Still practicing Leo– I wanted to see how he got along with his father, while I was at it.
While the four Soarin brothers danced to fiddle music and neighbors in dirty work clothes helped themselves to the food laid out on the baled hay, Leo had taken refuge in the loft above the barn proper. He could see everything from there– Merrily was laughing and clapping beside her niece, Mathew’s eldest son restrained a small herd of children while his youngest sneaked extra helpings of cherry pie. The barn vibrated with the beat of men and women clapping and stomping their feet in time to the fiddle. Noisy, dirty, enthusiastic farmers, unlike anything Leo had ever grown up with. He found himself partial to them… not their noise, or the hours they kept, or the distance from any real civilization, of course. That wouldn’t do. But there was something there, a common bond between them.
Leo didn’t see his father on the floor. He noticed this a moment before Maxwell marched up the steps, still wearing his immaculate blacks, somehow still free from dust and straw. “I see you’ve found the best place in the barn,” Maxwell said. He’d meant, of course, that the loft was as far away as they could get from the party without leaving.
Leo shrugged and glanced down at Merrily. Maybe now, or when the music died down a little. Or maybe it would be better after. But would she be tired after? She was in a good mood, but she had that niece-friend Nancy with her now, and she got to see him more than most of her extended family. He glanced up at his father. Maxwell raised an eyebrow.
“I can’t talk to her,” Leo blurted out.
“It’s a blessing. She’ll try to make you one of them,” Maxwell said.
“I don’t know if I can do the dances.”
“You, out on the floor with that lot?”
“What if I ask and she says no?”
Maxwell took a look at the girls from over the rail. Merrily with her brown skin and nappy dreadlocks was plainly visible, still in that yellow dress. Did she own any other clothes, Maxwell wondered. All Maxwell could see of Nancy was her long auburn braid, but from what he recalled she was a lot better looking. “Your mother was a pain in the ass, Leo. If you must shackle yourselves to one of them, at least try to pick a handsome girl.”
Leo didn’t even know why he was telling his father this. “Miss Soarin is the most wonderful lady that I have ever met. I don’t care what she looks like.”
As if on cue, the violin’s piece cut off and the boys began whooping. Leo turned and headed down to the ground, as if he’d only sought a quiet word with his father, aware that Maxwell was probably still looking at him with some sort of disgust. It served him right, though, for saying that about mother… but the barn was smaller than Leo had thought, and abruptly he found himself face-to-face with Merrily again. Nancy smiled at him, then cut off mid-conversation. Merrily looked at Leo, waiting, expectant.
Leo opened his mouth. “Er.”
“You’re gonna ask me to dance,” Merrily said.
“I am?” Leo asked. He was? Was that why he came down?
“You are.” She grabbed his wrist and dragged him to the makeshift dance floor. Leo’s feet hardly kept up, stumbling after her. He looked back, most likely from some latent instinct to seek shelter in a moment of terror. He caught sight of his father instead, leaning on the rail above them. The artificer mouthed, ‘I told you so’.
Why did he keep doing this to himself? Why?