Don’t you just hate it when people ignore your good sense? On the other hand, what was created over twenty plus years is not going to get uncreated in a day. Before Dino could say something to me I told him that I would do my best not to make a ruckus in his family. His response?
“Riss, this is your family too. Make a … er … ruckus if you think it needs to be made. Just don’t get your feelings hurt if nothing comes of it. They’re my cousins and I respect both of them in their own fashion but they rub me wrong some times. AJ worse than Alec but, it might be because of what you say … he’s defensive and tries to keep people out.”
He was giving me a look that made me tell him, “You better not be thinking of me when you say that Buckaroo. I’m the one that washes your drawers and I don’t think you want to find out how much starch is still in the supply cabinet.”
He laughed at me and then … well, I have to say this waiting til I’m all healed up is a little frustrating for both of us. But on the other hand, my head may say something but I’m still some tender, not to mention tired. And more than a few times Dino comes in and nearly falls asleep in his plate. We didn’t get much of a chance to honeymoon but I appreciate the time we did have enough to want a little piece of it back.
As for AJ, he’s been suffering from a fever; bad enough but not to cause us to call the undertaker. Mostly it is reaction and fatigue, or at least that’s what Cheryl claims, but I’m thinking he may not have had a whole lot of reserve to him when he got shot and then a day later got pounded. The whole country is a little (to a whole lot) thinner than they used to be but seeing AJ out of his suit makes me realize that Dino and Alec have more meat to them than AJ does and it isn’t just that AJ is a few inches taller than them. On top of that instead of laying low once he’d been injured he loaded up the van and took off with what he could. He sleeps a lot and it is real trying to get him to eat. It’s not as bad as it was – when he first arrived he just couldn’t keep anything down so he didn’t even want to try after a while – but he still ain’t eating like he should for a man his size.
His hands are particularly sore; knuckles all bruised, jammed, and scrapped up. I’ve taken to simply cutting his food up for him that needed it before I take it in the room. I figured to save his pride that way but he still noticed. It was one of his “bad” days.
“I don’t like being waited on like this,” he grumbled reminding me strongly that him and Kerry are related.
“Then stop complaining, eat up, get well and you can go back to coming to the table. Until then you’ll be more comfortable in here … trust me. That is unless you want to watch me try and juggle a cranky baby that seems to be a bottomless pit of spit up while dealing with Kerry whose only a little better than a piglet himself. If the boy wouldn’t eat so fast his food wouldn’t fly every which direction. And there’s days Dino just about falls asleep in his chair. I’m still not one hundred percent and he won’t let me work outside very much.”
He was grimacing at my description while he forked some of my homemade egg noodles that I had topped with my own jiggled up recipe for canned beef burgundy I had heated through and added a little cream to. But when I mentioned that Dino wouldn’t “let me” do something he gave me a strange look. “You didn’t strike me as the type that would … that would …”
“Put up with being ordered around?” I laughed.
Raising an eyebrow he said, “That’s close enough to what I meant.”
I shook my head still smiling. “If I didn’t trust Dino I wouldn’t. But his telling me what to do isn’t … uh … well it isn’t him trying to boss me around or … er … exercise his husbandly authority over me so to speak. It’s more … more … look it’s like this. One of the reasons I trust Dino is because he’s always, even before there was anything between, been real serious about his responsibilities. He’s still serious, maybe more so. He’s the leader in this house but he doesn’t view being a leader like most people do in my experience. Most people that think they are leaders somehow think that makes those under them beholden to them in some way. But reality is that leadership is just a form of servitude.”
“In your opinion?” he asked caught somewhere between making a joke of what I was saying and being really curious.
“Nope. Think of it like this. When someone is in a leadership position you say they are either ‘acting as a’ or ‘serving as a’ whatever you want to call it. When someone is ‘acting’ in a position it is like it is temporary, they aren’t the real deal. But when you hear someone say that someone is ‘serving’ in a position you can tell the difference right off. So a real leader is serving in a position; with a great big ol’ emphasis on the serving part. That’s what it is like to have Dino as the leader of our house. And he is downright particular about trying to do the job right. So, whenever he sounds like he is ordering me about something I try and remember to think on why he is doing it and then I usually don’t have a problem following the obey part of the marriage vows. He’s never done anything but put me ahead of his own wants and needs and to me that says a lot. Truthfully it makes me want to treat him the same way.” He gave me a look of confusion and I added, “I know it sounds strange to some folks especially since I’m kinda on the mulish and independent side. I just found I don’t need to be that way with Dino. He proves every day that I can trust him to have my best interests at heart for real and not just playing at it.”
The next day I think it was I was up in the middle of the night feeding the bottomless Pita when I looked up to find Dino watching us. “You should be asleep,” I told him quietly. “I’ll take her downstairs.”
“No. Don’t. The bed will just be cold either way without you in it.”
I gave him a small smile, being more than a bit glad not to have to go downstairs where it was cold, and said, “Sweet talk like that will get you what you’re looking for.”
He snickered back and said, “Not for a couple of more weeks it won’t if what you said Cheryl told you is true.”
I sighed dramatically and he snickered again. “Hey, you’re the one that brought it up.”
“I know. Just want to make sure you aren’t forgetting about the … er … comforts of marriage.”
He put his hands behind his head and said, “Not likely Missus Pappas.” He was teasing us both but mostly me.
“Oh honestly. Isn’t there any way that you can get Chester to go back to calling me Riss?”
He grinned, “Let him have his fun. It’s just his quiet way of getting a rise out of you and paying you some respect at the same time. He thinks a lot of you, you know.”
I did know which made me feel like I really should get the man to call me by Riss; it only seemed fitting since I called him by his first name even though he was even older than Alec.
I was rocking Pita trying to get her topped off when Dino asked seriously, “Speaking men who think highly of you, did you say something to AJ?”
“Huh?” I asked not sure at all what he meant.
“He keeps asking me how I like being married the second time around and he’s mentioned that if it was as good as we make it out to be he might have to consider adding it to his future plans.”
All I could do was just shake my head. “What is up with that man and his plans? Do you know he has some kind of chart that he keeps for himself? He keeps track of what he considers his accomplishments and failures and also has all these goals. And now you tell me he is actually thinking about changing his life from a board room to a bedroom?”
He snorted, “You would look at it like that.” After a moment he asked, “Are you serious about that list he keeps?”
“List? It’s a whole flaming three-ring binder. Apparently he likes his life structured and inventoried.”
I could see he was staring at the ceiling then he said, “That structure stuff is one of the few things that Alec and AJ’s father had in common with Papooh. My father was the same way, it is why he liked the military so much. It sounds like AJ may have taken it to the extreme though.”
“I like structure and inventories too but I don’t measure the whole value of my life by them.”
Pita chose that moment to burp and spit up on me at the same time. Nasty. That was the end of that conversation right quick but the subject was to come up again not too far in the future. But first came securing things enough so that we could get the butchering done.
AJ hadn’t been wrong about the city going up in flames. And the Sergeant that spoke with us hadn’t been wrong about it happening in other places; or about how they were going to be handled. The radio, as well as gossip and rumor from our own town provided by the railway folks, told us that it was happening in several cities from one extent to another. There were a lot of people making the attempt to flee the urban areas. Many of them were handicapped by lack of transportation. All mass transportation into and out of any city experience violence was halted by the government. All refugee and/or evacuation centers were contained within the urban perimeters. Most evacuation routes out of the city had already been sabotaged or destroyed in the preceding years of the war for one reason or another so the major arteries in and out of the city were easier to control.
If people wanted out they had to leave by foot or they had to wait in long lines to be processed out but only so many people were permitted per vehicle and this number was usually equal to the number of operating seat belts. No trucks with an enclosed back were allowed – pickups were fine so long as the bed of the truck was visible, deliver vans or similar were immediately towed out of line at their owner’s expense. Cars could not be loaded so that you couldn’t see out the back window and trunks had to be opened so they could be searched. They made the searching easier by having each vehicle run across sensors that said how many pounds it weighed. Given the make and model and the number of people visible they could determine if there might be a problem with overloading of one type or another. If your vehicle weighed in at a certain weight you were ok and waved through, if you were over that weight you were directed to a parking slot where everyone how to exit the vehicle so it could be searched … and these searches also included looking for restricted and illegal items.
It was all about control. On the one hand it was good and on the other hand it was horrible. How you viewed it pretty much depended on which side of the barricade you were on. A lot of stores, fuel depots, and restaurants in the rural communities began to close and shutter when the first stream of folks began to come through. Trade goods were expensive and scarce and reserved for local purchase. The locusts, as such travelers were called, found a much different landscape from their counterparts that had done this in the beginning weeks and months of the war. Not only were such places closed, they were guarded and guarded well. The services they were used to in the city were almost non-existent as was everything else they expected to find such as refugee/evacuee camps that had seemed everywhere in the beginning of the war; no free water, no free food, no free medical services, no free housing of any type, no free anything. As a matter of fact most evacuees found themselves facing quite a well-prepared rural community … prepared to keep them out and moving on down whatever road they had chosen to travel.
Individual farms like ours still suffered if there weren’t enough people to mind the road or roads in and out and to mind the fact that people on foot didn’t necessarily have to stick to the roads. A few years back Dino and Alec had converted some trenching gear to use pure ethanol. A wide, deep gully already surrounded both farms. Originally dug for drainage to keep the lower levels of the vineyard from flooding, in this instance the gully kept the stinking locusts from simply crossing our fields with impunity. The gully was also such that neither wagons, nor single rider horses, could cross except at the designated bridges. The bridge over by Alec’s place was completely dropped using the trenching equipment to dig out the supports and joists; if they wanted off their parcel they would need to go overland to our side. This was good for them because not only were they closer to Newton they were closer to the road; not visible from the road just closer to it.
The bridge to our place was wide enough for two trucks to cross at the same time because of the large trucks that took delivery of the wines. The winery still had contracts to fulfill and we needed those contracts so we couldn’t exactly just drop that bridge. We were farther from Newton but closer to the city. Our one advantage however was that we were set almost two miles down that road. The landscaping was also some different. The land on either side of the road that let out on the highway did not belong to us but to a now abandoned livestock farm. That farm had a right of way across our road but in several locations up and down it they had installed those cattle gates that cows don’t like to walk across. Horses didn’t care much for them either. Plus Dino’s grandfather had started the practice of planting Lombardy poplars all down the road for the first mile. Several had to be replaced over the years as they aren’t real long-lived trees but they grow fast, provide a lot of privacy and get up to fifty feet tall. Even though there were gaps from ice damage a couple of years back Alec always kept rooted seedlings going to replace the ones that had to be cut out. All signs for the vineyard had been taken down years ago except for the heavy wrought iron fence that stood about fifty feet from the bridge where the road narrowed down to a single lane. However the piece of road between the gate and the highway looked all run down and abandoned because of the condition of the former pasture land on either side of us. It wasn’t a perfect strategy but it was better than hanging a sign out and saying “y’all come on and sit to the table.”