It didn’t matter that she’d had to spend half the morning in church. It didn’t matter that now she had to sit at the same table with the stinky boys and stupid Katie pretending to be better than everyone else. It didn’t even matter that she was all the way down the table from her papa and wouldn’t be able to get up until everyone or at least all of the kids were done eating. Today was the happiest day of Leah’s life. Ever.
Because her papa was so happy, and Leah had a mama now. So how could she not be happy?
“Leah, d’ye know that if ye keep sniffin’ like that, if there’s bugs flyin’ around they might fly inter yer nose?” Paddy asked. “An’ then they’ll fly around in yer brain, an’ lay their eggs there, an’ —
“Eeew!” Nora shrieked, holding her nose.
“Careful, Nora, if ye do that, bugs’ll fly inter yer mouth! An’ then they’ll go all the way down ter yer tummy, and down inter yer guts, an’ after a day or two –”
“Paddy! That’s enough!” Auntie Toinette yelled as Nora started to turn green. Come to notice it … Auntie Toinette was turning a bit green, too.
“Auntie, are you feelin’ all right?” Leah asked, edging her stool a little to one side, just in case Auntie Toinette wasn’t.
“Of course I’m feelin’ fine, sweetie — Paddy, I said that was enough, not ter start whisperin’ yer rude nonsense inter yer sister’s ear!”
Paddy slumped onto his stool with a pout, but Nora only looked relieved.
“Wright Almighty,” Auntie Toinette muttered to her plate, just about to pick up a piece of the turkey —
“Ma, I’m done, can I go play?” Paddy asked.
“Paddy, I already said –”
“Davy’s done too!” Paddy added. Davy’s brown eyes went huge and wide as he stared at Paddy — probably shocked that Paddy was noticing him — then he turned a trembling smile onto Auntie Toinette.
“Oh, fine, ye boys can go play — ye can go tell yer nasty bug stories ter yerselves, an’ leave us poor girls alone!” Auntie Toinette sighed. But no sooner had Paddy and Davy got up and started some sort of silly boy shooting game than she had to yell again: “Paddy! Don’t ye jostle yer Auntie Meg!”
“Sorry, Auntie Meg!” Paddy yelled, and he and Davy ran off to another part of the square.
“It’s all right, boys!” Auntie Meg (because since Joyce was Leah’s new mama, Leah guessed Mistress Meg was now Leah’s Auntie Meg) called to their retreating backs. To Auntie Toinette, she added, “It really weren’t a big deal.”
“Ye say that now — wait until yer Basil is old enough ter be runnin’ around, trackin’ his muddy boots across yer nice clean floors, an’ makin’ a right nuisance of himself day an’ night,” Auntie Toinette answered, but Leah was in just the right spot to see her wink.
“Basil’s a good little boy,” Auntie Meg replied.
“Oh, Lord, so’s Paddy! I ain’t sayin’ that bad boys track mud in an’ all the rest of us. Goodness! That’s jest boys, sweetheart!”
Leah watched Auntie Meg watch Davy and Paddy run around. “My poor ma, then. Three boys an’ not a girl in sight ter help her out.”
“Amen ter that!” Auntie Toinette called, raising her cup.
Amen ter that. Leah didn’t think she’d ever sat through half as many amens as she had this morning. Before today, though, she thought it was just a silly word that grown-ups said, a word that didn’t mean anything. Now, though, she got it. In her heart, she’d been saying, Amen to that when Joyce said she would marry her papa. By the look in Papa’s eyes, he’d been saying the same thing in his heart.
She’d thought the same thing when Papa and Joyce had been declared man and wife. (Though, why did Papa get to stay a man, while Joyce had to stop being a woman and go be a wife? Leah filed that question away to ask Uncle Neil later.) But when they had shared their first kiss …
Well, grown-ups liked kissing. Leah wasn’t sure why they did, but they did. They even seemed to like kissing when other Sims did it, since they all started to cheer when Joyce and Papa kissed. But to Leah, it was just gross. So she didn’t say Amen in her heart when they did it.
But when they finally stopped kissing and could turn around to look at everybody, when they’d been holding hands and Joyce had been smiling so wide that it looked like her face was going to split in half, when Papa had found Leah in the crowd and winked at her, when Joyce’s mama burst into tears and somehow kept smiling, and when everyone started to get to their feet and clap … then Leah could say Amen in her heart.
She said it so loud in her heart, she was sure the Lord Wright and all the angels and llamas were still rubbing their ears and being very angry at her for disturbing their peace and quiet.
“Ye girls can get up whenever ye’re done with yer food an’ ye feel like it,” Auntie Toinette said, making Leah blink and look around the square as if she’d never seen it before. “Only fair, seein’ as the boys got ter go.”
“Thank’ee, Auntie Toinette,” Nellie said dutifully, and Leah was glad. That meant she didn’t have to. She could pretend she was back at the wedding for a few more minutes, when everybody had been so happy and she’d been happy right along with them. Not like now, when she had to pretend that sitting around in the hot sun in hot clothes, staring at an empty plate and being bored was fun, because that’s what the grown-ups were doing and you had to pretend that everything the grown-ups did was right. Except when they said you didn’t.
Leah rocked back and forth on her stool, trying to see down the table to where Joyce and Papa were sitting. They looked like they were having fun. Uncle Grady was — was he singing? Waving his cup in the air and singing very loudly? Leah tried to listen.
“My pretty maid, fain would I know,
What thing ’tis will breed delight,
That strives ter stand, that cannot go,
That feeds the mouth that cannot bite.”
“Oh, Wright,” Auntie Toinette murmured.
“Sounds like ye’ll be havin’ some fun tonight,” Auntie Meg smiled.
“Aye, assumin’ Grady don’t spend the whole night strivin’ ter stand but never actually doin’ it, if ye know what I mean,” Auntie Toinette muttered.
Leah hadn’t the least idea what she meant. Glancing around at the other girls, it seemed that none of them — not even know-it-all Katie — knew either.
Uncle Grady was starting the next verse, so Leah leaned to the side and tried to listen to that one:
“It is a pretty prickin’ thing,
A pleasin’ and a standin’ thing,
It were the truncheon Mars did use,
A bedward bit that maidens choose.”
For some reason, all the adults found this very funny. Once again, Leah didn’t get it.
“Are ye almost done?” she asked the girls.
The answer she got to that was Nora, Nellie and Katie all wolfing their food down.
“Girls, girls, ye’ll make yerselves sick!” Auntie Meg gasped.
“But Auntie, we wanna go play like the boys!” Katie whined. Nora and Nellie took advantage of Auntie Meg’s inattention to wolf down a few more bites.
Meanwhile, Uncle Grady was starting the third verse:
“It is a monk with a bald head,
A staff ter beat a cuckold dead,
It is a bow that shoots point-blank,
It hits between a maiden’s flank.”
“Ye know what, girls? Ye don’ have ter keep eatin’ if ye’d rather be playin’. There’s plenty o’ food around. If ye’re hungry, ye can jest grab a bite when ye feel like it,” Auntie Toinette interrupted. None of the girls gave her a chance to change her mind.
“Leah, ye want ter play a clappin’ game?” Nora asked as soon as they were far enough away that they could pretend that they couldn’t hear their parents calling for them, if they chose to call.
“Aye, sure, why not?” Leah replied.
They sat on the ground, neither remembering that they had their best clothes on, and if they got those clothes dirty, they’d catch it from their mothers. But then again, Leah’s new mama was preoccupied and Leah’s papa wouldn’t care, and Nora’s parents were busy, too. So it would probably be all right, at least until they got home and someone discovered mud on their rumps. If there was was mud on their rumps. The last few days had been pretty dry, and the cobblestones in the square sometimes kept the worst of the mud away.
Even if they were uncomfortable to sit on. Leah had to wriggle her rear a few times to find a place where there wasn’t a rock jabbing her tailbone.
“Which one d’ye want ter do?” Nora asked.
“Aww, worms? Ma ain’t close enough ter hear us an’ get grossed out!”
“Katie is,” Leah pointed out, nodding her head toward where Katie was talking and Nellie hanging onto her every word, “an’ Paddy might swing by an’ hear.”
Nora started to giggle, then she shuddered. “I still can’t believe ye ate that worm!”
Leah didn’t like to believe it, either — but what else was she supposed to do? Paddy was annoying. Always pretending that he was better, because he was bigger and he was a boy. Well, she’d showed him. Saying that she was being silly because she sang a rhyme about eating worms and then never doing it. So Leah had told him that she’d eat a worm if he would. Paddy never thought she would do it, so he agreed.
She’d never forget how green he’d looked when she swallowed the worm and stuck her tongue out at him.
Then again, Nora had looked greener — and she didn’t even have to eat a worm! Maybe it wasn’t a great idea to do worms when they weren’t trying to impress an audience.
“Eh, if we sing it now, Paddy might try ter make me eat another one, an’ then we’ll all get in trouble,” Leah mused. “Let’s do the sailor one instead.”
The girls put their hands together and began to clap:
“Have you ever, ever, ever in your short-legged life
Met a short-legged sailor with a short-legged wife?
No I’ve never, never, never in my short-legged life
Met a short-legged sailor with a short-legged wife.
“Have you ever, ever, ever in your long-legged life
Met a long-legged sailor with a long-legged wife?
No I’ve never, never, never in my long-legged life
Met a long-legged sailor with a long-legged wife.
“Have you ever, ever, ever in your knock-kneed life
Met a knock-kneed sailor with a knock-kneed wife?
No I’ve never, never, never in my knock-kneed life
Met a knock-kneed sailor with a knock-kneed wife.”
By the time the rhyme was over, some of the grown-ups — Auntie Toinette and Uncle Grady for two — had walked away from the table and gone to either sit down on the benches by the tree, or else to dance. And though the rhyme was over, the girls kept clapping without calling out a new one. It was easy once you got started. She and Nora could do this for hours, or until their hands started to hurt too much — whichever came first.
Besides, the only rhyme Leah could think of was the worms one, and she didn’t want to attract Uncle Grady and Auntie Toinette’s attention with it. They both seemed pretty distracted with each other, and when grown-ups got distracted, it was usually good to keep them that way.
“I wish ye were comin’ ter stay at our house tonight,” Nora said after a couple of minutes. “We’d have so much fun! Especially if Nellie could come, too!”
“Maybe after all this weddin’ stuff is over, I can get Papa an’ Joyce ter let ye an’ Nellie sleep over fer a night.”
“Oh! I’d really like that!” Nora giggled. “We could play games all night! An’ yer pa would let us eat cake until we got sick!”
He probably would. But Joyce wouldn’t. “Maybe we should do it when Joyce is gonna be dancin’,” Leah murmured.
“Why? She’s so nice!”
“I know, but she … well, she’s really a grown-up sometimes,” Leah sighed.
“Oh,” Nora sighed, defeated and deflated. “But we’d still have fun even if Joyce was there.”
“Oh, aye, we would! There’d jest be a lot less cake!” Leah frowned. “Though why couldn’t I stay with ye tonight?”
“Mama’s been sick,” Nora whispered.
“Sick?” Leah asked, looking up. Auntie Toinette certainly didn’t look sick … sickening, maybe, the way she and Uncle Grady were leaning close together and whispering things, but not sick.
“Only in the mornings,” Nora said wisely, as if that explained everything.
And Nora grinned. “Grammie told me! When mamas get sick in the mornings, it means they’re gonna have a baby real soon! That’s why it’s called morning sickness!”
“A baby?” Leah asked.
“Aye! I hope it’s a little girl! Can ye imagine, Leah? A little baby ter dress up? Like a doll, only it’s alive!”
Leah wrinkled her nose. Sean and Josie and Jake and little Baby Belle were all babies. They were a lot of things — loud, smelly, fussy — but Leah would have never thought they were like dolls. “I guess.”
“Oh! An’ ye know what else Grammie said?” Nora said, scooting forward and whispering. “We gots to watch Auntie Joyce! ‘Cause she’ll probably be catchin’ morning sickness from Mama soon, an’ that means ye’ll get a new baby brother or sister!”
“Joyce?” Leah squeaked.
Nora blinked. “Oh. I don’t know. That’s jest what Grammie said.” Nora tilted her head to one side. “Why, Leah? Don’t ye want a little baby brother or sister?”
No, now that Nora mentioned it, she really didn’t. She’d just got a full mama and papa, like everybody else! Why should she have to share them right away? That wasn’t fair!
But she couldn’t say that, because she’d spent enough time at Grammie and Grampie’s house and Auntie Ailís and Uncle Neil’s house to know that big sisters weren’t allowed to complain about little brothers or sisters — they got yelled at really fast that way. So instead she said, “Well, why would Joyce catch it from yer mama? Why not Auntie Ailís? They spend lots more time together.” And Nellie already had two little sibs; surely she wouldn’t mind one more.
Nora blinked and her brows furrowed together. “Huh. I don’t know.” She tilted her head this way and that. “Maybe yer right, Leah! Maybe it will be Auntie Ailís who gets it next!”
Leah hoped so. She really, really hoped so.
“But once she gets it, then it’ll be Auntie Joyce’s turn!” Nora called, clapping. “An’ then –”
“Are ye stupid?” Katie suddenly called, and both the little girls jumped.
Katie had her hands thrown up in the air, and her eyebrows practically turned inside-out, and all over her face was that how-did-I-end-up-related-to-these-dummies look. Leah hated that look — even if she sometimes wore it herself when Paddy or little Sean did something silly — but that was different; they were boys. Whatever Nellie did, it couldn’t have been as silly as what the boys did on an hourly basis!
“There ain’t no such thing as cowplants! They’re jest stories made by really big kids ter scare the little ones! Everyone knows that!”
“My papa said …” Nellie was murmuring.
“Yer papa don’t know what he’s talkin’ about. Cowplants! What’s next, Bigfoots movin’ inter the village?”
Leah and Nora exchanged one glance, and that was all it took to bring them both to their feet.
“But my papa said …” Nellie tried to begin.
This time, though, it was Leah who interrupted. “What’s wrong?”
“She,” Katie pointed to Nellie, “thinks there’s cowplants around here!”
“My papa said!” Nellie whimpered. “My papa said they was! He said ter watch out –”
“He’s jest tryin’ ter scare ye!” Katie sighed, rolling her eyes.
“My papa’s not like that!” Nellie shot back.
“Then he’s jest dumb! Cowplants! Ugh!” Katie snapped, and she flounced off.
That was all the opening Nora needed to move in. “Don’t listen to her,” she wrapped her arms around Nellie, “she’s jest a meanie.”
Leah was sure that would help Nellie for the moment — but as far as Katie was concerned, well, she had better ideas. Flipping her hair over her shoulder, she ran off to the woodshed in the back that had been empty ever since the end of winter … well, empty of wood, that was. But full of other things.
It didn’t take anything to find the precious object where she’d hidden it underneath the old bags and some hay. Leah tossed it up and down, from right to left. Good. Still whole, still tight — still full. She’d have to be very, very careful with this.
At least — until the time came to not be careful anymore.
Holding her prize behind her back, she scurried back out to the square again. She’d been gone just long enough for Katie to wander off, for Nellie and Nora to let go of each other, and for Nora to look at her quizzically. “What’re ye doin’?”
Leah didn’t answer — not in words, at any rate.
Nora’s eyes went wide. “Oh, Leah! That’s not smart! Katie’s so much bigger than ye!”
“So? I’m faster!”
“She’ll be really mad!”
“She deserves it,” Leah shrugged. “Besides, she’s gettin’ off easier than Paddy, ain’t she?”
Nora crinkled her eyebrows — and then she grinned. “Aye!” she giggled. “She is!”
Leah grinned, then — checking on both sides of her to see that the coast was clear of grown-ups — she skipped to her cousin. “Katie? Katie! I gots a ques-tion!”
Katie turned around, her hands on her hips. “Why do I gotta answer it?”
“Because ye’re so smart!”
That seemed to mollify her — a little bit. Her face relaxed. “What’s yer question?”
“What’s that bird called? Up there?”
“The one up there!”
Wait for it, Leah told herself. Wait for it …
“I don’t see no bird.”
“Keep lookin’.” Leah tossed her precious weapon once or twice behind her back.
“Ugh! You stupid baby! There ain’t no –”
Uncle Grady wasn’t a bad singer. Auntie Toinette’s father had come to the wedding and played his fiddle. Her papa had even sung something to Joyce earlier that was awfully sweet. But all the same … it wasn’t until Katie’s outraged squeal rang through the courtyard that Leah could say that she truly heard something she could call “music to her ears.”
And as Leah ran away, Katie laying out in graphic detail just what she was going to do when she caught up to Leah, Leah could only think one thing:
Today, her papa was very happy. Today, she got a mama for the very first time. Today, she’d managed to soak Katie with an inflated pig’s bladder.
It really was the happiest day of her life. EVER.