Julie was finishing up the dishes when Jill came in, dragging Joy by the hand. The screen door slammed shut behind them.
"Here's this good-for-nothin' kid. I put her clothes in the tub on the porch."
Julie looked down at the small girl and shook her head. Joy's nakedness didn't seem to bother her at all.
"I don't know what we're going to do with you. You can't stay clean for a minute."
"Ya can shoot me." Big solemn eyes looked up at Julie.
"Shoot you? Where in the world did you get an idea like that?"
"Joe said it to Papa. Papa said, 'I donno what to do with ya.' Joe said, 'Shoot 'er.' "
"They were teasing."
"I'm not so sure," Jill said. "Come on, brat. We'll get you some bloomers, unless you want the boys to see your bare behind."
"I don't care," Joy replied sassily.
Julie rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. The name Joy was so right for the little one; she was the joy of the family. Her hair was curly, her eyes large and blue as the sky. Bright as a new penny and precocious, she was in danger of being terribly spoiled by doting brothers and sisters.
Julie put the kitchen in order. As she hung her apron on the back of a chair, Jill, with Joy in tow, came through the kitchen on the way to the front porch. Julie went upstairs to the room she shared with her sisters and changed out of her dress into a white blouse with a drawstring neckline and a blue skirt. Julie knew herself for what she was: a strong, slim woman with clear skin, a wide mouth and the responsibility of raising her siblings weighing heavily on her shoulders.
She looked at herself closely in the mirror as she braided, coiled and pinned her waist-length, wheat-colored hair to the back of her head. She had thought about getting a bob, but she feared what it would do to her already rather "unsteady" reputation. Her thick dark brows were slightly arched. Lashes, long and lush, framed light brown eyes that were both quiet and quick. Julie sighed. Nothing about her would cause a man to give her a second look. She was foolish, very foolish to dream that one would.
With a wide-brimmed straw hat set squarely on her head to shade her face as much as possible, she picked up the cloth bag she would use to carry home the few things she planned to get at the store.
On the porch she paused to give last-minute instructions to Jill.
"If I'm not back by the time Papa and the boys get here, tell them I'll be here by suppertime. Be nice, Joy, and pay mind to what your sister tells you."
"Do I have to?" The little girl's merry blue eyes twinkled up at Julie.
"Yes, you little imp." Julie smiled fondly at the child. "Come give me a kiss."
"Are you going to the library?" Jill asked.
"Is there something you need to return?"
"No. I'd love to read The Trail of the Lonesome Pine and Girl of the Limberlost again. If they're not in, get Ramona or Freckles or A Knight of the Cumberland."
"You've read those books... several times. Why not try something new?"
"I'd rather read something I know I'll like. Old Miss Rothe made us read Ivanhoe and Lady of the Lake. She thought they were romantic. I thought they were boring!"
"Agnes Rothe is a good teacher."
"She's an old maid! Bet she's old as Papa."
"She's a good teacher even if she is old!" Julie retorted as she left the shade of the porch, stepped out into the bright July sunlight and walked down the lane toward the road. Sidney ran out from under the porch to follow. "You can't go, Sidney." Julie stopped and pointed a finger at the shaggy dog. "Why aren't you with Jason?"
"Jason didn't want him to go to the Humphreys'," Jill called.
Copyright © 2001 by Dorothy Garlock
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