3.93 STARS


Dinner with the Daltons

Elisabeth couldn’t recall ever seeing a sky so orange. In spite of the cold, she tilted her head out the truck window for a clearer view. The hue deepened as she watched, providing a bold backdrop to the bare trees along the lane.

She started to point it out to Wayne, but his scowl dissuaded her. It was a shame. He looked handsome in a suit, yet hated wearing one. She’d made the latest alterations in the blind so as not to provoke him. Fortunately she had an eye for fit.

Wayne had put on weight over the years, but he was shedding pounds now. Last time he’d joined her at service, folks had even complimented him. Except Eloise Pipken. Having buried her father the year before, she knew the signs. When pressed later, Elisabeth’s frown gave up the truth before she uttered a word.

At the base of the ridge, they crossed the creek and made the turn toward town. The sky before them was purply blue now, but the orange still glowed behind. She glanced back and smiled. Pa had always appreciated a good sunset. He used to venture onto the porch whenever he noticed a particularly beautiful one. He’d have liked this one.

Turning forward, she realized Wayne was watching her.

“What?” she asked.

“They’re not a lick better than us.”

“The Daltons? Honey, I know that. No one said they were.”

“Then why’d I have to get all gussied up? Why’d you have Scott wipe down the truck? We buy provisions from them, Eli. I don’t have to impress them.”

She sighed. “They invited us to dinner in their own home. Their daughter is marrying our son. I thought it would be nice.” She ran her hands across her skirt, smoothing out the flowery print. “This is nice, isn’t it? I used to wear it to the dances in Eufaula. I was surprised it still fit. Do you remember?”

He pulled to a stop in front of the Daltons’ home. “I thought it looked familiar,” he muttered before opening his door. She waited as he walked around the back.

“What time is it?” she called out.

He pulled out his watch. “Ten after five. Why?”

She fumbled with her shawl and climbed out. “We’re early, that’s why. Olympia asked us to come at half past.”

“I’m starving. Do they always eat this late? If I’d known, I could have worked until dark.”

“And then we would be late. I imagine they do dine later than most folks, what with the store.” She glanced at the house to make sure they hadn’t made a spectacle of themselves. “Honey, please. Let’s walk for a bit. Look at that sky. Isn’t it beautiful?”

She reached for him and was relieved when he took her hand.

Wayne said nothing, but seemed calmer. They passed the abandoned shanties. Light flickered inside the Morrisons’ home. The street was empty, and the twilight silent. Even after fifteen years, she had never quite reconciled how haunting mountain stillness could be.

“You cold?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

“You shivered.”

She laughed. “I didn’t notice.” He held her gaze. “Really, it’s nothing.”

The concern was fleeting. By the time they turned to retrace their steps, she felt him pulling away again.

As they neared the gate, she remembered the wreath. Rushing to the truck, she pulled the box from behind the seat. “I thought I’d make one for your mother too, if I can find the time before she arrives.”

She heard the knock as she turned. He’d plunged ahead like always.

She scurried onto the porch as George Dalton opened the door. “Whoa, the mercury is plummeting! Please, come in.”

Olympia appeared as he took their coats. She had outdone herself . . . hair up, pearl earrings and necklace. “I’m just finishing up. Goodness, George, take them in by the fire.”

“I’m working on it,” he assured her, gesturing them into the parlor.

Elisabeth handed her the gift.

“Should I?” Olympia asked, and Elisabeth nodded.

Olympia seemed pleased when she opened it. “It’s pretty. Look, George.”

“Can I help with anything?” Elisabeth offered, but Olympia waived her off as she retreated toward the kitchen. “Don’t you dare. Katie and I have it covered.”

“Hi, Mrs. Hunter,” she called out.

“Evening, Katie,” she echoed back as she took a seat near the hearth.

They exchanged pleasantries. Soon George and Wayne were deep in conversation, rattling on about a recent brawl at one of the logging camps by the river. “They have to stop that flow of moonshine,” she heard George say as she took in the room.

The furnishings were ornate, stately mahogany pieces and a plush sofa with an intricate pattern of red and gold. Picture frames rested on the mantle.

In one photograph Olympia sat in a studio, an infant Katie in her arms. In another a young Olympia with flowing locks stood beside another girl on a white-railed porch, scrub oaks and a marshy glade behind them. The one of George was taken outside a gothic brick building. He was clutching a trophy awkwardly so as not to block his fraternity sweater.

Katie appeared at the doorway. “The wreath is lovely,” she whispered. George looked up. “Mother says dinner is ready,” she announced.

Elisabeth rose. Katie had always been a nice girl. Somewhere along the way she’d become a young woman.

“Are you joining us?” Elisabeth asked.

“Oh, no. I’m off to see Louisa Jenkins. Mother wanted time for you all to visit on your own.”

George started toward the entry. “I’ll walk you . . .”

“Pa, it’s three doors down. I think I can manage.”

George caught Elisabeth’s eye, and she laughed. “What can you do?”


Other scenes:

Joshua (Opening Scene)

Christmas Tree

Christmas Eve

Heading to Lorraine

Roses along the Seine

First Kill

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