Chapter Eight

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A quick wash in a tub of freezing water made me shiver. I hurried to dry off with the one small towel I had been given, but my skin still felt wet as I struggled into my new winter underwear. I stood for a long moment next to the small, pot-bellied stove in the corner, the room's only source of heat. I sighed and threw another log into it, grateful that Mr. Best said heat was also included with the room rental. I wondered if he'd have charged another tenant for the wood, but either way, I was grateful for his kindness.

My lungs ached from the cold. I reached into my backpack and grabbed my inhaler, shaking it and taking two puffs. This one was almost empty, but fortunately I'd picked up a new one at the pharmacy the day before all this craziness started, and it was still in my pack. It should last me, if I were careful, until I was able to get back on New Year's Eve. Assuming, of course, the wormhole, and the Aurelia Belle, were running on schedule this time.

I pulled on my new pants, shirt, and socks, then moved down the hall into the small kitchen, where I found Mr. Best wearing an apron over his work clothing and stirring a pot on the stove. It was a beautiful appliance and reminded me of the one I'd seen in the Stationmaster's house back at Wishing Cross Historical Village. I remembered the woman there saying it was the top of the line and would only be owned by someone who made a very comfortable income for the time.

"You'll have to forgive me, I'm still learning how to cook for myself." He looked at me sheepishly. "She's been gone two years now. You'd think that I'd have managed to learn more from those recipe books of hers. But no matter what I do, the food never seems to taste the same."

He glanced toward the table then, and my eyes followed the path set by his. In the middle sat an incredibly lifelike portrait of a lovely woman I could only imagine was the 'she' in question, the woman who must have been his wife. My focus turned to his left hand, in which he held the spoon he was using to stir the food. Upon it there was still a thin, gold wedding band. She was gone, but clearly he still hadn't let her go.

Women didn't seem to live very long in this time, I noticed. I'd been all over town, and of all the people I had come across, I'd only seen one woman old enough to have gray hair: Mrs. Wilson.

He noticed as my attention returned to the drawing. "She was a beautiful woman, in appearance and in spirit. My favorite subject to draw."

"You drew this?" I gestured toward the image. "It's amazing."

"You're very kind, but with such inspiration to work from, you can hardly go wrong." He looked away again. "I haven't figured out yet just what I'm supposed to do without her."

"I'm sorry."

"We had twenty happy years...longer than a lot of people get. I was lucky," he said, sounding as though he was trying to convince himself as he spoke. "Very lucky."

I didn't want to upset him any further, so I changed the subject. "What is it you're making?"

"Vegetable stew of sorts. They just got a shipment in at the General Store. I don't much care for meat that isn't fresh. The dried out stuff they sell is worse than no meat at all in my estimation." He reached into the cupboard and brought out a cutting board, then turned to another and retrieved a loaf of bread. "Afraid I'm out of butter, but this goes pretty well with the stew gravy. At least, it did when Sarah made it."

He sliced a few pieces, then left the rest of the loaf on the board as well, and placed it on the table.

"Can I try something?" I asked, gesturing toward the stove. I was no gourmet, but I'd done my fair share of cooking in the last year and a half under Grandfather's watchful eye. "Probably just needs a little salt. Do you have any?"

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