by Paty Jager
Tessa placed food on Van's plate. He'd not done the things he did to get his father's attention. He'd been cocky and foolish to not become his father. The revelation spun a whole new facet on Van. Yet, here he was a successful business man and not a thing like his father. Except… she'd seen traces of Mr. Donovan in Van when he'd butt heads with Floyd.
She took a bite of chicken and watched as Van poured milk from the pail. "Oh, my! You didn't have to get milk just for me."
He passed a cup to her. "I don't like how skinny you are. Tell me all the things you like, and I'll make sure you get them."
"Humph! Now you're sounding like all the old biddies when I was growing up. They always told my mother she wasn't feeding me enough. I can eat like a horse and I don't get any bigger."
He pointed to the cup and then her mouth. "Prove it."
Tessa took a sip then guzzled. There was nothing better to drink than milk. How she'd missed the creamy white liquid when their cow was sold to help pay for food. They'd cut back to only two meals a day and Mother taking in boarders, but that only managed to feed the boarders well and pay the bank. Then Mother became ill, and Tessa couldn't tend her and keep up with boarders. That's when Judge Spencer swooped in, bought the house, and allowed them to live there until her mother died. Then his offer to allow her to remain…
Tessa set the milk down and frowned at her plate.
"What's wrong? Does the milk taste bad?" Van pulled the pail close and took a sniff.
"No. The milk is wonderful. I just remembered something." She picked at the chicken on her plate. Why had the judge allowed them to stay after all the years of harassing them?
"What?" Van forked a mouthful of potatoes between his lips.
She shook her head. Instinct told her if Van knew about the judge's propositions it would cause trouble. "Just remembering the hard times and looking forward to a better future once I get a job teaching."
"That's something I had to work on. Look forward, never back. Back, especially with the mistakes I made, only brings regrets and sorrow. Looking forward is brighter."
"I agree." Tessa picked up her chicken and ate with vigor. Seeing a future with a roof over her head, food in her stomach, and a respectable job eased the aches of her long day.
They ate in silence until everything but the half full pail of milk remained.
"Set this outside the back door and you'll have a glass of milk with breakfast," Van said, piling the dirty dishes in a pail.
"Let me wash those." Tessa held out her hand.
Van pulled them away. "I'm going to bring up some water to wash these and leave a bucket by the back door for you." He set the dishes in the middle of the table. "You can use the privy while I get the water."
A blush crept up her neck. That was an intimate thing to say. But then their dinner played out like that of a married couple. Her face burned even hotter at the thought, and her gaze darted to the bedding in the corner. To hide her thoughts and embarrassment, she ducked out the door ahead of Van and scampered down the stairs. She grasped the back door handle, and his hand closed over the top.
Heat race up her arm.