Trista felt a little sick as she watched Gaelin walk away. She didn’t understand what had happened to him today, but she squared her shoulders. Good Riddance. Maybe now I can take a bath and wash my clothing. But he isn’t gone for good, he will be back before too long. She didn’t know what would bring him back. She had no illusions that any fondness for her would make him return. Maybe Dion though. He didn’t just leave that bread for me. And something else may turn him back. The spell will hold somehow. The spirits will see to this. With a strange mix of satisfaction and resignation in her knowledge of her companion’s imminent return, she hummed and reassured Dion.
“Don’t worry, little squirrel. He is only going on a trip. He will be back sometime.”
“Back?” his tear-stained face was hopeful.
“Yes…Daddy will come back.”
Trista didn’t know why she called Gaelin that, for Dion. She had done it the day before because Gaelin had obviously told Dion to call her Mommy. She now wondered if he had been making fun of her and their situation that time too. I guess I just want him to feel like he has a daddy. That is more important.
Dion slid out of her arms to the ground. “Have to pee.” he said. She took his pants off and shooed him away, telling him to go do it himself. She figured that he could learn that well enough on his own. It isn’t like there was any great science to it without pants to worry about. She smiled, remembering memories of seeing her little sibling run around as toddlers with little or nothing on. A privilege of the young. For us older and wiser ones, we have to wait until there is no one to see. For them, they don’t realize that they have anything to hide.
She kept an eye on him while she began preparing food and feeding the fire, feeling a little like a dog-owner waiting for her charge to relieve itself in the yard. When he was done, she left him alone for a little then called him. She replaced his trousers and gave him the rest of the bread to eat. Soon the oatmeal was done and she divided it between them. While they were eating, she made a decision.
“We are going to go swimming in the stream today.”
Dion perked up at once, and she kept a steady chatter going with him through the rest of the meal. He asked her about the lobsters, and pebbles. She had to keep reminding him to eat, but when he was done, he darted out of the door and ran toward the top of the sloping path to the stream until she called him sharply to stop. When he had stopped, she quickly gathered the dishes and went to meet him.
“You were good to stop and wait, Dion. You must always wait for me or Daddy before leaving the house.” She wasn’t sure if he was really paying attention, but she had already guessed that this lesson would need repeating before it was learned. I just hope that it will be learned before he finds trouble, and not trouble from a protective parent. The stream will be a good place to begin safety training.
The reached the stream quickly, Dion skipping by her side. She noted that a trail was already beginning to be worn through the forest along their usual route. Leading Dion downstream to the pool, she reminded him again to not go near the water without her or Daddy. Reaching the pool, she set the dishes down and slipped her shoes off.
“Stay right there Dion.” Trista warned him, then lowered herself into the cold water, fully clothed. The stream was two feet deep next to the shore. Wading further out, she tested the current, then sat down in the water. She shivered and shuddered as the water found its way through or past her clothing to her skin. The current tugged on her, but not very hard. She could swim against it, even in her clothing, with a slow, steady sidestroke. She swam to the shore and called Dion to her.
“Are you ready to swim?” She reached over and pushed him gently onto his bottom so she could take his shoes off. She tossed them near hers and tugged him to his feet. He hesitated on the bank in his sock feet, looking doubtfully at the water. It probably looked a lot deeper to him than it did to her.
“Come on, it feels good. Do you want to jump in? I’ll catch you.” Trista held out her arms invitingly.
Finally, Dion screwed his courage up and jumped off the bank into her arms. She caught him and lowered him into the water. He squealed and kicked when his feet splashed into the water. Trista giggled and bounced him in and out of the water. When he seemed more accustomed to the cold water, she set him down on the bottom. He stood uneasily in the water, as it was a little higher than his belly. When she took her hand off him he turned and grabbed some grass growing on the bank.
“Aw, come on you little sissy. I’ll teach you how to be a fish.” Trista glided up to him and put an arm around his waist to half-lift and half-pull him into the deeper part of the stream. He clung to her like a burr as the water rose to his shoulders. Talking to him all the while, she pried him off her body and transferred him to her arm. She finally had him with both his hands on her arm, as she held her arm out in the stream, away from her. She told him to kick his feet and splash. When he did this, she would pull him through the water as if he was swimming. After her arm got tired, she switched arms and decided to teach him another skill. She put her mouth below the water and sipped some, then spat it at him. He found this game very fun, and before long he was ducking behind her arm and dipping his face into the water to avoid her shots. After a couple attempts, and a lot of coughing after those failed attempts, he was filling his own mouth with water to spit back.
Trista laughed with him and felt warm with their game and her success. The clever little boy was already learning things that she had seen other three-year-olds take weeks and several classes to learn: how to kick and how to put his face in the water. Soon, she would teach him to blow bubbles under water and hold his breath. When he knew how to hold his breath, she would teach him to float.
When she felt Dion begin to shiver, she helped him kick his way over to the bank and stood him up in the shallow water. He stood up confidently now, which was a big help as she began undressing him. When she had his socks, pants, and shirt in her hands, she lifted him out of the stream and told him to wait for the sun to dry him. She spread his clothing on the warm grass to let them dry.
The sun shone down on the boy and his caretaker. The young woman gazed around her, noting every detail. She closed her eyes and stretched her other senses to listen and smell. She took in her world, deliberately relaxed, and began slipping out of her clothing. First her shirt was wrung out and laid on the bank, then her bra. She had to get out of the stream to find a place for her jeans, then her panties went next to them. A very slight breeze raised good bumps on her bare, wet skin, but the sun warmed her and smoothed them down as she stood on the bank. She noticed the dishes nearby, and gathered them to wash. She did not get back into the water, but instead lay down beside the pool and reached in to rinse the bowls, spoons, and pot.
The more time she spent there in near that peaceful stream, waiting for her clothing to dry, the more comfortable she became. She felt at home with the woods and water. Her little boy, Dion, paid no mind to her state of dress. She helped him gather pinecones and built forts from them for him to knock down. Later, they tossed the pinecones into the water and watched them float down river like a flotilla of squat little boats. The time seemed to pass quickly to Trista. She began to feel hungry. When she caught Dion attempting to eat an old acorn, (“But Mommy, squirrels eat nuts,”) she got dressed and helped Dion into his clothing, promising that they would eat soon if he got dressed quickly.
When they got near the cabin, Trista couldn’t help but wonder if Gaelin would be back yet. Dion apparently had the same idea, as he tugged his hand from hers and ran to the door to look in. He came back, looking disappointed.
“Daddy not back.”
“He will be soon.”
But Gaelin did not return that afternoon or evening, though both of them watched for his return as they went about their business. Trista pondered making her jeans into a knee length skirt. It would be easier to move in and quicker to wash and dry, but it would also provide less protection from briars, insects, snakes, and the like. Perhaps Gaelin will have some idea of what would be best.
Evening became night and Trista sat up a little longer by the fire’s glow than she would have otherwise. She told herself that she was just tired from the morning’s swim and the long, quiet afternoon’s work.