"Do you ever think we might be cursed?"
John glanced over at Harold. "No," he said. "Do you?"
"I suppose it seems an incongruous question at the moment," Harold replied. It did, coming from a man kneeling on a cushion of straw and four-hundred-dollar blazer, fingers stained and busy, lips impossibly red, eyes impossibly blue and narrowed against the sunlight. They'd been driving back from Newburgh after a near-miss rescue, seen the sign - an enormous painted fruit, amateurish, lacking nuance, mouthwatering - whereupon Harold had made a small longing noise and John had immediately pulled over. The bin inside the little store - marked Strawberry's; John had sensed Harold itching to correct it - had been empty aside from a few crimson smears and some leaves.
"Sorry. They're so popular; we can't keep up," said the woman at the counter. "But the pick-your-own field is open." She glanced at Harold and John's clothes with evident doubt. "Would you like a box?"
"Yes," John said firmly, remembering Harold's whimper. They drove up to the field and parked, then walked out along a long row of plants until they found an unpicked spot with good lines of sight in every direction, John taking the side from which the more plausible of unlikely threats would be visible. So far they'd half-filled the box, several quarts worth; he had no idea what they were going to do with that many strawberries. It didn't seem a good idea to feed them to Bear. But he wasn't about to spoil such a peaceful interlude by suggesting they stop.
He reached out, plucked a strawberry Harold had missed, and dropped it into the box. "I know what you mean, though," he said, catching Harold's fleeting gaze, glad he didn't need to explain. More a jinx than a curse: he'd been avoiding saying out loud that he was happy. "But" - he might be able to go this far without disaster ensuing - "it's pleasant to be here, now, doing this. Even if you're likely to get arrested for eating a quarter of what you pick."
"You exaggerate, Mr. Reese," Harold said primly, as if not betrayed in the least by his bright mouth. "And the price accounts for a calculated amount of… foraging on the part of customers."
"If you say so, Harold."
He didn't answer, just examined the box critically and selected one of the most flawless berries, then offered it, looking only mildly surprised when John leaned in to take it in his mouth direct from Harold's hand. Sweet and warm, like swallowing contentment. "Thank you," he said.
"You're very welcome, John," Harold said, and smiled.