Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 71

Chapter 71

After Thor got a glimpse of the tunnels he decided he didn’t want to wait to check them out. Unlike the rough cut one that Uncle Bentley had under his place, Dad and I did a much better job on ours.

“I am just not believing what I’m seeing,” Thor said shaking his head. “And your father didn’t have an engineering degree or anything like that?”

I smiled and told him, “My dad was pretty cool if I do say so myself but he never had a chance to get any kind of formal education beyond highschool. Everything he did after that was self taught or by seeking people out to learn from. These tunnels are based on coal mine tunnels and …”

Thor interrupted me with a concerned, “Did Griffey know about these?”

“Uncle Bentley? Yeah, of course. Actually he is the one that talked Dad into getting an engineer to give him some ideas on how to make the tunnels safer. I know it is hard to believe after the way he was acting but when it came to Dad, Uncle Bentley was very protective. Dad would get embarrassed by it sometimes; I heard him and Mom talk about it a few times when I wasn’t supposed to be up and listening.” I shrugged. That wasn’t the only time I was up and listening when I wasn’t supposed to be but I could be a real stinker when I was little. I probably hadn’t changed as much as I wanted to believe.

Thor asked, “Did you trowel on this concrete to line the tunnels?”

“No. Actually that is shotcrete with some fiberglass threads that make it extra strong and some kind of chemical that made it adhere to the tunnel surface as well. That’s four to six inches of concrete you are looking at. What a job that was.” I stretched and popped my neck at the memory of those summers.

Thor was running his hands along the walls of the tunnel. “I know this is concrete but why did he choose to do it like this? It looks more like natural rock.”

We left the tunnel and sat down on the sofa in front of the basement fireplace that was merrily glowing and warm. Thor handed me a cup of hot, spiced cider and it was exactly what I needed to warm me up while giving me a little sweetening to get the rest of the day’s work finished. I enjoyed my first sip and then explained.

“Originally Dad had wanted to have a kind of narrow gauge track down there so that we could push carts along in front of us or in my case kind of like a pull behind. In the end he decided that it was just too cost prohibitive to get all the materials we would have needed to do that. Instead Dad decided to make the tunnel wide enough that we could push a wheelbarrow or pull a four wheeled garden cart. Uncle Bentley was on him about the possibility of a tunnel collapse so Dad went to see this engineer that Uncle B had recommended. Well Uncle B was a little disappointed that the engineer wasn’t more concerned after he’d seen what we were digging through but he did recommend a couple of places that could use some framing.” I took another sip and then propped my feet up in Thor’s lap to share the fleece throw. “Dad was on the Volunteer Fire Department and through that had met some men that were going to build a new hotel outside of town. But the project never got off the ground and the city was going to fine the company big bucks for just walking away from the site without cleaning it up. Dad bartered for some of those materials, rather than cash and he wound up with enough steel framing and concrete to do the tunnels and there is a pile of stuff left in the storage barn because he wanted to put in another tunnel between the house and the cabin. That never happened because we ran into a huge block of granite that the house’s foundation sits on. We never got around to anything else.”

“Anything else that I should know about?” Thor asked a little sarcastically.

“There’s a couple of hidden staircases in the house and two hidden rooms fitted with something Mom used to call ‘priest holes.’ I’ll show those to you tomorrow … or tonight if you can’t wait. I’ve got to get up and get dinner cooked.”

“Relax. I put on a pot of your mother’s vegetable soup and we can eat the cornbread that was left over from lunch,” he told me massaging my calves with his good hand.

“Are … ooo, yeah, right there … are you sure? I can … ahhhh, errrrrr Lordy don’t that feel good.”

Thor chuckled, “Soup’s fine. We can bake a couple of those apples like you used to when we were out on the trail.”

I didn’t answer as I was too busy enjoying myself. Then remembering everything I hadn’t done yet I said, “OK, enough of being spoiled. I need to put the food away in the … well, here’s another thing while I’m thinking of it. When we ran into that block of granite Dad wouldn’t let Mom tell him ‘I told you so’ by going to the work of filling it back in and we widened the tunnel and turned it into a down stairs storage area. Mom keeps … kept some of her extra craft stuff in there but I’ll clean it out and we can store all the extra bulk items in there and get them out of the way.”

“Want a suggestion?” Thor asked.

“Of course.”

“Put the paper goods upstairs under the beds or in the unused closets and put all the extra food items in that storage room.”

I wasn’t against the idea, I just wanted to know why.

Explaining Thor told me, “Because while we haven’t seen any people lately that could change. We don’t know if people will try and head back to the cities or try and leave them. The winter could send people in both directions looking for food or shelter. Maybe someone will try and use the AT or Creeper Trail; you told me both come close to the farm. The majority of people rarely act logically so we really have no idea what is going to happen this winter or in the spring … or if we should be worrying about international interests infringing on US territory.”

“OK, maybe any or all of those, but like I said we’ve never had trouble with people invading the farm.”

He gave a one sided shrug and said, “There’s a first for everything. Griffey and your Mr. Dink can’t have been the only locals that knew where the farm was.”

I thought about that. “No, obviously not but a lot of the ones that it was common knowledge to have been passing on since I was in middle school … most of them were friends of my grandmothers … and it really was a small handful that could do it unescorted.”

Thor nodded. “Good enough but …”

“… better safe than sorry,” I finished with a grin. “If we absolutely had to we could drop one of the bridges. It wouldn’t stop someone really determined to come in on foot but it would stop vehicle traffic from that angle and I doubt we’d get any from further up the mountain.”

I could see him store that away for future thinking and we headed to the kitchen to eat and then to get back to work. I put stuff on the shelves Dad had installed and Thor added it to an inventory we had started.

We went on that way for another couple of days … leaving in the heavy morning mist that was nearly as wet as rain and coming back in the afternoon with the wagon full. The third morning I was having a hard time getting going. I’d chased a steer around for nearly forty minutes before he was winded enough to let me catch him. After I tied him to the back of the wagon for us to take home and add to the two cows we had he gave an odd little hop when he tried one last time to take off. As a result the beastie stepped on my foot. I’d managed to jerk it away before his full weight came down but I still had a pretty good bruise that didn’t help my mood any.

I was tying my largest sized boots on to avoid as much pressure on the bruise as possible. Once I managed to do that I went out to go get Thor from the tractor barn where he’d been putting away some tools. As soon as I got near the bar I realized he hadn’t been organizing but tinkering.

I hop-skipped to the barn and asked in a loud voice, “Are we having fun?!”

Thor gave me a big stinker of a grin and hollered back, “Yes we are. What say we give the horses a break and use this and that wagon to bring in the wood from those houses?”

“If your shoulder feels good enough to drive why don’t we take the tractor and one of the horses just in case?” It was agreed on; Thor would drive and I would ride.

The tractor, an old red Farmall that was practically a family heirloom, was easy to maintain and Dad always kept parts on hand. But I knew that I’d need to add that stuff to my list of things to salvage. There were some other old Farmalls in the area and discussing it with Thor he added it to his list of secondary salvage operation locations.

From the stove I said, “I might … repeat might … have a suggestion as far as fueling the tractors around here. But that is a big might and will depend on your mechanical know-how.”

He raised an eyebrow as he shoveled his third fried egg into his mouth. I told him, “I helped Dad but didn’t really take enough interest in all of the mechanical stuff myself. I’d do what he told me to do without really thinking about it. I can change the oil, lube the gizmos, check and adjust the fluids … that sort of stuff … but if it comes down to knowing the guts of the thing well enough to do something about it if it breaks, not so much.”

Wiping some yolk from his mustache he said, “Tell me what you are thinking and I’ll tell you if I can manage it.”

“Well, our family used to grow a lot of corn commercially. It was one of our cash crops. This is back before ethanol and all of that garbage so you are talking my grandfather’s day. Anyway for a couple of years the bottom fell out of the market and the farms around here were really hurting. They were losing money on every bushel and were leaving it to rot in the field because at the same time the cost of fuel was increasing. My grandfather and a couple of his brothers …” I had to stop and laugh. “Let’s just say they had a naughty streak in them and the old stills were hidden where no one could find them. They fixed a couple of the tractors to run on moonshine for fuel. What I’m thinking is that the animal feed around here that is contaminated with too much vermin feces to use for the animals could be used to make moonshine out of for fuel in the spring or early summer; that’s probably when we’ll run out of regular diesel if we use much of it to prep the fields.”

A slow grin spread across his face. “Now I just might be able to manage that … but I’ll start with a tractor from another farm if I can find one that I can get running. Rats have been at some of the hoses that I’ve seen.”

“Make it one with a PTO and we’ll hook it up to the log splitter so we can split some of those logs I’ll be tossing today.”

That wiped the grin from his face. “I don’t like …”

It took me barely a second to interrupt him since we’d been over it before. “I know you don’t like it. But it isn’t your fault that Uncle Bentley shot you. You’re healing a lot faster than I thought you would but you can’t rush things. If you start tossing wood up in the wagon you could tear something back open. If you do that you are looking at another chance at real infection and even some permanent injury.”

He rolled his eyes, “Yes mother.”

For some reason that gave me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. I decided to poke the bear a little and said, “Besides, after last night …”

He nearly strangled on his coffee then barked a laugh. “I swear woman you are something else. I told you already. I promised you a fun day and we’ll wait. I want you to enjoy yourself. Right now I’m not in the best shape to do right by you.”

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes, “Then stop testing my patience by wanting to do something that will just make you take longer to heal.” I was referring to him tossing wood and not to the other. Truth be told it was a lot of fun anticipating and playing at being impatient. It could get frustrating for sure, but it was still fun at the same time. Thor had brought the kind of light hearted laughter into my life I’d never really had before. Before I always felt I had something to prove, that life was so serious. With Thor I could laugh at myself without hurting my own feelings. And he seemed to take a great deal of pride in making me smile and laugh when it was the last thing on my mind.

After we finished eating and the few dishes had been cleaned up we locked up and left for the day’s work. I rode which was a nice change and I could tell by the big boy grin on his face that Thor was having a lot of fun with the tractor. I expect it made him feel more in control. I know I always preferred to drive than to be a passenger.

That day was so successful that I completely forgot about Mr. Dink’s prediction of snow arriving early. We went to bed that night exhausted but in a good way knowing we’d managed to bring in three wagonloads of logs that were neatly stacked and waiting to be split. In the middle of the night I woke up and at first couldn’t figure out what had caused it. Then I realized how cold my nose was.

“Oh crud.”

“What?” Thor muttered still deciding whether he was going to wake up with me.

“It’s cold.”

“Yeah, so scoot here under the covers and I’ll warm you up.”

Rolling my eyes even though he couldn’t see it I said, “We’re inside and the fire is banked; it shouldn’t be this cold.”

That woke Thor up. “And?”

“I’ve got to go check on the animals. I suspect we’ve already got snow on the ground … no, listen to that.”

After listening he asked, “Rain?”

“Sleet. Well that tears it. With ice on the ground we won’t be going anywhere today.”

He groaned, “I’ll help with the animals.”

“Why? No sense in us both losing sleep. Just keep the bed warm. Next time you can do it.”

“Hon …”

I kissed him and finished pulling on my coveralls. “Seriously Thor, there’s no sense in it. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“You’ll take the tunnels?”

“Yeah.”

Our barn was a nice and snug one but that didn’t mean it was incapable of getting cold. The rooster had already shooed the hens into the makeshift coop I had created for them out of hay bales and I’d already put blankets on the horses before bed. The cows and steer in their separate stalls looked at me like I was crazy for waking them up. I thought, “Oh well. It isn’t like I expected gratitude.” However when I was about to go back down into the tunnel I got the fright … and then delight … of my life. Both Barney and Boots were twining between my legs like it hadn’t been months since we had seen each other.

“Well where have you two been?!” I cried. They were both Toms but Boots was one of the weird male cats that never seems to develop a taste for … well for being a Tom if you catch my drift. He was Barney’s shadow in everything but the ladies; he didn’t even spray to mark territory. I couldn’t smell Barney either which meant they couldn’t have been back all that long. Both Toms looked sleek and healthy which really made me wonder where they could have been and what they could have been into. “Well, heck yes you can stay in the barn if you want. You know how to go in and out. But if I catch you after the feather dusters I’ll bob your tails. Got it?” They seemed to understand quite well and scampered off to a corner I knew to be their favorite.

I scampered faster than they did and got back in the house and then upstairs. “Hey! What are you doing out of bed?” I asked Thor.

“Waiting for you,” he muttered sitting in front of the fire that he had obviously stoked.

“Wouldn’t you have been warmer waiting in bed … keeping the covers warm?” I was feeling good and joking though I was ready to climb back in bed. Thor on the other hand … was not.

“Fine,” he muttered stomping towards the bed.

I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Looking back I can definitely see it but at the time all I thought was that I would ignore his mulligrubs and just get him in a good snuggling mood simply because that is how I felt.

Nope. It was like he was ignoring me which kind of hurt my feelings. It took a little back and forth sniping before I finally asked, “OK, what’s the problem? What did I do now?” Only I didn’t just say it nicely. Actually I was pretty much pouting because he’d spoiled the mood.

“Is everything always about you? Are you going to stay a bratty kid forever?”

Ouch. I know I’d been bouncing on the bed and trying to tickle him. I know that wasn’t exactly dignified. But we’d done it before and it hadn’t bothered him. And for him to be quite so nasty … well it hurt. It just drained all the play right out of me.

“Sorry,” I muttered and rolled over. I’d be lying if I tried to make out that I didn’t have some tears fall. But on the other hand there was no way I was going to let him know after what he’d just said. It didn’t seem long before he was snoring but I was too upset to sleep. I got up and carefully snuck over to my old bedroom and grabbed my wind up lamp and took it down to the kitchen table.

I tried to settle to working on my notes but I couldn’t. My feelings and my heart were just hurting too much. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong to make Thor snap at me like that. I knew he’d been tired when we went to bed. I thought maybe his shoulder was hurting him again but I didn’t think that could have made him act like that.

I grew tired worrying it to pieces and started wandering around the house, letting my old memories act as a salve for my newest ones. Then I saw it, the big book that held a lot of my family’s history. Part photo album, part scrapbook, part journal I remembered my grandmothers telling me story after story from the depths of it and showing me pictures of the people in the stories. I sat in the chair my mom had enjoyed sitting in while Dad worked on the accounts and it didn’t take me long to work my way backwards from the clippings that Mom had added of my “football glory.”

Looking at those clippings I prayed that wasn’t going to be the sum total of my life because as important as it had seemed at the time, it now felt like I’d wasted a good chunk of what life I had thus far lived and lost forever the opportunity to have learned more from my parents. Football had helped to develop my body, and it had given me a certain amount of confidence that I had been lacking, but I still wish I had paid more attention to my grandmothers and parents and the things they had known. I was stuck trying to play catch up and if Thor had grown unsatisfied with life on the farm (or with me) I might be learning it all alone.

I shivered at that thought and quickly sought out other parts of my family story to eclipse those feelings. Every page was a few years further back in time. I had been at it around an hour or so when I remembered what I had forgotten. I wanted to run upstairs to Thor and tell him what I had found but I was afraid. At some point I fell asleep in the chair.

A pop from the wood stove startled me awake. Only problem with that was that I hadn’t lit a fire in the stove but had just covered up with my Snuggie and a quilt. Bleary eyed I sat up to find that the book was gone from my lap and I was covered with another quilt. “Crud! The animals,” I thought.

After a stop in the bathroom I stumbled into the kitchen to put my coat and boots on to find Thor at the stove. I knew he must’ve been the one to cover me up but my brain kept shying away from thinking about anything but the most immediate priorities. I muttered, “Sorry. Late. Animals.”

“Sit down. The animals are all fine. I took care of them already.” I stood there for a moment and
Thor asked tensely, “You want to check them?”

“Huh? Sorry, brain is slow this morning. You said you took care of the animals?”

Turning from the stove Thor saw me standing there with my winter coveralls still only on one leg and a confused look on my face. I saw him get a concerned look on his face before walking over and telling me to sit down again. Nothing seemed to be working right and he gave a little push before I actually bent enough to sit on the bench where we kept our outer gear. “Rochelle?”

“Huh?” I felt like I was still three-quarters asleep and couldn’t wake up.

“I couldn’t find you when I woke up.”

“Mm.”

Shaking his head he sat beside me and pulled my coveralls back off and when he reached up and hung them on the hook he asked, “Where do you think you’re going anyway? You’re still in your nightgown. And why did you sleep downstairs?”

“Uh,” was about all I could say as my brain was still missing the firing pen. “I guess I fell asleep reading.”

He shook his head, “I think you’re still half asleep. Want some tea?”

“No thank you.”

“Breakfast?”

“Not hungry. Excuse me; I need to go clean up the mess I made last night.”

I stumbled out of the kitchen and went to go pick up the covers I’d used to put them away. I heard Thor take something off the stove and then follow me. I picked up the quilts and had to fight the urge to climb back under them.

He came up behind me and said, “You’re really tired. Why don’t you go back to bed?”

“Don’t want to,” I lied.

“Why not? You said yourself there’s no way we are getting out in this stuff to bring in more wood? I slipped and slid just going to bring in wood from the pile just off the porch.”

Startled I said, “Oh no! Did you fall? Did you hurt your shoulder?” I spun at the same time only my head forgot to bring my brain with it and I stumbled straight into Thor and would have fallen if he hadn’t grabbed with me with his good arm.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked concerned.

“I don’t know. Nothin’. I’m going to go get dressed.”

That definitely got a reaction from him. “Oh no you’re not. You are going back to bed.”

“No I’m not. I’m not a child to be ordered around like this no matter what you say.” I shut up as soon as it came out of my mouth. I did not want to start last night back up. Too late.

“Yeah, about that.”

“Forget it Thor. I’m not sure what I did to set you off but I’m sorry you don’t like living here … or maybe it’s with me. I don’t know. I’ve been trying. I just don’t know how to do this now that we don’t have the road to occupy us all the time.” I wrenched away from him and went upstairs to get dressed so I could work and forget about the loneliness I thought was heading my way.

The thing is the one advantage I have over other people I don’t have over Thor. His stride is even longer than mine and where I normally took two stairs at a time with no problem, he took three and caught up with me easily. “Nope. You’re going back to bed.”

“I told you …”

“Yep. You did. But you are getting in that bed and I’m going to bring you some breakfast and you are going to eat. And then I’m declaring a holiday … a snow day or whatever the heck you want to call it.”

“Snow days are for kids …”

And he looked down at my pale face and said, “Just get in the bed Rochelle. We’ll talk about it after you get some protein in your system.”

I was too tired and miserable to fight so I just crawled in bed, waiting for the guillotine. I must have dozed off because it seemed like only a second before Thor was easing into the bed beside me. I jumped and asked, “Huh?”

He chuckled and said, “Easy unless you want to spill our breakfast. I’m still one armed. Sit up and help me eat this.”

Trying to shake the sleep out of my brain and deal with feeling guilty I told him, “You didn’t have to do this. I should have. I can’t believe you had to cook.”

“I cooked on the trail,” he reminded me.

“That’s not the same. Here you’re the guy and I’m supposed to cook for you. The fact you had to means I wasn’t doing my job.” The very idea rolled my stomach.

“You’ve got definite ideas of how things are supposed to work don’t you.” It was a statement and not a question but I still shrugged. “Look, you’re going to stay in bed, eat your breakfast and accept my apology for being a jack@#$ last night.”

I froze and then looked at him from the corner of my eye unsure what was going on. He sighed. “Lord I forget how young you really are. Look at me Rochelle. All the way, not from under your eye lashes.” He pulled me back against the pillows and headboard which made me have to turn my neck far to the side at an awkward angle.

Before he could say anything I told him, “I’m sorry Thor. I really don’t know what I did to set you off. I … I don’t know how to make you want to stay. I know that … I know that you are used to globetrotting around the world and doing all this exciting stuff. I know that this is hard for you. And if … if you can just let us get through … through the winter here I’ll … I’ll go wherever it is you want to go. Please.”

He looked at me funny and said, “You’d really do it too wouldn’t you. Even though this is the only home you’ve ever known. Even though you know that this is a place we could do well in.”

I didn’t know what he meant so I just took it at face value and shrugged.

He leaned his head back and I was tired of developing a crick in my neck so I started looking at the fire in the fireplace. “Rochelle, this isn’t easy for me. It is taking some time to get used to. I’ll admit that it is harder than I expected it to be. I don’t like not being in control. I don’t like being wounded or sick. Having to be both of those things … shot and not in control … and learning to stay in one spot for very long is trying my patience sorely.” I hunched my shoulders hating that I was hearing what I already knew, on the other hand I didn’t expect what he said next. “But none of that is your fault. You can’t fix it for me. I have to learn to do it for myself. Now help me eat this before it gets cold.”

“This” was a mess of food; diced ham, chopped onion, sliced potatoes, and scrambled eggs all fried and mixed together with skillet biscuits on the side. Struggled to eat a couple of bites but couldn’t force anymore down.

“Don’t like my cooking all of a sudden?”

I didn’t know how to take that so I said, “It’s not your fault, I just don’t have much of an appetite.”

“I’d say it probably is my fault and that you haven’t accepted my apology yet,” he told me poking another bite of food in my mouth even as I protested.

“Thor, you don’t need to feed me like I’m helpless. And it isn’t your fault that you feel the way you do.”

“I’m feeding you because you aren’t eating and if I’m not responsible for my feelings than who is? You? Don’t think so Hon. Anymore than I’m responsible because you automatically assumed that just because I acted like a donkey’s backside that it was you I was unhappy with. ‘Cause it isn’t. I just didn’t like feeling useless last night. I didn’t like it one bit, but that didn’t mean I should have taken it out on you. Something tells me I messed up a prime opportunity for a little fun.”

I blushed despite the length of time we’d been together and he swooped down and said right in my ear, “Think you might let me make it up to you?” sending shivers in ever which direction.

“Stop. You don’t have anything you have to …”

“But I want to.”

“Well I’m not a child you need to pacify. I was acting undignified last night and should have left you alone when I first realized you weren’t in the mood.”

“Uh oh,” he said, shaking his head. “We aren’t going that direction. Now I want you to listen to me and not just sort of hear what I’m saying.” He stopped and sighed again. “Hon, I’m a guy.”

What he said and the way he said it made me looked him and say, “I kinda know that.”

He chuckled, “Yeah, but maybe you don’t know what that means in particular. It means that having my woman take care of me like I’m some geriatric case after a sweet young thang doesn’t do anything good for my pride.”

“Geri … huh? Thor, you were shot! You could have died! It was awful. You don’t really think I’m so cold hearted that I’d snap my fingers and expect you to start bowing and scraping and working your buns off before you even managed to get your arm out of a sling do you? Just how selfish do you think I am?!”

He moved the tray we were sharing off to the nightstand, put his good arm around me and pulled me back again. “Now see, that’s the difference between us. You think that I have the right to lollygag around and heal whenever I see fit while you do all the work. I know I have the responsibility to help out around here more than I have been.” My mouth must have been hanging open because he put his finger under my chin and closed it and then kissed me.

“We’ll work it out Hon. But … no more going off in the middle of the night where I can’t find you. That … upset me.” He said it in a mild voice but I could hear underneath that it really had upset him badly.

“I just fell asleep.”

“You should have woke me up if you were that upset.”

I shook my head. “You were so tired you were snoring. I thought maybe your shoulder was hurting too.”

“What was hurting was my pride.”

I still didn’t understand. “But we’ve always shared chores before. Even back to the beginning. You know I’m not made of glass. I didn’t even have to go out in the wet stuff because of the tunnel.”

“Let’s put it this way, sharing chores as you call it is something we agreed upon when we could both do them … we just were splitting the work to make it easier on each other. Here and now … I don’t like my bride having to do something just because I can’t. It’s not sharing anymore at that point; it’s you doing all of the work.”

He was such a guy. “Thor when I was sick and all or if I got hurt wouldn’t you do for me?” I knew he was seeing what I was saying when he got this mulish look on his face. “It’s the same thing. When your arm doesn’t need the sling or a bandage you’ll be back to working like a dog, same as always. I just don’t get … Thor I’m not some girly girl. I mean I try some for your sake but to be honest I’m just part mule. I like working. I always have.”

“Rochelle, I’ve told you about talking about yourself like that.”

I rolled my eyes. “For your information I happen to like mules. I like them better than horses. They aren’t near so particular and I think they’re smarter too. The idea of owning some fancy thoroughbred has never interested me but I sure did want an Appaloosa Mule like my grandfathers used to raise.”

“Don’t. You know what I mean.”

“I do … I just don’t think being compared to certain characteristics a mule is derogatory.”

“Well I do … so don’t do it anymore.”

I sighed and muttered in a disgruntled voice, “You sure are particular. The way you have us going I’m going to be completely useless by next winter except maybe as a cook and laundress.”

“Nope, I won’t let you go that far but you are going to have to back off and let me be the man of the house.” He said it playfully but looking in his eyes I realized he really meant what he was saying.

Refusing to let him play away something that serious I told him, “You are the man of the house. You’re the boss aren’t you?”

Realizing I wasn’t going to let him let it go he said, “Being man of the house is about more than being the boss. My grandfather was ‘the boss’ and my grandmother and mother tippy toed around his every whim but I knew even as a kid that wasn’t what the head of the house was supposed to be about. I don’t want to boss you around although I expect I’ll do that sometimes. What I want is to be who you turn to when you need something, who you trust to make decisions, who you respect above all others. I want you to know I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you protected, that I’ll do whatever it takes to keep the wolves away from the door.”

“Thor, if I didn’t already feel that way I would never be with you in the first place. I learned to trust you before we got together. I couldn’t be with you if I didn’t trust you like that. I’m always yammering away at you asking you questions, getting your opinion, taking your suggestions. What more am I supposed to do? Let you work yourself into really being ill while I sit on some little poof cushion like I’m all helpless and junk?”

He tried not to laugh at the picture my last words had made; I could see it in his face but it came out anyway. “No. No I don’t think I could ask that of you.” He put his chin on the top of my head and squeezed me with another hug. “Just … just let me be a guy. I could have tried to take care of the animals last night, it wouldn’t have killed me. And if I couldn’t then I would have had to man up and come back and get you for some help.”

Not really seeing the sense in that all I could do was answer, “I guess.”

“And if I say something to hurt your feelings you need to say something, not just crawl off upset.”

Mildly affronted I said, “I did not crawl off.”

“Then why did I wake up to find you gone? I got worried. You didn’t even answer when I called. If the door hadn’t been opened I wouldn’t have even thought to look in the room where you fell asleep.”

“I told you I was reading and must have just fallen asleep is all.”

“Uh huh. Next time you feel like ‘reading’ how about a good pillow fight. Bet that’ll tire you out better.”

I rolled my eyes thinking that while he might have lots more experience with the opposite sex than I did he obviously still didn’t have it all figured out either. On the other hand I was grateful that the … well whatever it was … was over with and I promised myself that I’d be a little more sensitive to his man-pride. I also wished I had thought to ask my mother about things like that. Dad and Thor shared a lot of personality traits and I expect the man-pride issue was one of them. Mom had known how to manage Dad and I wished she was still around to give me pointers on how she did it. It seemed like it was a lot more complicated to handle a man than guys made it out to handle girls.

We finished our breakfast despite the fact that it had gotten cold. While he took the tray back to the kitchen I got up to add another piece of wood to the fire. I stood up and turned around to find him leaning against the doorframe with a particular look on his face.

“What?” I asked.

“Nuthin’”

I snorted and then went to grab some clean clothes. “Hey! What are you doing?”

“Getting dressed.”

“Uh uh. I declared a snow day remember? No work.”

“Fine. No heavy work but I can’t just lie around in bed all day.”

“Why not?” he asked with a quirk of his eyebrow.

“Because. It isn’t seemly. I’m not sick or anything. As it is you’ve already brought me breakfast in bed. I feel like a lazy pig.”

“OK, how about keeping me company then.”

Well, I reckon anyone with sense can figure out that one thing led to another and before long I could have cared less about anything that wasn’t going on outside of that room.

Afterwards we both went to sleep. I woke up when Thor’s stomach rumbled right in my ear.

I smiled and he said, “Oops.”

The way he said it made me going from smiling to giggling. I was a little embarrassed but Thor, he looked like he’d run into the side of a building. It worried me and I asked, “Um … was … I mean …”

Thor looked at me and said in a really strange voice, “My brain is mush. It’s leaking out of my ears.”

“Uh … is that a good thing or bad? I mean, was it like, you know, worth the wait?”

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

I felt myself go red from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. “I sorta, well, thought that was obvious.”

A satisfied male sigh came before he said, “Yes Hon, it was worth it. If it had any more worth it I’d have gone to meet the Maker.”

“Oh. So when you look like someone had beaned you with a two-by-four between the eyes that’s a good thing.”

He didn’t answer with words. Sometime later we were talking about nonsense and about other stuff barely more important when somehow we got to calling each other silly names. Each took turns being ever more outrageous when he suddenly got serious and called me something to do with treasure but that’s all I heard before a bottle rocket went off in my head.

“Oh! Oh! I remember!!” I said scrambling off the bed, dragging all the covers with me.

I was dashing down the staircase, trying not to fall and break my neck before Thor managed to bellow, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going?!”

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