The crisp air of late summer marked the beginning of cooler, shorter days. The church held its last picnic on its property. Picnic blankets and baskets dotted the grassy area. Children laughed and chased each other.
Thomas and Elena pulled up in their wagon, accompanied by his mother and Abby. Their one-year-old daughter Lilian laughed as Elena handed her to Thomas, and he swung her high above his head in his arms. The group carried their basket and blanket and searched for a place to settle.
Elena’s mother and grandmother waved. “We saved you a place here in the shade.”
Elena spread the blanket down next to her mother’s and went to hug her. Her mother’s eyes automatically gravitated to the baby. “Where’s my grandbaby, Lily?”
Thomas handed the tiny girl to her other grandmother. “That girl is going to get so spoiled with our mothers.”
“Nana Essie, have you and mother finally settled in your new home?”
“We still have a couple of crates to unpack, but for the most part, we have. I still get turned around in our apartment.”
“Until she gets used to the layout, I have the gas light on low, so she doesn’t accidentally turn the wrong way and take a tumble down the stairs.” Elena’s mother spoke as she bounced Lily in her arms. “We brought fried chicken and apple pie.” She placed the plates of food onto the blanket.
“Mmmm…We brought cold beef sandwiches, egg salad, and pound cake. And per your request, a jar of Caroline’s bread and butter pickles.” Elena handed the jar to her grandmother while laying out the rest of the food on the blanket.
Thomas’s mother sat down. “I wish we could do this every month. I so like to see everyone in the community together like this.”
Thomas sat next to her. “Maybe during the winter, we can hold something like this inside of our ballroom.”
Elena nodded. “Oh, that would be so fun. Except I think it would be too cold to sit on the marble floor even with blankets.”
Thomas’s mother nodded. “We could just set up tables. Maybe turn it into a potluck?”
“That would be fun.” Elena’s mother nodded.
Thomas reached over and grabbed a piece of the fried chicken. “As good as Caroline’s cooking is, your fried chicken has to be the best I’ve ever had.”
Elena’s mother smiled. “Thank you.”
Billy Gibson and his siblings Cal and Margaret ran over to the group. Cal and Margaret hugged Thomas and Elena.
Elena laughed. “Well, hello! You all look wonderful. Is your mother here too?”
Billy nodded. “Yes, she is talking to the pastor right now. Mr. Kennedy?”
Thomas bent over. “Yes, Billy, what can I do for you?”
“I want to thank you for recommending me for your boarding school. I start in a couple of weeks.”
“Congratulations, Billy!” Thomas shook Billy’s hand. “I know you will get a lot out of the education they offer there.”
“I want to become a geologist, so I can help my father’s mining operations.”
Elena hugged Billy. “You will make a great geologist. I think you will make a good teacher too, Billy.”
She nodded her head. “You have been taking care of and teaching your siblings. A class of children would be a piece of cake for you.”
Billy stood taller. “I would do well, wouldn’t I?” He looked toward his mother. “She’s calling for us. We better go. Thank you!”
“You better write us to let us know how you are doing!” Elena yelled after them.
Elena’s mother shook her head. “I can’t believe how well things worked out for everyone despite all the bad things that happened while you were engaged.”
Elena gave Thomas a playful look. “Curious, isn’t it?”
Thomas winked at her. “Very.”
Thomas’s mother clasped her hands together. “I’m just glad you and Nana Essie decided to move here to be with Elena and Thomas.”
Elena’s mother nodded. “I’m glad, too. Philadelphia had become so depressing. We no longer knew our neighbors, and my seamstress business wasn’t doing too well. We both wanted to be closer to Elena and our adorable baby Lily.”
Thomas watched his daughter laugh in the arms of her grandmother. “She definitely likes you, Mrs. Benning.”
“She has your eyes, Thomas.” Her grandmother waved at the tiny girl.
“Do you think so?”
His mother nodded. “Definitely. But she has Elena’s sweet smile.”
Elena wasn’t paying attention. Thomas nudged her with his elbow. “Elena…are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I was just distracted. She nodded her head towards the creek.
Thomas turned to see what she looked at. He laughed when he saw his sister Abby in a yellow chiffon dress with her hair pinned back. She flirted with one of the town’s young men.
Elena leaned over to Thomas. “I guess her feelings about boys have changed in the past couple of years. She’s been seeing a lot of George Morton lately.”
Thomas’s mother shook her head. “A shame his mother caught influenza a few years back and passed on. It has been just he and his father.
“What does his father do?” Elena asked.
His mother swallowed a bite of her sandwich. “He works as the train’s stationmaster for the town.”
“That’s George’s father?”
Her grandmother craned her neck to see the couple. “He’s not bad-looking.”
“Nana!” Elena buried her head in her hand.
“Oh, they’re coming this way.” Thomas’s mother gave a warning to everyone. “Just act like we weren’t talking about them.”
They all bent over the food and started to fill their plates.
“Hello, Mother…Thomas…” Abby waved. “May George and I join you?”
Her mother moved over. “Of course. I think between our families, we have enough food to feed a small army.”
Thomas shook George’s hand. The young man was dressed in a pinstripe suit. His straight, dark hair was groomed short. He seemed a bit more nervous than usual.“George, you have to try Mrs. Benning’s fried chicken. You won’t be the same afterward.”
Elena’s mother offered the plate of chicken to George. “Help yourself.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
After a few awkward minutes of silence, Abby spoke up. “I don’t know if you heard, but George just got promoted to assistant manager at the bank.”
“Congratulations, George.” Elena patted the young man on the shoulder.
“That’s a big responsibility, George,” Thomas said between bites.
George shrugged. “Not really. It just means I now get to work longer hours to either open or close the bank.”
Elena’s grandmother spoke up between bites of chicken. “I hope that means you get paid more money.”
Both Elena and her mother turned to her. “Nana!”
Abby laughed. “Yes, Nana Essie.”
George tapped on Thomas’s shoulder. “Sir, may I speak to you in private?”
Thomas raised an eyebrow. “Um, sure.” He looked around. “Why don’t we go over there by the carriages.”
The two men slowly walked to where the horses and carriages were parked. Elena watched the interaction between the two. After George spoke, she saw Thomas waggle his finger at him. George would either nod enthusiastically or shake his head.
Thomas’s mother leaned over to Elena. “What do you think the two of them are talking about?”
“I have my suspicions. I suspect George is getting a lecture right now.” Elena nibbled at her sandwich.
After a few minutes, the two men walked back. George tugged at his collar. His face was flustered as he took a deep breath.
George held his hand out to Abby to stand up. Abby looked confused as she stood to her feet. “I just sat down to eat. Don’t tell me we’re leaving already.”
George knelt on one knee and offered her a small gold ring with a tiny diamond in it. “Abigail Westfield, will you marry me? I love you with all my heart and promise to take care of you.”
Abby looked as if she were about to cry. She put her hand up to her mouth and nodded. “Yes, George Johnathan Morton.” She held her hand out, and he slipped the ring onto her finger.
George stood up and hugged Abby and twirled her.
Clapping from the nearby families was drowned out by whistles from Thomas and Nana Essie.
“Congratulations, you two!” Elena hugged the couple. “When do you think you will have the wedding?”
The young couple looked at each other and shrugged. “Maybe next summer?”
Abby ran over to Elena. “I would be humbled if you would be my matron of honor.”
Elena glanced over to Thomas with a concerned look before she smiled and hugged Abby. “I would love to.”
Thomas’s mother’s smile melted into one of concern. “Oh, my. There is so much to plan between now and then. We have to get you fitted for a dress.”
Abby walked over to Elena’s mother and held her hand. “I don’t know if you can do it, but I love the dresses you make for Mother and me. I would be honored if you could design a wedding dress for me.”
Elena’s mother held her hand at the base of her throat. “Oh, my. I’m flattered. Are you sure?”
Abby nodded her head enthusiastically.
“Okay, then. We’ll sit down next week and plan what you want it to look like.”
Elena looked at the couple. “Once you’re married, where will you live?”
George swallowed a bite of food. “I have money saved for a down payment on a small house or maybe an apartment in town.”
“We can certainly help you out if you find a home you really like. But I know how it is to want to be able to afford your first home together, so it’s just an offer if you need it. You aren’t obligated to accept if you don’t want.” Thomas smiled at his sister.
“Thank you, sir.” George nodded.
As the family enjoyed their meal, Elena watched her grandmother play with Lily. When they were finished eating, Lily took a nap in the care of their mothers and her Nana.
Elena and Thomas took a short walk along the creek and settled under a tree within view of the picnic. Elena lay her head on Thomas’s lap as she watched the interaction between Abby and George. Abby seemed coy and shy when she spoke to George. George seemed equally shy. As awkward as their actions seemed, the sparkle in their eyes when they looked at each other was unmistakable. She whispered to Thomas. “Were we that awkward when you courted me?”
Thomas brushed his hand through Elena’s hair and held her hand. He laughed under his breath. “Probably more so. We had the most unusual on-again, off-again engagement.”
Elena giggled. “Very true. I hope she doesn’t get kidnapped and shot.” She changed the subject. “So, what did you say to George when you had your private talk?”
“Nothing much. He asked for Abby’s hand in marriage. I gave him the typical speech that he is responsible for Abby, and even though she has a small inheritance, he shouldn’t count on it and will need to support her and their children on his income.”
“That’s it? It seemed a lot more was being said than that.
Thomas shrugged. “I also gave him the terrifying speech that if anything happened to my baby sister, I would hunt him down.”
Elena laughed. “No wonder he was so flustered when you two came back.”
“I told him once they are married, he and Abby are more than welcome to stay at the house if they wish to save more money for their own home. Our house is big enough that it should give them enough privacy. He said he would talk to Abby about it.”
Elena lifted her head and looked at Thomas. “Has Abby ever cooked?”
“I don’t know. I know Mother tried to teach her shortly before you came, but I don’t think much came out of it.
Elena giggled. “Poor George. I suspect we will see them come by during the week for supper.”
The two enjoyed their quiet time alone with each other. After their food settled, they returned to the family and sat down.
Her mother beamed. “Lily is such a good girl. She has been sleeping soundly despite all the noise.”
“We purposely didn’t protect her from everyday noises while she slept during the day. I think that made her a solid sleeper.” Elena admired her baby daughter.
Thomas chuckled. “She definitely could sleep through just about anything.”
Elena pinched Thomas’s shoulder. “Like father, like daughter.”
Thomas changed the subject. “Mrs. Benning, how is your seamstress business going?”
“Oh, quite well, thanks to your mother. After the women in church saw her dresses, they put orders in for their own. In fact, I could use some help at the shop in the next week or so, Elena.” Elena’s mother waved her hand over Lily to chase a fly away.
“I can help you for a bit, but I can’t be on my feet all day.” Elena looked apprehensively at Thomas.
Thomas’s mother saw the look between the couple. “What? That is the third time you two looked at each other like that. Is something wrong?”
Thomas shook his head. “Oh, no…nothing like that. Nothing is wrong. In fact, we have some wonderful news.” He grinned. “Elena is with child.”
The women whispered a scream so as not to wake Lily. Elena’s grandmother kissed her on the cheek. “When are you due?”
“Next spring. My stomach is just beginning to show.” Elena held her lower abdomen.
Her mother cried with joy. “I hope you have a baby boy, so Lily has a brother.”
Thomas winked. “I hope so too.” He looked around at his friends at the neighboring picnic spots. “My sister just got engaged, and my wife is pregnant!”
Cheers and clapping erupted from the families.
His mother held her cheeks. “I guess we will have to find a nanny for your children.”
“I can watch Lily when I’m home.” Abby offered.
“No, you will be busy when you’re at home, learning how to cook and do laundry. Even if you don’t do it, it’s nice to know how in case your help decides to take a day off, or maybe you will want to cook a special dinner for your family.”
Thomas’s mother relented. “Then it’s decided. We should hire a nanny. Especially since you shouldn’t even pick up and carry Lily.”
“Don’t worry. We might have to rush to get one.” Elena kissed Thomas on the cheek.
Elena explained. “After Lily’s difficult birth and some unusual pain I’ve experienced with this pregnancy, Doctor Mills wants bedrest for me in the last trimester, and possibly the second as well.”
Her mother looked at her with worry. “Then don’t worry about helping out at the shop.”
Elena huffed. “Nonsense. I can still do detailed handwork at home while resting. He just doesn’t want me to do any heavy lifting or laborious work. Lifting heavy bolts of fabric are probably not good, but I can certainly sew beads or sew a hidden stitch to a hem.”
Her mother frowned. “We’ll see.”
Thomas interrupted the ladies’ discussion. “Excuse me, but I promised Elena a walk along the creek. Would you mind and watch Lily for us? We’ll only be a few minutes.” Thomas helped Elena to her feet and then offered his arm.
Elena coyly smiled at her husband and hooked her hand into his arm. The two strolled arm-in-arm. When they were out of earshot of the family, Elena giggled. “Thank you for rescuing me.”
“Our mothers did it again. They somehow are able to join forces into an insufferable, stubborn front. It’s like trying to argue with a wall.”
Our mothers have become fast friends. I fear they have conspired together to try to make our lives easier, but by doing so, they stress us so we can’t even think straight.”
“They really do care about us and especially Lily.” They rounded a bend in the creek. Thomas looked back, and he couldn’t see the picnic. He parted the slender branches of a large willow tree and guided his wife into its sheltered interior. The shadows and low-hanging wisps of light green leaves and stems afforded them protection from the gazes of any passersby. He trapped her against the trunk of the tree with his arms and stared up.
Elena followed his gaze. “What are you looking for?
Children that may have climbed into the branches. I don’t want to be a bad example.”
“Bad example?” Elena’s finger played with the errant lock of hair against his face. She tucked it behind his ear. She playfully whispered to him. “Why, Mr. Kennedy, what do you plan on doing with me?
Thomas grasped her hand and tenderly kissed her palm and then her wrist. He gently kissed her on the lips.
Elena savored their private moment together. With Lily and his mother and Abby in the house, they were rarely afforded the time to sneak away like this. As their kiss lingered, she hungered for more. She held his shoulders as his kisses became more urgent. They traveled to her neck just below her ear. Elena gasped as she felt a shiver travel down her body. He knew exactly where she liked to be kissed.
Thomas whispered into her ear. “I love you so much, Elena.” He kissed her on her neck again.
Between gasps, Elena whispered back. “I love you too, Thomas.”
He pulled back and stared lovingly into her eyes. Full of desire, he smiled at her. “Maybe we can have my mother watch Lily tonight so we can spend a full, uninterrupted evening together. And just to make sure, we can have a nice dinner at the hotel’s restaurant and then spend the night there, with a hot bath and breakfast in bed. Just the two of us.”
Elena blushed. “Is this a date, Mr. Kennedy?”
Thomas tenderly kissed the back of Elena’s hand. “I guess you can consider it one, yes.”
Elena grinned at Thomas as she put her arms around his neck. “I hope this is the first of many.”
“Me too.” He held her in his arms in a tender embrace, and then the two strolled back to the picnic and their families.