Chapter 1: The Market
Here I am again… I stare at my reflection in the side mirror of my rusty Chevy. My long dirty blonde hair, baby blue eyes, and lean face. Who am I? Of course, I’m a young woman who knows farming. I am responsible, dependable, and trustworthy. But, who the heck am I? Who is Ileana? What makes me...me?
I slowly walk from the cab to the tailgate of my old 1985 C1500. It was a present from the neighbors a couple miles down our dead-end road. It seems the only places I ever drive are on the farm, to town, and the market.
I wish I could get out of here and explore the world; to have many amazing adventures. I long to be the modern Indiana Jones. I would kill to find ancient artifacts all over the world. If I could have chosen my life, that....
“...and a dozen corn.” I barely hear the well-dressed woman in front of me say. Shit. I was daydreaming again.
I look up and apologize, “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat it please?” I try to look sincere, but I’m pretty sure my face looks more annoyed than anything.
Thank gods dad isn’t here, he would slap my knee and say, ‘Quit dreaming, this is how we earn a living. It is no time to dilly dally, dear.’ If I had a dollar for everytime I heard that, I’d be rich.
“Yes, I said I would like a watermelon, cantaloupe, two tomatoes and a dozen corn.” She repeats herself in an exasperating tone.
“Do you have any preference on which ones you wanted?” I kindly reply.
“The juiciest ones you have, the sweeter, the better!” She says with a cheesy smile.
Oh jeez, another rich snob. I think to myself as I watch her apply powder to her nose using a hand mirror. They always drive by in their fancy cars and dress so fashionable. Half of the time, my brain cannot process the odd clothing some people choose to wear. I bet her button blouse costs more than my truck.
I grab the closest produce that look decent and set them on the table. “That will be sixteen dollars.”
“Really?!? That’s too expensive! That’s outrageous! I can’t believe you have the audacity to charge that much for a few fruits and vegetables.” She barks at me while slamming a hand down on the table. The commotion causes a couple other vendors to glance at me and smile apologetically.
“They are farm fresh. They were all picked yesterday or this morning. It may cost more than a supermarket, but you won’t find this quality there.” I explain trying to defuse her quick temper. Dad has always told me to work a deal with the well-dressed customers; they have connections that will help us in the future.
“I will not pay a dime over twelve dollars.” She says harshly.
“I can do twelve, just for you. I will even throw in an extra ear of corn.” I try my hardest to calm myself and fake a smile.
“Don’t think I didn’t notice your daydreaming earlier. I will take an extra cantaloupe for my troubles also, or I will never come back again!” She shouts angrily.
I hope you never come back again. I give her the extra cantaloupe and load them in the trunk for her. As I’m about to close it and thank her, I hear her say to her daughter, “-you must always treat those with less like they are less than you. Don’t let them get their way and don’t do any unnecessary work.”
With that, I slam the hatch as hard as I can and wander back to my station, kicking rocks with every step. I hop on my truck and try not to throw tomatoes at her car as she starts driving away.
I look around the market and notice that it’s died down quite a bit. There are only two other vehicles selling things and a couple people browsing.
“What a bitch!” I hear a voice say, coming from behind my stand. Oh great, another customer.
“Excuse me?” I question their foul language.
That is when I see him--or is it her? It sounded like a girl, but the figure walking towards me looks like a man wearing a hat and sun glasses.
“That lady, she had no right to treat you like that.” They reply with a thick east european pronunciation.
At this point, I can tell she’s definitely a girl. She has a soothing and strongly accented voice that lingered in my ears. “It’s okay, I’m used to it.” I wonder where she is from, that accent is so enticing. I gaze a little longer at her perfectly symmetrical face. Her eyes capture mine through the tinted glass for a second before I look away. I would die for a face like that. Not really, but she was very fortunate. I’m sure she has no problem getting dates.
“Why are you dressed like a boy?” I blurt out when I analyze her button-up shirt and trousers again. Gods, what was I thinking? I am so rude! I have no right to ask that. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that. I am just curious and apparently not thinking straight. I didn’t mean to offend you.” I say quickly, hoping she has no ill feelings towards me.
“Do you have a problem with women wearing men’s clothing? I am definitely not wearing boys’ clothing. Anyways, if you must know why I chose to dress like this, I am undercover.” She explains in a soft timbre.
“Yeah, okay. Cause if you were hiding out, you would tell a complete stranger.” I say with a smile and extreme sarcasm. For some reason, I feel relaxed and at ease speaking with her.
“You have a point there. I guess my excuse is that they are more comfortable...and they have pockets!” She replies and returns my smile genuinely.
She continues looking at me from under the brim of her hat. Her gaze catches my eyes again and I suddenly get a shiver. It’s like she is looking at me with hunger. I look away because I’m starting to feel a little unfamiliarly awkward.
I look back up and she is still gawking at me, “Can you stop looking at me like that?” I say shyly with an uncertainty in my tone.
She takes her hat off and shakes her chestnut colored hair gently back and forth. I am mesmerized as it falls down past her shoulders. “Sorry, I was daydreaming. Don’t flatter yourself, hun. I wasn’t looking at you.” She brushes off my question as if nothing just happened.
She looks so familiar...especially with her hair down now. Gosh, where do I know her from?
“Is there anything I can get for you?” I say trying to stop the awkward silence.
“Yeah, I’ll take a watermelon.” She says with a head nod and a wink.
I blush and smile. Why did I blush at that? Now, I’m feeling kind of warm. I must be coming down with something. “Good choice. You can have this one; I just picked it this morning. It should be pretty good.”
She put her hair back up in her hat. I wonder how it all fit without showing. “What do I owe you?”
“That will be five dollars.”
She pulls out a wallet and digs around in it. Eventually, she hands me a folded twenty dollar bill.
“Keep the change.” She says with a wink and walks away. I can’t help but watch her go. She walks so gracefully; it’s almost as if she is floating on a cloud.
“Thank you!” I yell after her. I see her turn, smile, and nod her head at me again.
I unfold the money to put it away and find a hundred dollar bill folded behind it. This must be a mistake. I try to scan the grounds to find her, but she is nowhere to be seen. Dammit, she’s already gone. I’ll hold onto it in case she comes back.
I spend the rest of the day waiting for her. Keeping her image in my mind was my top priority so I wouldn’t mistake her for anyone else.
Like I could...
I couldn’t help but think of her: her eyes captured my gaze more than I’d like to admit, her long brown hair flowed in the air when she flipped it, her symmetrical face with that cute nose and soft jaw line, and her woman figure even though it was hidden in men’s clothing. And she winked at me. Why would she wink? Why did I blush when she winked at me?
What a very strange encounter. People are weird, that’s for sure. I guess people will always be weird though.
The rest of the day went by with nothing out of the ordinary. A few customers an hour to keep me from the boredom that could have been. It is now almost dark and the lady never returned. I wish I asked her for her name. I wonder if she meant to give me the one hundred dollar bill. She probably didn’t.
All of the vendors are now packing up to head home. I start to clean up and soon I am the only one left. I see headlights in the distance heading this way. I quickly finish strapping everything down. I hope that’s her!
When the vehicle gets closer, I can tell it’s Jack’s truck and I feel slightly saddened. The god-awful clanking of his loose tailgate gives him away every time.
Jack is my neighbor and as best of a friend anyone could ever ask for, he happens to be the only best friend I have ever had. He is a year younger than me and we always get teased for being a couple because we’re so close, however, I have never thought of him more than my best friend, nor will I ever.
“Hey hey!” I hear him yell a couple hundred feet away as he is hanging out the truck window. “Guess what song is on!”
I listen closely, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Baby get ready. Ooh ooh ooh!” Jack sings terribly while shouting.
“You and me go fishing in the dark. Lying on our back and counting the stars.” We both sang together.
I haven’t heard this song in a while. But it’s a fun peppy song from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that I’ll never forget. “All right, turn it down. What’s up Jack?”
“Oh nothing, I just knew you’d be here. You’re always the last to leave and it’s already dark out. Someone’s gotta protect you from the crazies and rabid wolves, you know?” He replies, puffing up his chest to look bigger. However, he’s actually pretty scrawny for a farm boy but he’s definitely stronger than he looks.
“Next time I’m cornered by puppies and babies, I’ll shoot you a text for help.” I wink at him and tease.
“You should still be careful out here alone. What if your truck breaks down?” He questions with a concerning look on his face.
“Then I have my pack, phone, and 12-gauge ready to go.” I respond rationally.
“Your phone is never charged.”
“Sure it is. Look here.” I flip open my phone and see a missed call from home. I listen to the voicemail left five minutes ago. “Dinner’s done. Mom wants me home soon.”
“See that’s my point, you always miss calls and texts. No good having a phone if you have it on silent and miss everything. I’ll drive behind you home.”
“Thanks. And I do check it...like twice a day, so I don;t miss anything for that long. I check it even more when we are texting.”
I hop in my truck and start driving with Jack behind me. Before I know it, he’s turning off the road and I’m home. When I walk inside I apologize for being late. I slide my boots off and throw my jacket on the hook. “Do you need help, ma?” I holler on my way to the kitchen.
“No, we’re at the table, dear.” I hear from the dining room.
I see mom and dad sitting at the table waiting for me. We often have dinner together since it’s just us three. Sometimes, I think dad wishes they had another child, especially a son. But I know he is proud of me. I do what I’m asked and I help out as much as I can.
“So, how was the market?” Dad asks.
“Pretty good. There was an awful stuck-up customer and then a really nice one who forgot their change.”
“You better hold onto that and give it back, and I hope you were professional to the not-so-nice customer.” He responds.
“I was, I didn’t want to be though. And I waited longer tonight to see if she would come back, just in case. That’s why I was a little later than usual. Well that and Jack stopped by.”
“So...has anything happened between you two yet? You seem awfully close.” Dad asks bluntly.
“Umm, no. He’s just my friend and always will be.”
“Just thought I’d ask. You know, life can change in an instant. It certainly did when I met your mother.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so dad, I’m only 22.” I reply.
“Well I met your dear mom here when I was 17; nothing could keep us apart. Anything can happen in life, just keep an open mind.”
“Oh my gods dad, it’s like you’re trying to marry me off all the time. I’m just not interested right now.” I reply embarrassed and a little upset.
I don’t know why it upset me. I haven’t met a guy I’ve been attracted to yet, it’s not like I’m choosing to be uninterested. Something must be wrong with me. It’s not my fault that I’m not ready yet. I don’t know, maybe I am ready. I am 22...how long do people wait to know? I know that there are tons of girls pregnant at 16...heck they even made a TV show about it. Maybe it’s time that I keep an open mind and be interested in boys...dad is usually right.
“I’m not trying to force you out honey. I just want to make sure you’re okay. You haven’t dated anyone, and you’re older than most that start. You’re well into being an adult already.”
“I know dad. I’m happy where I am. I’m happy working on the farm with you, and I’m sure you’re grateful for it also.” I reply.
“I am honey, but I want to make sure you’re truly happy and that we aren’t holding you back.” He says looking concerned.
“You definitely aren’t. When I’m ready, I’ll leave. I don’t even know what I want to do. I might go to college. I might be able to do anything else. Plus, I have enough money saved up from these last few years that I’ll be okay no matter what I do.”
“I know. I just need reassurance sometimes. I know you’re good with money, but you also need to let loose a little. You’re a good girl. Way better than I could have ever asked for.”
“Thanks dad. And thank you mom, this spaghetti is amazing, like it always is. No one can make it like you.” I say appreciatively.
“You’re welcome, dear. Don’t eat too fast. We don’t want you to have a belly ache.”
I nod and ignore her warning because of the delicious taste in my mouth. Yeah because I’m gonna let you know if it happens. This is what I deal with daily; overprotective parents who want what’s best. I finish my food quicker than I should have so I can get away from the table quicker. I take my plate to the sink and rinse it off. Then I slowly walk to the living room and flip on the TV.
I’m not a big fan of TV. However, sometimes it’s nice to relax and waste time. The only thing on right now is the evening news. We only have the local 10 stations so we don’t have many options. After the news, dad will pick one of the two sports channels to watch, sip a beer, and eventually fall asleep to. Occasionally, I have a beer with him, but it’s not really my thing. No matter what team is playing or what sport is on, he is always quick to pick a favorite team and start yelling at the TV.
Apparently, he was really good at sports in high school, but he had to quit early and take care of the farm. He left school at 16 and eventually met mom at the market. She would always go there with her mom when she was younger. They fell in love and had me at 19. Dad’s only 41 now, but he has had his old man routine down pat for the last ten years.
Early in the morning, he goes to take care of the animals, and then works on the fields. He fixes up all the broken things and keeps everything healthy. He has always been a provider. He works so hard all day long. Then at sunset, we eat, watch TV, have a beer, and head to bed.
I know he doesn’t expect me to take over the farm when he gets too old, but I have to. There’s no other choice, I will be stuck here like he was. I think he wants me to find a guy so bad so he can teach him how to run the farm and I can do something else. Dad has taught me a majority of what he knows, but is still reluctant on the harder portions of running a farm. The first thing he did when I turned 18 was send me to the market alone, and that has been my job ever since. Now that I think about it, it’s probably for me to meet a guy.
“Time for bed.” Mom whispers. She turns off the TV at the sound of dad’s snoring. She covers him with a blanket and kisses his forehead.
I climb up the stairs, wiggle out of my clothes, and crawl under my covers. I will deal with the mess in the morning. It’s already late and I’m so exhausted.
Somehow, I can’t stop thinking about that woman from the market. She held herself with such poise. She seemed confident and comfortable with herself. I replay the encounter in my mind and smile when I remember she winked at me. I hope I see her again. I will even have an excuse to speak with her when I see her! What is this? Why am I thinking of her so much? Okay, time to go to bed...think of anything else brain.
The last thing that runs through my mind is if I would be content living like mom and dad, or if I needed the adventure I desire.