Who I Am With You(4)

By: M. Lynne Cunning

“Can I help you?” she called out from the porch, shielding her eyes from the sun. The pink bandana wrapped around her tied-up hair made it impossible for Chad to discern the color of it. Silently, he guessed that she was a blonde, knowing a golden hue would complement the fairness of her skin well. He took a few tentative steps toward her, pulling his hat off his own head out of respect as he moved.

“I’m Chad, ma’am. Chad... Kirkwood.” It had been so long since he’d uttered his own surname it sounded foreign on his lips. A wave of satisfaction washed through him and he fought to keep the grin from showing on his face. He was himself again, and he could introduce himself as such. As he closed the distance between them with a few hurried steps, he saw her eyebrow arch curiously.

“Do I know you, Mr. Kirkwood?” Her voice exuded suspicion. Rightly so, he thought to himself. He stuttered out the explanation for his unannounced arrival in hopes of easing her mind a bit.

“Sorry, I’m not... I mean, I saw your ad posted at the general store in town.” He unfolded the wrinkled piece of paper in his hand and offered it toward her. “You’re looking for some help around here?”

Chad watched her eye him warily, as though trying to decipher whether he was serious or not. The skepticism she wore was blatant enough that it caused him to look down at his dusty jeans and black T-shirt as well, wondering if he looked unacceptable to be seeking out a job. After a moment, the woman took a few steps forward and offered her hand toward him.

“Sorry,” she offered politely. “You’re just not who I expected would answer such a job posting, that’s all.” Before he could ask, she raised her eyes to meet his and smirked. “Students,” she explained. “I thought I’d get a bunch of students.”

Chad looked at her wryly, taking her hand in his and shaking it gently. “Well, I can be taught, too.”

As though finally breaking through an unseen exterior, the woman laughed. “I’m sure you can. I’m Katie. Good to meet you, Chad.”

He knew she was pretty from the moment he’d laid his gaze upon her, but until she’d laughed and allowed a genuine smile to cross her face, he’d never realized how pretty she actually was. A natural kind of beauty, no makeup required. He gave her hand a tender squeeze and released it, shoving his hands back into his pockets. “So, what’s this job entail, Katie? I used to work with my grandfather at his farm when I was younger, but I’m not afraid to admit that it’s been a while since those days.”

“Is that your way of telling me you’ve got no idea what you’re doing?”

“Is saying you expected to hire a student your way of saying the pay sucks?”

Chad stared at Katie unblinking for what seemed like hours. Not wanting to upset her, he decided to take the high ground and try to set the conversation back on more solid ground. “I said I might be a bit rusty. I’ll figure it out.”

“You don’t even know what you’re figuring out yet.” Katie was obviously quite skilled at the art of arguing. Well, that made two of them.

“Well, I’ll figure that out, too.” Her expression made it hard for Chad to know whether she was purposely being argumentative or just showing off her sense of humor, so he flashed a sly grin toward her and added, “You’re the boss. If you tell me to figure it out, I’ll have to.”

“Hmm, this just might work out.” Katie crossed her arms, grinning back at him.

Chad had a moment of doubt, wondering what he’d just gotten himself into, but he knew he needed the job if he was going to stay here in Canada for any length of time. The last thing he wanted to do was slink back across the border to Tennessee, back to his life that had just been destroyed, with his tail between his legs and nothing to show for his impromptu disappearance. “So, I’m hired then?”

“Don’t you even want to negotiate a pay rate? Or hours or something?”

“Pay me what I’m worth and we’ll call it even. How’s that sound?” He didn’t know why, but he knew he wanted to be here. Working on this farm. With this woman.

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