On our walk home she’d repeated: “I’m so happy. I’m so happy.” Like if she said it enough she could forget his use of oblige and could pretend that marriage was an option for her, us. In bed that night, the sheets had rustled and the backs of her thighs had brushed against mine. I’d squeezed my eyes shut, pretending that I didn’t know she was touching herself. “Matthew,” she’d whispered into her pillow. Muh-muh-Matthew, I’d repeated in my head.
A crunch in the gravel, and someone rounded the vat. I looked up eagerly, hoping it was the line boss, or even Father. I pictured his face wide with outrage. Farewell, lovers. But Matthew pulled away from Hattie with an easy grin. He jumped to his feet and clapped his hand on the shoulder of a slumped, pocked version of himself, with a face, astoundingly, even duller.
“Toby!” Matthew said, glancing pointedly at Hattie, who dragged us both to our feet, almost tipping from my reluctant weight.
“Hello, Toby,” she said brightly.
Toby’s eyes passed over her. “Five minutes,” he said to Matthew. “That’s all I got.”
“Nah!” Matthew countered, jostling him. “Stay a while. Ah-almost noon. Line bosses full of dinner, ah-ah-all sleepy.”
Toby shifted his weight between his feet. I assumed he’d been forced here to meet Hattie, so I wasn’t prepared when, with a little ta-dah! of her arms, Hattie presented me.
“Toby, you know my sister, Sylvie. And Sylvie, this is Matthew’s brother, Toby.”
Matchmaking! No, truly, matchmaking. The town wouldn’t let the two of them marry with me joined up for the ride. So this was their scheme? Join up another? I could’ve cried. Instead I was mean. The cursed are cruel.
“No,” I said belligerently. “We haven’t met.”
“Yes, you have,” Hattie insisted. “At the picnic last month. I remember him fetching you lemonade.”
“I don’t like lemonade,” I muttered, just as Toby said, “I don’t fetch lemonade.”
“Oh!” Hattie breathed. “You even talk the same!” I reached behind and pinched her hip through her skirt, hoping the fabric wouldn’t protect her.
“Yeah, the same,” Matthew echoed, a dim grin on his face.
“Lemonade is piss,” I snarled.
Hattie gasped, “Sylvie!” She dug her fingernails into my wrist. To the boys, “She says things. Please don’t listen!”
“A long, hot piss,” I said.
Toby stared at me a moment and then laughed a thick laugh, like uncombed wool. At his brother’s laugh, Matthew beamed, and Hattie loosened her grip on my wrist.
“Yuh-you’re funny, Sylvie,” Matthew said.
Toby smiled at me. I scowled back.
“See?” Toby said. “She doesn’t want to be here either. Forget it, Matthew, both of you. We’re not going to be part of this plan. Right, sister?”
“I’m not your sister,” I said. “I’m hers. And you’re right. I wouldn’t marry you for anything. Not love or money. You’re much too dull.”
Toby’s lip curled. “By dull, I guess you mean ‘normal.’”