“Just stupid stuff about copper.”
He raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with that? Are you giving up on our phone company?”
“No, it’s just—“ I looked at the pieces of paper in my hand. “Here.” I shoved them across the table at him. “It’s all boring technical stuff about deliveries and something called conductivity. I don’t even know why he bothered writing to me, if that's all he has to say.”
Sam tried to piece a few bits back together. “Sounds like it might be important information for our work.”
“Then you can answer him. Because I’m through writing to him.”
“Oh, really? That hypocritical church boy has turned your head, has he?”
What on earth did he mean by that? “Lee isn’t a hypocrite."
“I thought his church prohibited dancing. But you said he danced with you at the barn-raising.”
“The Bible says there’s a time to dance.”
“What does the Bible say about killing people?”
“You would have to bring that up.” I gestured toward the letter and changed the subject. “Robert is always moving around and doesn’t have a fixed address. But you can write to him at the school, in care of Miguel Sanchez. ”
“I’ll contact him via radio,” he said. “I’m not much of a letter writer.”
I shrugged. What did I care how Sam got in touch with him? As far as I’m concerned, it’s over. Robert might as well be dead, for all he matters to me any more.
I was still in a bad mood when I got back to the farm. Lee met me near the gate. There was a little girl with him, sitting her pony like she'd been on a horse all her life. I recognized her from the riding lessons. I said hello, then asked Lee what they were doing. “Is she bothering your workers down at the barn or something?”
“She forgot it was mail day and was looking for you. I told her I’d wait for you with her and make sure she was safe.”
“I’m sure you’re quite safe,” I told her. “The cuycuy only comes at night, you know.”
She blinked, as if she had never heard of the cuycuy. “You promised to help with my costume.”
“Halloween,” Lee reminded me.
Of course. We went to my room, where I dressed the girl up like a Nativist Apache from back home. When I was finished, I sent her on her way. “Don't run off alone. Stay with your friends,” I told her, but she left so fast I don’t know if she heard me.
“You fixed her up pretty good,” Lee said from where he sat in my one chair. “There’ll be no one like her out on the pike tonight, that’s for sure.”
“I thought that was kind of the point.”
Lee didn’t say anything at first and watched while I put things away. Finally he said, “So how long were you out there? With the Apaches, I mean.”
“About three years. It was nice until the Nativists got the upper hand and made us leave.”
“And then you joined the civil war?”
“We were just messengers at first,” I said, not sure why I felt defensive. “We never intended to stay long enough to get drawn into the fighting. Anything was better than the refugee camps. At least we always had enough food. And we had decent shelter, clothes and horses.”
Lee stood up and came over to where I was folding a scarf. “I wish I could’ve been there to take care of you.”
So that was where this was going. I should’ve known. “I can take care of myself.”
“A girl shouldn’t have to.”
“That’s what my adoptive brother used to say. It wasn’t true then, and it’s even less true now.”
“Hey, don’t get me wrong. I like it that you’re a tough girl. It’s just I wish so many sad things hadn’t happened to you.”
I shrugged off his attempt to pull me into his arms. “Sad things have happened to everyone. The resource wars, the pandemic, the droughts and various secessions. . .”
“You’ll have a hard time convincing me those are the things you’re thinking about on the porch after supper when you’re pretending to study, or when you’re out riding the fields, or when you sit with me at church and get to looking out the window.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m happy here.”
“Then why do you look so sad sometimes?”
“I guess I just have a sad face.”
He wasn’t convinced, and he took my hand. “Well, how about we go to the house and help give out apples to the trick-or-treaters? We can practice our smiles.”
“I thought we were supposed to try and scare them.”
“We could do that too, if you’d prefer. We could hide in the bushes and jump out at them.”
“Growling and snarling might work better.”
“Maybe we should have costumes." I sent him out into the barn to gather what he could, while I went through my bags and boxes, looking for anything that might serve as a disguise. I ended up cobbling together some crazy costumes of straw, blankets and feathers. We painted our faces with mud and wrapped our hands in rags. I don’t know what we were supposed to be, but we did look odd, and as we hurried toward the house in the darkness, I figured we were at least intimidating enough to scare children.
And we were. We were careful to merely startle the little ones, but when the older children came around, we made growling noises, threw things and snuck up on them before leaping out and screaming. Some of the kids were genuinely frightened, and they all thought it was great fun. Quite a few bags of treats were dropped and apples, popcorn balls and burnt-sugar candy lost in the darkness. Any loot we found, Lee and I claimed as just spoils of war.
By the time the last trick or treaters had gone home for the night, my dark mood of earlier had lifted. Sabine heated some apple cider, which Lee and I sipped out of china cups on the porch. The night was cool and even though I was still in my heavy costume, I allowed Lee to settle in close and I leaned against him for warmth. The cider was sweet and the steam tickled my nose as I held the cup close.
“I see now what makes you tick,” Lee said.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“You. You’ve got the devil in you. You need a little ruckus now and then to keep things interesting.”
I had never thought of it that way, but maybe he had a point. “The Apaches used to call me Little Troublemaker.”
Lee stole an arm around my waist and pulled me closer. He sipped his cider for awhile, then finally said, “You wouldn’t cause trouble for me, would you?”
I rested my head against his shoulder. “No, of course not.”