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Due North

By Katya Kolmakov All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Romance

The Proverbial Dumpling in a Teapot

Farmer Thorne in his sigh-inducing 1930s outfit is standing on the sidewalk expecting her. She comes out of her cab, and he freezes. Etta knows little about men, but he has that look that sappy romance comedy characters have when the female protagonist comes out suddenly dressed up and surprisingly attractive. Etta does look good in the dress, but he had seen it! She bought it in front of him! What can she say, Etta does know very little about men. Maybe he’s hot, or cold, or hungry. Rassilon knows, what these widened eyes and softly parted lips mean!

She loops her arm through his, feeling his scorching skin through the sleeve of the shirt, and they come in.

The wedding is held in the so-called Millennium Hall. It’s a building in the historical center of Winnipeg, previously used as a bank. It does look like a bank, actually. To be precise, it looks like a miniature Gringotts. It’s been emptied inside; tables are arranged on the floor; and there's a semi wall, probably separating the temporary kitchen from the guests. The clerk counter has been converted into a podium for the newlyweds, but Etta still expects a goblin to pop up from behind it at any moment, lean over, and ask whether Mr. Harry Potter has his key.

People are mingling, drinking, chatting. Etta isn’t the most socially adept person, but it’s always easier when it’s not your childhood friends studying your date. And when you’re in a different city, or even different country.

“Thorne!” A holler runs through the hall, bouncing up there, under the domed ceiling. “Man, look at you!”

A large, bear shaped, bearded man is pushing through the crowd, waving a glass indubitably filled with lager, half consumed already. He has a red tie that clashes horribly with a blue shirt, and black shoes that are a ‘no-no’ with the brown trousers he’s wearing. His arms are wider than Etta’s waist. Etta wonders whether he’s aware that he looks like all stereotypes about Canadian lumberjacks put together.

“Hey, TJ.” Farmer Thorne doesn’t look too happy to see the lumberjack; but then again, he's generally so inexpressive, that maybe inside he’s doing the hackneyed ‘happy dance.’ “Etta, this is TJ, we went to school together. He’s the best man.”

“Enchante!” the lumberjack hollers, picks up Etta’s hand, shakes it, kisses it, and shakes it again.

It’s only quarter past four, but Etta has to concede - the man is bladdered.

“Nice to meet you.” She’s carefully pulling her hand out of his giant paw.

“Wow, a Brit! Where did you get her?” The bear man is grinning. Etta can’t say she’s enjoying the appraisal, although she seems to have received an approval.

“Would you like a drink, Miss Ryan?” Farmer Thorne addresses her in his usual even calm tone, and Etta moves a bit closer to him. He might also be a bearman, but he’s a familiar bearman.

“I’d love to.”

They're slowly moving through the hall, towards a bar, leaving the lumberjack behind them to mumble something pouty and sip his lager. The bar is a curious set up. It’s a large counter with three waiters behind it, and guests are standing in a queue chatting and holding bills in their hands. Has Etta mentioned that Canadian money looks like Monopoly currency, repels water, can’t be crinkled, can’t be destroyed in a washing machine, and a hundred dollar bill smells like maple syrup? Etta went to a bank especially to withdraw one to check. It does.

“Thorne!” Another voice calls after them, and the farmer turns. This time there’s a tinge of a shadow of a hint of warmth in his eyes. Etta’s getting better in reading his microexpressions. She peeks from around him. “My boy!”

An elderly gentleman in an expensive suit is waving to them. Etta gives him a polite smile.

“This is the groom’s father.” Look at that! Farmer Thorne is actually talking! And seemingly trying to reduce Etta’s sense of awkwardness. Quoting a certain lieutenant commander, Etta has to say, ‘Oh my-y-y...’

“John, pleasure to see you here!” The gentleman comes up to them and claps his hand to Farmer Thorne’s upper arm.

Everything in this country seems oversized to Etta. Hands, shoulders, parking spots, chairs in public places, servings of food, and a certain farmer’s upper arms. She’s not complaining about the latter, by the way.

“Richard,” Farmer Thorne greets the man. “This is Etta Ryan, my date. She’s a researcher from London, studying my family history.”

Oh wow! That sounds significantly better than ‘a batty limey librarian who might or might not be after my inheritance.’

“Pleasure, Miss Ryan.” The man shakes Etta’s hand. “John here is one of the last Thornes in Manitoba. His family heritage is surely of academic interest. I served with his father in air forces. Wonderful man, wonderful! He’d be proud and flattered.”

Etta feels suddenly guilty that she isn’t actually writing an article on Farmer Thorne’s family history, and all she can do is to nod and to hope that her fiery blush will be explained by social anxiety.

“Pleasure to have you here.” The groom’s father shakes her hand again. There’s always so much physical contact in this Friendly Manitoba!

“The pleasure’s all mine,” Etta mutters; and they are once again left alone in the ‘brew queue.’

Etta’s chewing at her bottom lip, pondering how to thank Farmer Thorne for making her look so good in front of the lovely elderly gentleman, when she realizes that more than a half of people at this wedding are throwing her curious looks. Farmer Thorne is completely unruffled and is studying the large chalkboard on the wall with the menu on it.

“Why is everyone looking at me?” Etta gently pulls at his arm, making him look down his long nose at her.

“I never bring anyone anywhere.” Six words. Does he honestly think six words are enough?!

“Why? And why do they care?”

“There were... incidents. Long time ago.”

“Incidents? What sort of incidents?” Etta now sounds like Gollum demanding answers. She needs answers!

She gets them in the form of a tall, gorgeous woman in a bright purple dress, her hair and makeup impeccable. Considering three more women are wandering the hall in the identical dresses, she’s a bridesmaid. Unless Canadian women have such an appalling taste - the dress is horrid - and are completely undisturbed to be someone’s ‘fashion clone.’

“John! You are here! We didn’t know if you’d come!”

Alright, that is the case of a jilted ex if Etta ever saw one. Narrowed eyes, pressed lips, fake smile. A quick glance over Etta - and the lips thin out even more.

“Andrea,” Farmer Thorne greets decorously, and moves ahead with the queue. Etta is petrified, so she just slides along the tiles on her heels like a cat dragged into the vet’s office.

“John, dear, will you not introduce us?” the woman speaks in a terrifyingly fake flirty tone.

“Andrea, this is Miss Ryan. Miss Ryan, Andrea, the bride’s sister.”

“Pleasure to meet you… Andrea,” Etta mumbles, and the woman throws her another evaluating look over.

“I’ve noticed your accent, Miss Ryan. British?” the woman asks, and some sort of rebelliousness wakes up in Etta. Firstly, the chick didn’t say ‘the pleasure is mine.’ She’s Canadian, for god’s sake! They apologize if you step on their foot. Secondly, Etta doesn’t enjoy being sized up like that. She hardly reaches the woman’s shoulder, and the looks the latter is throwing her are so very diminishing!

“Yes, I’m British. I’ve arrived from London a few days ago to research Mr. Thorne’s family history. And we’ve developed such a lovely... rapport, that now I’m his date at the wedding.” Etta makes sure that ‘rapport’ sounds as innuendo filled as everything Jack Harkness says.

She apparently succeeds, since the one called Andrea hastily excuses herself and minces away with a sour expression on her face.

Etta peeks. Farmer Thorne is smiling. It’s a ‘Farmer Thorne smile’ meaning it’s hiding in the corners of his lips, and can be guessed in the minuscule change of his eyebrow angle - but it’s there.

“What can I get for you, Etta?” he asks, and she feels like purring and hanging on his arm, rubbing her nose to the prominent deltoid muscle.

He called her Etta!

The ceremony is as Canadian as it gets. Meaning, it’s only slightly - and somewhat self-ironically and apologetically - full of pathos; it’s secular; down-to-earth; and performed by the best man. Apparently, one can take a course online, and Bob’s your Uncle.

The newlyweds promise to love and to cherish, protect from mosquitos and to dodge deer together - a local joke no doubt, which Etta doesn’t understand. The friends and family clap; the couple kiss - a bit more tongue is involved than at the weddings Etta had attended back home - and the best man gets up for a speech.

The speech consists of heartfelt congratulations to the couple, a joke about the parents paying for all this, including the best man’s license to marry the ‘two idiots.’ And then, when Etta is prepared to listen to some long and convoluted proclamations about loyalty, standing by each other, and so on, the best man asks whether everyone is hungry, receives an enthusiastic agreement from the crowd, and waiters start dashing about with plates of salad. Etta stares at goat cheese, pear, and caramelized pecan nut concoction in front of her in shock. Firstly, that’s enough greens for a herd of cows and nuts for couple dozens squirrels. Secondly, that’s the shortest toast session she’s ever heard. Everyone is happily noshing; and Etta shrugs and tucks in.

The highlights of the wedding include the rapping best man telling the biography of the now husband; the maid of honour telling a poop joke about the blushing bride; and then a lot of booze - and dancing. It starts even before the main course. After a short break for - no less surprisingly for Etta - tureens of something called perogies placed in the middles of tables, everyone flocks back to the dancing area.

Perogies are funny dumplings with something bright orange inside; and Etta can’t stop eating them.

“It’s Ukrainian. Second biggest community in Manitoba,” Farmer Thorne explains. Etta freezes with her cheeks full like a chipmunk. She didn’t expect him to notice her enthusiasm. “Potato and cheddar.”

Etta scolds herself and makes sure to bite smaller pieces after that. But she can’t help it! There's something endlessly comforting in the carbs filled, round, and plump perogies. As if from childhood.

She's hardly done with her food, when the best man materializes near the table, his hand stretched to her. Etta loves to dance; but she properly isn’t sure about Eddy Grant. She wasn’t even born when he was in fashion!

Also, Etta is sober. She’s intolerant. While everyone else is as pissed as a bale of newts. Another thing Etta’s noticed right away - there is no fizz at this do. Most popular drink seems to be gin tonic - and it seems there was pretty much no tonic in what the bartender poured into Farmer Thorne’s glass.

The best man twirls and shakes poor Etta until her curls stand in a halo around her head; and she’s praying to all gods and deities for someone to cut in. She doesn’t have to wait long. Pretty much every male at the wedding, except for the groom and - damn it - Etta’s date, are dying to dance with her. It’s the accent, and the odd looks.

Etta has never been appreciated or noticed much. She’s a ginger in the country that used to to burn the likes of her for being witches and werewolves, precisely according to the instructions provided in Malleus Maleficarum. And to perfectly summarize the British ‘gingerism,’ Wilkie Collins wrote in his 1885 book I Say No, “The prejudice against habitual silence, among the lower order of the people, is almost as inveterate as the prejudice against red hair.” And not much improved for the squirrel coloured peeps like Etta in the years to come. A person was known to be stabbed for being a ginger in 2003.

Being suddenly wooed in most diverse ways - ranging from direct offers of some-some, to veiled compliments - is a strange experience. Etta needs time to process it.

She’s finally given repose when the cake is rolled out. It’s astonishing just as everything at this wedding. It’s tiny! But before Etta starts feeling sad, she realizes that that’s a cake for the main table, while every guest receives a cupcake of the same design.

To be honest, Etta is full; and she’s drinking tea, hoping to stall, and avoid the renewed knees-up. And then she notices the longing looks Farmer Thorne is discreetly throwing at her cupcake. Interesting… The bear man, no-more-than-five-words-in-a-sentence Farmer Thorne is a sweet tooth!

“Would you like mine?” Etta asks in an innocent tone. “I think I’ve had enough carbs for today.”

The cupcake disappears before Etta can say ‘what an adorable poppet!’

And then the best man is back - and with vengeance. He’s very much unstable at his feet, but still very much willing. Etta isn’t. She starts mumbling something about her shoes killing her; the man insists; and then Farmer Thorne rises with ‘listen, man...’ And before Etta can swoon from gratitude and in hopes he wants her for himself, the red drink the best man is holding is pouring all over the farmer’s glorious chest.

There are ah’s and oh’s around; and the two men lock narrowed eyes. Etta is torn between letting them continue - all this testosterone filled glaring is very stimulating - and diffusing the tension.

Her body makes a decision for her. With shock, she sees her own hand starting to dab a napkin into the pectoral muscles that have been visiting her in her dreams.

“We should wash it off,” she mumbles, something sweetly shaking inside her tummy. “Is there a washroom here?”

The large scorching hand of Farmer Thorne covers her hand, and he looks down at her. His eyes are shiny. Etta quickly asks herself how many gin-and-not-so-much-tonic’s he has consumed.

A bridesmaid who happened to trot by directs the flustered Etta and the inexpressive farmer towards the so called Fireplace Room, which used to be a private negotiation room when the building was still a bank. Apparently, there's a shared washroom there.

Etta takes a deep breath and braces herself.

She still isn’t prepared for Farmer Thorne shrugging off his waistcoat and pulling at his tie.

Etta feels necessary to mention here that about 80% of her sex fantasies in the last few days start exactly this way. There's no red spot on that white shirt of his in those daydreams, but Etta isn’t picky.

Etta regrets that she hasn’t pretended to drink some brew, because at least she’d have an excuse right now for the fact that her hands have just flown up to the buttons on his shirt. Etta doesn’t know how it happened. Etta doesn’t know how to stop it. The hands are shaking, but working industriously. More so, her barmy mind is stuck on gleefully humming Kylie Minogue’s “Off With His Shirt” from Galavant. Farmer Thorne’s chest is about 30% wider than Gary Galavant’s but just as perfectly hairy - and was that a squeak? Yes, that was a squeak. And it came from Etta. Rassilon help her, she’s losing control!

The knuckles of her fingers have just brushed at his skin and the chest hair, and that’s Etta’s undoing. Either she finds a way out right now, or she’s going to cut him down under his feet, and straddle him in the bathroom. A warm-blooded woman can hold herself back only that long!

With an immense effort of will power, she swirls away from him, and stuffs his shirt into the sink. She might need to stick her noggin there too, under the same stream of cold water. Sod her hairstyle. Her ears are ringing from the smell of his skin, from the heat coming off him, and…

“Etta,” Farmer Thorne addresses her in a neutral tone. Before meeting him, Etta hadn’t known what truly neutral tone is. His is as neutral as vegetable oil. Etta stops impersonating a raccoon with his shirt and lifts her face to him. “Could you, please, put the shirt down?”

Etta looks at him in confusion but obliges.

“I’m sober,” he announces in the same even voice, and Etta lifts one eyebrow.

“Sure...” she draws out - and then his hot palm cups her face.

And he leans down. Etta’s brain is screaming like Janet Leigh in the shower scene. She meets his eyes; and for the first time Etta acquires the ability to read something in them. There is a question there, and Etta’s answer is, 'Hells yeah!'

She lunges ahead, pressing her lips to his.

How do you think a Canadian farmer - with antisocial tendencies; in his own words, no previous history of bringing dates anywhere; and seemingly reclusive life style - kisses? The answer is better than anyone Etta has ever had. She decides she’ll analyze and will be overwhelmed by the skill, inventiveness, and sincere pleasure he seems to be getting out of it later, and now she’ll grab him and has her ways with him. Repeatedly.

Water is running, splashing onto everything around the sink, including a happy Etta and a bare-chested farmer. Etta is grabbing ears and silky hair, and strong shoulders; the farmer is stroking her jaw, threads his fingers into her curls; and then one hand is on her right buttock - and everything is perfect in the world!

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