Monday, November 17th
In Aggie’s mind, it was their first true argument. She was furious, and the fact that she couldn’t remember what prompted her anger made it even worse. Luke’s pain-filled eyes would normally have sparked her compassion, but an uncharacteristic stubbornness had seized her and held her in its grip.
“Just go home, Luke. We’re obviously not going to agree on this one. I don’t want to argue anymore.”
“We can’t just ignore—”
“We can postpone the inevitable until I’m ready to handle it,” she snapped. “I’m tired, I’ve had a very hard day with five students who did not do well in their studies today and three little ones who took advantage of that. The last thing I need is for you to show up and scold me for something that isn’t even any of your business. Just go home.”
The moment the words were out of her mouth, Aggie regretted them. Before she could try to take them back and apologize, a spider crawled lethargically over her toe, making her jump. Luke’s foot came down on the critter before she had a chance to wonder how it had survived so long in the cold.
Aggie glanced up, expecting to meet his eyes, but found them downcast. “You know, you’re a handy guy to have around.”
“I’d be happy to stomp spiders for you for the rest of your life,” he whispered before turning to leave.
She would have thought he was joking, but the catch in his voice confused her. “I’d like that.”
At the bottom of the step, he glanced up at her. Seconds, oh how they seemed like hours, passed before he finally spoke. “Would you, Mibs? I thought maybe, but I can’t help but wonder…”
He was in his truck and down the driveway before the full import of his words registered in her mind. Aggie hurried down the steps, but Luke was gone. Her hand dug into her skirt pocket for her cell phone but hesitated. Messenger.
She hurried inside, flipped open her laptop, and waited for it to boot. Her mind spent the next minute reminding herself that he couldn’t possibly get home before she got connected.
A minute later, her cursor hovered over the instant message icon. She dragged it to the left and clicked her email instead.
Subject: Forgive me?
I was wrong. This apology shouldn’t surprise you. It seems as if I’m always apologizing to someone for something. I want to promise it won’t happen again, but I can’t. We both know it will. I can promise that I’ll be just as disgusted with myself next time as I am this time, and I’ll be begging the Lord to be merciful to me—again.
I want to own what I did wrong—be specific. You know? I mean, that’s what I was taught to do. The problem is, all I know is that I was rude and hateful to you because I was embarrassed. I just don’t know why. I can’t even remember why we argued. I think you corrected me as a sister in Christ. I think. Maybe not. Maybe you just should have. My mind is so muddled—probably because I’m writing instead of praying and allowing God to bring my sin to mind, but I wanted this note to be there for you when you got home.
I am so sorry,
Aggie (a.k.a. Mibs)
Not two minutes later, the following email whizzed its way over the information highway and into Luke’s email box.
Ugh. I just remembered what I got so upset about. Did I really blow up over that? Thank you for not backing down and letting me get away with it. What a terrible example to the kids.
It’s kind of cliché too. Really? Spilled milk? Oy, as Laird would say. What is with him and his pet words that change every other day. He never did that before!
Anyway, now that I remember what I was so upset over (and I confess I am now giggling that I was so silly), please forgive me for getting upset about you correcting me for getting upset over spilled milk. Particularly the minuscule amount that dribbles from a toddler’s sippy cup. I am mortified.
Prostrate and laughing too hard to be believable when I say I am truly sorry,
Mibs (a.k.a Aggie)
She waited, her eyes rarely leaving the clock at the bottom right of her screen for longer than a few seconds. Mentally, she calculated the distance and time to his duplex, praying he wouldn’t go see Libby first. It would be a natural thing to do. The last thing she wanted was to wait any longer than necessary for him to see it.
The phone felt as if it was burning a hole in her pocket. She hesitated and then whipped it out. Her fingers hovered over the letter keys and then she found the right words to send. The wait continued.
One scrubbed stove, two emptied wastepaper baskets emptied, three shoes returned to their proper cubbies, and four thousand glances at her inbox later, a message appeared. With trepidation, she opened it.
Subject: You’re still doing it
You’re still crying over spilled milk, only now you’re crying over having cried over spilled milk. Stop it.
I am just thankful for that spider.
I love you,
Luke (a.k.a. Lucas)
Her brow wrinkled, trying to remember what the spider had to do with anything? Why would he be thankful for—she gave up and opened a new email. She’d intended to go crawl into bed and sort out her spirit with the Lord, but it was impossible to let that one go.
Subject: Thankful for pests?
And I don’t mean me… just why would you be thankful for a spider?
Glad you still love me,
Migsie (For the record, combining Aggie and Mibs doesn’t work)
Her fingers nearly twitched as she waited for his reply. Apparently his careful attention to wording was not limited to conversations in person or on messenger. Even letters took him some time to compose. Did he start his occasional notes to her half a dozen times before he got the words just right? She suspected that he did.
You’re right. It doesn’t. Yours is better. I’ll reserve that for when you need to be put in your place (you know, anytime you dare disagree with my superior wisdom).
I am grateful to the spider because he inspired my feeble attempt at gallantry. That attempt was rewarded with your assurance that you’d like me to be around to stomp your spiders for the rest of your life. You see, my gratitude is self-centered and greedy. I make no apologies for it. I’m afraid I am not sorry and cannot lie and pretend I intend to mend my ways.
Now go to sleep. Let’s just sort of pretend this didn’t happen. Remember the spider and your words about him and his kind and forget the milk. Besides, it’ll happen again. That’s one thing I know I can promise.
I love you (tired of hearing that yet?)
Luke the Lucky (It works better with Leif)
Aggie couldn’t resist one last quick note back. As much as she preferred the swiftness of the messenger, these emails would definitely go in the scrapbook of their conversations and his notes. Already it was very precious to her.
I am not(tired of hearing it, that is). Thought you ought to know.
Aggie de la Mibs
Tuesday, November 18th
Aggie’s cell phone blasted Beethoven’s fifth symphony, the latest in a series of ringtones that Laird found hilarious. His changing them approximately once every other day would drive her to the nut house or keep her from needing it—she wasn’t sure which.
“Aunt Aggie?” Ellie’s voice broke through her concentration on Luke’s latest text message.
“Is it t-o the store or t-o-o the store? I can never remember.”
The girl’s forehead furrowed as she wrote. “How are you supposed to know which one to use?”
“Well,” Aggie’s brain raced through her grammar lessons for the clearest explanation. “Ok, t-o-o has an extra o, right? Well, you use t-o-o to mean too much or excessive. You also use it for also. So, more either with too much or ‘in addition’ get more o’s. Does that make sense?”
“Too gets more o’s…” her mind seemed to mull it as she scribbled. “So too much, too many, too long all have two o’s but to go, to stay, to eat, don’t?”
“Exactly. T-w-o has the w. It’s the odd ball. And, since two is also a number, it’s also an odd ball—so to speak.” She frowned. “Except that it’s an even number. I guess that doesn’t work well.”
“Ok,” Ellie said excitedly. “So, t-w-o two girls want to t-o to go t-o to the store t-o-o too.”
“Excellent.” Her phone played its ominous tones again.
“Aunt Aggie, go talk to Luke. I’ll keep the kids going. I am just editing my paper anyway. So far I’ve found too many sentence fragments to turn it in.”
Aggie glanced at the clock. Nine-thirty. They’d hardly been in the classroom for half an hour. Then again, Luke tried not to call during school times…
“Ok, be right back.”
Icicles hung from the porch roof looking beautiful but dangerous. She grabbed Tavish’s baseball bat from the empty pot where it rested for these occasions, and swung at it while the phone dialed Luke. His “Hello,” was drowned out by the crack of the bat against ice.
“Yeah.” She whacked another one. There was something very satisfying about beating up ice. The puppies out back howled with each crack. “The pups don’t like me to break them off. I think it hurts their ears.
“I bought the cable for the gutters, but I don’t think I’ll make it today. If we didn’t have these unexpected cold fronts followed by warmer days, it wouldn’t happen.”
Something he said registered as “off” but she wasn’t sure what. “I don’t get weather, ice, and stuff. Never have, don’t want to. I can apply to you for your superior wisdom and save myself a lot of headaches.” She frowned. “Wait, did you say you weren’t coming today?”
The line seemed dead for a very long half minute before he grunted, “Sorry, what? I found another puddle.”
“Puddle? What are you doing?”
“House on Cygnet. The pipes froze and burst. I missed a whole wall of insulation when I foamed the laundry room Outside wall of course.”
“Oh, no!” Her heart sank for him. “How bad is it?” Her teeth tried to chatter, but Aggie rubbed her hands together and set her jaw as she listened.
“I’ll have to gut the laundry room, replace two walls of the kitchen, and do some repairs on the powder room. The living room has some damage but nothing too bad. I’m not sure about the kitchen floor though.”
“Can I do something?”
“Right now, no. I’m still assessing damage and waiting for the insurance adjuster. I am glad I insured the house before I insulated or this wouldn’t be covered.” His voice sounded strained and weary. “I just wanted you to know I wouldn’t make it for lunch. I’m really sorry, Mibs.”
“Stop by on your way home if you like.” She sounded too eager and she knew it. The last thing he needed was to feel obligated to do anything. “And let me know if I can do something—even if it’s just run errands so you don’t have to leave. The kids would love to get out of the house.”
“I’ll call. Got to go.”
She stared at the dead phone. “Bye.”
As she opened the door to the house, something Luke said clicked. “Lunch. I didn’t cut the veggies for lunch.” She peeked her head in the library and asked if anyone needed help. Several heads shook, but Aggie saw Cari, Lorna, and Ian getting restless. “You three come with me,” she said as she scooped up Ian. “I’ve got to go work on lunch.”
“Is Luke coming?” Laird didn’t even raise his head from his math book.
“He can’t. Pipes burst over on Cygnet, and I guess there’s a lot of damage.”
Laird frowned. “It wasn’t my fault, was it? I didn’t work on pipes.”
“No, he forgot to insulate a wall in the kitchen or something.”
“Can I go help?”
Aggie shook her head. “Let’s wait until tomorrow to ask. He has a lot to do and take in. The damage sounds extensive.”
She shooed the little ones into the kitchen and gave the girls plastic knives and bananas to slice for the Jell-O. Ian enjoyed a snack of banana in the high chair while she chopped vegetables as swiftly as she could. Into a large bowl went chopped potatoes, carrots, celery, and a couple of cans of stewed diced tomatoes. She covered them with water, put a plate over the bowl, set the timer for an hour, and set it aside. Into her heavy Dutch oven, she added the rest of the previous night’s chopped chuck steak, garlic powder, and chopped onion. The clock was against her.
“All done, Aunt Aggie!” The bananas were definitely sliced in thicknesses ranging from a penny to a thumb.
“Done, Gaggie!” Ian threw his hands into the air, touchdown style, and clapped at the empty tray.
“Good job, guys! Ok, why don’t you two go into the bathroom and wash your hands. I’m going to count to one hundred. See if you can get them all clean and back by one hundred. One, two, three…”
After washing Ian’s hands, she sat him on the floor while she browned the meat in the oven, covered it with beef broth, and left it to simmer. In another pot, she measured water for Jell-O and put it on the stove to boil. The girls returned on eighty-nine with reasonably clean hands. “Ok, bring me the hand towel now.”
The girls exchanged confused glances, but raced back to the bathroom to retrieve it. Aggie arranged the bananas in thirteen by nine pans and tried not to watch for the pot to boil. The towel was damp, but clean. “Good job! You got all the banana off with water instead of the towel.”
“You said to wash them,” Lorna reminded her.
“That I did. You can put that back now.” Just as Aggie tried to measure the cold water to add to the Jell-O, she sprayed herself with the faucet. “Ugh!”
“Is that what the water looks like in Luke’s house?” Lorna’s voice was awestruck.
“Wuke doesn’t have fountains in his house!”
“Well, this morning he had fountains of water, that’s for sure. It probably looked a lot like that too.”
“We should bake him cookies,” Lorna suggested. “He likes our cookies.”
“Yeah. Wuke wikes cookies.”
So much for Cari’s improvement with her L’s, Aggie thought to herself. I can’t handle that today. Maybe tomorrow. Even as she thought it, Aggie realized it was the wrong thing to say. Anything that implied weakness on her part was an open invitation to mischief for Cari.
“Can we play outside?”
There was an L. Relief was a wonderful thing. Aggie didn’t need to add speech therapy to her daily list of things to do. The girls stared at her waiting for an answer. “Let’s see if anyone is ready for a break.”
Thankfully, Laird and Tavish seemed to be ready for a break, as was Kenzie. Vannie didn’t want to stop until her paper was finished, and Ellie was now struggling over then and than. She bundled up Ian in warmer clothes, remembering how cold it had been during her brief conversation with Luke, and helped the twins to zip up their coats. “Your coat is too small, Cari. We need new ones.”
“It’s ok. It covers my bell-bows.”
Rolling her eyes at the mental picture of “bell-bows,” Aggie shut the door behind them, shivered, and went to clean up her mess in the kitchen, hoping the water was finally boiling. She grew so engrossed in stirring the Jell-O, pouring it into the pans, and scrubbing the cutting board, she didn’t even notice the song she sang.
“I am so telling Luke that I caught you singing There Is a Fountain Free[i] after hearing about his pipes. You’re busted!” Vannie laughed at what Aggie knew must be a comical expression on her face.
“Kind of like his pipes, eh?”
Thursday, November 20th
Laird burst into the door at eight-thirty, calling her name. “Luke’s outside. He can’t stop, but he thought you might—”
She dodged the coffee table, rounded the couch, and stuffed her feet into the mud boots on the porch. It took three steps to realize they were Vannie’s and her heel hadn’t made it to the sole. Aggie ignored the awkward lumbering movements the boots created and hurried to Luke’s truck. She opened the passenger door and crawled in the cab. “Can you circle the drive two or three times while you give me an update?”
It must have been just the right words, because the tension filled expression on his face softened a little. “I like hearing and seeing you happy to see me, Mibs.”
“I’ve been worried all day. Is the damage better than you thought?”
“Worse,” he admitted. “But according to Laird, who got it from Vannie, you were blissfully unconcerned about my mess as you hummed about free fountains.”
“Oh, I’m so gonna get them! I made Vannie promise not to tell you.”
Luke grinned, turning back into her driveway. “That’s what Laird said. Actually, I think he said, “I don’t know if Aunt Aggie will ever figure out that she can’t leave things so open ended. We’re too good for that.”
“Yep. I didn’t bother to remind him that I’ve got my resume in for the job of husband slash father, and he is giving away all their secrets to the ‘enemy.’”
Short drives in Luke’s truck had an advantage over leisurely chats in her living room—he couldn’t see her blush. “How long will it take to repair the damage? Do you have to take it off the market?”
“Yes. I called Amber so she could cancel her showings. I won’t get it back on the market before the New Year now. Things don’t dry in winter like they do in warmer months.” He sighed. “They’ll deliver a rolling dumpster tomorrow.”
“I’m giving the kids Wednesday off next week. You can take Laird that day.”
He didn’t answer at first, but then Luke nodded. “I think I can have things to where he could be a big help by then. I was hoping to have him on Saturday if you can spare him. That’ll give me Monday and Tuesday to fix the pipes.”
“Can I help?” She sighed. “I guess not. I’d have to bring the kids. That’s not much help.”
Luke’s hand reached for hers and squeezed before he returned it to the steering wheel. “I’ll see about Mom coming to stay for an afternoon the day I have to go shopping. If I have to redo that wall with the backsplash, and I think I do, you might as well come help me pick out the right tile.”
The words might as well rankled. “I don’t want to push myself on you, Luke. I just wanted to help.”
He slowed as he took the curve by the porch, and Aggie opened the door. “I should go in.”
“Wait, Mibs. You’re angry.”
Aggie pulled the door shut once more. “I—I guess I am. I would have said hurt, but they’re the same thing sometimes, aren’t they?”
Her hand remained on the door handle, and she couldn’t bring herself to look at him. “I don’t want to be a nuisance, Luke.”
“Who said anything about a nuisance?” He braked, throwing the truck in gear much more recklessly than his usual careful treatment of his “tools.”
“‘Might as well come…’ I don’t want to be a ‘might as well.’”
Though she’d expected a protest, it didn’t come. In fact, there was no response at all. He didn’t brake; he didn’t sigh; he didn’t even glance her way, much less speak. Instead, he kept circling the drive, unaware of the confusion he left in Aggie’s heart. Just as she was ready to demand that he stop the truck and let her out, realization dawned. He was thinking.
A giggle escaped before she could prevent it. “Sorry.”
“What—I don’t get it.”
“I just realized why you were so quiet and right when I realized that, you spoke.”
As if unsure what to say, he shook his head. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry.” He braked, his truck bed half in the road. Hanging his hands over the steering wheel, he laid his head on them and looked at her. “I didn’t mean to make it sound like that. I was thinking more that it wasn’t your kitchen and you wouldn’t get to enjoy it, but you might as well have fun with it anyway.”
Luke yawned. Ready to send him on his way, Aggie pointed to the house. “Let me out and go home. If you can’t sleep, ding me. I’ll be up for a while yet.”
“Can’t. No internet at the house.”
“On Cygnet? You’re sleeping there?”
He pulled up by her front door and put the truck in park. “Yeah. I can work as late or as early as I want. I can also make sure no more pipes burst. I’m going to test all the outside walls for insulation again—make sure I didn’t miss any others.”
Aggie’s heart sank. She’d miss their Internet chat. “Well, come over for breakfast if you like…”
“Can’t. I’ve got food there to eat while I work. I’ve got to get this done as fast as possible. Every day lost is money lost. There’s a house in Fairbury that I want, but until this sells…”
The temptation to offer him the money was overwhelming. She had it. He’d get it back for her. Soon enough, it would probably be his money too. Her conscience pricked her. It wasn’t “her” money; it belonged to the children. She had no business loaning out their money to anyone for any reason. Then again, isn’t that what investments were? She had investments—lots of them.
“No, Aggie. I cannot tell you how much it means that you’d offer, but no.”
She blushed. “I hate how people can read me like that. I wish my face was totally deadpan.”
“It isn’t your face this time, Mibs. It’s you. I know you, and I also know just how much of a struggle it was to offer. It means a lot to me, but I can’t do it—”
“If things were different…”
His chuckle warmed her heart and sent her stomach flopping in that delightfully peculiar way that was becoming quite predictable. “Even if we were married and I had every penny of yours at my disposal, I wouldn’t do it. I have the money in my personal account for a down payment, but I don’t mix personal and business accounts. I just don’t.” He leaned closer, winked and added, “But I do like that your mind went there. I like it a lot.”
Aggie struggled to open her heart—share what she’d wanted to say for weeks, but a lump rose in her throat, choking off any hope of coherent speech. Instead, she gave what she hoped was an encouraging smile and stepped from the truck. Just as she started to close the door, she heard him murmur, “I love you, Mibs.”
“I love—” she began, but his truck was already pulling away from the house. She pushed it all the way shut before he drove off with it open. “You too.”
Quietly, she let herself back into the house and kicked off her shoes by the door. Dishes rattled in the kitchen, telling her that Laird was still awake and hungry. “Need help?”
Startled, Laird dropped his plate into the sink. “Oy! You scared me!”
“Sorry. There’s some carrot cake left—not enough for everyone tomorrow.”
“Thanks. Do we have any soup left? I’m so cold.”
“Doesn’t Luke have heat over there?”
“Yeah,” Laird explained, “it’s just that once you get wet, it’s so cold that you never get dry and then you’re cold all the time.”
“Why don’t you go up and take a hot shower and get into warm clothes? I’ll fix you some food.”
“Thanks, Aunt Aggie.” His feet pounded up five stairs before she heard him turn and come back down again. “Hey, Aunt Aggie?”
“Do we have any space heaters? Luke could use one to help dry stuff out where he’s working.”
Aggie dumped the soup into the pan and turned to Laird, broth dripping from the edge of the now empty container. “He doesn’t have the furnace going?”
“He does, but it’s too expensive to heat that big house just for working in one room, so he has it turned down low.”
“I’ll get him a heater. I can’t believe he doesn’t have one.”
“He does, but it’s at some house in Marshfield he was working on and he doesn’t have time to go get them.”
As she listened to Laird return upstairs and then to the water coming on in the bathroom, Aggie’s mind whirled. She wiped up the soup from the floor, pausing to marvel that she thought to do that now when she’d never considered such a thing at the house in Rockland, and then stirred the soup. Cake went onto a plate and half a sandwich did too. She poured milk into a glass and placed it all on the island.
When Laird entered the kitchen, she smiled at how boyish he looked when just minutes before he’d seemed so old for his age. Aggie grabbed her cell phone and her keys. “I’m going to go grab a couple of heaters from the basement and drive them over. I’ve got my phone. Eat and go to bed. If you need anything, call me.”
He waited until she reached the door before Laird called to her again. “Aunt Aggie?”
“Yes?” It took deliberate self-control not to sound exasperated.
“I have all my work done for this week except for the rewrite of my book report. Can I do that Sunday afternoon so I can help him tomorrow too?”
Her natural inclination was to say no, but Aggie remembered Luke’s argument that the kind of things he did in his “free time” were educational too. “Ok, this time, but if it isn’t on my desk and perfect Monday morning, I won’t agree to it again.”
Melting snow and two heavy space heaters made walking to Luke’s house impossible. Every time she ran an errand in the big fifteen passenger van, it felt like overkill, but two cars for one driver seemed even worse. She saw the lights on in the living room and dining room but there was no sign of Luke when she pulled into the driveway next to his truck.
At the door, she pounded. Her fists ached as she used them and her toes to try to summon Luke. Cold and ready to give up, she tried the door and found it unlocked. Once the door was open, she knew why he hadn’t heard her. The Old Rugged Cross blared from a CD player in the kitchen. The singer was the deepest bass she’d ever heard and then followed by a tenor singing, “I will cling to the old rugged cross…”
Aggie stood in the kitchen doorway, a space heater in each hand. “I heard that you needed a little heat in here.”
Luke swallowed hard. He set down his drill and moved to take them from her. “Not anymore.”
|Aggie says:Libby? Are you still awake?Libby says: Sorry, are you still here? I was talking with Luke.
Aggie says: He seemed pretty discouraged tonight.
Libby says: He is. You made his evening bringing by the heaters.
Aggie says: I didn’t know what to do.
Aggie says: Laird said he needed some but that his were in Marshfield or something. I don’t know why he just didn’t go to the hardware store here and get one.
Libby says: He is on auto-pilot right now. He’ll be kicking himself later.
Aggie says: That makes sense.
Libby says: Aggie, are you ok?
Aggie says: Yeah.
Aggie says: I guess.
Libby says: You don’t seem yourself.
Aggie says: I tried to tell Luke…
Libby says: Wrong timing?
Aggie says: Not really—I mean, yes but no, you know?
Libby says: Um, not really. Care to elaborate?
Aggie says: Well, it wasn’t anything earth shattering. I didn’t have a big speech or anything.
Aggie says: He just said he loved me. He does that now, you know.
Libby says: I didn’t know for sure, but I suspected.
Aggie says: Well, I tried to say I loved him too, but he drove off even before I had a chance to shut the door, much less…
Libby says: My Luke is distracted right now. That is very unlike him and dangerous. But you went over to the house. There wasn’t a chance there?
Aggie says: *blush* I sort of lost all intelligible thought after he made one of his startling comments.
Libby says: Something tells me I shouldn’t ask what it was, so I won’t. I won’t promise not to wonder, though.
Aggie says: Ask him. I don’t care if he doesn’t.
Libby says: I just might do that. I just might.
Libby says: You know, Aggie. My Luke is going to love to hear these stories of your attempts to share your heart. They will mean so much to him once…
Aggie says: Once we’re engaged?
Libby says: It seems so presumptuous to say that, but yes.
Aggie says: Well, I’m a presumptuous kind of gal, I suppose. I fully
expect to be his wife someday—if he’ll ever ask. Well, ask for real. I suppose technically he already has by informing me that he intends to. Sort of.
Libby says: His sisters are going to be merciless. They’re bad enough now.
Aggie says: It’ll do him good. Mom says nothing makes a man of a man than enduring good natured teasing regarding his heart.
Libby says: I suspect your father was in earshot.
Aggie says: How did you guess. *giggle*
Libby says: I really would love to chat some more, but I’m developing a nasty headache. I think I should go to bed.
Aggie says: Oh, do! Feel better! Night!
Libby says: Before I go, will you do me a favor?
Aggie says: Anything!
Libby says: Convince Luke to do his tile shopping on Sunday. It’ll have been a full week of hard work at that point. He’ll need a break, but my Luke won’t take one unless forced to. He has a lot riding on this house
Aggie says: I’ll try. Tina isn’t going to see her father after all, so maybe she and William will take the kids out for pizza after church.
Libby says: Thank you, Aggie. Goodnight.
Aggie says: G’night!
[i] There’s a Fountain Free (Free Waters), Words by Mary B Slade (1876)