“Look at you, talking about your feelings, Company Man,” she teased. “It’s the sunshine and the clouds. It changes your outlook. I think I managed to take the city out of the city boy. Victory!” she said. “You’re going to want to move here and play with goats.”
“It’s the red hair. Very Princess Merida. I can’t help it,” she joked.
“I mean it. Not just your hair. It’s your personality. You’re energetic and smart and it’s no wonder that all these workers want you to look after their kids while they’re at work. You’re loyal and responsible and—”
“Total Girl Scout? Gotta say, that description makes me sound like a terrific babysitter next door. But it’s not gonna play that well on my online dating profile.”
“Are you still on an app?” I asked, feeling myself frown.
“No. It wouldn’t make sense. I travel too often.”
“Oh. I see,” she said wryly. “You’re a rolling stone. Gather no moss or girlfriends.”
“I seem to have gathered one on this trip.”
She looked at me. “Gathered what? A little bit of moss?” she joked.
“I’m serious, Maggie. You’re more to me than some hook up. You have to know that. I’ve been trying to tell you all day that I care about you,” I said.
“That’s great, Jeremiah. But we live in the real world last I checked and you’re fixing to take down the industry that supports my business and my community. We’re taking this crazy attraction for a spin, but don’t go reading too much into it. I’ve never been the kind of girl who could do a casual, one-night thing. I’m still not, but I’m trying to be sensible. This isn’t going anywhere. It’s a holiday affair. I mean—we want completely different things. We’re opposites, and not in the rom-com way. In the doomed from the start way,” she said.
I lay there, her head on my shoulder, and heard that she believed what she was saying. That my protest that I had feelings for her had flown right by her. I had thought, mistakenly, that she might want more than a fling. I’d shrug it off. She was right. I was a man who gathered no moss. Which should have been a relief instead of leaving me feeling lonely and irritable, which was where I was.
“So, let’s pack up and see if we can find ourselves some goats,” I said, sitting up. I wasn’t going to let one sour exchange ruin a good day. We had such a short amount of time together it would be stupid to waste it with a bad mood.
Soon we had set off down the rocky hill to the nearest farm, a tidy collection of whitewashed outbuildings around a gray farmhouse. There was a woman out by the hen house with a couple of kids.
“Good afternoon,” I said. “I’m Jeremiah, and this is Maggie. We’re out for a picnic and wondered if you had any goats on your property.”
“Not to eat. For the picnic,” Maggie giggled.
The woman smiled. “I’m Heather, and these two are Braden and Kaden, the twins.” She indicated a pair of blond headed boys who were quite carefully scattering corn for the chickens.
“Good to meet you,” I said. “My friend grew up around here and told me how she got to pet the goats at a neighboring farm when she was a kid. I got the idea to come and ask if you keep goats.”
“That’s so romantic. Back when we were dating, John, my husband got me the cutest little rabbit at the state fair. Like us, it’s settled down and started breeding. We have a rabbit hutch out back if you like to pet bunnies. We have cows and chickens, but we don’t keep goats. You’re welcome to visit the bunnies, though. Kaden loves them.”
I looked at Maggie who nodded eagerly.
“So, it’s all farm animals then?” I teased. She was beaming, it was irresistible, “We’d love to see your bunnies if Kaden would be our guide. Now, I don’t know much about rabbits, Kaden. What do I need to know before I pet one?”
“Don’t poke them in the eyes,” he said solemnly. “Hold them gentle, and don’t drop them. They like to nibble on lettuce, but don’t poke it in their mouth. They don’t like that.”
“Good advice,” I said. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Don’t try to look at their butt. They’ll kick you,” Braden chimed in. Maggie laughed.
“Braden,” his mom admonished.
“It’s true!” he insisted. We laughed.
“I run a daycare in town,” Maggie explained. “Anything to do with butts or underwear is sure-fire humor around me.”
“Oh, you must be the one who runs Fun Factory. I remember seeing that go up in town when I was still working at the salon. It’s a cute little place. What’s going to happen to it now?”
“We don’t know. But my friend Jeremiah here is the Hadley inspector who’s been sent to shut us down.”