Page 40 of Fallen Daughters

“Thank you, Mrs. Langston,” Birdie said between chattering teeth.

“Anna Mae. You are a guest of our house, and I won’t hear of you calling me anything else,” she replied as she patted down her floral apron and smoothed the hair of her grey bun.

Birdie nodded as she placed her shaking hands in front of the fire. “Thank you, Anna Mae.”

Rem sat down on the wooden table chair, unlacing his snow-soaked boots. His toes stung, and he couldn’t help but worry what poor Birdie’s little feet felt like. “Ma, she’s going to need to borrow one of your dresses. Hers is soaked through and ain’t worth much to begin with.”

Ma was quick to run into her bedroom, not saying a single word. Birdie still stood before the fire, shaking more as the numbness wore off and no doubt the realization of truly how cold she was set in.

“I found an old dress I kept from when your pa was courting me,” Ma said as she rushed out of her room. “Always seemed silly keeping a dress that didn’t fit, but now it seems to be coming in handy.” She glanced at Birdie and then looked at Rem. “Go on in, and get out of your wet clothes. I’ll help Birdie change in front of the fire.”

He nodded, stood up and made his way to his room, giving them the privacy they needed. Grateful to get dry, but even more grateful to pass Birdie off to his ma, Rem shed his wet clothes but couldn’t shed the image of a broken girl huddled before a self-made fire trying to stay alive. For a man who minded his own, planned every step he took from the time he woke to sleep, Rem most certainly treaded unfamiliar waters. For the first time in a long time, Rem wasn’t sure what to do next. This Birdie Bluebell situation stood to be some trouble. A mighty mess it was indeed.

Eating like a lady was never something Birdie had to focus on up until now. Her hand shook as she brought the spoon to her lips, and she knew without looking that they both stared at her as she ate. She wanted to devour it. Hell, she was half tempted to toss the spoon down and grab the bowl with both hands and scoff the meal in large gulps. She hadn’t eaten in days, and even then it wasn’t substantial. Almost moaning when the first piece of meat hit her tongue, Birdie looked up and noticed Rem at the head of the table, studying her as he ate his own meal.

“This is really good, Anna Mae. Thank you,” she said as she swallowed her first bite. She’d never been taught proper manners but assumed she should at least compliment the food. And it was actually better than good. The flavors in the stew erupted in her mouth. A far cry from what she could boil up with whatever meager means she came by.

“There’s plenty, so eat up.” Anna Mae gave a warm smile and looked at Rem. “So do you want to tell me how you came upon our guest?”

Birdie looked down at her bowl as she ate, not wanting to hear Rem explain. She didn’t want to talk about her pa or what he did to her. It was bad enough that she sat—in another woman’s oversized dress, barefoot, hair dripping down her back—at someone else’s supper table; she didn’t want the shame of her family to add to it. How could she tell someone that her pa beats the tar out of her almost every other day of the week, not even sparing the holy day?

“Well,” he started as he finished his mouthful. “Let’s just say that Birdie picked a bad night for camping. And we’ll leave it at that.”

Birdie looked up, surprised that Rem didn’t say anything more. When their eyes met, he simply nodded at her and continued to eat. Anna Mae must have picked up on his intent, because she didn’t ask any further questions, but rather allowed everyone to eat in silence.

Two bowls later, and Birdie had never felt so full in her entire life. It would have been three bowls if she hadn’t pleaded with Anna Mae that she truly had had enough.

“Ma, leave that girl alone. She said she’s done.”

Ma huffed. “Well, you at least have to have some of my rhubarb cobbler. I made it with the preserves from my garden.” She stood up and made her way to the baker’s rack without waiting for an answer.

Birdie looked at Rem, who smiled for the first time since the evening had begun. Small wrinkles formed around his brown eyes, softening the firm features and his distinct jaw line. Rem Langston actually appeared…nice. “Ma does make a nice cobbler.”

She nodded. “I would love some cobbler, Anna Mae.” Birdie hadn’t had a meal like this before, or with people who made her feel safe and welcomed. For the most part, they were strangers and yet, they treated her nicer than anyone had before. “Let me help you.”