Bet The Farm - Staci Hart
A very unladylike grunt grated out of me.
Every muscle engaged as I dragged a ridiculous pink suitcase off the baggage belt of the tiny airport. The curl of my toes kept me braced. My glutes were hard enough to bounce a quarter off of. Shoulders bunched, abs tight, fingers burning.
It was more than I’d worked out in a year.
In a brief and awkward moment, I second-guessed everything I’d packed to come home to California. At the time, I’d been absolutely certain that every article of clothing was necessary. But when I stumbled backward from the force of freeing my luggage, I questioned the inclusion of the rain boots. And the overalls. And all that plaid.
It’d been ten years since I’d moved away from my grandfather’s farm and two years since I’d been home. My New York wardrobe wouldn’t do—I had to look the part. And “the part” demanded plaid.
The worst part of growing up on a dairy farm was being lactose intolerant.
Growing up, butter and cream, ice cream and cheese, and tanks brimming with milk had been inescapable. As a sweet, innocent child with no clue of the tragic fate my digestive system had in store, I didn’t have to escape it. I remembered sneaking hunks of cheese from the creamery and eating until I was sick in the hayloft. Or sitting across from my grandfather, warm brownies and teeming glasses of fresh milk before us, the sounds of crickets floating in on the breeze through the open windows of the farmhouse.
These days, it was almond milk and soy cheese, margarine and sorbet. I’d abandoned cream for my coffee, opting to drink it black, which made me feel like a true badass—no easy feat at five feet and change, with hair the color of a penny and enough freckles to find constellations in the array. I was about as badass as a paper towel or a guinea pig or a carrot. Or a guinea pig on a paper towel eating a carrot.
When my suitcase wheels were on the slick tiled floor of baggage claim in the eensy airport, I brushed my hair back from my clammy forehead, scanning the belt for my other suitcase.
It was equally as ridiculous a shade of pink as the one I’d propped myself on to catch my breath—a bubblegum hue fit better for a little girl than a grown woman. A New Yorker, no less. But I couldn’t seem to curb my inclination to the color. That sweet, creamy shade of pink that instantly brought cheer—you couldn’t tow a suitcase that vivid and hopeful without maintaining the distinct impression that everything would be all right regardless of where you were going.
Even a funeral.
The second hulking pink plastic suitcase rounded the corner of the belt like a shiny-shelled gumball. At the sight of it, I stood and stepped up to the whirring metal track. Remembering my bag behind me, I cast a suspicious glance to the people nearby, noting their distance and attentiveness. But no one paid me or my bag any mind. They probably figured the suitcase was filled with glitter glue and stuffed unicorns.
Not that pink rain boots were much better.
I braced myself as the bag came closer, developing a strategy to attempt to master the physics of it all, hoping I had enough berth to drag the brick factory off the belt. With a fortifying breath and my lips screwed in determination, I reached for the handle and yanked with all my strength, which got me as far as upending the thing.
A pair of very large, square hands slid into my periphery.
“Here, let me help you with—”
“I’ve got it,” I huffed, shifting to put my back to him.
With another heave, I pulled, leaning back in the hopes that my weight would help me, but gravity had other plans. The suitcase thumped back onto the belt, drawing everyone’s attention in the vicinity. People shifted out of the way as I walked alongside it, shackled by way of the handle in my fist.
Mr. Square Hands chuckled and stepped around me, reaching for the bag again. “Seriously, you’re gonna hurt yourself. Let me—”
“I said, I’ve got it,” I shot, ready to stomp his foot or kick him in the shin if he didn’t back off.
But then I lifted my gaze.
When Kit, the farm’s cook, told me someone would be here to pick me up, I’d expected her, not the hulking expanse of Jake Milovic.
His hands weren’t the only square—or large—thing about him. My thirsty eyes drank