1- Market Day
One foot in front of the other.
You can do this.
Normally I wouldn't be at the Saturday morning market; my friend Trish takes care of selling, I just grow the produce. Today however, she phoned me up with a last minute special order for a very important customer.
I repeat my mantra for the millionth time as I pull my truck into the bustling farmers market parking lot. It's a beautiful, warm spring day and the people have come en mass. My heart starts to race as I scan the crowd; so many people!
With a final deep breath, I put my pickup truck in park and get out. Instantly the drone of the crowd engulfes me; vendors shouting their wares, customers calling out questions, and the general dim rumble that comes with any crowd.
Already I'm feeling uneasy, so I stack the crates, hoping I can manage to make it all in one trip and get out fast. I flip my long brown braid back over my shoulder and grabbed the well worn handles on the bottom crate.
The crowd swallows me up as I make my way to the far side where I know Trish would be set up. At a whopping 5'3" tall I'm easily lost in a crowd, nearly everyone is taller than me.
My heart starts to race as all of the sights, smells and general energy starts to overwhelm me. Someone bumps into me from behind, knocking my Jenga crate stack off balance. In slow motion I watch as the top crate fall. My heart stops, fearing the worst but it's caught before it hits the ground.
"I'm so sorry," a lady says before she dashes off back to her waiting friends.
Stunned, I turn back to the man who caught my top crate. His crystal blue eyes hold me captive before I break the spell and drop my gaze.
"Th-thanks," I stammer. "You can toss it back on top and I'll be on my way."
"Looks like you're heading my way," he says with a soft laugh. "I'll give you a hand."
He has a kind smile and a grounded, even feel to his energy that's instantly calming. I spot the familiar vendor's lanyard hanging around his neck and realize he must be one of the new ones.
"Thanks, I'm just heading over to Trish," I mumble and try to set off through the crowd. No one sees me and it's slow going as I try to work my way through the masses. He sees my slow progress and takes the lead.
The sea of people quickly part for him, and why wouldn't they? He's easily over 6' and his plain white t-shirt does nothing to hide his muscular physique. I fall in step behind him and before long he's cut our path to Trish.
"Sorry, got to go," he apologizes, sweeping his dirty blond hair back off his forehead. He nods to Trish and takes off to a booth a few stalls away.
"Thank God you made it in time!" Trish says, wrapping me in a hug after I set my crates down.
Her energy today is chaos contained but boiling over; she lives for this atmosphere, talking and laughing with strangers like they're old friends. Me, not so much. I'm more at home in the woods or garden, and I'm pretty sure I understand animals more than people.
"I know this isn't your thing but this might just be what we need to seal the deal." Her blue-green eyes lock on mine, willing me to understand.
"I aim to please," I say, while she sifts through the crates, adding the produce to her baked goods. Her shoulder-length auburn hair cascades wildly as she rushes to get everything perfect. "I can't get over how big the market has gotten," I add, cringing.
"Right? It's nearly doubled in size, lots of new vendors. Speaking of which, I see you already met Jude," she says suggestively, wiggling her eyebrows.
"Trish," I groan, rolling my eyes as a blush creeps on my cheeks.
"What?" She asks dramatically. "He's your age, new to the area, single and damn that body!" The woman is married with kids, but I swear she's salivating.
"Trish!" I chide. "You know my stance on dating, just let it go, please?" I know she means well, but she just doesn't get it. She looks crushed though; instantly I feel bad for dashing her hopes.
After two years, I'm finally starting to feel like myself again. The bruises are long gone, they healed fast, but the other stuff? That's taken considerably longer.
"Fine, don't date," she relents, "but he's gonna be here every week so it won't hurt you to be friendly with him. Who knows..." she trails off, raising a brow looking his way.
I follow her gaze and study him. There's no doubt he's an attractive guy, but it's his feel that throws me off. You expect a guy that looks like that to have a certain feel, cocky, pompous, or something. He was the opposite though, humble, even, and grounded.
"I could use something to grill for dinner," I muse, meeting her half way.
"Good! Go, I insist. I'm set for the day anyway. I'll swing by after and give you your cut and figure out next week's order," she flashes me an excited grin as she nods off towards Jude.
Slowly I make my way over to his booth, stopping to grab a few things on the way. He's busy helping another customer as I walk up, giving me the opportunity to get a better look. Trish wasn't kidding, his crystal blue eyes, pale skin, and dirty blond hair give him that classic handsome look, and the man is built. He looks to be upper twenties, maybe just a smidge younger than I am.
"Oh hey," he greets, turning his attention to me. "I was hoping you'd stop by." His smile lights up his face and goes directly to his eyes. I blush and drop my gaze, smiling back but not being a big fan of eye contact.
"Just wanted to say thanks for the help, and see about getting something to grill..." I trail off, feeling flustered again.
"Fair is fair," he teases, gesturing to a box on his bench full of produce. "When I walked by this morning they smelled amazing, I couldn't help myself!"
"Oh," I blurted out, complete with a nervous laugh.
He goes over the options and I pick the first thing he offers, apparently steak. In no time, he has it wrapped and hands it over to me smiling. He's enthusiastic, kind of like a puppy. With a final wave and thanks I turn back towards the parking lot.
Something feels quite unnerving about him, but I have no idea what in particular. One more look over my shoulder at him and a wave to Trish, and I'm on my way to my truck.
"Umph," I grunt as I bounce off of someone's hard chest, falling unceremoniously on my ass. My heart races as a brooding man hovers over me, glaring.
'Well that was graceful.' 'Shut it peanut gallery.'
"Watch where you're going bitch!" The rough man sneers. Where Jude has a quite wholesome feel to him, this guy is just the opposite. What an ass. Big and muscular with short dark brown hair and brown eyes. He oozes cockiness and a general irritated vibe with a permanent scowl. His jaw is clenched and his eyes seem to be darkening as he stares me down.
"Sorry. I-I didn't mean to. I just didn't see you," I stammer, trying to diffuse the situation to no avail.
"Next time open your fucking eyes." I can only look down and nod at this point, not trusting my voice as he smirks and walks away.
"What a jerk! Are you okay?" A concerned look is on Jude’s face as he rushes over from his booth.
"Yeah I don't even know what that was about." I start collecting my dropped purchases, willing my heart to stop racing. Jude quickly stoops down to help me scoop up my stuff, then holds out a hand to help me up. "Thanks man, much appreciated." I give him a small smile which he returns ten fold.
Before anything else can happen, I quickly make it back to my truck to head home. Just as I hop in the truck, an older short lady with long grey hair gets out of an SUV with a younger guy with unruly golden brown hair and grey eyes. She locks eyes with me briefly before I feel his eyes. They twinkle with mischief as a smirk plays across his lips, instantly making me blush. I fight with the keys and pull out.
Why does everyone seem so intense today!? Market days eh...
Home is a modest farm in no man's land. There's a city to the south and a small town to the west and east. North is all forest and some sort of private reservation or something; no one's allowed up there. It's peaceful out here and I love it.
I'm home, working in the garden when I hear a truck pull up. "Hey Trish, back here." I stand up from the herb row, brushing my hands off on my jeans. It's a perfect day, the kind I loved to be out in.
"You won us some serious brownie points today girl! Grandmother was stoked about her order and has already doubled her order for next week, that's no problem eh?" She asks, looking at me with puppy dog eyes.
"Na, it's all good, everything's coming on great now," I reply as she starts wandering around the garden, seeing what's growing. "I see you forgot sunscreen again," I chide. Whereas my skin has a natural sunkissed hue, her pale freckled complexion gets sunburned in the shade. Today however, she's brighter than my tomatoes, her nose could rival Rudolph’s.
"It slipped my mind," she says with a shrug. Typical Trish.
"Right," I drawl, shifting my attention to the next row. "Try this," I say, passing her a hand full of cherry tomatoes, straight from the vine.
"I don't know how you do this, I can't grow things to save my life and you have your own personal Eden here," she says as she pops a cherry tomato in her mouth. "So what was with that douche on your way out?"
"No idea," I say honestly. "One second I was waving bye and the next I was on my ass getting chewed out. I mean there was no one else around. He could have side stepped me. I feel like he did it on purpose but I don't know why?"
"It wasn't just you. He was a bit of an ass the entire time he was there. He demanded to get some of Grandmother's order and when I said no, he really became a peach!" My frown deepens as she continues excitedly, "at any rate, Mrs. Glass was there within a couple of minutes. I thought he and Jace were gonna have it out on the spot!"
"Wait, who's Jace? And Grandmother?" I think she lost me somewhere... Not uncommon with story time a la Trish.
"Right! Jace came with Mrs. Glass, who apparently prefers to be called Grandmother. If she likes you, don't fight it, she's stubborn! Jace is also very cute by the way... You should try and be there next week, she said she'd like to meet you to discuss things," she says, her excitement building.
"Ugh," I groan in frustration. The whole point of an extrovert partner is to not have to deal with people after all... "Can't you just do it? I'm more the back room help."
"Nope!" She says, popping the ‘p’ for added effect. "She was adamant that she knows the people she does business with. I guess she buys for their community and this could be real good for us... please!"
'Begging... good God, make it stop.'
My head whips back with enough force to make me see stars as I hit the floor.
"Who keeps calling you?" he asks, the venom in his voice tells me it's going to be a bad night. Fingers knot in my hair ripping my face up to his. "I asked you a question," he growls.
"It's just Trish," I whimper.
"Why is she calling you?!" Another smack lands me back on the ground. "What did you tell her?" He's towering over me now, there's nothing I can say or do to stop this now.
"Nothing! I swear," I say, pulling myself up to kneeling at his feet. A small cruel smile spreads across his face that sends a shudder through me.
I jump straight out of bed, my heart racing as I lash out at the boogeyman.
He's not here.
It's not real.
I repeat my mantra grounding myself. It was just another dream.
I groan as I sit back on my bed. Blankets kicked off, I check the time on my phone, four am. I won't be getting any more sleep today, so I drag myself up and head to the living room. It's been two years since I broke his hold, yet my mind reminds me often.
All I want is peace, freedom from it all, is that too much to ask for?