Maru stepped out the door of the little farmhouse out of obligation more than anything else. The farm was hers now, because Alyssa had left it to her. They'd had such grand plans - who could tell that she'd be a widow after Alyssa died of heart failure while fishing out in the Calico Desert?
And to think that Alyssa had gotten into fishing finally because Maru had sat her down and explained to her that she didn't want to be a widow because Alyssa ventured too deep into the mines, and could Alyssa please learn to fish? After all, she didn't want to be raising kids on her own.
It took Maru a moment to realize that Shane was standing on the steps up to the farmhouse. She wondered what he wanted - he mostly helped Marnie out on the farm, so maybe he'd been tasked by Marnie to bring her something - no, Marie would mail things, or come up herself. "Shane?"
He gave her a watery smile. "Yeah. Gotta talk to you - can we go inside?"
Alyssa had checked her fortune every day on the TV, confiding to Maru that it was a guilty pleasure. Neither of them had believed. Maru had done the same that morning, with the fortune teller proclaiming that this was going to be a lucky day for her. For the entire valley, really.
"Look," he said, after she'd set two coffees down on the table, "I checked on your animals for you. Your auto-feeder's partly busted on the barn, but I was able to feed the cows and the rest manually. Here's the stuff I got - you know, the usual." There was some wool, not to mention eggs and milk and... was that a truffle?
She kind of knew, though Alyssa had been the one to take care of things. She tried to keep the parts she could fix working, and it sounded like she'd have to go out and do some repair work on the barn. She'd better check the coop as well. It was just as well that Alyssa never wanted a slime hutch. "Thank you."
"She promised me a percentage of the farm's profits. I agreed, but it wasn't anything really formal." Shane leaned back in his chair. "I'm not going to hold you to her promise."
Generally Alyssa knew what she had been doing. Maru hoped. "If Alyssa promised, then I'll carry through." She was sure that was what Alyssa would have wanted.
"Fuck." The expletive surprised Maru. "Maru, do you know how much Alyssa did for me? I went from being a wage slave to being able to be there for the animals. The whole town owes her for getting Joja out of here."
It was what Alyssa's funeral had been like. She'd been buried in the town cemetery, with everybody remembering her. Her portrait had been hung in the community center that she'd help restore.
"Her birthday was three days after mine." Alyssa had shared her birthday with Alex. She'd joked more than once that she should have married him, but her heart was Maru's. For all that Alyssa didn't do tech, she could - and had - spent hours watching Maru tinker.
"She was a total lightweight when it came to drink. Yeah, I had to haul her home, once." The corner of his mouth turned up slightly. "But also, you don't owe me anything. You made Alyssa happy."
"Alyssa got up so early." It was hard to imagine her drinking. She never showed any interest at home and rarely went into the saloon.
"Yeah, and greeted me like a puppy for weeks right next to Pierre's until I gave in and stopped being so grumpy at her." There was a smile in there, somehow. "She loved pizza - especially Gus', but hated calamari."
"And wasn't interested in jewelry." She'd shared memories of Alyssa with everybody but Shane, somehow. They just hadn't ended up talking - but that wasn't unusual for Shane. She knew something about his past and why he seemed to prefer animals to people. "Every precious stone she got was for helping out the family, not for her."
"She was so damn giving." Shane shook his head. "I'm glad that you got her out of those mines. She worried me."
Maru wanted to laugh. It came out as a hiccup.
"I know you can't talk about it - but I hope Harvey told her to be careful about her heart." Shane shook his head and took another sip of his coffee.
"What?" Alyssa had never mentioned it to her - and Maru doubted she'd told Harvey if she hadn't told Maru.
Shane swore. "Damn it. She never did? Her father's side - heart disease ran in the family."
Alyssa had inherited the farm from her mother's father, not her father's father. Her "morfar" and her "farfar," Alyssa had liked to joke. Far, far away and even farther away, but well-loved.
Her wife had joked a lot, even on the day when she hadn't come back. Alyssa had probably thought she was immortal and nothing could kill her, even her heart. Alyssa had been a wonderful wife, making sure that Maru was comfortable, but she had her downsides. She was messy and a bed hog. She couldn't bother to move her furniture around, forgot she had animals once the auto-feeder was in, and frequently went out into the world with dirty underwear. Underwear that shouldn't have been worn until one of them had a chance to wash it. Maru had complained about this to her mother, once.
Her mother had laughed and told Maru that she'd married a messier, female version of her father.
"Anyway," Shane said, "I promised Alyssa that I'd take care of you. She told me those crystalariums you constructed together should keep you comfortable, but you don't know the most basic thing about milking a cow." He laughed unexpectedly. "Not that she really knew how to do it, either."
It could have been derision. It really could have been. But Alyssa and Shane had been good friends, because Alyssa had understood what it was like to be alone, and Shane wouldn't have said anything nasty about Alyssa. Or so Maru hoped. "I just quickly said hello!" Alyssa had explained. "Every morning. Because I could."
She'd done the same for Maru, deliberately choosing to go past the Community Center on her way to the mines. Somewhere, somehow, Maru had fallen in love with her for that. Alyssa's great fault was definitely that she cared more for others than she cared for herself, much to her detriment. Why mention a heart problem when it would only cause distress, after all?
"So, will you show me how to do it properly?" Maru asked. She'd mentioned to Alyssa once that running a farm was far more difficult than it looked. Alyssa had agreed.
Looking startled, Shane almost spilled his coffee on his sweatshirt. "Yeah. If you want. And I can come every morning. I've gotten used to getting up early."
Maru nodded, knowing that she'd be getting up early too. "I still have my clinic job, but I have to take care of the animals and water the crops." What crops were still not under the radius of the sprinklers, that was.
"You don't have to do it alone." He put the coffee down gingerly. "I promised Alyssa that I would help on the farm. If that means petting everything and gathering all the products together, that's what I'll do. Because that's what Alyssa would have wanted."
She felt her eyes tearing up at his last sentence. What Alyssa would have wanted. Alyssa would have wanted to live, that's what she would have wanted, but it was too late now, wasn't it? "Thank you, Shane, but...."
"No buts. It's not an obligation, Maru, and it's not because she promised me an interest in the farm." Shane's tone was firm. "You've got kids. I know what it's like to be responsible for a kid as well. That's why I agreed to do this."
He probably had. Alyssa had often talked about Shane, because she thought Shane was interesting. And she probably had talked to Shane about Maru, because once she got started, it was sometimes hard to get her to shut up.
"Thanks, Shane." She mustered a smile, somehow.
"You're welcome. All of you. Thanks for the coffee." He put the cup down on the table. "By the way...."
"Yes?" Maru asked, for Shane had an odd expression on his face.
"Did you know that she named one of the rabbits 'Pikachu'?"
Maru broke down laughing, while Shane grinned. He got up. "See you tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow." Maybe, for once since Alyssa's death, she felt like smiling.