There were things he wanted to know before they began marriage. An Unlikely Arrangement.

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Chapter 8 – 2

Ruth watched Peter and his mother join hands, and Charlie and Joseph did the same. Elizabeth reached for Ginny’s hand. When Peter laid his hand on Ruth’s, she became dizzy from the shock of it. He bowed his head and began the blessing. His deep resonant voice captured her, mesmerized her as he said the prayer. She forgot to bow her head and close her eyes, but continued to gaze at him completely enraptured.

“Dear Lord, we are thankful today to have such lovely guests to add to our table and pray you will bless this food to each of us. May our visit be pleasant and restful. Please bless our dear mother who prepared this meal and please, Lord, keep Charlie and Joseph out of mischief this evening. In God’s name we pray, Amen.” He lifted his head and winked at his brothers.

Ruth felt lost when he relinquished her hand. A quick glance at Elizabeth confirmed she had watched her through the entire blessing.

“Mrs. Kirby, the soup smells divine. I can hardly wait to try it,” Ginny babbled on about how her stomach rumbled.

Meanwhile, Ruth’s appetite left her, altogether.

Peter served each person and ladled the soup as if he performed this task everyday. Not one drop spilled.

She picked up the soupspoon and prepared to taste her first sample, awkwardness suddenly rearing its ugly head. Lucky for her, Mother taught her the proper use of utensils and their place at table.

The two boys finished their respective bowls, and with a clatter of spoons, demanded more.

While Peter’s mother admonished them about their manners, Ruth tasted the soup. Her head jerked up, surprised at the pleasant warmth on her pallet. “Why, Mrs. Kirby, this is most tasty. It is unusual though. What’s your secret?”

“It’s an old family recipe brought from Holland, a secret spice mixed with other spices, which I blend myself. I have a garden out back where I grow each one, dry, and store them, so I’ll always have them on hand. Only family members will be privy to all the information, though.” She winked at Ruth and returned to her own fare.

Ruth determined not to say another word.

Peter sat silent.

The next course introduced the roast beef, and again, Ruth realized she’d never quite tasted anything like it before. It was tangy and full-bodied. “I suppose you have a special ingredient for the pot roast you can’t share with us also, Mrs. Kirby? I don’t believe I have ever had pot roast with quite this kind of zing.”

“Mother is an artful and skilled cook, Ruth. We are often surprised by her secrets and experiments. I hope it’s all to your liking.”

“Oh, it is, Peter. It’s all lovely. I wasn’t really hungry when I arrived, but the aromas set my juices flowing.” She immediately wished she could take back the last comment. Heat rose to her face, and she looked down at the plate, embarrassed.

There was polite conversation as the meal progressed, and finally, Elizabeth brought in the chocolate chiffon pie.

“I really couldn’t, Mrs. Kirby. I’m completely stuffed,” Ruth said.

Mrs. Kirby placed the pie in the middle of the table. “Why don’t you and Peter take a walk? The night air might help to stimulate your hunger once more. It would disappoint me if you didn’t taste my special pie. It’s Peter’s favorite. Ginny, maybe you would like to help me and the boys straighten up this mess?”

The two boys whined in unison. “Oh, Mother, must we? Why does Peter never have to help in the kitchen?”

“Charlie and Joseph, do as Mother asks. This is no way to behave in front of company,” Peter said, his look stern.

“Wait, I would love to help Mrs. Kirby in the kitchen. Let the boys off the hook tonight. I’d love the time to visit with my new friend.” Ginny laid a hand on Peter’s arm and looked at the two boys.

Hopeful eyes returned to Peter, and the boys moved between him and their newfound hero.

“Well, I don’t know. It is part of their tasks in the evening to help with the dishes,” he answered.

“But this is a special night, lots of extra work. I’ll take their place and give them a night off.”

Elizabeth nodded to Peter, and he relented, at which time, the boys grabbed Ginny around the waist and cried ‘thank you’ into her skirt.

Everyone laughed, and the boys scampered away.

Peter offered his arm to Ruth. “Would you like to wander through the garden? It’s a bit chilly, and there’s nothing growing right now, but Mother keeps it neat and clean, even in winter. Maybe we could get to know each other better. I promise I won’t bite.”

She laid her hand on Peter’s arm and smiled. “Yes, it sounds lovely. Maybe I can spot your mother’s secret ingredient while we’re out there.”

Peter laughed. He reached for his mother’s shawl and took his time placing it around her shoulders.

They left the front porch, and he guided her around the back of the cottage where the real garden stretched out in front of her. She reveled in the well cared for walkways winding through the bushes and shrubs. At the end of each turn sat a concrete bench, and Peter asked if she’d like to sit when they came upon one.

She waited until they arrived at the back of the garden before she acquiesced. “I don’t believe I’ve seen the spice garden yet, Peter. Is it hidden?” They sat on the bench, and she felt the warmth of his body next to hers, inviting, yet uncomfortable at the same time.

“Ruth, I don’t want to talk of spices or gardens tonight. There will be time enough for that later. I want to talk about us…you and me. Your parents arrive home tomorrow with all their plans made. I wanted to tell you I have dreamed about you. I cannot get you out of my mind. I need to know if you feel the same way. Do you desire me, or think I am a big oaf, unacceptable for marriage? Does my family live too simple for your taste? These are all things I must know before we take this step of marriage.”

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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