Read This Month's Free Short Story

Find It at the Farmer's Market

Susannah Bowles walked from booth to booth at the Cypress Point Farmers Market, evaluating the offerings of each vendor. She appreciated the opportunity to purchase farm fresh produce and eggs, and she enjoyed perusing the craft offerings of non-agricultural vendors.

"Good morning, Miss Susannah," called Pam Palmer as she filled in a gap among her baked offerings with blueberry muffins. "How's the shopping going for you?" Her warm smile filled Susannah's heart with joy. Pam had come a long way from the battered, frightened young woman who arrived in Cypress Point two years ago. Now a confident independent business woman, Pam supplied the town and the surrounding community with delicious baked goods and pastries.

"Just fine, Pam," she answered. "Of course, it will be a lot better if you tell me you have one of your orange-cranberry muffins left for me. And a blueberry one, too, please."

"Yes, ma'am," said Pam. With practiced moves, she folded a piece of cardboard into a small box, just the right size for two of her generously sized muffins. A sheet of waxed paper preceded the muffins into the box. Once the two treats took their respective places in the container, Pam closed it and secured it with tape. "Would you like anything else?"

"If I buy anything else, I'll need a new wardrobe," laughed Susannah. "Shopping your offerings certainly exercises my self-control."

"Just think of the calories you're walking off here today," said Pam. "Surely you've undone any calories in these little muffins." Her warm chuckle accompanied the box as she handed it to Susannah. The older woman pressed payment into Pam’s hand, against her protests.

The two exchanged a quick hug before Susannah moved on. By the time she finished her shopping, her oversized market bag bulged with crookneck squash grown by the Thibodeaux twins and a pint of local honey from The Bee's Knees Farm. From Serenity Farm's stall, she purchased leaf lettuce, fresh green beans, a dozen eggs and one precious, perfect Serenity Farm heirloom tomato, which shared the place of honor at the top of the bag with the muffins. Serenity McElroy’s heirloom crop varieties improved any salad.

If only I had a cucumber, she thought, my dinner plans would be complete. None of the vendors she’d visited had any for sale. She headed back to her truck, grateful for the products she did find.

Susannah had only a moment to identify a shape moving toward her before a gangly teenager tangled her in twig-thin arms and a length of rope. She struggled to regain her balance but could feel herself falling.

"Hey, kid, watch where you're going." The voice came over Susannah's shoulder as she felt strong arms support her.

The boy turned. Susannah had already identified the voice as belonging to her beloved niece, Inspector Christine Moore. She worked herself free of the entanglement and turned to hug the young woman, as the boy tried to understand what had just happened.

"I'm so sorry, lady, I was just trying to get this line untangled. I didn't mean to back into you." The flush climbing his cheeks reached his hairline in seconds.

"No harm done, young man," Susannah said, as she regained her composure and checked the contents of her shopping bag. “Even my tomato seems undamaged by our encounter.”

"Lucky for you," growled Christine. “If my aunt had been injured, you’d have answered to me.”

“Is there a problem here?” asked a baritone voice. “What have you gotten into now, Warren?”

The boy seemed to wilt at the question. “Nothing, Dad, really. I just bumped into the lady on accident.”

“You have an awful lot of accidents for a healthy fellow. Get your act together, son. Pay more attention to your surroundings.” The man’s scowl marred an otherwise handsome face. He turned his attention to Susannah. “My apologies, ma’am. I hope my careless son hasn’t caused you any injury.”

“I’m fine,” she answered. “But I was daydreaming a little. I could have been paying more attention, too. Please don’t blame him for our mutual contact.”

“Very kind of you, but Warren spends way too much time with his head in the clouds.” The man seemed unwilling to offer any quarter to the boy. His blue gray eyes remained stony. “He’s fifteen now, old enough to start acting like a man.”

“Let’s all just cool off a moment,” said Christine, as she recognized the possibility the situation might get out of hand. “How about we introduce ourselves before things get too heated? I’m Inspector Christine Moore, Cypress Point PD. This is my aunt, Susannah Bowles. I gather the young man is Warren. And you are…?” she offered her hand to the glowering man.

He ignored her outstretched hand. “I’m Wilton Overbee. If you’re planning to arrest me for trying to discipline my boy, we’re…”

“I’m not arresting anyone,” Christine interrupted. “Being harsh to your son isn’t against the law, but it may be against your own best interests.” Her voice lowered on the last part of her speech.

Overbee’s rock hard features softened slightly at her words. “I may be strict, but I don’t think of myself as harsh. The boy needs guidance and I try to give it to him. I love him, and I want him to be the best he can.”

His response elicited a small smile from Christine. “I’m glad to hear that. We all want children to achieve the best they can. Let’s start again. Hi. I’m Christine Moore.” She offered her hand again.

A flush crept up Overbee’s face as he shook hands with her, an acknowledgment of his rudeness. “How do you do? I’m Wilton Overbee. My son and I are here at the Farmer’s Market for the first time to offer our salad and pickling cucumbers. We’ve started a small truck farm out east of town, Big O Farm.”

“Welcome to Cypress Point’s Market, Mr. Overbee. I’m on the police force here in town, so if you need anything, please let me know.” She extracted a business card from her pocket and handed it to him.

“Did I hear you say you had cucumbers, sir?” asked Susannah.

“Yes, ma’am. We’re a little behind getting set up, but I’m sure we can find a couple for you if you’re interested. Warren, can you grab a few of each variety for Mrs.,…Bowles, was it?”

“That’s right, Susannah Bowles. But I really only need one salad cuke today. How much are they?”

“No charge for you, Mrs. Bowles. It’s a small token of my regret for nearly knocking you down. I hope you’ll enjoy it so much that you’ll be back for more in the future.” Warren stepped over to the brightly painted delivery van behind their tent.

In a few moments, he returned with one of the most perfect salad cucumbers Susannah had ever seen. As he handed it to her, he bowed his head.

“Again, Mrs. Bowles, I’m real sorry for being so careless. Thank you for forgiving me.”

“Oh, honey, that’s what people do if they follow Christ’s example. How could I stay angry over an accident?” Susannah turned back to Wilton Overbee. “Seems to me you have one fine young man here, sir. Good manners and a great sales style. Treasure him. Good day, everyone.”

As Susannah walked away, Christine and Wilton exchanged appraising looks.

“Thank you for not arresting me, Inspector.”

“Please, call me Christine. I’m off duty today.” She laughed. “That doesn’t happen very often, so I thought I’d make the most of it and look for some fresh vegetables.”

“We have cucumbers, a few pints of dewberries and fresh parsley today. Would any of those be on your shopping list?” Wilton asked, and a smile crossed his features for the first time since Christine had met him. His eyes lightened and sparkled.

“Well, let’s get your tent up and your product on display so I can make a choice,” Christine said, as she returned his smile. “What can I do to help?”

Warren picked up the rope he had dropped to the ground and handed the end to Christine. “If you could hold this, ma’am, I could finish untangling it and get the poles secured.”

She held the rope until Warren worked the snarls out of it.

Warren and Wilton moved with practiced skill and completed the setup in less than five minutes. They opened and positioned three folding tables, then loaded them with an assortment of cucumbers, dewberries and herb bundles. Christine watched, amazed and amused, at the teamwork they displayed-so different from the tension of a few minutes earlier.

Wilton turned toward her with a flourish toward the finished stall. “We await your shopping pleasure, my lady. How may we serve you today?”

Christine put on her best “hard-sell” demeanor as she perused the brightly colored produce on the tables. In a few minutes, she had selected a basket of shiny dewberries, so dark in their purpleness they seemed almost black. To the berries, she added two perky bunches of parsley, a bunch of basil and three firm salad cucumbers.

“I’m sure your husband will enjoy these choices,” Warren said as he bagged her purchases. “We grow everything without pesticides, so our customers don’t get exposed to the toxins.”

“Is something wrong?” asked Wilton, as he noted the shadow which had crept into Christine’s eyes.

“I’m sure everything will taste fine,” she replied. “I should get going.”

“Sorry, you don’t get away that easy,” he said. “Warren said something that made you sad. Unless you want me to fuss at him for upsetting customers, you’ll explain. What’s wrong?”

Christine looked up at Wilton with eyes full of tears. “My husband was in the army. He died overseas. I wish he could be here to taste this beautiful produce. He loved fresh vegetables. He used to talk about starting a vegetable garden when he retired.” Her voice caught.

“I’m so sorry, Christine. I have an idea of what you mean. We lost Warren’s mother five years ago and there are still things that hit me like sledge hammer when I least expect it. How long has it been?” Wilton moved around the table toward her as he spoke.

“Ted died in 2011. You’d think I’d be getting better about losing him, but it still hurts.”

Wilton took Christine’s free hand in his. “I tell you what. When the feelings get me down, I’ll call you. When you get down, call me. We’ll form our own grief therapy group. How’s that for a deal?”

Christine looked deep into Wilton’s eyes, unsure of his motives. Could she trust this stranger?

“What makes you think I need a grief therapy group, Mr. Overbee?”

“The tear running down your cheek, for openers. And if you want me to call you Christine, you’d better start calling me Will, don’t you think?”

Christine frowned and swiped at her damp cheek with the back of the hand which held the bag of vegetables.

“I’m a police officer, Mr. Overbee. I have to focus on my job and the safety of the people of this town. I don’t have time to dwell on grief.”

“I’m Will, and if you try to bury your feelings, they will eat you alive. Taking care of yourself will let you take care of the people a lot better. I’m not suggesting you wallow in your loss, but admit you hurt sometimes and know you have someone you can talk to who is in the same situation. I’m walking the same road.”

I know how to recognize the truth from a lie, she thought. He’s either telling the truth or he’s a world class liar.

She felt a weight on her shoulder and turned her head. Warren had approached her while she was distracted and now he had an arm around her.

“I’m sorry I made you sad, ma’am, but my dad is right. We both tried to hide how we felt and just made each other miserable and sick. He’s gotten better a little quicker than me, but I’m working on dealing with things. Please believe him. We can be your friends when you need someone to talk to.” The boy’s tone resonated with her.

“My aunt and her best friend have both lost their husbands. I’m not alone in my feelings.” Christine defended herself against what the two offered.

“Do you talk to them as women who lost their spouses or as family?” asked Will. “Sometimes you need a confidante who isn’t related, someone you can tell things you’d rather not tell a family member.” He released her hand and reached in his pocket. “You gave me your card. Here’s mine. Just remember you can call me if you need a friend.” He retreated behind his tables, fearful he had pressed her too hard.

“Thank you, Will,” she said as she slid the card into her pocket. “I promise I’ll think about what you said. Maybe we can talk again the next time you’re here at the market.”

‘Sounds like a plan,” he said. “Enjoy your purchase. Come on, Will, we’ve got work to do.”

“Yes, sir.” The boy removed his arm from Christine’s shoulder and moved away from her. “Hope to see you soon, ma’am.”

Christine headed back to her car. What just happened? Is he right? Am I trying to bury my feelings? She knew she’d be spending time studying the events and wondered if Aunt Susannah might have some advice. This night promised to be a long one.

© 2018 Mary Beth Magee BOTR Press, LLC