I went in the house not long after Mrs. Brahn was out of sight. In addition to the raking, I had plenty to do inside the house. I usually didn’t have anyone to impress but myself, but with Susie coming, I had some work to do. Apparently, I did okay. Because when Susie showed up with Jennie at noon on Friday she seemed impressed.
“Wow, Den,” she gasped. “You cleaned for us. I’m afraid to sit down.”
“Well, hey, when you only come around as often as the Northern Lights I might as well make it worth it.”
“I’ll try to visit more,” Susie told me. “I promise.”
“Well, most of this is for my guest of honor,” I said winking at Jennie.
“Come here, Sweetie, I’ve got something for you.”
Jennie gave me a quick hug, and I kissed her on the forehead. As much as Jennie liked it when I visited, she never hugged me for very long and never when Molly was around. The suspicion offended me, but I knew it
wasn’t really Jennie’s fault, and probably not even Molly’s entirely. I took a couple pieces of salt-water taffy out of the drawer. “Not too many,” I told her. “We’re eating dinner soon.”
Jennie sniffed the air. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked. It was. I had fixed her favorite, venison stew. I knew Susie wouldn’t be too crazy about it so I made her a chicken breast and a baked potato.
“I thought we might have to wait outside for a while,” Susie told me.
“I thought you weren’t off work until noon-it’s barely noon now.
“Well, I made the stew last night, so I’d just have to heat it. And I convinced Larry to let me off at 11:00, so you wouldn’t have to wait.”
Jennie and Susie both froze a bit. “I don’t see why you keep working for that man,” Susie said.
“Come on, Susie, don’t start on me. You know it’s the only job in town where I’m going to make more than six bucks an hour.”
“Well, what’s keeping you in Leifton? Molly and Nate are gone. Jennie’s up in Minneapolis now. I don’t know how you can stay when you don’t have to, especially after what he did to Lucy.”
“That was a long time ago,” I told her. “Besides, you know I’m not a big city guy.”
“Lucy lives with it every day,” Susie told me. “You wouldn’t have to move to Minneapolis. You could go to Mankato or Rochester. You could find something there.”
“Lucy’s fine,” I said. “She has her husband, and her dancing. Everything she ever dreamed of, thanks to you.”
I got up and started walking into the kitchen. That was the nice thing about having something on the stove, if gave you a good excuse to leave the room if you had to. “Excuse me,” I said. “I have to check on the food.”
Susie stayed behind, but Jennie followed me into the kitchen.
“Are you going to fight?” she asked me. I turned around and looked at Jennie. I should’ve been more careful about showing my frustration in front of Jennie. I should’ve reminded Susie to do the same.
“Oh no, Sweetie, no,” I told her. “Susie’s my big sister. She has to give me a hard time. It’s in her job description. Do your Aunt Lucy and Frank fight a lot?”
“A little,” Jennie said. I stirred the stew, peeked at the chicken and turned off the oven.
“Your Aunt Lucy’s okay, though?” I asked. “He doesn’t hurt her or anything?”
“He’ll run out and leave for hours. One time he was gone all night. He makes her cry,” she informed me.
This worried me, but I reminded myself it wasn’t my business–unless, of course, there was more to it. If Lucy needed help I would’ve done about anything for her. I took a deep breath. “Jennie, he doesn’t hit her, does he?”
Jennie smiled as if I were talking ridiculous. “Oh no,” she said. “Nothing like that. Uncle Frank’s a marshmallow.”
“And they’re both good to you?” I asked.
“I’m fine, Taffy. I just miss you. I wish you would come to Minneapolis. Maybe at Christmas. Uncle Frank will be in Colorado, but Aunt Lucy and I aren’t going. We’d have room. You could stay with us.”
I smiled. “I miss you too, Sweetie,” I said. “I’ll think about it. We better not decide anything without talking to your Aunt Lucy. It’s not even November yet. Maybe I’ll manage to get up there before Christmas.”
I sent Jennie to wash up and told her to tell Susie that everything was ready while I dished up. Jennie joked that the stew was almost as good as hers. It did feel odd having the stew twice within a couple weeks, but it was
good, and I knew there was something about it that comforted Jennie. I wanted her to be able to set all the changes and craziness aside while she was visiting. I wanted her to feel at home.
I told Susie to ease up, that Jennie was worried that we were going to fight. She understood, and we kept the dinner conversation to easy things, stories about each other, and Nate and Molly, happy times when we were
kids. Then Susie got serious.
“You know what I need to do before I leave Leifton?” she told me. “I need to go to the cemetery and see the graves; Mom’s, Nate’s, and Molly’s.”
I nodded. “That sounds like a good idea,” I said.
“Will you go with me?” she asked. I looked over at Jennie who was sitting very still, frozen between bites of her stew. Susie continued, “I mean if Jennie can handle it. What do you think, Jennie? Is it too much for you?
Seeing the graves so soon?”
“No, I want to go,” she said.
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