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Several hours passed and I was putting everything back from going on a ride with Jasper around the property. Har’elday wasn’t back yet, which I thought was a bit on the odd side. I wiped down the saddle and determined that I needed to oil it next week, maybe even do a deep clean. I put the saddle back on its rack and covered it up just in time to hear the perimeter alarm go off. I peered out of the barn and saw Har’elday’s jeep coming down the drive and I waved. I put the last few things away and met Har’elday inside. He was pacing in the living room.
“Has Gary called yet?” He asked nervously.
“No. Have you changed your mind?”
He shook his head, “On the contrary, I’m even more resolved. I went over to the fishing dock and tried to clear my head and dig into what it all means.” He stopped pacing and looked at me, “If there’s any chance that someone else made it, then I have to be there to help.”
“I think Gary can handle…”
“No, he can’t. Even if I give him my equipment, he doesn’t have the training to use it, let alone modify it if needed. And if Elandra or anyone else is there, then they will have no reason to trust him and may think it’s another ploy to get them to cooperate. They may attack, and even though my friends are about your size, they are much stronger. So if they fight, someone will end up hurt or dead.”
He looked at me patiently, waiting for an answer. I really wished Bill would have gotten back to me on this because I couldn’t think of a way to talk him out of it. “I can’t fault you for wanting to do this. I know if Diaz had taken you that we’d be fighting tooth and nail to get you back. So I’d be quite the hypocrite if I didn’t support you fully.”
“Thank you, Robert. Your support is paramount.”
“Now that we’ve settled that, we have to get with a few people on and see who can take over here on short notice.”
Har’elday put his hand on my shoulder, “You’re not coming.”
“The hell I’m not.”
“What could you bring to the team?”
“Well…” I stammered for a moment, “I’m a pretty resourceful guy. I know a little bit of everything… like figuring out magnetism was the problem with your…”
“Robert,” He placed his hand on my shoulder, “Eleanor is depending on you. The field isn’t ready for the garlic yet and you may have to plant it before we get back. I know you’re scared, so am I.”
I wiped away a tear, “I don’t want to lose you. I barely got through it last time.” My voice cracked, the pain taking hold.
“I don’t plan on dying and I’m sure that Gary is going to do his best to keep me safe.” He took his hand off and pushed me gently, “And besides, you’re a forty-nine-year-old farmer who can’t stand up without making a groaning sound… it’s not very stealthy.”
I rolled my eyes, “I just do that so you can feel better when you complain about a hard day’s work.” We both laughed and I looked up at him after a moment, “Okay, I respect your decision to go through with this. Now you just have to convince Shannon.”
He breathed in deeply and nodded, “She was reluctant the last time my life was on the line, even though she knew the plan. I don’t know how she’s going to handle all of this. I know I have to tell her something, but I know I can’t let her talk me out of it.”
“We’ve both become pretty used to having you around. It’s going to be odd with no one to talk to around here except the animals. I can’t imagine any enthralling story that could unfold before you come back.”
“You don’t need to worry about that. I’m sure I’ll have story enough when I come back.”
“I’ll gladly hand the mantle over to you until you get back. I regret not taking you anywhere outside of this town yet, but it’ll be interesting to see the rest of the world through your eyes.” Our conversation was interrupted by the phone ringing and I went to pick it up. It was Gary, so I put it on speaker.
“Go ahead, Gary. We’re both here.”
“I still have a few calls I need to make in the morning, but we should be able to head out by nine. So pack up what you need to and I’ll see you then.”
“So… that means I’m on the team?” Even though that’s what he wanted, Har’elday seemed stunned.
“That’s what I said. Are you still on board?”
Har’elday took a step forward eagerly, “Yes! Thank you.”
“Good. 9 a.m. sharp, don’t pack a lot, and make sure to bring cash for yourself as this isn’t exactly funded.” Gary hung up after that, but we still stood there for a moment, unsure if he hung up or it was some other similar sound.
“So he’s the type that doesn’t say bye on the phone? You’re going to have fun with him.” I patted Har’elday on the back and headed into the kitchen. “We better get these fish cooked up, it’s getting late.” I looked into the grocery bag he must have set on the counter earlier and was second-guessing dinner after I saw some of the ingredients he picked up.
Har’elday laughed, “Your face tells me that you think I’m going to use all of that on the fish.” I shrugged and nodded, “You can go relax in the living room then. I want you to be surprised and not judge my dish before you taste it.”
Reluctantly, I retreated to the other room and propped my feet up in the recliner, and opened the newspaper. Over the next thirty minutes, an odd mixture of curses and smells came out of the kitchen. I tried to offer help a few times but was soundly rebuked each attempt. The smoke alarm went off at one point and he shouted at me to ignore it. I was not looking forward to seeing what he was doing to my kitchen. We kept it pretty simple for most meals, we had no reason to impress each other after all. I guess I should have taught him more, although I’m a bit rusty myself. My nana would not approve of me cooking such simple meals, even though I used fresh ingredients. It’s just like any other skill and I could see that I might have lost a portion of it, the art of it.
“Okay,” Har’elday hollered from the kitchen, “you can come in now.”
I took a deep breath and tried to keep positive thoughts at the forefront as I strolled into the kitchen. All of the ingredients were still stacked together, perhaps in an effort to confuse me. The fish was fresh off the range with some type of beige glaze over top and some steamed vegetables on the side. As I drew closer I could see a trove of minced garlic all over the fish and I could see some still in the skillet. “Garlic and fish?”
He looked at my scrunched up face and said, “There’s more to it than that. I think the sauce turned out quite well considering you don’t have anything close to pratma, which is the main spice to balance the garlic equivalent.”
We sat down to eat and Har’elday stared at me with anticipation. “Good presentation.”
“What does that mean?”
“Oh, just how you have the food displayed and arranged on the plate… I think.” I took my fork and easily flaked off a bite, which was a good start. The smell was odd, but not bad. If I focused I could find the garlic, but it did seem to balance out with the other spices. I cocked my head and smiled at Har’elday as I brought it to my mouth. The fish was pretty tender, and the flavor was not something I had encountered before, but it was pretty good. I swallowed and looked up, “I am actually surprised. There’s a tangy sweetness and the garlic seems to be dancing with whatever else you added. It adds to the fish and doesn’t…” my eyes started to water and a sweat started to develop on my brow. I grabbed my sweet tea and took a big gulp. “It’s got a delay in the heat. I think my tongue is a bit numb in the back.” I looked over to his plate and suddenly realized he didn’t put the glaze on his.
He chuckled as he saw my eyes bulge a bit, “Given how much you like to bring the heat with your chili, I thought you might like the glaze. Of course, I passed on it as that’s where that spice is added in. It lacks an essence I can’t describe if you leave it out, so it’s just better not to have the glaze at all if you have to pass.” I went ahead and got a glass of milk while he was talking. “But I wanted you to have the full experience as my parting gift. As you might imagine, I will not leave this recipe with you as you would be inclined to subject others to it without their knowledge.”
I sipped my milk and looked at him, “You know me too well. This puts my chili to shame in some regards.”
“Naturally I expect you to eat it all. You wouldn’t want what could be one of your last memories of me to be of disrespect to my culture.”
I wagged my finger at him, “Wow! That guilt trip circles the globe.” I took another bite and enjoyed the flavor, knowing I was going to pay for it later. We continued bantering and talking about other recipes he had planned for in the future. I didn’t want to end the conversation, but he still had to pack and didn’t want to be up too late.
“Robert, I wanted to say thank you. You have been my new family and I will always treasure what you have done for me.”
I waved my hand, “Enough of that. You’re going to come back after this excursion. I won’t hear talk of it any other way. Don’t let Gary or anyone on his team push you around.” He agreed and then I asked him how he was going to tell Shannon.
“I don’t know yet. I want to tell her in person and we agreed to talk tomorrow morning at seven.”
“Cutting it close, but this might be a case of it being better to ask for forgiveness over permission. I wish you luck.” And with that, I sent him off to pack while I cleaned up.
* * * *
Continue to Chapter 13 Part 1! Coming January 25!
Need to catch up on previous installments first? Click here to go back to the main story page. I never was a morning person, but Robert took it as a thing we had in common and that seemed to make him happy. In truth, the darkness reminded me of home. When I left we wereContinue reading “Small Town Problems: Chapter 13 -Part 1/2”