It's Week 21.....
Thanks for joining in the fun this week and a huge congratulations to Pam Zarate, week 20's winner!
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” -- Isaiah 30:21
Sometimes, Annabelle Archer thought she'd have done well in an old-fashioned novel, a bit like the one she was reading aloud to her youngest sister and two of her brothers. It would be written in an early 1900’s style, about the spinster older sister who sacrificed her dreams of career or marriage to help raise her siblings. Of course, no one would write it, because who wanted to read a story in which nothing ever changes?
Gasping at herself—because she hadn't indulged in self-pity for months—Annabelle stifled the mangy, creepy-crawly feelings and turned the page of the storybook. She shifted so everyone could see the line drawing, then, in her best voice, she read,
“The children lay on their backs in the cold, fresh snow. They each flapped arms and legs until Ned called ‘Time;’ then each sprang to his or her feet to survey their new snow angels.
“Bitsy's was the smallest, of course, and a wreath of fallen pine cones formed a tiny halo just a few inches above her snow angel's head.”
Brady tugged on her sweater. “What's a snow angel?”
“Duh.” Matt poked Brady's ribs. “It’s an angel you make out of snow.”
“Like a ice sculpture?”
“An ice sculpture,” Annabelle corrected. “No. It’s something people make in the snow.”
Victoria clapped her hands. “Like a thnowman.”
“Not quite.” Annabelle turned the book so the three youngest could see the picture again. “See? You lay down on the snow and flap your arms to make the wings.”
Faith, pretending to read her own book, but obviously listening, said, “So it's really a no-snow angel.”
Matt pushed against Annabelle’s arm. “You ever made one, A'belle?”
“No. I've never been in the snow.”
“Then how do you know ’bout them?”
“Because I read.” A lot. Too much, probably. She ought to pay more attention to her brothers and sisters. The two oldest boys stormed down the stairs, their shoes drumming like a herd of fifty horses on a boardwalk. Annabelle winced. Her grandmother would not be pleased.
“Guys, quiet. Grandma's asleep.”
“We know.” Liam tiptoed the last three steps. “That's why we asked coach to come pick us up. So you wouldn't have to load all the little kids in the car.”
Instead of the usual protests of being called “little” (Faith or Bradey) or pleas to go for a ride (Matt), all four of the said “little ones” looked at the front door.
“Where is he?” Victoria asked.
“Not here yet.'' Joe jerked his head at Liam. “Let's get snacks and water. And Annabelle, you'd better get the door. None of the little kids know the coach.”
“Neither do I.” Although she'd seen him plenty of times, at church.
“But you're a grown-up,” Faith pointed out. “It's okay if you talk to strangers.” She closed her book and got to her feet, stretching her lithe fourteen-year-old frame.
Mattie tugged her sweater again. Most of Annabelle’s clothes were a bit stretched out of shape, because of his habit. “Can you ask him if he's made a snow angel?”
Ask the handsomest man in town—the one who had no idea Annabelle Archer existed—anything? “No.”
“Then can you introduce me, so I can ask him?”
“No, Mattie. He'll be in a hurry.”
The bell rang and Annabelle looked around. No Liam, no Joe, and no Faith, and three wide open pairs of eyes waiting for her to protect them from strangers.
Usually she'd have to tie any one of them up to keep them from answering the door. Usually, they never made such a fuss over a simple act.
Sighing, Annabelle stomped across the hall to jerk open the door.
Rick Stockton was just as good looking as he'd been the last time she'd stared at him during a church service. Longish dark hair and a short goatee, and blue eyes that managed to twinkle even from across the sanctuary. They were much closer now. Too close.
Annabelle stepped back, one hand going to her cheek to make sure her hair covered her eye and eyebrow.
“Hi. I'm Rick.” He held out a hand. “Joe and Liam’s coach?”
“Right. Yes, Liam said you were picking them up.” She engineered a half-second shake before she backed away again. “Come in for a second. The boys are getting food.”
He nodded and shut the door behind him.
Matt bumped Annabelle from behind, and got right under Rick's feet, staring upward, his eyes wide and awed. He didn't run into many men, not up close like this, although Joe, at sixteen, was galloping up on six feet, Liam not far behind. But this guy had quite a few inches and plenty of pounds on them.
“Do you know how to make a snow angel?”
“Oh, Mattie, he's not interested in—”
But Rick held out his hand, “Yeah, actually, I do. I used to live near Chicago. My cousins taught me.”
“Could you show us?”
His lips twitched, “Do you have any snow?”
Matt shook his head, and went on staring.
When Rick looked at Annabelle, his eyebrows quirked in a question, she said, “I was just reading them a story, so they were wondering.”
“You should take them up in the mountains one day, and show them how to make one.” Rick smiled at all three of the kids gazing at him.
“She doesn't know how.” Brady’s voice dripped scorn. “You'd have to teach her first. Unless you take us. Then Annabelle could stay home. Annabelle always wants to stay home.”
And sometimes, she wanted to strangle a younger brother or two.
Before Rick could answer, Liam and Joe pounded out of the kitchen, as noisy as ever. Annabelle shushed them and shooed them out with one motion.
“How come I never see your parents?” she heard Rick ask.
The bald answer sent shudders through Annabelle, and she risked another look outside.
“Our Grandma lives here, too,” Joe said. Before Annabelle shut the door, she saw the look on Rick's face. Pity. She wouldn’t tolerate her own pity, why would she accept someone else’s?
Rick stumbled off the curb before he managed to get his car door unlocked. Was she watching? He managed not to peek back at the house to check, and the meaning of Joe’s last words hit him.
“Both your parents? They both died?”
“Yeah. They were in a car accident.”
Liam, as usual, had more to say on the subject. “Grandma was driving, and Annabelle was in the car, too. And this truck ran into them, bam.” He shut his car door before he demonstrated the accident with his hands. “We never even got to see the car after that. Annabelle made them junk it.”
“It still bothers her to think about it,” Joe said.
“Does it bother your grandmother?”
“Well, yeah. That’s why she doesn’t drive.” Joe scratched his head, thinking. “Annabelle’s as good as a mom, though. Especially to the little kids.”
The more he heard about her, the more Rick realized their oldest sister was something else. Pretty, even with her straight blond hair covering half her face. “Your sister's name is Annabelle?”
Joe nodded. “That's her.”
“I’ve never met her before.”
“Sure, you have. She takes us to practice and the games most of the time.”
“Oh.” He started the engine, and pulled onto the quiet street. “I got the idea she didn't leave the house.”
“She does, she just doesn't like to. ’Cuz of—” Joe made the same gesture Annabelle had when she'd opened the door, sliding her hand against the hair covering her eye. Liam poked him.
“Because of what?”
“Just stuff.” Joe stared out the window.
Right. Now Rick really wanted to know. Or maybe it was that he wanted to know Annabelle.
After the game, which ended in a defeat brought on by the coach's appalling lack of attention, Rick took the Archer boys home. They argued the entire way over whose fault the loss was, until Rick bellowed, “Quit blaming everyone else, you know it was me.”
The boys gaped at him as they got out in front of their house. Finally, Liam mumbled, “No one said it was you.”
“Then they should have.”
The front door opened and all four of the younger kids tumbled outside, laughing and calling something about cookies. Rick's stomach growled.
“You wanna come in?” Joe offered. “Annabelle's a really good cook.”
Rick looked at the six children in the front yard, and his empty stomach protested again. “There's probably not enough.”
“Are you kidding? Annabelle's been feeding us for years. There's always enough.”
It seemed there would be. When they led him through the back door and into the kitchen, he saw plates overflowing with cookies obscured the counters and a small table.
“I should eat some real food, first,” Rick mumbled.
“You sound like Annabelle. You'd better eat dinner with us, then.” Liam yelled into the kitchen. “Annabelle, Coach is staying for dinner.”
''Hey, hey, wait. I didn't say that.” But Rick was talking to an empty room, at least, until Annabelle walked in.
She stopped, making the same protective gesture over her face. He'd seen that move before, he realized, in church. And to his shame, he also realized had never seen the woman behind it. “Your brothers seem to think I invited myself to dinner.”
Her smile was small. “No, they think they invited you. And of course you're welcome. The little ones are setting a place for you now.” She waved toward a hallway behind her. “I hope you like meatloaf.”
“And don't have any allergies.”
“Not a one.”
“That's good. We're a little worried about Mattie. We're not sure if he's reacting to food or if something else is going on.” What he could see of her face went red. “But you don't want to hear all that.”
“Why not? He’s the second to youngest, right? The one who wanted to know about snow angels?”
“He’s what, eight? And already Joe says he's turning into quite an athlete.”
“He is.” She looked up, obviously entranced with this subject. It was probably one of her favorites. “But he likes soccer better than football.”
“So do I, but mostly in the spring.” At her blank stare, he said, “That’s when soccer season doesn’t conflict with football.”
By this time they'd entered the dinning room. Until that moment, Rick hadn't thought to wonder how seven kids and one grandmother fit around the standard four-or-six person table.
But theirs was far from ordinary. It was a huge table, as long as one from a church hall, but made of carved, polished and somewhat scarred wood. It made him think of old fashioned floor length dresses and stringing cranberries and popped corn for the Christmas tree.
The snow angel boy—Mattie—yelled, “I'm sitting next to the coach!” all the while jumping up in the air and clapping his hands.
“No, you're not. Why should it be you? He should sit with me and Liam.” Joe gave Mattie a dark, narrow-eyed glare.
“He should sit next to Annabelle. And someone else can sit on his other side and someone else can be across the table.” This from a tall teen who looked a lot like Annabelle, other than the hair in her face. Rick glanced at Annabelle. She'd be gorgeous if she'd just tuck some of that glossy blond blanket behind her ear.
He slid into the chair indicated and watched as each child brought in a dish or serving platter. The youngest, a tiny thing that reminded him of Cindy-Loo-Who, brought butter and condiments.
“Annabelle baked the bread,” the middle girl told him. “She says it's healthier if it's homemade—no chemicals or anything unnatural.”
“Except for Mattie.” The other of the younger boys climbed on the chair next to Rick. “Were keeping him gluten free ’til we know if he's ’lergic.”
“I see.” He looked into unblinking brown eyes. “What's gluten?”
“It's what holds bread together. And sometimes it makes people sick. But not everybody, It prolly won't make you sick.”
“No. Probably not.” Ride grinned, impressed. The kid couldn't be more than eight.
Once again, Annabelle's face had turned red. “I'm sure Mr. Stockton doesn't want to hear about all our worries.”
The tiniest one tugged Annabelle’s sweater. “Who'th Mr. Thock-the-man?” No one laughed, and Rick had to fight his grin into hiding.
“That's me. But I think everyone should call me Rick.”
He tried to get Annabelle to look at him but she was too busy rearranging her silverware.
“You don't know how much I appreciate this, Miss Archer. I haven't had homemade bread since my last Christmas with my family, and that was a long time ago. My grandmother made it.” He glanced around. “Speaking of grandmothers...”
“Sometimes Grandma doesn't come down for dinner,” Liam explained. “We'll take her some soup up in a while.”
Joe smiled at Rick. “It's my turn, but do you want to say grace?”
“Uh, sure, if you don’t mind?” He directed the question at Annabelle.
For an answer, she folded her hands, so he thanked God for the food and the family who had invited him to share it.
One thing he couldn’t figure out. Every time Annabelle’s arm brushed him, or he caught sight of her hands as she ate, something stirred inside. He wasn’t sure what it was, other than disturbing. And she kept offering him food. Of course, there was nothing wrong with a hostess offering her guest food, but this guest had a problem telling her no. So he ended up taking everything, and eating far more than he really wanted. At this rate, he wouldn’t have an inch of room left for any of those cookies.
Better to think about cookies than try to figure out what about this woman disturbed him so much.
Leave a comment below to be entered into the weekly giveaway drawing!