Jeanne picked a double dozen of the first fall apples and tossed them into her basket. She was in the mood for applesauce and didn’t want to wait for the boughs to overflow with fruit. Fall was taking its time this year. Sneaking in when the sun wasn’t up and vanishing when light cracked the horizon. She harvested the last of the apricots. They’d had a good season and she had plenty of them stored in the big freezer in the cellar. This batch would be to make preserves since the kids had devoured the last batch. They’d be home from school in a few hours. Jeanne swung the basket onto her hip, checked that the battered automatic harvester was safe beneath its tarp, and swung into her kitchen. She really would have to fix that door before it got too much colder.
She peeled apples, saving the skins for dinner salads and cider garnish. The large farmhouse kitchen gathered clutter as she prepped her fruit.
She was washing off her paring knife when she heard the roar of an engine tearing up the only gravel track. She tossed her fruit into the appropriate pots and covered them to block out flies. They’d keep while she saw to the travelers. Zeke and Mirabelle had taken the kids for a week in the peaks so she was minding the shop.
The bike was parked at the lone pump, and it was sweetness in mechanical form. Bit worn around the edges, but a top line machine. She quick stepped into the general store, her work boots announcing her presence.
“Sorry about the wait.”
The customer was slow in turning her way. Oh he was trouble, and trouble had a really find rear view. She slipped behind the counter.
He shook his head. “Forty on pump one,” he said and put the credits on the counter. He smirked when he said pump one – it wasn’t like there was another pump. The smirk went well with the leather jacket worn at the elbows and pockets. Jeanne rang him up.
“You the owner?” he asked.
“No, just watching the store while they’re out of town. I’d have been here sooner, but I was up to my elbows in apple peels.” She passed him his receipt. “Can I get you anything else?”
He picked up a desultory inventory of items, jerky, candy, a pack of smokes, a rain poncho.
“You know a place I can stay around here? I haven’t seen a motel or anything.”
She gave him a look over. Quiet looked better for him than chaos. “Anton rents out a bunk or two over near the garage. You fixing up your bike?”
“Yeah. She could use some new tires.” He rubbed the back of his neck.
“He can get you tires, but there’ll be a delay as he’ll have to order them.”
“Then I guess I’ll have to get the place. Is food included?”
“Nah. You want food, you head back to my place.”
“The farm house?” He looked a little doubtful. Which was justified, she just hadn’t had time to spend on basic maintenance recently… well in a while.
“Yep.” She completed the second transaction. “Things work a mite differently around here. If you’re strapped for cash, there are some things need doing around town, definitely at my place, and we don’t have many spare hands. If you’re willing to work, we’ll put you up for a bit.”
He looked at her and she fought down the sympathy she felt. Whatever he was running from it had been awhile since his last encounter with casual kindness.
“I’ll give it a thought,” he said.
Jeanne passed him items. “One other thing you should know,” she said.
“Just one?” he said with a disbelieving smile.
“Just one, it’s kind of a town rule. No one asks anyone else about their pasts and if you stay, that includes you and yours.”
He looked at her, saw she was serious, and laughed in that way that said he questioned her sanity.
Jeanne gave the shop a quick look around while he took his items out to his bike. He took his bike over to Anton’s. She closed up the store, and headed back home. He didn’t know it yet, but she did and she smiled. It would be nice to have a new face in town.