Every community has one, larger communities may have several, but if you look closely, you will find the Wallflower. They are friendly yet quiet, seemingly self-contained, seldom sitting in a group although not always alone, and never the center of attention. They are pretty, they are not, they are plain, mysterious, tall, short, slender and not so slender, but without exception, they know they are a Wallflower.
As young children, the Wallflowers were often alone on the playground, or they desultorily joined the games played by other children when a teacher brought them into the group. Yet, if left unattended they would return to their wall. As teens they sat alone in a classroom, in the back corner, or frequently had a vacant desk beside them. Some were quite studious, while others struggled to understand the world around them. They did nothing to call attention to themselves, but on occasion they garnered the looks, comments, or dismissal, of others who were curious, who wished to tease or simply did not understand.
Such was the case with Mary Margaret. Alternately called Mary or Margie by family, friends, or acquaintances. Nonetheless, she was Mary Margaret. Rarely she gave someone special permission to call her Mare.
Benny Malone, although he was not a Wallflower, was often treated similarly to Wallflowers because he was a special child. He was the only person who bothered to call the Wallflower, Mary Margaret. As a young child, allowed to hold the five-day-old baby, the mother carefully told him the baby girl's name. Although he did not say her name any better at the age of thirty-two than he could the day he held her so carefully, he persisted in calling her Mare-Mar-Get, as if it were three separate words. The gentle soul, inside the body of a grown man, blushed when she would shake his hand on Sunday mornings and say, "Good morning, Mister Bennett Malone." His pride at having two names was as special as Mary Margaret's pride with her own two names.
Usually somewhere near Benny was his older brother Gerald. Gerald, or Jerry as he was known by a select few, may have thought of Mary Margaret by both of her names and may have spoken to his brother using both names, yet if he spoke to the young woman, he addressed her as Miss McNabb. The two men resembled each other, yet they were not at all alike. Benny had soft features that easily turned into a smile of pleasure at a kind word or a simple thought and he had an infectious laugh. The harder features of Benny's older brother seldom expressed a smile. Both Gerald and Benny were stout and strong men, accustomed to the hard labor of a full day caring for the large farm where they lived alone without parents, siblings, or wives.
Benny was capable of doing a full day's work, similar to other men, with adequate instruction and careful supervision. His body may have matured beyond the age of the raging hormones of a much younger man, yet his mind had not advanced with his physical age. The joy he found in life was that of a young child not yet a teenager. He was tempered with gentleness, and the occasional awkward movements of someone many years younger than he was.
Few people knew anything about Gerald's preferences in women. He was a gentleman, somewhat courtly and occasionally chivalrous. Around town, at church or in a community gathering -- beyond the dutiful greetings and dances with the grandmothers, mothers, and unattached women -- he was usually in the company of other men. Gerald, like the other men with whom he conversed, spoke about crops, about animals and the weather. However, the few women who knew him beyond a polite nod thought of him as well-educated, sensitive, and quiet. He was a handsome man who puzzled some because he did not pursue women who smiled at him or watched with a flirtatious glance.
Young women viewed Gerald as an older man because he seemed to be a peer of their fathers, with similar responsibilities, possessions, and interests. Older women thought of him as less eligible because of the impediment of his younger brother. Perhaps the women between those two age groups, who had children of their own, either did not know Benny or else felt having him in the same home with their own children was not to their preference. Therefore, they too did not show interest in the older, good looking man. Gerald may have had similar thoughts. At any rate, he had never found a woman who seriously interested him.
Because Benny felt so comfortable with Mary Margaret, and because Gerald was indulgent of his younger brother, Gerald often found himself near the young woman, participating in conversations between her and Benny. The few occasions anyone could recall seeing Gerald smile or hearing him laugh were those limited times when he spoke to Miss McNabb.
"Mother, are you sure you want to spend hours on end with four small children cooped up in a motor home for six whole weeks?" Mary Margaret looked at her mother as she asked the question and could not believe the excitement she saw on the older woman's face.
"Well, your daddy's going to be there, too. He can help."
"Oh, right." Mary Margaret did not bother to hide her sarcasm. "Then who is going to be the driver? The last time I remember being in a vehicle with him and four small children, I was one of those children and he was telling you to make us all sit still and be quiet."
"Now, now," Hilda McNabb made a mild effort to counter her younger daughter's comment. "It won't be that difficult. Your sister is going to fly out for the last few days of the reunion. She'll be there part of the time. Besides, if I can corral a classroom full of eight year olds, I should be able to handle my own grandchildren."
Hilda was not going to tell her younger daughter the other reason for taking all four children on the extended trip. It might break the young woman's heart. Although she was Aunt M's to the younger generation, Mary Margaret had been the only mother the youngest child had ever known. Less than six weeks after the baby was born, his mother abandoned him, his older sister, and their father. Two days after Bruce's wife left, at his parent's urging he moved himself and his two small children into the rambling two-story farmhouse. That was little more than a month after Mary Margaret graduated high school.
It was more than two years before the telephone call came from a distant police department, informing Bruce McNabb that they had identified a Jane Doe, the victim of a drug overdose, whom they had buried in a pauper's grave almost a year earlier. Bruce did not even care enough to have a marker placed on his wife's grave.
Years earlier, the older daughter, Charlene, was pregnant at sixteen. Now the mother of two, she worked as a bank teller, struggling to help her auto mechanic husband support their small family. Charlene had finally taken her family out of her parents' house into a home they could call their own only a few months before her brother Bruce and his children returned to the family home. The old farm house seemed to swell, shrink, and then swell again.
The oldest son of the family, Thomas, had been engaged to marry his long-time sweetheart upon her graduation from college. The marriage never happened. The young woman decided to accept an out-of-state job rather than be the wife of a man whom she felt had no better aspirations than being the next generation to farm land which had been owned by a McNabb for over two hundred years.
The revolving families and individuals moved in and out of the McNabb house during the summer Hilda had expected the house would finally begin to empty. After all the shuffling was finished, Hilda and Hiram still had three grown children and two grandchildren in their home.
Jeremy, Mary Margaret's young nephew, the motherless child, was now four years old and his sister, Janet, was almost six. Their cousins, children of Hilda's older daughter, Charlene, were nine-year-old Theresa and seven-year-old Josh. When all four children were together, any room they chose to occupy become a racetrack, a jungle gym, or a scene that would rival any professional wrestling match. Toys became weapons or closely held possessions. Shoes and socks were lost, and parents and relatives raised their voices to be heard over the energetic screams of children hard at play in constantly changing contests of boys against girls, siblings against siblings, or one-on-one.
Hilda had expected to see the rooms of the big farmhouse emptied of her children. With Thomas's pending marriage, Bruce's growing family, and Charlene establishing her own home, she'd had only her younger daughter's future to consider. Mary Margaret, if her mother could persuade her to do so, might actually go to college. None of Hilda's children had chosen that route, and Hilda thought Mary Margaret might want to be a teacher someday.
Instead, Bruce returned with his two children, Thomas did not leave, and Mary Margaret decided that with a house full of people, she would fill the role of homemaker in her mother's stead. There were five adults, a tiny baby, and a young child to care for, meals to prepare, clothes to wash and mend, a large vegetable garden to tend, chickens to feed, eggs to gather, two cows to milk, butter to churn, and she didn't want to go to college anyway. She was a Wallflower, happy in her solitude with one of the best-used library cards in the county.
Hilda sat grading spelling tests at the kitchen table, while Mary Margaret dished up the meal she had prepared to feed five healthy, hard-working adults and two growing children. Although it might appear to be a mountain of food, most of the dishes would return from the dining room empty. The stomping of boots, cleaning them of whatever had accumulated while doing various chores around the farm was heard along with a father calling his two small children to come to supper.
Hiram drank half of his glass of iced tea and told his wife, "Hildy, I talked to Gerald Malone today."
"Oh good, what did he say?"
"Jerry said he and Benny can take care of the milking and help with the last of the garden. He has two farmhands at his place so coming over here won't leave him shorthanded. Gertrude Powell's brother said Trudy would like to help like last year. She would like an extra half-case of pickled beets this year." He looked at his youngest daughter, "Margie, what are you going to do all by yourself for a couple of weeks?"
Mary Margaret looked up when she heard her name, but she did not understand the question. "I'm sorry. Why am I going to be by myself?"
Hilda looked at her youngest child and leaned back in her chair, "Oh dear, here we've been making all these plans and didn't even tell you." So, began the litany. The oldest son, Thomas, who would never be anything but a farmer, was going to spend two weeks at an Agricultural Experimentation Station. And then Bruce would not be around to help with his two children because he had two weeks of National Guard service requirement to satisfy. It wouldn't matter anyway Hiram and Hilda were taking all four grandchildren on a month-long tour of several states, stopping to visit a few places where Hiram and Hilda might like to live as their retirement home. After the month of searching for the retirement home, they would spend the following two weeks at a long-planned family reunion, with many other McNabb families coming and going as their time allowed. It was an unusual coincidence that all of those events happened during almost the same time period. That would leave Mary Margaret virtually alone.
Hiram had the good grace to sound slightly embarrassed, "I told Jerry you'd fix supper for him and Benny for those two weeks."
Still slightly flustered at all the plans and details that had already been decided, which she had really heard nothing of, or given little attention to, Mary Margaret agreed, "Yes sir, I don't mind. I like Benny, he's sweet."
"Good, Jerry said Benny's really good with the garden." Hiram finished his statement and looked down at his plate, industriously mashing butter into another helping of potatoes. "Ah-h-h, Jerry said he would spend the nights here, so he can do the night and morning milking before he goes home ... if you ... if you think ... well, he would need to bring Benny, too. But you'll be here alone ... and he wanted to know if it would ... would you mind ... you know ... two men..." He finally stopped and looked at his wife for help.
"Oh goodness," Hilda exclaimed. "That man is so old fashioned."
"Well he's right to be cautious," added Mary Margaret's older brother, Thomas. "Remember that Thompson girl and the hired hand a few years ago."
"Yeah, and he's gonna have Benny with him. He can't leave Benny at home, he doesn't have enough sense not to burn the house down," Bruce added dismissively.
"Bruce..." cautioned his father.
"Bruce!" echoed his mother.
"Benny's sweet, I don't mind him," finished Mary Margaret.
"Well, it isn't Benny that's the problem." Hiram took a deep breath and let it out. "Jerry's still single and considered quiet a catch, at least by some of the women in this county. He's got all that land and no children." Hiram looked at his grown children around the table and finally at his wife, none of whom were going to help him finish the subject he had introduced and he was bumbling around without saying what was really on his mind. "What I mean, is he's concerned about your reputation, Margie. He wanted me to say something to you, specifically about him and Benny staying at night so you wouldn't be out here by yourself. It's not like you can leave all the doors open and the keys in your cars anymore."
"Good Lord," Bruce raised his voice, "The man's a dozen years older than me. He's practically old enough to be Mary's father."
"What's age got to do with it?" Thomas was just as loud as his brother was. "You think a forty year old man doesn't want a woman as bad as a thirty year old does?"
"Yeah," Bruce looked at his older brother. "I saw you sniffing after that little Griffin girl. Golly, Thomas, she's almost the same age as your baby sister."
"Boys!" The father exclaimed, "There are ladies and children present. Watch your language."
Mary Margaret watched the conversation and argument going on around her and looked at her mother, whose attention was fixed on her husband. Instead of saying anything, the young woman left her seat between the two children and went to the kitchen, missing the look that passed between husband and wife and the gentle pat the man gave his wife's hand. When Mary Margaret returned a moment later with a pitcher of tea to fill the nearly empty glasses of all three men, the discussion had changed to the upcoming trip.
There was little time and energy, to spend on similar conversations in the next few weeks. Everyone concentrated on the most intense jobs of a farmer's year, putting something aside for another day. This meant gathering and preserving the fruits of an extensive vegetable garden. There were cases upon cases of empty pint and quart jars to scald, fill, and seal in a deep pot of boiling water. Other vegetables were gathered, blanched, and frozen, until two freezers had not an inch of spare room. Potatoes filled sacks. Cucumbers were sliced or left whole, soaked in brine, or added to sugar and spices and onions, to fill additional jars. Nearly one-quarter acre of tomato plants filled more jars. Box after box of jars were carried down to the cellar to fill every inch of narrow shelves on all four walls of two separate rooms. Some jars were stacked beneath the shelves as overflow. It took days to fill, mark, and date, the jars of jelly, jam, and preserves. Still growing in the garden were root vegetables to gather and preserve.
Feeding a large family, sharing bounty with friends, and selling the best at two local produce markets were full time jobs. At harvest time, the whole family focused its attention on the important work at hand, yet the daily chores of tending to animals and managing a household did not cease. Additionally, while the on-going maintenance of farm machinery kept the men busy, to their list of chores Hilda added cleaning and servicing the motor home for the upcoming trip. In between the multiple trips up and down the stairs with baskets of laundry, the large vehicle was packed. Boxes of preserved vegetables and fruits to share with relatives filled one closet of the motor home. Six one-pint jars of Mary Margaret's peach preserves were marked for Hiram's aging mother. "Old Mom" said she could make the six jars last almost a whole year if no one found her stash.
The day Hilda McNabb, a school teacher for more than twenty-five years and her husband Hiram, a farmer for all of his 58 years, left with their four grandchildren, the old farm house seemed to echo with the slightest sound. It was empty and quiet. Breakfast had always been a rushed meal People ate what they wanted in the time they had, then rushed off to begin their day. But now only Thomas would come in for lunch at mid-day and perhaps might take a short nap during the heat of the day. Bruce usually had his lunch in town along with other telephone company employees who lined their service trucks at the back of a restaurant parking lot.
For almost a week Mary Margaret's world seemed to be on hold, waiting for something to happen. Even though the major garden work was finished, there was still enough to keep one or two people busy. Trudy Powell came out three days a week to help Mary Margaret can in exchange for her own supply of vegetables. Green beans and black eyes peas were her favorites. Some of the root vegetables had already been preserved, but beets and turnips were still growing. Two five-gallon crocks held shredded cabbage, slowly fermenting until they were ready to become jars of sauerkraut, an occasional family favorite.
With the slower pace, Mary Margaret had the opportunity to catch up on a few chores she had allowed to build up. She had several loads of laundry to do every other day and a stack of men's shirts to mend and iron. She wondered how Thomas and Bruce managed to lose so many buttons, while her father seldom lost a one. Her brothers must not be very careful of the way they unbutton their shirts, or maybe they were in a big hurry.
She dutifully washed, dried, and folded the tiny blue lace panties she found in the pocket of Thomas's good khaki slacks. There had been one instance of Mary Margaret washing an unknown woman's undergarment which she did comment on, but her older brother told her to mind her own business.
Supper that night was quiet, unusually quiet, with little to look forward to except the nine o'clock telephone call from her parents. Thomas rushed through his meal and left the table, saying he was going to take a shower and go to town for a few hours. His bag was packed and he would leave near daylight the next morning to spend two weeks away from home. He was not in a particularly good mood.
"Mary Margaret, I need to talk to you." Bruce pushed himself back from the small kitchen table. His voice was low and rumbling, as if he was embarrassed.
"You're probably not going to like it, but I made Mom and Dad promise not to say anything to you until I knew more about what I was going to do." Bruce looked at his younger sister. "But before I tell you about me, I wanted to tell you something else. Don't say anything to Thomas, but I think he's going to ask that little Griffin girl to marry him."
"Oh, you mean Becky, Becky Griffin?"
"Yeah, I think he got her pregnant, or so she says." Bruce's upper lip curled as if the idea was distasteful to him.
"Oh dear. Do you think he did it on purpose, or do you suppose she did it to trap him?"
Bruce shook his head, "I honestly don't know. She's been chasing him pretty hot and heavy for a few months. But that's not what I wanted to tell you.
"Day after tomorrow, I'm going to report for my two weeks of duty and I'm going to stay after that. I'm going to join the Army as active duty. I'm still young enough and with my specialty, they'll take me pretty quick. I might get a few more college credits out of it, too."
"Is that good for you?"
"Yes, it is. I'm going to give Jeremy and Janet to Charlene as foster children." The younger McNabb son heard the gasp from the younger McNabb daughter, but he did not stop speaking. "That's part of why all four kids went on this trip with Mom and Dad. It's to give them a chance to be together day and night, without parents to show favoritism."
"Why, Bruce?" He heard the stress in her voice, but he did not slow down with his explanation.
Almost as if he did not want to answer her question, Bruce looked away from his sister as he continued, "When school starts, Jeremy can go to a full day of pre-kindergarten and Janet will be in school all day, just like Theresa and Josh. Charlene and Preston can't afford full-time childcare, but the military allowance I'll get for a family will help their budget. You do great with them, but the kids need a mother and a father. I don't want to leave them here with Thomas and Becky."
"But what about Mom and Dad? And I'm here, too."
Although the family had spoken of it, Bruce repeated his mother's plans. "You know Mom's only going to teach one more year and Dad says this next crop is going to be his last one. He's going to let Thomas have the farm.
"They've looked before, but they're determined to find a retirement community they like. It may take a year or two for them to actually make the move, but they're going to do it. I guess that will leave nothing for you and me on the farm, except as a place to live, and I am not going to live in the same house with that silly Becky Griffin.
"I'm going to do something with my life before I get too old to do this." This last statement came out much stronger than Bruce's other explanations. It was firm and positive, as if he was finally awakening from a long, slow spell of disinterest and undetermined direction.
The Wallflower sat in contemplation, barely able to control her tears, imagining what the house around her would look like in a year or two. It may take a little longer than that, but the plans had been made. They would happen this time because members of the McNabb family would take action.
Without excusing herself or saying another word to her brother, she took her glass of tea and went to sit in the big swing on the back porch, watching the very last of the sunshine disappearing from the sky.
"Hello Mare-Mar-Get." Benny held out his hand for the handshake he expected from his friend.
"Hello Mister Bennett Malone. Oh my, why do you have a bandage on your hand?" Mary Margaret carefully shook hands with the younger Malone brother.
"It's got a piece of stick in it. I caint get it out." Benny began his explanation, as he laboriously removed the gauze wrapped around the palm of his hand. He showed Mary Margaret the swollen pad at the base of his hand.
"Goodness," Mary Margaret held the offered hand and looked at the injury. "We can soak that after supper and I'll see if I can get the splinter out."
"Good deal," Benny agreed. "I ain't letting Gerald touch it. He'd hurt it."
Looking around Mary Margaret asked, "Where is your brother?"
"He's gonna milk both cows. He sent me for the milk cans. He says I cain't milk with my hand like this. 'Tain't clean, he says."
Although Mary Margaret knew she would likely have to explain it to Benny a second and perhaps a third time, she spoke slowly showing him everything he needed to know. "Oh, alright. Come inside for a minute and I'll show you where things are. You see this table? I always put the cans here as soon as I clean them. When you finish milking, you bring them back to the house and put the cans on the floor so the bottom of the can doesn't get the table dirty."
"Good deal," Benny offered his favorite expression of understanding and agreement, and took the cans to his brother. Mary Margaret returned to her kitchen to prepare the containers she would fill with fresh milk and began supper for the Malone brothers and herself. Bruce stayed in town to have a few beers with the coworkers he was leaving. He was not expected home until much later.
During the next two hours, Mary Margaret had supper on the table while she strained the milk, poured it into containers, and placed the containers in one of the large refrigerators. During their meal, Gerald asked Mary Margaret if she would be comfortable calling him Gerald, and she agreed she would like that if he would call her Mary Margaret.
Supper was over and the kitchen was clean with the dishwasher running. Mary Margaret went into the bathroom to take her shower. She opened the cabinet and saw a boxed roll of gauze, which reminded her of Benny's splinter.
Long accustomed to wearing cotton pajamas in winter or for summer a mid-thigh length oversized t-shirt after her shower, Mary Margaret returned to the den to remind Benny that he needed to soak his hand. If Gerald wanted to keep him company at the kitchen table, she would fix both men a bowl of peach cobbler with some ice cream on top.
"Mare-Mar-Get, your hair!" Benny's excited voice showed his surprise. "You gots lo-o-ong hair. I never seed it long before." Turning to his brother, Benny asked, "Ain't that pretty hair, Gerald?"
"Yes Benny, very lovely hair," Gerald agreed when he looked up from the magazine he was reading. In preparation for following Mary Margaret and his younger brother to the kitchen, Gerald returned his magazine to the briefcase he'd placed beside the comfortable chair he occupied. He paused for a moment to look at the young woman, enjoying what he saw.
Mary Margaret's hair, still wet from her shower, was hanging down her back and a few tendrils had fallen over her shoulder to dampen the front of her t-shit. In deference to company, she was wearing pajama bottoms, but had not put on a bra after her shower. One long, light brown, lazy curl had come to rest on her breast, curled enticingly around the tip and left the soft cotton damp, showing the darker skin of her nipple and areola. When she turned to go to the kitchen, both breasts swayed with a light bounce when she moved.
Unconsciously Gerald licked his lips as he stood. He smoothed down the upper thighs of his comfortable jeans, hoping for a little relief from the tingle in his groin, and waited for Benny to stand, too. The two men followed Mary Margaret to the kitchen and as he had done when he returned from milking, Gerald asked what he could do to help.
Mary Margaret turned from taking a tall plastic container from under the sink and told both men to be seated. She wanted to get the boric acid soak ready before she dished up the cobbler and ice cream. She helped Benny roll up the sleeve of his shirt and pushed his hand down in the hot water, telling him to keep taking it out then put it back into the water until he could tolerate the heat.
When she placed the dessert bowl in front of Benny, he repeatedly tried to take his hand out of the water to eat, so Mary Margaret made a game of feeding Benny, as if he was a small child. She soon had both men laughing.
"Gerald, we needs to take Mare-Mar-Get home with us," announced Benny.
"I think she probably likes it here, Benny. She has a lot of work to do." Gerald looked at Mary Margaret and smiled.
"Not for much longer, though," Mary Margaret added, her eyes filling with tears. Refusing to allow them to fall, she went to get a needle and her very sharp pointed tweezers, which she washed and cleaned with alcohol.
Gerald watched her working, "You think when your folks finally retire you won't have as much to do?"
"That's not all," she explained and mentioned that her older brother may marry and would eventually take over management of the farm. Bruce was leaving, and she also told Gerald that the two children would go to live with their other aunt and uncle.
"That means..." Gerald stuttered, and then thought for a moment about all the people who lived in the house and finally looked up at Mary Margaret.
Handing Benny a small towel, she told him, "Dry your hand, and turn around." She backed between his legs and took his arm, placing it between her body and her upper arm to hold it securely. She effectively blocked Benny from seeing what she was doing. She looked at Gerald a moment and said, "Distraction helps, here."
Gerald began talking to Benny as Mary Margaret squeezed the fleshy pad of Benny hand to give it a little numbing effect while she probed for the splinter. She managed to get the point of the needle under the splinter while Benny was answering Gerald's distracting questions. As she applied pressure to pull the splinter out, Benny let out a yelp of pain. He jerked his hand back as Mary Margaret squeezed her arm to hold him still.
All Benny managed to do was pull his hand back part way and in doing so, ended up with his hand around Mary Margaret's breast, squeezing it hard with his large hand. Mary Margaret let out a woof of pain, bent forward a little, but she did not let go of Benny's hand. She announced that she had the splinter partway out and finished removing it while Gerald kept Benny occupied. Benny soaked his hand a little longer and agreed that after his shower, he would accept a small bandage, rather than having his hand wrapped with gauze.
Benny went upstairs for his shower and Mary Margaret rinsed the dessert bowls and cleaned the kitchen. As she was drying her hands, Gerald asked, "Did he hurt you?"
"It's not bad."
"Mary Margaret," Gerald's voice was so serious she turned to look at him. "Did he hurt you?"
"I don't think so."
Gerald's voice rumbled, "Are you bruised?"
"I ... I don't know."
"Come here," Gerald commanded and looked at her, defying her to refuse.
Looking him in the eyes, she walked toward Gerald and stopped in front of the kitchen chair where he sat. He put his hands on her waist and pulled her between his knees.
"I'm going to look." Gerald looked up at her and slowly began to lift her t-shirt. Mary Margaret swallowed and tried to look away, but could not take her eyes from Gerald's face. He lifted her shirt above the breast and turned her so the overhead light would shine on her. He may have seen her dark pink areola pucker and the even darker pink nipple begin to harden, but what he was looking at were marks on her from Benny's fingers.
"Oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry." Gerald's rough voice sounded pained as he leaned forward without thought. As if she were a small child who had sustained an injury which needed parental sympathy, he kissed the inside of her breast where faint marks from Benny's fingers showed against her pale pink skin.
Her swiftly indrawn breath startled Gerald. He dropped the front of her shirt and put his hands against her back, pulling her closer while he buried his face between her breasts. Yielding to the intimacy of the moment, she put her arms around his head and held him while his hot breath filtered through the fabric of her shirt.
It may have been instinct or a natural reaction to the nearness of another human or the prospect of a soft woman ... when Gerald slowly stood, pushing his chair away with the backs of his legs, he put his arms around Mary Margaret and held her close to him. Almost as naturally, she had put her arms around him. When he looked down at her as she looked up at him, it was the next natural thing for him to lean a little lower to rest his lips against hers.
It is seldom that a Wallflower is kissed. Just as seldom do men, who keep themselves apart from others, have the opportunity to kiss a woman. However, for the first time in her adult life, a man thoroughly kissed Mary Margaret. The kiss came with gentleness, slowly building in intensity and enjoyment. It was a kiss that grew in hunger and receded into pleasure for both of them. He held her face, tilted her head as she lifted her chin. His mouth moved to the softness of her cheek and she turned her head. He rested his lips against her neck and she did not pull away from him.
Gerald dropped his hands to rest on her shoulders, cleared his throat, and asked, "Mary Margaret, will you please go to bed?"
"I need to take care of Benny's..."
"Please," Gerald interrupted. "I'll tend to Benny and lock up for the night. I need ... just go to bed, please." His last word was in such a pleading tone, she listened and turned to do as he asked.
While breakfast was not uncomfortable, it was rather quiet, with the exception of Benny who was his usually chatty self with Mare-Mar-Get. Bruce had gotten up early, carrying his bag downstairs, telling Gerald an extra thank you before leaving. He didn't know how long he'd be gone, but he promised to write letters to his children and Mary Margaret.
Although she seemed distracted when she asked, Gerald, after considering for a moment, agreed to allow Benny to spend the day with Mary Margaret because she planned to pack jars with pickled beets and Benny could carry the cases of already filled jars to the cellar for her. Gerald left shortly after milking the cows and eating breakfast. He had his own animals to care for and farm work to do.
"Good morning, Mary Margaret," Trudy said when she walked in the back door. "What are we working on today?".
"Hi, Trudy. Sit down for a cup of coffee. Benny should be in shortly with the first batch of beets."
The three worked steadily, stopping only for a few minutes to sit and relax, eat a simple lunch, and then finish the jobs they had begun earlier in the day. Benny displayed his bandaged hand and gave Trudy a very good description of how Mary Margaret removed the splinter. Benny ducked his head, and asked Trudy quietly, "Miz Powell, did you know Mare-Mar-Get has lo-o-ong hair?"
Trudy smiled and glanced at Mary Margaret's neat hairdo, a smooth bun on top of her head, "She does? It doesn't look long to me."
"'at's 'cause she gots it all on top," Benny acknowledged. "I 'member Pastor Widener preaching 'bout a woman's hair."
"What did Pastor Widener say?"
Benny thought for a moment then shook his head, "I don't 'member, but it was pretty, like Mare-Mar-Get's hair. This morning, I told Gerald we need to take her home with us."
"Now, that is a good idea," agreed Trudy either because she wasn't listening to Benny, who talked all day long, or because she did not understand what he meant. "What did Gerald say?"
Benny volunteered, "He said he'd ask her."
Mary Margaret turned to look at Trudy and shook her head, not wanting the conversation to go any farther. Benny didn't always understand some of the things he heard or the answers to questions he asked. Instead, in an effort to change the subject, Mary Margaret asked, "Trudy, are you going to the county park on Saturday?"
"Yes, Pete and I will be there. I'm taking fried chicken and a chocolate cake. What are you going to take?"
"I probably won't go," Mary Margaret shook her head. "If I give you two jars of bread and butter pickles, will you take them for me?"
"Why aren't you going, dear?"
"Oh well, none of the family is here, so I'll just skip it this time." As Mary Margaret finished her statement, she looked up and greeted Gerald walking in the back door.
"Good evening, Gerald. If Benny hasn't eaten all of them, I may have a cinnamon roll left. Would you like one with a cup of coffee?"
"Sounds delicious, Mary Margaret," he agreed and walked across the room to shake hands and greet Trudy Powell, asking after the health of her brother, Pete.
As soon as Gerald was seated with his cinnamon roll and coffee, ever the busybody, Trudy told Gerald, "With all of her family gone, you should take Mary Margaret to the county park on Saturday, Gerald."
Mary Margaret looked at Gerald, a slight look of fear on her face, "Oh! No, no," she exclaimed. She turned to Trudy and explained, "He will want to stay for the dance, and I don't need to be out that late."
"Well, that's good," Trudy countered. "You can just stay for the dance, too."
"That won't do, Trudy," Mary Margaret shook her head as she filled another jar with slices of peeled red beets. "I don't dance."
Gerald looked at Mary Margaret, "You don't enjoy dancing, or you don't know how?"
Mary Margaret shrugged her shoulders, "I don't know. I've never really been to a dance."
"Oh goodness, child," Trudy patted Gerald on the arm, "And we have the best dancer in the county right here. We can fix that, right now. You just turn around here and watch a minute."
Trudy walked across the kitchen, turned on the radio, already tuned to the local station for the early morning weather report, but also known for playing five-in-a-row country and western songs. The older woman took Gerald's hand and pulled lightly until he was standing and stepped closer to the man.
"Show her how it's done, Gerald," the older woman encouraged.
A minute later, Trudy was stepping away from her dance with Gerald and pushing Mary Margaret across the room. After Trudy's tiny shove, Gerald caught the young woman in his arms. He laughed, "Easy, Trudy. Let me do this."
Trudy turned and called on Benny to carry her box of jars to her car, waving at Gerald and Mary Margaret, "You two young folks have fun."
Mary Margaret tried to step back, but Gerald kept his arm around her. "Stay here," he said quietly. "I'll make this as easy as I can." She nodded and he explained, "Put your arm along mine and rest your hand on my shoulder. I'm going to hold your other hand and I'll use it to steer you."
She nodded, "You're sure about this?"
"Yes," Gerald smiled, "You know how to count and you understand music. You sing in the choir. Now, don't think. Just look up here and move with me."
After a few steps Gerald encouraged, "Come a little closer. It will be easier." He moved his hand farther down her back and pushed against her until she was just barely touching him. "That's better, huh?"
When the song stopped, and the next one started, Gerald spoke quietly in her ear. "Alright, this is a waltz, it's in the count of three and the steps are different, but you follow well. Don't watch our feet, just let me guide you."
As Gerald steered her around the kitchen, Mary Margaret slowly began to relax. After the third song, Gerald stopped dancing and stepped back. "I'll go milk the cows and we can practice a little more after supper. You need to change your shoes if you have something with leather soles. It will be easier for you to move."
However, it was much later in the evening, after tending to the milk and supper, that Mary Margaret took her shower. She felt a little foolish walking into the kitchen in pajamas and her Sunday shoes but was soon busy with soaking Benny's hand while he and Gerald enjoyed the last of the peach cobbler.