Family ties

I collected the post this morning, waylaid the poor post woman before she even made it to the box and sorted through the pile. I did this every morning now and still it never occurred to them why. It shouldn't really surprise me as neither Celia or Marlin are the smartest people in town. I've grown used to the fact that because I'm a big woman with a homely face some people just dismiss me as moving wallpaper. That shouldn't be family though you'd have thought they'd have known me by now. Perhaps it's enough that I know them. They are family, after all.

We'd been such a large family once upon a time, dad, mum and six kids, living on a struggling farm in the west country. I was the eldest and Marlin the youngest with three sisters and a brother between. Life was hard but we were close. When an old aunt fell ill in the Valley I was the one who went. I went to look after her at the end of her life never realising that I would never go home again. The Yellow Jack fever struck while I was away and only Marlin survived. I sold the farm, paid for his clinic and prayed. Our family wasn't the only one decimated by the Yellow Jack it tore through the county, neighbours and family melted away like snow in the sun.

Eventually Marlin was well enough to come home to me, everything and everyone was gone. He was changed so much, he wasn't the happy younger brother I'd left behind two long years before. He was weak and scarred with pain but it wasn't just the weakness of his body that wrung my heart, it was the weakness of his character that tore at my soul. This Marlin sneered at the world, so full of bitterness and eaten away inside. He was no longer bedridden but he still acted as if he were and, to my shame, I was happy to play along. He was still my little brother and I felt responsible for his happiness. I needed him. Looking after Marlin, helping Marlin feel good about himself steadily took over my life

About six months after Marlin joined me in Forget me not Valley I was contacted by an old friend from home to ask if I could offer a home to a niece of there's, yet another orphan of the Yellow Jack. Of course I agreed and Celia arrived a few days later with just a tiny bag of belongings. This tiny little girl with her quiet beauty and her old fashioned clothes seemed so alone in the world that she touched my heart and I welcomed our little family becoming three. Marlin was besotted with her from the start and I was happy to see him absorbed in something other than his own misery. Celia was sweet with him, as she was was with everyone. That was the problem. It became apparent that Celia was so self contained that no-one got past that sweet fa├žade. Whatever Celia was really thinking never showed. Even when you were sure you were getting close to her she somehow kept you at arms length. Even so I was prepared to love her for Marlin's sake.

As time went on Celia became careless, over confident and it began to dawn on me just why Phoebe had need a new home for little Celia. Behind that beautiful face the only person Celia was interested in was Celia. Somehow Celia arranged things so that someone else did the actual work while she got the credit. If anything good was in the offing she made sure Celia got it. That shy little girl had everyone fooled, or so she thought. No matter what Marlin wouldn't hear a word against her if anything was said it was derided as a foolish mistake or just blatant jealousy. When Marlin praised his beloved for the good deal she got the farm on irrigation pipes from the blacksmith in Mineral town, I made sure he remained ignorant of young Gray vigorously claiming his part payment from Celia round the back of the greenhouses. When gossip had some rather unkind things to say about Celia's trips to the dig site I joined Marlin in expressing our indignation and comforted a weeping Celia. Nevertheless, I made sure Marlin remained innocent of the true reason fifty year old Carter wanted to remain quiet about the games he played with sweet Celia up at the dig site. The only thing that made me put up with her was how much Marlin loved her. The joy that radiated from my brothers face when Celia smiled shyly up at him as she snuggled into his arms for comfort made me bite my tongue. How could I refuse him this? He loved her. Oh, yes, everyone loved Celia.

While I was debating what to do Jack moved into the valley. Celia took one look at the handsome young farmer and the lucrative farmstead and decided it was for her. She made sure she was often in his company and Jack was obviously flattered. The misery in Marlin's face as he watched the two of them together made me so apprehensive. With each passing day she pulled further away from him and his depression deepened. I know I shouldn't interfere but he was my little brother and I'd do anything for him. So I began to lay my plans. I watched Celia carefully. I didn't even feel bad about Jack as I knew he wasn't in love with Celia, no more than he was in love with either Muffy, Nami or Flora. He was just a young man in love with being in love and any pretty young thing that took an interest could be the girl of his dreams. Celia knew it too and, by keeping a careful eye on her I knew when she decided to make her move.

Actually it was easier than I thought. Celia maybe crafty but just because she had my poor brother seduced to a point where he'd believe anything she told him she assumed I was the same. So she merely discounted me and set about her plans. I knew she'd have to be sure her plan would work, she'd not leave things to chance. I may be a plain single woman but I'm also a country woman and I knew there was only one way she could do this. Luck was on my side and I knew she was ready just after the Harvest Festival. This left me a small window of opportunity and I took it.

Celia wrote a note inviting Jack to a romantic picnic after the Fireworks festival. Being a loving ' big sister' I offered to take it for her. Jack, being such a helpful lad, made me tea and cakes, gave me a good deal on some Kandy seeds and listened intently to me as I told him how thrilled I was that Celia and Marlin had become so close. I was only too happy to let Jack know just how much Flora thought about him and how much she was hoping he'd ask her to watch the fireworks with him. Jack's a really sweet guy and like most men he's only too open to the idea of his own irresistibility. It was an interesting afternoon all round. By the time I left he was happy to go to Mineral Town on a little errand for me later in the week and he walked with me as far as the bridge before going on his way to the dig. Celia's letter joined others in my apron pocket and I slipped another letter altogether in the box for Mineral Town. After that notes went astray, meetings were missed and still Celia was too stupid to even suspect me. By the night of the Fireworks display Jack was with Flora and I was happy to let Celia know all about it

Two days later I followed Celia out back in the early morning and held her hair

as she threw up before breakfast. With an expert smile on my face I let her know how happy I was. I let her know just how much family meant to me and to Marlin. I could almost hear the cogs working as I laid it on thick telling her how wonderful it would be for Marlin to have a family of his own. Oh, I even helped her pack the picnic that afternoon so that she and Marlin could take a romantic stroll that very evening. I didn't expect anything less.

Still, Celia wasn't the only one with secrets. That letter I'd sent to Gray from Celia asking him to help rid her of an unwanted suitor by making sure Jack knew everything about her love life. I'm certain Gray was more than frank about Celia's lack of innocence. In fact I'm positive as his letter snuggles in my pocket too. I'd been sure Celia was the right woman for my poor brother as I'd been less than truthful to him too. How could I tell him that the Yellow Jack had done more to him than rob him of his looks and his family, it had also left him incapable of ever having a family of his own. That would have been the end for him. Now I wouldn't have to. Thanks to Celia he would never need to know.

Yesterday was the Starry Night Festival and he couldn't wait to tell me their good news. The pride just radiated out of him as he stood there with Celia snuggled protectively against his side. I broke out the champagne and we celebrated. Yes, I was happy, I didn't have to pretend about that. Marlin would have his family, his pretty wife to love, his little baby to dote on. I'd have to put up with Celia but I could handle that. When the baby came Marlin would make a great father and when the next little one came and perhaps more, knowing Celia I'm sure they would, I'd be there to manage things. After all that's what family is for and there's nothing I wouldn't do for my family.