But before Birdie could stand, Anna Mae protested. “You sit right there, girl. You are a guest in my house.” She continued to cut and dish up the cobbler, bringing the dessert over, along with a kettle of hot coffee.
The fire roared beside her, almost removing any sign of the cold that could have damn near killed her. Her feet hurt, but she thought that must be a good sign because at least she could still feel her feet. They weren’t black, which was something she had seen happen to an uncle of hers after he had passed out drunker than a skunk in the woods in the middle of a snowstorm. He ended up losing most of his toes because of it. All in all, aside from her punished face, she came out of this last visit with the devil—devil being her pa—still in one piece.
Birdie had somehow managed to find room in her belly for Anna Mae’s cobbler. “If heaven were a food, then this here cobbler would be it,” she praised. Birdie actually considered asking for another piece but worried all this food might not sit well with her later.
“That it would,” Rem agreed, smiling again. “I’m happy to see you eat so much. Your body sure could use a pound or two.”
Birdie blushed—no doubt about it. The heat in her face told her so. She knew she was skinny but having it pointed out, fueled her shame to no ends. The Bluebells weren’t worth more than a farmer’s pig slop. If by some chance Pa ever got hold of some money, it went straight toward a bottle of booze. It was just the two of them, now that Ma was long gone, and occasionally a surprise visit from some other drunken Bluebell. And even though Birdie did her best to try to keep up the home, the large gaps between the planks kept a constant flow of dirt around. Dirty, poor and hungry…ain’t much more to say about a Bluebell.
“Hush now, Rem. Can’t you see you are embarrassing the girl?” Anna Mae chastised. She stood to gather the dishes.
“Oh please, let me do those for you,” Birdie offered, succeeding at standing up this time.
It wasn’t Anna Mae that stopped her this time, but Rem. “No, you go ahead and let Ma handle those. I want you to come sit here by the fire and let me take a look at your feet and that shiner on your eye.” The tone in Rem’s voice gave no room for argument. Birdie didn’t know Rem at all, but she considered herself wise enough to know not to mess around when a man had that look in his eye. One beating for the day was plenty.
Obediently, she quickly sat down and placed her hands in her lap. Rem walked over and kneeled before her, taking one of her bare feet in the palm of his hand. He gently pressed on each toe. “Can you feel this?”
“Yes, sir.” It actually tickled, and she struggled not to giggle.
Noticing this, Rem smirked as he continued to move her foot around, closely examining. “Does it hurt?”
“No, sir.” Although there was still a little stinging, it was far from what she would consider pain.
Birdie wasn’t used to a man touching her. Or at least not touching her gently and with care. One thing she was grateful for was the fact that her pa made sure she was off limits to all the ‘uncles’ who came by to visit. He wanted his Birdie pure of any man’s seed, and he threatened to cut the pecker off any man who dared try. That didn’t mean they couldn’t slap her around when the devil water, they arrived with in large jugs, started to work its magic. It just meant they couldn’t lay with her. For that, Birdie counted her blessings.
After he was done looking at her feet, Rem sat back on his haunches and looked up at her face. “What about that eye? Does it hurt?”
Without thinking, Birdie placed her fingertips to the swollen flesh and nodded. “Yes, sir. But ain’t nothing I can’t handle.”
“Can you see all right?”
“Ma, bring me over a bowl with some water and a rag, will you?” Anna Mae was quick to do as he asked.
He dabbed the rag into the water and placed it against her bloody lip. Very gently, he started to wipe away at the dried blood. Birdie watched as his large and rough hands delicately patted at her lip, cautious to be extra careful. His jaw clenched as his eyes studied her wounds.
“Ma, come over and look at this. Do you think I need to go get Doc and have him sew this up?”
Birdie gasped and instantly covered her mouth with her hand.
Rather than yelling and slapping her hand away, which she expected Rem to do, he gently reached for her hand and pulled it slowly away. “It’s all right, Birdie. Let my ma have a look at it.”