It wasn't many days after that we got a visitor. A man and his grown son came down the road looking for Aunt Sarah's place. They were carting a wagon and in it was a coffin.
Turned out it held my uncle Earnest's remains, brought back from where he'd been buried in Cuba after the war a couple of years ago. The fellows were the Hannas. Said they were looking for a place to settle maybe. Only, the younger one, he wanted to live in town. He made me plumb weary, watching me like a coyote does a rabbit, ready to spring at any second. He was polite and all, and fairly nice-looking, but he was older than my oldest brother Clover, and I was too busy planning my wardrobe for college to mess with him. I thought of the younger Hanna as someone who might take an interest in Rebeccah, and as we held Uncle Earnest's little burial I clung to my sister's arm any time he came near, and I made sure my skinning knife was on my boot every last second.
Then in a couple of weeks, here came Aunt Sarah saying Mr. Hanna senior and she would like to take a buggy ride, and Mr. Hanna junior, Aubrey was his name, wished me to accompany them as the two younger of us would be their chaperones. Ma fetched me from the pecan barn and said to wash up, I had a caller. Pa shut down the rolling machine and put Ezra where I'd been standing at the sorting table.
This fellow I was to sit beside was mighty well-dressed and handsome in a city way. I reckon Ma and Pa trusted Aunt Sarah with their very lives and the lives of all of us, or perhaps things might have been different, but since I'd been asked for, I cleaned up my face and hands and put the work apron on a nail on the porch.
Of we went with a picnic Aunt Sarah had made, and we drove in her four-seat buggy down through the hills to a pretty area where we could see far and wide across the desert. Aubrey Hanna, sitting next to me, said, "Usually it's the young people who get chaperoned," and he smiled with a genuine and pleasant expression. I liked his marble white teeth and his bright eyes.
"That's what I've heard," I said.
"Are you cold? Sit closer to me and I'll cover us with this blanket."
I moved closer, but soon as I did it felt too close. Too near his whole self, as if he'd grown twice the size he'd been.
Mr. Hanna stopped the buggy, then he and Aunt Sarah got out to stretch their legs, walking up a hill. I moved back to where I'd been, but that place had been taken up suddenly by his big arm. Then after sitting quietly for a few minutes, it didn't seem so strange when that arm circled around me. It was nice. Comforting. I let out a deep breath I didn't know I'd been holding in, and when I did, Aubrey took my hand in his.
"I suppose you're spoken for," he said softly, his eyes trained on something in the distance.
"Me? No. No fellas around here to speak of, except my brothers and cousins."
He kept staring of, and I took the opportunity to study his features close up. He had different hair than I'd ever seen and smelled of finery and starched linen. Next thing, he asked me if I'd ever kissed a fellow, of course I told him no, except for my brothers and Pa. He asked didn't I know what he meant and I said I expected so, and so he did. Kiss me, that is. Sort of turned me to face him with that arm wrapped around my shoulders, and planted his lips plumb on mine.
"Cut that out," I said.
"You're the most beautiful girl I've ever laid eyes on, Mary Pearl."
He drew me up closer and did it again, smooching like my face was a piece of warm pie just out of the oven.
"Now, Aubrey Hanna," I said, "you know my mama doesn't allow anything but talking before we're engaged." I meant my sisters and me, not him and me.