Home > Small Town Charm(5)

Small Town Charm(5)
Author: Carolyn Brown

“I’ve lived in Bloom all my life. That’s all just common knowledge,” she answered as she set the muffins on the coffee table and went back to her desk for the coffee. “Now tell me about the Anna Grace Cramer problem.”

Bryce reached for a muffin. “It’s embarrassing.”

Cricket set the two mugs of coffee on the table and took a chair across from him. “Hey, you’re talking to the woman who took a mud bath in front of you yesterday.” She smiled. “What could be more embarrassing than that?”

“I was born and raised in Amarillo, but outside of town on a small farm,” Bryce said.

Cricket didn’t want his whole life story. She was just interested in the bit about Anna Grace, but she kept quiet and picked up her coffee.

“I’m not used to small-town politics,” he admitted as he reached for another muffin. “These are delicious.”

“I made them this morning. Next year, I’m hoping my blueberry bushes are producing.” She wanted him to get on with the story. Lettie had sent her a text that morning reminding her that Anna Grace had probably set her mind to become a pharmacist’s wife. She wondered what any of that had to do with her.

“Anna Grace and her mother came into the drugstore this morning.” Bryce turned a faint shade of red. “She asked me to a cocktail party tonight. To begin with, I’m not that guy.” He put air quotes around the last two words.

Cricket wondered what kind of guy that was, but she just kept sipping her coffee. So Lettie had been right, and Anna Grace wasn’t wasting any time at all.

“I lied and told her that…” he stammered, and the blush got even redder, “or maybe I didn’t really lie, but just went along with what Lettie said. She told Anna Grace that I was helping you pick peas tonight, so Anna Grace asked about tomorrow night, and Nadine said that was her birthday party. Then she insisted on Saturday night, and I lied and said I was going fishing with you?” His voice rose at the end, as if he was asking a question.

“You know anything about picking peas or fishing?” Cricket asked.

“My granddad had a farm kind of like what you have, and my dad and I both love to fish,” he answered.

“Then I guess you’d better be at my place about six thirty tonight. After we get done in the garden, I’ll fix us some supper. And after work on Saturday, we’ll dig some fishin’ worms and go to the creek out behind our place. There’s some pretty good-sized bass out there. If we catch some, maybe we’ll fry them for supper one night soon,” she told him.

“Thank you, Cricket. I thought you might slap me and tell me to never darken your door again.” He grinned.

“It will take an army to save you from Anna Grace.” She smiled. “I’m just one soldier, but I’ll do what I can.”

“Why would you do that for me?” Bryce asked.

“Because I could never forgive myself if I didn’t help you…” she said, “and because Anna Grace has treated me like dirt since before we even went to school. I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to get tangled up with her, and besides, I can use help in the garden. Jennie Sue and I go fishing about once a month, but she’s not here, so I’d love some company.”

Bryce took a couple of sips of his coffee and then stood up. “I’m available any evening you need me to help out.”

“Thank you. I will remember that and just might call on you. And I’m available to use for an excuse any time that Anna Grace tries to hoodwink you into doing something you don’t want to do.” She followed him to the door and out onto the sidewalk. “I’ve got some beans, okra, and tomatoes to unload. I sell a lot of produce out of the bookstore.”

“I’ll be glad to help you,” he said.

“I’ll be glad to accept,” she told him. Just wait until Mary Lou heard that he had come over to her bookstore and even unloaded produce. That would be like throwing down a red flag in front of a raging bull. Cricket couldn’t have wiped the grin off her face if she’d been sucking on a lollipop made of alum and lemon juice.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Cricket rushed home after work that evening, changed into a pair of cut-off jean shorts and an oversized T-shirt with a picture of Betty Boop printed on the front, and made sure the kitchen and living room were in good shape. She closed both bedroom doors, gathered up her harvest baskets, and was in the garden when Bryce arrived.

For the second time that day, she was struck speechless when he got out of his SUV. He was wearing a pair of bibbed overalls and a faded T-shirt. He sat down on the back porch, rolled the legs of his overalls up to his knees, and kicked off his flip-flops. Lord, have mercy! In Cricket’s eyes he was even handsomer than he had been in his khaki slacks and white lab coat. One thing for sure—Anna Grace had her work cut out for her if she had any notion of ever turning him into a guy who liked cocktail parties.

“This is great,” he said as he carried a basket to the end of the first row of peas. “I used to go home every single weekend just so I could smell fresh dirt. I got so tired of being cooped up in the library, studying every spare minute.”

“Did you live in the dorm all those years?” Cricket finally found her voice.

“I had a full ride academic scholarship for the first four years,” he answered. “Dorm, food, books, and tuition, but the last four years, I worked for a research lab and went to school to help out with the finances. My grandparents were willing to foot the whole bill, but I didn’t feel right about letting them do that when I was able to work. Besides, I liked doing research. Not as much as I enjoy farming, though.”

“You must’ve been really smart,” Cricket said.

“I just had some good study habits and didn’t want to disappoint my parents or grandparents. They had sacrificed a lot to save up the money for my schooling.” He tossed pea pods into the basket.

“Are they still alive?” Cricket asked.

“Yep, and still living on the family farm. Granddad is almost eighty now, but if you took the garden away from him, he’d probably only last another week. He and Granny take produce to the farmer’s market in Canyon every Saturday. That’s their social outing for the week. He bought me that vehicle out there for my graduation present and gave me the down payment so I could buy the drugstore,” Bryce said as he kept working. “Mama teaches school, and Daddy is a farmer.”

“They must be really proud of you.”

“When I finished my first four years, I got a partial scholarship to pharmacy school in Austin. That’s seven hours from home, and it was a year-round program, so I only got home for holidays. I missed times like this. What about you? Where did you go to school?”

“The University of Hard Knocks,” she answered. “I wasn’t smart enough to get a scholarship, and I’m not so sure I would have gone if I could have. I like living on this little patch of ground, and I love my bookstore. My sister-in-law Jennie Sue bought the store, and we ran it together for a while. Then she had two kids and decided to be a stay-at-home mama.”

“What does your brother do?” Bryce asked.

“He spent time in the military, got injured pretty bad, and was in the hospital for months. Then he was given a discharge and a disability. He was kind of lost for a few years until Jennie Sue came into his life. The farm was like therapy for him, or so he says. These days, he runs the farm for the most part. When he’s home, he takes care of the garden, and he and Jennie Sue go to the farmer’s market on Saturdays,” she answered.

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