- gladly; willingly: I would as lief go south as not.
- Archaic. willing; desirous.
- Archaic. dear; beloved; treasured.
Yesterday he’d worked hard and rested little, sweat soaking his blue cotton shirt as he swung hammers and carried wood. He barely ate. His sleeves had been rolled up and cuffed, exposing an array of scars to the blistering sunlight.
Raquel wondered what animal had caused such ugly scars, and judging from the new hire’s musculature, what animal he’d probably killed with his own two hands.
She thought it was strange that he refused to take a proper break throughout the workday. Other workers–even her father’s most devout workers–took an extra 20 minutes at the end of their 15-minute break, choosing to take short naps under the plentiful shade of her family’s old trees. But the new stranger kept working, purposefully and methodically as if his effort could earn him more. Raquel secretly mocked him for his ignorance as she seasoned thin slices of beef and prepared the rice and beans for lunch. Her father was a hard man and rarely gave anyone a cent more than he thought they had earned. And he was never generous.
As the sun was setting, her father rode out to meet the men and pay the day’s wages to the ones passing through.
When he got to the red-haired man, her father’s hand never left his pocket. Instead he listened as the stranger spoke. Her father gave a slight nod and went on to pay the next man. Raquel felt heat fill her cheeks. Her father wasn’t extravagant, but he never refused to honor his word about payments.
She was lost in thought when she realized the stranger was staring directly at her. Raquel quickly returned her thoughts to retrieving the day’s cookware and preparing the water for the men to wash themselves before they left to spend their money.
As she headed back to the house, she pushed the strange scene from her mind, never expecting to see the man again.
The following day she was shocked to be greeted by the stranger. She almost dropped the corn cakes. He had a wide friendly smile and broad shoulders. Up close he seemed to tower over her–he was even taller than her own father–and his hair seemed to be as red as the earth. She could see he had a splash of small freckles across his nose.
“Good morning, ma’am,” the stranger repeated.
His accent was thick and from somewhere far from California. He looked expectant. It took Raquel a moment to realize he was expecting her to respond.
“Do you have trouble speaking?”
“I have more sense than you, coming back here to work after not getting paid yesterday!”
As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. She could hear her mother’s voice that often chided her to mind her mouth. That was the one thing her mother said she regretted not doing before her time was done. With little formal education, she had taught Raquel to cook, clean, keep a house, and mend by the age of 13, but she hadn’t taught her daughter to bite her tongue. Raquel was known for blurting out the wrong things at the wrong time as well as interrupting her mother with questions as she attempted to painstakingly read the Bible aloud each night before Raquel went to bed. She felt ashamed that her mother had died with such disappointment in her only daughter.
And now here was her fatal flaw on display, yet again.
Instead of seeming annoyed, the stranger gave a hearty laugh.
“My name is Eric.”
He switched a small brown book to his left hand and extended his right, but Raquel shook her head and nodded to the plate in her hands.
“I’d rather not drop the breakfast.”
She quickly moved toward one of the wooden tables to set the plate down, surprised to hear him following behind her.
“Eric…I don’t mean to pry, but you’re back today even though you received no payment yesterday.”
He smiled, but fidgeted with the small brown book in his hands, twisting the leather and absentmindedly rolling it like a scroll.
This man was strange.
“Aye, I would lief fix this barn roof by myself every day this week just to get a glimpse of you each day.”
Or maybe this man was crazy. She took a step backward wanting to change the subject.
“What is that book in your hands?”
As he looked down, she quietly took another step away from him.
“I love to read,” he said quietly, as if it were some secret meant to be hidden. “These are stories my mom used to read to me when she would put me to bed.”
Right then Raquel realized she might have something more than she’d ever imagined–a strange new friend and a reading teacher.