It occurs to me now (and it’s probably occurred to me before) that everything I do with the Flash Fiction Draw stories I write is exactly what I think I shouldn’t do. I write these with no plan, no idea how they’re going to end, and then I throw them up on the internet with practically no revision.
OK, most of the times? Less than practically no revision.
This week’s is a case in point. The prompt was romance, set in a farm field, with a fountain pen. Did I manage to get all of that in? Well…
Admittedly, the romance here is implied. This is sort of the meet-cute part—well, if getting yelled at and called a damn tourist counts as cute. It’s also about six hundred words too long, has no title, no ending, and I kind of want to keep writing it.
Will I? Keep writing it, I mean. If you know my track record of starting things and leaving them unfinished, then you’re not going to hold your breath. That said, farmer Nick may be a mountain Adam wants to try climbing.
Without further ado…
The One Without a Title
Take a vacation, they said. It’ll help you get over Charlie, they said. A working farm will be quaint and charming, they said.
They were wrong.
Unless the constant smell of manure is your idea of quaint, and the screech of the rooster in the morning counts as ambient charm. (You would think they crow at dawn, right? Wrong. Try three thirty, a full two hours before the sun even hits its snooze button.)
Then there’s the owner, who has to be the gruffest, surliest, most disagreeable thirst trap I have ever had the misfortune to encounter in my entire life. And after Charlie, that’s saying something.
Our first interaction doesn’t bode well for the rest of my stay. It’s shortly after I’ve parked in the guest lot—they even have a hand-lettered chalkboard marking my space, which is sweet. The farmhouse itself looks rambling and homey from the outside, with a wraparound porch dotted with white rocking chairs all along it. I pause in front of the door, my hand on the doorknob, looking around and taking in the cool snap in the air that helped me ignore the smell of farm animals. I’ve come to a working farm, so I’m not about to complain.
At least, not until a voice behind me practically bellows, “In or out, but get out of the way.”
I turn around just in time to avoid getting knocked on my ass by a wall of a man in jeans, a red flannel shirt and a Carhartt hat. I stumble out of the way as he grabs the doorknob and mutters, “Damn tourists.”
“Excuse me?” Who the hell does he think he is?
He turns on me, red faced and dark browed. “What?” He says it like a dare.
“Nick.” Behind him, a woman’s voice, sharp, draws his attention faster than I can let fly with the insult that waits on the tip of my tongue. At a reception desk stands an older woman, blonde, in a lemon yellow sweater set that’s far too matronly for her. She glares at the man, presumably Nick.
“Would you mind not antagonizing the guests?” she asks, her tone frosty.
He marches up to her and holds out his hand. “Gimme your phone.”
She frowns. “Where’s yours?”
He shakes his hand. “I lost it, just give me your phone. Molly’s going into labor and the calf’s turned sideways, and I need Lawrence here five minutes ago or else they’re both going to die.”
Blanching, she fumbles in the pocket of her skirt and, after unlocking the screen, holds out her phone. “The code’s 090139.”
“I know.” He snatches it and lurches toward the door. I move out of the way before he gets there.
I’m not sure how long I stare at the door after he slams it. I’m tempted to walk back out and get in my car, but then the woman clears her throat and I turn to see her outstretched hand.
“I’m Margot. Welcome,” she says. “You must be Adam?”
“How did you guess?”
“This is the slow season and everyone else has checked in already.” She glances over my shoulder toward the door. “Don’t mind my brother. He doesn’t get up on the wrong side of the bed so much as the wrong side of the planet.”
I look behind me, though he’s long since out of sight. “Is he always like that?”
“Only my entire life.” She smiles, her face radiant. How can they be related? And what would that smile look like on his face? I can’t imagine the superhuman effort it would take to make that happen.
Margot starts to tap on the laptop keyboard in front of her. “So, it’s just you for the weekend, right?”
I sigh. “Yeah, just me.”
She glances over her glasses at me. “I’m… sorry?” As if she’s trying to gauge whether my solo stay is a good or bad thing.
“Don’t be. I’m better off without him.” I had to keep telling myself that. I knew it was true, but try convincing my stepped-on heart of that.
She gives me an appraising look as the printer behind her whirs and spits out a sheet of paper. “You were too good for him.”
“You don’t even know him.”
“Don’t have to. I know these things.” She hands me the paper and a fountain pen, along with a key. “You’re in room four, top of the stairs on the right. We have wine, cheese, and cocktails at five if you’d like to come down and meet the other guests.”
I take the key and pick up my bag. “Thanks. I just might.”
My plan is to spend the weekend reading and not thinking about work or Charlie. I have no intention of going down to meet and mingle, but five thirty the light is slanting golden through the window opposite the bed, where I’m lying with the latest N.K. Jemisin novel, and I want to go out on the porch and hope that it’s just a little too cold to stand out there without a jacket.
Halfway down the stairs, muffled voices from the sitting room opposite the reception desk drift up to me. There’s no way I’m getting out without being noticed. I resign myself to the agony of small talk and head in.
Margot stands behind a bar filling a glass of white wine for a short, elderly woman, who thanks her before joining a group mingling near a table of cheese and other finger food. Three couples, so I’m the only singleton, and I’m singlehandedly bringing down the average age in the room.
At least, I assume that until I catch sight of Nick by the fireplace. He leans on the mantel, a tumbler of something that looks like scotch in one hand, engrossed in conversation with another man carrying a black bag and wearing scuffed boots.
“I wasn’t sure if you were coming,” Margot says. She’s accessorized her sweater set with a tan shawl threaded with gold. I lean against the bar.
“I wasn’t sure either, but I wanted to go out and catch the sunset, so I figured I’d stop in.”
“Well, I’m glad you did. What can I get you?”
I glance over the collection of bottles in front of her. “I don’t suppose you have any scotch, or maybe whisky?”
She holds up a bottle of single malt. “Good choice. That’d score you points with Nick.”
I almost laugh. “I doubt that.”
“You’ll have to give him a chance. Despite what I said earlier, he’s not a complete jackass, at least not all of the time.”
I do laugh at that. “I’ll try to remember that.” I hold up my glass, and she picks up a glass of wine and taps our drinks together. “Cheers.”
A man comes up for a refill, so I drift over to the cheese tray as well, say a couple hellos, and grab a cracker and a slice of what I think is Havarti before ducking outside.
The air has a bite, just as I’d hoped. Bonus: the wind has shifted, carrying barnyard smells somewhere other than the house. I lean against the porch railing and take a sip from my glass. The peaty warmth does its job, and I don’t regret leaving my jacket upstairs. The leaves on the maple to the left, turning red, rustle in a gentle breeze. A couple break free and float to the grass. As fall days go, it’s perfect.
And then the front door creaks open and Margot’s brother comes outside, followed by the other guy—Lawrence, I assume. I don’t turn to look at them. Their conversation stutters, then Nick says, “Thanks for everything today. I owe you one.”
“Darn right you do,” Lawrence says, but his tone is good natured. “You could set me up with your sister.”
“Not on your life.”
“What, I’m not good enough for her?”
“Nobody’s good enough for her.”
I move further down the porch to give them some privacy in case they’re going to talk longer. A few moments later, though, Lawrence climbs into an SUV and drives off. I turn around to find a rocking chair and settle in, and there’s Nick, glass in hand, frowning.
“I owe you an apology,” he says. “I took my stress out on you and that wasn’t fair.”
You could say I’m surprised. You could also say I’m suspicious. I grip my drink tighter.
“Your sister put you up to that apology?”
He looks down at his feet. “Doesn’t make it less true.”
I could let him dangle in the breeze—it’d serve him right. When he glances up, his brown eyes have a tense look like a kicked dog, and… I’m just not that guy. Charlie might have been, but I’m not.
“How’s Molly doing?”
The tension in his eyes abates. He lifts his head and his shoulders relax. He really was expecting me to rip him a new one. “Tired, but she’s doing okay,” he says. “I was worried, but Lawrence is a miracle worker, basically.”
And then he surprises me. “Ever seen a newborn calf?” I shake my head. “Would you like to?”
Nick doesn’t seem to be much for small talk, so we walk to the barn in silence, which is fine by me. I’m not even sure why I said I wanted to see some slimy cow-baby in the first place.
OK, that’s a lie. I said yes because Nick is pretty easy on the eyes, when he doesn’t look like he’s ready to spit nails.
(See? I told you there wasn’t an ending.)