The next morning I’m up before the sun is. I go downstairs and start the electric kettle to make some tea. I go back upstairs and change into clothes for the day. When I go back downstairs I see Mia and Max are up.
“Good morning, Elsie.” Max greets me with a smile.
I smile back and prepare my mug. I get out an extra one for Leo. I’m not sure when he will wake up, so I don’t start on breakfast. I take out the mason jar that I made yesterday before I went into town. It has black berries, brown sugar, and oatmeal in it. I pour it into a pan and turn the stove on.
I pour my tea and take a seat at the table. Mac and Mia sit at the table as well.
“What are we doing today?” Max asks.
“After breakfast I can make a list of things to do. I bet we can get it all done before lunch. Usually it is only me here, so it takes me the entire day to get them done.” I say.
“Anything you ask, we will do. After all, you are hiding us from the world, and you are in danger because of us.” Mia admits.
I grimly set down my half empty mug, “I’ve been in danger since I was five years old.”
“Elsie, the last home we were in, they found us. They came in with guns and took us. They were going to kill us.” Mia stresses to me.
I nod, “Then I better eat breakfast fast and get that list going.”
The sun is up by the time I’m washing the pot that the oatmeal was heated up in. It was good as always. I hear steps and see Leo at the base of the stairs looking at me. He is dressed in jeans and a navy sweater.
“I can reheat the water if you want tea.” I say to him.
He nods and goes to his laptop.
“Mia and Max are helping me with chores around the cabin. I expect you to pitch in as well.” I say as the water boils.
He looks up at me, “What chores?”
“First thing today is washing everyone’s clothes. There is a laundry basket in your room. If you will put all your clothes in it and bring it down that would be great.” I pour the water into his mug and let the tea steep.
He grumbles and goes upstairs. I smile to myself. As he brings down his load of laundry he asks me what is next.
“When is the last time you had a shower?” I ask.
He turns on his heel and goes up to take a shower. I call to him where he can find the extra shampoo and towels.
“Alright! While Leo takes a shower, let’s go outside and say hello to the ladies.” I announce.
“The ladies?” Max says with raised eyebrows.
I nod, “I have four chickens in a coop. I have to bring them fresh water daily and collect the eggs they produce. The ladies usually lay in the late morning so we can collect the eggs after lunch and put them in the fridge.”
Max and Mia smile and follow me out to the coop. The four hens cluck happily when they see me and rush to the gate. I hold four blue berries and toss one to each of them. I watch my head as I enter the coop and take the water can outside. After getting the water can I relic the gate. I dump it a few feet away.
As I am refilling the water from the main water tank, I tell Max and Mia the next chore.
“See how low the water is?” I point to the water level, which is too low for my liking.
“That means we have to get more water. Since today is laundry day and Leo has taken a shower, we have to fill up the water tank even though I filled it a few days ago. Which means going up and down the slope several times. I’ve marked on the side of the tank how much water will last how many days. Now I have to double that. I think I have some extra buckets in the cellar.” I inform them as we turn to face Strong Current.
“To get the water to near the top, it will take ten buckets from all four of us.”
Max says, “I’m sure Leo will help.”
“Let’s go inside and tell him then.” Mia proposes.
I nod and the two follow me back into the house. Leo is sitting at his laptop with wet hair, which is beginning to shape back into the curls that he has when his hair is dry. He looks so cute. I shake my head at the sudden thought.
“Come on, Leo. Time to help.” I say as I grab my baseball cap from the hook by the side door.
“What am I doing?” He asks, sounding annoyed.
“Helping fill up the water tank. This is a group effort. Mia and Max are helping and they aren’t even using the water. If they weren’t, we would have double the work load. After we finish this, Mia will help with lunch as a reward for finishing the outside chores for the day.”
He follows me outside and I hand him one of the three buckets I was able to find in the root cellar. Under the sun it’s hard work, but it beats the cold winter when the slope can be icy.
“Even though the slope itself is stable, I have created a safe path down to the shore line and back. We will have to walk single file. I’ve marked the path with rocks on either side.” I say as I start down the hill.
They follow me silently as the sound of rushing water gets louder as we get closer. I crouch down slowly and fill up my bucket carefully. I wait until everyone has filled their bucket and we climb the hill.
To make sure that not a drop is wasted I get out the big metal funnel. With the extra height, I strain on my tip toes to get the bucket up. I feel someone behind me and see slender hands raise the bucket and tip it so the water goes in.
“Thanks.” I mutter to Mia with a blush on my face.
Once again, Mia initiated physical contact. I busy myself with going back down the hill to get more water.
By the time we are finished, Leo and I have built up a sweat.
“Mia, would you be so kind to prepare lunch?” I ask as we stand on the deck to catch our breath.
She nods, “Of course Elsie.”
I smile at her briefly and go inside. My recliner would be too sticky as I carefully turn the air conditioning up. Leo plops down behind his laptop again. I go over to him.
“What. More chores?” He snaps at me.
“Leo, be nice.” Mia says as she begins to fix food.
Taken back by his snappy mood, but quickly hiding it by crossing my arms, I speak.
“All I was going say was that you did a good job out there and yes we have more chores but they are inside chores and we will have an hours break before we start.” I spit at him.
I yank the side door open.
“Where are you going?” Max asks.
“I will be back. I have to take care of some things outside. Don’t worry Leo you won’t have to help. I can manage on my own.” I sneer at him with a cold glare.
“Good! I wouldn’t want to help anyways.” He snaps back.
I throw one more glare at him and shut the door with more force than necessary. I stride with anger over to the coop and start to clean out the old hay to replace with fresh hay. I stomp to the nests and find six eggs. I get the small basket and start to put them in carefully. As I walk out of the fenced in area, the basket catches on something and falls to the ground. All the eggs are broken and I kick the wooden post out of anger.
I fume as I ignore the blooming pain in my toes and walk back to the house.
“Where did you go?” Max asks.
“To get the eggs.” I say through gritted teeth as I lean over the sink and stare out at the wilderness.
“Where are they?” He asks so innocently.
“I was stupid and dropped the basket. The eggs are all broken and useless because I was still angry.” I grip the edge of the sink as my hands tremble.
“That’s okay, Elsie, there will be more eggs tomorrow.” He mends with an optimistic voice.
That calms me down some.
“I’m going to go lay down in my room. I have a headache.” I say to no one and rush up to my room.
A few minutes after I’m laying on my side looking out the window, I hear a knock. I hear the door open.
“Mia sent me up to tell you that lunch is ready. Also, I want to apologize for my behavior earlier.” Leo says quietly.
I don’t turn over, “We were hot and exhausted and impatient. I forgive you. Do you forgive me for my behavior? As the host, I shouldn’t lash out at my guests.”
“Yeah. Come on.” He tells me.
“In a minute I will come down.” I promise him.
He closes the door behind him. I huff and lay on my back, staring at the ceiling. I’m sure that wasn’t a sincere apology, I bet Mia made him do it. I shake my head of accusations and walk down stairs with a grumbling stomach at the aroma of food.
“Smells amazing. What is it?” I ask Mia as she sits down beside Leo.
“Found some beef in the fridge along with vegetables and wrapped them up in pie crust.” Mia says humbly.
My stomach grumbles even louder when I take the first bite. I quickly chase it down with water as I burn my tongue. I wait a few minutes for the food to cool down and have to pace myself from not wolfing it down.
After lunch I tell them in a quiet voice that I can handle the rest of the chores for the day. Max insists to help me and Mia agrees. Leo doesn’t say anything as he takes his plate to the sink. A wait until he is done and wash my plate and silverware off.
“Thank you Mia, it was amazing.” I praise her.
She smiles and nods, “What are the inside chores?”
“Well first I’m going to put all of Leo’s clean laundry in a basket and put it in his room. Second I’m going to wash your guys’ clothes with mine since I don’t have a lot of laundry to do anyways. After that I’ll clean both bathrooms and do the last load of laundry which will be Leo’s sheets.” I tell the two conscious synths.
“What’s wrong with my sheets?” Leo asks.
I barely catch the hurt in his voice, but it is there.
I fumble, “A good host makes sure that her guests have fresh clean sheets for their bed. It’s not like you stink or anything. Or at least, not now.”
I feel my cheeks go warm under his intense stare. I mumble under my breath about laundry and walk away. I want to crawl in a hole when I hear both Mia and Max laugh. I hunch my shoulders as I rush upstairs with slightly hurt feelings.
No one is here to defend me, and I’m sure they didn’t mean to laugh that loud...
I shake my head and grab the square basket from Leo’s room and stuff his clothes in it. I retreat back up the stairs like a dog with it’s tail tucked between it’s legs.
“Elsie, would you like help with cleaning the bathrooms?” Mia calls up to me as I set the basket down on the floor and strip the bed of its quilts, sheets, and pillowcases.
“Sure. You can do the down stairs bathroom and I will do the up stairs one.” I answer back down to her in the hallway as she stands in the living room looking up at me.
I stand in front of Leo as he types on his laptop. He notices me in front of him and raises his eyebrows in question.
“Could Max and Mia borrow some clothes while I wash theirs? I didn’t want to sift through your laundry.” I trail off.
He nods and goes upstairs. After a few minutes he comes back down with pants, shirts, and underwear. Mia changes first and then Max. I take their clothes and toss them in the washer before getting my own dirty clothes and starting the second to last load.
I gather the cleaning supplies and take the next two minutes to inform Mia of my routine I do in the bath room. Shake the rug out, wipe down all the surfaces, clean the toilet, and sweep the floor. I get the rug from the upstairs bathroom and hang it out on the deck beside the downstairs one.
After we cleaned the bathrooms, I rotate the laundry and close the lid on the final load of the day, which were the sheets on Leo’s bed. I go into the kitchen and sit next to Leo with a cookbook, flipping to the dinner recipes.
“Leo could you help decide what we should eat for dinner tonight?” I ask him gently as his typing doesn’t slow in speed.
He nods and slows his typing down. He leans closer to me and scans over the recipes with me. I can feel the heat from his body and I’m suddenly aware of how close our faces are. I fight the blush on my face and focus on possible dinner options.
“Pasta sounds good.” Leo comments.
I nod and scan over the recipe that he has pointed out. I look over at him and smile. He stares back at me and I see a hint of pink on his scruffy cheeks as he too realizes how close we are. My eyes widen at the awkwardness and I stand up, accidentally brushing noses.
I squeak in surprise at the sudden contact and back peddle away from him. He puts up a mask and grumbles with hunched shoulders and dives into his laptop again.
For my distraction, I check all three locations for food; the fridge, the pantry, and the cellar. I come back with the things I need for cheesy pesto chicken pasta. I triumphed in finding the big bag of bow tie pasta all the way in the back of the pantry.
As I move around the cabin, I ask Mia to turn on the radio. It’s my jazz station that I often listen to when I’m cooking. I smile and hum as I prepare the food. The evening sunlight pours in rich and a vibrant orange that makes me feel safe.
I feel Leo’s eyes on me, but I pretend not to notice. Dinner is quiet yet comfortable. After dinner Max helps me with getting Leo’s bed made up. Mia checks in and nags Leo about doing his laundry. As soon as it’s dusk I go up for the night and sleep to the end of a very good day.