I realize it has been FAR too long since I have updated this fic and believe me, it was not done intentionally. I had 75% of this done almost two months ago now, but we received some shocking and overwhelming news from the military that has literally flipped my life upside down and moved everything in my life to the back burner as we prepare for this next phase of our career in the Air Force. It's a good thing for my husband...but I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. Some folks know what it is, but until we have official word (we pass every test and jump every hurdle) I can't really say much other than it's another overseas move...and that in an of itself is just enough to make me want to crawl in a corner and hide...those moves are SO difficult and stressful. Additionally, this development uncovered an issue with our daughter's health and so again, it just contributed to my writing being put on the back burner. Add in the holidays and the fact that we took a much needed family vacation in the midst of all of this and well...you get a fic that hasn't been updated in almost two months.
The good news is, this chapter has been split...because MY goodness it was coming on to nearly 20k words and I just could not hit you with that all at once. So, this is the first half of that enormous chapter and the second half, is ALMOST done, so you should be getting another update shortly...it definitely won't be two months. I AM still working on both What Might Have Been and Once Upon a Highway...as I said, I will not totally abandon my fics...but again, my life has been a bit CRAZY these past few weeks so I'm writing when I can. Thank you so much for understanding. I hope you enjoy this update.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
For the first time since they arrived in 1754, Rufus had gotten a filling meal and a good night's sleep. It may not have been the best night of sleep he had ever had, but since he was neither sleeping outside on the cold, damp ground, in a cave, or in a filthy jail cell he could hardly complain about the lumpy 18th century mattress he was offered as a bed.
In fact, he was hardly in a position to complain about anything given the living hell they had suffered through since landing in this century. Though he was absolutely annoyed as hell that he was not allowed to eat dinner with Lucy and Wyatt in the main house, he was offered a comfortable seat by a roaring fire in the kitchen and given a hearty helping of stew, fresh baked bread, and a nice helping of gin to wash it down with. Fully satisfied and comfortable for the first time in days, Rufus found that he was having a very difficult time trying to stay awake and so no sooner had he begun to nod by his place by the fire, then he was led to a loft above the kitchen where a pallet had been laid out for him, complete with a nice heavy quilt that he wasted no time snuggling under.
Even though he was awoken well before the crack of dawn by the crowing of a rooster, he hardly minded. He felt well-rested, warm, content…and with the aroma of ham and eggs wafting up from the floorboards below, the promise of yet another warm and hearty meal, Rufus could hardly wait to start the day. Emerging from his second story room, however, he was handed a large bowl of grits and bacon, instead of his expected bacon and eggs, and while it was a disappointment, he found that given his nearly non-existent breakfasts of the past few days…this was still a vast improvement.
Stepping out into the cool crisp morning, Rufus situated himself on a soft patch of grass overlooking the creek, marveling at the fiery hues of the forest illuminated by the rising sun. He vaguely wondered what had become of Wyatt and Lucy, but seeing as they had both been at each other's throats the day before…and well, pretty much since they arrived in this century… Rufus was happy to enjoy his breakfast alone…in the relative peace and quiet with no one…
Dammit. He hadn't even had one bite of his breakfast when Wyatt came racing over to the small patch of grass he had commandeered as his picnic spot, looking like he hadn't gotten one single wink of sleep the night before.
"There you are!" Wyatt exclaimed breathlessly as he approached him in complete agitation, "What the hell man, I've been looking all over for you."
"Well, good morning to you too." Rufus deadpanned as he took a spoonful of his grits.
Wyatt paced in front of him, rubbing a rough hand across his face, "I…I'm sorry, man…I just don't know what to…I need your help."
"Are you serious?" Rufus groaned, his mouth full of food, "the sun isn't even up yet."
"I know…I know, man." Wyatt replied anxiously, plopping down on the ground beside him "I…I haven't been able to sleep…I don't know what the hell I'm going to do."
"I told you you were biting off more than you could chew with that house. If you think I'm crawling on top of that damn cabin to move that tree, you got another thing coming…"
"No…it's not…" Wyatt began shaking his head frantically before clenching his eyes shut and admitting, "I gotta marry Lucy."
The generous portion of grits and bacon Rufus had, up to that point, been thoroughly enjoying went spewing forth over John Fraser's back lawn. "You, what?!" he exclaimed, coughing.
Sighing heavily, Wyatt covered his face with his hands, "I have to marry Lucy."
"I thought she was supposed to be your sister?" Rufus asked incredulously.
"She was." Wyatt responded glumly. "But…dammit…I don't know what happened…they started asking me about her speaking French and what she was doing out here and…I didn't know what to say."
"So…you told them you were married to your sister?"
"No." Wyatt spat out defensively. "They figured she couldn't be my sister because she knows French and I don't."
"Uh-huh…" Rufus replied doubtfully, "why do I get the feeling there's more to this story than you're telling me?"
Wyatt shifted uncomfortably, "No…I mean…okay, they were trying to fix her up with that Matthew guy….you know, Colonel McKee's aide? And I um…told them I didn't give a damn what Lucy did….I don't, Rufus." Wyatt added meaningfully as he let out a disbelieving snort. "And they didn't think her brother would say something like that and now…I don't know…they think we were shacking up together out there in the woods, running off to get married…I don't know…"
"So instead of correcting them and telling them that Lucy is just your friend, you told them you were shacking up with her in the woods? You do realize that kind of thing wasn't exactly PC in this day and age, right?"
"It wasn't like that!" Wyatt exclaimed as he leapt to his feet and began pacing nervously again, "I tried to tell them Lucy and I weren't…you know…but they…they didn't believe me…" Rufus shrugged and nodded in apparent agreement as Wyatt continued, "I mean, why else would she…I mean it's not she would ever…I couldn't tell them the truth."
"So instead, you lied and made Lucy out to be like some 18th century floozy?"
"I told you – I told them it wasn't like that...I told them Lucy was engaged…."
"Wait a minute…you brought up the fact that she's engaged to some guy she doesn't even know? What the hell, Wyatt? She doesn't even know his last name!"
"I know that Rufus." Wyatt gritted out, "But…what was I supposed to say, huh? You know Lucy and I aren't…I mean, it's not like I could tell them…I was just trying to get them to understand that we…I mean, she wasn't…"
"Into you?" Rufus asked as Wyatt nodded. "And that's supposed to make this better?" Rufus chuckled, "So not only do they think that Lucy ran off with you, they think she was playing fast and loose with her fiancé?" Wyatt groaned and covered his face with his hands once more as Rufus shook his head, "Does Lucy know about any of this?"
"No, she doesn't know about any of this" Wyatt sighed in frustration. "And like I said, I told them nothing was going on between us, okay?"
"But they didn't believe you." Rufus reminded him, trying hard to hide a smirk.
"No…they didn't believe me." Wyatt sighed as he sank down on the ground again, "And the worst part is I can't even get Lucy alone to talk to her about all of this…"
"Because," Wyatt explained in exasperation, "They went through this whole thing last night about protecting her damn virtue. If they think anything funny is going on between us they're gonna send her back to her family."
Rufus narrowed his eyes in confusion, "What family?"
"You know…" Wyatt shrugged, "her "family"…the one she ran around from…"
"But…she didn't run away…"
"You know what I mean." Wyatt snapped, clearly frustrated. "It's not like we can tell them that. I mean, what the hell was I supposed to say? Huh? That the reason we're actually here is because we were stranded by a damn psychopathic jackass, hell bent on destroying history as we know it?"
Rufus chuckled to himself, trying but failing to suppress a smile as he quipped, "So basically you're telling me that you feel like you need to marry Lucy because if you don't some stuck up Puritan white folks are going to send her back to her family…that doesn't exist?"
"Or marry her off to somebody else." Wyatt amended quietly.
Rufus barked out a laugh, "And there it is."
"There what is?" Wyatt snapped.
"You…marrying Lucy because you're afraid some 18th century Romeo is gonna come along and sweep her off her feet." Rufus mused noting that Wyatt's attention was suddenly caught by Colonel's McKee and his aide de camp who had just emerged from the house. "You didn't like her talking to that brown-nosing British dude, did you?"
Wyatt turned and stared at Rufus incredulously. "That…that's not…look, I don't want to marry Lucy, okay? But I don't have a damn choice." he gritted out in frustration, "If they think we're…you know…messing around, we don't have a place to live anymore."
"Or at least Lucy won't." Rufus corrected him, before adding with a devilish smirk, "But I hear there are some "fine and upstanding" young men around these parts…I'm sure she could find someone who…"
Wyatt silenced him with a hard stare, "She doesn't belong here, Rufus. None of us do. She can't get married off to some…some…"
"Certain British officer who went to Harvard?" Rufus mimicked as Wyatt rolled his eyes, "You know...I may be going out on a limb here, but I think Lucy knows that, Wyatt…why the hell would she run off and marry some guy she doesn't know in 1754?"
"I don't know…why the hell would she stay engaged to a guy she doesn't even know in 2016?" Wyatt countered bitterly.
Rufus chuckled dryly, amused at the brooding look on Wyatt's face as he recalled Lucy's fake fiancé. "Maybe," he suggested with a shrug, "Lucy actually likes the guy…I mean, some version of her agreed to marry him, he can't be that bad, right?" he cast a sideways glance at his friend who let out a derisive snort, "What? Have you met him?"
"No." Wyatt admitted. "But you said it yourself," he added defensively, "she doesn't even know the guy's last name."
"Yeah, but that was a while ago." Rufus dismissed, "if this guy really is head over heels for Lucy…I mean, he is her fiancé…you don't think that maybe she could have found that out by now? Gotten to know him a little better? Maybe decided she might want to marry him after all?"
"What the hell does it matter, Rufus?" Wyatt hissed irritably. "We may never get back there…and so we just have to deal with…whatever the hell this is…"
Rufus nodded thoughtfully, "You're right. We may be stuck here for the rest of our lives…so what happens then?"
Wyatt turned to look at him blankly, "What do you mean? If we're stuck here for the rest of our lives then we just need to do the best we can to survive…under the circumstances. Together."
"Uh-huh…and Lucy? What about her?"
"What about her?" Wyatt asked with a shrug.
"Well…"Rufus began tentatively, "Don't you think she has the right to…ya know…be happy?"
Wyatt narrowed his eyes in confusion "What the hell do you mean by that?"
Rufus shrugged indifferently, "Well…if she marries you…then that's it." He devoured another helping of his grits before adding smugly, "She's stuck with your grumpy ass for the rest of her days."
"What the hell are you trying to say, Rufus?" Wyatt spat out defensively, "I told you…I have to marry her…if I don't then…"
"I'm saying that if we're stuck here for the rest of our lives," Rufus argued, talking over him, "Lucy deserves a chance to have a real marriage with someone who actually wants to marry her…because he loves her…not because the lie they told didn't hold water."
Wyatt gaped at him, "So…what, I'm supposed to just leave her alone, unprotected?"
"No." Rufus maintained seriously, "I'm just saying that you should probably ask her if she wants to be in a pretend marriage with you." Rufus shrugged, "I mean, don't you think she should have some kind of say in all of this?"
"Have a say in what?"
Wyatt and Rufus both jumped at the sound of Lucy's breathless voice as she came walking briskly towards them, carrying a small box. Scrambling to his feet, Wyatt stammered nervously as all the blood drained from his face, "Uh…uh…nothing. Ru…Rufus was just saying how you uh…how you would…um…like to have a say in…" Wyatt desperately looked to his friend who was staring at him with a mixture of pity and amusement, "um…the…the house." Wyatt lied. "You know…" he cleared his throat, "since you're…going to be…um…living there and everything."
Lucy slowed to a stop, her wary eyes darting between Wyatt's panicked face and Rufus' amused one. "I'm sure whatever you do will be fine." she said with marked confusion before adding suspiciously, "Are…are you feeling alright? You seem a little…jumpy."
"I'm fine." he answered with a shrug, "you just…um…snuck up on me that's all…" he let out a derisive laugh, "You nearly gave me a heart attack."
"Well, I was looking for you…." Lucy said apologetically, "I didn't see you at breakfast and they told me you had already gone out…" she shrugged indifferently, "I just saw you two sitting over here and thought I'd just…here," she said as she plopped down on the ground next to Wyatt's feet, "I found a medicine kit, we should probably take care of your arm," she opened it up and began looking through the vials, "and I want to put some medicine on your head wound too." Wyatt, however, practically bowled Rufus over in his attempt to put as much distance between him and Lucy as possible…something that did not escape her notice, "What is wrong with you?" she asked in concern, "Don't tell me you're afraid of a little iodine?"
"Huh?" Wyatt answered, attempting, but failing to look aloof as Rufus worked overtime to stifle a laugh, "Nothing is wrong with me…I just…I...uh…need to um get started on the getting the cabin ready to live in." he said with a grim determination, "Can't sit around here all day…"
"But the sun is barely up." Lucy answered suspiciously, "And I know for a fact you haven't even eaten breakfast…"
"Not hungry" he responded with a shrug, slowly backing away.
"Yes, but Wyatt…" Lucy grunted as she got to her feet, "you really should…"
But one look at the approaching figure of John Fraser and Wyatt was hightailing it towards the barn, leaving Lucy standing next to Rufus looking completely bewildered, "What was that all about?"
Rufus dished out another spoonful of grits and shrugged, "Don't ask me. I try not to get involved in the concerns of you white folks."
Rolling her eyes at him, Lucy made to chase after Wyatt, but John Fraser voice called out to her, "Ah, there ye are lass. The wife was hoping you'd join her…she's a quilting today and could really use a hand."
"Oh, but I don't…I mean…I never…" Lucy stammered.
"Well, then…no better time to learn." John Fraser said with a pleasant nod, "I hardly need to tell ye, this isn't fine city living…if you're going to survive out here on the grand frontier, you need a little more than book learning to help you get by." He held out his hand to usher her back to the house, "Come on, then…there's a good lass." Lucy begrudgingly packed up the medical supplies, taking care to offer a smirking Rufus a glare before she made her way past John Fraser and back to the house, "You'll find Mary in the sitting room…take care not to dawdle, she's most anxious to start." he called after her. Turning to Rufus, he clapped his hands together and announced, "Now then, you wanted to learn how to be a blacksmith…"
Wyatt had not even the slightest desire to talk to Lucy about the possibility of marriage…and that is why for the next several days he spent as much time as he possibly could working on the cabin. He knew that eventually he was going to have to come clean with her, somehow explain what had happened…because if he didn't…well, things were bound to get even more awkward than they already were.
Where would she live, for instance, if he did not marry her?
John Fraser and Colonel McKee had made it abundantly clear that they would never allow Lucy to live with him in the cabin unless he "made a lady" of her and while Wyatt knew that with him, her virtue was absolutely protected…they sure as hell didn't. Wyatt then considered that maybe Lucy wouldn't have to live with him at all. John Fraser's house was large, comfortable…and hell of a lot nicer than that tiny dilapidated cabin. There, she was reasonably well protected…but what kind of asshole would they take him for if he refused to marry Lucy after dragging her out in the wilderness away from her fake fiancé and fake family? Hell, would they even allow him to stay on with them after essentially leaving Lucy high and dry to fend for herself…after he "ruined her reputation?"
And what about Lucy? Would they really allow her to stay on with them, unmarried, unprotected…a "runaway" with a family probably worried sick about her in…wherever the hell she said they were from New York?
He knew he was going to have to talk to Lucy…ask Lucy to marry him…but that was just it. Rufus was right – if this was it – she deserved to be happy. She deserved a chance at a real marriage with someone who…well, someone who wasn't him…because he could never have that again...no. No way could he betray Jessica's memory like that.
Still, the idea of asking Lucy to be his wife…even if it was just playing a role…scared the shit out of him like nothing had ever done before. If she said, "yes" then he was going to have to come to grips with the fact that he was actually going to be marrying Lucy and that they would be husband and wife, quite possibly for the rest of their lives. While he entertained no hopes of anything beyond a platonic relationship with her…he couldn't help but remember that since they arrived in this damn century he had come close to kissing her more than once. While he was sure it was just adrenaline and overwrought emotions that led to those moments of weakness, his confidence that he would be able to resist being tempted into something more with her was a bit shaky…particularly when he considered that they could be stuck in the 18th century indefinitely. To live side by side with a beautiful woman whom he respected, admired…what if something did eventually happen between them?
Nope. That would never and could never happen.
Besides, she could always say "no"…
As terrified as he was of actually marrying Lucy, the thought of her refusing to marry him made him physically nauseous. It wasn't like he would blame her. They were so different…she was an Ivy-League trained professor with a world class mother and he…he was the product of a world class sonofabitch who barely scraped by in his studies. Even in the best of circumstances he couldn't imagine that she would ever…but these weren't the best of circumstances, were they? No, this was total desperation…and if being one of the last men on Earth that she could ever reasonably marry without screwing up some space time continuum garbage wasn't enough to earn him a trip to the altar, well…he didn't think he'd ever get over that rejection.
So he did what any reasonable man would do under the circumstances - he avoided the issue altogether and tried not to think about it.
Because Rufus point blank refused to give him a hand with the roof, Wyatt was forced to borrow a few of John Fraser's field hands to help remove the tree. Just as he suspected, the damage to the roof wasn't that bad. The beams had suffered very little damage and the hole that had been formed, though larger than he had imagined it to be, was still manageable. From sun up to sun down he worked on making the small house habitable. First, patching up the hole in the roof, then moving onto the broken door, cleaning out the dirt and debris from the cabin, and repairing the stonework on the old fireplace. By the end of the week, hours and hours of manual labor, the house was looking halfway decent, though, Wyatt surmised, it could do with a bit more furniture.
There was only one bed in the far corner and while it was in decent shape, he had to tighten the sagging rope springs and soon afterwards opted to replace the soiled mattress. That had been early on in his cabin repairs, sending him to John Fraser's home in search of a sturdy sewing kit and some canvas in which to make a new one where he narrowly avoided Lucy who had tried to corner him right before dinner. Feeling as though the less time they spent together, the less likely it would be for someone to make some comment about their "relationship" before he was ready to talk to her, Wyatt took care to avoid the house as much as possible, only sleeping or stopping by there when absolutely necessary.
With only one bed in the house, Wyatt worried that Lucy would feel uncomfortable…and while he would absolutely let her have the bed, he knew her well enough to know that she would take issue with him sleeping on the floor. A new bed, therefore, would have to be made first…or at least a small cot to place in the small loft so that he would have a place to sleep without infringing upon Lucy's privacy.
That is, if she even agreed to marry him.
There was also no place to sit or eat and so a table and chairs too, would have to be in order before he offered to bring her there to live. At John Fraser's she had all the luxuries that this place would probably never afford…and while he didn't want Lucy to wear out her welcome, he at least wanted to make this place as comfortable for her as he possibly could…feeling that he could hardly ask her to marry him if he was going to make her eat on the floor.
Which put him in mind of a plan.
To make it work though, he was going to need help. So, he made his way down the winding path across the fields to the forge where he found Rufus busily hammering away as an older man offered him advice.
"Nah, not like that…remember what I taught you? You got to hold it firm, so it don't roll on ya."
"Dammit, I'm never gonna get this." Rufus replied with a huff as he wiped his brow and set to work hammering again.
Wyatt had not just been avoiding Lucy for the past few days, he had also been avoiding a certain time machine pilot. After their last conversation, especially, he hadn't really been in the mood to talk to him anymore about his plans as far as Lucy was concerned. He knew Rufus was only looking out for Lucy's best interest, but the fact remained he had gone to Rufus for help…and instead, he had literally run away from that conversation feeling even more anxious and upset than he had been at the start of this whole mess. Between him accusing Wyatt of being jealous of the Harvard asshole and proclaiming that Lucy wouldn't want to be stuck in a loveless marriage with him for the rest of her days, Wyatt had decided that he would just figure things out on his own.
But it was a week or more since he had last seen his friend, and so it was with more than a little awkwardness that Wyatt cleared his throat and muttered in greeting, "How's it going, Rufus?"
Stopping mid-strike, Rufus turned to look at Wyatt with an incredulous glare, "How's it look like I'm doing?" he grumbled, pointing out all the twisted and ruined bits of metal dotting the floor around him. "Where the hell have you been?" he continued as he turned back to his work, "Haven't seen you for days."
"I've been busy." Wyatt said off-handedly, "Listen, Rufus…
"Dammit to hell!" Rufus gritted out, dropping the hammer with a clang as he shoved his sore and swollen thumb into his mouth. "I suck at being a blacksmith."
"You just need to practice." the older man assured him as he swept up the discarded and twisted bits and placed them in a box. "It's like you always tell me…you've got to walk before you run."
"Yeah, yeah." Rufus dismissed, examining his worried thumb and wiping his brow. "Tom…this is Wyatt…Wyatt, this is Tom." Rufus announced making the introduction.
"Glad to meet you." Tom replied with a smile and firm shake of Wyatt's hand. "Don't let what he's saying fool you none…he's doing a fine job for never having worked a forge before…seems right at home in here."
Rufus shook his head doubtfully, but the truth was though he hadn't expected to enjoy blacksmithing at all, he found the work to not only be challenging physically, but mentally challenging as well. He knew very little about the profession…thinking that it really only required mindless hard work, a lot of strength and the ability to withstand a hell of a lot of heat. He discovered, however, as he took his first rudimentary lessons, that there was an art and science to it all – the manipulation of different metals with various degrees of heat and cooling – the precise way one had to hit the metal in order to shape it…all of those skills made him feel almost like he was back at MIT, just learning the laws of thermodynamics and creating different engineering models in the lab until all hours at of the night.
Though, he had to admit, he preferred his air-conditioned lab to the hot, stifling, smoke-filled forge.
But that wasn't the only reason he felt oddly at home in the forge.
When John Fraser first brought him to the forge about a week prior, Rufus had felt more than a little out of place. The tools were large and archaic, nothing like what he was used to working with in the lab at Mason. The supplies, rudimentary at best…making him doubt he could ever fashion anything to repair the LifeBoat.
And then there was Tom.
If anything could make Rufus feel like he was in no way cut out for this skill, it was meeting Thomas Fuller. Built like a linebacker with more muscles than Terry Crews, Tom was about as intimidating to Rufus as Wyatt had been when he first met the Delta Force soldier. Just as he doubted he could ever be a soldier and protect the Vice President in 1865, one look at the immensely strong Tom and Rufus thought that they could very well be stranded for fifty years before he ever managed to be a blacksmith.
Far from being brutish and intimidating, however, Tom was kind and welcoming. What's more, he was probably one of the most brilliant people Rufus had ever met in his life.
Not long after their introduction, John Fraser turned to Tom to ask him what he had figured the distance was between two plots of land he had recently acquired. Rufus was hardly paying attention to their conversation, far too busy trying to get acquainted with his new workspace, but when Tom answered with a very specific number, Rufus was intrigued.
"How'd you do that?" he asked incredulously.
"Do what?" Tom asked with a shrug.
John Fraser smiled broadly, slapping Rufus on the back as he explained, "Tom, here, is a bit of a human calculator. He can figure things just by looking at them…does all kinds of math right in his head, without writing a thing down…it's incredible." Rufus' skepticism must have shown on his face because John Fraser chuckled in amusement and asked, "You don't believe me, do you?"
Rufus shrugged, "Well, it's not that, but…"
"How are you with numbers, Rufus?" John Fraser asked pleasantly.
Rufus scoffed slightly. He was only a graduate of MIT, had only earned top marks in all of his math classes since second grade, including advanced Calculus and Trigonometry….but it wasn't like he could tell him that. Instead, Rufus shrugged, "I do alright."
"Alright then, Tom, Rufus." Mr. Fraser had announced with a mischievous twinkle in his eye when he first introduced the pair, "how about we play a game of sorts?"
"What kind of a game?" Rufus asked nervously.
John Fraser, seeing his apprehension, immediately eased his fears, "Oh no need to be anxious, my friend…you seem a smart fellow, you said you were good with numbers, yes?"
"Yeah." Rufus shrugged, hardly knowing how any of this was relevant to his learning how to be a blacksmith.
John Fraser pursed his lips together and began walking around the forge, his brow furrowed in thought as he made a few notations on a notepad he produced from his pocket. Finally, he turned to both Rufus and Tom and offered, "Suppose I am a man who has lived 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours…how many seconds will I have lived?" Rufus, completely taken aback by the question, stared at John Fraser who kindly offered him some paper in which to work out the problem. Pulling up a stool, Rufus sat at a roughly hewn counter and began working out the figures, noting with confusion that Tom flat out refused the paper Fraser offered him, instead, he stood against the wall, his face screwed up in thought.
After several minutes, Rufus stood up from his desk and announced, "It's 2,209,032,000 seconds."
"Very impressive." John Fraser said with a nod, "What do you think, Tom?"
Tom frowned slightly and shook his head, "No sir, that number is too low."
Taken aback, especially since Tom hadn't even worked out the equation, Rufus presented him with his figures, "It's not too high. There are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. You multiply that by 70 and you get 2,07,520,000 seconds. There are 86,400 seconds in a day…multiply that by 17 and you have 1,468,800 seconds….12 hours is 43,200 seconds…you add that all up and…"
"No sir." Tom said with a respectful quietness, "the answer is 2,210,500,800 seconds." When Rufus made to argue with him by showing him his math again, Tom shook his head with a smile, "You forget the leap years."
Rufus sat back absolutely astounded that Tom had worked out such complicated math in his brain. "How…." he stuttered looking at once from a proud John Fraser back to Tom with a newfound respect.
Tom shrugged while John Fraser chuckled, "He's a certified genius. Never spent a day of his life in a school room…doesn't even know how to read or write, but like I said, he can figure unlike any one I ever saw."
Rufus was more than little inclined to agree, he had never met anyone who could do that kind of math completely in his head and remember to figure in the leap years….it seemed almost inhuman…and yet here he was, a slave…with no formal education, no chance to make something more of himself even though his natural ability to compute rivaled some of the best minds Rufus had known in MIT.
Bothered by this, Rufus took Tom aside when John Fraser left them alone. "Didn't you ever want the chance to go to school?"
"What for?" Tom asked with an amused chuckle.
"What for? Are you serious?" Rufus exclaimed in total disbelief, "You…you could be the most brilliant man this century ever saw…"
"Nah…" Tom dismissed as he set to work hanging tools, "It's best I got no learning - many learned men be great fools."
Rufus stared after him, wanting to argue, but knowing in all truth, that Tom was right. There were plenty self-proclaimed genius' in the world who were nothing more than educated idiots. Still, he could not support the logic behind the reasoning. "How can you…how can you limit yourself?" he asked him seriously, "If you had a formal education…hell, if you only learned how to read or write…you could be…you could be…the next Einstein."
"Einstein? Who's that?"
"Uh…nobody." Rufus dismissed awkwardly.
"Well he must be somebody for you to think so highly of him."
Rufus pressed a hand against his forehead, rubbing it in exasperation, "He's just a really smart man who…will one day change the world of science and physics."
"Will change?" Tom scoffed doubtfully, "He ain't done it yet?"
"Not yet, no." Rufus replied with a hint of smile.
"Well then how do you know he will?" Tom said with a shrug as he threw a metal rod in the fire, "Nobody can guess what a person will or won't be just because they's smart." He shook his head, "No…books and figuring may be alright for some folks, but I prefer to spend my time being active and useful."
"By being a slave?" Rufus couldn't help but blurt out. Tom looked sharply at him, but said nothing more as Rufus continued passionately, "Doesn't it bother you that you…you could run this whole place?"
"I do." Tom said with a shrug, "Master Fraser relies on my calculations to plant his fields, survey his land, put up his buildings, figure his finances…"
"Yeah, but don't you see how screwed up this is?" Rufus demanded passionately, "With your mind…with even just a little education you could be…"
Tom looked at him with pity, "I gets treated with kindness and respect here…which is a lot more than a lot of other folks can say. You know as well as I do, this is just the way things is….no amount of learning can change that."
Rufus had always considered slavery as one of the greatest sins perpetuated on the human race…his race, in particular. But until recently, that sin was fairly far removed. Sure, he'd come across some racist asshole every once in a while, but until he stepped foot in that time machine, he had never been forced to come face to face with the real-life victims of the institution. He had felt so incredibly small, standing before those soldiers in 1865, taking down their letters…knowing that they had actually taken up arms, risked their very lives for the freedom they had just won. Listening to them as they spoke so casually about their families being sold, seeing the pain behind their eyes…he realized that he had never quite appreciated just how horrible reality was for the men and women who came before him. It was one thing reading about the injustices and indignities they had suffered…but hearing it, seeing it first hand?
Well, that was something entirely different.
"Let me ask you a question." Rufus urged as he picked up the tongs while Tom worked the bellows, "Do you think it's a waste of time…me, learning how to a blacksmith?"
"Course not." Tom said with a smile, "It's a useful skill to have."
"Well, so is reading and writing." he maintained as Tom scoffed. "Listen," Rufus urged, "I know you think there's no point to learning…but you have no idea what being literate can do for you...the things you will be able to discover…the places that you can go, just from reading a book."
"I don't know…"
"I'll help you." Rufus promised. "You teach me how to be a blacksmith…and I'll teach you how to read, write…I'll teach you scientific theories, and physics…and…."
"What good would it do to learn about science and physics?" Tom laughed.
"You'll be amazed." Rufus promised, "Everything you do, building, measuring, hell, even heating up this metal has a basis in science. When you understand the how and the why…it will open up your mind to endless possibilities."
"Well," Rufus shrugged awkwardly, "take me, for example. I…I helped build something revolutionary…something that could change…has changed the world…"
"Uh-huh, then why are you here and not off in Philadelphia or Williamsburg or some high and mighty place like that?" Tom asked doubtfully.
"Because," Rufus answered with a frown, "I um…got stranded here. There's this psychopath who is using my invention to do some very bad things."
"Don't sound like it should have been invented then." Tom replied with a shrug, "Or at least you should probably have taken better care of it."
"Right." Rufus muttered before pleading with Tom again, "But that is exactly why I need to learn to be a blacksmith…so I can…so I can get out of here and help my friends track this guy down and stop him. But if I'm going to be here, working alongside you for…" he added with a serious nod, "I want to do some good. Let me help you…let me teach you…please. It'll make all of this worth it."
Tom stared at him thoughtfully, shaking his head at him in amusement before finally relenting, "Alright, fine. Seeing as how you're likely to bug me the rest of my days until I agrees." he said with a sigh, "I'll let you teach me some reading and writing…but first, let's see what you've got." Tom interrupted, nodding towards the fire. "That rod ought to be fired up real good by now."
Taking the tongs, Rufus quickly transferred what had been a small metal rod over to the anvil where it glowed red, illuminating a waiting Tom's face. "We'll start with something easy." He pulled a curved piece of metal from off the wall, "Basic coat hook." He set the finished piece down on the anvil and pointed to it, "First things, first. You want to make sure you have a good hold on it before you start hitting it." he taught Rufus, "Otherwise it's just gonna roll on you." Rufus adjusted his grip on the tongs and nodded, "Keep your back straight…that's right...now when you hit it, make sure you keep a good arm on that grip."
After several rolls, a few burned fingers, and a lot of teasing from Tom, Rufus finally managed to hammer out a slight bend in the rod. It, however, had been excruciatingly difficult work. Over the next few days, he could barely lift his arms, every muscle seemed to scream in protest as he withdrew rod after rod from the raging fire in the hopes that maybe he might hammer out something that remotely resembled a coat hook. He would have lost all hope if it hadn't been for Tom standing by his side, encouraging him…and though he was physically exhausted at the end of every evening, nothing could have kept him from keeping good on his promise and teaching Tom that basics of reading and writing.
…until Wyatt walked in one afternoon.
"Did you need something?" Rufus spat out in annoyance, "Or did you just finally decide to come out of hiding?"
"I haven't been hiding." Wyatt stated with an indifferent shrug, "I told you – I've been busy… working on the cabin…."
"Uh-huh." Rufus acknowledged with a knowing nod, "And I'm guessing you haven't talked to Lucy yet, have you?"
Wyatt colored slightly as he admitted, "No…but like I said, I've been busy." he added defensively, "In fact, I was hoping you could help me out…"
"If you think I'm going to talk to her for you, you're out of your damn mind…"
"No." Wyatt hissed, "Look, I can't very well move us into a place that doesn't have any damn furniture in it, can I?
"What do you need?" Tom asked politely, wiping his hands on his apron.
"Wyatt shrugged, "I was hoping maybe you might be able to help me out with some wood, files…really anything you got. There's a few things in the cabin, but not nearly enough to you know…make it feel like home."
Rufus snorted out a laugh, "It's gonna take a hell of a lot more than a couple pieces of furniture to do that." Wyatt ignored him as Tom motioned him over to a corner and began showing him slats of wood and carving tools he could use. Satisfied that Wyatt was capable of helping himself, Tom went back to the bellows as Rufus snuck over to Wyatt's side and hissed, "You do realize that when you finish with that house, they're gonna expect you and Lucy to tie the knot, right?"
Wyatt rubbed a hand across his face as he groaned, "I know, Rufus."
"Uh-huh. And did you also know that when two people get married, they're both…you know…aware of the impending nuptials?"
"I know, Rufus." Wyatt gritted out angrily. "I just…I want to make things…I mean, I can't expect her to marry me when I don't even have a place to call home, now can I?"
Rufus, however, wasn't deterred. Leaning forward, he hissed at Wyatt, "You don't even know if she wants to marry you."
"Uh-oh…women trouble?" Tom asked, heading over to their little group.
Wyatt cast an uneasy glance towards Rufus' new friend and shrugged, "It's…it's complicated."
"Well, if there's a woman involved that ain't no surprise." Tom said jovially as he passed between Wyatt and Rufus to pick a tool off the wall before heading back to work the bellows again.
Rufus watched to make sure Tom was well out of earshot before he turned back to Wyatt and hissed, "How could you not have given Lucy a heads up about all this yet?"
"Dammit, Rufus." Wyatt spat out, "It's not that easy, okay?" He began pacing nervously in the forge as he explained, "How the hell do I even bring it up? We're not…I mean, we never even…" he rubbed a rough hand across the back of his neck as he muttered helplessly, "I don't even have a damn ring."
"You need a ring?" Tom piped up as he approached the two men again, "That ain't a problem, I can fix one up for you, real quick."
Wyatt stared at him, disbelieving…and slightly terrified, "What?"
"Sure, it ain't no hard thing." Tom declared as he grabbed one of the smaller pieces of twisted metal Rufus had discarded earlier, tossing it in the fire, "It won't be nothing fancy, but it'll get the job done." he added with a wink.
Wyatt watched in awe as Tom worked the bellows furiously, making the fire roar back to life with a vengeance. Minutes later, Tom was deftly shaping the metal around a mandrel, hammering away with skill and determination that made Rufus feel wholly inadequate by comparison. With a hiss and an explosion of steam, Tom dunked the mandrel into a tub of cool water, before pulling it out with a flourish and dropping the finished ring onto Wyatt's palm.
Tom was right. It wasn't anything fancy, but there was a sort of rustic beauty to it that gave it a uniqueness that Wyatt, at least, appreciated. It certainly wasn't anything like the rock her fake fiancé had given her back in 2016, and well, if he had to choose a ring for Lucy, this wouldn't have even made his list…but, as he had said so many times since they landed in this century, beggars could not be choosers.
He swallowed hard as he looked at it, hardly believing that this was actually going to happen…not wanting to even think about the implications of what this might do for their relationship as team mates, friends…co-workers. If they got married, how would that change the dynamic between them? If she refused to marry him…how could he ever live with himself knowing that even in their most desperate circumstances, Lucy couldn't bring herself to become the wife of a reckless, hotheaded, jackass?
"Um….tha..thanks" Wyatt stammered as tucked the ring into his pocket with shaking fingers. "Wh…what do I owe you?"
Tom barked out a laugh, "Not a thing. That's nothing but a bit of old scrap metal…glad to put it to some use." He offered him a broad smile as he offered up encouragingly, "I don't think you have a thing to worry about. If you really have been working to fix a place up for her, well, she's bound to feel it," he motioned to his chest, "right here. Women are funny in that way, love a place to call their own, you know?" He smiled at Wyatt again, nodding towards the unseen ring in his pocket with a wink and muttered, "Just call it a wedding present….from me, to you and your woman."
Wyatt nodded to him awkwardly, pale and anxious, as he fidgeted nervously by the forge door.
"You gonna be okay?" Rufus asked him in a low voice.
"I…I don't know if I can do this, Rufus." Wyatt admitted weakly. "I never…I mean, after Jess…I just…I never…"
"Hey," Rufus consoled, "It's Lucy…I think she'll understand, Wyatt. Just…just tell her what happened and…"
"Yeah." Wyatt gulped. "Look, um…I want to get the house all ready before…you know before I do any of this…" he stammered with a wave of his hand, "Lucy deserves that much, anyway."
"I mean it, Wyatt…you better talk to her."
"I will." he promised "I just…I want to do this first, okay?" he assured as he stood by rubbing his knuckles while Rufus resumed his work. "I have a plan all worked out."
"Yeah, okay." Rufus called back to his friend, "but don't come crying to me when she skins your ass alive when she finds out about all this from someone other than you." Wyatt chuckled mirthlessly, but still didn't leave the forge. Turning to face his friend, Rufus shrugged, "Was there something else you needed?"
"Yeah." Wyatt admitted, "I could…I could use some help. I don't know the first thing about building furniture."
"And who do I look like to you?" Rufus asked him hotly, "Bob Villa?"
"Come on Rufus, you're an engineer" Wyatt whispered harshly, leaning towards his friend so Tom couldn't hear, "you built a damn time machine…you don't think you could help me out with a table and some chairs?"
"Oh alright." Rufus spat out in annoyance, "But you damn well better talk to Lucy…or it won't just be her you're gonna need to hide from.
Lucy had never been one to shine in the domestic arts. In fact, Home Economics was the only class she very nearly failed in high school. It had been years since she held a sewing needle and while her lack of skill was definitely on display in terms of stitching…it was her fingers that bore the brunt of her deficiency. "Ouch!" she cried out, once again bringing her finger to her mouth, after somehow managing to stab herself with a pin for what seemed like the fiftieth time that day.
"Do not set your hand there, dear." Mrs. Fraser cooed gently, "Can you not feel where the needle will protrude?" She tsked, shaking her head as she handed Lucy another thimble. "Perhaps you should just place them on all your fingers, until you get the knack of it?"
Feeling absolutely humiliated, Lucy took her advice, shoving thimbles on all of her fingers, feeling that if she never saw another quilt in her life it would be too soon. It had been well over a week, almost two since she was first recruited to assist Mrs. Fraser and though she appreciated being included, she couldn't help but think that she was hindering, rather than helping her work. In fact, Mrs. Fraser and her housekeeper, Mrs. Poe, had all but completed the entire quilt while Lucy was still struggling with the same small corner she had been seated at since she started this mess.
"I don't think I'll ever get the knack of it." Lucy muttered ruefully as she took her needle in hand once more. Her thimbled fingers were red and swollen from the almost endless amounts of needle pricks she had suffered over the last few days, her back and neck ached from hunching over the quilt day in and day out, and her eyes ached, straining to follow the tiny line of thread as she fed it in and out of the blocks of fabric. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, Mrs. Fraser's keen eye would find something amiss and before Lucy knew it, she would venture over with her dratted scissors and undo all the work Lucy had struggled to accomplish with one devastating snip.
"Now, now, dear." Mrs. Fraser tutted, "It's not all bad. You've improved a great deal since…well, since you've started out." Looking to her companion for further encouragement, Mrs. Fraser added, "Hasn't she, Mrs. Poe?"
Mrs. Poe didn't even glance up from her work, but merely snorted and called out in a very unconvincing tone, "Aye…that she has. A great deal."
It was bad enough that Lucy was stuck doing something she had neither the inclination nor the skill to do, but she felt all the more frustrated by her situation every time Mrs. Poe assessed her in this way. Mrs. Poe was an older woman, with a severe eye and a no-nonsense air. She wore her greying hair in a tightly wrapped bun at the nape of her neck and with her spectacles poised on the tip of her nose, Lucy was put strongly in mind of the stereotypical library spinsters every time she looked at her. While she wasn't as kind as Mrs. Fraser, she was kind enough…but still, Lucy couldn't help but feel that she had it out for her some reason. She had no idea why that might be other than she ran a tight house and kept them all on a very strict schedule and at times, Lucy tended to arrive at mealtimes a few minutes late. That, Lucy surmised, might have been frustrating for someone like her, but there was also something else. Lucy suspected that, despite her best efforts to conceal it, Mrs. Poe knew she wasn't overtly religious because every morning, without fail, she all but forced Lucy to read out recitations of prayers and scripture before they started quilting. It wouldn't have been so bad…except that the choices of scripture she had her read seemed to drive home the fact that Mrs. Poe believed she was…well, a heathen.
Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
On and on it went, every morning and while Lucy understood that religion was a bedrock of daily life in this century, she also couldn't shake the feeling that Mrs. Poe was preaching at her, something Mrs. Fraser all but confirmed earlier that day when she leaned over and whispered, "Just remember, His grace is sufficient for all, love. He perfects our weaknesses…all of them."
Though she hadn't the foggiest idea as to what she meant by that, Lucy was grateful for Mrs. Fraser's comparable kindness and warmth. Even though she was about ten years younger than herself, she had such a command of her household that it gave one the impression that she was older than she actually was. Still, while she tried her best to make Lucy feel welcome and at home, her topics of conversation were limited to domestic issues and things Lucy was not at all familiar with or interested in - which made their conversations more or less one sided.
Truth be told, though, she was growing tired of the company of both women. Mrs. Poe had made it more than obvious that for whatever reason she did not like Lucy and while Mrs. Fraser tried to make up for that with her own attentions, it just wasn't enough to keep Lucy from wishing that she had someone…anyone else to talk to. It had been days and days since she had even seen Wyatt or Rufus and while she understood Rufus' absence, she could not for the life of her understand why Wyatt would abandon her the way that he had. She knew he was probably busy getting the house ready, but it did not explain why she hadn't even laid eyes on him since he had practically run away from her that morning almost two weeks ago.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. She had seen him briefly one evening, just before dinner, making his way down the hall, but before she could race after him, she was intercepted by Colonel McKee who led her determinedly away into the dining room where she found herself facing a flushing and indignant looking Matthew.
While Matthew was still very much the gentleman he had first appeared to be, that night and well, these past few evenings he was far more aloof than he had been that first night they had arrived, talking to Colonel McKee or Mrs. Fraser rather than to her.
Not that she minded very much…but she got the distinct impression that he was trying to avoid her…especially since he did not elaborate on any of his responses to her many questions and instead of sitting next to her as he had done the first night, he positioned himself as far away from her as possible, flushing whenever she looked his way.
Had Wyatt said something to him? Did they have a fight? Was that why Wyatt was no longer eating dinner with them?
"My dear, you've gone and tangled yourself all up again." Mrs. Fraser clucked at her, drawing her out of her musings as she once again brought forth the scissors and amended Lucy's mistake.
Lucy muttered an apology, though she hardly felt sorry. She hated this. To be stuck doing something so…ugh…just because she was a woman. She would have much rather milked cows or collected eggs, fed chickens…really anything other than needlework. Hardly able to help herself, Lucy blurted out, "Don't you ever get tired of this?"
"What, dear?" Mrs. Fraser asked, chuckling. "Fixing your mistakes? We all need a little help when we first start out."
"No." Lucy corrected, blushing slightly "I mean, sewing…every day…for hours at a time. Don't you ever wish you could…do something else?"
Mrs. Fraser gaped at her incredulously, "Like what?"
But before Lucy could respond, Mrs Poe tutted back, looking at her severely, "Idle hands are the Devil's tools…you should remember that, lass, when temptation comes a calling."
Lucy, again, rolled her eyes at Mrs. Poe's fire and brimstone speeches as Mrs. Fraser once again took up Lucy's defense, "Now that's hardly fair." she clucked at her housekeeper, "she's been working her fingers to the bone, poor dear and," she muttered quietly, "it's not as if he's been around much for her to be tempted by."
Lucy looked up sharply at that, wondering who she could possibly mean, but at that moment, Matthew entered the sitting room, took one look at her, and quickly retreated to the far side of the room. It was just as well, Lucy thought, considering that she knew Colonel McKee had it in his mind to play matchmaker…and from what she was gathering from this conversation, it appeared that thought had crossed Mrs. Poe and Mrs. Fraser's mind as well.
"Goodness," Mrs. Fraser gasped out in surprise as Matthew quickly took his leave, "you'd think the room was on fire…"
"Well," Mrs. Poe observed with a pointed glare towards Lucy, "you can't blame the lad. The works of her flesh are manifest, after all.
Lucy had absolutely no idea what Mrs. Poe meant by that, but given the unmistakable flush of embarrassment that spread across Mrs. Fraser's face as she offered Lucy an apologetic glance, she had no doubt that she hadn't meant it as a compliment.
Feeling that in this case it was better to keep her mouth shut and focus on her poor handiwork, Lucy merely rolled her eyes slightly and set back to stabbing herself repeatedly with the sewing needle…that is, until Mrs. Fraser spoke up. "That's quite enough, Mrs. Poe." she said with a firm rebuke, "We all of us have our weaknesses…"
"Deficiencies, more like." Mrs. Poe muttered back.
Absolutely fed up with all of the abuse she was receiving over her poor needlework, Lucy threw down her hands in exasperation, and exclaimed, "Look, I get it. I'm not the ideal 18th century woman…"
Mrs. Poe interrupted her with another snort of laughter. "My dear, you'd hardly qualify as a lady with all the flaws in your character…"
"That will do, Mrs. Poe." Mrs. Fraser scolded firmly, but Lucy was wholly offended now.
"I'd hardly call them flaws." Lucy snapped back angrily, "Some women are raised with certain skills, others are brought up on something else entirely. I may not be a shining example of a lady in your book, but I'm proud of what I have accomplished in my life. Not many women have done what I have."
"To be sure." Mrs. Poe said cooly before turning to Mrs. Fraser and tutting, "I told you, didn't I? The girl isn't sufficiently humble...she needs the fear of God put in her. How she can boast about her weaknesses…you'd think she'd be ashamed of herself…but no, look at her, God save us, she's puffed out like peacock, like she hasn't a remorseful bone in her body."
"And just what should I feel remorseful about?" Lucy retorted angrily, "Just because I don't fit into some narrow definition of what you think a lady should be?"
Mrs. Fraser flushed furiously and quickly resumed her work, but Mrs. Poe cast a steely eye towards Lucy, "I'd hardly call it narrow, m'dear. Generations of women have been brought up knowing what it is to be a lady…and I'm afraid that despite all your fancy learning and French speaking, your parents were woefully deficient in your proper education. That much is clear."
"That's enough, Mrs. Poe." Mrs. Fraser warned, before turning to Lucy sympathetically, "It's likely true that her parents should have been stricter with her in respect to giving her…shall we say…something better to do. Perhaps then she wouldn't have found herself out here so far away from home." she nodded at Lucy who eyed her curiously, "But it is up to us to look after her now and I don't believe for one minute that she is wholly lost. Are you, dear?"
Lucy shrugged, hardly knowing what to say. Mrs. Poe, however, snorted out a laugh, "She has to know she's lost in order to find her way, Mary…and I'm afraid, the pride in her won't let her admit it." Feeling a fury build inside her, Lucy bit her tongue not wanting to argue any more with this impossible woman, but Mrs. Poe, seeing that she had struck a nerve pressed on, although this time it was with a bit more kindness, "I am hard on you, m'dear because it is my God-given duty. The book of Titus teaches us - The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Can you not see the error of your ways? Can you not see that you have sinned?"
Lucy scoffed and rolled her eyes, absolutely fed up with Mrs. Poe equating her poor housekeeping skills to a damnable offense against God. "Well you know what they say," she gritted out as she shoved her sewing needle through the fabric with more force than she intended, "practice makes perfect."
At that, both Mrs. Fraser and Mrs. Poe dropped their own work and stared at her in utter shock and disbelief. "Surely," Mrs. Fraser began tentatively, "you don't mean that?"
Lucy stared back at her in confusion, "Of course, I do." Lucy said with a shrug, "How can you possibly get better at something if you don't practice?"
"But…"Mrs. Fraser began, looking towards a now praying Mrs. Poe, "don't you agree it would be more prudent to...I mean, what would your husband say?"
"I don't have a husband." Lucy murmured, her concentration wholly focused on the quilt now, "but if I did, I would hope that he would appreciate any effort I made at bettering myself, be it mentally or physically."
An audible gasp from Mrs. Fraser had Lucy looking up from her work once more in surprise as Mrs. Poe crossed herself and exclaimed, "Oh Saints preserve us!"
Completely confused, Lucy gaped at the two women, hardly understanding how they could at once insist on her learning how to sew and quilt and on the other, finding it wholly offensive that she should practice. "Am I missing something, here? Lucy asked. "I thought you wanted me to learn how to sew?"
Coloring once more, Mrs. Fraser straightened her apron and cleared her throat, "Heavens yes, but…my dear," she stated more quietly, "one should not be practiced in….the physical…until marriage." Lucy's mouth hung open at her words, completely dumbfounded in shock as Mrs. Fraser straightened back up and added with a sympathetic nod, "I daresay if you are indeed ignorant of such things, you can hardly be held accountable for your past actions. The most important thing is that you know now and can make amends."
Lucy gave an imperceptible nod of her head, watching as the two ladies exchanged awkward glances and shifted slightly away from her, hardly knowing what to think. Surely that didn't mean that. Why on Earth would they think that she…granted it wasn't like she hadn't…but they didn't know that. When would it have even come up? Why would it have even come up?
Of course, this was the 18th century…and Lucy had spent the whole of their first night in a new house, among new people, talking to Colonel McKee's unmarried aide de camp. While she didn't think she had done anything inappropriate for the era, she thought that perhaps she might have been too forward, too talkative…and while that might not have raised any kind of suspicion in regular people, it might have been just enough to send the prudish Mrs. Poe into a fit of holy hysteria.
The rumor mill probably took care of the rest.
They sat in awkward silence for almost an hour, and while Lucy was grateful that she was no longer having various scriptures and veiled insults thrown her way, she hated all of this – particularly now that she knew everyone in the house considered her their resident Jezebel. As much as she would have loved never to broach the subject of her sex life with these women again, she was dying to know why. Had she said or done something? Was it because she had survived her ordeal with the French? Maybe they thought she had…ugh…whatever they thought, it didn't matter. But she was still determined to talk to Mrs. Fraser about all of it later, away from the judgmental scowls and comments of Mrs. Poe.
Hardly able to stand the uncomfortable silence any longer, Lucy resolutely decided that she would try to befriend these women…make them see that whatever they believed, they had misjudged her and her intentions. With that in mind, Lucy cleared her throat and observed to Mrs. Fraser kindly, "You are so good at this…do you do many quilts?"
To her immense relief, Mrs. Fraser didn't flinch away from her as Mrs. Poe did. Instead, she offered Lucy a sweet smile and nodded kindly, "Not as many as I'd like…truth be told, I hadn't planned on doing another one this year…it's much nicer to sew outside during the summer. But seeing as you'll be needing one…"
"Me?" Lucy asked incredulously, hardly believing that Mrs. Poe, especially, would waste any time doing anything for her. "This is for me?"
"To be sure, my dear." Mrs. Fraser answered her, surprised. "You cannae be married without something proper for a wedding bed, now can ye?"
"Ma…married?" Lucy stammered, her heart pounding in her chest. "Wh…what do you mean, married?"
Mrs. Poe snorted with laughter, casting Mrs. Fraser a meaningful look, but Mrs. Fraser gave her ignored her, instead, smiling with a nod towards the gentlemen assembled by the fireplace, "There's no use playing coy with me, lass. I know all about your little arrangement…though I must say, it's a wee bit irregular, and it may not have begun on the right foot…but I'm pleased to hear it's going to be made right." Mrs. Poe let out a scoff, but Mrs. Fraser dismissed her with a wave of her hand, "I dare say you could use some looking after, especially after seeing you in such a state when you arrived, poor dear. I thank the good Lord above that he has seen fit to bless you with some good friends and fortune after everything you've been through."
Lucy gaped at Mrs. Fraser who had turned her attention back to what Lucy now knew was her "wedding" quilt. Panicked, she glanced down at her hand to see if she had accidentally forgotten to remove the monstrosity Noah had given her, but no…her finger was bare. So why on Earth would they think she was going to be getting married?
And to whom?
When they had first met Colonel McKee, he had mistakenly believed she and Wyatt were already married…but they had corrected that….as far as he knew, they were brother and sister. So who else could they think she was marrying? Confused, she chanced a look towards the men gathered near the fireplace – chatting and laughing amongst themselves and she couldn't help but wonder what little arrangement Ms. Fraser could be talking about…and why she thought it was so irregular.
Irregular, how? Why?
She knew Colonel McKee had been trying to promote a relationship between her and his aide de camp…but…she had never agreed to anything. They had never even discussed anything close to a relationship at dinner that night. But just then, Matthew turned to look her way, flushing self-consciously as he did so, before turning to talk with the other gentleman again.
If they believed Wyatt was her brother and that she was available…could they have made some sort of deal with him?
No, Wyatt would never have done that.
What if they had somehow convinced him that it was the right thing to do? That for whatever reason she would be better off married? That wasn't an unusual sentiment in the 18th century…but why on Earth would Wyatt ever agree to it?
She thought back to the last time she had talked to him…how he had nearly run Rufus over in his attempt to scramble away from her. His early morning departures, his late-night returns well after supper…it was clear now, he was avoiding her. Why?
What had Rufus said that day? Don't you think she should have a say in all of this?
What if…oh God…what if?
"My dear," Mrs. Fraser tutted, grabbing the scissors once more, "you've tangled yourself up again."
A disbelieving scoff escaped Lucy's lips as she allowed her work to fall from her shaking hands. It couldn't be true…it couldn't. How could Wyatt do this to her…especially when they were trying to make it back home? Had he given up hope? Did something happen to convince him that this was it? They were permanently stuck in the past? But even if it were it and they were stuck here…why on Earth would he have done something like this without telling her? Why wouldn't he have even mentioned it to her…asked her if she was even interested in marrying some man she didn't even know? He knew how horrified she had been about Noah…so how could he do this?
Anger, panic, and resentment like she had never known coursed through her veins as she considered how he had essentially sold her off without so much as a word to her about it. Maybe he hadn't meant for it to happen…maybe he hadn't realized until it had all been arranged…Mrs. Fraser had called it irregular, after all…but still, the fact that he had been hiding instead of trying to figure out a way to get her out of this mess…
"My dear, are you feeling alright?" Mrs. Fraser asked with concern, "you're looking awfully pale."
Lucy startled to attention, her breath coming in quick short pants as she felt the walls closing in. She wasn't tangled up in a mess, she was back in that sinking car, trapped, numb…suffocating.
She stumbled as she attempted to stand on quaking knees, "I…I need to get out of here." she gasped out, nearly tripping over her own feet as she made her way towards the door, "I…I think I'm going to go for a walk."
Mrs. Fraser exchanged a bewildered glance with Mrs. Poe as she called after a quickly retreating Lucy, "You'll want a shawl or you'll catch your death…it's frightfully chilly out there."
But Lucy hardly cared – wind, rain, snow…nothing could have prevented her from heading out the front door and into the early evening air. She was half tempted to make a run for it – head out into the unknown away from matchmaking British officers and gossiping women. But it was no use…she couldn't survive out here…not on her own. So instead, she marched with determined swiftness down the winding dirt lane to where she was sure she would find the one person who was probably responsible for all of this.
One stupidly reckless and infuriating Wyatt Logan.
A few words on Thomas Fuller. He was an actual person, though he actually lived in Alexandria, VA. I really wanted Rufus to have someone historic to connect with in this fic and while I was at Williamsburg on one of our trips down there, I learned about a black blacksmith who had risen through the ranks and had become quite successful...if I'm remembering correctly, he was even able to earn his freedom. The reason I don't know for sure is because while I was looking up that story to verify its facts, I came across ANOTHER story, that of Thomas Fuller. The man was a certified GENIUS...and because the time table matched, and because he was even noted to do astronomy related computations...I mean, things our computers have to do...I transplanted him here to be a friend to Rufus. I imagined them working together to do all of these technological advancements on the farm. I've provided a link to his amazing story...bear in mind, this is just ONE link to his information...there are several out there on the interwebs which give more or less data about him, depending on the source. The leap year story is one that ACTUALLY happened and while he was a slave, his owner's treated him with comparable kindness and refused to sell him...for obvious reasons. Thank you so much for reading and for your patience.