Courting Miss Greene Ch. 06byJuneSummers©
"I hope so," said Lizzy, "or else our efforts would have been all for naught."
Standing outside her front door, Mrs. Clark peered down the road. She shook her head and frowned, wondering where that foolish boy could be hanging out.
"Have you got all your things?" her husband asked the Greenes. "You didn't leave anything in the parlor?"
"No, nothing," answered Mr. Greene. "Well, aside from Elizabeth that is," he corrected himself with a chuckle.
"I suppose she wants some time alone with Robert," guessed Mrs. Greene. "I'm sure she'll catch up with us once she's done."
"Oh, just give them five more minutes," said Mrs. Clark.
"Knowing Lizzy... Well, I really want to check on Abby," replied Mrs. Greene.
"Two more minutes," pleaded Mrs. Clark.
Mrs. Greene cast her a suspicious glance. "Isabell? What's going on?" she asked.
Mrs. Clark answered with a nervous giggle. "Oh, nothing," she said.
"Well, I'm sorry to have missed that boy Thomas," Mr. Greene told the Clarks.
"Please give him our regards when he gets back," his wife added.
"Of course. Will do," replied Mr. Clark, keeping a straight face.
The Clarks waited until the Greenes were out of hearing range.
"Do you think they suspect anything?" Mrs. Clark asked her husband.
"Surely not," he answered. "I should think we played our part well enough. Either way, it's out of our hands now."
His wife sighed and nodded in agreement.
Walking down the road, Mrs. Greene glanced at her husband. "Don't you think they're hiding something?" she asked.
"Sure as hell," he answered. "The question is what exactly they're hiding."
"I have some suspicions," said Mrs. Greene.
"So have I," her husband replied, "but let's not jump to conclusions. We always do and then we get all worked up over nothing."
"You're probably right," his wife agreed.
"Wait!" Lizzy's voice cried in the distance. "Wait for me!" The girl ran towards her parents and stopped to catch her breath when she caught up with them.
"I suppose you've made plans to meet with Robert again tomorrow?" her mother guessed.
Lizzy gave her a little smile. "Yes," she confirmed. "I couldn't be without him for a day."
"So what exactly did he buy you?" her father asked.
"George!" his wife reprimanded him. "She already said it was personal!"
Mr. Greene shrugged. "I thought that was because of the Clarks."
"Mr. Clark, yes," his wife replied, "and you."
"I see," said Mr. Greene, trying not to feel left out, "it's one of those 'girl things.' Perhaps I should go on ahead and leave you two girls to it." He strode forward with large steps.
"Oh, father! No!" cried Lizzy.
Mr. Greene halted and cast a questioning glance at his daughter.
"You stay with mom and I'll go on ahead," said Lizzy.
"Whatever for?" her father asked.
"Erm..." the girl turned to her mother with a pleading pout.
"Lizzy?" Mrs. Greene was puzzled by the desperation on her daughter's face. Then all of a sudden her eyes widened and she drew in a sharp breath. "Yes, yes. You should run along," she agreed. "Go on now."
Lizzy nodded with a grateful smile and made herself scarce in no time.
"What was that all about?" asked Mr. Greene when his wife caught up with him.
"Now, George," she answered. "Don't get all upset, but I do believe Abby will have become a woman when we see her again."
Mr. Greene's jaw dropped and he stopped in his tracks. "What?" he demanded in shock, feeling the heat rise in his neck.
"And I expect you to show her the proper respect as such," his wife continued.
Mr. Greene frowned, shaking his head in disbelief. "What?"
Mrs. Greene lifted her chin. "You know what I mean," she said.
"Eleanor!" her husband protested. "No...!"
"But surely... not Abigale!"
Mr. Greene fell silent while he struggled to come to terms with the situation.
Mrs. Greene's mouth curled into a smile when she saw his bottom lip protruding, but she managed not to laugh out loud. "Come now, George," she said, pulling him along by his arm. "I thought you approved of Thomas."
"I do," her husband confirmed. "I just didn't expect him to move this fast. And certainly not with this much success. I mean, this is Abigale we're talking about."
"Oh, but he's so young," said Mrs. Greene with a smile of endearment. "They both are. Just like we were. Remember?"
Her husband let out a long sigh. "How could I ever forget?" he asked. "Especially since you keep reminding me... over and over."
"Just making sure," his wife explained.
"Well, of course," said Mr. Greene. "I won't breathe a word to Abigale. I'll act as if nothing has happened. I won't know anything I haven't witnessed in person. Until Abigale elects to inform me of such herself."
"Thank you, George," his wife said. "You're such an understanding father... and I love you all the more for it."
Mrs. Greene's words had taken her husband by surprise. He halted again and cast her a curious glance. She had that look in her eyes as if she was waiting for something. He pulled her close and gave her a kiss. "Looking on the bright side," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "we'll soon have the house to ourselves again."
For a moment his wife returned his smile, but then her face contorted. "Oh, our nest will be empty!" she cried. "Our little birds... all flown away!" She burst into tears. "Off to build their own nests! Ohh!"
"Eleanor...!" Mr. Greene gave her his handkerchief. "You knew they'd have to leave someday."
"There's a difference between 'knowing' and 'realizing,'" she explained, "and I didn't expect to lose all of them in such a short timespan."
"They're not out of the house yet," her husband said. "Let's enjoy the time we have left together."
Mrs. Greene managed a little smile. "Yes," she agreed, "let's make the most of it."
Lizzy paused when she entered the hallway of her house. It was strangely quiet inside. All she heard was the rapid breathing she was still struggling to catch. The girl startled herself by stepping onto the stairs, causing a resounding creak to echo off the walls. "Abby?" she called out, but there was no answer. Lizzy continued her way upwards, wondering why she was walking on tiptoe. "Abby?" she called again when she reached her bedroom door. She knocked on it a few times, but still no answer came. Lizzy started to panic. She dared not enter the room for fear Thomas was still inside. "Abby!" she cried with more urgency now. "Abby! Mom and dad are coming home!" She banged on the door. "Abby, answer me!"
Inside the room, the young lovers jolted awake. They blinked at each other, wondering what the hullabaloo was about.
Abby gasped in shock. "We fell asleep!" she cried.
Thomas rubbed his eyes. "What time is it?" he asked.
Abby glanced out the window. Where the sun had shone earlier, rainclouds now blocked the sky. "It's late," she concluded.
"Abby!" Lizzy's voice cried again.
"Yes, we're awake!" the older girl cried back.
Lizzy stopped banging the door at once, shocked to have her worst suspicions confirmed in such few words. "Oh, alright then," she replied. With a nervous giggle, she turned on her heel and made her way back downstairs.
Thomas sat upright. "My love," he said, "as much as it pains me, it seems I must leave you now." He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it.
Abby nodded in agreement. "You should stop by again tomorrow," she said, "and use the front door this time."
"And then I'll take you out for a stroll," he suggested, still holding her hand, "the way I'm supposed to."
They smiled at each other for a moment. Somehow they were doing everything in the wrong order, but neither of them cared.
"They're here!" Lizzy's voice cried from downstairs.
Thomas released Abby's hand at once and climbed out of the bed to gather his clothes. Abby followed his example and got back into her nightgown. When she was done, Thomas was still putting on his boots. Abby found his jacket and handed it to him.
"Thank you, my love," he said. He moved towards the window and opened it. A chilly breeze billowed through the curtains. "Stay back, my love," said Thomas, "before you really catch a cold."
"Oh...!" Abby ran up to Thomas, kissed him briefly and ran back to her bed, hugging her arms.
Thomas climbed out the window and lowered himself down the wall. "Well then, goodbye, my love," he said.
"Bye," she replied with a little wave of her hand.
Downstairs, Lizzy was surprised when only her mother entered through the door. "Where's father?" she asked.
"Oh, he went 'round the back," her mother answered. "He had some garden work to do before the rain falls." She lowered her voice. "I'll be in the cellar, so if someone wants to use the stairs..." Her voice trailed off when she saw the shock on her daughter's face.
"Thomas won't be using the stairs!" the girl blurted and covered her mouth at once.
Mrs. Greene raised her eyebrows. "What?"
"He's climbing out the window," explained Lizzy with a look of misery.
Mrs. Greene froze. "Uh-oh...!"
Thomas stood in the backyard of the Greene home, waving back at Abby. With a teasing smile the girl finally drew the curtains, realizing her lover would not leave as long as she remained standing behind her window. Thomas let out a long, deep sigh while he walked away. He stopped to cast one last glance at Abby's window before it would disappear from his sight. "What's this sweet music I hear?" he wondered aloud, cupping his ear. "Whenever my love is--"
The young man's head turned so fast he thought he heard his neck snap. "Mr. Greene!" he cried, shocked to see Abby's father all of a sudden standing in front of him. He could not help but note the rather large shovel the older man held in his hands.
Mr. Greene looked the younger man up and down. It did not take a genius to figure out what had happened. Thomas had obviously dressed in a hurry and his hair was quite a mess. And as if that had not been clear enough, the guilty look on his face said it all. Mr. Greene was well aware he was expected to throw a fit now and perhaps even to threaten the boy with physical harm. It took all he had to keep a straight face while he pondered the various scenarios. "So, Thomas Clark," he spoke at last. With a loud thud Mr. Greene planted his shovel into the ground and rested his elbow on top. "How do you appreciate my garden?" he asked.
Thomas swallowed hard. He tore his eyes off the shovel to take a quick look around. "It's very nice, sir," he answered. "Very lovely," he corrected himself, thinking that "nice" might sound too generic.
"Are you a lover of flowers?" asked Mr. Greene in an off-hand manner.
It sounded like a trick question, but Thomas was forced to answer with "yes."
Mr. Greene's mouth curled into a little grin, but he coughed and straightened his face again. "Now think carefully before you answer my next question," he warned. "Suppose you enter someone's garden and one of the flowers captures your fancy, would you pick that flower without the gardener's permission?"
Thomas' face flushed red. "Erm..."
"Or even behind his back?" continued Mr. Greene. "Requiring other people to draw away his attention just so you could satisfy whatever need you believed you had?"
Thomas' heart pounded in panic. Mr. Greene was on to him. He involuntarily followed the older man's gaze towards the girls' bedroom window, losing his last hope of feigning innocence. "Oh, sir!" he cried. "Please forgive me, sir. I meant no disrespect, I swear." Recognizing this was the time to grovel, Thomas threw himself onto his knees.
Mr. Greene pursed his lips to hide his amusement. "No disrespect?" he echoed, sounding displeased.
"Erm, I didn't mean to dishonor your daughter," explained Thomas, "nor to bring shame upon your house." He held his breath while his mind raced to find something else to say.
Mr. Greene cocked an eyebrow at him. "So you're saying you climbed in and out of my daughter's window entirely by accident?"
"Erm, no," admitted Thomas.
"Then what did you mean?" asked Mr. Greene.
"I only meant to... make her feel my love," the young man answered with a sigh, painfully aware he must sound like an idiot. Thomas pouted and hung his head. Off in the distance he heard the rumblings of thunder. It seemed fitting somehow. As if lightning might strike him at any moment. Or Mr. Greene might strike him with that shovel of his. He wondered which of the two would be the most merciful.
"You know, there are some flowers in the back of my garden that haven't been doing so well lately," said Mr. Greene at last.
Thomas looked up, confused by the seemingly random remark.
"I'm not yet sure whether they need more sunshine," continued Mr. Greene, "or a different kind of fertilizer. Perhaps you could help me find out."
Thomas's eyes widened. "You mean--?" He swallowed hard, unable to finish the sentence.
A wide grin appeared on Mr. Greene's face when he wrestled the shovel from the ground and swept it high into the air.
Thomas cringed in shock, but hung his head again in acceptance of whatever punishment Mr. Greene deemed appropriate. He stared down at the grass, wondering whether the shovel would land on his head or in his neck, or whether it would take more than one blow to finish him off.
But the blow never came.
Instead, Thomas heard a strange sort of hissing coming from above. He carefully looked up at Mr. Greene, causing the older man to lose his composure and break out in a roaring laughter.
Mr. Greene flung the shovel over his shoulder and stretched out his free hand towards Thomas. "On your feet, you young, lovestruck fool," he said with a warm smile. "If you run along now, you might just make it in time before the storm breaks out."
Thomas blinked at him for a moment, not comprehending the sudden turn of events. Finally he sighed with relief and allowed Mr. Greene to pull him back onto his feet. "Erm, if it's alright with you, sir," he said as humbly as he could, "I'd like to take Abby out for a stroll tomorrow."
Mr. Greene nodded, looking rather pleased. "But of course."
Thomas spun in circles with a big smile on his face. His heart was singing and dancing inside of his chest: a strange yet wonderful feeling. It did not matter to Thomas that the rain poured down on him, soaking his hair and clothes. Even lightning could strike him now and Thomas was sure he would still live. What could possibly go wrong? Abby loved him and all was well in his world.
He went around the back of his uncle's house, surprised to find the guest room window shut. At first he thought somebody had closed it because of the rain. Then he remembered he had left through the door that morning and did not need to sneak back in like he had done the day before. Thomas made his way to the front of the house, but the door flew open as soon as he reached for the handle.
"Auntie Bell!" he cried. "Erm, hi."
Mrs. Clark put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Thomas Clark! Where have you been all day?" she demanded.
"Erm, I went to see Abby," he answered.
"I know," she said without blinking, "but why did it take you so long to get back?"
"We talked and... then we fell asleep," explained Thomas, thinking to himself he was speaking in truth.
"What? On the couch?" Mrs. Clark struggled to remain stern and hide her amusement.
"No..." Thomas broke off the sentence before he would tell her he had slept in Abby's bed.
"Why not?" asked Mrs. Clark. "Couches can be so comfortable to sleep on... all afternoon."
Thomas' eyes widened when he realized she had found what he had done the day before. He gave her the most remorseful pout he could muster. "Auntie Bell, I'm so sorry," he said in a small voice. "Truly, I am." He hung his head and stared at his boots, waiting for her reaction.
Mrs. Clark managed to sound skeptical. "Are you really?"
Her husband joined her in the hallway. "Come now, Isabell," he said in a soothing voice. "The boy is soaked to the bone. Let him come in and dry himself before he really catches a cold."
"No matter," replied Mrs. Clark, "since I had to spend so much time at the market I was able to replenish all of my supplies. So go ahead and get yourself sick, boy," she told Thomas, "and it will be house arrest for you tomorrow. For real this time."
"Oh, Auntie Bell! No!" Thomas almost staggered back on his feet, dismayed by the idea of not seeing his love the next day.
Mrs. Clark tried not to grin at the young man's distress and decided to add a little more. "I wonder how Ethan will react when he finds out you drugged his mother," she mused, tapping her chin.
"I thought you enjoyed your nap," her husband mumbled under his breath, but Mrs. Clark promptly elbowed him in the ribs.
Thomas cringed and swallowed hard. "Please don't tell Ethan," he begged, involuntarily reaching for his neck. "I'd do anything to make it up to you."
"Erm, I could do the dishes," suggested Thomas.
"Ha! You'd only break them," cried Mrs. Clark.
"No, I won't," Thomas assured her. "I didn't break any of Granny Frye's dishes either."
"Is that so?" Mrs. Clark blinked at him for a moment. Her heart softened when she imagined the young fool standing behind the sink. She let out a long, deep sigh. "Oh, well. Go on then," she said, stepping aside. "Dinner will be in an hour."
Later that evening Robert found himself in the kitchen, helping Thomas with his chores so they could talk in private. "So how did it go with Abby?" he asked in a hushed voice.
Thomas glared at his brother. "That's personal," he replied and handed him a plate.
Robert's face reddened, embarrassed by the suggestion he was prodding for details. "Oh, but at least you gave her the chocolates, didn't you?" he asked in an off-hand manner while he struggled with the towel.
Thomas shrugged. "I did," he confirmed, "but she wasn't interested in food play."
Robert almost dropped the plate. "For heaven's sake!" He cleared his throat and straightened his back. "Please just tell me you didn't do anything crazy to her."
"Of course not," answered Thomas, looking offended. "What do you take me for?"
Robert bit his tongue and continued drying the plate.
"No, I kept it pretty straightforward," said Thomas. His gaze wandered off. "And yet it was something really special. As if Abby and I were the only two people in the whole world, and the world itself did not extend beyond her bed. It could have been just us on a bed, somewhere in the vastness of space. I completely forgot about everything else."
"Well, erm, did you at least remember to pull out in time?" asked Robert out of practical concern.
Thomas cringed. "No, actually," he admitted, "but there's no need to worry," he added when he saw his brother's reaction. "Granny Frye gave her something for that."
"Did she tell you what it was?" asked Robert.
"I didn't ask," replied Thomas.
"It didn't cross my mind."
Robert rubbed the crease in his forehead and sighed. "But you're going to marry her, right?" he asked.
"If she'll have me," answered Thomas.
"Then you'll propose to her tomorrow?"
"That would be a bit soon."
Robert did not know whether to laugh or get mad. "You just slept with her!" he cried.
Thomas glanced at the door. "Keep it down, will you?" He paused for a moment. "Besides, I'd need a ring first."
"Forget the ring," said Robert. "I popped the question without a ring, and so did Ethan."
"Neither of you knew when you were going to propose. I won't have that excuse," argued Thomas. "And I don't want Abby to think I expect her to say 'yes' because we slept together."
Robert blinked at him. "I see," he said. "You don't want to take her for granted. How very thoughtful of you. Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to wait a little while, but don't take too long either. Just in case, you know..." Robert's voice drifted off when he realized Thomas was no longer listening to him. "Oh, never mind," he mumbled under his breath. He put away his plates, deciding the young rascal would be on his own the next time he wanted to do the dishes.