“But Pappy –”
“Everyone’s talking of it –”
“You hear people whispering about it –”
Ellia’s sisters were speaking in unison, excited. They had been needling Pappy for the past five minutes, wondering, trying to discern any truth to the rumors they had kept hearing.
Ellia had heard talk of war occasionally as well, as customers spoke about it at the bar in worried tones, hushed and glancing about as if by speaking quickly would keep trouble away. Most of South Fairview remembered the Twenty Years War, for the soldiers had marched through and put the torch to all the city. Pappy had left the Army to help GrandPap rebuild the brewery, he told them when they were young, for the soldiers had burned it right to the ground, but he built on the tavern as well.
“Enough!” Pappy finally roared. “There is no war!” He shoved the dough into the oven with force and then clisp-clasped his hands free of flour so fast that flour dusted his grizzled beard.
“But Pappy, I even heard the fishmongers tell of it down at the docks,” Mollie continued, just as if Pappy had not lost his temper.
“I don’t care what they were saying down at the docks. And just what were you doin’ down at the docks? You shouldn’t have been all the way down there. I keep tellin’ you that!” Pappy raised a finger at Mollie. Ellia heard his street accent creep in to his speech. That only happened when he got emotional about something.
Mollie’s green eyes focused on his finger as she stammered, “Mags sent me, she told me to go….”
“Well, you just never go down there again without a chaperone. You take Nick. If you ever go again, which you better not,” he warned her.
Privately, Ellia wondered what use Nick would be as a chaperone. Tall and skinny, she doubted Nick weighed more than a hundred pounds, much less that he could throw a punch.
“Yes, Pappy,” Mollie breathed out a long, exaggerated sigh.
Pappy turned and eyed her. “Mollie girl, you don’t want to go there with me.” Pappy’s quiet tone was stern and even.
Ellia could not see his face, but she had occasionally been the recipient of that tone, and knew those dark eyes were drilling into Mollie with the intensity of a red-hot poker.
She wondered if the war had made Pappy that way, if he had been a carefree, smiling, laughing boy before the Twenty Years War, or if he had always had that deep, brooding intensity.
“Yes, Pappy,” Mollie, finally cowed, replied sullenly.
“Pappy, haven’t you heard the talk, yourself, though?” Halsey threw all caution to the wind.
The last thing Ellia saw was Mags roll her eyes.
“ENOUGH! There will be – NO MORE TALK – OF WAR – IN MY KITCHEN! Now everybody out! That’s all of ya! Out! Now!” Pappy bellowed, his muscled arms waving them all toward the doors.
Ellia and her sisters nearly stumbled over each other in their hasty exit through the kitchen doors.
Mags wandered through with her head held high, stately and proud. She looked down her nose at Mollie and Hasley. “Ya had to push him, didn’t ya.” She shook her head with something like disgust as she walked past the bar.
“Ya have to know he hears the rumors,” pouted Mollie.
The three of them leaned their elbows on the glossy bar.
“Yes, but you didn’t need to keep pushin’ ’im,” Hasley scolded.
“Me! I stopped, you’re the one who kept it goin’!”
“Me? You’re the one who started it!”
Mollie bapped Hasley behind the head. “Brat!
Hasley’s mouth dropped open, then she bapped her sister back. “Brat yourself.”
“Both of you, stop!” Ellia laughed. “You’re both brats!”
Her sisters turned to look at her. Hasley sniffed and Mollie leaned around and bapped Ellia on the back of the head.
“Pap’s little Golden Girl. ‘Yes, Pappy’, ‘No Pappy’.” Mollie simpered.
“With them pretty blue eyes,” Hasley smiled adoringly as if she were staring up at Pappy.
Ellia bapped them both. They all giggled, but a group of patrons came in then and they all called, “Welcome to The Brew House and Tavern!”
Ellia, troubled, scraped her broom across the floor. It was still quiet enough that she was allowed out from behind the bar, for the work day was not yet over.
Ellia wished they wouldn’t talk of war to Pappy. Something had happened in the war that had changed him. He rarely spoke of it, and when he did, he got a faraway look in his eyes, and when Mum was present, she would lay a hand on his shoulder and pat him just so. She’d say, “Come, love,” and he’d draw in a great breath.
Pappy never talked about his wound. When the weather turned especially cold, he limped, and sometimes he would limp before bad weather came. He claimed it told him that trouble was coming to town. Pappy strove to an enormous degree to hide his limp but now and again, a customer would ask how he received it.
Ellia had seen him answer that question at least a dozen times now, and he always answered it the same way. The smallest of smiles would slide over his face and he would gaze out the window, though she could always tell that it wasn’t the street Pappy was seeing. “Just in the right place at the right time,” he always said. And then the customer’s next drink was always free.
Of late, Ellia noticed Pappy had become more affectionate. She didn’t know how to respond to that, so she just took it in turn. Sometimes, she would find him watching her. Pappy would be leaning against a door jamb, or over the bar, just gazing at her.
Today, she had looked up to see him watching her with the faintest of smiles as she swept. Ellia said nothing and pretended not to notice, though not before she saw his forehead crease. He looked sad, almost wistful, as he turned and stared out the window, far ahead down the street.
She didn’t know what it was Pappy saw far ahead down the way, but Ellia wished it would stop making him so sad….