Cole was waiting in the door as the sun sank low in the western fields.
One arm leaned up against the frame, shirtless and without his smock, Cole was visibly muscular from working his father’s smithy. His long hair was wet, as if he had just come from bathing or had dunked his head in the trough in the barn. His dark eyes glittered in the fading light and he smirked.
Charlie’s jaw clenched and he nodded a greeting as he walked up the path. He set his tools down on the porch and kicked the mud off his boots. He could smell the tangy aroma of sour soup cooking from inside, and his stomach growled in response.
“Charles,” Cole intoned solemnly. “Your mother has soup ready.”
Charlie looked inside. “What’re you doing here?”
Pushing past, Charlie found a bubbling pot over the fire in the kitchen. In the parlour, his mother lay on their divan, sipping a bumper of brandy. Her hair too was wet, as if she had recently bathed.
“Charlie, dear,” she sighed, “did you finish the planting?”
“What a good son.” Cole was behind him.
The stranger’s footprints had been swallowed by the mud in Charlie’s head.