Dear Diary, here I am, trying to get in the swing of things in this new and bizarre life I lead, but it’s all still so foreign to me. Don’t laugh! I know I look ridiculous in these clothes. While my hair has never felt so soft because I haven’t been using any products on it, I feel like it looks ridiculous pulled into the single braid in back. At first, I resisted wearing the kerchief thing on my head, but I found that with the work around here, it’s nice to have my hair completely out of my face.
As soon as I get up in the morning, I’m to get cleaned up, dressed, and make my bed. The room I share with Alice is to be kept tidy at all times. Which is pretty easy since I don’t have anything personal to muck it all up. All I have right now is you, Diary.
I guess you could say I have some new friends here, but it’s dawned on me, belatedly, that because I’ve lied to them about who I am, they can’t really know me. And if they can’t really know the real me, they can’t be real friends. It seems I make big messes without even meaning to. The other thing I’ve been late to understand is that if Agathe recognized the handwriting on the note, and therefore knows who wrote it, she’s bound to find out who I really am anyway. So I should not have lied. Why do I do that? Why do I lie even when the truth looks better?
It also stands to reason that since someone bothered to get a note to me from this isolated community… they must know who I am. They are sure to tell Agathe. But why haven’t they told me?
This morning, after I made my bed, I found a painting outside the door to my bedroom, leaning against the wall. To my shock, it was a picture of me wearing the clothes I had on when I first came here.
It was so pretty, I couldn’t believe it was just sitting there for me to find. Quickly, I put it on my bed, then went downstairs to help Alice with breakfast.
“There you are, lazybones,” Alice teased, not even glancing at me. She was too focused on the bread dough she was kneading.
“It’s only six-thirty,” I grumbled.
“Half the morning’s gone!” she exclaimed good naturedly. Alice was one of those people who went with the flow. If something happened or someone spoke to her in a less than pleasant way, she just shrugged and moved on, not letting it bother her. In that way, she reminded me of my step-sister Ruby.
Specifically, it reminded me of the day she became my sister for real. She and I had been planning that day since we were in grade school. When it finally became a reality, we were giddy with excitement. Neither of us had ever been in a wedding before and as we glided down the aisle, we pretended we were the brides instead of bridesmaids. It seems silly to think about it now, but it was such a happy day full of anticipation and adventure.
I hadn’t always been fair to Ruby. I took her for granted and she was only ever nice to me. Tears filled my eyes and threatened to spill over as I thought of her sweet face and how close we’d once been.
Thinking back on conversations prior to having run away, I was reminded of Ruby’s bewildered expression every time I did little things that pushed her away. Why had I done that when I claimed to have loved her so much? The one time I’d confided in her about how I felt about my dad, she hadn’t agreed with me. She’d told me that she just couldn’t believe the newspapers and magazine articles; that my dad never would have done such things. Now, at this moment, I think I was feeling shame that she wasn’t his biological child, yet she’d had more faith in him than I’d had. My stomach began to turn as I began to realize how wretched I’d been to the people who loved me.
“Breakfast won’t make itself, Hester.”
I wiped my eyes on my sleeve, hoping Alice hadn’t noticed and pushed the thoughts of my family away as best as I could. No matter how I was feeling and what I was regretting, I still had things that had to be done here. Agathe had made it clear that if I stayed, I must pull my weight. She kept saying my stay was temporary, but I wasn’t sure about what exactly that meant.
“Alice, I found a painting of myself in the hallway this morning.”
She laughed slightly as her hands worked the dough, rolling it this way and that in her skilled way. “That would be from Dax. He’s the only one who paints that well around here. I imagine he fancies you.”
“Fancies me?” What did that mean?
Laughing again, she replied, “Means he likes you. Or maybe he just hopes you’re well now. You were quite sick the last time he saw you.”
“Oh.” Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen Dax for ages. “Where has Dax been?”
Finally, Alice was satisfied the kneading had done it’s thing and she rolled the dough into a ball and put it in a bowl to rise. Luckily, there was already a loaf in the oven; I could smell it as it baked. As usual, my stomach began growling. I was glad we didn’t have to wait on this loaf to rise and then bake because I was starving.
“Hester, the pancakes!”
“Sorry,” I mumbled, cracking the eggs and making the pancake batter.
Agathe rose before everyone else which meant she had taken toast and tea then and wouldn’t be eating now. Elliott sometimes ate with us, but he preferred an earlier breakfast, too. As for Dax, I had noticed that after every meal, Alice took a tray somewhere. When I asked about it, though, she told me to “just never mind about it.” I’d been wondering if she was taking the tray to Dax and why he never joined the family for anything.
“These pancakes are right fluffy,” Matthieu enthused when we were finally at the table to eat.
“Thank you,” I said around a bite.
Alice seemed to notice Matthieu for the first time since sitting down. “Your hat!”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said with a red face. “I was so hungry…” He took his hat off apologetically and put it on the bench next to him.
Alice flashed him an easy smile. “No worries. I just don’t want Agathe to see you forget something like that.”
As I watched, Matthieu continued to eat a huge pile of food. I was kind of pleased he liked my cooking.
“How is Old Treves Delattre?” Alice asked. Her question was obviously directed toward Matthieu as I didn’t even know who Old Treves was.
“He’s on the mend. It’ll be a couple more weeks before he’s up without crutches.”
“And the new baby?”
“Healthy and robust!” Matthieu grinned.
I couldn’t keep silent any longer. “Isn’t it weird that he’s so old and has a new baby?”
Alice and Matthieu shared an amused look, then Matthieu said, “He’s about the same age as Elliott, actually. He’s only ‘Old’ Treves because of his little boy, ‘Young’ Treves.”
“What’s really funny is that when Young Treves is an elder, we’ll still all be calling him ‘Young’ Treves!”
It was nice to share a laugh with these people. This was the first time I’d truly felt included in their conversations or knew what they were talking about. It felt really good.
“Sun’s going to beat me to work!” Matthieu exclaimed as he rose from the table. “Thank you for breakfast.”
“Any…” The words I was trying to say faded away as I noticed him for the first time. I mean, really noticed him. Maybe it was because I mostly saw him with his hat on, but I’ve never realized how handsome he was.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Redness filled my cheeks and I stood up, grabbing dirty dishes from the table. “Y-yes. I meant to say ‘you’re welcome.'”
He nodded slightly at me, walked outside and put his hat on. I stood holding sticky plates, syrup running over one hand and dripping onto the floor as I watched him look casually up at the sun, shielding his eyes for a moment. Then, he sauntered off toward the barn as if he had all the time in the world.
“Good heavens!” Alice’s voice brought me sharply back to reality. “You’re dripping syrup all over the floor!”
“Oh no,” I stupidly said, hurrying the dishes to the sink.
“I’ll clean it up,” I promised her as I pumped water and began washing the dishes.
She sighed and brought the rest of the dishes over. “No, you are needed outside, I think. When you’re done here, you should look for Elliott and find out what it is you’re supposed to do.”
Somehow, this didn’t sound very pleasant to me. Indoor work is what I’d been doing and it was hard enough. Outdoor work just sounded, well, hard and laborious.
Alice gave me a reassuring smile, “You’ll be fine.”
By the time I finished what I had to do inside, the heat outside had already climbed uncomfortably high. As I walked across the yard toward where I saw Elliott and Matthieu talking, my dress swished around my legs and clung to my stockings. It was almost intolerable to me the way I had to dress. It seemed to me that it would be a lot easier to do my work in shorts or something. And what was with all of this work, anyway? Didn’t these people ever do anything else?
Elliott glanced toward me as I approached and it became apparent to me that their conversation was about me. You can always tell when people are talking about you because their expressions change and they get strangely quiet when they realize you’re nearby.
“It’s only until people come back,” Elliott said in a reassuring voice. What was he reassuring Matthieu about? That he wouldn’t have to work with me for long? Instantly, this got my dander up.
“I don’t mind for now,” he answered.
Well, how nice! I’m so glad you don’t mind, I yelled inside my head.
Finally, Elliott turned his attention to me.
“It would really help out if you’d work in the garden with Matthieu. See what you can salvage of it.”
Salvage of it? Good grief, I knew this was going to be back breaking work!
“Are you sure I’m more help to you out here?” I complained.
Elliott stared at me for a moment as if he wasn’t used to anyone refusing to do as he asked. “Yes, I’m very sure,” he said firmly.
Just as I was about to put in a bigger protest, he turned back to Matthieu as if I wasn’t even there anymore! I clenched my fists at my side, trying to determine if I should butt in or keep quiet.
While I was stewing on how I was being ignored, I missed everything they said. Before I knew it, Matthieu turned on his heel and beckoned me to join him. Inwardly, I grumbled the entire way.
My jaw dropped as soon as we arrived at the garden. It was a mess. A real jumbled mess! This was not only going to be hard, it was going to take hours…. perhaps days to right the wrongs here.
“Holy cow,” I said under my breath.
He glanced at me sideways, giving me a strange look.
“Means, I can’t believe what a horrible condition this is in,” I explained.
“It’s been neglected,” was his simple answer.
“You don’t say.”
Gathering our tools, we entered the abyss.
After what seemed like hours of pulling weeds, Matthieu handed me a ladle of water. In his other hand was a large watering can which he had also filled from the well.
“Thank you,” I said. And I drank the most deliciously cold water on the planet. And then I drank some more. Straightening up, I handed the ladle back to him and wiped my sweaty forehead on my sleeve.
“How long do we have to stay out here?”
Squinting his eyes, he glanced up at the sun before answering. “It’s almost lunch time. Alice will probably bring us some sandwiches or something. Then we’ll continue with this until sundown.”
For the second time in one day (I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more!), my jaw dropped to the ground. I looked down at my scratched up, bloodied hands and frowned in a big way.
“I offered you gloves,” Matthieu said after observing me.
“It’s too hot for gloves.” I tried to ignore the irritation growing inside of me.
“And I said, suit yourself.” He poured what was left in the ladle over a tomato plant and then began watering from the can he was carrying.
“That answer is infuriating!”
He didn’t even stop what he was doing; didn’t even look my way. His hat hid his expression as he just calmly continued watering.
I couldn’t explain why, but I felt even more angry that he wasn’t even bothered by what I’d said. “Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“Loud and clear,” he answered, his voice also not giving away any emotion. “Why don’t you just let it all out and pull the weeds while you do.”
“Aaaah!” I yelled in frustration. “I’m really sick of everything! Don’t you people know there are better garden tools, for pete’s sake? And the clothes washing here is ridiculous! At home I could do it in less than half the time! All you guys do is work and slave over everything!” I straightened up and looked out at the ocean, feeling a slight breeze from it that filled my nostrils with salt. I longed to drop everything and walk out into the cool water. “Oh, and I hate this garden and I hate these stupid clothes, too!”
Finally, Matthieu straightened up, leaning on the hoe he was working with. “You know, you have a lot of attitude for someone who wasn’t asked to be here. You feel better now?”
With mounting frustration, I said, “But I was asked here! I just don’t know who asked!”
“So, I heard,” he said.
His response had my eyebrows going up in amazement. “You did? Who sent that note to me?”
He waved a hand at me, dismissing my question, still leaning on the hoe with his other hand. “I think you should change your perspective a bit, Hester.”
“What?” I hotly demanded.
“You heard me plainly enough.” With his free hand, he wiped sweat from his brow and straightened his hat. “Try looking at things from my perspective. You intruded upon our lives, hid in the barn like a common criminal. And like that common criminal, you helped yourself to apples and things in the garden that didn’t belong to you. Now, through the kindness of Agathe’s heart, she didn’t send you straight back to the ferry and on your way. So, in turn, you’re staying here, in a place you don’t belong, an interloper, if you will. You’re eating the food we grow and wearing clothing from material that was purchased for you. You sleep in a comfortable bed in a room you do not pay anything for. Yet you complain that your help should be needed in the very garden that feeds you. How does that look to you?”
My cheeks had reddened. I could feel the heat in my face and it wasn’t from the sun. “Well – well, it sounds pretty ungrateful.”
Instead of rubbing anything in my face, he bent back down, hoeing the row he’d been working on. I stared at the top of his hat, a knot in my stomach and shame filling me.
“Would you like to take a break for a while?” he asked, still working.
How could he be so kind to me after the terrible things I’d said and done since arriving here? Swallowing hard past the lump in my throat, I said, “No. We have a lot more to do.”
Before reaching for the weeds that were choking out a bean plant, I glanced at the ocean again. There was something I learned today but I didn’t get the feeling Matthieu wanted me to continue feeling shamed or he would have really given me a harder time. So what did Matthieu want?
Taking another deep breath of the salty ocean air as I thought further about this, it suddenly dawned on me just as if a light bulb had gone off. (What did Dad always call that feeling? A symmetry? An apostrophe? No… an epiphany! That’s it.)
Matthieu wanted me to realize that my way of thinking wasn’t the only way. Why hadn’t I even considered how anyone else might feel about things? This was definitely something I needed to work on.
As I pulled at the next bunch of weeds, I said, “Hey, Matthieu, does anyone ever call you ‘Matt’?”
He paused for a moment, then continued working, “No.”
“Can I call you that?”
Looking at me again, a smile crossed his lips. “Sure.”