The workday was lonely without Ladd and when father had to leave to meet a supplier, I was left to carry the heavy merchandise alone. I had no idea how heavy a sack of flour was until that terrible afternoon.
I planned to visit Ladd that evening but when I got to his door and raised my hand to knock, I found myself unable to move. Eventually I rationalized that a retreat was in order until I had better control.
Siebenday was normally my day off, but without Ladd around, I had to start covering a full week. I think father knew I was planning to see Ladd though, for he let me go at noon. I folded my work apron in silence as I prepared for my confession.
Sadly, I had not encouraged myself enough yet. I spotted Cade idling at the tavern and decided that maybe a normal conversation would give me a fire back.
“Nari!” Cade shouted above the tavern noise. Most field workers got Siebenday off and a fair number of them spent it drinking the week’s wages.
“Hey Cade,” I returned in a softer voice.
“I was wondering where the prettiest girl in town was at,” Cade continued to shout, though I was not so far enough away as to merit the extra volume. Clearly, he had already been here for a while. I accepted the compliment with a blush nevertheless. Cade always knew how to make a girl blush.
“I had some tasks to complete this morning,” I informed him.
He nodded, but did not inquire into my business any further. “Did you see my sister around?” he asked instead.
I shook my head. “She’s too young to be in here, remember.”
“I know that,” Cade grumbled. “I mean, outside. She’s been running off somewhere these past two days. It’s bad enough Father doesn’t make her do any real work, if she’s not showing off for the tourists, how do we expect to draw in customers?”
“What tourists?” I chuckled. It was a running gag of ours. Cade had never been pleased with his father’s princess-like treatment of Addie. As he had put it, “Why should my gender decide I have to work and she doesn’t? I am not using the different parts in this work. She is just as capable.” But Rafferty had insisted that Addie not work.
“Your store is not even open today,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, well, with yours never closing Dad is figuring maybe we should be open on Siebenday. And you know who is it that has to be stationed at the shop…”
“Sorry,” I shrugged. It was not as if I was pleased with father’s decision to be open every day. Most folk still considered being open on Einsday to be greedy, but father insisted that at some point one of them would run out of flour or lamp oil and be glad we had stayed open. “Though I don’t see why it is necessary to be open on Siebenday. It’s not like anyone is going to have a sewing or clothing emergency that cannot wait until Zweiday.”
“My point exactly,” Cade smacked his mug down in approval. I hoped nothing splashed on me. Ladd hated when I spent my days off drinking with Cade. It would be an insult to him if I met him smelling as though I had. “You sure are intelligent Nari,” Cade added for good measure.
I had enjoyed my day with Tunic yesterday, but I was beginning to remember why I had always loved being with Cade.
“Hey Cade,” I thought of something I needed to ask someone as well travelled as Cade. “If you ever come across a wolf in the woods, what are you supposed to do?”
Cade looked like I had smashed a bottle over his head. “What are you asking me that for?”
“I…” I was going to explain my adventure with Tunic, but knowing Cade’s prejudice against my new friend, I stopped myself. “I heard a wolf was wandering around just outside town and– “ He didn’t let me finish.
“And you got all scared, did you?”
“No!” I protested. “I was just curious, is all.”
“Naw,” he shook his head. “You’re scared.” He started howling like a wolf, probably to frighten me. Clearly, he had had more to drink than I had assumed. Either that or I was coming to understand how ridiculous he could be. I didn’t like the idea that I had misjudged Cade, but neither did I find this howling nonsense to be amusing.
“I need to be going now,” I told Cade.
“No!” he whined. He grabbed my wrist and pulled me onto his lap. “I was just having some fun with you.”
Cade had never done that before and I didn’t know what to do. My face went crimson though, I am almost certain of it. His hands locked around my waist so I could not escape. “Stay with me for a drink,” he insisted.
I felt his fingers gently begin to draw shapes on my spine and my head grew fuzzy. I bit my lip knowing I should go, but…
“I’ll stay,” I vowed. “But I can’t drink.” Ladd would smell it on me and know I had been with Cade.
“Oh, come on,” Cade insisted. “I will pay for it and everything.” The shapes he drew on my back got larger. My back straightened with a pleasant shuddering sensation.
“I can’t. Not right now. Maybe tonight, after I finish something.”
“You have business more important than me?” Cade teased.
I chuckled, but did not answer.
His fingers began to creep around my side toward my stomach. I think I forgot everything for a minute, my entire body tense with a foreign sense of pleasure.
Then I noticed someone staring. I leapt off Cade, horrified that he was making such a spectacle of me. Such behaviour was not done in virtuous communities such as ours. My reputation, and therefore our family’s credibility, could be sullied if any onlookers considered my actions too promiscuous for public display.
“Hey!” Cade yelled as I distanced myself from him, “Where are you going?”
I am pretty sure I outdid my flight into the deer trail as I left the tavern. It would not be wise for me to linger around my drunken friend; not when he was being touchy.
As I entered the sunlight, I felt sticky and gross. I don’t know if all taverns have that effect, but if you spend so much as five minutes in ours, you smell of ale until you bathe. I could see Cade in the window, staring into his jug of ale. Somehow, even after making a spectacle of me, I still couldn’t hate him. I did, however, need to rinse my clothes and hair.
My feet automatically took me north of town. There was a delightful pool there that Ladd and I had discovered as kids. On hot days like this one, we’d spend our afternoons gathering coloured rocks and snail shells from the pool’s bottom.
I had intended to collect myself there and rid myself of the rancid smell of alcohol before finally confessing to Ladd, but instead I found myself standing before the man.
Some ill omen had sent Ladd; that was my only conclusion. What made the situation worse was that he spotted me across the lake before I saw him. I couldn’t hide, run, or avert course. His eyes were fixated on me and I knew I had to speak to him, lingering scent of alcohol and all.
We remained silent as we neared. Gestures of acknowledgement were exchanged, but neither of us said anything. I kicked my foot in the grass nervously.
It was no great surprise that I was the first to speak, though I think the apology in my words caused us both to pause. “Ladd, I am so sorry for what I said. It was cruel and you were right about Bramwell.”
I didn’t know what to expect next. I don’t think I’d ever apologized to him before. I knew he had every right to give me a verbal lashing. He swallowed whatever words he had prepared and smiled weakly. “How did you know to find me here?” he changed the subject. Somehow, he’d forgiven me and he had the grace not to say it.
I considered accepting his lenience and diverting our conversation but I needed to get something straight first. “Ladd, please don’t stop working at our shop. We need you.”
Ladd turned away from me. Maybe Addie had already ensnared him. He kicked a stone into the glassy water. “I doubt I have any other choice unless I wait until harvest and help in the fields. Do you think your father will allow it?” Ladd made no mention of Addie’s suggestion so either Rafferty had rejected him or he was hiding the idea from me.
I nodded my head vigorously. “You should have heard the violence in his tone when he informed me you’d quit. I’d have sworn he loved you better than me at that moment.”
Normally Ladd would have piped in that it was not possible for someone to love me less than another. I guess I really had changed his opinion of me for he only replied that he hoped I was correct.
“And if he doesn’t, I will threaten to quit myself.” I hoped to win Ladd back with that shallow gesture. We both knew it was impossible for me to resign.
The wind shifted and I saw at once that Ladd knew where I’d been and whom I’d been with. “I suppose you came here to swim,” he deflated.
I couldn’t deny it. I’d not come here to seek him out.
“I’ll leave you be,” he smiled weakly.
I returned that half-dead smile. “Thanks…” I recalled how last summer in a fit of annoyance, I’d told him I’d grown too womanly for him to swim with me.
He started to trek back to town, but halted. “You know,” he called, “Addie and I are worried about you.”
That startled me. Why would they worry about me? If anything, it should be I concerned with them. For all my recent foolishness, at least I was born with a stalwart strength and a superior mind. I would overcome this trial and be better because of it. I doubted Addie and Ladd had the same fortitude.
“It’s just…” Ladd started, “You are going to think I am speaking this out of jealousy, but if I don’t you could be injured. Despite your present indignation, you will eventually understand how justly I have treated you. And if you’re too stubborn to realise it, then at least I will know I tried.”
“It’s about Cade,” I guessed rightly.
“Addie’s heard stories,” Ladd began with the vaguest introduction I’d heard. “About Cade and other… women.”
I could guess where this was going. “You don’t know what you speak of,” I accused. I’d been friends with Cade for years now. How could Ladd accuse him of something so unacceptable? Sure, Cade was prone to be a bit more physical than was generally acceptable, but that was merely Cade.
I guess I’d infuriated Ladd again. He left without a word. I stood there dumbly, feeling my accusations against him rise. Why couldn’t things go back to the way they were? I turned to the pool, I still had to rinse or mother would be mad, but I did so without mirth.
I did not even wait for my dress to dry before hiking back. I crossed Glass River there so I did not have to walk through all of Kennbridge in my wet garb.
Mother wasn’t home when I returned so I slipped my dress on the line to air it. She knew I spent most Siebendays with Cade, when he was home, but we had an unspoken agreement never to speak about my tavern visits.
I wandered around our house for a while, but finding no occupation enticing, I ended up on my bed. I lay on my side, holding my shoulders tightly. I heard my parents arrive home in the early evening. They were talking about me, supposing I wasn’t home but confused by the appearance of my gown on the line. Mother came to my room and found me there in utter misery. She knew, as all mothers seem to know, I was not able to speak without tears. Mercifully, she disappeared for the time.
With mother gone all afternoon, (I learned she had filled in for me at the store), our dinner was hasty. I did not care though, picking at it as though I was already full. I told father I believed Ladd was coming back to work and he heaved a sigh of relief.
“I didn’t know how I was going to get the deliveries unloaded without his help,” he said. Some of crates were far too heavy for one person. I supposed I could have helped with them, but a skirt is nothing compared to a good pair of trousers. Besides, I doubted I had the muscle to do it. I’d definitely taken advantage of Ladd that way.
The thought of Ladd made me sick. I excused myself from the table and returned to my room.
“What about your dress?” Mother called.
“It’ll be fine one night,” I managed to call back.
I doubted she’d leave it. She must have been worried about me though, for she normally put up a better fight. I didn’t have the energy to comfort her. I just lay in my room staring at the wall until night completely veiled all shapes.