I am off the stoop and across the yard, moving fast as I can through the snow, glad to escape Mama and Betsy. Chickens flap and squawk out of my way because they know better. At the barn, my hand stops on the rough cold metal handle of its sliding door. I can't believe the voices coming from inside.
'It's good wages, Sir,' Jeremiah says, and my hand won't move on the handle, not for all the world, no matter how fast my heart pounds, not before I know why he's come. 'A hundred and fifty dollars for joining plus regular pay after.'
'Seems to me there's a damn sight more important things than money,' Papa says, high and mighty like he knows best.
'Well, Sir'Jeremiah uses his polite voice'a man can't live without money. I aim to buy us a farm, supposing you agree. The Army's paying.'
I want to laugh to hear him say us after waiting two days. After I've been convincing myself I was wrongheaded for all my wishes about Jeremiah.
'I'm sure Rosetta'll have something to say about that,' Papa says. 'She knows every farm in this valley.'
'We've got ideas, Sir. Rosetta's the only girl I ever met who cares about farming the same as me.'
It's like Papa don't hear Jeremiah talking proud about me. He asks, 'You ain't got the money to support a wife, why you aiming to get yourself one?'
There's a funny strangling sound before Jeremiah says, 'It was mostly Rosetta's idea, Sir, getting married now. Before'
Whatever tool Papa's working on fixing clatters to the ground. He's laughing. 'Well, don't she just beat all. Been near to the death of her Mama, but that girl's the best farmhand I ever had. Can't imagine hiring a better one, but I suppose if it's her idea I can't say no.'
'Thank you, Sir.'
Hearing how Jeremiah has spoken for me, I lose track of my feet and slip right there on the icy snow, clutching at the barn door handle to keep from falling.
There's footsteps in the hay and I scramble, running to look like I've come straight from the house, throwing off my dirty apron and shoving it beneath the lilacs that are no more than sticks jutting straight up out of the snow.
I skid on the stoop's frosted planks as the barn door opens. Out walks Papa, clapping his hand on Jeremiah's shoulder. Jeremiah is taller than Papa and his legs don't look so spindly no more. He is wearing his Sunday best to come calling, nicer than anything my Papa has ever worn, but it don't hide how his arms are thicker than Papa's.
'Rosetta,' Papa calls when he sees me shivering. 'Looks like you got yourself a nice young man here, says you're after marrying him and now he's trying to make it right by asking my permission.'
When he climbs the steps, I tell him what I told Jeremiah, the thing he will understand most, not all the things I'm feeling.
'I don't want to be no spinster, Papa. And if he goes off'
Papa squints. Then his hand is on my head, messing my hair, and he says, 'Then I guess we might as well tell your Mama, ease her mind on one account anyway.' He points at Jeremiah, opening the kitchen workroom door. 'You stay for dinner.'
It is warm inside and we three squeeze in among the butter churn and the washtub and Mama's spinning wheel. Jeremiah's heat is behind me and I turn to smile at him, his ears looking wind-chapped when he says he'll stay.
'I imagine you two got things to be discussing, now you're fixed on each other,' Papa says. He sits down on the bench and pulls off his work boots, the soles almost worn through. 'How about I'll head in, get Mama working on another plate for supper, and you two can sit right here until it's ready?'
Excerpted from I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe Copyright © 2014. Excerpted by permission of Crown Trade, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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