter in a night.”
He laid his forearm over his eyes and I started reading. I debated whether to go another chapter when I looked over and could tell from his breathing that Lee was asleep. It made me smile and I decided a chapter a night was probably his limit as well.I slipped the Bible into its drawer and turned off the lamp and laid down myself. Then before I could help it, I smiled in the dark and hugged myself. It was a little bit too much like a fairy story – I shouldn’t be so happy as something was bound to happen at some point – but I thought, “God just has to have a hand in this and mean for it to be; that’s the only way it could have come about the way it did. But if He’s not, please don’t let me get hurt too bad to teach me whatever lesson I’m supposed to come away with this time.”