The Manor House Ch. 08byvelvetpie©
When she awoke an hour later and headed down to dinner, Shandi was amazed to see the number of people that were assembled around the huge table in the living room. There were at least 25 people seated on each side with Rob at one end and Milo at the other. She was also surprised to see that there were a couple of men there as well, one boasting a healing wounds on his cheeks. Rob waved her over and she felt the heat rise in her face, remembering that the woman now knew how she felt about her.
"Everyone!" It took several seconds for the chattering to quiet down. "Everyone, this is Shandi. Shandi, this is everyone."
In one voice, the group shouted, "Hi, Shandi!"
"Hi." She laughed.
"Shandi will be helping Hannah in the stable until we can get her studio set up and I'm hoping to convince her to give some painting lessons." Rob gave her a wink and heat rose again. "I expect each of you to introduce yourselves to her and make her feel at home at Manor House."
Applause rang out and Milo pulled a chair back, allowing Shandi to sit next to Rob. Shandi shyly glanced over at Rob then turned her sight on the rest of the table, letting her eyes connect with the others. Most of the faces were open and accepting, especially those of Colleen, Melba and Hannah but there were a few that were closed with anger which confused her. Shandi smartly committed those faces to memory and pushed the confusion aside as Rob handed her a covered basket of rolls.
"So how do you feel?"
Rob's question took her by surprise and she had to clear her throat while thinking of how she was going to answer. "Fine."
"That's it? Just fine?"
Shandi couldn't help but smile. "I feel very good."
"That's better." Rob passed her a bowl of peas and onions. "Do you like your room?"
Again, the heat torched Shandi's face and she focused her attentions on spooning the vegetables onto her plate. "Yes, it's very nice."
"I thought you'd like it. It gets plenty of sunlight during the day and I thought it would be perfect for your painting." A platter of fried chicken was handed to her and she used the tongs to select a breast and thigh. "Chicken?"
Shandi nodded. "A breast, please."
Rob smiled and chose a large, juicy breast for Shandi, setting it on her plate, then passed the platter on. "Would you go into town with me tonight?"
"I only ask because I don't know what kind of brushes and paints that you'll need." Rob carefully watched Shandi's face as they both tore into their chicken. It took a long time for Shandi to speak.
"Rob, I don't know if I can paint any more."
"Of course you can." Rob reached over and patted the back of her hand, sending a thrill racing through her. "All it takes is time."
Shandi thought about that. "I don't have much of that."
"Why do you say that?"
"I can't stay here forever, Rob."
"Why not? This is my place. You can stay as long as you want." She stroked her hand this time, but quickly moved her hand away, returning her attention back to her meat.
The idea of staying with Rob warmed Shandi and she tucked into her meal without another word, feeling happier than she had in a long time. After dinner, Rob asked Shandi to help clear the table while she went to attend to a new arrival that needed her immediate attention. Shandi found herself aiding three women, two older and one the same age as she and one of the older ones was one of the women whom she'd committed to memory.
While Sarah and Lydia introduced themselves readily, Mariane busied herself with piling bowls together and setting them onto the trays. Shandi took a breath and placed her stack of silverware onto the tray, waiting until the older woman returned with another armful of pottery.
"Hi. I'm Shandi."
The hatred in Mariane's eyes was palpable and Shandi nearly withdrew her hand. "Mariane." She disregarded her outstretched hand and stepped around her, gathering more utensils.
"Nice to meet you."
Mariane set her handful back down, her dark eyes narrowed and focused on the black woman. "Don't bother trying to make me your friend, nigger." The force of the woman's epithet made Shandi take several steps back. "I know what you're after. I saw you sniffing her skirts."
"I beg your pardon!"
"You'll get what you want soon enough. She always beds the newcomers."
Shandi fought hard not to look surprised but she couldn't help it. All her fantasies and dreams had been dashed in a few words. She watched as Mariane lifted the laden tray and headed for the kitchen with her load, giving a nod of acknowledgment to Rob as she entered the hall.
"Ready to go?"
The words momentarily stuck in her throat as Mariane's words echoed in her head. She always beds the newcomers. "Uh, no. I've changed my mind. I think I'll go up to bed."
Rob watched the young woman walk away, confusion filling her features and she wondered what had happened between dinner and now. Biting her lip, she silently vowed to find out.