“This Raymond Treadway’s place?”
Dean turned from the fence post he was pounding into place and squinted up at the stranger on the horse. “He’s not here.”
“Oh, I know that,” the man said. He had bushy sideburns and a smile that looked this side of simple. “Miz Treadway here?”
Dean squared his shoulders. “What’s your business with her?”
The man dismounted. “I got a letter here from her husband. We’re pals, and when he heard I was heading back this way, he thought I could deliver it for him.”
“You know my Raymond?” Ma’s voice seemed to soar across the yard, bright as the late May sun, and Dean stood aside as she flew past him toward the stranger.
“Yes, ma’am! We’re fine pals, me and Raymond. I feel like I know you already, the way he goes on about you. I’m Marcus Leeds, by the way. Perhaps he’s mentioned me in his letters?”
Ma beamed, and Dean had to look away. Was this all it took to make her happy? Some cockamamie stranger who knew Pa?
“Come in for a spell,” Ma chirped. “You’ll stay for supper, won’t you?”
“I’d be a fool to turn down a real meal, particularly one from Selah Treadway! Why, Raymond says you’re the best cook in all of Ohio.”
“Oh, go on,” Ma said with a laugh that gnawed at Dean’s ears. “Dean, where are your manners? Take care of Mr. Leeds’ horse.”
Dean took the sorry-looking horse’s reins and led it to the barn, glad for a moment’s peace. What did this Mr. Leeds have to come along for, getting Ma all atwitter and disrupting their lives? Letters from Pa were bad enough without having one personally delivered.
Dean gave the horse a good rub down; it looked bone-weary and wasn’t to blame for its idiot owner. Of course his own mood wasn’t Leeds’ fault, either. This was all Pa, finding a way to remind them of his existence.
Personally, Dean was sick of such reminders, even if Ma wasn’t.
By the time the horse was rubbed down, watered, and fed, and their own animals cared for, Ma had supper on the table. Thankfully Dean wasn’t called on to make conversation, just to sit there while Leeds prattled on about California and Pa while Ma nodded encouragingly and peppered him with questions whenever his words slowed.