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Anywhere Your Love Goes

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Anywhere Your Love Goes

 

“Shit”

He practically throws up his hands in frustration as the expletive leaves him on a mutter, almost without thought. “Stupid thing” he grumbles. He’s been dropping type all day like a damn butterfingers, and if he doesn’t get this page done in the next fifteen minutes it’s not going to make this edition.

“You certainly have a mouth on you, Mr Lattimer”

He loses some of his bite at the sound of her voice behind him, and smiles to himself, her words familiar and amusing. He didn’t hear her come in. He turns around, glad for just a single moment of peace before he tries to tackle the type again. Unfortunately, she is not alone, and he immediately makes awkward eye contact with his mother-in-law. The scowl on her face is evidence enough that she also heard him.

Laura, for her part, is smirking at him at an angle that her mother can’t see, her eyes shining. She thinks it’s hilarious, and is biting the inside of her cheek to stop from laughing at him.

“Evening, Mrs Clarke. I didn’t realise you’d come into town today” he says cordially, tipping his head.

“Mr Lattimer” she greets coolly. She likes him really, but she still finds him odd. And she doesn’t approve of the way he works for Laura and allows her free reign in her paper business. Any expectation she’d had that settling down would temper her daughter’s spirits was quashed by the fact that Charles loves and respects Laura’s work. He encourages her to be passionate, and Mrs Clarke cannot like that on principle, much as she’s glad to see her daughter happy once again. Also, she despises cursing - the devil’s tongue – so he’s really not having a good day.

“How many times must I ask you to call me Charles?” he asks kindly, choosing to ignore her icy demeanour in favour of charming her with a smile. It almost works.

“Evidently, at least once more” she says back, prim as can be. Although she is almost smiling, and he takes that as a victory, especially as she just heard him cussing.

“Mother came into town with me this morning to run errands and go visiting. She’s come to collect the cart and go home before it gets dark” says Laura, setting down her small basket on the bench top.

“Will you be alright on the roads at dusk, Mrs Clarke, or can I ride with you?” he asks. He really hopes she doesn’t take it the wrong way.

“I am perfectly capable of driving myself home, thank you Mr Lattimer. I was operating a horse and cart long before you were born”  

Her softer tone belays her snippy words, and she inclines her head in gratitude. He still feels like she’s sizing him up some days, despite it being six months since the wedding. He doesn’t want his helpfulness to be misconstrued as an insult to her age, but he does worry about those unsealed roads once the light starts to give. The house is not so far out of town that it’s a half-day ride, but it’s not walking distance either. It’s a small farm, and all the land that such a property entails. He’ll gladly accompany her, hostility and all, if it means she gets home safe.

Laura just smirks at the two of them and hands her mother a bundle to take with her. Mary is no doubt playing outside somewhere and will go back with her grandmother, so at least she won’t be alone on the trip. He and Laura will stay back to finish the evening edition – an idea he’d suggested to increase her circulation. It had taken a bit to get set up, and required that he work with her and Fred full time, but their revenues had slowly increased, and the extra set of hands had gone a long way to keeping the paper new and fresh. Now they are on par with her competitor – almost outselling him – and the extra money from Charles’ sketches sent to the city allow them comfort if not overt luxury.

“Make sure Mary does her sums tonight” says Laura to her mother. “Her teacher said she’s behind on them”

“That child has your obstinacy”

Laura just smiles serenely, practically smug. “She does, doesn’t she. Refusing to do her homework, playing outside-”

“- being pigheaded when I try and sit her down to her needle work, ignoring my lessons in the kitchen, failing to see the merits of a tidy room”

Laura just laughs at her mother and shakes her head as they walk towards the door. Mary isn’t that bad, and she’s improving her domestic skills every day. Mrs Clarke huffs and puffs, and perhaps is stubborn herself with the old ways. But Charles knows what is ahead, and the times that Mary will hopefully see, and he indulges her vivacity because he knows some day she’ll need it. There will be wars and depression and a revolution for women, and he never wants to temper the girl’s spirit when it will one day serve her so well.

Charles shares a private look with Laura over her shoulder; they are on the same page in this at least, if her smirk is anything to judge.

“Get home safely” says Laura in farewell.

“See you later Mrs Clarke” called Charles, waving over his shoulder. He gets a hum in return, but at least he’s acknowledged. He watches Laura escort her mother to the door, and then hears Mary bound up the stairs to give a kiss goodbye, and Laura gives a muffled warning about the dreaded sums in return. He smiles at them all and turns back to his type. He has five minutes before they need to start printing. He reads over the articles again with trepidation.

“You are so funny”

He turns and smiles at his wife, standing there with her hands on her hips grinning at him. She looks radiant with her hair half fallen out from the day, wearing the green skirt and grey vest he’d first seen her in when he arrived.

“You think being caught swearing by your mother is amusing?” he mocks, quirking his brow at her. She only chuckles at him and walks forward to investigate what has him so upset. He kisses her neck, just behind her ear, when she leans close, and she hums but continues reading. “You smell nice” he whispers at her. She smells like honey, or something else sweet.

“I was in the store collecting us some supper” she answers, gesturing behind her to the basket she was carrying when she walked in. “You know, these articles can wait for the morning edition” she says, running her hand through the hair at the nape of his neck, sensing his tension to get it done. “Leave it for now”

“Are you sure? I can finish them quickly”

“They’ll keep. They aren’t exclusive news”

He gives a deep breath and then nods, admitting defeat. She presses her lips to the top of his hair. With the way he’s been all afternoon he’d probably just mess it up anyway, which would make them late on starting the printing and even later getting home tonight. It’s been a long week; he doesn’t want to cut into his sleep time over a measly few articles. She picks them up and kisses his cheek sweetly, then walks over and places them in the ‘tomorrow’ pile on her bench.

“If we get a start on the printing early then we can leave early too. Maybe get home in time to read with Mary before bed”

“That would be nice” he says with a smile. Some nights they make it for those little moments and some they don’t – the downside to having a second printing is they get home that much later, even with Fred’s help. They only print two copies on days when there is additional news; some days the second edition is no more than a glorified pamphlet for people to peruse over their supper, and on the rare quiet days they don’t print one at all. But still, customers pay for the option of receiving them as they come, and Laura is the better writer in the town; the extra revenue helps keep the place going, so nobody’s really complaining about the hours, except Mrs Clarke. She doesn’t really count.

Charles is secretly hoping to build a nice little nest egg. Perhaps even have enough to send Mary to a good college when she is through school, which will no doubt scandalise her grandmother. He hasn’t told Laura this, of course, because he doesn’t want to count their chickens before they’ve hatched. But he has long-term plans in mind, and with the bonus of hindsight (or is it foresight?) he can predict exactly what they will need and when, and protect it.

“Would you like some cheese?” asks Laura, gesturing to the basket.

“You got me cheese?” he asks. She smiles and nods, holding up a small chunk and some dry crackers. “What other goodies are you hiding in there?” he asks slyly, walking over to her. She giggles and steps in front of the basket half-heartedly, blocking him. He crowds her space with a raised eyebrow, and then leans down close, lips almost touching, while one hand snakes behind her and collects the basket, rummaging for the first thing he finds. He reveals the small salami roll with a triumphant smirk, and then rewards her with a kiss.  

It’s a decadent supper – reminiscent of a Sunday picnic more than a substantial evening meal. And it’s early to be eating; still late afternoon. But he’s not complaining, because they have the next couple of hours in each other’s company, and a fairly light print to do, and then it’s home time. No doubt Mrs Clarke will be cooking a fresh loaf of bread with her store purchases today, so if they get hungry later they can always sneak a slice.

Laura turns in his arms and procures a knife from the basket, cutting a slice of both cheese and salami, then stacking them together and reaching to put it in his mouth. It’s a good thing they are alone in the store, because the look between them is certainly a private one, and his tongue darting out to take the food could be considered indecent. He’s not sure; this time and place still sometimes confuses him.

“Good?” she asks, her voice quiet and low.

“Oh yeah” he says, raising an eyebrow at her. “Real good”

She just smirks shyly and turns back to their food, cutting herself some and popping it in her mouth. He runs a hand appreciatively over her hip, but doesn’t do more. There are still windows, and they have work to do before it gets dark. As it is they’ll be riding home by lamplight. He rode in on his own horse this morning while the girls brought the cart a bit later. It will be an interesting journey home, he thinks, if they don’t hire a second nag for the night. He might just enjoy it.

"What are you thinking about?" she asks, grinning at the look on his face.

"Getting you home"

She chuckles at him, bashful at his honesty. He kisses her cheek and then graciously steps away before he really does compromise the situation. He pulls up two stools to the bench and they sit and eat, talking about their respective days. Laura had left him earlier to collect Mary from school and meet with her mother, and they'd all called in to see one of her mother's old friends. Mary had been bored stiff, and begged to go out playing with her friends from school. So Laura had left Mrs Clarke and escorted the girl down the street, to secretly escape the wrath of opinions coming from Isla Gregson's parlour. 

"You made a good impression with Mrs Gregson, though. In spirit, at least. She greatly approved of me calling on her while you were busy slaving over the printing press, earning your keep"

He gives her look for her teasing, which just makes her smile more. Everyone in town knows that he and Laura work together, and most know that she is his boss in ownership and action. He has yet to meet anyone here who approves of it, and really his mother-in-law is the least of his worries. She secretly likes him. (Not that anyone would blatantly admit to disliking him. Laura's new editorial columns make them afraid to speak out when so many of them buy her business. But not everyone is family and therefore obligated to live with his actions. The looks and subtle digs are indication enough)

"Does it ever bother you?" he asks. 

"Does it bother you?" she counters. They've had this discussion - they had it when he first started working for her. He is not ashamed to be his wife's employee. And besides, he has his sketching on the side to call his own. Many other papers outside of Somerville buy his illustrations, either as comics or as advertising. He is earning a decent wage in his own right, so nobody can accuse him of being a dead-beat dependant husband.  

"Of course not" he answers. "I'm just concerned that my working here gives you more grief than it's worth" 

"Charles, business is up, and it's thanks to you. Your encouragement, and the hours you put in here, implementing your ideas and helping with the new editions. Of course I don't mind you being here. I get to see you and spend time with my husband every day, which is more than a lot of wives can say" 

"You're not sick of me yet?" he jokes. Of course, she can hear a hint of insecurity in his tone, and she doesn't begrudge him that. He came back here to stay solely for her; if she rejected him in any way he would literally have nothing.

"I could never be sick of you" she says honestly. "I mean, if nothing else, you're the most interesting time-traveller I've ever spoken to" He pulls a face at her mocking and takes an exaggerated bite out of his cracker and cheese. She just grins at him. "But if you do ever want a change, you must tell me. I won't have you turning miserable out of deference to me"

"I know"

She nods at him, content that he is so obviously happy here. They finish their supper in easy silence, sharing looks between them, and laughing at each other over the silliest things. It's carefree and sweet in a way he craved for so long. Sometimes he pinches himself just to be sure it's still real. 

They pack away the food once they’ve had their fill. There is still some salami and cheese left that Laura packs tight in their white linen wraps to store at home, and Charles has a secret plan to make pizza for the family on the weekend. Of course, it will require Mrs Clarke's help to make the dough, and they'll have to forgo tomato paste since he's not really sure of a recipe. But they have a whole veggie patch to use, and now the added toppings from today, and he knows it will shock them all if he does it successfully. Mary will be absolutely beside herself. It is pizza after all. 

They finish the printing just as the sun is lowering behind the horizon, the sky glowing with the last of the daylight. It will be pitch black by the time they get home, but at least they'll start without the lamp.

Walt's eldest boy comes over to deliver the papers in the evening for them, since he is twelve and looking for any pocket money he can get. Walt and his wife (and Charles had been a little surprised to learn he was married with four children) live in the house at the edge of the town, close enough to the farmland that Walt can easily ride back and forth. The foreman’s cottage near the house had gotten too small when the youngest was born, and Laura didn’t mind not having him next door so long as they were happy and comfortable and the fences were mended.

Once Thomas is away safely with his armful, they snuff out the lamps and lock the doors for the night. She had left her shawl in the wagon with her mother and shivers a little in the evening breeze. He shrugs out of his jacket and drapes it around her shoulders, and she grins at him in thanks. Mr Peterson walks past and tips his hat at them, smiling as he catches the gesture, and Laura and Charles smile back. He is a kind man, and never judges – he has known Laura in passing for a long time, and knows she deserves the kind of attention her new husband bestows on her. She slides her arms into the sleeves and takes a deep breath, Charles’ aftershave wafting around her. She likes it.

She catches Charles staring at the sky where the sun disappeared, admiring the orange and pink and purple that play against the clouds. Even now, all these months later, he is still taken by the size of it, the scope of the landscape here. Sometimes they ride through the fields or walk by the stream, just taking it all in. Through his eyes she appreciates her home all the more – likes the fresh air and the smell of wood fire that Charles finds so different. He has promised her a trip to the big city when they can spare the time, and she looks forward to it. But nothing is much like home.

She slips her hand in his, resting her cheek against his shoulder, watching with him. In her other hand she holds her small basket. He looks at her and smiles, taking the subtle hint that they should get going before there is no light. They round to the stables where he keeps his gelding during the day – a handsome young thing named Buckle that they had invested in for Charles, cheaply bought if only because he would not gallop at the track one town over. Honestly, Charles has no problem with that.

“Hey Buck” he coos lightly, stroking the horse’s neck as he expertly manoeuvres him out of his stall. The horse is slow and a bit dopey, but has a sweet nature that makes him friendly to handle. He has only a bridle on, and she looks around for the saddle, not finding it. Charles is far more comfortable on horses now than when he first arrived, more out of necessity than anything, and she loves to watch him with animals. He has a knack. But she was sure he rode in this morning with a saddle. Charles takes the saddle rug hanging on the gate and throws it over the horse’s back, but doesn’t move to find any more tack, and she is very confused.

“Have I missed something, or is there only one horse?” she says pointedly, raising one eyebrow, her hands on her hips, and grinning at him. “How do you propose we’re getting home?”

He doesn’t respond but instead just smirks, and then takes her hand gently and leads her closer, standing her with her back to Buckle’s side. “Ready to jump?”

“Jump?”

But before she can comprehend what is happening she is instinctively pushing off the ground to help him, his hands under her arms hoisting her onto the horse sideways. Her eyes go wide and her right hand reaches out and grasps a fistful of mane firmly, getting her balance. He doesn’t let her go until she is seated right, and she huffs at him, giving him a look. She takes the reins that he silently hands her, pulling them to a workable length as he makes sure again that she’s steady. He passes her the small basket at his feet, setting it on her lap.

And then somehow – and she’ll never understand how – he places one hand with hers at Buckle’s withers, and launches up behind her, settling on the horse’s back with his arms around her. Miraculously they don’t fall off, and she won’t deny that her heart leapt at the thought that they might, with her going backwards towards a cracked head.

But no, her husband is as competent as he projects – he shuffles flush against her, his arms secure against her waist as he takes the reins around her, and she can’t help but let out a peel of girlish giggles. This is utterly ridiculous and she loves it.  

“So you see, this is how we’ll get home”

She laughs at him again, careful not to pitch forward and upset their balance. He laughs along with her, his breath tickling her ear, and she cannot help but look at him and kiss him. Her sideways position makes this much easier, and though they don’t deepen the kiss, they do linger long enough for Buckle to snort at them.

She is not sitting in a traditional side-saddle posture, turned forward to control the horse. Instead she remains sitting completely perpendicular, her shoulder resting against Charles’ chest, snuggling as much as she can. She snakes her arm around his back, bringing them closer and settling herself further within his centre of gravity.

They slowly make their way out of the stables and onto the country road, the light now faded to a soft purple and light blue, the deeper colour on the opposite horizon threatening to overwhelm them soon. No matter; she has the small lamp in the basket on her lap if they need it, though if they stay in the middle of the road they should be fine.

The crickets and insects are in full flight in this light, so loud it almost hurts, and they just amble along to the sound, content in each other’s company. They couldn’t go at a faster pace anyway, not with how they’re sitting, but it’s still nice to think they’re just meandering home.

“This is a crazy, harebrained, completely wonderful idea” she sighs, her left hand playing in the shirt around his back. She practically snuggles into his jacket, and he grins down at her.

“I didn’t even think of it until I realised you’d come in with you mother” he admits. “I’ll have to ride back in the morning without a saddle”

She laughs at him – at how he obviously didn’t think this through very thoroughly when he got the notion in his head to tandem ride her home.

“We could have hired another horse for the night” she says. It’s a half-hearted suggestion at best; they wouldn’t want to waste the money, and this is far too lovely anyway. “But tomorrow it won’t matter. You can come in the wagon with me, and we’ll just collect the saddle and bring it home”

He doesn’t really respond, just hums a sound of agreement and nuzzles her ear with his nose. She sighs in utter contentment and rests her weight more fully into him, her palm flattening against his back. She is conscious of not shifting around too much – Buckle’s coat is slick and shiny beneath the rug and one wrong move will see them slide right off. She feels vulnerable with her legs on one side, but she doesn’t let her anxiety show because she trusts her husband. Even if they do slip, he will catch her fall. Maybe that should grate against her more independent ways, but it doesn’t; love does funny things like that.

“I’ve never ridden bareback at dusk” she says softly, her voice low and deep. “It’s very romantic”

“But you’ve ridden bareback before?”

“Oh yes, here and there. As a girl, Walt and I would catch the pony in the yard and ride him around – oh, his father would get so cross at us” She laughs at the memory. “And then when I was a bit older, we’d take two of the farm horses down by the stream, let them drink while we skipped stones”

“Sounds idyllic” he says, smiling at the look on her face as she recalls her childhood.

“It was simple. Silly, really, since they were supposed to be working horses. But we had a lot of fun”

“You and Walt-” he starts, not accusatory so much as just curious. “Were you-?”

“What, sweethearts?” He can’t tell if she’s teasing him or not, but they’re both smiling at each other, so it’s not a threatening conversation to have. He shrugs at her. “No, not really. I think we imagined ourselves to be, when we were very young and didn’t even know what a sweetheart was” she says, almost laughing at herself, shaking her head. “But his father worked for my father – they lived in the house next to mine, so we spent so much time together. He was my best friend growing up, especially after my brother passed”

Charles knew she’d had a younger brother; three years younger, if he remembered right. The boy had caught whooping cough when he was barely school age. Charles doesn’t have to have come from this time to know how dangerous the infection is, given the fastidiousness of vaccination in the future. He never told Laura that they developed vaccines for so many common things – doesn’t want to rub salt in wounds he cannot change. Laura was eight when her brother passed – Mary’s age - and she still sometimes thinks of him; wonders if perhaps her mother gives her such a hard time because she doesn’t have a boy to harass about the farm, so her daughter picks up the slack. Charles is glad to know Laura wasn’t alone in those hard times, and that quiet and stalwart Walt was a steady presence for her, just as he is now.

“By the time we were old enough to understand, he had a crush on Abigail O’Grady” she says, smirking to herself over some joke he doesn’t understand. Although, given Walt’s wife’s name is Rebecca, he thinks the tale is clear enough. He grins along with her.

“And you? Who was your first school-girl crush?” he teases, guiding the horse carefully around the last bend before home.

“Edward Marks” she drawls, giving herself a rueful look as she thinks back to the tall boy that sat in the seat next to her at school. He had been very cute, but arrogant, and his looks had not followed him so well into adulthood. She knows it is spiteful, but she’s glad her husband is so handsome – it taught some of the men in town a lesson or two about judging a wilful woman; the same who outsmarted them as a girl. Edward was one of those men.

“I know ‘im?” he asks. They come over the last ridge and the house comes into view. The night is almost completely dark now, but they are close enough to home. The kitchen lamp has been left on for them, and the parlour window glows softly. Perhaps they are still in time to read with Mary and spend a few moments with Mrs Clarke before retiring for the night.

“You may have seen him around. He works as a teller at the bank. Tall, with dark hair”

“Oh, Eddie” he says, nodding. He knows of him now that she says where he works. “He doesn’t look so great these days, I’m sorry to say”

“I’m afraid time has not been so kind to him. He took to enjoying liquor” Charles nods in understanding, guiding Buckle over towards the holding yard. “Not that it matters” she adds, smiling as he pulls the horse to a halt and dismounts. “I’m glad for my current choice of man”

Even in the dark he can see the cheeky grin she is giving him, her tongue held between her teeth. He looks up at her and smiles, half shaking his head. She looks so lovely. He can imagine her as a girl – sees her same features in Mary, and accounts for the points of difference, and in the dim moonlight her face looks so young. He can imagine her being a force to be reckoned with, good looks and wit, a head on her shoulders. Perhaps she had never intended to take over the business of her dead husband, but it is testament to her fortitude that she was able to pull it off so well, and continues to do so. Laura was never going to be the demure little woman her mother so dearly hoped for. Laura is so far beyond her time.

Maybe that’s why they work so well. They meet in the middle.  

He gently places his hands on her thighs, running them up to her hips to help her off the horse, and she rests her free hand - the one not holding the basket – on his shoulder. She plops down in front of him, still grinning, and he links his hands behind her lower back. Her hand runs through the hair at the nape of his neck and she closes her eyes as he leans in and kisses her. It’s a chaste kiss, but affirming all the same.

“If you two stay out any longer you’ll catch your death”

Charles rolls his eyes as they part, looking back to the open door where Mrs Clark is standing, a shawl around her shoulders, and a disapproving look on her face. It’s all for show, really, though she’d never admit that. More than once Charles has caught her avoiding a room if they are having a private moment, and he likes to think that under all the bluster and practicality, Mrs Clarke is a romantic at heart.

“Coming mother” calls Laura, trying not to laugh at Charles’ expression. He’s really not having a good day as far as timing and interruptions go.

She waits by the fence while Charles leads Buckle into the pen, then he changes over the bridle for a halter so that he’ll be easy to handle in the morning. He takes off the rug, rubs the horse’s neck, and walks back to her. Once he has shut the gate and checked it’s secure, she takes his hand and leads them towards the house, the rug slung over his other arm. Before they reach the light of the kitchen window, she stops him and tugs him to face her. 

“You never have to worry about anybody rivalling you, you know that don’t you” she says, scrutinising him in the dim light. He looks surprised by her assurances, as though the thought had never occurred to him, and though that’s comforting she wants him to know for sure. She never wants him to entertain the notion she is pining for someone else, Walt or any other; she is too pragmatic to dwell on ‘what if’s, and too in love with him to dream of any different.

“I know, Laura. I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just curious”

“No, I know, I know that. It’s not the question – I will tell you anything you want to know, really I will. I love sharing my life with you”

They both smile at that, breaking the tension a little between them.

“I just never want you to doubt how much I am deeply in love with you” she finishes, squeezing his hand in hers. He only smiles at her in understanding, shifting just a breath closer and kissing her temple tenderly. She closes her eyes at such an intimate gesture, relief coursing through her at how at ease he is, and how confident he appears to be in the face of her silly insecurities.

“I don’t doubt it” he whispers against her hair. “I never have”

“Good” she breaths. She nods and looks him in the eye once more, before setting to walk the final few steps to the house.

“Laura” he says, tugging her hand and making her turn back to him. He gets a look on his face as he studies her. She always feels small and yet so much larger than life under that look. “I love you too” he says seriously. “It shocks me sometimes, just how much I feel when I think about you – when I look at you. It’s profound”

As are your words, she thinks, but only nods. She smiles, a sheepish little smile, and looks away over his shoulder. She’ll never get used to the way he adores her so openly, and she’ll never tire of hearing it, so she’s preparing herself to be bombarded for the rest of her life by moments of utter speechlessness.

“You are an incredible man, Charles Lattimer, you truly are”

He just grins at her and starts walking forward. He doesn’t know how to answer her when she says things like that, so instead he just moves them towards the warmth of the house. The night air is cooling around them and without his jacket he is starting to feel it.

He folds the rug neatly and places it in the pine chest by the door where they store the tools and Laura’s gardening apron. He’ll put it in the stable tomorrow morning while Laura and Mary hitch Turnip to the cart.

They can hear the chatter of Mary inside, still wide awake, and when they walk inside the kitchen Mrs Clarke is pulling a fresh loaf out of the oven, just as he knew she would be.

“The child hasn’t done her reading yet” she says, her back to them both. Laura just smiles at her mother and squeezes Charles’ hand before letting go.

“Mama, look, I’ve been practicing my stitches”

“Let me see, my sweet girl” she says, dropping her basket on the table and bending to inspect the needle work. “That’s a great improvement, Mary, very well done. Now, if you are quick to get ready for bed, we can finish another chapter tonight”

Without further encouragement Mary is off, bustling in her room.

“Don’t forget to wash your face” calls Mrs Clarke. Laura tries unsuccessfully to hide her smirk. Her mother gives her a funny look, noticing the jacket around her shoulder just as Laura slides it off and places it on a hook in the dining area. Charles doesn’t see because he is depositing his boots by the door. Laura just gives her a happy look, and Mrs Clarke smiles a little bit too. For all his faults (encouraging her daughter’s ways, being her employee, cussing like a sailor -) he is a genuinely good man. He takes care of her girls, and he respects her, and she cannot ask for more than that.

“I see you two decided to act like foolish youngsters and ride that horse back together” she says, with very little bite in her tone. She does think it’s a bit silly, but honestly when she’d first seen them pull up out the kitchen window she’d almost laughed; it was sweet – the kind of gesture she can appreciate.  

“Didn’t want to waste the money on hiring another for the night” says Laura, picking up Mary’s smock from over the back of a dining chair and hanging that next to the jacket. “I promise we were careful and went slowly”

Charles chooses not to comment, instead washing his hands in the basin where Mrs Clarke has left them a small amount of soapy water. His mind is too inappropriate to add anything that won’t land him in the stables for the night. Mrs Clarke sees straight through that, of course, she’s old not blind. But she leaves them be, figuring he’s been tormented enough with the whole swearing thing earlier.

“Well, the alternative was walking. You got home in one piece, and that’s all that matters” she answers, busying herself in cleaning up the fresh baking.

Laura smiles warmly at her mother, her eyes bright. She knows an olive branch when she sees one, and appreciates it; in the early days her mother would never have offered that, too caught up on wanting to know how Charles broke Laura’s heart and then won it back again so easily. That whole time is water under the bridge now, and Mrs Clark figures she will never know the details of it, but Laura looks so blissfully happy that she doesn’t press. Even good men make mistakes, and Charles has more than atoned for his sins since then. 

“I’m going to go get out of this monkey suit before we read for a while” says Charles, politely excusing himself to go change. Rules of propriety dictate he must remain dressed until they retire for bed, much as he’d like to change into sweats and just relax. But he kept the clothes he wore on the train from the future, and wears them as his house clothes because they are less fitted and more casual than his business suits. Yet they are still decent enough to be in the company of his daughter and mother-in-law, so they work well, and he’s glad for the option. There’s something about wearing his night shirt and dressing gown that he just never took to, which makes Laura laugh.

“I think I will change too” she says, her hand touching her mother’s arm as she passes.

Mrs Clarke just hums at them and lets them go. They pass Mary in the hallway, and tell her to get comfortable in front of the fire, and they’ll join her in a moment. She bounds away happily, dressed in her nightgown, her hair down and ready for her mother to brush and braid for the night, her book tucked under her arm.

They are quick to change, not stopping to admire each other despite the will to do so. Laura does not share Charles’ dislike for bedclothes, and gets into her nightgown and dressing gown, letting her hair out of its pins. Her mother won’t like it being loose over she shoulders, but Charles has said more than once that she looks so beautiful with it down and he loves to see it that way. She will braid it later when they go to sleep, but for now she’s inclined to leave it be. It makes her feel – what’s the word he used? – sexy. Clad only in his light pants and dark blue tee-shirt, she thinks much the same about him.

He collects his sketching pad from the chair by the door as they leave the room, and she smiles.

Together they make their way into the living room. Mary is seated on a cushion on the floor, in front of Laura’s favourite corner of the couch. Mrs Clarke is rocking lightly in her chair, knitting a scarf without really looking, humming contentedly to herself. It’s a picture of domesticity.

Laura takes her place behind Mary, turning her to sit so she can brush and braid the girl’s hair while she reads aloud to them. Charles takes a seat in the other single chair, sets up his pad, and begins to draw. He pays attention to the way his wife’s hair falls over one shoulder, the way Mary’s legs tuck under her where she sits, the way Mrs Clarke’s hands look holding the needles. He is pleased enough with the composition outline that he starts planning how he might add colour, and contours, perhaps when he has a rainy Saturday to kill. With winter on the way he surely will get one.

“Is that another of your advertisements to send away, Charles?” asks Mrs Clarke kindly. Sometimes – when she’s feeling particularly relaxed and generous – sometimes she takes up his offer to call him by his given name. 

“Nope, no, this one’s just for me” he says, smiling just a little at her across the room. Laura hears them, but doesn’t look up, instead listening to Mary’s reading.

“Perhaps one of these days you will be kind enough to show us these drawings you so often partake in” says Mrs Clarke softly, eyeing him over the rim of her glasses. If he didn’t know better he’d think she was smiling at him.

Charles just grins to himself, nodding slightly. “I might even show you this one when it’s done”

“I’ve seen some of his drawings” pipes Mary. “The one’s he sends to the city”

“Have you been snooping again?” he asks, teasing her lightly. He doesn’t mind her having a look through his sketch book. Any drawings that are private he keeps in a locked draw of his desk; there’s nothing inappropriate for her to see. (The one’s he’s done of her mother, naked and sleeping peacefully in their bed, might be a bit more scandalous for her eyes)  

“It’s not snooping, it’s investigating”

Everyone laughs at the answer, including Mrs Clarke, who tries to cover it with a cough of disapproval. Charles can’t describe how much he loves his little girl, and he shakes his head at her tenacity, giving her a wink which causes her to giggle.

He looks down at his sketch – the basic representation of the scene before him – and then looks up again at his family. The scene in real life can never be put adequately on paper. The warmth from the fire, the hum from Mrs Clarke (some tune he doesn’t know, though he suspects it’s a hymn), the smell of bread that still permeates the house from earlier.

Satisfied for now, he puts down his pencil, stands, puts the pad where he had been sitting, and walks over to the couch. Laura has just finished the second braid on Mary’s head, and she ties it off with a small white ribbon. She looks at him with a smile when he plonks down next to her, right against her side, grinning at her. Mary lets out a joyful shriek when he suddenly hooks his hands under her arms and scoops her off the floor – come here munchkin - depositing her on his other side, his arm around her shoulders. She snuggles against him, as does Laura, and he tries not to look too smug, instead tapping the book page to get Mary to finish the last of her chapter. There is no other place on earth that brings him greater joy than being sandwiched between his girls.

As Mary starts reading again, he plants a tender kiss in Laura’s hair and her eyes close in bliss, and from across the room Mrs Clarke can concede that she no longer frets for her small family. They are in the safest of hands. She goes back to her knitting before Charles can notice her, listening to her only grandchild read her newest book.

So once more the little company set off upon the journey, the Lion walking with stately strides at Dorothy's side. Toto did not approve this new comrade at first, for he could not forget how nearly he had been crushed between the Lion's great jaws. But after a time he became more at ease, and

presently Toto and the Cowardly Lion had grown to be good friends.