: Surprise, Surprise:
A buzz was going through the village on this Wednesday morning as most volunteers helped to prepare for the fair. Since the early hours people had gathered in and around the Town Hall, building stalls and decorating the Hall with flowers. Spare tables found their way across the roads to be temporarily stacked to be counted. Tanner would not allow letting a nail go amiss and was painstakingly taking note of every crumb that passed through the Hall gate.
In amidst all this commotion waded Lorna through a huge plastic box of cutlery, polishing and counting every fork, knife and spoon that was within. With an exhausted puff dropped Jeannie yet another heavy dusty box next to Lorna who gazed frustrated at the never ending supply that came out of nowhere.
“Oh please tell me that was the last one?” Lorna begged who was presented with a petty look. From afar Tanners determined voice piped across the room.
“No need for the long face my dear. We have to think of the happy people and we don’t want to disappoint anyone, do we? What if one fork is amiss? This one fork could determine if a visitor has a good or bad experience and we don’t want to have any bad reviews.”
Lorna startled around to Jeannie in disbelief. How could he ever have heard her complain through all this hammering and bustling? Sometimes he was rather spooky.
A grin hushed over Jeannie’s face when she left her god-mother to go back to the storage room that was at the far end of the Town Hall. The corridor was equally busy with people who stuck posters and garlands along the walls. When she turned in to the dark room it took her some time to adjust to the dim light. At the same time she had to make way to others who were walking in and out carrying heavy loads.
From behind the furthest shelves appeared Alexander with a tool box. He hadn’t seen Jeannie yet as he studied a list that Tanner had handed him earlier and had almost missed her if she hadn’t called his name. Taken a little aback he stopped in his tracks to greet her formally.
“Hey, how is it going?” she asked carefully and wondered why Alex had become so cool towards her.
“Fine. Going well.” his shortness was even worse than the awkward realisation that she had actually enjoyed waking up in his arms yesterday.
Wordless she shuffled slowly around him to get passed.
“Great. Well, I see you later.” Her heart was thumping hard in her throat while she wished the room would swallow her whole just to get away from this moment.
Alexander had almost reached the door as he turned around. He felt ridiculous how childishly he blanked Jean. He did care for her, maybe a little too much for his own good as he concluded yesterday. But ignorance wasn’t the answer either.
“I hope Tom was alright yesterday? Must have been hard for him.”
Relieved that he finally searched for a conversation Jeannie turned around. The smile she sent across overwhelmed Alexander. There it was again. His knees trembled in this uncontrollable weakness and there was no way out.
“Thank you for asking. He took it better than I had anticipated. Now we only have to find a way to turn the tide I guess.”
An awkward silence spread between them as they stood across from each other and tried to avoid eye contact. The backdrop of their soundtrack was the hammering sound of the busy morning that echoed through the hall.
It was Jeannie who quietly rose her voice.
“I better let you go. Tanner will be wondering where you’ve been so long. I see you later.”
“You sure will” that came out far too sassy, Alexander thought. He cursed his weakness she caused every time she was near. With long strides, Alex rushed along the corridor as if he was trying to run away from himself. He needed fresh air. As soon as the doors flung open he drew in a deep breath and exhaled with an even deeper sigh.
Tanner wanted a stall to be erected right next to the side entrance of the Town Hall. Some of Alex’s friends had already started cutting wood and the sound of saws and hammering echoed through the place as suddenly a loud howl screamed along the road. Alex and the others halted for a moment to observe where the source had come from and soon saw it emerging around the street corner.
A shiny brand new rental car careered around the corner and abruptly came to a stop in front of the Towns Inn. Anticipation grew as the driver’s door slowly opened and a tall sportive blond figure with big sunglasses and a light grey suit stepped onto the street. He thoroughly scanned the area around him. The new arrival left no stone unturned to attract everyone’s attention as he waded over to the passenger seat and helped a young evenly fancily dressed woman out of the car. Her short skirt was swiftly adjusted before she tippled on her high heels up the steps of the Inn. Both of them coloured a stark contrast to the town they had entered and left a bitter taste with Alex. He had a weird sensation as he watched the couple disappear within the Inn. The last time he had encountered such self-importance was during his time in the City, and something told him that trouble had just entered Town.
Typical for small town news it only took minutes for the whispering to travel through the community. Heads were stuck together and fingers pointed and each time the Inn door opened a bewildering tension spread through the Hall while eyes stared at the window in curious anticipation.
Jeannie and Lorna meanwhile were too engulfed with their tasks having no time for gossip nonsense when Tanner approached them. After explaining in his long winded way why he couldn’t lift heavy any longer ever after his dreadful fall during the nativity play in 1987 he asked Jeannie for her help with the delivery which had just turned up.
Grabbing the chance of some fresh air and leaving the polishing of the cutlery to Lorna she stepped outside.
From the corner of her eye Jeannie could see Alex working on the stall. She was still wondering why he had acted so distant earlier and deeply hoped that whatever it was would fade as quickly as it came over him. As she lined up in the queue to the truck she found herself peering over her shoulder every now and then to check if Alex was looking over, hoping for the faintest of signals, a little glimpse of confirmation that all was good between them.
Soon it was her turn and just as she leaned in closer to the truck to be handed a crate with flowers she heard her name being shouted by a very familiar high voice which caused her to freeze in her tracks. Her entire body felt paralyzed as she turned her head slowly in to its direction with pounding hope that she had imagined things.
“This can’t be” she mumbled to herself.
“Jeanz, do I have to find you here?” his voice boomed across the square. With huge strides Bradley paraded across the road and stopped right in front of a dumbstruck Jeannie. His arms stretched out wide which only emphasized his showman attitude. His sunglasses glistened in the sunshine and cast a diabolical shadow across his smirking face.
“What? Did you lose your voice girl? And what on earth are you doing?” he snorted at the sight of her trying to steady the weight she was holding.
“Bradley? What are you doing here?” Jeannie muttered nervously. Her mind could not comprehend that it was actually him and not just a hologram that had suddenly appeared from nowhere. The last person she would have expected to see in her hometown posed right in front of her. She was put on the spot and did not like it in the slightest and all she could think about was Alex. She did not dare to look in his direction and feared that he would get the wrong impression. But what kind of impression was correct? Jeannie’s mind raced as she tried to figure how Bradley could have dared to come here.
“So, don’t I get a hug?” Bradley piped in anticipation.
“I can’t as you see”, she quickly lifted the crate a few inches and gave him to understand to follow her by the nod of her head. Jeannie felt so embarrassed as she stormed away from the truck, followed by Bradley, all the while being watched by Alexander whose face had turned into a bitter stronghold of jealousy.
Lorna had just finished the last load of cutlery which she was stacking away when she noticed Jeannie returning, followed by what she could only describe as a courting peacock. The desperate cry for help screamed on Jeannie’s face and alarmed Lorna even more as she hurried to her rescue. A sigh of relieve escaped Jeannie’s lips when she saw Lorna and lifted the crate onto the little stage before she turned around to face Bradley.
“Come on then,” he gurgled again in his is demanding voice. The tone sounded strangely foreign to Jean and gave her an unpleasant shiver run down her spin. Half-heartedly she leaned in to welcome him and clapped his shoulder in the same fashion her father would welcome an acquaintance. To her dismay Bradley grabbed her around the waist with both hands while he studied her thoroughly like an antique
“Gosh, what are you wearing? Have you been robbed or something?” Bradley scolded. When he finally let go of her and pocketed his sunglasses Jeannie took a deep breath and straighten her shirt. Bradley scanned with disinterest the happenings in the Hall and had no intension to find out what was going on. This was far off his mind. He had to come all the way to Kentucky as Jeannie was reluctant to answer any emails. So much was at steak and he could not believe why she had acted so selfishly and ignored the importance of their new client. As he saw her standing there in front of him he was so relieved that he hadn’t brought the clients with him. Her entire appearance was so dreadfully common. The scruffy dim store jeans and work shirt, the hair tied up without care.
Still bewildered by his earlier comment Jeannie managed to voice her opinion.
“What do you mean? Those ARE my clothes. I’m working as you can see.”
“Working!” with a clap he raised his hands to a prayer. “I would be so deeply thankful if that were the case, Jeannie”, the mockery swung heavy in his thin voice.
“Look, I had to come all the way, to find you, playing country girl, - I mean, look at you! Have you forgotten who you are? The last thing I need is you having a meltdown! Our client is asking for drafts, which you are responsibility for. We cannot access your files. We clearly have to talk business here, Jeannie.”
Lorna stood open mouth behind Jeannie and still had troubles understanding who this insulting creature was. Ready to fight Jeannie’s corner she took a step forward but Jeannie held her hand up and simply smiled. She had heard enough.
“You are right, we do need to talk” Jeannie produced in the nicest of chirps.
“And I can assure you, I do mean business. Why don’t you take yourself over to the diner at the end of the street and wait for me there. I will have to grab my laptop from the house first. I’ll be all yours then. But, to make one thing clear, Bradley, I am neither having a meltdown, nor am I shying away from my responsibilities. What you see is what you get and I’m done pretending. Did I make myself clear?”
Dumbfounded Bradley waited for a moment to process what he just had been told. Never before had Jeannie dared to speak to him in this fashion and her newly found courage confused the hell out of him. All he found himself able to do was to shyly nod.
“Alright then. I shall meet you there. I will be waiting.”
In one swoop Bradley flicked his sunglass back on and paraded out.
Perplexed, Lorna closed in to Jeannie.
“Who on earth is that?” Lorna pointed towards the door as she questioned Jeannie.
“A while ago I’d have said my boyfriend” Jeannie pressed through thin lips. Unwilling to share any more with her god-mother she made her way to the car to fulfil her engagement and left. Lorna’s disgusted look spoke volumes and needed a moment to compose herself. At least she had uncovered a missing piece to the puzzle Jeannie had brought with her arrival.
Deep breath. Straight shoulders. Armed with her laptop bag Jean stood on the sidewalk and encouraged herself to walk through the diner door. From through the window she could already see the back of Bradley who was sitting at one of the tables. As she entered a familiar face shot up from where he sat and made Jeannie stop in her tracks for a fleeting moment. It was Samantha who now daringly laid her eyes upon Brad before she snootily passed Jeannie to leave them both alone.
Suddenly it dawned on her! The voice she had recognized a few nights ago belonged to HER! How could Jeannie not have noticed that before now?! Well, Jeannie thought, keep him. You’ll do me a favour.
Jeannie had to laugh as she took a seat and felt as if the Rocky Mountains had been lifted off her shoulders.
“Glad to see you haven’t wasted your time then” Jeannie sniggered and ordered a soda.
“Jeannie, can we discuss the more important things first?” like a rabbit caught in the headlights Bradley shifted on his seat and hoped that he could avoid to discuss Sam for as long as he possibly could.
Jeannie had to admit that she had neglected her work for a little too long as the irritating email notifications drew the attention of half the diner. With blushing red cheeks Jeannie turned the volume down and scanned her way through the most important messages, guided by Brad.
He might have been a nasty piece of work and unsuitable as a partner, but his work ethic still remained remarkably effective and without any doubt the two of them made an excellent team. Although Jeannie had her reservations to admit. Maybe it had only been born out of guilt that she hadn’t been able to draw the line before now.
They both were professional enough to not let their personal feelings get in the way and managed to draw a plan of action which would see Jeannie busy for the rest of the night. A deadline was a deadline and the quicker she got that over and done with the more time she would have to rescue the ranch.
Content Jeannie sat back in her seat and studied Bradley as went over the papers again.
There was nothing left. And she had great difficulties to think about a time when she last had feelings for him. They had been together each day, worked late hours and if time allowed had spent nights together. They were caught up in a convenient routine. Why ever Jeannie had thought that it had been enough to call it a relationship was beyond her. It was nothing but pathetic. And the saddest part of it all was that she had known that for a while. The fear of being lonely had overtaken and had blinded her heart to be truthful to her own desires. As Jeannie sat at the table she knew that guilt had held her back to go the inevitable step forward. She had always felt obligated towards Bradley. If it hadn’t been for him, God only knew where she would be now.
“So, I think we have to talk” Jeannie started the conversation. Her heart was pounding because she wanted to get it over and done with.
“Oh dear,” Bradley muffled who still had hoped that he could avoid this for a little longer.
“Please be my guest.” Of course, he wouldn’t be the one to start. He had never before admitted any of his slip ups and late night encounters.
“We both know what I’m going to say. Don’t we?”
“Jeannie, I am sorry. Sam,” Jeannie interrupted him with a quick gesture and continued without hesitation,
“Brad, please, save your breath. You never had any intensions to take our partnership further than where we are. I mean. I don’t even know why I accepted the way we managed this. I’m grateful for a lot of things and I know that it is also down to you what I could achieve in the past few years. I am forever indebted to you and so thankful for the opportunities. But, this is not the way how I want to spend the rest of my life. I want to have someone at my side who is as dedicated to me as I am to them. Someone who cares and who understands how it feels to be loved. Not just a fling at the side, a spark. Call it however you want. I am not made for this. I don’t belong in to this world, and please, be honest; you know that I don’t fit in. New York was fun but us, the whole that is just an illusion, right?”
“Excuse me are you breaking up with me?” Bradley wondered, as if he hadn’t understood what Jeannie was trying to say.
“Erm, yes” she replied with one raised eyebrow.
“Wow.” Bradley paused for a short while and tried to comprehend what was happening.
“You are serious. I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, given the evidence it shouldn’t be such a shocker for one. Or did Sam accompany you only because there was free drink on the flight?” Jeannie dissed with a smile. She couldn’t believe how calm and relaxed she actually was. For months she had tried to find a way to address their problems and all of a sudden it felt easy, unproblematic. Before they would have ended up arguing or worse, Jeannie would have cried over her broken pride while bagging Brad to change his ways which he would have promised but never would have fulfilled. Spiralling them both deeper into the tornado their partnership had been for a long time.
Equally relieved Brad gave Jeannie the first honest smile in months and grabbed her hand.
“You are one amazing woman Jeannie Leeland, you know that?”
“Thank you, I’ll remember that one.”
Jeannie was glad that this was finally out.
“No hard feelings?” Bradly sounded a bit shaken.
“No, no hard feelings. Let’s just shake hands. The least I want is to anger my boss” Jeannie winked.
She started to bag her laptop while Bradley sipped on his drink
“Can I invite you at least to dinner?”
Shaking her head she tipped at her watch.
“Awfully kind but I have things to do Boss. Maybe another time.”
Jeannie quickly waved over to Carrie at the counter and left for the door when she turned around.
“You both should stay for a few days. I’m sure you’ll both enjoy the fair and we’re always glad for visitors, especially the giving kind” Jeannie smiled. When she had left the diner Brad happily grabbed his phone and texted Sam.
That went well, he thought. Now he only hoped that Sam wouldn’t turn out to be as demanding as Jeannie had been.
It did not take long before Sam came into the diner, clicking on her heals as she promenaded along the floor with a sinful smile across her lips.