"You were right," I breathed, watching as Elvira and her brother disappeared around the corner. "She is stunning."
"She's a beauty," he agreed and handed me the box of scrap iron to melt down. "What will you be wearing this evening?" he added, keeping a good eye on me.
This was only my second time melting down scrap and I was nervous. Last time it had been tin and it didn't take long for melted tin to be all over the ground. It was incredibly embarrassing. Iron was more expensive so I did my best to keep my hands steady.
"I don't have anything fancy," I answered, "so it will probably just be my cleanest and neatest pieces of clothing." I sighed when the bucket was empty and we waited for the iron to melt. "I just wish little Megan had something better to wear."
"I've offered to help you buy a dress," he said but I shook my head.
"Thank you but I want to earn it. What Megan hasn't gotten she will not miss."
He smiled sadly at me. "Now, once that iron's melted down we're going to turn it into foot long bars. It's easier to sell it that way."
I nodded and bit my lower lip. I lifted the bowl carefully from the forge and carried it to the molds he had created. Holding my breath, I poured the melted iron into each mold Ivan had made.
"Very good!" he praised and I beamed as I put the bowl down and he handed me a bucket. "Haul some water up here to clean the bowl out."
"Yes, sir," I said and went down to the edge of the water.
There was a well pump right by the forge but it was at Ivan's insistence that I do the extra leg work until I became perfectly comfortable with all parts of my job. Sometimes the pump wouldn't work and we needed to have the muscles in our arms and our legs to make sure we could make the trek without problems.
While I walked, I thought of Elvira. She was a lovely young woman and I briefly entertained the idea of holding her hand. That was a silly daydream, though, for I was incredibly poor and she was incredibly beautiful. It was a nice one, though.
"Come on," Megan whined, pulling on my arm. "We're going to be late!"
I laughed at my 6 year-old sister's enthusiasm.
"I'm just making sure I have everything, silly," I said, ruffling her brown hair.
She giggled and I held her hand as we walked up the streets, following the other party guests to the estate. It was very nice of Lady Rivers to extend an invitation to us for a special party. Megan swung our arms as we walked and I smiled fondly at her.
Megan had only been two years old when our parents perished in a fire. Following my father's orders, I went into the house for Megan while he went in for Mother. Neither of our parents made it and now it was just the two of us. We struggled for a while until I came here to River Springs and took up an apprenticeship under Ivan. His wife, Candace, was a nice woman who loved Megan greatly. We were staying with them until I earned enough money to buy a home.
"I'm so excited!" Megan said, starting to skip.
She was in a grey dress. It wasn't exactly elegant but it looked beautiful on her and I wanted to make sure that she understood that: No matter what the price, if it makes you happy then it's worth it. Though some would disagree, beauty and happiness walk hand-in-hand on the road of life. True, there were times where beauty would go left and happiness would go right, but eventually they would meet again.
"Do you think that pretty lady will be there?" she asked and I laughed.
"It's her house, silly," I said. "Of course she will!"
She giggled and gasped. "Look!"
The house was large. It was two stories tall and very wide. I could tell they had many rooms. It was surrounded by a stone fence with a gate at the entrance. The path up to it was gravel and I knew it would feel uncomfortable under Megan's feet so I lifted her comically. She squealed in delight as I skipped along the path, making the assembly laugh.
I didn't care what it took. Megan would be happy.
When we got to the stone stairs, I let her walk again. Now she was looking nervous and wrapped her thin arms around my waist. I put a reassuring hand on the back of her head. Men were directing us into a large room that resembled a dining room. Tables lined the walls with a lot of food and drinks. In the center of the room, the family was mingling with guests.
I recognized Bryant and Elvira. I assumed the woman standing with them was their mother. She was a little taller than Elvira and had black hair, too. Her eyes were blue, though, and looked a little unkind. I refused to pass judgement, though, until I met her myself.
"Are you hungry?" I asked the girl still clinging to me for dear life.
"Yes," she nodded and I led her to the nearest table. She gasped. "Look, Tommy! They have chocolate!"
I laughed. "Indeed they do. Let's get some turkey in you first, though. How does that sound?"
She pouted. "Okay. But you promise I'll get chocolate?"
I beamed and ruffled her hair. "I promise."
She stopped walking and held out her pinky. I looped mine around hers and we kissed our thumbs. She giggled and held my hand as I made a plate for her. While she ate, I munched on some carrots, keeping an eye on her. I wanted to make sure she actually finished what was on her plate. I was so focused on her, I didn't notice the woman come up to me.
"Hello," a breathy voice said and I looked up. It was Bryant and Elvira's mother. "My name is Theresa Rivers. I am the Lady of this estate."
I bowed. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Lady Rivers. I am Thomas Buckley and this is my youngest sister, Megan Buckley."
Megan beamed and reached out to shake her hand. Lady Rivers stared at her messy hand and I cleared my throat, snatching a napkin and cleaned it quickly. Megan just giggled as Lady Rivers shook her hand somewhat reluctantly.
"You're always making me be clean," Megan whined.
"Yes, as your brother it is my terrible obligation," I sighed and she smiled.
"Thank you for the party!" Megan said, bouncing a little. "I've never been to such a fancy house before!"
"It is lovely," I agreed and Lady Rivers beamed at our compliments.
"Well, enjoy your time."
She walked off to talk to the next group of people.
"Now can I have chocolate?" Megan asked, showing me her mostly empty plate.
I laughed. "Eat some more of that broccoli and you can."
"I hate broccoli," she complained.
"You know, I used to hate it also." We looked up. Elvira was walking over with a small plate and smiled at Megan. "The my brother showed me something wonderful to put on it."
"What?" Megan asked eagerly. "Is it chocolate?"
Elvira just laughed and, from a bowl on her plate, spooned a thick white sauce onto Megan's plate. Megan looked at it doubtfully. Lately she'd been going through the phase where her food had to be a certain color.
"Just dip your broccoli into it like so," Elvira instructed, "and eat it. It's delicious."
"Give it a try," I insisted when Megan looked at me nervously.
"You try it," she said, thrusting the plate up at me.
I laughed and did. Personally, the dressing was a little too strong for me but I smiled anyway. This child was not going to have chocolate without eating her greens.
She still looked doubtful but dipped a piece of broccoli in the dressing and ate it.
"Oh! This is great!" she cried and Elvira giggled.
"Thank you," I said as I put a brownie and a chocolate candy onto Megan's plate. "She's been picky about her greens lately."
Elvira smiled, watching as Megan stuffed her face. "She's a lovely young girl. How old is she?"
"I'm six!" she piped up, holding up seven fingers which made Elvira laugh.
"And will be a handful when we get home," I said under my breath but I smiled.
"Look! Little kids like me!" she gasped. "Can I go play?"
I looked at Elvira who nodded. "We have games set aside for the little ones," she said. "Follow me."