"What needs to be done?"
I glanced up from the peppers that I was chopping, as Julia hustled into the kitchen, looking as though she just fought a small war.
"From you, nothing." I said, going back to my work. "There's a cup of tea on the table waiting for you."
"Oh Kat, Really." Julia lifted the light blue apron from the hook on the wall and looped it over her head.
"Not a thing." I stopped and focused on her. "You are going to sit down and relax." It was much harder to hold the stern mother's look that usually worked so well, when it was directed at my own mother.
"But nothing." I didn't let her argue. "You did plenty earlier, so everything is mostly finished now. And Victoria is taking care of the pies."
She looked over to where Victoria was topping her second pie with a lattice crust.
I smiled seeing the astonished look on Julia's face, from one of her grandchildren working in the kitchen, and returned my attention to the cutting board before me.
After a minute, Julia sighed heavily and collapsed into the kitchen chair. "You're going to spoil me."
A quick glance told me that she was forcing the grumbling tone. It was impossible to miss the gratitude that she felt at the chance to sit down for a change.
"Good," I said. "You do too much as it is."
When I looked up and met her eyes, I knew she understood that I wasn't just talking about being in the kitchen too much.
"Why don't the girls help out with cooking and chores?" I asked, easing into the subject. That wasn't quite my biggest concern, but it was one of them. After all, the idea wasn't new to Julia. Jenny and I used to help her all the time when we were girls.
"Well, Ruby..." She stopped, glancing at Victoria, probably not wanting to badmouth her cousin in front of her.
"Well, you know." She looked back at me with a wry smile.
I nodded, understanding completely. Ruby would be more trouble than any help she would provide.
"And what about Emily?" Emily was much better behaved than her sister was, and she was certainly old enough to at least assist Julia.
Julia laughed. "That girl had best marry a man who can afford a cook! She's a complete disaster in the kitchen. Burns everything she touches."
Victoria giggled from behind me and I bit back a smile.
"The chores then," I refused to be side-tracked.
"Emily helps out around the house," she nodded. "And Matthew helps John, most days."
"And Ruby?" I raised an eyebrow, already guessing the answer.
"Like her mother, that one." Julia signed. "Only without your father's determination to keep her in line. Whenever I've tried to get her to do anything she doesn't want to do, she whines and carries on. Or like just now, she runs to John who gives her whatever she wants."
"I noticed." I frowned and went back to my chopping. "Have you tried talking to him?" John knew exactly how strong-willed and manipulative Jenny could be. Surely he saw those same traits in her daughter.
"A few times," she nodded. "But whenever I bring it up, he makes excuses for her behavior. He feels guilty."
"What ever for?" I looked up, astonished.
"Oh, everything. You know what he's like."
I did know. Thomas was the same way, taking responsibility for things he couldn't control.
"He feels responsible for Jenny," she said. "That it was his fault, her having a child at her age."
"She wasn't very old." I protested. Jenny was only a little passed thirty when she died.
"I know," she nodded. "But the doctor warned her that he didn't feel that she was strong enough after Ruby. He wanted to do some surgery, but of course Jenny wouldn't have it. Thought she wouldn't be whole. John blames himself for not making her go through with it."
I looked down. This was the first time I'd heard any of this. It was just like Jenny to be pig-headed enough not to listen to the doctor, and then to want to keep it from even me. And of course, John was taking all the blame for it upon himself.
"He feels guilty that Ruby doesn't have a mother," Julia said. "So he spoils her."
"She doesn't need pity." I looked up. "She needs love and boundaries."
"I know she does." Julia nodded, taking a sip of her tea.
"Why doesn't he remarry?" As soon as I said it, I was surprised by how much I wanted to take it back.
It was the logical solution. It had been five years since Jenny died. John wasn't very old and he had children to raise. In fact, he was still young enough to have more children if he wanted to. But something about the idea just bothered me.
It wasn't jealousy. I was in love with Andrew and we had a happy marriage. I hadn't thought romantically about John for a very long time. For some reason, though, the idea of seeing him marry someone else, just didn't set well.
I suppose I felt somewhat territorial where John was concerned. I probably always would. It had been one thing to see him with Jenny, who I loved. Anyone else just wouldn't be good enough for him. And I couldn't imagine that he'd find anyone with the determination and nerve to control Ruby.
"He says he'll never marry again." Julia pulled me from my thoughts. "Says once was enough."
I felt selfish about being happy to hear that. It made me feel better, but it left some problems without solutions. Ruby needed a mother, and Julia needed to not have to fill in as one any longer.
"No sense in worrying about that now," she said. "It's not changing at the moment, and I have a feeling the men are going to be breaking down the door any minute for their supper."
I half-smiled, not feeling any better about all of this.
"I suppose you're right." I resumed my chopping and allowed the subject to drop. "We wouldn't want our poor men to starve. And on Christmas Eve, of all days."
I was still worried about Julia, but she was right. There wasn't anything to do about it right now. Besides, I knew she didn't like focusing on her own problems. Especially ones without a foreseeable solution.
I'm sorry. I know the chapters have been coming slowly, but I promise, they will keep coming. Hopefully a little more quickly now :) Had a bit of writter's block along with other things demanding my time.