The Dinner Party
Jed was worried about whether or not the strange girl we were now calling our cousin would show up. He tried not to show it, and just go about things like normal, but I could tell he was nervous.
It was a little while before we were due to leave when she came walking into our back yard, in a slow and cautious manner. Jed smiled; the biggest smile I had seen from him in a long time. When I called out, “She’s here!”
We both ran out to meet her. Jed admitted as he picked her up in a hug, “You had me a little worried there.”
As he put her down she quickly replied, “You have the council to thank for my being here. If they had not come to check up on me; I would not have been able to do anything about my Father’s decision. But I feel like I should explain why my family has agreed to let me come.”
Jed was always a good listener, and this time was no exception. He offered her a lawn chair to sit in. “Who are the council? Why would they need or want to check up on you?”he asked, “ And why is it so heavy on your heart?”
She answered, “The Council of Five Wise is five members of our extended community. One from each clan, who have chosen not to mate, and who have been found wise enough to govern. They travel among the clans, sharing their wisdom, and making rulings when the occasion calls for it. They are particularly interested in me, because they believe I may be the first to lead all the clans.”
“Cool, it would be great to have no one to answer to.” I shouted.
Jed shook his head, and I noticed a sadness in his eyes, for just a moment. Then he said, “That’s a heavy burden to place on one so young.”
She shrugged it off. “I don’t mind that part. If I am to lead; then how can I do anything else?”
Jed grinned strangely and stated, “You have a mature attitude about your future.”
“The problem is my Father, and many others, are certain that you and your people are our enemy.” She exclaimed, “I have argued that I do not believe you are, and I doubt your people as a whole are. Since I’m not absolutely certain, and it is my job to be certain of the path I am to lead, I asserted that I should examine your village more closely. Then I’ll be better informed to decide if you are our enemy. And if you are I must devise the plan to destroy you.”
I told her, “I’m too young to be anyone’s enemy.”
Jed and Annabel both chuckled. Jed took a deep breath and asked her, “Do you plan on destroying us tonight?”
She smiled meekly and shook her head.
Jed grabbed her young hand in his and told her, “Then let’s not worry about the problems of another day. Tonight we will go and stuff ourselves at the feast. Then we will enjoy the full moon dance in the square, and when the sun comes up we will go home and get some rest.”
The shock on her face was evident as she looked between us. “Your full moon party lasts all night?”
To which I replied, “Of course…” I almost continued my sentence, but Jed gave me a stern look, and it silenced me.
Annabel didn’t seem to notice. Jed quietly asked her, “Are you ready to be our distant cousin, on our mother’s side, Annabel?”
Again she scrunched her nose at the name Jed had chose off the top of his head. “I can handle it.” she assured us, “But remember I need to leave first thing in the morning, just before sun up. I can’t be expected to stay in this role.”
Jed agreed and I handed her a change of clothes. She looked at me in a funny way, so I explained, “You were seen last night in that outfit. If you don’t change clothes people will notice, and you will get looked at for far worse than being a stranger.”
She accepted the clothes, and went in to change.
Once she was inside Jed said to me, “We are going to have to stay close to her tonight. She is quite the enigma. In many ways she is wise beyond her years, and in more simple ways she is like a young child. Folks might cause her trouble if they realize; which could lead to her believing we are her enemy, or at least her clans’.”
I nodded my head, silently wondering how such a strange girl came to be. Then a thought occurred that caused me to gasp. So I asked Jed, “Do you think her clan can destroy our village?”
Jed shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out either.”
I agreed, and laughed a bit, then I promptly explained, “I was just thinking about how upset Warrick is going to be when he finds out he missed all the strangeness. You know how much he loves a good mystery.”
“It might be better for us that he isn’t here. It would appear that he is unable to keep himself from trying to solve a mystery, once he finds it.” Jed stated, “Sometimes the better solution is to let the answers come to you in their own time.”
I joked, “Now who’s being wise beyond his years?”
Jed answered, “I’ve done a lot of maturing in the last year. Responsibility can do that to a person.” He took a deep breath and gazed in the direction of the house. Then he added, “And I only had two people to care for. I couldn’t imagine leading an entire clan, much less five of them.”
Annabel appeared a few moments later; somehow looking both natural and awkward at the same time. I grabbed her hand and said, “Let’s get going.” Then I looked at her feet, bent down, tied her shoes, stood up, grabbed her hand and informed her, “Now, we can go.”
We walked out to the street, and then I began to pull her along, in moments we were running side by side, having a blast. I led her straight to a group of kids that were all around my age. I introduced Annabel as I had been instructed, and rehearsed.
Tom looked at Annabel strangely for a bit and then inquired, “Aren’t you that girl from last night. You were with the kid who had my shirt.”
I wanted to do something, but I had no idea what to do or say, and I was busy regretting having run ahead of Jed. I couldn’t even bring myself to see how far back we had left him, not wanting to draw attention to our safety net.
Annabel smiled calmly and replied, “He’s related on my Father’s side.”
Tom scowled at her and asked, “Where do you all come from that you all act so weird?”
“We don’t come from anywhere.” She answered, “We are just where we are.”
A slightly older girl, standing on the edge of the group, chided, “That doesn’t even make sense!”
“Of course it does.” Jed’s voice filled the air, causing a couple of kids to jump slightly, while others were barely startled, but Annabel didn’t flinch in the least. Jed continued as if he didn’t notice their surprise, “Annabel comes from a long line of travelers. They aren’t from anywhere because they don’t stay in any one place.”
Several kids said, “Oh.” While others just nodded their heads as if they understood all along.
The Sheriff took his seat at the center of the long table, and everyone else began filling their seats. Annabel quickly picked out the seat she wanted, which was far away from the Sheriff, and since most people tried to be close to him, there wasn’t much competition for the spot she wanted. I sat to her left, and Jed took the seat to her right.
I asked her why she picked the spot she did, and she whispered back, “I don’t want to be downwind of the sheriff.”
I laughed, and Jed gave us a stern look. We quieted down and gave him our best we’re behaving faces. Mine was better than hers, but I don’t think she had had much experience making them. Jed reminded us in a soft whisper, “We don’t need any extra attention.”
About half way through the meal I noticed Annabel staring at the table to our left. I nudged her and asked, “What ya staring at?”
She shook her head and focused on me long enough to ask, “What’s wrong with that woman over there?”
Jed leaned his head down close to hers as he whispered the explanation, “Last summer she met a man on a full moon night, and he got her pregnant, but could not be found when she got the news. Right around Christmas time she was walking through the woods, when she unexpectedly went into labor.” Jed took a moment to breath before he admitted, “When her brother found her she was curled up next to a tree, acting hysterical.”
Annabel turned to me and asked, “What does hysterical mean?”
I quietly answered, “”Crazy.” She still looked at me kind of funny so I added, “Not right in the head.”
Annabel turned back to Jed and inquired, “What made her go crazy?”
Jed softened his whisper and replied, “She claims the baby was no baby. She claims she gave birth to a wolf, that cried like a human. By the time they found the place where she had given birth, there was no baby of any kind, only a lot of bloody snow. The Doctor and the Preacher have come to the conclusion that when she gave birth to a dead baby her mind snapped, an created the image of something she wouldn’t feel guilty for abandoning.”
I added, “And some wild creature must have eaten the baby.”
Jed gave me a stern look, and whispered gruffly, “That can be calculated without being said.”
Annabel looked deep in thought. We stared at her silently wondering how she was doing with my crass statement. Finally she asked, “When is Christmas?”
I started to laugh but Annabel’s face immediately changed to a combination of sadness and worry that caused me to stifle my laughter. I choked down the chuckles and whispered, “You don’t know that Christmas is in December?”
Her face only grew more perplexed, so I added, “Or that December is a month in winter?”
She smiled, weekly, and stated, “Winter, that is the cold part of the year, right?”
At that moment the Preacher clinked his glass and called for everyone to bow their heads. He then led us in the prayer, and after saying Amen, he invited everyone to serve up and eat by saying, “Time to dig in.”
We each grabbed a plate and worked our way to the center table. There we walked around scooping a spoonful of the foods we wanted onto our plates. Anything more than a scoop our parents had always taught us was being greedy. As we made our way around Annabel asked Jed, “Why didn’t we bring a dish to share?”
Jed chuckled before quietly explaining, “It is the woman of each household that makes the dishes they bring. Since our parents died we don’t have a woman in the house to make the dish.”
I volunteered, “The one time Jed was crazy enough to offer to bring a dish, the women wouldn’t quit telling him how wrong he was for suggesting any such thing, until he finally agreed never to suggest such craziness ever again.”
At this point we are about halfway down the table. The Sheriff has managed to place himself directly across from Annabel, and the strangest thing yet happens. A mini whirlwind appears out of nowhere, between the two of them. This causes everything loose on the table to go flying outward, the Sheriff inhaled deeply, showing without restraint how pleasing he finds the aroma blasting him. Meanwhile Annabel hits the ground gasping for air. Jed grabbed her, and I took her plate, and we got her back to our table as quickly as we could.
After this Jed watched the interactions between Annabel and the Sheriff. She was great at keeping her distance, but her desire to avoid being down wind of him, meant he got the pleasure of being down wind of her. Annabel did her best to ignore him, but the time for him to leave couldn’t come soon enough.
Jed overheard one woman ask the Sheriff, “Why are you so intrigued by the air tonight?”
The Sheriff replied, “There must be a new flower about to bloom. I can almost smell it. I bet it’s a beautiful breed, if its aroma is any indication.”
Jed knew what he heard, but couldn’t believe he understood the Sheriff’s meaning, certainly it had to be as innocent as the words intended, not as the voice indicated. “Annabel is too young to bloom.” He said to himself, under his breath. A lump formed in the back of his throat as he walked towards us as quickly as he could without arousing suspicion.
When Annabel spotted him she rushed to him, embracing him in a hug and telling him, “Cousin, we thought we lost you. Don’t leave my side again.”
I approached more casually and informed him, “I wasn’t worried, but our cousin isn’t used to public feasts, and grew anxious.”
He smiled down at her, and she looked up at him. He said he could literally watch the worries leave her eyes for the sky as he looked into them. Jed also explained that in those moments he felt like a Father calming their child about the monster under the bed for the first time. Only he was certain her real Father was a monster she needed protecting from, and possibly the Sheriff. That threatened to anger him, but with her staring back at him the way she was he couldn’t help but to feel at peace himself.
He forced himself to give a casual chuckle before assuring her, “If it will make you feel better, consider me glued to your side.”
By this time we had long since finished eating and were standing around without much to do. Jed led us over to a shaded hill by a tree. As we sat down he asked, “What else should we talk about?”
Annabel shrugged her shoulders as she stared off towards the Sheriff. “I can’t tell if he can hear us or not. I feel his eyes on me constantly, and I doubt that’s going to change when he leaves here tonight.”
Jed exclaimed quietly, “Then the worse thing we could do right now is go home, that would make us easy prey.”
Annabel’s eyes get big as she asks, “Then what can we do?”
I replied, “We’ll make you the life of the party.”
They both looked at me in shock.
I leaned closer in, hushed my whisper until I could barely hear myself, and explained, “If she is out there learning new dances, switching partners, drawing a crowd, people will forget about her first awkward night, and they’ll be watching over her without even knowing it.”
Annabel reminded us, “We still have to leave before dawn.”
So that’s just what we did when dinner was over. The Sheriff disappeared, right on schedule, the band set up, and we took to the dance floor. We kept her on the dance floor all night, and stayed right by her side. Jed didn’t dance much more than usual, but for the first time in a while he didn’t mind being out there.
Half hour before sunrise Jed declared, “I’m too wore out to continue, and the moon is leaving the sky. I think I’ll call it morning.”
Annabel and I quickly gathered to his side, and we headed home together. Along the way we could hear others talking about the night. One lady called it, “The most active full moon party since its conception.”
A man stated, “Last night reminded me of the way we partied back when it all got started.”
When we got back to our house it was nearing sunrise. Annabel looked anxious as she rushed into the back yard.
Jed asked her, “Will you be safe heading home by yourself?”
She shrugged her shoulders, and then headed into the woods. It was a good ten minutes or so before she reappeared, and informed us, “The council feels it would be better for me to stay with you until the full moon cycle is over, if you’ll let me.”
Jed asked himself out loud, “How close are they, or how fast can you travel to know this already?”
I pointed out, “The wolves were howling quite a bit, most were from a little further back, but it could have something to do with it.”
Jed and Annabel enjoyed a good chuckle at me. Then Jed said, “It’s that wildly crazy imagination that gets you into trouble every now and then.”
Jed had me get the spare pillow blanket and other linens. Then he made up the bed while Annabel watched with a concentrated interest I’d never seen before. Once everything was ready she climbed in, Jed tucked the blankets, just a bit, and he shut off the light as we left the already brightening room, for our beds. She appeared to already be sound asleep as I opened my bedroom door and turned for one last peek at the stranger who so recently entered our lives.