"Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” – Mark Twain
His Bella. I suppose I was. Likely always had been whether I wanted to admit it or not at first.
It was purely novel to have someone who wanted to be with me all the time. Even when we weren’t together, ‘cause we were doing separate chores, I no longer felt lonely for human company. But we did do most things together.
For four days straight during the longest stretch of half way decent weather either one of us had seen in a while we fished ‘til we couldn’t stand to gut another one. We did it out on a little “island” where there weren’t any bears to worry about … or pigs. Mischief and Molly came with us every day each time bringing a few more friends with them. By the fourth and final day the few trees on the little knob of land literally dripped with black beathers as they waited for us to clean the fish and throw them what we didn’t want.
We had worried that the stink of the fish guts would draw a big predator but the Ravens – and the smaller birds after them – cleaned up our mess so well we didn’t even have to worry about where to step each day; if you didn’t include the bird poop that is.
Then the next day all the birds seemed to leave en mass. Lee said, “Reckon we knows what comes next.”
“I’m surprised that the birds hadn’t headed south before now. Even the turkeys are laying low.”
“Turkeys aren’t nearly as dumb as their reputation says they are. Lotta hunters on the other sides of the lakes sending game this way – which is good because it makes hunting easier for us – but they’ll follow the game eventually then we’ll need to lay low like every other woodland creature.
I nodded. “The fish are all salted, smoked, or canned. Thanks for helping with that by the way. If you can get another hog and another deer, even with the two of us, we should be set for a year.”
Lee chewed thoughtfully on a long blade of still green grass. “Dad likes his fish he does and with at least one someone in the house always pregnant and heaving at the sight or smell he just started doing all the fish preserving himself; and then taught all us boys. His brothers tried to rib him about it until Papa T reminded them he’d done the same thing for Gram and that their wives might have a few things to say on it too.”
I snorted. “That musta gone over well.”
Lee laughed. “Don’t know but I’ve heard stories. Either way, by the time I was born it was established family tradition. One week out of the year we’d caravan dow to the Gulf and we’d come back with fish of all kinds … scallops, oysters, shrimp, conche … whatever was in season when we were there, including gator a couple of times. Gram always got a special twinkle in her eye for Papa T if he managed to bring back crab or shrimp.”
“Oh glory, that must have been like a sack full of puppies. It’s a wonder you men didn’t blow yourselves up or burn the house down.”
Lee tried to swat me with his hat but missed. “Now give us some credit will ya? We were all serious as a heart attack about it. And Dad and Papa T have their own secret recipes that they passed down to me and one of these days I hope to fix some for ya.”
The look he gave me conjured up the kind of pictures that didn’t have nothing to do with fish and when I blushed that seemed to give Lee some pictures for his own. Rather than swatting me with his hat this time he grabbed my hand and pulled me down to sit beside him on the throw rug.
He was happy with that so I got back to our conversation and said, “Serious huh? Food on the table serious?”
“Exactly. And speaking of, I think I’ve figured out a way to get you that green house.”
He chuckled. “Easy Bella, that’s my ear drums your bustin’. You might not be so happy when I say that first we need to get that room you were building on the front of the entrance finished over the next couple of holes between rain storms. I’ll frame a window and door opening so we can get the walls up. I’m also gonna frame a small connecting door so we can attach the greenhouse to the cave. Thing is we’re also going to have to dig out a decent floor with good drainage then I’ll build the rest of it A-frame.”
“But how do we get the glass to stay? That’s the part that I was getting frustrated with.”
“Patience Bella; I’m getting to that. On the wood frame I’ll build ledges for the glass to rest in. I’ll try and trim the glass up with my glass cutting tools and then lean the pieces into the ledges and against the support frame. This next part is trickly and we’ll probably have use most if not all those cans of spray insulation you found and then use that bucket of plaster of paris to weatherize the rest of it and make it water proof since plaster of paris will harden under water. The spray insulation should be just flexible enough to keep the glass from breaking as the frame expands and contracts.”
He’d been drawing pictures in the dirt on the cave floor as he explained. I loved the idea and told him so. “But, before we get too much further we’ve got to clean this place up.”
“Bella … it’s a cave. There’s gonna be dirt.”
“Yeah, but there doesn’t have to be buckets of the stuff. Most of it tracked in. I’m tired of the mud.”
“You sound like Gram … she has a hate on for tracked in dirt. Besides, you know what you’re really tired of is Beau rolling in it.”
I huffed, “That too. And if we can’t get rid of the dirt we at least need to get things organized before the weather locks us in. We never did find a place for your stuff, we’ve just sort of piled it around. Not to mention I need to get way back in the storage annex and pull out the wood head board and frame. I hope to high heavens I didn’t hault that blasted feather tick up here for nothing.”
“Huh? What do you need all that for?”
“Boy, are you dense? No way are we gonna be able to fit together on either of the ones we’re using now.”
“To … together?”
I scowled. “Unless you’ve rethought … SQUAWK!!!!”
He just about smothered me with that kiss. It felt like he was trying to braid our souls together. After he turned me loose I still needed to clear something up. “Just one thing Lee.”
“Don’t be trifling with my affections. I only plan on ever being with one person and I’ve decided that you’re it. I don’t know if I could stand for this to just be some game in your head.”
He got up real quick and I nearly fell backwards into a stump of wood we normally used for a chair. “Hang onto that thought. I’ll be right back.”
I was cold where he’d turned loose of me but he wasn’t gone long. After digging around in the pack he kept under his bed he came out with a smaller bag. “Here, give me your hand.” I did as he askedand he slipped a gold band with an antique ruby set in the top onto my left ring finger. “It was Aunt Pet’s. She willed it to me to gibe to my bride. Well, you’re it. Will you wear it Elizabella Kellen Heatherly?”
I looked at him and smiled, a knot loosening that I hadn’t realized was there. “Yes I will Lee Ward Thompson.”
“Will you take my name too?”
“That’s the way the women in my family have always done it.”
We kissed again but this time I shivered, a little in fear.
As Lee had a tendency of doing he read my mind and said, “I’ve waited this long Bella, it can wait a while longer. Why don’t we finish this fall cleaning you seem to be set on first? And we’ll finish the green house too. This we’ll be snug for the winter with nothing to interrupt us.”
I smiled in gratitude for his understand and then something sticking out of the bag made me yelp, “Lee Ward! Those are … those are … Did you come up here just to get me in bed?!!”
Grinning as only a guy could he said, “Well I didn’t come up here to be made a gelding. And don’t get all huffy; Mom put in all this other stuff.”
Casually like it wasn’t a big deal he said, “C’mon. I’m the youngest of ten, you’re the oldest of five; you can’t think either one of us are blind to the facts of life.”
“Of course not but that’s not the point …”
“Sure it is.” He saw I was still upset and drew me to sit back down beside him. “Bella in my house Dad just told all us boys the facts of life by using farm animals as examples. But see for me, it was Mom that explained what the facts meant. I hated being the youngest and when I asked why I had to be Dad would just say ‘Cause yer are. Now stop shilly shallying and get to work.’ But Mom explained why. When they said you were too young Dad meant because of school and money but Mom put it in terms of love and sex and babies.”
“Geez,” I muttered embarrassed.
“Bella,” he said grabbing my hand and holding it with both of his. “She almost died having me. I have nine older living brothers and sisters and a couple buried on the farm that never drew breath. She was fifteen when she had her first and thirty-five when she had me. She never wanted that life for her kids she said though all of the older kids repeated it and some of the younger ones too. I’m the only one that doesn’t have a kid to worry about. She’s just look out for me, for both of us. We don’t know what’s coming for the next little bit. I’m not sure I wouldn’t go crazy if you were to get pregnant right away. There’s no woman up here to tell you what’s coming. There’s no man to commiserate with when I can’t make things easier for you. And I … well, just want it to be us for a while longer. Do you think less of me for it?”
“Of course not. My mom told my dad that it was him or her that was getting fixed after … after the second surprise sister or he could sleep on the porch from there on out. It’s just that the idea that your momma was talking about us … you know … before I even thought about us … you know … that is turning my brain inside out. Makes me kinda … wanna … eewwww.”
He relaxed and then chuckled. “You’d be surprised what Mom talks about when the church ladies aren’t around. She can be pretty earthy.”
“You mean like when Rose Lattimer got married at her new in-law’s church in that dress she sewed herself?”
Lee burst out laughing and nodded. “Mom said Rose looked like she was trying to hide ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack.”
While he kept laughing I told him, “She was doggone close to the truth. The zipper split on it twice. It was a near disaster until her sister Cheryl and I found some fishing twine and sewed her into the dress and then used white duct tape to make sure her boosum didn’t pop out and give her and her groom a couple of black eyes. I swear it was like trying to make two ostrich eggs fit into a carton meant for quail eggs.”
Lee spent the next thirty minutes laughing off and on while he cleaned his guns at the table and I fixed a supper of ham croquettes, pan gravy, wild greens, and a couple of baked apples.
“Bella? Do you have a list of all the food you’ve got tucked away?”
“I did have but it got too hard to keep up with it before you found me. I’ve got a general idea of how much we’ve got and how long it’ll last but I’m not sure I could do the math for you on a piece of paper.”
Chewing the ends of his mustache again – and didn’t I hand him a pair of scissor the next morning so he could trim it properly – he asked me, “You have a problem if as we do the fall cleaning we do an inventory at the same time?”
“O’ course not. Makes sense even.”
He nodded and said, “Good. And while we’re at it, I’m gonna get some hunting done while we salvage for wood for the green house other things.”
“Can’t you use logs for the entry room roof?”
“Yeah, and probably will because I need something thick and strong to resist the weather we’re liable to have. But we need some other furniture – shelves, cupboards, and storage chests mostly – and I hope to fulfill your wanting of a real beadroom. You said there’s a natural chimney in that alcove. If I build a wall with a door, you think you could figure a chimney and fireplace?”
“Better than that,” I told him while I flipped the croquettes so they’d brown on the other side. “I’ve got the old Franklin stove Daddy would bring when he came up here in the winter. There’s enough stove pipe to run all the way out to the outside. We just need to take the capstone off that he put on the hole to keep the varmints out.”
It didn’t take me long to finish cooking and get it plated up. Lee cleaned his gun cleaning mess and put it away so I could move the plates and utensils to the table. While we ate we made a list of plans for the next little while, and though we’d done it several times before this time it felt different. This time I felt like we weren’t just two people trying to work together and get by but were a couple securing a future that would last a lifetime.