Memories and Birthdays

Marie woke to the sound of splitting wood. She rose and dressed quickly, then made some tea and put on some porridge and went out to see Regan with a mug for him. He was just finishing stacking the wood neatly as she arrived and handed him his tea. She stood on tiptoe to kiss him. “Morning love. Breakfast should be ready soon.” She sipped her tea and thought for a moment. “I want to invite Poe for diner tonight…I…don’t think he should…I think it would be better if he wasn’t alone today and I think _she’s_ still too wrapped up in Mssr Babineaux’s death to remember Sgt Delacroix’s.”
Regan’s brow furrowed, trying to remember something…the date…April 11th…the scene at the graveyard a few weeks ago…the other date on the headstone for her parents. “Your père and Poe’s died the same day?”
She nodded sadly. “They were marines together, the ship they were on went down and they drowned. Sgt Delacroix’s body washed ashore a couple of days later but papa’s was never found.” She looked at him. “So you’re okay with him coming for dinner? Mémère and I tried to make sure he had somewhere welcoming to come to…and 15 years might be too big a milestone for him.”
Regan shrugged. It was her house, she could invite anyone she wanted. He still wasn’t sure why she asked him before doing things. “You want me there too or not?”
She thought for a moment, staring off in the direction of the graveyard. She gave a small nod, slightly embarrassed that she needed him there. 15 years might be too big a milestone for her too.
He noticed her posture change and pulled her into his arms. She stiffened for a brief second, then relaxed as she gave into the grief. He ran his big hands up and down her back, soothing her as she cried. The tears didn’t last long though and she pulled back to look at him. “Thank you.” She gently kissed his cheek. “Come on, you should eat something before you go.” She tried to pull away, but he held her for another moment, searching her face to make sure she was truly alright. He seemed satisfied by what he found and kissed her gently before turning to retrieve his mug.
They ate in companionable silence before he left for the smithy. She said she would bring him lunch when she came to invite Poe for dinner and kissed him good bye. Once alone she straightened up the house a bit and fed the chickens and rabbits before working in the garden some. She spent the morning turning the earth so that she could sow the seeds that would survive the chill nights now and transplant the seedlings she had started when it was time. She changed out of her dirt stained clothes and packed up some food for Regan and set out to town.
She found Regan hammering on the band of a wagon wheel. She paused in the door to admire the way his naked torso glinted in the light form the fire before he scented her and turned. She flashed him a grin. “I’ve got lunch. Why don’t you come join me?” She waited for him to splash some water on himself to cool off and put on his shirt while she sat on the bench outside the smithy where it had become their custom to eat lunch. She passed him the jug of cider while she unwrapped the meat, cheese, and bread she had packed. “I’m thinking of making fish pie for dinner.” His answering grin reassured her that choosing one of his and Poe’s favorites was the way to go. They finished eating and she handed him a couple of apples before kissing him soundly. “I’ll see you later.” She left him and went to run her errands. She stopped by the docks to pick up some fresh cod and swung by the schoolhouse where she knew Poe would be waiting for the boys. She found him sitting under a tree adding a column of numbers in a ledger. He held up a finger as she approached, not looking up until he reached the bottom of the page and made a mark. He sprung to his feet and hugged her. “What are you doing out here?”
“I came to invite you for dinner.” She watched the emotions pass over his face for a moment. Confusion, joy, understanding, then sadness. He was so easy to read sometimes…a complete cipher others.
“I’d love to come.” He meant it. He was trying to stay until his mother stabilized, taking up bookkeeping for Zachary and Danielle among others to help out while he was there. He was itching to get away again though. The longer he stayed, the louder the voice was getting and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could resist its call. “Can I bring anything? What time should I be there?”
“Let’s say 7. If you’re working for Danielle maybe you can pick up a dessert?” She waggled her eyebrows at his laugh.
“Deal. I’ll see you at 7.” He gave her another swift hug. “Thank you.”
She returned to her house and started preparing the meal. While it was baking she took the time to set the table and put some early wildflowers in a vase. She put some water on to heat, knowing Regan would want to wash off when he arrived. She heard him stomping the mud off his boots and opened the door for him. “Hello love,” she kissed him as he walked in. He rumbled contentedly as he squeezed her gently. “I’ve got hot water for you if you want it.” He nuzzled her for another moment before moving off to remove his boots and change his shirt for a drier one. She added some of the hot water to a basin with some cold water so he could wash his face and hands and poured the rest into the washtub with his shirt to soak. She was removing the pie from the oven when she heard footsteps and a knock at the door.
Regan opened it and let Poe in. He sniffed the air above the wrapped bundle in Poe’s hands. “Danielle’s apple pie” he smiled. It was second only to Marie’s in his opinion. He took the pie and set it out the counter while Marie hugged Poe.
“Perfect timing. I just pulled dinner out of the oven. Why don’t you two sit down and I’ll bring it to the table?” She bustled off to get everything together.
Regan brought three tankards of ale to the table and sat. Poe sat at the other end, leaving the seat between them for Marie. “So, how’s working with Louis going?”
Regan shrugged. “Not bad. Still learning things.” He took a swig of his beer. “You?”
It was Poe’s turn to shrug. “He’s keeping an eye on my mother and the boys tonight so I can’t complain too much about him.” There was something odd going on with Louis and his mother that he didn’t want to think about right now.
Fortunately, Marie chose that moment to bring the food to the table. “Who’s ready for fish pie?” At their grins she served them each a hefty portion before adding a smaller amount to her own plate.
The men tucked in with gusto. Soon the only sounds were scraping utensils, chewing and the occasional moan of pleasure. Marie shook her head at them, smiling to herself as she ate hers. Good thing I made so much. Poe was the first to ask for seconds but only because Regan got up to pour himself a second beer. Marie slid the dish across the table so he could scoop out more, then slid it to in front of Regan so he could do the same. If she hadn’t fed Regan twice today she’d swear neither of them had eaten in a week. She thought about telling them to save room for dessert but if she didn’t she might have leftover pie for breakfast so she held her tongue and smiled. It took until after thirds for Regan and a smaller portion of fourths for Poe for them to put down their forks and declare they were full. Poe offered to help with the dishes so Regan padded outside to have a cigarette while the two friends cleaned up. “I can’t believe you two ate the whole thing!”
Poe patted his stomach. “It was the tastiest thing I’ve had in months. C’mon, you’ve always been a way better cook than I’ll ever be. And I always had a hollow leg. Remember the time we climbed the tree and ate crab apples until we were sick.”
“I remember climbing the tree and I had a couple of apples. You and Josie ate yourselves sick. The only time I got sick with you was that time Josie stole the bottle of hooch from Regan and we drank ourselves stupid.”
“What about the time we ate pie and I spun you on the swing and you got so dizzy?”
“You got sick, not me. I was get so dizzy I ran into a tree and gave myself a concussion.”
Regan snorted at that one. Marie blushed. “I didn’t know you were listening.”
He held him hands up. “Don’t stop on my account.” He grinned.
Poe grinned back. “You don’t know the half of it!”
Marie searched for a distraction. “Who wants pie?” she tried.
Both men laughed at the obvious non sequitur but sat back down at the table anyway. She brought the pie and coffee to the table. Regan went to the cupboard and brought out the whiskey and 3 glasses. He poured some for each of them.
Poe held up his glass. “To good friends.”
“To good friends” the other two toasted. The three spent the next few hours laughing while Poe regaled Regan with stories of Marie’s childhood escapades over pie and whiskey. Marie gave as good as she got though, and soon both were trying to one up each other to make Regan laugh with more outlandish stories.
Poe glanced at the clock. It was after midnight. He had survived it. He looked at the others a little forlornly. “I should be going. Thanks for dinner.” They all rose, the sudden change in ambiance palpable. Marie walked Poe to the door and gave him a hug. He held onto her for a few moments, letting the tears fall. “Thanks…for everything.” He let her go and shrugged into his coat. “Oh, I almost forgot!” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small wrapped package. “Happy birthday.”
“You shouldn’t have” she kissed his cheek before opening it. Inside was a novel. “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” she read.
“Danielle suggested it. He said, and I quote, ‘Tell her she can read it to me later and I will pretend not to be scandalized”
“Well thank him for me if you see him before I do. I’m sure I will love it.” She gave Poe one last quick squeeze as he stepped out the door into the darkness. She watched until she could no longer distinguish him from the shadows then closed the door.
Regan sat frowning. “You didn’t tell me it was your birthday.”
She shrugged. “I haven’t celebrated it in 15 years. Why start now?” She set the book on the table and started clearing the table.
He stopped her and pulled her down onto his lap and into his arms. “Tell me,” he said simply.
She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. “There’s not much to tell. He was sailing back. Mémère said he’d be back in time for my birthday. He had left the day after Mama’s funeral, been sent to deal with some incursion or something. Mémère hoped it would cheer me up, knowing that he’d be home soon. Then we heard the news. The ship had sunk, only three survived. They had gotten picked up by a fisherman who had gotten blown off course in the same storm. It was pure luck he had found them. The bodies started washing ashore after that. Sgt Delacroix’s was one of the first. His mother took it hard….almost as hard as this time I think…I don’t know. Anyway, for the longest time I was convinced that if he hadn’t been coming for my birthday they would have still been alive, which of course, in hindsight, is ridiculous but I was a seven year old who had just lost her father less than a month after losing her mother. And I was a witch to boot. It made sense at the time.” She burrowed her head in his shoulder. “I haven’t really celebrated my birthday since. Mémère and Josie and Poe would sometimes get me something anyway…but I never really enjoyed it.” She smiled at a memory. “Josie told me we could share hers, so that’s what we did.” A thought bubbled up. “You never told me when your birthday was either.”
He shrugged. “Middle of June sometime. I don’t really know what day.”
She tucked that tidbit away for another time and yawned. “We should clean this up and go to bed.” She tried to stand but he held her once more. His hands cupped her face as he kissed her gently. He set her on his feet and helped clear the table and washed the dishes while she dried them and put them away. When they were finished, he swung her up into his arms and carried her upstairs to bed. She undressed and put on her nightgown while he stripped down and slid into the bed. She curled up beside him with her head on his chest and felt his arms wrap around her instantly. She placed a kiss over his heart and said “Good night love.” He kissed the top of her head and gave a contented rumble.