Understandable, sure. It was kind of out of the way. Far away from any city. And a hospital. And a restaurant. Or a Target.
Okay, so it was the middle of fucking nowhere. Absolutely secluded.
But that was cool. Because she now owned a house.
Sep cursed under her breath as she fumbled with the parking break of the stupid moving truck. Goddammit, stupidly complicated trucks. Damn. With a jerk, she managed to park the damn truck.
She was not good at driving the big trucks, especially not down dirt roads into the middle of fucking nowhere.
But she had a house. An actual house. And five acres of land. Like what the fuck was that. Actual property was hers with her measly amount of money. It hadn’t seemed possible, but it was. Her own home, away from everything, in the country. She did like the country. Maybe she could get a horse. Or something.
The truck was up way too high for her in that she had to pretty much fall out of the truck. She barely caught herself, exhaling sharply as her knee twinged. And her ankle. She was an old woman already, stuck in a twenty something year old body with the metabolic age of an old man. She was going to fix that. Or something about it. Not much else to do out in the middle of nowhere.
But first, she had to unpack. Hooray.
Stepping around the truck, she let a sigh filter out of her at the sight of her new house. It was a two story house, old and a little rough, but it was hers. Maybe a new coat of paint would do it, but yes. Hers. Not like she had enough furniture to fill the place up. It would be a slow process of ordering shit online because getting furniture out there was going to be shitty, but oh well.
Snapping her hair tie on her wrist, she reached up to put her hair up. Might as well get to work. The truck rental was expensive, and she had no idea how she was going to get it back to the distributer. Gods. Being an adult was hard.
How the fuck was she supposed to open the truck? She fumbled with the latch a bit before she remembered the instructional booklet in the passenger seat.
Ugh. Effort. She cursed a bit as she clambered up into the truck once more, grabbing up the packed of hastily printed instructions. That bitch at the Home Depot had really not given a shit about her. At least she was out of there.
Another tumble out of the truck, and she shuffled through them, trying to find something that would help her with that shit.
The rumble of a truck made her glance up. The approach of several trucks actually had her a little worried.
They parked a little further back from the house, one further down the line blasting some old rock. Part of her wanted to complain, to demand to know why they were there, but then the front truck had both doors pop open.
The driver who hopped out was a pretty blond lady, that charming red flush from too much sun on her cheeks. She even had the cut off shirt to match it, all very charming. Classic southern vibe, that was for sure.
“Hello there! Welcome to Fall’s End!”
“Hi,” was all she could manage, clasping her hand, shaking it firmly. “So. Um. What’s going on?”
“Oh, we’re just here to welcome you to the community, hun,” the blond lady drawled, shrugging her shoulders in a sharp jerk as more and more people fell out of their trucks. “And help you move in.”
“Help me…move in?”
“Absolutely.” She smiled, taking her hand back so she could tug a handkerchief out of her pocket, tying it around her head as a sweatband. “We figure you’d like some help. We’re all happy to lend a helping hand.”
“Um.” She glanced at all the people popping out of the cars, scratching awkwardly at the back of the neck. “I’m not sure what to say to that.”
“Don’t need to. I’m Mary May, by the way. And you are?”
“I’m Sep. September. Uh. September Mendax.” Awkward. Awesome. “Do you guys do this for everyone?”
“Not like we got much else to do,” a man sing-songed as he walked by, undoing the truck latch with one simple movement.
“Hey. And we like to help.” Mary May tsked, shaking her head slightly. “So. You’re going to stand back and just tell us where to put things, alright? We’ll do all the heavy lifting.”
Aggressively giving, huh? She mumbled in confusion as a few people hopped into her truck, picking up boxes to carry them inside. It was a small town. Maybe that was normal for small towns. They were aggressively nice.
All she could do was trail after and tell them where to go, where to put boxes and the like. Every new face that she saw, they greeted her, introducing themselves and what they did. So weird. So different from the big city.
Especially in their generosity.
“Hey I noticed you don’t have a couch. I got an older one that’s just too big for my house. I’ll bring it over tomorrow for you.”
“That window in the far room is loose in the frame. My husband’s real good at carpentry. We can come fix that, no problem.”
“I own a bar called the Spread Eagle. If you want to swing by, I can get you some free dinners until you get settled.”
It was too much. All of it was way too much. It was impossible to process what to do with that kind of continuous giving. Which is why she just sat on her back porch, hugging her knees to her chest as she stared over her field.
It took a while for anyone to find her. They didn’t say anything, disappearing again, only for Mary May to come out, heaving a heavy sigh as she sank down beside her. A faint hiss indicated that there was a beer, drawing her attention over.
Mary May offered the bottle, brows lifting.
“Ah, no thank you. I don’t drink, really.” Sep gave her a quick smile, looking back out at the field. “Thank you for all your help.”
“Anytime.” Mary May paused, her voice dragging into a hum. “And I’m starting to understand that that is the problem.”
“Not a problem. It’s just…a little much to handle.” It was silly to admit it, but she had to say it. “Coming from the city where no one even looks at anyone else, then this…this is a lot.”
“I feel that. It’s a lot to take in. We don’t want to overwhelm you.” Mary May took a swig of her beer, letting out a truly satisfied sigh. “Nothing like a cold beer on a warm evening.”
“I don’t have money to pay you guys back. I’m going to be living from paycheck to paycheck.” Writing articles online and the like. Yeah. Not the most secure job, but it was enough to pay for her house and other minor necessities. She wasn’t going to have much disposable income, and certainly not enough to repay all of them for all of their help.
“We didn’t help just so you would pay us, hun. We don’t expect any kind of payment. We just wanted to help.”
“Right.” That was going to be hard to grasp for a number of reasons. “I can’t thank you guys enough. I really appreciate all of this.” It was certainly overwhelming. It was only a matter of time before she had to retreat to cry a bit. “Really.”
“Of course. I look forward to seeing you down at the Spread Eagle. We have some damn good foods there. Good people too, all willing to talk if you’d like. We’d love to hear more of the city. Most of us don’t make it out to the city unless there’s something our doctor can’t handle and we need to go to the hospital. So…nothing really.” Mary May shrugged again, swigging from her beer. “It’ll take a bit for you to get used to it, but we’ve got plenty to do around here.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Shooting’s always fun, be it with guns, bows, or slingshots. We got plenty of trails to hike or use ATVs on. We have festivals and such, fishing, all that. We have all kinds of stuff, and there’s always someone willing to sit and chat for a few hours. Nothing better to do than shoot the shit.”
Talking. What a fun concept. “That…sounds nice, actually.”
“And if you’re really short on ideas, you can always go and see Father John. He’s always got something going on.”
Right. Rural cities always had religion. “I’ll…consider it.”
Mary May caught on quickly enough, tsking. “Even if church ain’t your thing, Father John does his best to get the community involved with each other. He can find something to keep you busy.”
“Thanks. Really. I’ll swing by.”
Mary May nudged her shoulder with hers, offering up a soft smile. “We’ll have you a country bumpkin yet. You just-”
“Hurk, you get your ass outta here with that shit!”
Sep inhaled sharply, turning to look at her door at the scuffle inside. Mary May groaned, rising to her feet to head in.
“I just wanted to make her feel welcome!”
“Fireworks are not necessary, not in the house.”
Sep had to grin, listening to the friendly scuffle of her new neighbors inside. It would be weird, but she’d get there. She’d figure it out.
Okay, she had to admit. The Spread Eagle had some fucking amazing chicken and dumplings. Seriously.
Smothering a burp behind her fist, she paused on the side of road, feeling that crisp evening air brush through her hair. Nice evening with good weather. Week two of Fall’s End had her…surprisingly comfortable. All the promises form her neighbors had actually been followed through. Her window was fixed, she had some new furniture, and while she kept trying to pay, she had several free dinners. And it was damn good food. Damn good food.
They really were nice so far. She met all the characters, met Nick and Kim Rye, the aviator pair, Grace Armstrong, the stony serious war veteran, and the destructive pair of Hurk and Sharky. Nice people, every single one of them.
They were giving her time to open up, she knew that. They were nosy, they would all be nosy. Everyone was. She knew she would have to open up eventually. It was only fair.
Shoving her hands in her pockets, she glanced up and down the street. It was getting to the point where she could hear crickets, the sun settling low. She should head straight home, but the evening was much too nice to just bail on it. Might as well take a walk.
The town was small, but good enough. It was nice. It was like retiring without actually retiring. Peaceful, away from the stresses of modern life. And with any luck, she could survive her depression for a while. Get everything back on track, be happy again.
Funny thing, being happy. For some people, it was easy. For some people, it was impossible. She was right down the middle, but gods if she wasn’t strong enough to handle it. She knew people went through so much worse, but she could only handle so much. Maybe, in time, she would get better at it. Maybe.
All she could do was carry on, and do her best.
Her steps slowed at the edge of town, at the wide road in front of her. Such a small town. Not much to do but turn back unless she wanted to wander down and visit the Ryes, and it wasn’t like she knew them that well.
Sighing, she took a step to turn, her eyes landing on the smooth white planks of the church.
Right. She had promised to go there. To meet their priest. Pastor. Father. Whatever. She had no idea. She seemed to have met everyone else. She was being rude. She should go and introduce herself to Father John. Even if most religious issues made her supremely uncomfortable.
Tough shit. Go be nice.
Throwing her shoulders back, she went to the front walkway of the church. Looked nice. There were some vines with white flowers draped over the walkway. Pretty. It soothed her a little as she headed up the steps, placing her hand on the door. It pushed open without issue, revealing a single room.
Of course. Just needed room for people to sit and listen to speeches. Sermons. Whatever.
Still kind of nice. Peaceful. It gave her confidence enough to wander in. The warm light filtering in through the windows was really nice. Part of her could understand the comfort of going there whenever there was a problem. The vibe, the whole deal could get people to relax. Yeah. It was nice.
She was still standing awkwardly in the center of the church, staring at one of the windows when she heard a door behind the altar close. It startled her into twitching, eyes wide and guilty, like she didn’t belong there.
“Oh,” the new arrival sighed, locking the door behind him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Help. She needed help. Immediately. Because she could not find words enough to actually respond to the goddamn man there. Because he was pretty. Very pretty.
He stepped up to the altar, setting down a book. Bible, probably. He patted the worn cover for a moment, then stepped down the few steps to come down the center walkway. She should really say something. Words, preferably.
“You’re Ms. Mendax, right?” He offered his hand to her. “I’m Father John. I’m so pleased to meet you.”
She’d like to die. That would be cool. She managed to smile, to slide her hand into his, grip firmly and shake. How was he so clean and dapper? Why was he so pretty? Say words.
“Hi.” Oh yes, good. They’d already established meeting. Say more words. “I’m new here.” Say no more words.
He laughed softly, bringing his other hand in to clasp hers in both of his. “And we are very happy to have you here. I do hope we’ve given a good impression.”
“So far so good. It’s a lot of people being nice and I’m not used to it.” She felt like her face was stupidly red. Probably was. “I’m not sure how to handle it. Or repay it.”
“Just by accepting it. That is more than enough.” He let go, clasping his hands neatly in front of him. He was intimidating and yet welcoming, dressed impeccably, groomed immaculately, just…a lot to take in. “We are giving. There are no expectations of you in the face of it.”
“Well, still. Thank you.” Say different words. “So. Um. I was told I needed to meet you. Mary May said so.”
“Yeah? You looking to join the church?” It was an open, honest question. It didn’t sound pressuring, but she still felt that little twinge of discomfort in her stomach.
“I…I’m not…” She glanced up to the altar. “I’m not religious. I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize. You are under no obligation to be religious. You are not required to be a part of the church.” Still had that gentle smile, the fucker, even as he gestured to a nearby pew. “May we sit?”
“Oh, sure. Yeah.” There was that awkward tuck of her hair behind her ear. She was good at fiddling with her hair. She settled down, sliding over a bit so he could settle right beside her. Still very close. Goodness. Why was his shirt so open? It was entirely distracting.
“Ah, there we go.” He sighed softly as he settled down, leaning back. “Call me biased, but I find these pews to be the most comfortable I’ve sat in. Maybe it’s their history, with all the good people that have sat here.”
Sure they were. They were wooden benches. Damn priests and their optimistic view on shit.
“Mm, anyways.” Clapping his hands on his thighs, he turned to face her a bit better. “As I was saying. There is no need to apologize for not carrying God in your heart. We do not judge on religion or lack there of. While the church may not be something that exists in your every day life, we are happy to be here for you if you need us.”
“Need you for what?” Well that sounded terrible. She felt bad the moment she said it, flinching a bit. He, however, seemed unfazed.
“For anything. A helpful hand, an attending ear, anything. I recommend that you attend one of my sermons once, just to see how it makes you feel. We also tend to have get togethers afterwards, and it is a good chance to socialize.”
“I’ll…try.” Maybe. Well, if he was what she had to look forward to looking at, then…well, maybe. “Worth a shot.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear it.” He smiled brilliantly, reaching over to pat her hand. “We don’t bite, I promise.”
She wouldn’t mind if he bit. Just a little. “No offence, but you’re different from what I imagine priests to be.”
“Ah, pastor, actually. Not a priest.” He shrugged good naturedly, nonplussed about everything. “But I’m going to take that as a compliment. Most images of religious leaders…well, they haven’t been great lately. I am…” He paused, looking down at his hands, such a gentle smile on his lips. “Happy to break the mold.”
Damn him for being so goddamn pretty. Stupidly pure religious bastard. Ugh. Fall’s End sucked.
“Uh. I…okay.” She cleared her throat. Words. “Thank you for your offer of hospitality. I will keep it in mind.”
“And that’s all we ask. That’s all.” He turned a bit, glancing over his shoulder at the warm light filtering through the door. “It is getting late. Would you like a ride back home?”
“I mean, I don’t want to put anyone out of their way. I can walk it. The evening is nice anyways.”
“Nonsense. Come on now, I’ll drive you. I was getting ready to go anyways.” He waved the notion away, rising to his feet. “After all, there are a few wild animals out there that would make a tasty snack out of you.”
Speaking of snacks…Her eyes flickered over him once more before guilt took over. He was a holy man and focused on his faith. She should not be thinking about him like that. “As long as it doesn’t bother you.”
“Nonsense. I’ll be headed in that general direction anyways. Let’s go then.”
She trailed after like a child, trotting down the few steps while he paused to close the doors. It really was getting dark pretty quickly, and she didn’t even have a flashlight. Part of her was grateful he had offered, but another part of her did not want to be in an enclosed space with him.
“Mm. Mary May’s lavender is coming in,” Father John mused as he continued on, beckoning her to follow. “She likes to plant it along the roadside in any available barrel most seasons. Brings in so many bees.”
“Ah. Well, bees are good.” Also sounding like an intelligent adult was good. “So…you always lived in Fall’s End?”
“Me? No, my family and I moved here not too long ago. I adopted this parish from Father Jerome, who decided to retire and settle in with Mary May. I am lucky to have been handed such a fine community.” Father John moved around behind the church, leading her to a very nice truck. Big. New. There was some vanity there, she thought.
But family. Right. That made sense. “Good place to settle with family, yeah? Good to raise kids and the like?” Wow, way to sound desperate and nosy.
“Of course, if you plan on it.”
Right. Cool. Thank goodness he missed that completely. She just kept her mouth shut and clambered into the passenger seat, staring determinedly out the windshield during the drive.
“I apologize for not being at your welcoming party, by the way.” Resting just a few fingers on the steering wheel, they rumbled on down the road, a steady yet leisurely pace. He still focused outside though, his free hand tugging his sunglasses from the top of his head so he could place them back in the compartment in the ceiling of the truck. “I wanted to be there, but a baptism took my time.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I was already overwhelmed enough as it was.” Having someone so pretty helping out definitely would have given her an aneurism.
“We’ll get you used to generosity yet. One of our finest qualities here in Fall’s End, I must say.” Adjusting his grip, he let one hand rest on the wheel, the other hooking just out the open window of his truck. Relaxed. Pretty. Distracting. “This is a place where people go to heal by giving more than they feel like they should receive. It has done wonders for us all.”
She had nothing to give to them. She had nothing.
Sighing softly, she looked out the windshield. Gods, that place was too much to handle.
“Here we are. Home sweet home.” The car rolled to a stop right in front of her house. Her house. What a thought. “Good little place you’ve got here. Plenty of space.”
“Yeah, five acres. I’m thinking about getting some animals. Mostly chickens. I love chickens.”
“Got some work cut out for you then. Make sure to swing by the church if you need help.”
“I will. Thank you, Father John.” She gave him a quick nod, slipping out of his truck. Long way down. “I’ll see you around.”
“I hope so.” He gave her that same gentle smile, nodding faintly.
Cool. Okay. She turned and trotted up to her door. And he waited for her, making sure she got inside. Right. She paused just inside her doorway, turning to wave at him. He tapped his horn in acknowledgement, and finally pulled away.
Okay. Fall’s End was…going to take a while to get used to. What with the friendly people and the hot pastor, she was going to have a very, very hard time not feeling like…well, a snake in the garden.
Ugh, religious symbolism.
She needed to go to bed.