Haley opened her front door softly, knowing that Emily had only been home for a few hours and would need her sleep. It was early morning, before dawn, and the absolute perfect conditions to capture a photo of an early spring sunrise.
There was a little bit of chill in the air, which was just right, because she wanted to get some more use out of her new pink coat with the faux fur lining. She pulled it a bit tighter around herself and tucked a blonde curl behind her ear. Her camera in hand, she set out towards the forest.
It was a clear crisp morning, still fairly dim, but she’d have to hurry to time it right. Sam’s house was dark and silent as she walked by, which she knew would only last until about 10 AM when he would start wailing on that insufferable guitar. She made her way past the lowing cows in Marnie’s yard and Leah’s quaint cottage by the river. She considered for a moment setting up by the small lake. She stopped and pondered her options.
Haley noted the path that led up to the old farm looked tidied. The new farmer must have been busy.
She sighed. The farmer. What a disappointment.
Initially when she had heard about the farmer she had shared the same excitement as everyone else. Who would this person be? What would they add to their boring little town? Haley had let her mind wander. He would be strong, assertive, handsome. He’d be into his farming sure, but still cultured in the ways of the big city. He’d sweep her off her feet and maybe they’d live in the farmhouse for a short time, but in a few months they’d purchase their loft in Zuzu, and she’d have her studio and dark room, her walk-in closet.
Of course, none of that had happened. The farmer was a girl. Worse than that, she was a pretty girl. She may have been from the city, but she had zero interest in fashion or clothes. She was more or less useless to Haley, but the town had been just buzzing about her. The guys stared, the mothers gushed over her independence. It was all annoying and she was ready for it to pass.
She was actually surprised Alex hadn’t said much about her, she was totally his type- athletic, outgoing, a big ass. Then again she had seen her hanging out with Abby and them so she was probably weird. Or maybe she was banging Sam.
Haley noted a glimmer of pink in the sky. It was time.
For the next hour or so she was completely in the zone, the scene was just perfect, the horizon awash with pinks and purples and blues.
Just as she was lining up her last shot she heard an odd noise. It was like a low grunt or a moan. She startled, looking around for an animal, and then gasped when she saw a man’s foot hanging out from the reeds by the river. Holy shit.
Haley scampered down to the bank by the water to see Shane, face down, covered in mud. There was puke beside him and more than a few beer cans. He looked pale. “Ever-loving Yoba.” Haley shook her head.
She looked around. This was bad. He was so close to Marnie’s, and it wouldn’t be long before Jas would be leaving for school. It wasn’t hard to learn people’s schedules in this town.
She studied Shane’s face. She didn’t owe him anything. She barely knew him, really. She knew her sister liked talking to him at the Saloon and always defended him when people talked shit, but then again Emily was nice to everybody. She also knew he was a self-centered alcoholic who didn’t seem to want to connect with anyone, ever. She supposed that wasn’t entirely unrelatable.
Haley saw a light flick on at Marnie’s. She knew he did care about his goddaughter a lot, she could tell that from any festival she’d ever been to, and it didn’t seem right for Jas to see him like this. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed an arm and started to drag him away from the water’s edge.
He let out another groan. Maybe he’d come to. Haley stooped down and stared him in the face, but his eyes were squeezed shut. “Shane?”
He grunted again, but didn’t move.
“Shane, wake up.” She jostled him by the shoulder.
“Ugh…” he squeezed his eyes closed more tightly.
Haley looked around, and then cupped some icy cool water from the river in her hands, dousing him.
Shane coughed and sputtered, lifting his head just barely to look at her. “Yoba, what the..”
“You need to get up, Jas is going to be coming out of your front door any minute.” Haley tried to help prop him up but he was heavy and slumped over immediately. Her foot slipped a bit in the muddy embankment.
He sighed and cursed some more, realizing his predicament. Haley looked up anxiously at his front door, hoping it remained still.
He leaned forward and staggered somewhat to his feet, but the effort made him queasy. She grimaced as he gagged. He held up a hand, pausing for the wave of nausea to pass.
“.....I’m good.” He did a small swallow.
“Let me help you.” Haley tried to prop herself underneath his heavy arm, knowing she was practically half his size and it was potentially futile.
“You don’t have to do this,” he grunted.
“Just.. try to use your legs.”
He managed to lift himself unsteadily to his feet, leaning on her for support. They labored their way towards Marnie’s ranch, step after step.
“The side,” Shane said. She steered him to the left of the building, by the silo. They were only just out of sight when the front door creaked open loudly. Haley and Shane pressed to the wall.
“And tell Ms. Penny I’ll be picking you up today!”
“O-kay!” an adorably sweet voice sing-songed back. Haley peeped around the corner to see Jas happily skipping down the path to the cobblestone road that lead into town, her lunch bag in hand. Haley sighed in relief.
“I’m a fucking dick.”
She looked back at Shane, his head resting against the brick wall of the ranch, his face pained. She wasn’t about to disagree. She adjusted her camera strap on her shoulder and straightened out her coat.
“Shit, look at you.” Shane was staring her up and down, and she followed his gaze to see her new coat was streaked with mud from the riverbank.
“It’s fine. I don’t care.” She didn’t actually care, for some reason.
“Why did you do that for me?” She had never noticed that he was sort of handsome, when he wasn’t scowling. His eyes were a deep brown and he sort of had this rugged, mysterious vibe.
“Jas shouldn’t have to see you like that.” she said.
Shane’s face was sullen. “Yeah. I’m an asshole. I feel bad about your coat, it looks nice.”
“It’s seriously fine.”
He looked like he didn’t believe her, but there was nothing left to say. “Thanks.”
Haley nodded. She started on her way, but for some reason spun back around. “You should take care of yourself, Shane.”
He looked at her baffled. She kept walking, the cows lowing behind her. Drunken asshole.
Alex was standing outside of his house on an early spring day, elated to see the sunshine and the petals that swirled about promising warmer weather. He was tossing his gridball to himself absentmindedly, considering his plan for the day’s workout.
His brow furrowed when he noticed an unfamiliar figure approaching from west of town. Who…?
It wasn’t difficult to get to know people’s schedules in Pelican Town, to memorize their gaits, their silhouettes, their typical routes. He instantly knew he had never seen this person before in his life.
As she got closer, he only got more curious. She had a large backpack and a purposeful walk. Muddy, brown boots that looked clunky and out of place on her slender legs and frame. Cut off jean shorts that he couldn’t help but revisit a few times. A long, thick ponytail of honey brown hair.
He realized he was staring, but he couldn’t help it. She gave him brief, friendly eye contact and then headed into Pierre’s.
It hit him then suddenly. That’s the new farmer?
Alex felt mild guilt for a moment, knowing Haley would have said he was sexist for assuming the farmer would be a dude. But that was just the image he had conjured up. A buff guy with a beard and overalls.
This was much more preferable, of course. He wondered if he should stick around and introduce himself.
His grandparents had mentioned being friendly with her grandfather many years back and how beautiful the farm had been at that time. Alex had really only known in its current state, overrun and abandoned. It would be an impressive feat to clean it up.
Before he knew it, the bell on Pierre’s door dingled again and she was back out, a package in her arms. He figured he should go for it.
“Hey.” He strode up to her, tossing his gridball to himself once for show. “You’re the new farmer, huh? I’m Alex.”
She had a pretty smile with intense, ice blue eyes that were almost distracting. “Hi Alex. I’m Petra.” She offered her free hand and they did a curt, polite handshake. “Oh, were you a quarterback?” she asked, noting his letterman jacket. Or maybe the gridball. Now he was wondering if that was a sarcastic question, but he pressed on.
“Yeah! An allstar one, actually.” He puffed up slightly, hoping she’d note the star on his jacket.
She sort of raised her eyebrows in an amused way. She had to realize what a big deal that was.
Her face suddenly flickered with recognition. “Oh..are you Evelyn’s grandson? I met her yesterday by the gardens.”
“Yeah, she’s my granny alright. She’s kind of the nicest woman ever.” He beamed.
“She is,” Petra smiled. “She gave me some cookies.”
He chuckled. “Sounds like her. They’re legendary.”
“I ate almost all of them in like, a day,” she confirmed with a laugh. She seemed sort of distracted for a moment then, and glanced down the path towards the farm. “Well, I have a lot of land to get cleared, so I better get going.” She shifted her package to her other arm. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, farm girl,” he smirked. “I think we’re going to get along great.”
Her eyes lingered on him for a moment as if to assess him again, the amused expression still on her face. He really thought she was strikingly pretty.
She turned and started off down the road. He felt himself staring at the cutoffs again, which had been alluring enough from the front, but were straight up mesmerizing from the back.
He heard a throat clear and saw Shane meandering up the path towards Joja Mart, his usual scowl on his face. He had totally caught him ogling like a creep.
“New farmer,” Alex shrugged.
Shane gave him an contemptuous look and kept walking.
Petra shifted the heavy bag slung over her shoulder and tried not to think about how sore she still was. She had done the math, and she was pretty sure after selling these wild leeks she’d have enough to buy a few beers with Abby, Sebastian, and Sam tonight. Although it would have to be another bowl of ramen for dinner.
Petra had not originally expected to be fitting socializing into her schedule at all. Really, she was trying to focus on the farm, which had necessitated a lot more care and labor to get to a state that even allowed for planting then she had accounted for. After a few days she hadn’t cleared a huge space, but finally she had a respectable number of cauliflower germinating in the soil.
But then, Abby had texted her and she figured it wouldn’t hurt to blow off some steam on a Friday night.
Petra set her bag on the fence near Marnie’s ranch for a moment, reassembling her long hair behind a tied bandana. Her arms were sore even doing that, she lamented. She hoisted the bag back up.
“Well it looks like I have some competition,” a warm voice observed from behind her.
Petra turned to see Leah, her intimidatingly beautiful neighbor she had seen out foraging a few times now. A bag was strung across her shoulder that was also full of freshly foraged items.
“Oh! Hi Leah. I was just gathering these to sell... my cauliflower aren’t ready,” Petra bumbled, feeling guilty for some reason.
“I’m only teasing you,” Leah smiled, her enchanting green eyes distracting. “There’s plenty out here, if you know where to look.”
“Do you sell them to Pierre’s too?” Petra asked her.
She shook her head, her red braid gracefully draped over her shoulder. “No, I just typically forage for my own food, so I keep a supply of them.”
“...Oh,” she answered. To say she was impressed was putting it lightly.
“Mind if I join you into town?” she asked.
“Not at all.”
The two strolled along past Marnie’s ranch and the pasture of grazing cows, the early spring breeze skittering petals along the cobblestone path.
“So tell me, how has it been going on the farm? I know it’s not easy being new.”
Petra smiled, grateful for the attention. “So far, so good. I really enjoy the planting and growing, although clearing was tough.” She hoped she didn’t sound pitiful. It was understandable, but many of the townsfolk had told her she was “not what they expected.” If she didn’t look the part, she’d have to prove herself with her first harvest. She was sort of feeling the pressure.
Leah’s voice was sweet. “I saw you hanging around with Abby the other day.”
Petra smiled. “Yeah, Abby’s been so nice to me, she reached out to me to hang out with her and Sam and Sebastian a few times.” Petra had been enamored with Abby from the start, her fun and mischievous energy, the purple hair and ripped jeans and piercings. Every time she came to Pierre’s she was always eager to chat with her and helpful too. By their third meeting, Abby had insisted they exchange numbers, and now she felt like a somewhat honorary addition to their trio.
“They’re a wild bunch.” Leah chuckled. Her expression dimmed slightly. “It’s one thing I do regret a little about my first year, it took me a long time to really reach out to other people. Elliot and I are friends now, but I kept to myself mostly at first. It got isolating.”
Petra nodded. She could see how it would be easy for herself to do that as well. If Abby hadn’t been so bold, she might not have really made any connections here at all yet.
She felt curious for more of Leah’s story. “If you don’t mind me asking, what made you decide to move here. Was it for your art?”
“Yes, mostly,” Leah answered. “And I had an ex-girlfriend I needed to get away from.” She looked pensive for a moment. “A few ex-boyfriends too, for that matter,” she laughed. Petra nodded as casually as possible, hoping her intrigue wasn’t apparent.
They were making their way past Sam’s house now, and they could see him out ahead grinding against his neighbor’s flower box with his skateboard. He gave them a wave and then went for a kickflip, which he landed, if a little shakily.
“Did you see that!?”He called to them. They reacted dutifully, applauding and giving a thumbs up.
Petra had instantly hit it off with Sam, who was goofy and endlessly fun. His best friend Sebastian was a bit more of a mystery, sort of the dark, witty, brooding type that would take longer to get to know. She wasn’t sure if he liked her at all yet, but she also wasn’t positive of how she’d know if he did.
“What about you, Petra? Are you running away from anything? A past life? A job?” Leah tilted her head with an alluring smile. “A girlfriend?”
Petra felt her face flush. “A job, mostly.” She suddenly felt shy and had to find her voice again. “I worked for Joja Mart corporate, of all things. It paid well, but everything else about it was terrible.”
“Sounds soul-sucking,” Leah affirmed.
“The city wasn’t really for me either. So this is my fresh start.” They waved back to Jodi and Caroline, who were gossiping in the town square.
“Well.” Leah stopped as they closed in on Pierre’s. “I’m actually headed down to Elliot’s cabin to say hi. But thanks for the walk, it was lovely.”
“Thanks Leah, it was great to see you.” Petra couldn’t help but feel a little crush simmer.
“Hey, Farm Girl!”
The two of them looked up to see Alex, gridball in hand, waving from the side of his house.
“Now, that one you better watch out for.” Leah flashed Petra a cautionary smile and walked on.
Leah didn’t have to tell her. Petra returned his wave cheerfully, but didn’t linger for conversation. Alex had a smile she couldn’t get enough of and a body that looked like it should be used in an ad campaign for protein powder. He also had an ego to match. The other day he actually asked her to guess how many sit-ups he had done. Still, she sensed him to be a sweet guy underneath the arrogant front. She could see herself crushing on him if she wasn’t careful.
Then again, she had seen him hanging around with Haley more than a few times, so she was pretty sure it wasn’t an issue anyway.
Petra made a small note in that moment that she should take Leah’s advice. She wanted to get to know people and make friends here in town, but there was no way she could focus on herself and her independence if she developed feelings for anyone. So that would be her plan. Reach out, charm the townsfolk, make friends. But no crushes, no romantic feelings. She almost laughed to herself. Great, what could go wrong.
For such a small town, there was an unreasonably disproportionate number of young and attractive people here. That was not working in her favor, she mused.
Petra turned to head into Pierre’s and almost walked directly into Shane, who was on his way out. He moved to the side to let her pass, barely looking her way. She hadn’t met him yet officially, although she had seen him around town and knew who he was from Marnie. He was sort of gruff and maybe handsome in a rugged way, although he seemed to always have the same displeased look on his face.
“Hi,” she said, thinking she could break the tension or spur an introduction at the very least.
“I don’t know you,” he said with more than a hint of annoyance. “Why are you talking to me?”
Petra blinked, speechless. She stood there a bit dumbstruck as he went on his way through the square.
“Oh,” she said to no one.
“There’s no way they’re banging,” Sebastian said, his dark hair obscuring his unconvinced expression.
“I’m telling you!” Sam insisted, leaning over the table. He dropped his voice slightly. “Penny told me she saw him all disheveled leaving Marnie’s this morning. You don’t think that’s a little suspicious?” Sam narrowed his eyes. “The man is a freak.”
Abby looked unconvinced. “You really think so?” She and Petra exchanged a nauseated glance.
“I know it,” Sam persisted. He poured the last bit of beer from the pitcher into his glass. They were more or less alone in the pool room, but the Saloon was busy tonight and the chatter from the room next door was still audible. Sam craned his neck to peer over at the pair in question, the rest of the table joining him cautiously.
“You know, I get some freaky vibes from him,” Petra offered in support, unable to keep her face very serious as she watched the mayor innocently sip his beer.
“Right?” Sam encouraged. “You have fresh eyes. We all know him as the old stick-up-his-ass mayor, but I think there’s more to the story.”
“I bet there are an awful lot of secrets in this town,” Abby said, her eyes contemplative behind her glass as she took a sip.
“Probably best if most of them stay that way,” Sebastian monotoned.
Petra glanced back into the main bar area at the busy scene, wondering what gossip swirled throughout the many conversations. She noted Leah on the far side, sipping a glass of wine. They caught eyes for a moment and exchanged a friendly smile.
“It probably has to be a little shocking for you to live in such a small town after being in the city so long,” Abby asked her then.
Petra nodded. “It’s really different, but in a good way. It’s a lot more peaceful. The city had so much noise and it was so crowded.”
“There was probably some cool stuff to do though, right?” Sam asked. “Concerts and clubs and stuff?”
“That’s true, but I never had much time to enjoy it. I was just trapped in an office all the time.” She could almost hear the dismal sound of the copier whirring and the phones ringing, a haunting echo in her mind.
“I would hate that,” Abby mused. Sebastian nodded in agreement.
“Maybe it's too early to say, but I think the small town farmer life suits me.” Petra felt warmed by how true that statement felt when she said it out loud, soreness and all.
Sam flashed her a sheepish grin, a hand rubbing the back of his neck. “Did you know that I totally thought you were going to be a dude?”
Petra laughed. “What? Why?”
“Mayor Lewis only referred to you as the farm’s “new tenant” and Farmer Henry’s “grandchild” in his bulletin,” Abby explained with an amused shrug. “So I think some assumptions were made.”
“Sorry to be gender-stereotyping, or whatever,” Sam said with a flicker of worry.
“No, that makes sense.” Petra assured him. “A lot of people seemed surprised that I was....me. I don’t really look the part of a farmer, I guess.”
“You could at least put on some overalls,” Sebastian dead panned. “Or dangle a piece of hay from your mouth.”
They all laughed but Sam almost snorted beer up at his nose. “Please start doing that!” he sputtered.
A half hour later Sam and Sebastian were playing another round of pool, and Petra was trying her best to help Abby finally beat Journey of the Prairie King . It seemed simple in concept, but not in practice. They swatted furiously at the controls in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to keep the orcs at bay.
“This game is impossible!” Abby lamented as a giant GAME OVER flashed on the screen, the melodious digitized music mocking them again.
“There’s so many of them..” Petra almost whispered, still dazed.
“Still haven’t beat it yet?” Sebastian asked from behind them, his tone insinuating that he had long ago completed this task. Sam collapsed on the couch to their right, also mourning in defeat.
“No,” Abby huffed. “We were close.”
“Sorry I couldn’t help you, Abby,” Petra sighed.
“That’s okay. One of these days…” her eyes narrowed at the screen for a moment. “You were actually pretty good for your first time. I didn’t think you’d know how to work a joystick so well.” She flashed Petra a playful look. “It seems you’re experienced.”
Petra chuckled. “It’s been awhile, but it comes right back to you.”
Sam bellowed from the couch as he filled up his glass. “I think we need another pitcher so I can drown my sorrows.”
“I’ll get the next one,” Petra offered quickly. They had already bought a few rounds.
“You sure?” Abby asked her hesitantly. Petra was fairly certain Abby knew from her dad that she wasn’t making much yet.
“No, I got it,” she assured her. “To be honest, Gus gave me that one last week for free. I think he feels for a struggling new farmer.” She shrugged with faux innocence.
“No shame in that,” Abby grinned. Petra noticed a silver glint in Abby’s ear as she turned that she hadn’t previously.
“Hey, did you get another piercing?”
Abby tucked her purple hair behind her ear proudly. “This one I did myself. My parents are pissed though.”
“Wow.” Petra tilted her head to admire the series of small hoops and studs that traveled up her ear. “I really like it.”
“Yeah?” she said cheekily, arching an eyebrow. “That’s not all that’s pierced.”
Petra blinked in surprise. Sebastian coughed.
She continued giving Abby an intrigued look as she grabbed the empty pitcher, taking a step back until she slowly turned towards the bar. Has to be her nipples, right?
As she made her way into the other room she was surprised to see Alex standing with his back to her. He was talking with Emily at the bar, who was taking a paper bag from him appreciatively. Maybe it was her shock to see him there or the few beers she had already downed, but her caution fell by the wayside. Petra strode up next to him and tapped his arm.
“Farm girl!” He seemed surprised and amused to see her. “What are you doing here? Slugging down a few beers with Pam?” Emily chuckled and moved on to help Shane.
“I’m here with Abby and Seb and Sam. ” Petra motioned with her eyes over to the pool room.
Alex’s brow furrowed in what she couldn’t decide was confusion or amusement, or a mixture of both. “That crew? I don’t know if you want to hang out with those troublemakers.” His tone was light, but Petra wasn’t sure if there was a bit of sincerity behind his words.
“You never hang out with them?” she asked, wanting a fuller picture.
“Nah.. I mean, not really. Festivals and such. We went to high school together but they’re a year or two behind me, so we didn’t hang out much other than the bus ride in.”
“You haven’t hung out since then?”
“I guess not? I mean, they usually just keep to themselves.”
“Well, they’ve been really nice to me. You should join us!” she encouraged, not truly thinking through was she was offering. “It would be fun.”
Alex shook his head. “You go ahead Farm Girl”. He patted her shoulder and glanced over, noting that all three were now staring at them. “Hang out with your squad.” There was a touch of mockery in the word.
Petra flashed him a look that was a bit more sultry than she intended, jutting her chin towards him. “At least they know my actual name.”
Alex smirked. He suddenly was just close enough to her that she found her breath catching. His voice was low and hushed. “I know your name, Petra.”
His eyes lingered on her. Petra’s cheeks flushed slightly. He turned back to the bar and the din of the room suddenly registered in her ears again.
“Emily, can I get a pitcher?” He looked back at her. “ Tell them I’ll be over in a minute.” Petra did a small excited bounce and he returned her grin.
She felt a little dizzy as she walked back to the table, her heart beating quickly.
“Hey, where’s the pitcher?” Abby asked before she had fully snapped out of her trance.
“Alex is bringing it over.” Petra’s excitement dimmed as she glanced around at their stunned faces. “Is… that okay?” She suddenly felt regret building in her stomach.
“Uh. I mean... yeah sure,” Sam said, ever positive. He looked to Abby and Sebastian. “It’s just uh, we never really hang out with Alex?”
“He doesn’t really like us,” Sebastian clarified.
“To be fair, he’s actually been nice to me,” Abby said thoughtfully. “I mean, not that we ever hang out or talk. But remember he defended me from that asshole kid on the bus that time?“ Sebastian nodded.
“Yeah. He’s was cool to me in high school too, in front of other kids not from the Valley, he’d have my back and shit,” Sam said. “We just weren’t really friends. He wouldn’t like, come to our birthdays or anything.”
“Did we ever invite him?” Sebastian posed.
Before the group could ponder that over, the sound of a chair scraping across tile broke the silence.
“Hey.” Alex plopped a full pitcher and glasses in front of them, a little spilling over the sides. “So Farm Girl here convinced me to join you guys. I hope that’s okay.”
Petra squeezed into the booth next to Sam as the others nodded and murmured affirmingly. Alex sat down in the chair he had pulled over, and an awkward silence fell over them. For a moment Petra wondered if she had more or less ruined the night for everyone. She bit her lip.
“I was surprised you were here, Alex,” Abby finally piped up. “I feel like you never come to the Saloon unless it’s after a festival day or something.”
“Yeah, I’m really not a drinker. Haley asked me to bring Emily some food on my way home so I was just dropping it off. But I could have a beer or two.” The mood brightened and Petra felt herself exhale again.
Sam started pouring the beer from the pitcher into each glass. “Uh, well usually we play pool or something. But maybe with so many people we play something else?”
“Never have I ever.”
“Two truths and a lie?”
“Oh! Let me ask you this!” Abby said suddenly, her blue eyes lighting up mischievously as she pointed a commanding finger at Alex. “Do you think,” she paused for effect. “ Marnie and Mayor Lewis are boning?”
Four heads swiveled to stare at him. Alex looked around at them, took a thoughtful swig of his beer, and then set it down on the table. “Um, fucking yes.”
Sam let out a victorious whoop as Abby and Petra burst out laughing. Sebastian looked horrified but intrigued.
Alex was grinning. He lowered his voice and leaned in and they followed suit. “I’ve seen Mayor Lewis coming back to his house from that side of town pretty late some nights, and I mean, just look.” They glanced over to the other room where the pair were standing close together, Marnie mesmerized by whatever story he was telling.
“I don’t know,” Sebastian said, shaking his head. “ This town is so small, I think people just like to have something scandalous to say. I mean, Mayor Lewis?” his eyes narrowed in disbelief.
“I’m telling you man, the guy’s a freak.” Sam raised his eyebrows once emphatically.
“We never get anyone else’s inputs on our theories,” Abby said, tapping her chin. She circled her finger. “What other town gossip do you subscribe to?”
“Well,” Alex’s brow furrowed in thought. “Clint is a hundred percent into Emily. She has no idea.”
The group murmured in agreement, except Petra who was shocked. “Really? He never says more than two words to anyone that I’ve ever seen!”
“You’ll see it. Wait for the first festival when they actually interact,” Abby told her.
“Meanwhile, I think she’s totally into Shane,” Alex offered.
“Definitely,” Sam confirmed.
“Shane really doesn’t like me,” Petra said. “I’m not sure why..”
“That’s not because of you,” Alex assured her.
“Nah, Shane’s a dick to everybody,” Sam agreed. “Trust me, I work with the guy. He’s not all bad he just puts on an act. It took me like two months to try and bond with him over anything. He’s just kind of miserable.”
Petra glanced over to where he was brooding by the bar, an irritated expression on his face. “Maybe I should keep trying.”
Sebastian shook his head, his dark eyes morose. “People like that don’t deserve your niceness.” Petra wondered if that was a sort of cryptic Sebastian compliment. She hoped so.
“I have another question,” Abby piped up. Her brows were furrowed. “Where does Gunther sleep ?”
A few minutes later the group had moved on to debate whether Marlon and Gil were an actual couple, when they were suddenly interrupted by Emily walking in with a new and needed pitcher.
“Incoming!” Sam said excitedly, moving a few empty glasses aside.
Emily’s blue eyes beamed as she set it down in front of them. “Petra, this is from Leah. She had it sent over before she left.”
Petra’s could sense the rest of the eyes at the table settling on her. She blushed slightly. “For me?”
“Well, for all of you. But she said to tell you specifically...” she paused for a beat to get it right. “She’s glad you’re following “half of her advice”.”
Petra blinked, trying to process that. Emily nodded once cheerfully and went on her way.
“Uh?” Sam’s eyebrow arched, a delighted smile on his face. “What was that about?”
“Did something happen between you two?” Abby gasped. “Please tell me you’ve kissed! Or more? She is smoking hot. Totally my type, if I was into girls.” She gave the group a cheeky head shake and a smile that suggested she wasn’t so sure she wasn’t.
Petra flushed. “No! Nothing happened. I mean. We’ve chatted. And we’ve foraged together..”
“Foraging? Is that what they call it?” Alex and Sam shared a chortle with a little too much bro energy.
Petra buried her face in her hands. “No! She just…” she suddenly realized the message. “She was giving me advice about being new here, and she said she regretted not reaching out to people more when she was new. So I think it was a nice gesture to support me in doing that.”
“That’s sweet..” Abby said softly. The group murmured appreciatively.
There was a pause. “She is like, really hot though, right?” Petra asked.
“Devastatingly,” Abby mourned in agreement.
Sebastian started filling up their cups with the new pitcher. “This night has taken some interesting turns.”
It was over an hour later and two more pitchers before Abby groaned. “I have to go home before my dad freaks out that I missed curfew. I’m already a few minutes late.”
“I’ll walk you,” Sebastian offered.
“I should go too,” Sam said. He looked at Alex. “Thanks for the pitcher, man. I’m glad you joined us.”
“Me too. Maybe another Friday we’ll do it again. Although I think we went through every piece of town gossip there is.”
“Oh, there’s always more,” Abby assured him. She gave Petra a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Are you sticking around or are you headed home?”
“I could have one more if you’re down, Farm Girl,” Alex offered.
“Sure.” Petra smiled, ignoring the small voice in her head.
Abby gave her a meaningful look. “I’ll text you tonight?” They squeezed hands and she turned to go.
Abby spun around, her eyes inquisitive.
Petra leaned in and whispered. “So, it’s your nipples right?”
Abby let out a shriek of laughter, giving her a playful shove. She was still cackling as she linked on to Sebastian and Sam’s arms and they headed towards the door, Sam pestering her to explain.
Suddenly alone in the room, Alex slid over from his chair to the booth across from her. “I’m glad you asked me to stay. I had a lot of fun tonight.” His face was genuine, and she savored a glimpse of him without his usual bravado.
“Me too,” Petra said. “It’s surprising to me you’ve never really hung out before, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves so much.”
“Well, nothing really unites us townies like good town gossip,” Alex chuckled. “We’ve kind of always stayed in our groups since middle school.” He frowned then. “I definitely could have been kinder to Seb back in the day. I was kind of a dick to him when he started wearing all black and grew his hair in 8th grade.”
“That was a long time ago,” Petra reasoned. “You were young.”
“Yeah, it was.” he looked thoughtful. Suddenly he gave here a coy look. “So. Are you sure nothing happened with Leah?”
Petra blushed at the sudden question. “No!”
He laughed. “I won’t push you on it. But we heard a lot about everyone else’s gossip, I want to know about yours.”
Petra’s smile faded. “What do you mean?”
“Like, before you came here. I know you had a crazy job that you hated. But is that it? Parents? Friends? A boyfriend?”
Petra took a moment to summarize. “My parents moved out of the country. I see them only once a year now, maybe. We talk whenever we can and really, they waited till I was grown. But I put a lot of pressure on myself to make a lot of money and have a good job since they wouldn’t be here to support me much. I worked hard to keep getting promoted at Joja, but I just ended up miserable.”
Alex nodded, his eyes serious. Petra knew a little about his story, his mother’s death, his miserable father. She knew he understood feeling alone.
“I did have friends in the city, but it was hard to see them much with my job. And my most recent relationship didn’t have a great ending. I was the one to break it off, but it was a long few years of being manipulated. I thought I was really in love.” Petra could feel her eyes stinging at the corners. She hadn’t thought about this in awhile. Somehow saying it out loud to someone new made it fresh again. She blinked, “ Anyway, after we broke up I discovered he had been cheating with a friend of mine.”
Alex grimaced sympathetically.
“A lot of why I came here for a fresh start was just to..” she gathered her thoughts. “Focus on myself. Do things for myself. Be independent.”
Alex nodded. “I get that.” He thought for a moment. “How has it been going, your fresh start?”
“The farming I’m enjoying, but it hasn’t been easy. I think I’ve got a good start and I’m working really hard. But I don’t know how long it’ll be before I am bringing in a viable income.”
“It’ll take some time,” Alex agreed. “But you’re putting in the work. I see it everyday.”
“Thanks,” she grinned. “I’m certainly enjoying my life a lot more now.”
His green eyes were soft. Petra felt something welling inside of her and started to resist, but the beer was making her brave. “What about you? How long have you been with Haley?”
Alex seemed a little surprised. “Haley?” He shook his head. “We’re not together. I mean, she’s my good friend, has been forever. But we haven’t really dated since high school.”
But you hook up? Petra pressed down the thought quickly.
“We were on again, off again. But we’ve been off for awhile.” Petra waited for him to go on. He seemed defensive in what he said next. “ Not everyone gets her. She can come off a bit harsh.” he looked uneasy. “...Sorry if she’s been a little rude to you.”
Petra shrugged and shook her head politely, even though she instantly pictured their first interaction where Haley asked why she was so dirty.
“Damn, farm girl, I gotta pee. I haven’t had this much to drink in awhile.”
“Me too, “ Petra said. She looked out across the bar. Most of the regulars were still there but it had emptied considerably. “What time is it?”
“Close to midnight, somehow.”
The two got up and walked to the narrow hallway with the two gender specific restrooms. “I’ll race you,” he said jokingly. Petra giggled.
After washing her hands, Petra looked at herself in the mirror. Soft hairs were coming out of her braid but the makeup she almost never wore was still looking okay. She shook her head, as if to get out a fleeting thought.
Exiting the bathroom, she suddenly remembered it was a race. There was no way he wasn’t going to gloat about the speed of his stream, and she felt a spark of drunken competitiveness. She quickened her pace and knocked the door directly into Alex’s unsuspecting forehead coming from the other side with a loud clonk.
“Whoa! Easy!” He groaned, reaching up for his face.
“I’m sorry!” She gushed, but in her drunken state couldn’t help but start laughing. “I wanted to win!”
“My beautiful face! ”
Petra tugged at his hands. “Let me see.”
He spread a few fingers so an eye could peer out at her. “Is it bad?”
“You have to move your whole hand,” she giggled, tugging at his wrist. He slowly raised it from his forehead, revealing a red mark.
“Oh, it’s bad alright,” she tutted.
“It is? Farm Girl. You brute.”
“It’s real bad. I don’t know if you’ll make it. I think we need to go see Dr. Harvey.”
“Yeah?” His tone changed, and he squared his shoulders to her now. Petra found herself suddenly incredibly aware of how close he was to her in this narrow space. She shied slightly, but then he put his finger under her chin to lift her back to his gaze. “Should you kiss it better?”
She felt her heartbeat quicken, staring into his green eyes and his handsome face, feeling the heat of his gaze and the dizziness of her tipsy state. She shoved a small flicker of fear back down.
Placing her hands on both of his cheeks, she kissed the spot tenderly. She moved down to the side of his face beside his eye and gave another slow and sweet kiss, then another on his chiseled jawline. He seemed to shiver. “How’s that?” she whispered.
“That’s helping.” He bowed his head so their lips were so close to touching she could feel their warmth. They stood like that frozen for a moment. He pulled back slightly, his green eyes concerned. “Is this okay?”
Petra could feel her insides burning and the earnest look on his face was only fueling her. She lifted her lips to his. It was a tender, sweet kiss at first. His lips were soft as they prodded hers and then suddenly her tongue was sneaking in between, and she felt his strong arm wrap around her lower back and pull her closer. Her legs felt weak beneath her as she held onto him, the world spinning around her.
They kissed hungrily now, like one of them might vanish. Petra felt a soft cry escape her as he moved his lips to her neck and began to pepper her with more kisses, sucking slightly. She ran her hands along his firm chest, overwhelmed by his toned physique and felt for a moment that she was certainly in a dream.
He reached down and grabbed a rough handful of her ass, letting out a ragged breath. “You’ve been teasing me in those shorts of yours for weeks,” he whispered. She smiled coyly, and nibbled his ear, relishing when his breath hitched for a moment at her touch.
The hand that had been grabbing her suddenly lifted her up effortlessly. He spun her around and gently pressed her against the wall of the narrow hallway in one swift movement. She wrapped her legs around his middle and flinched when she felt the hard, full pressure of his groin pinned against her. He bowed his head, his nose against hers. “Is this too much?”
She shook her head earnestly, resisting the urge to grind against him right then and there. Instead she took his head in her hands and kissed him again, long and sweet. He dropped his hand to her breast and kneaded it gently. She whimpered at his touch.
Now she couldn’t help but move her hips slightly, rhythmically, in a circle so that she was grinding against his large erection. He moaned softly.
“You’re so fucking hot, Petra.”
Her cheeks burned and she felt herself getting incredibly wet for him. His left arm stayed supporting her and his right hand slid from her breasts to her hips, to her thigh. At the hemline of her skirt, he hesitated.
“It’s okay,” she breathed, tugging his hand closer to her black underwear. He rubbed her tentatively, and she leaned her head back savoring the building pressure. She felt the electric sensation increase as he rubbed more confidently. A finger strayed down to slip underneath, and she wondered if from just this pressure alone she could-
“Damn Mullner. You don’t waste time.”
Petra’s breath caught, stunned by the sudden intrusion of a familiar voice. Alex dropped her gently but quickly, leering at the figure looming in the hallway entrance. “Shane,” he nearly growled through gritted teeth.
“The bathroom hallway? Yoba. Mind taking this elsewhere so I can piss?”
Alex gave him a deathly glare. He grabbed her hand reassuringly. “Come on,” he said softly.
Petra hesitated, thinking of anything to say, but instead she took Alex’s hand and followed him with a cold look up at Shane’s scowling face.
Out in the cold night air, she felt her mind spinning. It was a swirl of disappointment, and guilt, and the fuzziness of being too drunk.
“I should walk you home.” His hand was still holding hers.
Petra’s mind was set to fast forward, envisioning him in close quarters to her in her cozy farmhouse. She swallowed.
“Alex… I think I should go.”
“I can walk you,” he insisted.
“You’re sweet, but I’ll be fine. I think.. I should really go.”
His green eyes stared into hers, as if to read her mind. “Okay,” He let go of her hand slowly.
She looked up at him, his thick hair waving in the breeze. “I’m really glad you stayed tonight.”
“Me too. Petra. If.. if that was too much, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push it..”
“No-” she cut him off, putting two hands on his arm. He really was sweet. “It was.. I loved it. I thought you could tell.” Was he blushing? “It’s just that, I know I would easily get carried away, if you came home with me…and I shouldn’t.”
“Right.” his face relaxed. “Okay. I’m sorry, again, if that was a lot. I just. I find you irresistibly sexy. And gorgeous. And..” he was leaning in again, his eyes searching her face.
Petra kissed him, earnestly. “There’s nothing to worry about,” she assured him.
“Text me, when you’re home?”
She started towards the town square, giving his hand one last drunken squeeze. She quickened her pace, her thoughts uncontrollable. Shit. Should I have let him walk me? No. That would not have ended well. I wouldn’t be able to resist. I can’t catch feelings here. Holy shit that was hot though. Fuck will Abby be mad? No. Why would she be? Ugh holy Yoba, Shane. Will he tell the entire town? Would I care?
Petra gazed into the night sky, dappled with stars, the memory of his touch on her skin and his voice in her ear. “I know your name, Petra”. She shivered.