A Forgotten Friend
The hours clomp by at a steady pace. At last, Lucas pulls up a log and pauses. “Last one before the midday meal,” he says.
Cora nods and wipes the perspiration from her brow before sweeping the mound of sawdust out of the shaft. Since it’s the last one, Lucas completely debarks it before pushing it through. Just before it lands on the ground on the other side, the cabin door creaks open.
“The food is ready,” Papa announces, wooden spoon in hand.
The log lands loudly as Cora turns to him and smiles. “Perfect timing, Papa.”
She walks over and wraps an around his neck, planting a kiss on the apple of his cheek before entering the house. Tucked far in the corner is their little kitchen, and before her, their dining room has been stretched to seat the twenty or so men that eat their midday meals there. She takes a seat in the furthest chair, next to Papa’s at the head of the table. The men enter and sit down as well. A few are missing, probably still stacking wood down at the cliffs.
Before Cora on the table are huge bowls piled high with boiled potatoes and dried strips of venison. She sighs with relief at the bowl of fresh salt. Papa must have chipped it from the salt cave during his stream maintenance this morning. That’s where he must have been. Without salt, the potatoes would be much more difficult to swallow.
The rest of the men file in and close the door behind them, then seat themselves at the table. When the chatter quiets down, Papa closes his eyes. “We thank You, Herus, for what we are about to receive. Amen.”
Cora stabs a potato with her two-pronged wooden fork and plops it into her dish. Next to her, Lucas exclaims, “Salt! Our potatoes will be enjoyable today!”
Papa shoots him a look and so does Cora. She was thinking the same thing, but at least she didn’t say it. Then, she glances at Papa and shrugs as Lucas bites his lip. That’s just Lucas. Careful about everything but his tongue.
The food is divine. Doused in salt, the potatoes are delicious. Cora pours herself a cup of water and downs the whole thing, smiling faintly as the familiar sweetness of spring water lingers on her tongue. Once, a plains-folk man who had only come during logging season proudly gave her a bottle of “Dirstwich well water,” which had turned out to be an earthy, bitter water, though he had seemed to like it. The next time he'd offered, she had declined. In her opinion, pure mountain spring water had no equal.
“So how were the springs this morning?” Cora asks Papa.
“The storm last Querdie broke off a number of branches that started to clog up the stream. It didn’t take long to clear, though,” he replies around a mouthful of venison.
“Good. I hope we don’t get many more of those. It’ll slow us down.”
He nods in agreement, then Bowen begins talking to him and she continues eating. Just as she scoops the last forkful of potato into her mouth, the door opens, and Alexia Beauton steps inside. Cora cringes inwardly as soon as she enters. They grew up together, but have since drifted apart, far apart. They’re practically strangers now.
“Men,” she greets with a dip of her dark brown head. Her heavily-lashed eyes survey the long table of men and stop on Coraleth. “Cora,” she adds, like she’s surprised to see her among them.
“Alexia,” Cora says. Then she sees her brown eyes shift to Lucas. He nods in greeting. Many of the men stare at her, even Lucas, since she is quite beautiful, with huge, brown doe eyes, alabaster skin, and delicate features. Cora rolls her eyes and pours herself more water.
“Do you need something, Alexia?” Papa asks her.
“Yes, actually. I was hoping someone could take me down to Hale this afternoon.”
Cora snorts, and so does Thomas, a man down the table. “We’re busy,” he says. He doesn’t like Alexia either.
“Lucas? Are you?” she asks in a quiet voice.
Lucas nods. “Of course. You know what logging season means. Why don’t you get Winifred to take you?”
Alexia coughs out a single, humourless laugh. “She won’t. She’s too busy taking care of the children.” Alexia has three siblings younger than her, and her father remarried after her mother died the same winter Cora’s did. She once thought such a commonality would make them perfect friends, but they don’t share a single interest. Furthermore, something about Alexia always offsets her.
“Why do you need to go to Hale?” someone wonders.
“I have some jewellery I’d like to sell,” she informs those around the table, fidgeting with the sash of her best dress. Cora then notices the pouch tied around her arm. Alexia drops her eyes. “We need some food...and medicine, for Mikael.” She sweeps her eyes over the potatoes on the table.
Papa immediately stands and takes a bowl of potatoes to her. “Take it. We have plenty.”
Cora knows that isn’t true, but she’s glad Papa gave them to her. Her irritation with Alexia’s presence melted into guilt at her words. She stands. “I can take you to Hale, but you’ll have to tell me how to get there,” Cora tells her.
Alexia offers a sweet smile that bloats her guilt. “Thank you, Cora.”
She waves it off and takes her light cloak from the chair. She hears Papa say, “Be careful,” in a worried tone. She’s never gone so far without him.
Cora takes his hand and smiles. “We’ll be back before supper,” she promises, then hit Lucas’ shoulder. “Don’t fall behind,” she commands. It suddenly pinches her to think she’ll be missing her work. Perhaps she leaped too readily. Perhaps someone else should take her.
But then she looks into Alexia’s desperate eyes—eyes she hasn’t known since they were children—and knows she can’t refuse her now. One worker missing half a day won’t cause them to stagger. Still, the nagging worry gnaws at her gut. She waves goodbye to the rest of the men and walk out into the spring sunshine. Alexia follows her and rushes to her cabin just down the lane to deliver the bowl of potatoes to her family. Cora climbs into her father's wagon out back and pulls it up to Alexia's door. The girl emerges a moment later, clenching her pouch of jewellery tightly in one hand. She gathers her skirts with the other and pulls herself up. As she settles into her seat, Cora clucks to the horses and wonders what she's gotten herself into.