A young woman visits a farm with intention to make the farmer sell his property. Forces intervene and the woman changes.
I’m posting this as a test in changing my style and methodology. Rather than taking time to write the whole thing (probably roughly 12,000 words) I’m breaking it up into three parts. I’m hoping this allows me to get things out faster while allowing me to take a little extra time to work on the separate pieces. Basically shortening my longer pieces for easier consumption. I hope to have part 2 finished tomorrow and part 3 (the end) finished Monday.
Thick clouds of dust billowed behind the sleek black sedan as it sped along the small dirt road. Overhead, a single lazy cloud cast a huge shadow across the rolling green pastures on either side of the road. A huge line of wheeled metal structures sprayed crops with sinuous streams of water as a single green tractor pulled it further down the field.
“You know,” the driver said to his passenger. “It’s a little funny to say this but I’ve never really been in the country. Have you, miss?” The lady in the back seat made no answer so the man continued. “I mean, I honestly think that this is my first time seeing horses and things. In real life. I’ve probably seen them when I was a kid on some field trip but I can’t remember. It’s embarrassing to think of that. It’s not that I-”
Lynn scowled at the stack of papers on her lap. Glancing up briefly, she spoke to the driver. “I’m trying to focus and you’re distracting me. I’m not in the mood for idle chatter.”
The driver’s eyes flicked to his rear view mirror before returning to the road. Lynn shuffled her papers, refocusing over the rumbling noise of the car crunching over rocks and dirt. Sloping fields of green grass alternated with corn and other crops as the car passed farms that spread further and further apart the longer they drove.
“It’s actually quite beautiful out-” the driver started.
“Listen,” Lynn interrupted. “Stephen, wasn’t it?”
“Shaun, actually, miss.”
“Shaun. It would be fairly easy for me to have you fired. Not reassigned. Fired. I’ve asked you to be quiet and I expect you to listen. I wouldn’t be coming out to this wasteland if it weren’t important. Otherwise, my firm would send a junior partner to handle this. And they would drive themselves out here. I don’t give a damn about the scenery and if I have to ask you again to be quiet, I won’t even make a phone call. You’ll simply drive me back when I’m finished and then go home. We won’t expect you back. Now. Please don’t speak until we’re there.”
Knuckles white on the wheel, the driver clenched his jaw and focused on the road ahead of him. The young woman returned to her files and the silence in the car grew oppressively.
The car turned and then suddenly vibrated fiercely as it drove over a wide cattle guard laid into the ground. Lynn looked up from her papers, blinking her eyes at the bright light filtering through the tinted car windows. Small wooden sheds, chicken wire fences and various pieces of machinery dotted the path leading to the old, sprawling main house.
With a voice devoid of emotion, the driver intoned, “We’re here, miss.”
“Thank god,” Lynn said. “Wait in the car. If he’s smart, I’ll be finished in less than thirty minutes. If he’s not, it’ll take longer.”
“Yes, miss,” Shaun replied, eyes still straight ahead.
Lynn stepped from the car, knuckling at her back as she stretched from the long car ride. The air smelled of dust and manure and animals. Lynn wrinkled her nose from the various smells before making her way to the large house further down the path. Eyeing a few loose chickens that somehow weren’t being murdered by a pair of roving cats, the young woman knocked on the front door.
A small cat, orange showing through a light covering of dust, investigated Lynn’s black shoes. She shooed it away and it turned, tail proudly in the air as it strutted off. Another orange cat and a larger black one joined up with the first and they took turns to sniff at each other, curious about the newcomer.
The front door opened suddenly, forcing Lynn to take a quick step back. A man stood at the entrance, taller than her 5’2″ slim frame. The man, older than her by a few years, stood barefoot in well-worn blue jeans and a stained white shirt. He had a square jaw with just the hint of a dent in a chin covered with stubble. His straight blond hair was caked with bits of dried mud and the man brushed a few strands away from deep green eyes. He glanced at her and then looked beyond to the car waiting behind her.
In the eaves above, a small, gentle light glowed to life. Awakened by the new arrival, it hovered and twirled before sinking into the wood of the house.
“Can I help you?” The man asked.
“Are you Mr. Chapman? Christopher Chapman?”
The man looked back at Lynn. She read caution and curiosity in his yes. “Yes, I’m Chris Chapman. What can I do for you?”
“I’m Lynn Hathaway from Spiel & Filhart & Hathaway? You spoke to my-”
“Your assistant. I told him-”
“Associate, actually.” Lynn corrected.
Blinking, the man continued. “Associate. I told him I wasn’t interested.”
“Mr. Chapman, I’ve already spoken to your neighbors and they’re willing to sell. If we had an agreement from you, P&G Chemicals would be able to build their-”
“I said I wasn’t interested.”
“The remuneration would be quite substantial, Mr. Chapman,” Lynn pressed.
Christopher sighed. “Look, Ms. Hathaway, I was just in the middle of lunch. Why don’t you come in for a second and we’ll talk for a bit. And it’s just ‘Chris’, not ‘Mr. Chapman.’ I keep looking for my dad when you say that, only he’s not alive anymore. Come in. Can I get you some water or something else to drink?”
“I’ll take a little water, please. Thank you.” Lynn looked around the front room as she entered. Decades of living littered the entire room. Old photos, some color and some black and white lined shelves that were strewn with knick-knacks from other eras. Faded green reclining chairs and a matching couch faced a large fireplace.
Chris looked back at Lynn. “My father died a year ago. I haven’t made the time to clean up or rearrange anything yet.”
The odd clash of old and new continued in the kitchen. Speckled green Formica countertops were arranged around a shiny black induction stovetop. A large LG refrigerator hummed quietly in the corner, surrounded by blackened cast iron pots and pans. On the counter next to a simmering pot of soup lay a large, opened cookbook. The smell of onions permeated the kitchen.
Chris gestured to a small table surrounded by windows. “Have a seat. I’ll grab some water.”
The old wooden chair creaked as Lynn sat. A thin local newspaper sat next to a bowl of half-eaten soup in front of the other chair across from her. Lynn rolled her eyes at the main story – a young gap-toothed girl holding a first place ribbon in front of a large horse. “Suzanne Getters, #1 At 4H Showing!” read the headline.
“Here you go,” Chris told her, handing over a small glass of water.
“Thank you,” Lynn said, placing the cup to the side with no intention of drinking anything from the cloudy glass.
Lynn interrupted. “I’ll be blunt, Mr. Chapman. You’re the only one holding up the sale. Your neighbors are ready to go but we can’t do anything unless you agree.”
“Which I won’t do,” Chris said.
With a frown and an internal sigh at herself for leaving her documents in the car, Lynn began her speech. “I don’t understand, Mr. Chapman. We’ve spoken with your father when P&G initially surveyed. We’ve done our research. We know you’re just making enough to live off of but hardly any more than that. I’m sorry for your loss but your father was the farmer. You’ve spent most of your adult life away from here. I fail to see why you wouldn’t sell.”
Chris looked through the window out into his property. Lynn could see the man’s jaw working and she imagined him mentally going over what he should say. So he’s the ‘more than thirty minutes’ type, she thought.
“I-” Chris paused. “I hated this farm growing up. I was up before school, working. And then, back home, I was working again. That’s all it was. Work. The older I got, the more I wanted to move out. To make my way into the city and do something that wasn’t anywhere close to this. I went to college and messed around until I settled on a degree. I drank, tried some pot and just cut loose. My dad kept in touch and I visited here and there but never for long. I had a job to get back to. A life. I was seeing a girl and it was getting serious. I proposed and was taking extra hours to save up for a proper ring. Because that’s what you do, right? That’s what she wanted. A big wedding, a big ring, a big group of people to come out and see all the shiny things.”
The man took a sip of his own water before continuing. “When my father died, I put it all on hold to come out and take care of things. My fiancée came out once and then went straight back home. Didn’t like the smell or the animals or the lack of a flat screen TV. I spent a week going through things. Reading the paperwork, understanding the will. And then another week.”
Lynn desperately tried to find a way to stop the flow of words – to insert something in to change the subject. Before something came to mind, the man continued.
“Have you ever seen the stars out here, Ms. Hathaway? Out in the country? There’s thousands of them. Out here, alone in my father’s house and under those stars, I realized something. I realized I’d changed one thing for another. One life of struggling for another. I kind of reevaluated what I was doing. My fiancée, she was a decent gal but away from the city, away from the constant go-go-go, I realized there was nothing there. I was building a life of things. My father, he… Him and his parents and their parents, they built this up. They took care of the land and animals and raised children and passed it on. They lived a good life and they were, well, stewards of the land. Something called to me that night and I listened. I invited my fiancée out to live with me and we spent almost week arguing back and forth until she gave my engagement ring back. And now here I am.”
“But, Mr. Chapman, I understand-”
“I do well enough, Ms. Hathaway. I’m relearning old habits. I know my neighbors and we visit and chat. I go out into the community, to the farmer’s market and I meet the town folk. They remember me from when I was a kid and they’re more than happy to see me taking over my father’s land. I know almost everyone in that little town and we help each other. When I lived in the city, I didn’t even know the names of the people in the apartment next to me.”
“Mr. Chapman, I appreciate the story, trust me, I do, but I’d really like you to consider-”
“I won’t Ms. Hathaway. If I bring P&G out here, it’ll ruin the land. It’ll bring in workers, sure and more money but they will destroy everything around them. I hire on workers, too and I help the community with what extra money I have. I’m doing useful things and I feel damn good about it. I guess I just had to see what else was out there before I made up my mind.”
Lynn stared at the man in front of her. His eyes were clear and sure and she knew he wouldn’t change his mind today. She sighed, glancing at her watch before standing. Chris stood with her. “I understand, Mr. Chapman. I will go back to P&G and run some numbers by them. I’m sure I can find something that more suits your needs.”
“Ms. Hathaway, I sure wish you wouldn’t. I’m firm on what I said. My family trusted me with this farm and land and I intend to make sure I pass it on to my own children in even better shape.”
“P&G has a record of excellence and is a leader in environmental-”
“I’ve done my own research, Ms. Hathaway. I’ve looked at existing factories on Google Maps. I’m not stupid. I’ve seen what happens. I’ve read about the chemicals leeched into the soil around their plants in Indiana and Kentucky. The out of court settling they’ve done. Please don’t think I’m stupid just because I’m living out here in the country.”
Around them, unseen to either, six little glowing lights gathered from the shadows. Each light bobbed in the air, pulsing with a hidden beat. They flocked to Christopher as he argued. Almost lovingly, they danced around him, their light high and bright. One of the lights broke away, flitting cautiously over to Lynn as the woman listened with her brows knitted together and her arms crossed. With its internal lighting low, the small glowing sphere circled her body, spiraling up to touch lightly against her head. A second light joined the first until all six investigated the stern lady. They flashed red and sickly yellow as they listened to the conversation around them.
“Mr. Chapman, you’re primarily a dairy farm and, from our research, you haven’t even automated. Your farm is woefully behind the times and the amount of money it would take to install milking stalls and pens would be prohibitive.” Lynn argued.
“I won’t have my cows locked in stalls all day, Ms. Hathaway.”
A spark of anger slipped through the young lawyer’s control. “They’re just animals! You can’t-”
The eldest of the six whispered thoughts to the others and they responded. Court was held and a judgment was passed.
“Dairy isn’t the only thing I work with, ma’am. I have plenty of crops that are doing just fine and I’ve come up with some ideas to help with the milking. But that doesn’t mean I’ll lock them up and hobble them like some do.” Chris hooked his thumbs into the belt loops at his waist, an old habit when he dug in for a fight.
“And you’d still be operating at a loss, even if you do find a way to optimize the process.”
Chris laughed loudly and deeply. “Optimize? They aren’t machines, ma’am. And, speaking of, I need to get back to work shortly. But, please, Ms. Hathaway, I hate to see you come empty handed.” Walking to his fridge, Chris fumbled around and returned with a glass bottle filled with milk. The six lights swarmed around the bottle before dispersing back into the shadows. The smallest of the six wobbled back up to Lynn to rest in her hair. “It’s fresh and way better than anything you’ll buy at the store.”
“I really can’t, Mr. Chapman.”
“Please. It’s the least I can do. I know you don’t understand what I’m talking about. I probably sound a little crazy – giving up everything to come out here and sweat my ass off but, try it and maybe you’ll get a glimpse of what I’m talking about. The animals roam free and, honestly, since I moved back home I’ve felt the same. Free. This is a taste of all of that.”
Lynn grudgingly took the bottle. “I’ll visit again, Mr. Chapman.”
The older man smiled sadly. “I doubt it, Ms. Hathaway. I’m not going to change my mind, regardless of what P&G comes back with. Next time, call and I’ll save you a trip out. Oh, and you can reuse that bottle.”
Chris walked Lynn to her car. The small light nestled in the tight bun of Lynn’s brown hair pulsed with a sudden bright light before wandering off to the nearest tree. Three cats watched its movement, tails twitching. The dusty black car rumbled to life and Chris watched it go before heading back in to finish his lunch.
Lynn sat in her overstuffed chair with a glass of wine in one hand. Flipping uselessly through her channels, she finally gave up and left it on a random show. The young woman leaned her head back, feeling the tension in her neck and shoulders.
Just made partner and then I get this shit? She thought to herself. P&G was exerting enormous pressure on their firm to handle the circumstances. This was her first big deal and she knew it was a test. She’d fought hard to get where she was and the two other partners, both men, were skeptical of her.
Tomorrow she was expected to present her report but her bed felt a long way away. She had pills to force sleep but they only gave her four hours of restlessness and she’d never been able to fall back asleep when they wore off. Damn that man and his abstinence, she thought. It’s so simple, is it? To give it all up and go back to your childhood? Crawl back to… that?
Images of growing up flashed through her mind. Her parents struggling to make ends meet, saving every penny they could to send her to college. In the end, they’d barely been able to pay for half a year of law school and they looked twenty years older than they were. Lynn sighed at the memories of her mother. It was a different time back then. She didn’t know how bad it was when she was a child. All she knew was her mother coming home late to sing her to sleep. And then… Lynn looked at her small fridge. She used to make me warm milk to help me sleep.
Downing her glass of wine, Lynn rinsed the cup and then drank water to clear the taste from her mouth. The young woman grabbed the glass bottle of milk from the fridge before digging around for a clean mug. Opening the bottle’s cap, she sniffed and was surprised by the smell; she was used to the simple smells of milk from the grocery store. The bottled milk was full of extra scents – she could almost smell a sweetness to the slightly yellow milk.
“Well, what the hell. If it’s poisoned, I could always sue him.” Smiling slightly at her joke, the woman filled the mug and then microwaved it. Returning back to her chair, she crossed her legs, cupping the mug in her hands while she slowly sipped it. She sighed between sips as a warmth spread slowly through her body.
By the time the mug was empty, Lynn felt the weight of her body pulling her down. She yawned and stretched, luxuriating in the feeling of comfortable sleepiness settling deep within her body. With another yawn, she brought her mug to the sink and then shuffled off to bed.
Lynn sighed as her silk pajama pants slid between her cool covers. The added weight and warmth of the blankets surrounded her like a cocoon. The woman yawned again and couldn’t remember falling asleep.
The sound of Lynn’s alarm clock startled her awake. The young woman was suddenly frantic and confused and it took her several seconds to even realize what was happening. She usually slept so poorly that the last time her alarm clock woke her up was when she’d first joined her firm four years ago. She’d had far too much to drink and her alarm had woken her from her stupor. Since then, the stress had built and she was usually awake far before the alarm went off.
Pale light glowed around the edges of Lynn’s window blinds. She swung her feet over the edge of her bed and then worked back mentally to find when she fell asleep. She couldn’t remember waking up at all during the night.
Fragments of dreams came to the woman’s mind as she struggled to remember her night. She remembered laughing, as a child. And light. And peace. The love of her overworked parents. But, more than anything else, she remembered the calm. That feeling where there was nothing to worry about. Nothing at all in the world.
A full bladder made Lynn head to the bathroom and she sat with a satisfied sigh. The young woman worked her shoulders and back; her body ached and she wondered if she wasn’t used to sleeping for so long.
As she stood and pulled up her pajama bottoms, Lynn winced. The skin of her lower stomach felt tender against even the smooth silk of her pants. As gently as possible, the young woman explored her stomach, tracing her fingers along skin that felt thicker and yet more smooth at the same time. The whole area was sensitive in a strange way and her fingers found four small spots in particular that hurt. Although the skin was slightly reddened and vaguely warm to the touch, she couldn’t find anything else wrong. Mentally, she resolved to go to the doctor if it became worse or was still there tomorrow.
With two hours before she needed to be at work, Lynn showered, luxuriating in the steaming hot water as it ran along her small body. Her nipples ached oddly and she found herself shielding them from the direct streams of water. Maybe my period is coming early? She wondered.
The young woman stepped from the shower and dried herself. With a thick white towel wrapped around her waist, she dug through her clothes. She grabbed a pair of black panties, gray slacks and dark green blouse. The young woman leaned against her wall as she tugged her pants on. Frowning at how tight they felt, she pulled harder, grunting until they finally came up to and over her hips. I wore these just last week, Lynn remembered. What the hell?
When Lynn put on her bra, she knew something was different; the clasp she was used to hooking were too tight. The young woman took her bra off and gently hefted her breasts. Her c-cup breasts felt heavier in her hands and, circling them with her palms, she was sure they felt bigger. Note to self, Lynn thought. Get tampons on the way home. Lynn attached her bra at a different hook before heading into the bathroom. A basket on the back of her porcelain toilet held her few remaining tampons. Lynn pocketed one before sitting down for her makeup.
Lynn stared at herself cross-eyed in her small makeup mirror. She held tweezers to her chin, searching for tiny brown and wispy white hairs that occasionally grew out. Two small brown hair stood just under her chin and she winced as she plucked them.
“Perfect,” the young woman said after a quick examination. On her way out of her apartment, she grabbed her purse and coat.
The drive to work was slow through the dawning heat of the morning. Lynn cursed at a few drivers but mostly she used the time to mentally prepare for her meeting with the other two partners. She knew they wouldn’t be pleased with the lack of progress but she still had time before P&G really started bearing down on them.
Lynn parked at her reserved spot. It still made her happy to see her own name on the small sign in front of her parking spot; a small victory after her years of hard work. The young woman swiped her keycard at the panel by the front door and then entered when she heard it unlock.
“Good morning, Ms. Hathaway,” the receptionist said cheerfully.
Whether it was the full night of actual sleep or the calm she’d felt or something else, Lynn stopped to look at the girl. Normally she would just nod on her way to her office but, today, she felt better somehow. More relaxed, even with the meeting in a few minutes, Lynn smiled at the girl. “Good morning,” she told her.
Humming a simple tune, Lynn walked through the side door that led to the maze of offices and cubicles in their small building.
“So, do you think he’ll change his mind?” Mr. Spiel asked. The old man looked like an inflated human pug that was stuffed into a blue suit and Lynn had a hard time maintaining eye contact with him.
“Not immediately, no,” Lynn answered. “He seems fairly certain of his convictions. I mentioned his neighbors. They won’t sell unless he does but I told him they’re prepared to sell right now.”
Mr. Spiel picked at a large spot on the back of his hand; a habit he’d formed over the years and one Lynn knew meant he was anxious. “Hmm. What’s next? You know how important this account is for us. We’re riding on the coattails of our success with Shell but that will only get us so far. Can you change his mind or not?”
“I’ll put together some numbers for Mr. Meza at P&G to see if they’re willing to increase their funding. I’ll also meet with Mr. Chapman’s neighbors again. He’s very community minded and if I can convince them to talk to him, he might be swayed that way. He’s-” Lynn stopped as a yellow butterfly fluttered past Mr. Spiel’s window. The sun played through its fine wings as it landed on the small bush in front of the window. The small creature slowly settled into place as Lynn watched. Something about its gentle elegance pulled at her and a flash of a memory played through her mind: her as a child, chasing butterflies through a green field.
“He is what, Ms. Hathaway?” Mr. Spiel interrupted.
“You were saying ‘He is’ just a moment ago.”
Lynn thought back. What was I saying? I was talking about Christopher… Mr. Chapman and his… the community… The neighbors? Right, the neighbors and his sense of community. “Sorry, yes. Christopher- Mr. Chapman- is really interested in the community around him. If I can get his neighbors to talk to him then they may have better luck at convincing him to sell.” From the corner of her eyes she watched the butterfly take flight.
“Well,” Mr. Spiel said. “It’s worth a shot. You might also look deeper into their backgrounds and financial records to see what you can find that might help.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea. They do seem like honest, good people so I’m not sure what I’ll-”
Mr. Spiel scoffed. “Ms. Hathaway, I assure you, nobody is honest or good these days. Perhaps Mr. Chapman has a debt owed or an ugly habit. Or his neighbors do. Something will break them all loose.”
Christopher’s green eyes and open expression came unbidden to Lynn’s mind at the remark. The young woman grimaced, tossing the thought away. She knew the older man was right, everyone had a secret; some dark spot they held close to their chest. Lynn found herself slowly messaging the tender skin of her lower belly. It felt slightly loose to the touch and the gentle massage was oddly satisfying.
“You’re right, of course. I’ll push harder.” Lynn stood from the desk without another word. Mr. Spiel was already staring at his own computer screen; no further words were needed. Lynn walked slowly to her desk, fingers playing distractedly with the soft skin on her belly while her mind wandered.