Saturday, May 20, 2006

Kin to the Saboteur - Ch. 14

By end of the second week of her cousins’ visit, Halona thought she would go mad. She was actually starting to miss being lonely. Ileen and Hadley were no help on the farm. They certainly weren’t any help around the house, which made their gracious hostess wonder why they had really come to visit in the first place. But more importantly, Halona wondered when they were going to be leaving.

Little did any of them know, Ileen and Hadley were going to be leaving that very Sunday. And not under the best conditions, either.

After church, Halona drove her cousins back to the homestead in her carriage. Marilu, who’d left church ten minutes earlier, promised them a bodacious meal today and they all couldn’t wait to partake of it.

Elnora and Napoleon opted out of coming for dinner this Sunday and any other Sunday the Ackerman cousins were around. Ileen and Hadley were too condescending to most folks and extremely condescending to people of the darker hues. Even Marilu wouldn’t be staying for dinner. Although she would fix the meal, she would make two plates of it to carry home for her and her waiting husband.

While their meal was being prepared, the three young ladies retired to their rooms to change. Although Ileen and Hadley had each asked to reside in Gordon’s extra-large master suite during their stay, Halona had politely refused them. She never allowed anyone else in her father’s bedroom except for Marilu. Instead the two Ackerman sisters were assigned to the two smaller guest bedrooms sandwiched in between the master suite and Halona’s large bedroom at the end of the hallway.

It only took Halona fifteen minutes to change. She chose her usual after-church wear of denims and one of her father’s old calico print flannel shirts. She liked to wear Gordon’s shirts at times due to the comfort they always brought her. And after seeing Adam looking so handsome at church today as he sat in his usual place with the Colberts, Halona felt the need for a bit of comfort right now.

Then while Halona waited another forty-five minutes for dinner and her cousins to get ready, she went to the parlor and played her Avers & Pond upright piano. Halona loved her magnificent piano with its African mahogany finish, ornate cabinetry, and beautiful set of ivory keys. It had cost a pretty penny to buy and have shipped, but the benefits the piano had added to her life during her time of grief had been priceless.

Halfway through her fifth recital, Halona heard a firm knock on the door. She got up, grabbed her rifle, and went to answer it. To her surprise, Adam was standing on the front porch.

Halona looked beyond him to the dogs wagging at his feet. She couldn’t believe they hadn’t barked at all this time. Aponi, Elan, and Jacy seemed to have taken to Adam from the very beginning, much like their owner had. Aponi, the only female, was especially friendly towards him and her name meant butterfly. It was usually Elan who followed his namesake of ‘friendly one’.

“What are you doing here?” Halona asked a bit breathlessly, feeling overwhelmed by how good he looked. Adam had changed clothes from this morning. He looked even better than before in his black Stetson, black trousers with its center fly design, white loose-fitting linen shirt, and black fitted vest.

Suddenly Halona wished she’d left on her red and blue striped church dress. That was another first for her. She usually couldn’t wait to get out of those restricting clothes.

“I was invited to dinner,” Adam replied with a wide smile. He seemed pleased to see her eyes roaming his frame with such appreciation.

“By whom?” Halona asked, trying to rein in her emotions as she cleared her throat. Yet her feelings were like a herd of wild broncos that refused to be tamed.

“Your cousins,” was Adam’s simple answer.

That figures, Halona mused. Aloud she said, “I see. Well, come on in then. Dinner’s almost ready.” She opened the door wider for him to enter.

“Well, howdy, Mr. Thorpe,” Marilu said, making her presence known in the archway between the parlor and the great room. She’d been there for the last minute, observing how amorously the two youngsters had gazed at each other. If Marilu was a betting woman she’d bet every dime she had on this fellow being Halona’s future husband.

“Howdy, yourself, Mrs. Bridges. And won’t you please call me Adam,” he said, following Halona inside and removing his hat in the process.

“Only if you see fit to finally call me Marilu and my husband Jether,” she answered fondly. Marilu figured it was time for all formalities to be set aside. Adam had been around long enough now. And if all went well between him and Halona, he was subject to be around for a good long time.

Adam nodded. “I can do that.” He’d liked Marilu from the moment he met her over a plate of her special caramel pie. Since then she’d been one of his favorite people in Miskito. Halona was Adam’s most favorite person.

“Now that we’re square on that, I’ll go tend to today’s meal,” Marilu said. Then before turning to go back towards the kitchen, she gave Halona a pointed stare and added, “Have fun, sweetie.”

Once they were alone, Adam turned to address Halona again. “Was that you playing the piano just then?”

“Yeah,” Halona said just as her cousins entered the room wearing even fancier dresses than before.

Hadley was in a silk, lilac-colored evening dress with a low neckline, short sleeves and lots of decoration. Ileen’s was the same style, except in the color yellow. Both dresses were store bought from an eastern boutique. On the often isolated frontier, store bought clothing was usually reserved for church and special occasions. Otherwise homesteaders generally made their own clothes and wore them until they gave out.

So now everyone had on nice clothes for dinner at the Ackerman house, except for the owner of said house. No doubt my ‘lovely’ cousins planned it this way, Halona mused. She had half a mind to rip the bustles clear out from under her cousins’ dresses. They’d worn the derriere enhancing items from day one of their visit as a way of getting as much male attention as possible. Halona never wore a bustle with any of her dresses. Never really saw a need to own one.

Halona’s set-up theory was soon confirmed when Hadley looked at her extremely casual attire and then smirked as she sashayed across the room. Although these two cousins were the same age, they’d never been close. And after this latest stunt, the possibility of them ever being close was slim to none now.

“You play wonderfully,” Adam said. He handed Halona his hat to put up, too, as she prepared to put away her rifle. Then he turned and nodded in acknowledgement towards Ileen and Hadley. “Good evening, ladies.”

“Good evening, Adam,” the Ackerman sisters echoed simultaneously. They fluttered their eyelashes at him and came closer. Soon each of them had one of his arms and together the sisters led Adam to the black velvet and calf skin, S-shaped settee in the middle of the room.

“If you think Halona plays wonderfully, you really need to hear my sister perform. Unlike our cousin, Hadley’s lessons started when she was a very small child. She’s quite accomplished now,” Ileen said as she sat down beside Adam on one of the velvet sections with Hadley on his other side. The younger Ackerman sister seemed clueless to the fact that although it was nice to make someone feel important, it shouldn’t be done at another person’s expense.

Ignoring the slight Ileen issued towards her cousin, Adam looked over at Halona with a question. “When did your lessons start?”

“Three years ago,” Halona replied, cutting her eyes at her cousins as she settled into the lone black calf skin chair near the westward fireplace. Her cousins were being unusually rude to her in her own house. Had they forgotten all of their childhood spats where she’d whipped the both of them for being mean to her? That could happen today if they kept this up.

“You play as if you’ve been at it much longer than that. I’m impressed,” Adam said.

“Adam, you will be even more impressed by my sister. Go ahead, Hadley, play him a tune or two,” Ileen inserted, trying to deflect his attention from her cousin. Through her words, Ileen revealed which sister was the most interested in their guest and which was helping her to get him.

Adam nodded politely in agreement as the woman on his left got up to try to impress him. Inwardly, he preferred the woman who had impressed him already, without even trying to.

Hadley did play well and proved to be quite accomplished, yet her performance lacked the same passion that Halona had put into her recital. Halona had played as if she and the keys were one, as if they shared a special secret that no one else knew. Hadley’s playing was cold and stiff, unable to warm the listener in any capacity even on the coldest day.

Halona listened to her cousin play with many thoughts running through her mind. On one hand she was angry at the way her relatives were shamelessly promoting Hadley’s virtues in an effort to gain Adam’s favor. On the other hand, she was starting to think that perhaps this was all for the best. She couldn’t have Adam anyway, so why not release him to at least be happy with someone that could.

But why does that someone else have to be Hadley? Halona bemoaned inwardly. Although admitting that she loved Adam was better than a sharp stick in the eye, it still hurt.

At the end of Hadley’s recital, everyone courteously applauded her efforts while Ileen issued cries of ‘bravo’ and ‘encore’. Fortunately, before an encore could be given, Marilu came into the room announcing that dinner was ready. Adam let out a low sigh of relief.

~~<<>>~~

At the polished walnut dinner table, Ileen continued to lift her sister up at the expense of putting her cousin down. She would not have done so if she’d only known that it was Halona who was responsible for paying the taxes on their land, keeping their opera business afloat, and keeping them in nice clothes from that monthly allotment she sent their father. However, when one pushes a woman in love too far, all kinds of secrets start tumbling out.

“Adam, did you know that my sister can cook a mighty fine meal as well? Why, Hadley can make any recipe sing,” Ileen said, smiling sweetly across the table at her older sibling who was sitting right next to Adam. Hadley also had a sunbeam of a smile on her face.

At her usual place at the head of the table, Halona rolled her eyes. Yippee! More virtues of Hadley. More hot wind from Ileen, she mused sarcastically. Halona was five minutes from clouding up with rage and raining all over her cousins. And oh what a heavy shower that would be, complete with thunderbolts.

“No, I didn’t know that,” Adam replied. Then he turned to Halona, who was sitting entirely too far away from him at the end of the table, and asked, “Do you cook as well?”

Before Halona could answer, Ileen and Hadley burst out laughing. “Halona cook? That’s hilarious! Why, my cousin can’t even boil water right, bless her heart,” Ileen said condescendingly. Too bad she was starkly unaware that that was the last straw. So sad that she was ignorant to the fact that even a fish wouldn’t get hooked if it kept its mouth closed.

Halona was beyond jealousy now. She was plum angry that she’d allowed things to go this far without taking action. I must have been a fool to allow someone to insult me in my own house, she mused as she stood up from her seat.

Then quicker than a duck on a June bug, Halona swiftly moved over to the right to Ileen’s chair and pushed her cousin’s head face down into her plate. To add insult to injury, she held Ileen’s head down a few seconds longer and moved it from side to side in order to make sure that mashed potatoes and gravy got into every crease of her face.

Halona didn’t need her cousins’ help in running a man away from her. She could do that all by herself. In fact, after today, she doubted if Adam would want anything else to do with her or her farm. And that was becoming increasingly fine by her. Who needed this whole love thing anyway? It was all just too complicated for Halona’s tastes.

Ileen immediately began to shriek with a mixture of fright and indignation. “I’m going to tell my father,” she whined juvenilely as she began to scrape clunks of potatoes and gravy off of her face.

“Tell him anything you like. I don’t particularly care, you big crybaby!” Halona retorted, waiting for one of her cousins to take a swing at her. She was aiming to practice that new kicking move that Mr. Wang’s son taught her and the orphans in town anyway.

From the left side of the table, Hadley stood up and went to assist her humiliated sister, spewing vile words out of her mouth in the process. “You…you savage!” she said, referring to the part of her cousin’s heritage that others had long since mocked. At least the others had the sense to mock hot-tempered Halona behind her back. It took a certain amount of boldness and stupidity to mock her to her face.

“I see you’re not full enough yet, either,” Halona replied, soon smashing Hadley in the face with a plate of mashed potatoes as well. It was a good thing Marilu was gone home already or she would have been fit to be tied to see all her delicious food going to waste like this. It was also a good thing she lived closer to town now. That way, she wouldn’t accidentally stop by to see how everything had turned out, only to discover just how bad the evening had gone.

By this time Adam had also risen to his feet as the makings of a very interesting scene continued to unfold before him. Yet instead of being aghast by Halona’s behavior, the distinguished lawyer was highly amused and highly stimulated by it. He loved the fire in the country heiress’ eyes. He especially loved how she stood up for herself.

Fully humiliated now as well, Hadley began to scrape food off of her own face. When she noticed that her expensive dress was also covered with potatoes and gravy, she grew angrier and bolder. “Do you have any idea how much this dress cost, you country bumpkin?!” Hadley practically screamed at her cousin.

“Of course I do since I paid for it!” Halona shouted back, rolling up her sleeves in order to make room for whatever would come next.

Per her request, Uncle Eamon always sent quarterly invoices so that Halona could see how her money was being spent. Incidentally, the money in question was any amount over that which had be left to Eamon in her father’s will. For some reason her uncle always needed more than his due each month. And up until today, Halona had gladly given it to him.

“You did not! Our father buys all of our clothes,” Ileen inserted through her tears.

“With money that I send him every month.” Halona scoffed, continuing to reveal a secret that she’d long since kept between her and Uncle Eamon. She’d kept that secret in order to help him save face in the eyes of his family and neighbors. But no more.

“But don’t worry,” Halona continued. “After the way you two behaved these last two weeks, that allotment will be greatly reduced from now on. From this day forward, I will adhere strictly to the amount specified in Papa’s will and not give your father a penny more.”

Then Halona turned to Hadley and added, “Perhaps you can start giving piano lessons to buy your own wardrobe now. Many women respectably earn money that way these days. Oh, and by the way, I want you out of my house before sundown or I’m gonna start ruining more than just your pretty clothes.” To prove her point, Halona balled up her fists and stood in a fighting stance with her chest out and one foot back.

To that Hadley and Ileen tore out of the room to go pack. Ileen left crying, Hadley left cussing – revealing that she wasn’t as much of a lady as she pretended to be, either. Either way, the Ackerman sisters left the dining room. Halona couldn’t wait for them to leave her property altogether.

Then remembering that she had another guest, Halona turned to Adam and said, “I would apologize for my behavior just now, but since I don’t feel a lick of sorrow, I won’t. Those two got what they had coming for insulting me in my own house.”

“I concur,” Adam agreed quietly from his place near the large eastern window of the formal dining room. As a firm believer in leaving family business up to the family to handle, he’d remained out of the conflict between the cousins. However, he’d been secretly routing for Halona all along.

Halona’s brows rose. “Uh…? You concur?” She couldn’t believe it. “You mean you aren’t disappointed, turned off, horrified by my actions?”

Adam moved closer to her. “I am neither disappointed nor horrified by anything you’ve ever done since the day I met you. I agree with your actions completely today and, in fact, applaud your considerable patience with your cousins these past two weeks.”

He moved closer still and cupped her face tenderly in his large callused hands. “As for being turned off, nothing about you turns me off in the least. Rather everything about you turns me on every time I see you. In fact, I dream of making love to you almost every night. I only accepted your cousins’ dinner invitation in order to spend more time with you today.” Adam smiled down into Halona’s eyes and felt elation that the anger in her ebony pools was rapidly turning to desire. He liked affecting her this way.

“Adam, you and I can’t…” Halona whispered right before his mouth descended upon hers. Then for the next several minutes, she forgot all about what they couldn’t do as their tongues collided in a hungry kiss and began to dance in and out of each other’s mouths. Halona even forgot about her cousins packing down the hall as she partook of lips that tasted of honey and spice and everything nice.

Just then, Ileen and Hadley came storming down the hallway in order to have the famous ‘last word’. Adam and Halona broke apart just in time to avoid anyone seeing them kissing, yet not in enough time for the two sisters to assume the worst by their close proximity and their heavy breathing.

“I knew you would throw yourself at Adam as soon as my back was turned, you low-class, half-bred hussy!” Hadley said as she practically waddled under the pressure of her floral tapestry covered bag. Both sisters’ faces were free of all food, yet their dresses were not.

“Don’t worry, sister. The law won’t let her legally have him anyhow,” Ileen inserted, looking at Adam and Halona with disgust.

Not about to let those comments go unpunished, Halona charged her cousins with both fists clenched tight. Using her right hand, she first socked Hadley in the left eye. She followed that action by socking Ileen in the nose with her left hand. Both cousins cried out in pain and grabbed their injured parts. Ileen’s nose started bleeding and soon red spots were joining the mashed potatoes on her dress.

This time, Adam did intervene in the Ackerman family conflict. If he hadn’t, Halona would have done even more physical damage to her cousins who’d proven to be all talk and no action.

Restraining the kicking heiress in his strong arms, Adam gave Ileen and Hadley enough time to get their things and get out. He held Halona a few minutes longer so that the injured Ackerman sisters could get properly situated in their own carriage and leave. Adam only relaxed his hold when Halona became more docile upon hearing the sound of wheels and hooves go in the opposite direction of the house.

“You can let go of me now!” Halona barked, starting to struggle in his arms again.

“I don’t ever want to let you go, Sakari,” Adam replied, whispering in her left ear. His arms were not restraining now. Now they were in a lover’s embrace about her small waist.

Halona grew still again. “But you must. Although I hate to admit it, that silly little filly was right. Our case is hopeless.” Then after snatching away from Adam, she said, “Lock up when you leave.”

Then before the gathering tears in her eyes could spill out and embarrass her further, Halona stormed out of the house. She only paused briefly to retrieve her rifle from the shelf beside the front door. Until these little ‘accidents’ stopped happening around her property, she would never leave home without some type of protection.

~~<<>>~~

Aponi kept leaping upon the frustrated man’s legs as he struggled with his supplies. Her son, Elan, and mate, Jacy, followed suit. They knew the man at the outer perimeters of the center portion of the Ackerman field. They had even played with the man’s dogs on occasion. However, they did not know what the familiar man was doing with matches in his hands. Nor why he refused to play with them as usual.

“Go away, mutts!” the Ackerman spy hissed to the brown and black mixed breed dogs. Besides trying to fight the dry wind that was constantly blowing out his flames, he was also fed up with trying to work around three canine distractions. And to prove it, he picked up a thick fallen tree limb and began to swing it at them.

Acting as if their feelings were hurt, Aponi, Elan, and Jacy avoided the menacing swings and raced back towards the homestead. The scent of this particular human was no longer pleasant for them to be around.

© 2006 Suprina Frazier

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