Little Mustard Seed
work in progress
Shane hadn’t realized how cold it was when she grabbed the thin bomber jacket that Rue had bought from the second-hand store in town. Now, outside in summer’s darkness, she shivered in it against a stream of cold air that ran like an electric current through the hollow. It was a shallow clearing between two patchy, scrappy lengths of woods that Frank stalked most days, looking for elusive deer that knew better and field vermin that should have. Shane touched the space under her cheekbone with tentative fingers. It was swelling but not terribly so. She probably should have stayed inside to make sure Rue and Sia were okay, but these days Frank only went after her, and as the eldest sister, she was fine with that. She would take every smack and harsh word to shield the other two from the same. He never did it too hard. It wasn’t meant to be abusive. It was meant to be corrective. He’d explained this many times, after the contact, after the blood was tamped and the bruises were iced. Wild girls needed correcting, according to her father Frank, and Shane was wild. She had too much temper, too much energy, too much, just too much of all of it. Frank had had sisters, so he knew what could happen. He’d seen the way they could lure looks with a simple hip sway. He’d watched them leave, one after the other, until it was just him at home with a mother who had drank herself into early dementia. He was the one they called when their husbands cheated or they were evicted or there was another bar fight, another bail that needed paying. So, he knew what could happen and he was not going to let that happen to his daughters. But Shane knew better anyway. She knew how the boys in town looked at her while she worked, how they’d make excuses to linger around the café, their sandwiches and pop long gone, those eager stares. She liked the attention, as did Rue and Sia, it was after all the only attention they received. It was harmless fun, flirty. She had no intention of it being anything more than that. But then the boy had asked for her number and Sia had given it to him. Frank allowed them one cell phone to share and when Sia saw the text from the boy she had held the phone up and shouted to Shane. But Frank was there, when had he come in from hunting?, and he grabbed it out of her hands.
Now, outside, she shivered again, cursed and looked back at the house. She could see her sisters’ reflections staring back out at her and she wondered if they could see her like she could see them. They appeared to be on a lit stage, their silhouettes like elaborate puppetry, as if she tried hard enough, she might see the strings. She knew Frank would go to bed soon, so she’d wait until she saw the light go out in his bedroom. With the house’s angle, she could not see him in the same way she could Rue and Sia, just a splash of pale yellow falling on the overgrown grass. His shifting movements were mild interruptions in its sphere of glow. It was June but the spring was clinging on. The day had been warm and sunny. The sisters had worked the closing shift, but The Little Mustard was not open late even in the yawning hours of summer sunlight. The boys had come in as they were clearing the cases and countertops, wiping away the crumbs and stickiness from surfaces. Rue had tossed a rag at Sia and instead of her sister catching it, it had soared past her and landed squarely on Shane’s shoulder like a wet thumping hello. It was a small declaration of war that started a towel wiping fight, leaving their faces flushed and their mouths in giggles. That’s when the boys had come in. Sia had forgotten to flip the sign to CLOSED or to lock the door, and there they stood, watching for a moment like the sisters were exotic animals in a zoo.
“Sorry, we’re closed,” Shane had said, but the older boy of the three stepped toward them anyway. It was clear he was nervous, the way he chewed the side of his lip. The other two hung back, watchful, but not prodding. One picked up a porcelain saltshaker from the wall of marketplace items the café also sold. He flipped it in his hands. Shane had studied that gesture for any sign of threat, but it was casual, as if he wanted them to think he had come for the shaker not for whatever was actually happening. The girls stood in a jagged line watching. Sia puffed air, her hand on her hip. The boy ran his own hand through his hair and looked directly at Shane. She hadn’t really noticed him until then and she was slightly taken aback by his square jaw and deeply set eyes. He was likely her age and had dark hair that fell into his face and which he continued to push back, despite its instance on springing forward again.
He cleared his throat, but the words still came out with a croaking sort of sound. “I was wondering if I might have your number,” he said.
“For The Little Mustard Seed?” she’d asked, confused as to why he needed the café phone number but not ready to believe he meant her own.
He glanced back at his friends and one raised a shoulder slightly, a sign to clarify. The other continued to finger items from the marketplace shelves. “No, your number,” the boy said. Shane had waived the towel she was holding and shook her head, turned away.
“We’re closed,” was her reply. But then Sia, who could be such a pain, blurted it out anyway and the boy scrambled to add it into the phone that Shane now noticed he’d been holding. She sighed and retreated to the back of the café to the walk-in refrigerator where she closed herself in and took deep breaths of the cold air.