"Try to hit the bucket this time will you?" The only response I got was a moan and the wet sound of slop hitting slop. Shaking my head I said, "Next drunk you take, I would stay away from that fancy swill you was drinking. It obviously doesn't set well on your stomach."
"Never *heave* never ever *gag* again *retch* !!"
I snorted derisively. "Never say never. You're a man ain't ya?"
More retching then he decided to get right by praying, "Oh God."
Not feeling particularly angelic myself I told him, "I wouldn't plan on Him answering for a bit. For one your breath could knock a grizz out and has probably evaporated your words before they could get where you were sending them. And for two, you deserve a worse head than you've got you lunkhead. I can't believe you thought I'd take off just 'cause you missed a dumb ol' dance."
More groaning and retching met my words but he was still bowing at the bucket like it had become a deity in his life.
I had the window up trying to keep the room aired out but was only half way successful. I griped, "And what on earth did you eat any way? Ewwww!"
"Fel ... I ... I ... sor ... sorrrrr ... *retch*"
I shook my head. "Focus less on sorry and more on aim or you will be cleaning this up yourself," I told him with absolutely no sympathy.
Three days later we left the fort to return to the estate. Cor had developed a mild fever after his hard drunk and got a huge lecture from Robbie's father. Didn't get Cor better any quicker but it apparently made a few other folks feel better. Cor and I only spoke one more time about it.
I was packing my things early so I could have one last full day with my sisters before we left. He came into the room and said, "You haven't had your turn."
"Turn for what?" I asked busier counting my underthings to make sure I had them all than listening to him say sorry again.
"At roasting me."
I sighed and stopped what I was doing. "Cor I'm not interested in wasting my breath. You are a man full grown. If you take it into your head to get a drunk on there is not a blessed thing I can do about it."
Both looking and sounding like a sorry hound that was waiting for a kick he said, "I missed your dance."
"You have to be angry."
I shook my head. "I don't have to be anything. I certainly don't have to be angry. To be honest I just don't have it in me to get angry over this anymore. It is what it is. You're hurting enough for both of us and I would be a fool to not understand that. And since I'm not partial to acting or feeling foolish I say just let it go."
Trying to sidle up to me he said, "Winnie said you were disappointed."
Getting aggravated I said, "Cor I know the difference between what is important and what isn't. The dance wasn't. Now I am done talking about this." And to make the point I left the room and didn't see him again until we went to dinner.
The ride in the carriage was a quiet one. Rachel was sleeping and we all wanted her to stay that way. We were all in the same carriage this time because the other was filled with trade goods and things that the estate people had sent to the fort for for their personal pleasure. It slowed us down a bit but that was fine as I had no desire to be bounced around like we had been on the trip out.
Looking out once I saw Topher scrambling about and watched him nearly fall off the top of the wagon carrying the luggage and remaining goods we were bringing back with us. He turned with a triumphant look on his face only caught that it hadn't just been the men watching him but me as well. The Captain chuckled and said, "If that boy moves more than a few inches the rest of the trip I'll be surprised. That is a truly fierce look you just gave him."
I growled, "He better hope I cool down before we get back to the estate or a look isn't all he is going to get." Cor and the Captain both snorted in sympathy with the boy until Winnie shushed them and reminded them who'd be taking care of Rachel if they woke her from her nap.
The trip home was an otherwise uneventful one and once back and unpacked with all of our hellos said and a good night’s rest under our belt work returned to normal though the season was cooler and wetter than had been for a few years presaging another unusual winter though those with arthritis refused to say for sure yet whether that was a good thing or bad. The unusual weather also exacerbated the reported illnesses among the remaining bands of raiders. They carried the illness into the territories surrounding Kipling that had harbored and then allied with them and because of this the threat of attack greatly diminished as the days went by and would likely disappear as those that managed to survive would be rushing back to where they came from before winter set in.
We replaced the few trees in the orchard that had been lost. All of the fire damage was finally repaired on the estate wall and in the village and work groups went from estate farms to outlying farms to help them as well. June changed to July and the harvests proceeded as they were supposed to. In fact everything was proceeding as it should except it all felt so empty.
I tried. I truly did. I went through the motions. Cor and I spoke to one another but something was missing that had once been there and I didn't know how to recapture it. Worse, as bad as I felt I wasn't sure if I wanted to try to. I wasn't sure I could open that part of myself again and still play the role life had apparently given me.
One afternoon I took a hike to Tumbler's Spring by myself; I just needed some time alone. But I wasn't to get it. I had put a fishing line in the water and was just beginning to relax when Cor showed up. "A moment of your time Mistress Fel?"
I grimaced. "Ok, just drop the title ... it sounds silly when you say it."
"Why?" he wanted to know.
I shrugged. "I don't know, it just does."
We sat together quietly for a few minutes but I no longer felt relaxed. Finally Cor said, "Luke came by this morning."
I rolled my eyes but kept them on the line I had in the water. "What did he want?"
"He is putting together a run to the northeast. I'm thinking of going."
I was definitely no longer relaxed. "What?!"
He sighed, "I take it you aren't in favor."
I jerked my line from the water and snapped, "No I am not in favor. You are just now getting your full strength back but you still have a fever every now and again."
He sighed. "I have to go at some point."
"I know that. But go after you actually have a decent chance of coming back!
“What if I told you I needed to go?”
Frustrated I answered, “I’d still want to know the reason.”
He sat with his back against a tree but he looked no more relaxed or comfortable than I. “Nothing has been the same since Francine left. It has only gotten worse since the night I signed the papers. Perhaps if I go, some distance will grow and I’ll be able to manage the results.”
Suddenly I was furious. “Curse her anyway for doing something and leaving us to try and fix the mess! Again! Look what she has left us with this time!”
Trying to calm me Cor said, “It is not Francine's fault. She’s ill. There just wasn’t enough love to fix it and then it died.”
Desperately I told him, “Then fall in love again.”
He shook his head, “I do not wish to fall in love again.”
I knew it but to hear him say it made me hurt for both of us but I was determined to not let him give up on his future and hurt himself. “All right then don't fall in love again. Find some new way to move forward. Adopt a son from one of the female lines of the Cormans. It seems you were related to have those silly boys at the festival. Find a young one the raise one of them to inherit. Don’t go haring off like this! The people need you.”
He shook his head not even pretending that he didn’t know what I was talking about. “They don't need me. You are the one that they go to; I don't even know half the things that you do.”
“And I knew none when I started. You learn as you go and you learn from who you work with. They’ll be more than happy to teach you!”
“It is too late,” he said quietly.
“It is never too late! You have to try. If you try and fail then that is still better than never trying at all. Francine stole your heart; do not let her steal your self-respect or your people's future!”
Then I saw it. A spark of anger … possibly of pride … in his eyes that hadn’t been there in a long while and I had hopes that I was reaching him. But I never got to find out whether I was or wasn’t because Jonah chose that moment to enter the clearing and say, “Hate ter interrupt but the Captain says ‘tis important. There’s riders at the house and Mistress Fel is needed right away.”
Irritated at the interruption I asked, “Who are they?”
“Don’t know Gilly. Cap’n didn’t say; all he’d comment was that it was important and that you were ter come right away.”
I looked back at Cor but I could see the moment for talk had passed. Gathering up my things I left without saying a word and jogged down the path trying to think what could be so important that the Captain would actually send for me.
By the time I got to the back of the house I was running full tilt and barely saw a little girl that was doing the same thing. I skidded to a stop in time but she couldn’t and she bounced off of me pretty hard and straight into the gravel that fills the drip line around the house. The poor mite got scared and started to cry. I was worried she’d really hurt herself but when I checked her over she’d only scraped a knee. She was pretty young so I simply picked her up to take her to Mrs. Wiley to ask who she belonged to, she wasn’t a child I recognized.
I turned the corner to the front of the house only to be confronted by a man calling sternly, “Felicia McConnell what are you into now?”
Hearing my name like that – very few people living know that my proper name is Felicia – I looked up to see a face that left me gasping for air. The little girl slid from my arms and ran to the man and I was caught between fear and confusion as he hoisted her up on his hip and she wrapped her arms around his neck.
All I could do was gasp, “Da?!”