by DiVoran Lites
“Where were you born? “ Ellie sat with her back against the head of the bed while Nancy lay flat.
“My people came from Germany in 1876 and built this ranch,” said Nancy, so I was born on a neighboring ranch.
“My mother and her sister were born here in Colorado, but the stork dropped me in Chicago.” Ellie settled in for a short chat with Aldon’s mother. “Was Trudy your only sister?” Ellie wanted to know about Aldon’s family whether she stayed at the ranch or not. It would be something to think about when she was alone.
“Yes, Trudy was the eldest. After me, Papa got what the ranch needed, which was a passel of boys.”
“How many is a passel?” Amazed at how much better she felt talking to Nancy, Ellie began to relax.
“For us it was four. Karl died of the Spanish Influenza in 1918.” Nancy’s voice faltered.
“I’m so sorry. Your brothers are quite the gentlemen. I danced with them, you know.” Ellie smiled to herself thinking of the gallant older men who each in his own way reminded her of a giant.”
“Those big old fellows are as easy-going as they come, but they’ve had a great deal of hardship in their lives. They told me you were a sweet little thing. You received their blessing.” Nancy said.
“A sweet little thing?” Ellie sat up fully awake staring at Nancy. “That’s not how I want to be thought of.”
“Oh, no? How do you want them to think of you?” Nancy touched Ellie’s elbow as if to console her.
“As a good, strong, capable woman like you.” Ellie felt the anger simmering again as she recalled Aldon’s embarrassing and unnecessary rescue.
“You are strong and capable.” Nancy reached up and laid her warm hand against Ellie’s cheek. “And beautiful, too, no wonder Aldon is enraptured by you.”
“He’s what?” Ellie jerked her head back.
“Are you attracted to him? “Nancy asked.
“Well, I was, but…”
“His temper worries you.” Nancy nodded.
“I don’t like the idea of men fighting over me. That doesn’t do a woman’s reputation any good, does it?” Ellie started to get up, but when her feet hit the cold floor, she changed her mind. Ready now to talk in earnest she rested her back against a pillow and the iron rungs of the bedstead.
“I have never seen him jealous before. Maybe he’s going to have to learn not to be, but he has always been protective and that will stay with him.” Nancy pulled herself into a sitting position like Ellie’s.
“He hasn’t said much about his father,” Ellie glanced at Nancy to gauge her expression in reaction to the question.
“Robert had a rough upbringing, but he was a good man. He believed in discipline for children and horses, all our people did.”
“When did you know you loved Robert?” Ellie asked. Both pair of legs stretched toward the foot of the bed and Ellie pulled up the quilt.
“Being neighbors, our families worked the ranches together. On joint workdays, Robert kept my brothers from teasing me too much. They had a lot of respect for him. At haying time one year, when I was about eight, I was wearing a blue-print flour sack dress and running in the meadow with my hair flying. Robert caught me up under the arms and turned in circles with me. It made me dizzy, but when he set me down, he said I was as pretty as a Mountain Bluebird. It always makes me happy to think about that time. Eleven-year-old boys don’t usually speak kindly to small girls let alone protect them from their brothers. I knew he must have thought a lot of me to call me after a Mountain Bluebird. They are one of the prettiest things you ever saw.” She sighed. “They get their color from the sky.”
“Robert was small and dark-headed. Men sometimes called him Shorty and sometimes Pee Wee. He always resented it, but once he proved he was a fighter, they stopped. When I got my growth, I was taller than he was, and when we started stepping out we took some teasing. Inside, though, he was the biggest man I ever knew.”
“What happened to your Robert?” Ellie scooted down in the bed taking her pillow with her.
“After the war — after Paul…” Nancy sighed and drew her knees up under the cover with a low moan. “He got so sad he’d barely speak. It broke my heart, and I tried everything to cheer him. I grieved for Paul, too, but I knew I would see him again. It was awful to lose my husband to bitterness, but I still had two that needed me.
“When you lose your best friend and want to tell somebody about it, it would be your best friend whom you would tell, it’s the loneliest feeling in the world.” Ellie wondered if that made sense as she closed her eyes for a moment. In her imagination she saw Aldon’s face looking surprised and hurt. Biting her lower lip, she willed herself not to cry.
“You’re right, Robert always did his work, but he couldn’t find any peace, so he took to sitting at the kitchen table late into the night drinking beer. At first, I tried to stay and visit, but I couldn’t stay awake all night and do chores the next day, so I started coming upstairs without him. One morning in the wee hours, I realized he hadn’t come to bed, so I went downstairs and he was still at the table. I thought he had just laid his head down, but when I touched him, I knew he was gone.” Nancy dabbed at her eyes with the sheet.