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A few uneventful weeks passed by. Daphne’s gardens thrived under the early spring sun and her careful irrigation. The harvest looked like it would be bountiful.
One afternoon she returned home for a rare indoor lunch. MacArthur walked up the path at the same moment she began heating the water up for tea. Lemon leapt up from the warm bed he’d just made in the sunshine just outside of the front door and barked for joy. Daphne wondered what all the commotion was and then noticed that MacArthur was carrying a wheel of cheese.
“No, that isn’t for you. You’ve already had your treat for the day.”” she said to the dog as her neighbour walked into her kitchen. Lemon sat on his haunches and watched the familiar man carefully as he set the cheese down on the table. Sometimes no slipped into yes when Daphne wasn’t paying attention.
“I thought you might be running low on supplies,” MacArthur said. Daphne’s lips erupted into a jagged smile. Was it April already? It seemed like just yesterday he’d brought the previous wheel of never-ending cheese. After fourteen years and a court order you’d think he’d come out and admit the real reason for his quarterly deliveries. It wasn’t as if any of it could be kept a secret in such a small community.
“I’m actually afraid I’ll have too much food this summer,” Daphne joked. “It’s amazing how much less I need to cook without a house full of starving teenagers.”
“When are your boys coming home? You must miss them.” MacArthur said, suddenly feeling a little shy around the woman he’d known for over fifteen years.
“Oh, another six weeks or so. They’d like to stay longer but their host family probably won’t have enough food to spare for the summer. There are a few projects around here that I’m saving for them to work on, though.” She didn’t know how to explain how a mother could simultaneously miss her children so fiercely her heart ached and feel so grateful for several months of blissful solitude and so she said nothing. Before Ephraim and Isaac entered this world she’d lived alone for nearly 20 years. It took some adjustment on her part to grow used to the bustle of raising twins but how could one explain this to a man who hadn’t had a moment to himself for thirty years and preferred it that way? The conversation paused for a moment. “How are your wives?”
“Good. Rachel and Naomi are actually visiting our newest grandson at the moment. You’d think his mother would know what to do the second time around but somehow the grandmothers always have an excuse to visit. We were hoping you and the kids would join us for dinner when they come home, though.”
“Yes,” Daphne said after a moment of hesitation. “I think they might like that. Let us know what night you were thinking once they’re home for the summer.”
Hello!” Neveah’s voice boomed through the canyon as she walked up the steep hill to Daphne’s house. She raised her left eyebrow at MacArthur as she walked into the suddenly too-small kitchen.
“I should be going,” MacArthur said abruptly. “Let me know if you need anything else.” He left with a quick nod.
“Delivery time already?” Neveah noted with a sour, gritty taste developing in her mouth. “And he came alone?” Anyone who hadn’t known her for as many years as Daphne had might have assumed these were questions. They weren’t.
“Yes, he brought cheese,” Daphne said neutrally. “Would you like some?”
“Well, if you don’t mind…”Neveah’s voice trailed off as she removed a small, hopefully clean knife from her cloak and cut a large serving out of the wheel.
“I have cornbread and tea as well if you haven’t eaten yet?” Anyone who knew Daphne wouldn’t mistake this as a question either. So long as she had food in her larder and a pot of herbal tea brewing on the stove no one walked away from her table with an empty stomach. While Daphne turned her back on her old friend Neveah quietly slid the first thin slice of cheese under the table to Lemon. His tail thumped against the floor in gratitude as he licked his chops.
“Lemon, it isn’t polite to beg,” Daphne warned as she sliced the bread and poured two cups of tea. Neveah smiled, put her finger over her lips and slipped the dog another morsel.
“Neveah, don’t encourage him,” Daphne said with a sly smile as she brought the food to the table. “He has plenty of food.” Neveah pretended to pout for a moment before digging into the latest community news in-between bites.
“….but no one knows what was in those little glass bottles in the traveller’s bag,” Neveah grumbled as she finished her lunch. “And none of them were still intact. It’s probably just as well. You know how expensive glass is these days. The courts would have been tied up for a month figuring out who has the biggest claim on them.”
“Did they find anything else in his bag?”
“Wet clothes and a broken gun. Nothing of value and no clues about his identity.” Miraculously Neveah grew quiet for a moment before asking her next question. “Daphne…how much food do you have for the summer?
“Take the cheese,” Daphne insisted. “I don’t need it. What else is running low?”
“If you insist,” Nevaeh said. “But actually I was wondering if you’d like a little visitor for a little while. Delphine has hopes for next month.”
Daphne had of course noticed Delphine’s condition but was too polite to mention it directly. Virtually every home in the Mingus Mountains had been disappointed at least once. It was better to wait and see what the gods had in store before assuming there would be any joy to find in the coming weeks.
“I’d prefer to look after the boy,” Daphne said. At six he would be a little more independent than his three year old sister and her own sons weren’t quite so old yet that they’d forgotten how to roughhouse if he ended up needing to stay a little longer than expected.
“It’s settled then,” Nevaeh said with a smile. Her food stores actually were growing sparse and feeding two grandchildren for days, or possibly weeks if there were complications, wasn’t easy at this time of year. She’d secretly been hoping to keep her granddaughter to herself, though, and was happy Daphne was willing to help.