I haven’t really experienced that much morning sickness, I have been lucky that way I reckon. Mrs. Bly said I have a cast iron stomach and that I should feel blessed with that fact. But still, I’d had it catch me off guard ever so often and one of those times were on me right as Harry came back, and he wasn’t alone which hurt my dignity a mite.
Dino Pappas is ten years my senior but carries himself like it is twice that. Life hasn’t been especially easy on him and it shows. Fear twisted a knot in my guts as bad as when I finally admitted to myself that I was a girl in trouble. But at least then I’d had someone to share my fear and shame with.
Harry’s face wore the cautious look he’d learned to have when taking the animals to market for auction. The spurt of anger that that thought brought reignited my pride and stiffened my spine. I turned to look Dino Pappas full in the face. With no preamble or nuthin’ he ignored my predicament and asked, “This some game to you or are you serious?”
I gave it the thought it deserved seeing as how I’d just been wondering the same thing not that long ago. “This ain’t no game, least ways not on my part. And as for serious, I got a problem in front of me that I need to deal with. Harry seems to think that you do too.”
A little belligerently he asked, “And you expect to use me to fix your problem and make an honest woman of you?”
“I’m already an honest woman Mr. Pappas. I’m just one that’s made a mistake that can’t be undone. It don’t make me look like I have any sense but I do. Sense enough to come up with a different suggestion from the one that’s been floated.” At his surprised look I explained. “You don’t really need a wife. Sure don’t sound like you especially want one either. What you do need is a housekeeper and auntie for your boy. I can do that. I can also help in the fields for a while yet. By the time I do get too big it’ll be cold weather anyway.”
“What’s it gonna cost me?” he asked even more suspicious than he had been.
“Let me move my trailer to your farm; it’s still mine to do with as I will. Let me bring over some of my family things though I don’t expect you to house them all. Give me a place to have my baby. After I’m healed of that enough not to risk childbirth fever if you can’t abide me, I asked you to still give me a month to find a new situation.”
He lifted one eyebrow like he wasn’t too sure I wasn’t spinning a yarn. “And what’s my guarantee that you won’t use me until you can find you a ‘situation’ more to your liking? I’ll have wasted money on your wages and …”
Impatiently I told him, “Mr. Pappas if you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about once was enough. I don’t have the luxury for that kind of thinkin’ no more; I got a baby comin’. And for the record I’m not talking ‘bout cash wages, just room and board. I’m desperate, not greedy.”
Harry opened his mouth to object and I tried to stop him with a wave of my hand, but he wouldn’t be stopped. “What about your reputation Riss? You’ll lose it for sure that way.”
I looked at Harry and said a thing we both know was true. “Can’t lose what I don’t have none left of. ‘Sides, it’s a little late for me to be worrying along those lines. Everybody in the county knows I was a fool; soon enough they’ll know just how big a fool.”
The pain was back and I struggled to hide it. Strangely Mr. Pappas turned kind which perforce only made it hurt worse. “There’s no hope for it?”
I shook my head and had to clear my throat twice before I could say, “None.”
“And you won’t go running if at some point he comes to his senses and tries to fix things?”
“No,” I answered quietly and despite myself my sadness and pain was there for anyone to hear. “I thought Harry explained.”
“He did,” he admitted.
“Then you know. He made his choice. He could only do what he done if what I thought we had was nuthin’ but moonspun fantasy. I was foolish to believe it, but I ain’t fool enough to answer that call twice.”
We all three fell silent then he said, “Harry give us a moment alone.”
Not sure he like that Harry still gave us what was asked for. After Harry had walked over to pull the seed tops off some tall grass Mr. Pappas looked at me and said, “You’re younger than I was looking for.”
“I expect so. I can’t recall you ever socializing with the younger crowd at the barn raisings or harvest dances.”
He grimaced at the thought and then asked, “How far along are you?”
“Nearly four months.”
Not sure why he was asking I said, “To the date.”
He snorted. “You’re showing your age girl. It’s not that easy to pin down.”
I rolled my eyes. “It is if you were only foolish once,” I said with a blush despite myself.
His eyebrows flew towards his hairline. “Well girl, you are paying aren’t you?”
I wasn’t real happy with his close examination but figured that since he was interviewing me to be taking care of his child I owed him all my honesty. “It is what it is,” I said by way of agreeing and taking responsibility at the same time.
He nodded and then said, “My boy’s name is Kerry … he’s a handful.”
I shrugged. “Most boys are. My brother and cousins certainly were.”
“Your brother died in the epidemic with the rest of your family?”
“Yeah. I’ve got a couple of cousins left in the military. I hear from them once or twice a year. Then there’s Harry but he ain’t a blood relation. He and I are …” I stopped. There was no way to continue without sounding pathetic.
“Sure. I’m in the same boat. A lot of people seem to be these days.” Looking me up and down he said, “Most women would have had a string of questions for me already.”
I wasn’t sure what there was that I needed to know beyond what I already did but to be polite I asked, “Will your boy’s … will Kerry’s momma have words to say about me taking care of him?”
“No,” he replied sharply like the one question I had asked hadn’t been a good one. “I told her when she left …” He stopped and I saw an anger I might one day feel myself. But then he forced himself to calm down. “Kerry knows his mother doesn’t live with us. Tammy never let it bother her that she was saying cruel and untrue things to a small child and the fact that the child was hers mattered even less. It is likely one of the reasons why he behaves like he does but I just don’t have the time to deal with it and he’s not old enough for me to explain it the way it needs to be explained.”
“How old is he?” I asked.
“How long has … Tammy … been gone?”
“Going on two years. And she hasn’t tried to contact me at all during that time. I don’t even know where she is these days. I can assure you there won’t be any issues from that quarter.”
“Not at all?”
Misunderstanding he sneered and asked, “Still holding out hope for your baby daddy?”
Knowing I’d probably have to suck up such statements as a daily diet no matter where I went I tried not to let it bother me. “No, just making sure I know what I’m getting into and that you’re the only one I’ll have to answer to.”
He shook himself and looked off into the orchard without really seeing the trees. “Tammy chose not to adapt to moving here after I was medically discharged.”
Giving him as close a look as he’d just finished giving me a few minutes before I asked, “You’ve got health problems?”
“One of my legs had to be screwed back together,” he admitted defensively.
Knowing that it either happened early in the war or that he’d been in a unit with special privileges to have anything screwed back together I looked at his leg and then shrugged. “It doesn’t seem to stop you from being a farmer,” stating the obvious after seeing no visible sign of the injury.
A smile of pride was preceded by a satisfied, “No.”
We fell silent again. Finally I said, “Mr. Pappas I need the job. I’ll do the best I can and you can ask Harry or anyone else … I can work and work hard. They might not give you a good view of my character but I swear to you Sol is the only fella that I’ve been stupid with in any way. I hate to rush you but I need to know if I’m wasting my time because that’s what I don’t have much of to spare.”
His lips twisted. “Go on back to the wagon and give me a moment to think.” Instead of thinking though he went to talk to Harry.
I still wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing but I didn’t have any other options. I sat wondering what I’d do next if it didn’t pan out. I considered what families were in the area that might need some help, at least through the harvest season.
My thoughts were deep and wandering and it startled me when they both climbed into the wagon seat.