“Jas, wake up. Time to get some eggs.”
Jas rolled over and groaned. “Do I have to?”
“Honestly, no.” Shane sat on the edge of her bed. “You could stay in bed. But then you wouldn’t get to see the chickens. And my job would be harder without your help.”
“Can we do it later?”
“Nope. Believe me, if we could, I’d do this at noon.” Shane chuckled.
“But I’m cold…” Jas whined. “...and I don’t wanna get dressed, and I don’t wanna do my hair…”
“Oh! Nah, you don’t have to get dressed. Chickens don’t care if you’re in your jammies! I’ll pull your hair up in a ponytail. Just hop out of bed, get your shoes on--”
“--can I wear my coat?” Jas asked.
Shane pressed his lips together. It wasn’t cold out! He was going out in shorts! “Eh...sure. Jammies and a coat, chickens don’t care.”
Jas rolled out of bed. She stepped into her pink tennis shoes, pulled on her puffy purple coat, and turned her back to Shane. “You can do my ponytail now.”
“Yeah, let’s see if I can.” Shane grabbed a hair tie from on top of the dollhouse. He knew better than to try to pull her hair up with a rubber band again. He gathered his little cousin’s hair up in a passable ponytail. He wrapped the hair tie around it once, then twice, struggling as he wrenched the hair through the hair tie a third time.
“Sorry. I’ve never had long hair, I dunno how to do this.”
“That’s why it’s better if Aunt Marnie does my hair!”
“Yeah, probably so. But look! You’re ready! And now we can go see the chickens.”
“Can I pet Bluebell?”
“Yeah, as long as she’s in the mood.”
Out in the coop, Shane knelt down to Jas’s level. “Alright, Jas. We have three jobs today. We have to collect the eggs, of course. We have to clean the coop, and we have to clean the eggs. We’ll start by collecting eggs. I have two baskets here. One is the good basket, the bigger one. The other is the oops basket, for cracked eggs. When you get a good egg, set it very gently in the good basket. And when you get an oops egg, set it very gently in the oops basket.”
“Why? The oops eggs are cracked anyway!”
“Because I don’t wanna wash the basket.” Shane shrugged. “Now, if you see a chicken sitting on a nest, and there are eggs in it, leave her alone. She’s trying to protect her eggs, and she’ll bite.”
“Okay!” Jas walked over to an unoccupied nest, with five eggs inside. She grabbed an egg in each hand, turning them over carefully to examine them. “Good eggs!”
“Alright! Put them in the good basket.”
Jas set the eggs down gently, one in each corner. She reached up to scratch her face.
“Nope! Your hands are dirty now, eggs can have germs on them.” He blocked Jas’s hand. “Use your sleeve to itch your face if you need to.”
Shane and Jas collected the eggs with little trouble. There were a few that had to go to the oops basket, and Jas missed one of them, but for the most part, things went well. Shane was able to carry four eggs at a time because of his bigger hands, which made Jas a little jealous, but he reassured her that she’d be able to carry more eggs as she got bigger.
“Shane! There’s a chicken sitting on a nest and I know there’s eggs in it. Will you get them?”
Shane laughed. “Oh, that’s Sapphire, she’s mean as heck! She is the last chicken I wanna take eggs from!”
“Why is she sitting on them? Do they have baby chickens in them?”
“They better not!” Shane laughed again. “Otherwise, Mr. Loverboy’s been sneaking around in the coop when he shouldn’t be!”
“If a rooster is in the hens’ coop, he’ll mate with the hens and put baby chickens in the eggs. We don’t want baby chickens. So I’ll grab those eggs from Sapphire, and we’ll check to see if they have baby chickens in them.”
“But she’s mean! She might bite you!”
“Yeah, probably.” Shane pulled on a pair of thick leather work gloves and a pair of chunky, unwieldy safety goggles. “While I do this, will you please grab the rake, go over to the nest box, and rake the top layer of hay up?”
“Because it’s dirty and we need to replace it.”
“Okay.” Jas wandered over to the wall with the garden tools and grabbed the small rake she used to rake up leaves with Aunt Marnie.
Meanwhile, Shane knelt down in front of the nest and its deep blue guardian.
Sapphire sized him up. She let out a deep growl, the most un-chickenlike noise Shane had ever heard. The first time Sapphire had growled at him, months ago, he had been surprised. But given her surly demeanor and tendency to brood, he expected it this time around.
“Alright, Sapphire. You don’t like me,” he said, “And I love you but I’d rather not deal with you. Ever. But we gotta get this done and see if Mr. Loverboy knocked you up.”
Sapphire stood. She pointed her wings toward the ground and fluffed out her chest feathers, revealing bald patches from plucking feathers to line the nest.
“Yeah, I get it,” Shane said, rolling his eyes. “You’re gonna kill me if I take your eggs. But I gotta do it.”
Sapphire lunged, grabbing Shane’s jacket and holding on for dear life! Shane lifted his arm and took Sapphire’s feet in his other hand, flipping her over. She let go of his jacket and pecked his stomach, grabbing and twisting to tear his t-shirt and the flesh underneath.
“Dammit! Jas! Help!”
Jas dropped the rake and ran over. “What do I do?!”
“Grab an empty basket and get every egg from this nest!”
Jas sprinted over to the wall, got an empty wire basket, and ran back. Shane maneuvered Sapphire so she was under his arm, tucked away like a gridball. She was indignant, screaming and clucking and pecking Shane’s jacket.
Carefully, Jas put each egg into the basket, then held it up to Shane. “Here!”
“Nope! I’m busy, walk it over to the sink.”
Jas walked backwards to the sink, watching in wide-eyed horror as Shane wrestled Sapphire down to the nest. His wound was starting to bleed through his t-shirt.
Jas carefully set the eggs up on the counter near the sink. Shane jogged over and grabbed the flashlight from the counter.
“Shane, you have an owie!”
“I know. I’ll deal with it in a minute.”
“What’s the flashlight for?”
“Oh, this is cool. We’re gonna see if there are any chicks in these eggs. Look!” Shane held an egg up to the flashlight and turned it on. The bright light made the egg glow an eerie yellow, brighter at the top, with a red spot and thin red veins throughout.
“Woah, that’s gross!” Jas grimaced.
“It kind of is. But guess what? It’s a chick!”
“Yay! More babies!”
“They will be cute,” Shane said. “But dammit, this means I gotta figure out how Mr. Loverboy’s getting in, and fix it, and that’s more grain to buy, and I hope the farmer wants a new chick or two, and…”
“Babies!” Jas jumped in the air. “I wanna pet them when they hatch!”
“It might be a while,” Shane warned. “It’ll probably take about two weeks for the eggs to hatch. And then we’ll have to wait until Sapphire stops being protective. But we’ll get there. Now, wait here.”
Shane walked the eggs back to Sapphire’s nest. Sapphire jumped and lunged at Shane. This time, he got the upper hand, catching her by the feet and holding her at arm’s length. “Dammit, Sapphire, I’m helping! I’m putting your eggs back!” He set the basket down, wrestled Sapphire back into gridball position, and set the eggs down in the nest. With a few vulgar parting words, he set Sapphire down. She thanked him by taking a parting shot at his leg, just barely breaking the skin.
Shaking his head, Shane walked back to the nest box. Much to his surprise, Jas had raked up all the dirty hay, bagged it, and replaced it with clean hay.
“Thanks, Jas! I really appreciate it!” He headed for the kitchen door. “I gotta get myself patched up. I’ll set you up with Marnie to clean those eggs and throw out the oopsies.”
“Do you have to go to the clinic?”
“I probably should. I don’t want to, but chicken eggs have lots of germs on them. That’s why we don’t touch our faces in the coop, and why we wash our hands after we touch chickens or eggs. I got my tummy torn up, so I’ll be in the shower.”
With that, Shane went inside. Jas was close behind, carrying two baskets of eggs.
“Good morning, Jas!” Marnie took a sip of her coffee. “I heard a rumor that we’ll be cleaning eggs.”
Jas held up one finger to interrupt. “It’s NOT a rumor, and spreading gossip is wrong. We’re really, actually going to be cleaning eggs. Shane was going to help me, but one of the chickens bit him and now he has to put a bandage on it.”
Shane came downstairs in a bathrobe, clutching his belly. “True story, Sapphire tried to rip me open.”
“Broody. And apparently, Mr. Loverboy got into the coop at some point, so we’re gonna have chicks.”
Marnie shook her head. “Ugh. Did you check the other eggs?”
“Nope. Too busy getting attacked.”
Marnie turned to Jas. “Alright. Wanna hold the flashlight while we check these eggs?”
“Yeah! I hope there’s more babies!”
With a parting shot about wanting to serve up some Coq au Vin, Marnie and Jas made their way to the coop again while Shane took a shower and patched himself up.