Thunderheads battled their way past the mountains, rumbling with the promise of a drenching. Good thing she’d finished replacing the roof. Guess she’d see if she missed a spot. The sun was sinking down behind the tree line on the other side of the valley, painting the two fields into sun washed paintings of farm life. The orchard sang with the calls of birds bedding down for the night. Jeanne sat down on the edge of her porch and looked at the progress she’d made. Riotous flowers bloomed around the porch she hadn’t had time to paint. The whole farmhouse was that way, a hodgepodge of old weathered wood, new planking, and odd bits and bobs of architecture that pleased her. It had been worth the long ride to the closest town to bring back all of the tools and materials herself. There was a lot that needed doing still. She tended the orchards and had started the fields because she’d need the produce for trade before too long, but tending to the growing things left her little time for painting a porch or rehabbing furniture. The sun sank lower and she considered whether to go light a lamp, when a group of hesitant shapes broke from the tree line and started creeping toward her barn. Yet another of the tasks she hadn’t gotten around to was getting a latch for the barn. Not that she used it for much at the moment.
Old habits had her rising slowly and getting her recurved bow down from its hook on the inside of the door. She faded into the shrubs and flowers like a hare into a burrow and made her way over the yard to the barn. She slid the door ajar so she could hear the hushed voices more easily.
“-but I still think we should keep watch.” A woman’s voice, hushed and wary.
“Anna… oh alright.” A man, weary to the bone and tired of being scared.
“Can I sleep in the loft?” A child, curious and sleepy.
Jeanne drew the barn door closed and let them be.
The next morning, she woke early, made sure she would have enough to feed everyone, and watched the barn through the kitchen window. When she judged the sun was high enough and a few birds had left the barn, she slipped out of her house and down to the field near the barn. The barn door opened and she waved.
A delay, then the door opened and the woman stepped out. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t think anyone lived here. I’ll leave, just let me get my things.”
“Its alright. I don’t get many visitors out here.” Jeanne took in the worn clothes the bags under the woman’s eyes and the rabbit wary eyes. “Don’t have a phone or a radio yet. I’d appreciate any news you might have. Be willing to trade a bite of breakfast for it.” The woman hesitated and Jeanne could see she was still cautious of kindness.
“Well I… breakfast sounds lovely.”
A small head peaked around the door. Jeanne smiled and got down low. “Hey there. You, and your daddy if he’s in there, can come to breakfast too.”
The man and the child, a little girl dressed in overalls and a green shirt, stepped out of the barn. They had their packs on. They were runners. They’d leave in a heartbeat, and they looked so tired. Jeanne was tired of playing stupid.
“Look,” she said as she stood up. “Truth is, I could use a hand around here with a couple odd jobs, and you lot look like you could use a rest. I’ve got food and two different roofs you could bunk under. In exchange the barn and the house could use a paint job, or if you’d rather not paint, I can do that if you’ll look after the orchard and the fields.”
The woman stepped back to stand with her family and exchanged a look with her husband. Temptation warred with caution.
“I don’t care what it is.” Jeanne said. She undid the buttons on her cuffs and slid the open overshirt off. Jagged spikes and cruel spirals of scars fought for space down her arms. “I won’t ask what or who sent you running out here, wary of every person that moves. I’ve done the same. So I’ll make you a promise.” She looked each of them in the eyes. “I won’t ask about anything that happened in your old life. You won’t ask anything about mine. We work out the rest of it as we go. I don’t care about your past, I just want to keep this place going and I need help with it one way or another.”
The man and woman communicated in the silent way of people who know each other better than themselves. Then they nodded at Jeanne.
“Does this mean we get breakfast?” The little girl asked.
Jeanne smiled. “Yes. Why don’t we all get settled in.” She waved them toward the house. “You can call me Jeanne. I’ll need something to call you.”
They caught her emphasis, and for the first time, they smiled. “George and Anna. And this is our daughter, Shawn.”
“Nice to meet you. Welcome to… you know, I really should find out the name of the area.”
Anna laughed, “You could call it Lethe – what with the sketchy state of everyone’s history around here.”
Jeanne shook her head. “Not sure I get that reference. But I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
I’ve been robbed! Take a look at what that merry band of thieves did with this first line.