Chapter 1: Free Indeed - Chapter 1

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 307

Rhonda Hewitt rolled down the car window to let the wind ruffle her long brown hair as she drove recklessly down the curving country road.She was already a half-hour late for her appointment at Spruce Valley Farms.As the newest soil conservation specialist for the region, Rhonda could ill afford to have complaints lodged against her already, given the shaky political climate upon which her job rested.She had known when she accepted the job that she would have to make herself indispensable in order to keep the job for longer than the six-month probationary period.Spruce Valley Farms would be a challenge, in this respect, since it was the largest farm in the region.Because of its size, the farm was coveted by all of the government workers--except soil conservation officers.They would rather take on smaller projects, which were hard enough to complete in a season as it was.Rhonda had not had much choice in the matter but now had decided that she would enjoy the challenge of not only completing the project, but also completing it efficiently and competently.

Rhonda looked carefully for the sign indicating the entrance to the farm.For all its size, the farm was relatively obscure; given the distance all of the main buildings were from the road.The sign at the road did not seem to indicate anything unusual in terms of the wealth of the farm, either.I guess these people aren’t ones to show off, mused Rhonda, as she turned into the paved mile-long laneway leading to the large century-old limestone farmhouse, the freshly painted barn and the accompanying outbuildings. Nobody seemed to be about as she stepped out of the car and popped the trunk to get her rubber boots and overalls.

She glanced about as she struggled into her overalls.The farm was relatively neat, although she could tell that the Swansons were in the process of renewing much of the old farmhouse and some of the outbuildings.New lumber leaned against the lean-to at the side of the house, and a ladder was propped up at the front of the house, next to the upper balcony, which seemed to be in the process of getting a facelift.I wonder where everyone is, Rhonda thought to herself as she slipped into her rubber boots.This must be the first farm I’ve been to that doesn’t have a dog greeting every visitor that pulls in the driveway!

Rhonda approached the door above which the sign read “Main Office”.“Helllooooo,” Rhonda called out in the dusky gloom of the office.She could barely discern the desk and 2 chairs in the middle of the room.She suspected that the usual charts and record books that are so crucial to any successful dairy farm would be scattered around the room, but she didn’t wait to see.She hadn’t really expected an answer to her greeting; it was an unusual farm where anyone was actually found in the office during the middle of the day; scheduled appointment or no.

As she stepped back out into the bright sunlight, Rhonda’s eye caught a glimpse of yellow and red in the far corner of the five or six acre market garden which stretched out behind the fence of the farmhouse yard.Sighing, she set out across the field.It was so typical to have to trot across the entire farm to find the farmer.

Rhonda’s steps slowed as she neared the barebacked man crouched in the middle of the strawberry field.Her heart was in her throat as she surveyed the strong, tanned arms reaching deftly for the large, juicy red berries.He looked so much like Larry, with the shock of thick white-blonde hair and red shorts—he’d often worn red while working at the resort she’d visited with her parents six summers ago.Could it be?She asked herself.Her stomach tensed and fluttered as she stared at the back of his head, wishing she could make out his face from this distance.She shook her head and mentally pulled herself together.And what if it is Larry?She reminded herself rhetorically, angrily.He didn’t care enough then to even say goodbye, never mind anything else - why should he have changed?Besides, Larry was a dance instructor, not a farmer!She willed her heavy-shod feet forward in a brisk walk until she stood at the end of the row he was working on.
“Helllloooo!”She called.The man stood up and Rhonda squinted behind her non-prescription sunglasses, trying to make out the features of his face.It was no use—beyond the fact that he was quite tanned, she could not determine with any certainty if it might be Larry.The man seemed to realize who she was and raised a hand.

“I’ll be there in a second," he hollered, gesturing at the number of quart-size and pint-size baskets scattered around his feet.He bent to gather some up and put them in the pick-up truck about 10 meters down the other end of the row.Rhonda walked down the row to help, picking up several quart baskets on the way and waiting behind him at the truck as he rearranged the tarp under which the baskets would be placed.Not realizing her presence, he turned about quickly, and promptly upset the basket of berries, which was in Rhonda’s left hand.

“Oh, sorry,” His voice was deep and smooth, just like she remembered Larry’s to be, five years ago.Rhonda quickly bent down to pick up the spilled berries, not wanting to look at his face.“I didn’t realize you were right behind me—guess I could’ve been a little more careful, huh?Here, let’s just put these away—don’t worry about the ones that spilled.”He bent down beside her, took the basket out of her hand and drew her upright.“I’m Kent Swanson, by the way,” he held out his work-roughened, red-stained hand.Rhonda let out her breath and grasped his hand in a firm shake with a laugh, as she looked into his eyes.

“I guess I can be quiet even in these clodhoppers,” Rhonda commented gaily, propping her sunglasses on top of her head while releasing his hand and gesturing to her boots.She was, strangely enough, both relieved and yet letdown that it wasn’t Larry after all.“I should’ve warned you—I’ll pay you for them when we get back to the house.”She continued to scrutinize Kent’s face—she could see quite clearly now that the resemblance to Larry ended with the blonde hair and tanned face—Kent’s face was round rather than angular, his eyes were a dark brown rather than blue, and he had an enchanting cleft in his chin.Kent was also shorter than Larry had been, making him only slightly taller than her.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Kent replied, wondering about her sudden change in manner.She had almost seemed nervous at first, but now was quite confident.“A few berries are no big deal.”

“Oh, okay,” Rhonda was a bit sheepish as she realized how dumb she sounded, offering to pay for a quart of spilled berries on the biggest farm in the district.She turned to go back down the row and pick up the rest of the baskets of berries.Kent followed suit, heading down an adjacent row.Swinging the last basket up under the tarp, Kent opened up the passenger side door and indicated that Rhonda should climb in.

“So, what’s the first thing on the conservation agenda,” Kent asked, as the truck lumbered down the dusty lane between fields of strawberries and newly planted tomatoes.He drove slowly to minimize the spillage of berries in the back.“Do you want a tour of the farm to orient yourself?”

“Yes, I’ll need a tour of the farm,” Rhonda replied, “but first I’ll show you the information we have so far about your farm and then we can come up with an initial plan as you show me around.”

“Ok, boss, sounds good to me,” Kent answered, throwing a quick grin in her direction.“First, though, I need to get these berries into the cooler—how ‘bout I meet you in the office in about a quarter hour?The light switch is beside the door to the right.”

Rhonda hurried to her car and opened the door to the back seat.Grabbing several binders, government publications, maps and photographs, she slammed the door shut with her boot and headed towards the office.She was juggling the various items in her hands, trying to free one up to open the door, when she heard footsteps behind her.

“Here, let me get that for you.”A large, tanned and very greasy hand reached around from behind her and turned the doorknob, allowing her to shove it open with her boot.

“Thanks,” Rhonda said, half-turning to see who had seen her dilemma and come to her aid.Her breath caught in her throat as she recognized the man’s profile—Larry Durham, from the resort!In the dusky gloom of the unlighted office, Larry didn’t seem to recognize her and simply brushed past her.Rhonda felt like a trapped animal, not knowing whether to flee or stand her ground.Fool! She berated herself.You've got to ignore him and get this job done!Gathering herself together, she stood on tiptoe to flick the switch to the right of the door with the end of the tube that held the map.

Larry was nowhere in sight.The office was L-shaped, with a desk and two chairs sitting haphazardly in the middle. Books were scattered all along the shelf that ran the full length of the left side of the room and charts hung on the wall.The lighting was surprisingly good, with two overhead fluorescent lamps—most of the farms Rhonda had gone to either didn’t have an office or had a poorly lighted one in which no one wanted to work anyway.Rhonda stepped forward with more confidence than she felt, her encounter with Larry still fresh in her mind.I can’t believe he’s actually here, she thought to herself as she dumped her load on the desk and started to put it in some kind of order.Whatever is he doing on a farm?She looked at the aerial photograph of the farm thoughtfully, as her mind wandered back to the time they’d first met.In looks, Larry had not changed one iota, of that she was sure.

The door to the office banged open as Kent strode in, wiping his hands on a towel as he walked.Rhonda forced herself back to the present and turned to him with a smile. Though not quite as handsome as Larry, Kent’s eyes contained a warmth that Larry’s had never had—at least not that she could recall.Kent seemed gentler, somehow, and less edgy than Larry, which made one comfortable with him almost immediately.Rhonda looked forward to working with Kent, but hoped she would hardly ever see Larry—how would she ever face him after all that had transpired between them?

“So this is what it looks like from the air,” Kent said thoughtfully, looking over her shoulder at the photograph.“May I see it?”

“Certainly—there’s more here as well, at different wavelengths.”She passed him the regular photograph, and reached for the others.They had all been taken simultaneously at the same height, but with different cameras and film, so that different areas of soil erosion and plant growth could be identified.“These all give an idea of conditions on your farm, Kent, but its imperative that we walk the entire farm on foot to verify the problem areas we identify on the photos.Will you have the time in the next two weeks to do so?”

“Ah, that might be a problem for me,” Kent replied slowly.“I’m in charge of the planting crew, so I really have to be out there for the better part of the day and evening.My brother Larry should be able to, however—he’s available tomorrowafter the morning milking at around 10am for an hour or so.Will that be sufficient?”

Rhonda quickly considered her schedule. "Uh - yes, of course." So much for avoiding Larry. Rhonda resolved to not let him get to her, then proceeded to explain the procedures to Kent. He appeared quite enthusiastic about the changes the farm would undergo in implementing the soil and water conservation strategies and Rhonda was encouraged. Maybe the summer wouldn't be so bad after all, despite having to deal with Larry.


Submitted: June 07, 2009

© Copyright 2020 GraciaKingschild. All rights reserved.

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