On a late summer day, Helen walked through downtown Hurston. She sent a telegram to her aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania, updating them on her mother’s health. Her mother hadn’t been well even since coming down with a severe case of pneumonia back in the winter. She spent most of her time lying down these days, easily fatigued from her chores. Helen picked up the slack where she could, a pang shooting through her heart at seeing her mother’s decline. As much as she loathed her mother for her timidity, she was still her mother.
Just as Helen stepped out of the general store, she bumped into someone. The contact was enough to cause the other person to drop whatever she had been carrying.
“Pardon me,” Helen said, bending down to help the other woman pick up her bundle. Her fingers brushed against the other woman’s. When the other woman looked up, Helen’s heart sped up. “Oh, it’s you.”
Matilda Forkins smiled at her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry.”
Helen picked up a blackberry. “I’m sorry, too. It looks like these are ruined.”
Matilda shrugged. “It’s not a problem. There are plenty more where these came from. My parents have loads of bushes of them behind their house. I was just bringing some her to share with Mr. Horner.”
“Yes, I know.”
Matilda stopped mid-reach and furrowed her brow at Helen. “You know?”
Realizing her slip, Helen said, “I mean, I assumed that’s what you were doing with such a large bundle of berries.” She half-smiled, sweat beading along her forehead.
A man stepped up behind them and frowned at the pair.
“Um, maybe we’d better step aside and let him pass?” asked Helen.
Matilda glanced behind her and blushed, shooting to her feet. “I apologize, sir.” She stepped aside, as did Helen.
After the man passed, they pick up the rest of the berries.
“Well, thanks for your help,” Matilda said. “I suppose I ought to return home and get a new bundle if I want to get them to Mr. Horner before he closes shop for the day.” She made to leave, then stopped. “By the way, I don’t believe we’ve ever been formally introduced. I’m Matilda Forkins.” She held out her hand.
Helen shook it. “It’s nice to meet your properly, Miss Forkins. I’m Helen Hawkins.”
Matilda studied her. “You’re the minister’s daughter.”
Helen stiffened. “Yes, that is correct.”
“I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?” Her brow furrowed.
“No, it’s nothing. I just… I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’m guessing we’re about the same age, but we never talked.”
Matilda pursed her lips, then smiled. “Say, would you like to get a cup of tea and perhaps some cakes at Ethel’s Teahouse?”
Every muscle in Helen’s body relaxed as the first true smile she’d known in a long time graced her face. “That would be lovely. Thank you.”
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