Courting Miss Greene Ch. 05byJuneSummers©
Robert and Thomas followed their cousin and the three sisters through the streets of Windfarn. Now that they had been introduced to the girls' parents, Ginny insisted they should meet Ol' Granny as well.
"We could take the shortcut through the forest," she suggested, "and I'll show you where Ethan and I first met."
"It's really nothing special though," said Ethan.
Lizzy clutched Robert's arm and sighed with a far-off gaze. "But it was so romantic."
"Except that he forgot all about it," remarked Abby in a cool voice, "and Ginny kept pining over him for years and years while Ethan went from one girl to the next until he became Celia Wilson's favorite fashion accessory."
Ethan coughed in his fist. "Well, we're trying not to keep regretting the past," he said, prompting his wife to nod in affirmation.
"I regret not having grown up with Abby though," remarked Thomas. "It's such a shame, considering we're practically the same age."
"I beg to differ," said Abby.
"Why?" asked Thomas. "You could have been my first girl."
"Your first girl?"
"My only girl," corrected Thomas.
Abby suppressed a smile. "Well, thanks, but no thanks."
"You don't consider that romantic?" asked Thomas.
"I most certainly do not," answered Abby. "I'd never give myself to a boy without any experience."
Abby glared at him. "Because I wouldn't want to loose my maidenhead to a bumbling idiot, that's why!" she cried, drawing curious glances from passers-by.
"I didn't bumble," protested Thomas with a pout. Then he shrugged. "Luckily I have plenty of experience now." He gave Abby a wide grin, but she lifted her chin and looked away to hide her blush.
Lizzy tugged on her fiancé's arm. "I would've liked being your first, bumbling or not," she whispered to him.
Robert's face reddened. "I appreciate the thought, baby," he answered, "but considering the fact that I've been a grown man for most of your life, that would have been highly inappropriate."
The girl gasped, cringing at the thought. "Oh, yes. That would have been awful." She fell silent and tried to think of something else while they made their way down the forest trail.
"Here it is!" announced Ginny when they reached the pond. "We come here every now and then to freshen up Ethan's memory."
"Well, I'm not exactly sure which parts are real and which ones are imagined," said Ethan, "but I think I've managed to reconstruct most of it."
"How does that work?" asked Thomas.
"I suppose you start with what you have by studying the surroundings and the rest is based on suggestion," answered his cousin.
"Really? That should be interesting." Thomas walked towards the edge of the pond. "How deep is it here anyway?"
Abby came up behind him. "Careful, Thomas," she warned. "The water is treacherous."
"It is?" asked Thomas. He peered into the pond, but it seemed quite shallow to him.
Abby could not resist the opportunity when she saw him bend over like that. "It most certainly is," she assured him. The others gasped in shock when she swung back her hand and landed it on Thomas' behind with a loud smack, causing the young man to topple over.
"Ow!" he cried, flailing his arms in a futile attempt to regain his balance.
Abby could not suppress her laughter while her sisters closed their eyes, bracing themselves for the inevitable splash that promptly followed. Robert and Ethan rushed to Thomas' aid, but he resurfaced almost at once, standing up to his chest in the water.
"Treacherous, indeed!" he cried, sweeping back the wet hair that clung to his brow.
Robert reached out his arm towards his younger brother. "Take my hand, Thomas," he said.
"No, I'll do it," said Abby. "I'm half-soaked already." She took Thomas' hand and before she knew it, she heard a high-pitched shriek, followed by another splash. Shocked by the freezing, cold water, Abby realized the shriek had been her own. She gasped for breath, barely able to keep her head above the surface.
Thomas wrapped her arms around his neck and scrambled out of the water, carrying the girl on his back. "That was invigorating!" he exclaimed.
"Good," said Abby. "Then you won't mind carrying me around, because I'm not walking in this wet dress."
"Perhaps you should take it off before you catch a cold," suggested Ginny.
"I'm not undressing in front of Thomas!" cried Abby.
"Why not?" asked Thomas. "As if I haven't seen you naked already."
Abby spurred him on with her heels as if he were a horse. "Just move," she ordered. "Granny's house isn't far from here."
Thomas sighed. "Yes, ma'am."
Ol' Granny woke from her afternoon nap when the front door creaked open.
"Granny, are you awake?" a hushed voice asked.
Ol' Granny rubbed her eyes and smiled. "Ginny? Is it really you?"
Ginny helped the old woman get up from her chair and gave her a hug. "We returned yesterday. Ethan's cousins came along with us. Would you like to meet them?"
"What? They're here? Send them in, child!" Ol' Granny clasped her hands. "I do love meeting new people."
Ginny nodded to her husband, who motioned for the others to enter the little house.
"My eldest cousin, Robert Clark," said Ethan. "Robert, please meet Mrs. Frye."
Robert gave her a little bow. "How do you do, ma'am?"
Ol' Granny's eyes twinkled while she looked him up and down. "How do you do?" She lowered her voice. "Are you married, young man? Because you look like marriage material to me."
Robert gave her a little smile. "I am engaged to be married."
"Ah, what a shame," exclaimed Ol' Granny. "I can think of a girl or two in need of a suitable husband."
"Robert's engaged to me, Granny," explained Lizzy.
"He is?" Ol' Granny covered her mouth in astonishment. "Why, I'm impressed. Who would have thought little Lizzy would reel in the big one? How in the world did you accomplish such a feat, child?"
Lizzy glanced at her fiancé and giggled. "By crying, kicking and screaming at him."
Ol' Granny raised her eyebrows. "A most peculiar seduction technique! I suppose it must have been beginner's luck." She paused for a moment. "Wasn't there also another one?"
"Well, we didn't want to startle you," answered Ginny, "but there was a little accident by the pond and, erm, you wouldn't want to get your floor all wet."
"Oh?" Ol' Granny shuffled towards the doorway and gasped. "Good heavens!" she cried. "What sort of creature is this?"
"A composite creature," a cool voice answered, "the upper half is good and sensible, the lower half... not so much."
"Ow, Abby! After all we've been through," a second voice protested.
"Silence, slave!" the first voice commanded.
"Abby?" Ol' Granny blinked a few times before she was able to distinguish the two forms. "Why, I'm shocked! What are you doing on that poor boy's back?"
"It's my privilege," the girl replied, "and no more than he deserves for pulling me into the water like that. After all, I didn't do anything he didn't want me to."
Thomas did not miss the ironic echo. "Actually, I was thinking of a more private, indoor setting," he explained. "You know, some place we'd be warm and dry. Well, not entirely dry, of course."
"And are the two of you engaged as well?" asked Ol' Granny.
Abby froze. "No, we just got stuck with each other somehow."
"Well, it's a good thing you're stuck on his back," the old woman remarked, "because the whole town would have been in an uproar if you'd gotten stuck on his front."
Thomas burst into a roaring laughter, shaking so violently Abby feared he would drop her.
"Stop laughing!" she commanded, tightening her grip around his neck.
"I can't!" cried Thomas while his face turned red. "Ow! My ribs!"
"Your ribs will hurt even more when I'm through with them," threatened Abby.
"Oh, my..." Ol' Granny turned to the others. "The way she scolds him you'd think they were married."
"Hm, I never thought of it that way," said Ginny.
"She does take him for granted," added Lizzy, "and pretends not to enjoy his company while I know for a fact she looks forward to seeing him every day."
"Hey, stop talking like that," objected Abby.
"No, please continue," urged Thomas with a wide grin.
"Enough!" cried Abby. "Go 'round the back so we can finally take off these wet clothes." She turned the young man's shoulders in the right direction and kicked her heels.
"Ah, yes!" agreed Thomas. "So you do want to get naked with me." He took off at once, ignoring the girl's cries of protest.
Ol' Granny stared after them. "I suppose we should get those two some towels."
Abby shivered when the cool water poured down her back. "I think that should be enough," she said, wringing out her hair.
"Oh, good! My arms are killing me!" cried Lizzy, holding up a towel to shield her sister from a certain someone's prying eyes.
Ginny had just pulled up the bucket from the little stone well. "Thomas," she called out, "I'll leave this one for you."
The young man stood leaning against the garden wall, waiting for his turn to rinse off the murky pond water. "Hm, what? Oh, thanks, Ginny," he said, unable to take his eyes off of Abby's ankles.
Abby stepped into the towel Lizzy had been holding up and wrapped it around her. "Why are you suddenly so shy, Thomas?" she asked in a teasing way, noting the young man still wore his pants. "I thought you were so eager to get naked."
"I was," he confirmed with a sheepish smile, "until I remembered what cold water does to the size of my--"
"Never mind!" interrupted Abby, feeling sorry she asked.
Ginny could not suppress a little chuckle. "Really, there's no need to impress a virgin with your size," she told Thomas, "or she might run away screaming."
"Oh? Well, in that case..." Thomas reached for his belt.
"Unless you look like a two-year-old," warned Lizzy, "then she'd certainly laugh at you."
Thomas halted at once, causing the three sisters to break out in giggles. He straightened his back and tried not to pout. "Now you got me all wrong," he said. "I'm not insecure about my body."
"I wouldn't expect you to be," agreed Lizzy, "if you're anything like Robert." The girl turned to her sisters and lowered her voice. "He's practically as big as my arm," she said, pointing from the inside of her elbow to her wrist.
Abby's eyes widened in horror. "Now I see why you're still a virgin!" she cried. "It doesn't fit!"
"That's not it!" protested Lizzy without much conviction.
Ginny put a hand on Lizzy's shoulder. "It will fit," she said in such a reassuring way it made everybody stare at her. "I mean, well, it may hurt a little--" She covered her mouth when she realized she was only making things worse, but it was already too late.
Abby frowned at her older sister. "Don't tell me Ethan's like that too."
"I'm not telling you anything," replied Ginny with a red face, still trying to be discrete.
"Well, I wouldn't be surprised," said Lizzy, "considering how tall he is."
Abby scowled at her younger sister before she turned to Thomas. "I assume you're not like that."
"Erm, I'm not," he admitted.
"Good," said Abby, "because I have no intention of getting demolished by some battering ram."
Thomas' heart jumped. "Then you're, erm, considering the matter?" he asked with a hopeful smile.
Abby blushed from embarrassment. "Pah! Don't be silly," she answered, lifting her chin. "I was merely making a theoretical statement." She waved her hand as if to dismiss the subject and marched away without looking back.
Thomas gaped in awe while he watched Abby disappear into the little house. Even though she was only wearing a towel, she moved with the lofty air of a blue-blooded princess, making her two sisters trail behind her like servant girls and reducing Thomas to nothing more than a beggar to be left outside... all alone... in the cold.
This was not where he wanted to be.
Thomas realized he needed to try a different approach. His gaze wandered over the laundry line, where their clothes were hanging out to dry. He wondered how long it would take, considering the lack of wind and just a few more hours of sunlight. An idea sprang up in his mind. It would involve a few factors outside of his control, but if he played it well it just might work. If he was subtle enough, Abby might not even notice. After all, she had promised her father she would give him a fair chance. All he needed to do was to create the right circumstances.
In Ol' Granny's kitchen, Ethan and Ginny assisted the old woman in preparing dinner while Robert and the two younger sisters were seated at the table.
Robert leaned back in his chair, looking for his little brother. "Thomas?" he called out. "Why are you still dawdling back there?"
"Almost done!" cried Thomas from inside the scullery room where he was getting dressed.
"He's probably still shy because we teased him," whispered Lizzy to her fiancé.
Robert raised his eyebrows. "Our Thomas? Shy?" he asked in astonishment. "What exactly did you say to him?"
The girl blushed. "Nothing special," she answered. "Just enough to prevent him from exposing himself to all of us girls."
Robert massaged his forehead and sighed. "So now he's an exhibitionist too," he mumbled to himself.
Abby started to get impatient. "Oh, I'm just dying to see Thomas in Granny's winter undies!" she said, loud enough for him to hear.
"Hoo-hoo! If only!" cackled Ol' Granny from behind the stove. "I can't remember the last time I had a boy in any of my undies."
Abby turned to stare in shock at the old woman. "Wearing Granny's winter undies," she corrected herself while the others failed to suppress a chuckle.
Thomas peeked through the doorway. "I have no idea what this looks like," he said with a red face. He proceeded to enter the room, still fidgeting with his clothes.
Abby blinked at him for a moment. "It's not as bad as I thought it'd be," she said. The pants were too short and the vest was too wide, but at least the colors did not clash. "It's good enough to walk home in."
Thomas' eyes widened in alarm. "Not without my boots!" he cried. "Which are thoroughly soaked. Surely you don't expect me to go barefoot." He froze when he realized Abby was fully dressed. "Where did you get those clothes?" he demanded.
Abby was taken aback by his tone. "These are Ginny's," she explained, wondering what his problem was. "She comes here so often, there's always stuff of hers lying around... and we wear practically the same size." She shot him a suspicious glance. "Perhaps you hoped to find me sharing your predicament."
Thomas shook his head. "No, not that," he said, trying to sound casual.
"Well, what is it then?" asked Abby.
"If we go home now, we'd have to come back tomorrow just to pick up our things," answered Thomas.
"You could take your clothes and let them dry at home," suggested Abby.
"Well, yes, but then I'd still have to return Granny's clothes," argued Thomas.
Abby shrugged. "What are you afraid of? You can't get lost in Windfarn. Everybody knows where Ol' Granny lives. Ask for directions. We could go together. If all else fails, you could always give them to Ethan and Ginny. Or just leave them with Ethan's parents. Granny will live... Really, Thomas! What are you whining about?"
Thomas stared at the floor while he tried to find the words. "I was just thinking--"
Ol' Granny turned around. "I know!" she interrupted, waving her spoon. "Why don't the two of you stay the night and go home in your own clothes tomorrow?"
"Oh, Granny!" exclaimed Ginny. "I knew you were still lucid!"
Thomas beamed at the old woman. "Yes! What a great idea!" he cried. "Don't you think that's a great idea, Abby?"
"Well," Abby paused, pondering the issue. "I suppose so," she said, "but Granny only has one guest room... and it has a single bed." She shot another suspicious glance at Thomas, wondering whether he had guessed as much.
"You could join me in my double bed, dear," suggested Ol' Granny, "and let Tommy have the guest room."
"That will do," agreed Abby.
"Or I could take the guest room," the old woman continued, "and you and Tommy could share the double."
Abby's mouth fell open. "W-what?"
"He'll keep you nice and warm," explained Ol' Granny. "You could use some of that, after taking that plunge into the pond."
Thomas' heart leaped a mile high, but he bit his tongue and tried to look shocked.
Ginny's eyes widened. "Why, that makes... perfect sense," she said. She turned to her husband for confirmation, but he only smiled and patted her shoulder.
Abby swallowed hard. There was no way she could accept Ol' Granny's offer, but she could not be rude either. "Actually, there's no reason for me to stay over," she said. "I'll come back for my clothes tomorrow. Thomas can stay the night if he wants to."
"Ow!" Thomas' heart came plummeting down.
"Nice try though," mumbled Robert. He covered his mouth when Abby turned to stare at him.
"Or," she said, "I take the single bed and Thomas can sleep on the floor."
Thomas gasped and looked up. "Your floor?" he asked.
"Yes," confirmed Abby.
"Deal!" cried Thomas.
Abby blinked at him. "That was a joke, Thomas."
"It's a deal!" he insisted.
Abby sighed. "Alright then," she said. "If you want it that badly, I'll humor you."
"Are you sure you won't be needing any more cushions?" asked Ol' Granny.
"No, I'll be fine," answered Thomas, sitting down on the makeshift bed. "Thanks, Granny."
"Alright. Sweet dreams, dearies," said Ol' Granny. "Oh! And don't forget to put out the candles."
"We won't," replied Thomas.
"Good night, Granny," said Abby, already tucking in her blanket.
After the door closed, Thomas waited until he no longer heard the old woman shuffling down the hallway. "Abby," he whispered, "does your Granny realize how old we are?"
"Perhaps she doesn't," answered Abby with a little grin, "but if she did, it probably wouldn't change much. Granny likes to encourage people that way."
"Then I assume she doesn't really expect me to stay on the floor all night."
Abby peered down at him. "I expect you to stay on the floor all night."
"You do? But--"
"Good night, Thomas," said Abby. She blew out the candle on her bedside table.
Thomas sighed and blew out the candle above his pillow on the floor. "Good night, Abby."
Abby turned on her side and listened to the crickets chirping outside. Every now and then she heard an owl hooting somewhere in the forest. Oddly enough she heard nothing from Thomas. Perhaps it was better that way. Abby decided to pretend he was not even in the room. She propped an arm under her pillow and tried to go to sleep.
But she could not fall asleep.
Her feet were like blocks of ice and her back felt chilled as if by a draft, although she had tucked her blanket tight around her. Perhaps she should follow Ol' Granny's suggestion after all. Abby had no intention of falling sick, not now her injury had finally healed. She turned back on her other side and lifted her head from her pillow.
"Thomas?" she asked.
"Are you still awake?"
"Do you want to get in bed with me?"
Thomas jolted upright. "Yes!"
"Don't get the wrong idea now," said Abby. "It's just that I can't sleep because I'm cold."
"I can't sleep because I'm hot," replied Thomas, "and these winter undies aren't helping."
"Take them off then and get in here." She threw open the blanket and backed away to make room.
Thomas froze, startled by the girl's sudden change of heart. "Abby, are you sure?" he asked.
"I won't be able to see you in this dark," she answered, "and I'm still wearing my nighty. Just don't try anything."