Several weeks passed and the agonizing pain from muscles overused had ended. With filling meals and hard work, Alexia noticed her strength increasing daily. Her ribs no longer stood out like some macabre living skeleton. Although the work days were long,she didn't mind. She knew how lucky she was in comparison to the other prisoners. Deacon Waller had informed her that most had been sent to the Caribbean to work on plantations. Others were sent to an iron mill. She had been lucky indeed. The Wallers were fair folk, never abusing their servants. As to Allen, he was tough but fair, never once raising his voice. He was a patient man who took pride in his craft. He explained each step, the reasons behind them, never allowing for shoddy work.
At the moment, she was hammering out nails to use in building. It was tiring, boring work, but much needed. Repairs had to be completed before the coming winter. She finished yet another nail and dropped it into a wooden bucket at her feet. Taking a breather, she stepped over to the well and took a drink with the ladle from the waiting bucket. Leaning against the stone well, she gazed into the field behind the house.
Lydia was hanging laundry. Alexia sighed. The young woman was standoffish, never once smiling or greeting her. Allen had noticed her futile attempts at being friendly rebuffed and slapped her back in sympathy. It seemed Lydia allowed no one close to her. The blacksmith could see the longing in the lad's eyes, and reminded him that indentured servants couldn't even marry without their master's blessing. The red haired lad had only nodded sadly.
Allen rubbed his rough chin and pondered a bit. The boy didn't eye the girl with lust, but with something else. He remembered once when he was a mere boy himself, watching the daughter of the cook as she helped in the kitchens. The smallest of smiles would brighten his day. A simple greeting would make happiness bubble up inside of him. Recalling those more innocent times, he could feel for the lad. He could see no harm in them finding companionship or even a fledgling romance. Both were quite young and Allen doubted the boy would be ready for marriage any time soon. Plotting in his mind, he grinned as an idea came to him.
"Lad, I think you need to have Lydia make you a few new shirts. You're growing quickly, and those you have are getting too small. Tell her I asked for them to be made," he advised the lad. He gave Alex a prod to the back of his pants with his boot and grinned as the young man left eagerly to speak to the seamstress.
The young woman was just finishing with hanging the wet clothing on the strung rope when Alexia approached her. She stood to the side, patiently waiting until she finished and acknowledged her. Lydia picked up her basket and only spared the tall redhead a glance as she stepped past the apprentice. Disappointed inside, she still needed to ask for the shirts and chased after her.
"Lydia? Mr. Holts told me to come to ye. He would like ye to make me two new shirts, for these are growing too small." Pride stopped him from saying more. After being rebuffed too many times, he was reluctant to be disappointed more.
The young woman sighed and told him to come inside. Carefully wiping his boots on the woven mat outside the door and removing his dirty leather apron, he entered the house. She fetched her sewing chest and returned, placing it on the table. She took out a measuring tape and told him to stand up straight and stay still.
Her warm hands settled on his shoulders as she measured their width. Alexia felt a pleasurable chill pimple the back of her neck. The hands moved away as though on fire. Alexia heard the girl's breathing change. Had she felt it too? Lydia didn't say anything for almost a minute, then her curt voice told her to hold her arms out. Trembling hands measured their length.
Alexia turned her head, gazing at the beauty's face. She saw that Lydia's face was strained, the first real emotion ever seen on her features. She watched as Lydia nervously wound up the tape.
"Why are you afraid of me Lydia? Have I done something to frighten you?" she dared to whisper.
"I am not afraid of you Mr. Browne," she said defiantly.
Alexia took her shaking hand in her own. Lydia tried to pull it away but Alexia's strong hand kept a gentle hold of it. "Then why do ye tremble Lydia?" The young woman looked on the verge of panic. "Lydia, look at me, please." Amber eyes rose to her own. "Do ye see someone who would harm ye in these eyes?" she asked softly.
Lydia stopped struggling to break free as their eyes remained locked. "Nay," she managed to whisper.
"Thank ye lass." Alexia raised the woman's hand to her lips and placed the softest of kisses on the knuckles. She allowed Lydia to step back and regain her composure. The apprentice turned and left the house.
Alexia sighed, tired and hot from a long days work. She removed her waist coat and shirt. Washing at the basin, she removed the grime of the day. The cool water felt good in the summer heat and the redhead didn't bother drying off. Laying down on her bed, she decided to nap before dinner.
The apprentice didn't hear the light knock on her door. Neither did she hear it open. Someone stood over her bed in shock, staring down at the sleeping young woman. It wasn't until an outraged palm struck her cheek did she waken.
Green eyes opened wide and saw two furious amber eyes glaring down at her. Lydia! Realizing her secret was out, she could only lie there stunned.
"Serpent! Liar! You approach me with sweet words and soft eyes and all this time you are a woman?" Lydia was breathing hard, fueled by rage.
"Lydia, please!" Alexia didn't know exactly what she was asking for. Forgiveness, understanding, perhaps even for silence. Tears fell from her eyes and her shoulders slumped in defeat.
The seamstress stood there silent for long minute, then carefully sat down next to her on the bed, her anger gone for now. Lydia had heard Alex Browne's tale. How he survived battle, famine, and the long voyage to reach Boston. Now he…she, sat huddled and broken. Without thought, her hand reach out and stroked the bare skin of her back. Her touch tore a sob from the tormented woman. Lydia's heart went out to someone for the first time in her isolated life.
She drew Alex into her arms and held her as she wept. Never had she heard such pain pour out from someone before.
Alexia couldn't stop crying. Everything she had held back for the last year came gushing out. Her family's death, the war, the hardships, and most of all, her intense loneliness since Donald's death. It took a long time for the tears to taper off. Numb from her bout of tears, she clung to the young woman holding her. The borderer could hear the beating of Lydia's heart where her cheek rested. A warm hand played with her hair. Now losing herself in the comforting embrace, her body sagged limply against her.
"Do you wish to speak of it?" Lydia asked kindly.
"Nay, but I owe ye an explanation," she sighed and sat up. Reaching down, she found her crumpled shirt and put it on, hiding her small breasts. Leaning forward and staring at her hands, she told the listening seamstress of the last year of her life. The young woman never spoke and allowed her to speak uninterrupted.
Lydia never doubted a word of the story. It was told too simply to be a lie. As the tale progressed, she felt a strong admiration for the woman/child next to her. Few could have survived as she did against such odds. Now, the only unanswered question was why did the redhead try to woo her. Was it part of the pretence to hide what she was? Lydia was afraid to ask.
As Alex—Alexia, finished her tale, Lydia felt almost as numb as the teller.
"Are you going to reveal my secret Lydia?" Alex asked nervously.
"I…nay, I know I should, but can not bring myself to do so." She knew in her heart she could never do anything to hurt her further. "In your own way, you are an outcast like I am," she confessed before she could stop the words from escaping.
Lydia sighed. "Yes, because of my mixed heritage. You haven't lived in the Colonies long enough to know how people feel about the Indians. I'm sure you heard the gossip about me. How my mother took one look at my dark skin and hair and died, unable to bear the shame. One of the Pilgrim families raised me out of duty, but they never allowed me to forget how I killed my mother. I have tainted blood and can never atone for the sin of my birth. "
The Scot sat silently and considered what she had been told. Following her heart, it took little time to know how she felt. "Lydia, ye are a bonnie lass. Children don't ask to be born, it just happens. It's part of God's will. If He dinna want ye to exist, ye wouldn't. It's not man's right to judge what He creates."
Lydia's upbringing almost made her condemn the young woman. What she spoke of would have the founding fathers and ministers in religious outrage if they heard it, yet she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. She wanted to believe God loved her as she was. Grateful for the kind words, she took the redhead's hands in her own and leaned forward to press a light kiss to Alexia's cheek, who promptly blushed.
A knock on the door just before it opened started both of them. Mrs. Waller strolled in and caught the two young people as they sat there holding hands. Both of them looked at her in embarrassment and broke apart. Abigail took in the fact both were fully dressed and it didn't appear to be nothing more than young love and cow eyes going on. But Lydia should have known better than to be alone in a young man's room. It wasn't proper. She would speak to her privately later.
"Well, it seems I interrupted unwittingly," she said with a kind smile.
"We weren't doing anything but speaking Mrs. Waller, on my honor!" Alexia protested, not wanting Lydia to get into trouble. She raised her hand to stop any further explanations.
"I'm sure that was all it was young Mr. Browne. If I thought otherwise, I would be dragging Lydia from this room and bringing you to my husband to be whipped. BUT, I am also sure that the two of you will practice better judgment in the future." Both heads nodded in relief.
"If you wish to court Lydia, I will speak to Mr. Waller about allowing it, " she said helpfully. The two did make a lovely couple. When Alex took over his duties as the blacksmith, he would need a wife to settle him down. In spite of the seamstress' background, she was a good girl who worked hard.
Alexia blushed even a deeper red at her words. She needed to speak privately with Lydia about this, but she could tell Mrs. Waller wanted an answer. Gazing into Lydia's eyes, she saw compassion and kindness. Perhaps they could pretend to court for a while, then ease away from it, claiming they didn't suit. Everyone would be satisfied and Alexia would at least get to spend some time with the young woman.
"If ye would please Mrs. Waller," she asked bashfully.
Pleased that she had some small role in their future, she reminded them dinner was about to be served and left the small room.
"I'm sorry, I dinna ken what else to do. Now that ye ken my secret, I willna fault ye for rejecting my suit."
Lydia wasn't sure how to ask her question, but she would try. "Do you…well, do you find…women attractive? I mean, did you pursue me to hide what you were, or…" she was at a loss.
"In Scotland, I never had a boy who interested me. I never had girlish dreams of marrying. It was something expected, but I dinna hope for it. When I was in that army camp, the men hired a…" Alexia was reluctant to speak of such matters in front of the pious girl, "they hired one of the women who follow army camps. They serviced the men's baser needs. In their eyes, I was a young lad who would probably die the next day and they dinna want me dying untried. Before I could say a word, I was pushed into a wee tent with her." Alexia didn't want to explain all that occurred, but wanted Lydia to know some of it.
"We did touch in that tent. Her hands were kind and soft. I should hae been shocked at what we were doing, but it felt wonderful. I felt cherished, if only for a wee bit. Never had I been touched like that in my life. The only time I recall my folks using their hands on me, it was to cuff me for some infraction."
"I'm not asking for more than friendship sweet Lydia. I ken understand how this would be seen in the eyes of others, but I ask that ye not be afraid of me. I'll not ask for what ye canna give," she promised.
The seamstress sighed and stood up. "Well, for the meantime, it seems we expected to spend time together. Now, if we don't go to the supper table, Mrs. Waller may decide we are performing some improper act out here." She held out her hand with a smile. "Escort me to supper Mr. Browne?"
The other members of the household watched the two as they spent time together when their duties permitted. Never again did they cause anyone to criticize their behavior. If they spoke privately, it was done as they sat on the bench under the willow tree in full view of the main house. Touching was limited to innocent hand holding. Most of the household thought them sweet.
Mr. Browne would occasionally bring in wildflowers and shyly hand them to the seamstress, who blushed prettily. They would share looks across the table, spend time reading aloud to one another in the kitchen, and visit the garden together.
Most of all, people nodded happily over the changes in the standoffish seamstress. She smiled often and joined in the chitchat amongst the other servants. The household seemed a happier place.
Alexia looked up and smiled as she spotted Lydia approaching with a tray. On it was a pitcher and two mugs. She smiled bashfully as their eyes met.
"I thought you and Mr. Holts would appreciate some cool cider on this hot day."
"I thank thee Miss Owens. We would indeed enjoy it," Allen said with a smile. He took the tray from her hands and placed it on a worktable. He hid a grin as he watched the youths smile at one another, the drinks forgotten.
Lydia hadn't dared visit Alexia while she worked before. She was amazed at how strong she looked. Her arms were quite powerful from the hard work she performed.The seamstress watched in fascination as Alexia confidently pounded the hot iron into a horse shoe. Once finished, she plunged the metal into a bucket of water, making it hiss.
"Is that difficult to do?" she asked, curious. Alex turned to face Mr. Holts and winked.
"Some would think so. Would ye care to try it?"
"May I?" she asked Allen. He nodded and forced back a grin. She allowed Alexia to place an apron upon her, tying the strings behind her. Alexia took a small amount of molten metal from the forge and placed it on the anvil.
"Pick up the hammer Lydia. I show you how it is done." Alexia bit her lip, trying not to laugh as Lydia struggled with the heavy tool. She stepped behind the petite lass and placed her hands over the seamstress'. Her arms now around her warm body, she did her best to concentrate on the lesson and not Lydia's sweet scent and how her own body longed for more. After several minutes of squeals and laughter, the lesson ended.
"I should return to my sewing. Thank thee for your lesson Mr. Browne."
"My pleasure Miss Owens," Alexia smiled.
Mr. Waller asked to speak with him. He was led into his private library, where he did his reading and paperwork for the farm.
"Mr. Browne, you have been with us nearly a year now. Master Holts informs me that you are a good apprentice and doing well."
"Thank ye sir."
"Our neighbors also speak well of you. You are polite, helpful, and quite skilled at shoeing. I'm sure you noticed how often our neighbors come to our farm rather than the blacksmith in town. Mr. Holts feels you should be quite capable of carrying on his work in three years. I know the contract is for another five years, but I have an idea."
Alexia didn't speak from experience. Jonathon Waller, once started, was hard to stop.
"You are nearly old enough to marry. I know you and Lydia have spent a great deal of time in one another's company. I am willing to grant you permission to wed. I would see the two of you content. In three years, Mr. Holts plans to retire and enjoy his golden years in England. The colonies never quite suited him. What say you Mr. Browne?"
Alexia sat there stunned, not knowing how to react. She needed to talk to Lydia desperately. This wasn't just spending time together anymore, this was real.
"I…Mr. Waller, I am stunned. Ye hae caught me in surprise. Ye already know that I am willing to take over his duties when he is ready, but marriage? I hae not even voiced that possibility with Lydia. I am not a freedman yet."
"Of course Mr. Browne, and that was quite proper of you. Why don't the two of you talk it over. I know the young woman is fond of you."
"We hae become good friends," she said, hoping to ease into him accepting them not marrying.
"Friends often make the best spouses," Jonathon said, his enthusiasm undimmed.
"Aye sir." She said in defeat. "I will speak to ye again. Thank ye."
"He what?! My God have mercy on us all, we can not wed Alexia! If your secret was found out, we'd both be doomed. Unwed, I can claim innocence as you told me to do, but I cannot claim it once married. Even a virgin like myself would know the difference between a man and a woman. What are we to do?"
"I dinna know Lydia. I canna think of a reason not to do so. We spend all of our time together. We've become good friends. We've never gotten around to ‘parting ways'.To refuse to wed would cause just as much trouble as exposing myself for what I am. I'm sorry sweet Lydia."
"You could claim that my mixed heritage was unacceptable," she suggested.
"Nay, I would not dishonor ye in that manner Lydia. Besides, if I were to say such a thing, people would gossip as to why I spent time with you. I can hear them now, ‘If she isn't good enough to wed, then what was he getting from her?' People would assume I had taken your virginity."
Lydia sighed, knowing she was correct.
"Lydia, we hae to wed, but hear me out, please! We will be verra careful. Later on, we could part in a way without shame to yerself. Ye could privately tell the magistrate that I am unable to function as a man. He would annul our marriage. I would not stand in yer way if ye met someone ye truly wished to marry."
Lydia forced back the tears that threatened to spill. In her heart, she wished Alexia was really a man. She was kind, thoughtful, and would make a good husband. She felt closer to the redhead than she could ever imagine. Sighing, she nodded in agreement.
Alexia looked towards the main house. "Do ye think ye could tolerate a show of affection from me? I think we need to put on a bit of show." Lydia agreed although she didn't ask for more details. She would trust Alexia to guide her.
They walked hand in hand towards the back door, quite aware of eyes peering through the curtains. A few yards from the house, she paused and turned to Lydia. She placed a trembling hand on her cheek and bent down and kissed her softly. It didn't last long, but Lydia had found the kiss enjoyable. Somewhat shaken by her feelings, she leaned towards her friend looking for comfort. Surrounded by strong arms, they held one another for a long moment before continuing to the house.
The people inside didn't need to know Lydia's answer. After the last year, they expected the couple to happily wed. Everyone gave them their best wishes, congratulating them on their future.
Jonathon Waller announced that he would have a small cottage built for the couple come spring, and would supply the funds for wedding bands and essentials needed for their home as his gifts to the happy couple. Alexia thanked him with proper appreciation for his kindness.
The next few months were a blur in Alexia's mind. He and Mr. Waller filed the legal paperwork for his renewed contract and his intent to marry. Their engagement was announced at the church, and although a few disapproved because of Lydia's background, most were genuinely pleased for the couple.
In addition to her normal duties, Alexia1 also helped with the building of their cottage. Exhausted, she had little energy remaining to spend with Lydia. The seamstress had been understanding, even when she had arranged for a picnic for them and Alexia fell asleep, her head upon her lap. The apprentice hadn't seen the indulgent look on her face at that moment. Nor was she aware of the hand that caressed her hair.
When the cottage was nearly finished, Lydia hung curtains she had sewn from the material given to her by Abigail. George had surprised them with some furniture he had made in secret, providing them with several chairs, a table, and a bed which included a well stuffed goose-feather mattress. Allen provided his apprentice with small iron stove he had managed to find. Along with it, he gave candlesticks and lamps he had made himself. Beth had traded her preserves and did extra work for neighbors to afford giving them linens and blankets.
Now complete, they needed only the wedding to move in. It was scheduled for Friday morning in the small village church.
It was done. It had been a flurry of activities and celebration throughout the day, but now they were alone. Alexia was holding her wife in her arms and shutting the cottage door with her boot. Lydia had her arms wrapped around her shoulders, still unsure the large woman had the strength to hold her securely. They laughed as Alexia spun her around and tossed her gently onto the bed.
The redhead crawled onto the soft bed and collapsed next to her, emotionally exhausted.
"Tis been a long day," she murmured to Lydia.
"We should go to sleep then," she suggested.
"Aye." Alexia agreed but didn't move. The long days had finally caught up to her. She dozed off but woke when she felt her boots being removed. She started to protest and sat up but Lydia shushed her. The continued removing her clothing. Next came the waistcoat that Lydia had embroidered for her. Her shirt was unbuttoned and brushed aside. Beneath it, Alexia wore bindings around her to hide the breasts that had bloomed.
Shyly, Lydia unwrapped them. She felt a blush pinken her cheeks as their bounty was revealed.
"Och, nothing can possibly feel better than breathing freely," she moaned. Lydia chuckled. She urged Alexia to stand. The redhead took over the job of removing her breeches. Now standing in nothing but her underclothing, she offered to help Lydia from her gown. The seamstress blushed but allowed it. Alexia unbuttoned it carefully and helped her step out of it. She spared a glance to her blushing bride and opened a drawer to find their nightshirts. She handed one to Lydia and politely turned her back, giving the young woman some privacy as they changed.
Each slipped beneath the coverlets of the bed and laid upon their backs, each staring up at the ceiling. The tension as great between them. Unable to withstand another second, Alexia complained.
"Och, this is silly. Just because we are married does it mean we must act it. Come here Lydia," she ordered, holding out her arm. Lydia looked uncertain. "Come, we are friends. Let us snuggled this night, for I hae always wanted to just hold ye close," she smiled.
The dark haired woman let out her held breath and moved closer, settling her head upon Alexia's broad shoulder. She felt a strong arm curl around her and warm lips nuzzle her hair. Her head rose and fell as Alexia took a deep breath and all the tension from the day eased away. Being held in this manner was unfamiliar, but Lydia became aware of the rightness of it. Her eyes closed and sleep overtook her.
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