Big Thanks to Dar for beta reading this for me... *written for Ike/Noah "Give a Little Respect" Contest - nonjudged entry*
“Oh, deary me...” Sister Sophia clucked underneath her breath as she passed by the young boy sitting outside Sister Margaretta’s office, “looks like a wee little lost lamb.”
Sister Helena shook her head. “A wolf in lamb’s clothing if you ask me, that one is a handful.”
The two passed by, but it was Sister Sophia that turned back and caught his curious look. His shock gave way when she smiled at him.
She smiled… at me?
He swung his feet under the bench, watching as one foot then the other peaked out past his knees. Knees that were less than clean, which, he had to admit, was pretty much like the rest of him.
‘It didn’t really matter much’, he thought, ‘clean or not it’s not like anyone really cared.’
“Young man, come in here!”
He stood and hung his head as he shuffled inside her office. He didn’t need to look up to see Sister Margaretta’s expression. This was the third time he’d been called into her office and it was Tuesday. She was furious. He could hear it in her voice and the way her fingernails drummed on the hard wood of her desk.
“Really, now, what a little barbarian we have here.” She gave a long suffering sigh. “I truly don’t know what we are to do with you, boy. Look at me.”
He snapped his head up and looked at her, her dark eyes narrowed as she stared back.
“I can’t have you disrupting your classes; do you want to grow up as an ignorant fool?”
He shook his head.
“Then what are we to do? I’m at the end of my proverbial rope with you…” her head hung down from her shoulders until he could only see the black of her veil rather than her face. “I’m wondering if you wouldn’t be better somewhere else.”
That got his attention. She wanted him gone. His heart changed places with his stomach and his hands started to shake. He didn’t want to leave… he just wanted to… just wanted to…
“Excuse me,” Sister Sophia peered in through the open door way and caught sight of the other Sister with her heard nearly on her desk, “Excuse me, Sister Margaretta?”
“What is it now, Sister?”
“I was wondering, if you would be agreeable of course, I am having such problems in the kitchen… really, I’m quite sure that I would have had adequate time on my own, however the chickens got out of their coop and I just spent the last half hour chasing them out of the vegetables…”
He tried to imagine himself the size of gnat. Perhaps then, his guilt would be less obvious.
“… and now, if I am unable to bake the bread for the evening meal everything will certainly be ruined!” The older woman beat her clenched fists against her expansive bosom with great relish and drama. “I beg your assistance, Sister Margaretta, I beg you!”
“Well, certainly you don’t expect that I would be able to take time from my duties to help in the kitchens?” Sister Margaretta rose from her chair, her face flushed with exertion. “I am too busy, yes, entirely too busy to do something as menial as…”
“Oh, but Sister Margaretta, I would never assume that you would be able to spare the time….” Sister Sophia reached out a hand and clamped it down on his shoulder as he tried to slip past her into the hall, “I’m sure that this young man is available to help-”
“Oh, I don’t think so, Sister,” she gave him a sharp angry look, “he’s filthy! Look at him! He’ll soil the dough, put it to waste… I guarantee-”
Sister Sophia spun him toward the door calling over her shoulder. “Oh, I’m sure you’re right, Sister Margaretta, he’ll be a wonderful help to me, just you wait and see.”
Once they were a few steps into the hallway he tried to make a run for it, but found his collar pulled an inch or two into the air. “Oh no, you’re not goin’ to be walkin’ away so easily, Son.” She slowly moved him toward the kitchens. “You and I are going to be busy until supper and I’ll brook no complaints.” A moment later she was herding him through the door leading to the courtyard.
Confused, he looked up at her over his shoulder. She gave a little chuckle, her face soft and warm, “You didn’t think I was going to take you into the kitchen with grime from the coop all over your body, did you?”
She waved off his frightened look, “I know it was you, son, but that means naught to me if we are able to finish our task of providing the bread for the evening meal.” She stopped before the pump and let go of his shirt to apply both hands to the pump. It gave a mighty groan as though the water might be fighting for its freedom.
He drew back a horrified look on his face. Sister Sophia let out a peal of laughter. “Oh deary me, boy… don’t be afraid, child… it’s not going to swallow you whole.” She nodded to the now steady stream, “go ahead and wash your hands, we’re going to need to get started.”
Leaning his head as far away from the water as he could, he plunged his hands into the water. It took a second for it to register how cold the water was and his jaws locked together with a hiss.
“Oh, sorry… it can be a bit cold.” She let go of the pump handle and showed him how to shake of his hands, rather than wipe them on his clothes. The walked the few steps into the kitchen door and Sister Sophia pointed out the central table. “That’s where we’ll get started.”
She rigged up one of the aprons hanging from the wall to fit his smaller body, tying the straps in a large, rather cumbersome bow behind his back. Craning his neck, he couldn’t really see it, but it felt huge.
Sister Sophia was already at work with her hands in the dough. “Go ahead and just get in there…” she turned the dough and pushed at the lump with the heel of her hand, “it’s not about doing it with finesse, boy, it’s about getting the dough mixed up enough, so you can’t hurt it.”
It was another second and then he shrugged his shoulders and pushed his hands into the pale colored mess on the table.
That day as the children sat down to their evening meal, there was one child seated against the wall his eyes half closed, nearly asleep before the food even came to the table. Still, when the platter of bread clattered on the table he couldn’t wait to grab a piece and spread it with a little bit of butter. That was how Sister Sophia found the boy, a piece of buttered bread in his hand; his cheek cushioned on his other hand, asleep on the table.
* * * *
Emma leaned in over his shoulder, “Thanks for your help today, Ike.” She looked over the table and noticed the nearly empty tray where two fresh loaves had stood a few minutes before. “Are you sure you don’t want me to tell them you made the bread?”
Ike looked around the table, listening to the friendly conversation and how it all drowned out the bad memories of his childhood. He had good friends and even better, the start of a real family.
He shook his head and pointed at Emma. **you**
“Whatever you want, Ike.” She smiled, “I don’t mind them thinking it was mine, especially if you teach me how to make such heavenly bread.” He held out his hand and she took it with a friendly shake. “Deal.”