“Way to toss me under the bus there, Mag,” I said wryly. “Yes, Heather, I work for Hadley. I’m here to assess the viability of keeping the factory here or relocating overseas. And to pet bunnies, as well.”

Carefully Kaden—or Braden—unlatched the hutch and took out a bunny. It was a little brown lop-eared creature that he handed to Maggie. She nestled it in her arms and whispered to it, stroking its fur with one finger, “Oh, they’re precious,” she said as the kids each got out a bunny to hold and show off.

“This one has a white paw. We call her White Paw,” one of the twins said. I nodded, listening as the kids told us about the rabbits while their mother watched them proudly.

After we had admired the bunnies and discovered that ‘bunnies have very many babies so fast’ from one of the twins, we thanked them and said goodbye.

“Over on north of here, about two miles you’ll find the Prescotts and they have goats. Some of them are show goats,” Heather said.

We set off toward the promised goat farm. Maggie held my hand as we walked.

“Show goats? Are they singers and dancers?” I said.

“Stripper goats. Like showgirls,” Maggie quipped. “But they prefer to be called burlesque goats. It’s more dignified.”

“Will there be sequin goat pajamas?”

“Tassels,” she giggled.

We walked along until we reached the second farm. It was even prettier than the first, with a stretch of white fencing around the property and some horses in one pasture. It was a larger operation, more machinery and large sheds instead of the quaint henhouse and rabbit hutch we’d seen earlier. We went to the first shed we came to, and an older man directed us to the house where his wife and daughter-in-law were setting up a lemonade stand with the kids.

“This is idyllic,” I said, “look at this.” The card table with the neat white cloth, the crooked, crayon drawn sign advertising fresh lemonade for fifty cents, the two women helping the four or five kids arrange cups and napkins without spilling anything.

“I think it’s making me thirsty,” Maggie said. “They’re so cute.”

“You just want to butter them up so they’ll show you the goats,” I accused.

“Maybe,” she grinned.

We bought lemonade, introduced ourselves and got permission to meet the goats.

“Adeline, our oldest, shows pygmy goats with 4-H, so we’ve got plenty if you want to see them,” the woman said. She and the kids took us out to the neatly kept pen.

“Oh my God!” Maggie squealed. “They’re so cute! I’ve never held a pygmy goat. I’ve just seen them on YouTube.”

“We have a channel. Our goats are on it,” the mother offered. “It’s part of Adeline’s project.”

“I am subscribing to that tonight,” Maggie vowed. She was excited, shifting her weight from foot to foot, beaming like a kid about to shout ‘gimme gimme’ about the goats.

They really were tiny and cute looking with wee grouchy faces. We petted the goats, especially around the nubs of their horns where we were told they liked it. I whipped out my phone and took pictures of Maggie in her version of heaven—surrounded by noisy and playful pygmy goats. Damned if I didn’t want to buy the woman a goat. I shook my head at my own foolishness. While she and the kids played with the animals, I headed back to the shed and spoke to the farmer who owned the spread, asked him a few questions about the growing season, weather, and soil acidity. I made notes in my phone and thanked him. Then I collected Maggie who had gone in the farmhouse to wash her hands.

All the way back to the car, I was lost in thought. She chattered on about how happy she was, what a great day it had been. I held her hand and wondered exactly what the hell I was going to do.

That night I reviewed all the numbers on the factory. I ran the spreadsheets again, worked up a couple more projections. It was troubling but clear. It wasn’t cost-effective to keep the plant in operation. Even though so many businesses and people I’d come to know depended on it for their livelihood. The nursery and florist, the daycare, the hardware store and restaurants and a dozen other places. And Maggie. Maggie relied on that factory’s workers. She’d lose her business. There was no way around it. I couldn’t save it. No matter how much it meant to her or how much she meant to me.

After three hours of wasted effort trying from every angle to make the thing look profitable, I called my brother.

“What’s up?” Tyler asked.

“The sky’s falling, brother,” I said. “I can’t keep the factory open. Even though these people depend on it, and I care about them. I should never have gotten personally involved.”

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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