Day One Hundred Twenty Four
I left my room, wrapped in the robe Charles had been lending me, and carrying a small battery-powered lamp so I could find my way in the dark. I was feeling so self-righteous! I pushed open the door and marched straight up to his bed. He wasn’t asleep. He lay there against the pillows, watching me with an expression I couldn’t read.
I told him exactly what I though of him. I informed him that he was selfish, self-centered, a hypocrite, and entirely too focused on his own past troubles. “You like feeling sorry for yourself,” I finished.
His expression didn’t change, except for a slight twitch at the corner of his mouth, as if he were suppressing a smile. “Is that what you came here to tell me?”
I had expected an argument. “Well. . . yes.”
“Okay.” He motioned toward the table beside the bed. “Put the lamp over there, and sit down.” He scooted over to make room.
I don’t know why I did it, or maybe I do. I put the lamp down and sat on the edge of the mattress. I didn’t know what I wanted, or at least my head didn’t know, but when he pulled me on top of him and folded me in his arms, my body wasn’t confused at all. I craved him like water after a long time in the desert. My mind kept saying that I shouldn’t want him like this, but my body just didn’t care.
I lay in his arms afterward, wondering if I had lost all common sense. It felt so good to snuggle into the hollow of his body and feel his arms around me. I didn’t love him, and that was what confused me, although I liked him a lot.
He pulled me close, nuzzled my hair and kissed my neck. “This wasn’t charity, was it?”
“What?” I had no idea what he meant.
“I’m sorry. That wasn’t a nice thing to ask.” He pulled me closer and soon fell asleep.
In the morning, I sneaked out to the barn before he was awake and stayed a long time with Flecha, trying to get my thoughts together. How could my body be so sure of what it wanted when my mind couldn’t decide at all? I tried to puzzle it out, but was unable to get a grip on my thoughts.
I couldn’t put off breakfast forever. I went into the kitchen, suddenly shy and unsure of myself. Charles had already cooked some porridge, which was good because there weren’t any eggs this morning. While we ate and had our coffee, he tried to act like nothing was different between us, but I could tell he was nervous, too.
“I was thinking we should go to town today,” he said. “There’s a festival.”
The festival! I had forgotten all about it. “Did Rachel put you up to this?” I asked.
“No one puts me up to anything. Why?”
“It’s just that she told me about the festival and said I should ask you to take me, but I forgot.”
“So would you like to go?”
After we cleaned up from breakfast, we did the necessary chores that would allow us to leave the property for the day. Then I went to my room to wash up and put on some clean clothes. But when I went into the living room where Charles was waiting, he looked me up and down and seemed disappointed.
“Haven’t you got anything more festive to wear?”
“You mean like a dress? You saw it torn into bandages and wrapped around my horse’s legs the night I showed up here.”
All he said was, “Hm,” and went to hitch the donkey to the cart, which was made from an old automobile chassis, with real tires and a cushioned seat that was comfortable on the uneven roads.
It was a pretty day, and as we drove away from the lake, we passed barns
“I guess this is where I’d have ended up if I hadn’t lost the road and found your trail,” I said.
He took my hand, and his touch was warm and comforting. I wanted to feel his arms around me, and was more than a little surprised at myself. This wasn’t the sort of thing I should be feeling for someone I wasn’t in love with. I scooted closer to him, anyway, and was glad when he put an arm around my waist.
The village wasn’t much—just a cluster of little buildings. The festival area was in the weedy remains of a parking lot outside one of those horrible old concrete block buildings. Those buildings are so impractical, with no windows to let in light and air! But the parking lot was a fine place for tents, market stalls, and a stage for musicians.
We tethered the donkey, and Charles led me into the crowd of villagers, all of them busy eating, buying, selling, and visiting with each other. On the stage, a man was playing a funny round guitar that Charles told me was a banjo. A few people were dancing to the music, even though it was still early in the day and the real dancing wouldn’t begin until later.
People noticed us and moved out of our way as we pushed our way through the crowds. While I caught a few friendly looks, I could see now why Charles felt like he still had something to atone for. It wasn’t that anyone was hostile, but he got a lot of chilly nods and stares, and the looks I got were a mixture of surprise and stunned curiosity. I guess they couldn’t figure out how any girl could like a man who had abandoned his watch the night the raiders came. It wasn’t his fault, though. No one can predict a thing like that, and I of all people, should know. Any lingering confusion I had about my feelings for Charles vanished and I took his arm and lifted my chin. Let them stare. I wasn’t ashamed to be seen with him.
There was a market going on, and Charles steered me to an open tent where dresses, shawls and brightly colored scarves fluttered on the breeze. A faded woman came to our assistance and gave Charles a polite nod. She then turned her attention on me, eyeing me with the intensity of a hawk. It was a little disconcerting.
“My friend here needs a new dress,” Charles told her. “Something pretty for spring.”
I tried to protest, but it did no good. The woman made a few selections, then hustled me into a curtained dressing room, and told me to try the things on. The first dress was yellow, and the sleeves felt too tight. The white dress was way too short for my taste, and I don’t like to wear white, anyway. It’s not practical. I didn’t even bother with the blue dress, since it wasn’t remotely my style. But the pink one. . .
I don’t really like pink, but it laced up the back, making for a nice fit. I tied the sash and thought maybe it would do.
There was a mirror outside the dressing room—a chipped and faded thing, but it told me well enough that the dress would be okay. I pulled the leather cord off my braid and shook out my hair. Charles wandered over with a funny light in his eyes. He didn’t say much, but told the woman that I should have some shoes, too. I sighed and looked at my feet in their socks and practical boots. If I was going to dress like a girl, it would be best to go all the way with it. I accepted the flat shoes with little bows, and looked in the mirror again. I looked so feminine that I hardly recognized myself.
Charles came up behind me and put his arms around my waist. He told me I looked beautiful, but all I knew was the heat of his hands around my middle and the sudden urge to take him into the dressing chamber and have him take off my dress. What was wrong with me today?
Charles paid for my new clothes, and we spent a fine afternoon eating, drinking the local wine and examining the market stalls. There were dried meat and vegetables, pouches of herbs, and jars of plum jelly. Some stalls had artistic things for sale, like wood carvings, lace, dolls, and embroidered towels and pillows. There were vendors offering commercial goods, like batteries, and some were selling recycled items, such as tools made from scrap metal. One man was doing a brisk business in wind-powered electrical generators made out of old automobile parts. And in one section of the grounds, people showed off animals for sale.
Toward late afternoon, the individual singers and musicians on the stage gave way to bands. Wine, beer, and hard cider flowed more freely, electric lights came on, lanterns were lit, and people began to dance. I stood at the edge of the dance floor watching them enviously. I didn’t know these local dances, and they were nothing like the cumbias I did back home.
Charles must’ve caught the look on my face, because he took my hand. “I’m not much of a dancer, but that doesn’t matter, does it?”
I smiled. “Since I don’t know how to dance to this music, you’re already better than me.”
We figured it out. Once we were in the thick of the dancers, it was easy to forget unimportant things like which foot went where. We danced and drank more wine, and the music grew faster, the lights seemed brighter, the smiles of the other dancers more welcoming. We danced together, then in big circles, then we switched partners and danced as couples again. I got whirled around until I was dizzy, and a strange man kissed me and moved off into the crowd before I could get a good look at him. I had drunk enough wine to think it was funny and was glad that Charles thought so, too.
When we finally stumbled back to the wagon and turned the donkey toward home, I was exhausted and was glad for Charles’ solid body to lean against. Somehow I had ended up with a bouquet of wildflowers and I held it in my lap and played with the ribbon.
When we got home, I tried to help unhitch the donkey. But Charles told me to go in the house and not mess up my new dress. “I’ll put up Flecha for you, too.”
Poor Flecha! I had neglected her all day. I would have to make it up to her in the morning.
I came inside and turned on a few lamps. We had bought some new batteries, so I indulged myself with a little extra light. It's funny how already this place is starting to feel like home.
Charles came in and found me here in the living room, still in my pink dress, doing some writing. He was surprised to see the diary. I wonder if he thinks I’m writing about him? I bet he’s curious if I’m going to sleep in my own bed or in his.
I think my mind and body are firmly in agreement on that subject tonight.
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