Citrus and Berries

February 24, 2011
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The sky outside was dark gray and cloudy. The air was chill and wet. It seemed like the weather was trying to match my emotions at the moment.
I was sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, listening to them fight about whatever topic Dad brought up. Over the past 22 years with them, I had learned to tune most of it out.
I heard the word “marriage” and was sucked back into the argument.

“Who’s getting married?” I asked.
My parents stopped talking (more like yelling) for a moment to stare at me with their similar dull brown eyes.
I blinked slowly and started to back away from the table.

“Never mind. Forget I asked,” I said nervously.
I knew that stare very well. I had interrupted something that I most likely wasn’t even suppose to hear.
My father sighed and patted the table with his large hand.

“No, it’s okay. You should hear this…”
I paused. Something wasn’t right. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my heart beat faster.
My mother turned away from the table as I took my seat again. I shifted my eyes from one parent to the other, waiting for whatever was coming.
My father sat across from me, placing his hand on my much smaller one.

“Honey, your mother and I are worried about you.”
I blinked again.

“Why?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“Well,” my father began, but my mother finished for him.
“You are single with no boyfriend at the marrying age and you don’t have a real job!” She yelled, huffing.
I stared at her with unwavering eyes.

“Your point?”
She gritted her teeth and spoke in a low growl, “You don’t see a problem with that?”
“No. I don’t.” I spoke strongly.
She opened her mouth to yell again, but this time, my father cut her off.

“Andrew has asked for your hand in marriage.”
I cringed.

“Andrew? You mean your boss’ snobby kid?”
My father let out another sigh and my mother slammed her hand onto the table.
“Don’t you dare insult that boy. He was kind enough to overlook all your faults and asked to take you as his wife.”
I stood from my seat.
“No! I will not marry some guy who I don’t love! Plus, I’ve barely said four words to the guy!”
“Serena, we are your parents and you will so as we say!” My mother screeched, her dull brown eyes glaring into my hazel ones.
I looked over at my father.

“You’ve already told him ‘yes’, haven’t you?”
He looked down at the table, ashamed.

“Andrew’s father offered your father the promotion that he has been after for years.”
I gaped. I could feel the tears prickling behind my eyes.

“So I’m nothing more than a ticket to job advancements to you.”
I turned my back to them as I headed to the door.

“Serena!” My mother yelled after me in a warning tone.
I paused with my hand on the door knob.
“We are still your parents and you cannot just walk away from us!” she continued shrilly.
I tightened my grip on the knob and spoke with a strong, unwavering voice.

“You are no parents of mine.”
I opened the door and slammed it behind me. I ran down the sidewalk, wanting to get as far away as possible. I stopped running after a couple of minutes and sat down on a nearby bench.
I pulled my knees into my chest and cried silently. I wanted nothing more at the moment to leave this city and everyone within it behind.
After a few more minutes of crying had passed, I lifted my head to look at my surroundings. I was in the city park, seated directly across from a notice board. Normally, I wouldn’t give the notice board a second glance, but, today, a colorful flyer caught my attention.
I stood slowly from my position on the bench, and walked up to the board to read the flyer. I could tell that this flyer was different than the other wanted or for sale ads. On the paper were pictures of a quaint village.
I read it aloud to myself.
“Help wanted. Abandoned farm in need of farmer. Property is cheap and comes with a fully furnished home. No experience as a farmer required. Everyone in Mountain Valley is willing to help. Please call…”
I reached up and pulled the piece of paper off the board. I read and reread it many times while I was standing there.
I needed to call the number. This was what I had been wishing for. I looked around for the nearest payphone. My heart was in my throat as I dialed the number.
It rang a couple of times before a tired voice answered.

“Hello, this is Mayor Alexander. What can I do for you?”
My hands shook and I answered as strongly as I could at the moment.

“Hi. My name is Serena and I was calling about that farming position.”
It didn’t take long to pack my things into boxes. Nor did it take long to write the notes to my parents, boss, and Andrew.
I boarded a train to a town near Mountain Valley, where the mayor promised someone would be waiting for me.
It was late in the evening when the train started on its journey and I knew the trip would take all night.
I rested my head against the cool window and watched the sun set as I drifted off.
When I awoke, the sun was not yet fully above the horizon and the train was slowing to a stop. I stood, stretched, and gathered my belongings.
I stepped on the platform and looked around for my ride. The only person was a girl brushing a horse.
I sighed and set my bags down. I sat on the largest one heavily.
I heard snickering coming from the girl. I turned my head to glare at her.

“Something funny?” I asked with a slight edge to my voice.
She snickered again, flipping her long red ponytail over her shoulder.

“You’re the new farmer, right?” she asked, a cocky smile stretched across her lips.
I stared blankly at her.

“Yeah,” I spoke blandly.
She walked up to me and stuck out a hand.

“Nice to meet you. I’m your ride to Mountain Valley. The name’s Jasmine.”
I stood from my seat, gathered my bags once again, and walked to the wagon Jasmine’s horse was hooked to. I ignored her hand on purpose.
She scoffed and climbed onto the horse’s back. We were on our way shortly.
I leaned against the hay bales in the back of the wagon and watched the scenery.
It was a very wooded area with trees as green as the well kept laws back home. I could see the forest animals running in between the trees and playing with their friends.
I think I dozed off at some point during the trip, because the next thing I knew, I was being pushed off the wagon by Jasmine.

“We’re here.” She muttered.
I stood from the dirt and brushed off my ragged blue jeans. I turned my back to her and was surprised to see a short, balding man dressed in a suit standing directly in front of me.
I took a quick step back, but kept the mask of indifference on.
He smiled at me and grabbed my hand, shaking it rapidly.
“You must be Serena! I am so glad that you’re here. I am Mayor Alexander. Are you ready to begin your tour?” he spoke so quickly that I couldn’t catch it all.

“Uh…” was all I could get out before the short man was dragging me down the street.
He began pointing out buildings.
“You see that building right there? That’s Amber Market. You can go see Shelly there and get any produce that you need.”
I cast my eyes quickly over the building, taking in its golden-brown color and the ‘Market’ sign out front, before the mayor pulled me to the next stop.
We visited all the other stores, there weren’t many. There was the Amethyst General Store, Ruby Flower Shoppe, Topaz Tailors, Garnet Clinic, and Town Hall in the Main District.
Then out by the local lake was Aquamarine Fishery.
And farther out, up the hill, was Jade Ranch (the owner let me play with a baby lamb) and Sapphire Seeds. On the other side of the hill was the plot that was to be my farm.
But the mayor wouldn’t let me see that until last. So he led me all the way back to the Main District. He took me up by Town Hall and pointed out a little path off to the side.

“We’re heading down there. That’s the way to the local Inn and bar.”
He smiled and straightened his jacket.
I groaned inwardly. He was going to make me eat whatever kind of food they served out here.

“I’m treating you tonight as a welcome gift. And don’t worry. Our chef, Ethan, makes the best food around,” he continued proudly.
Again, I held in my groan.

“Great,” I mumbled under my breath.
Once more (hopefully for the last time), Mayor Alexander dragged me down the pathway.
We ended up in front of a double building. One side, the larger of the two, was painted a pale blue color and had a little neat sign that read ‘Opal Inn’ hanging from the door. The smaller building was painted a pastel green with a sign reading ‘Peridot Bar’ in pretty script in the window.
I paused, trying to recall all the names I had learned today.

“Every shop’s name… They all have gem names.” I spoke blandly.
Mayor Alexander chuckled.
“Yes they do. This used to be a mining town back in the Gold Rush days, so the stores were named accordingly.”
With that statement, he entered the bar. I sighed quietly and entered behind him.
The smell of cooking foods greeted me. It reminded me of home when my mother used to cook for the family every night. But that was a long time ago.
I shook the now painful memories out of mind and took in the inside of the bar.
It was decorated like the typical bar. Round tables set up on the floor. There was a piano set up in one of the far corners. The kitchen was exposed to the patrons and separated from the rest of the room by the actual bar.
From what I could see in the dim lighting, the kitchen was fairly simple. I could see a head of blonde hair flipping rice at the stove top.
A loud, hearty laugh snapped me out of my observations. A large burly man with a beard was patting the much shorter mayor on the back. They were talking about some bet, but I really wasn’t paying attention.

“…and this is Serena, the new farmer.” Mayor Alexander told the large man.
He gave another loud laugh before holding out his hand.

“Nice to meet you, lassy.”
I noticed that he had a Scottish accent.

“I’m Brawley and I run the bar.”

“You’re giant.” I muttered, shaking his hand slowly.
He gave me a warm grin that caused me to flinch.

“Yeah, guess I am.”
His misty green eyes sparkled as he spoke and he ruffled my hair.
I glared up at the larger man and straightened my hair again. The mayor just smiled and sat up at the bar. I, reluctantly, followed suit.

“Ethan, what’s tonight’s special?”
The blonde head turned to face us. I felt my heart stop in that moment.
There, standing in front of me, was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He had messy blonde hair that was kept out of his face by a bandana. He also had the brightest blue eyes. They were the color of the cloudless sky on a sunny day. They sparkled in the low lights.
He smiled, revealing perfect teeth and the cutest dimple.

“Hello Mayor. Tonight, I made beef stew with extra potatoes just for you.”
The mayor cheered, while the Adonis turned to me.

“A new face? You must be the new farmer then. Welcome to Mountain Valley.”
He shook my hand.
I could feel my cheeks light up.

“My name is Ethan and I’m the cook here.”

“Serena” was all I was able to cough out.
He smiled brightly and I noticed a tiny scar on his chin.
I had to look away before my cheeks got any redder.
Ethan gave us our meal of beef stew. The rest of the meal went by silently… for me at least. I listened to Brawley and the mayor chat, but didn’t say a word.
Finally, Alexander decided that it was time to show me to new farm.
We bid the bar a good night and headed back to the Farming District.
On the way, I noticed a small puppy by the front steps of Town Hall.
The mayor must have noticed as well.
“It’s a stray, the poor thing. It just showed up one day. It can’t be more than six months old.”
Its big brown eyes followed us as we left its sight before curling back up.
The mayor dropped me off at the farm house. He said that I would find all the tools I needed in the shed out back. After that, he retreated back to his own abode for the night.
I entered the house for the first time and was surprised at how clean it was.
The kitchen counters, the table, the floors were all spotless. No dust in sight.
My luggage had been left by the door. I stared at the bags for a few moments before walking over to the bed that was in a side room.

“I’ll unpack tomorrow.”
With that decided, I fell asleep.

Months passed slowly. Every day I forgot more about my troubles and became kinder to my fellow villagers.
But the one I got closest to was Ethan.
In the beginning, I wanted nothing to do with anyone, but no matter how much I insulted or pushed him away, he kept coming back.
At first his visits were to make sure that I remembered to eat meals, but over time that changed. I can remember one day in particular.

It was early summer and I was planting strawberry seeds. I was so excited for them to grow. I love strawberries. Blueberries too!
I moved over to the blueberry bush that was growing near an orange tree. I didn’t even realize I was humming until I heard his chuckle.
I whipped around to face him, glaring slightly. I must have looked so messy with my dirt-covered clothes and basket of freshly picked blueberries.
He just smiled and picked a fresh orange before sitting under the shade of the tree’s branches.

“I see you’re getting into the swing of things now.” He smirked and chuckled again.
I pouted and went back to picking.

“Yeah, what of it?”

“Nothing. It’s just nice to see you finally smiling.”
I could feel my cheeks heat up. He always found some way to embarrass me.
I turned to face him again.

“What do you want, Ethan?”
He patted the spot next to him under the tree and started peeling the orange.

“For you to take a break and eat lunch with me,” he smiled brightly.
I sighed, sitting down by him, knowing that he wouldn’t leave until I did what he wanted.
We ate with little conversation. It was just the normal “the weather’s nice” talk until he asked the question I dreaded the most.
“So, Serena, why did you move out here?” he was finishing his sandwich and was moving on to another orange from the tree. He had told me earlier that he loves oranges just as much as I love strawberries and blueberries.
I stiffened. I did not want to think about that anymore.
“That is none of your business, Ethan,” I said forcefully as I moved to the opposite side of the tree.
I could hear him sigh.

“You know, whatever the reason is, it won’t change how we see you/”
I didn’t reply. It was all I could do to stop the tears. I covered my face with my hands. I heard the grass rustle and then felt two strong hands gently pulling mine away from my face.
I looked up at Ethan, still not speaking.
He took my face in his hands and spoke softly to me.
“I know you haven’t been here long, but at some point during our time together…” he paused, trying to gather his words. “I fell in love with you, Serena. And your past will not change that so easily.”
I stared at him with wide eyes for a few moments, before I launched myself at him, crying into his shirt.
He was the first person I told.
And after my story was finished, the first thing he did was kiss me.
The kiss took my breath away.
And once we had parted, he told me that he would not allow my parents to take me away from him.

Ethan had made me realize that I had fallen in love with him as well. We were happy together.
But all good things face challenge.
One day in the late fall, I was working in the field when I heard my new beagle pup (yes, the same one from my first day), Duke, barking. He didn’t normally bark so this concerned me.
I finished clearing the weeds from my pumpkin patch and headed back over to the house.
I stopped dead in my tracks when the front steps came into view.
There, standing at my front door, were my parents, Mayor Alexander, and a dark headed boy who I recognized as Andrew.
Duke was growling now and snapped every time Andrew tried to pet him.
I turned and ran around the backside of the house (unseen thankfully) and all the way to Peridot Bar.
I practically tore the door down as I entered.
Jasmine and Brawley, who had been talking at the bar, whipped around to face me. Ethan even came running from a back room to see what was wrong.
Ethan took in my scared face and tense stance before coming to a conclusion.
He rushed forward, taking me in his arms.

“They’re here, aren’t they.”
I nodded numbly.

“Andrew is with them…”
Ethan’s grip on me tightened.
“I won’t let them take you from me,” he said.
He grabbed my hand and led me back to my farm, but we never made it past Town Square.
Mayor Alexander must have told my parents about Ethan because they were walking through the square with a purpose towards the bar.
We all stopped walking and stood in place.
My mother was the first to make a move. She grabbed my arm and pulled me away from Ethan.

“How dare you run away from us, Serena! I taught you better!” she screeched.
I opened my mouth to reply, but she back handed me before I could.
Mayor Alexander had to rush to Ethan in order to stop him from lunging at the woman.
My father stepped forward.
“Dear, it’s not necessary to hit her. Let’s just bring her back with us now,” he spoke in a shaky tone.
She rolled her eyes and pulled me towards Andrew, who looked so awkward standing beside my shaken father.
“You are coming back home to wed Andrew next week and you are not running away this time.”
Ethan shouted from behind us. The mayor was still holding him back, but the blonde was much stronger than the older male. If it was any other situation, I’m sure I would have laughed at the way the younger, taller male was dragging the short bald man behind him with every step forward.
“No!” he shouted again. “You will not take Serena away from me! I love her!”
My mother faced him.

“What?” she seemed shocked by his outburst.
Ethan stood firm and removed my mother’s grip on my arm. He pulled me close to him and held me tightly to his chest.
I looked up at him and he gave me a reassuring smile in return.
My mother stood shocked and my father stepped forward again. He took a hold of her wrist and tugged on it gently.
“Honey. We have no right to tell Serena who she is to marry. We should leave her here and let her live her life.”
My mother snarled and stormed off. My father gave me a small smile. He walked over to my love and me. He kissed my forehead.

“I wish you both happiness in life.”
With that said, he followed after that woman.
Andrew stood in place for a few more moments. He glanced back and forth between Ethan and me.

“So…” he paused. “Guess that means the wedding’s off?”
Ethan gave him a hard, chilling glare.

“Yeah. The wedding is never gonna happen, dude.”
Andrew shivered under the chef’s hard gaze and retreated with my parents.
They left Mountain Valley and didn’t bother me again.
Once they had disappeared from sight, Ethan gave me another one of his breath-taking kisses.
We were married one year later.
I got my fairy tale ending and I couldn’t be happier.

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This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

TeaCat said...
Mar. 5, 2011 at 6:48 pm
This plot was really well-planned. Please, please, please keep writing, because you have a very distinctive style of writing that I've never heard before.And I love strawberries too! :D
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