|Prompt: Law enforcement
Squelch. Hope paused in her walk across the paddock and looked down. One of her sneakers, previously a pristine white, was submerged in a large circle of cow dung. She gagged. Very smelly and, ugh, squishy cow dung. She stepped onto some clean grass and tried to wipe off the mess. The more she smeared it over the dandelions and buttercups, the more she fought the urge to throw up.
Please don't let this be an omen, she prayed. I need this new move to work.
At 30 years old, Hope Marin had finally gained access to her substantial inheritance, and shocked everyone by buying a small farm in rural New Zealand. Sick of the pretentiousness, and frankly, sick of being lonely, she wanted to feel like she was part of a community. She wanted to have friends, maybe even meet a man. She had moved in to the farmhouse yesterday, and this was her first chance to explore her new home, all 30 acres of it.
Hope went through a gate, carefully closing it behind her as she'd been warned, even though she didn’t have any animals yet. Hearing a shout in the distance, she looked up to see a man waving his arms at some cattle, herding them towards a gate. He must be her new neighbour. Typical. Figures she'd meet him when she stank of cow poop. When he’d closed the gate, she called out.
He spun around, looking nothing like the men she was used to. His jeans looked worn and comfortable, unlike hers which still felt stiff and new. His brown hair looked soft and tumbled over a rugged, masculine face. He clearly wasn't into preening in front of a mirror with a bunch of products. He looked...genuine. Natural.
"Hey ya!" he called back. "You must be Hope.” He smiled at her. "Come on through," he said, gesturing to the fence.
She looked for a gate, but didn't see one. Figuring she was small enough to duck through the wires, she reached out a hand just as the man yelled at her. Her entire body jolted as electricity arced through her, from her hand to her feet. Surprise sent her stumbling back. Her wide eyes found the man as he jogged the last few paces to the fence.
"Sorry, I tried to warn you. Didn't expect you to do that. Didn’t you realise it's electric? Why didn't you use the gate?" He paused and blinked at her. "You okay?"
Hope stared at him for a moment before finding her voice. “Ah, yes?” She shook her head and continued. “Yes, sorry. It just gave me a shock.” When the man gave her a disbelieving look, she realised her mistake. “I mean, not a shock. A fright. A surprise. Obviously it gave me a shock, it’s an electric fence.” She gave a weak laugh and felt her face heat.
The man frowned and reached out to the fence. “It shouldn’t be a big shock. It’s just not set that high.”
Hope watched in amazement as he wrapped his fist around the wire and his muscles twitched as the current ran through them.
“Why would you do that?” she asked. “Why would you give yourself an electric shock like that?”
“It’s not like touching a powerline,” he countered. “Even kids do it, often having contests to see who can hold on the longest.”
Hope stared at him. Kids put themselves through that…on purpose?
“I didn’t introduce myself,” he said with a smile as he extended his hand to her. “Jake Cooper. I’m your next door neighbour, obviously, but also the local cop.”
Hope tilted her head to the side as she shook his hand, noting his firm grip and how warm his fingers were. “The local cop? How do you have time to be a farmer and a cop?”
Jake laughed. “It’s just not that busy around here, honest. The cop side of things, I mean. Being a farmer is always busy, there’s always something that needs doing. This is a quiet community though. The worst we get is some of the high school kids experimenting with drugs or graffiti. Nothing like big city crime.”
Hope nodded. That sounded perfect, just the kind of community she had wanted to start her new life in.
“What are you planning on running on your side?” Jake asked her.
“Beef? Sheep? You don’t have the setup for dairy or deer.”
“Oh! Um… I haven’t decided yet. Maybe you have some suggestions?” She looked hopefully at Jake with a smile. He was familiar with the land, he should know what worked here.
“Well, what do you have experience with?” he asked. “Other than electric fences, I mean.”
He winked at her. Honest to goodness, winked at her. Who does that anymore? Hope couldn’t remember the last time a man had winked at her.
“Well, I don’t have experience with anything.” She shook her head and quickly continued. “I mean, with anything to do with farming. I have no farming experience. Apart from yesterday when I moved in to the house, this is the first time I’ve been on a farm.”
Hope watched his eyes widen and then she looked away. Here came the judgement she was so familiar with.
“You….” He trailed off, shaking his head. “Just let me get this straight. You bought a farm you’d never seen, with zero farming experience and no idea what to do with it? Are you going to get someone in to run it for you?”
“Oh no,” Hope assured him. “I want to do it myself. I was hoping to start with something easy. Maybe a few sheep. The cows all look a bit big, to be honest.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’m just… I’m not sure I’m ready for something that size. Maybe some lambs?” She looked at him with her eyebrows raised.
Hope narrowed her eyes. “Something you want to say?” she goaded him.
“Well… It’s just that there’s a lot to think about. If you’re going to run a couple hundred head of sheep, you’ve got to think about shearing and dosing and…”
Hope interrupted him with a laugh. “Oh no! Not a couple hundred! Gosh, no. I was thinking more like three or four.”
“Three or four hundred? On 30 acres?”
“No, three or four sheep,” she corrected.
“Three or four…? But… How can that possibly be profitable?”
“I’m not interested in making a profit, Mr Cooper. I’ve got plenty of money. I’m interested in settling down here and becoming part of the community.”
Jake scrunched his mouth up and looked away for a moment. “I see. So it’s more like a lifestyle block?”
Hope grinned. “Exactly!”
“Uh huh. Okay then. There are still considerations to think of. Your sheep will still need dosing and shearing and all that stuff. Plus you’ll need to maintain the fences and the grass. Might be worth leasing out some of your paddocks if you’re not going to be running much stock. And if you decide to get a dog, that’s a whole other thing, because you don’t want to end up having to put it down for chasing sheep or anything.”
Hope sucked in a deep breath and frowned. She hadn’t considered any of those things. She wasn’t even sure what he meant by maintaining the grass. Didn’t grass just grow on its own? Maybe there was more to this than she had realised. Maybe her new neighbour would be kind enough to help her out.
“I know there’s a lot to learn, Mr Cooper.”
“Jake,” he interrupted.
“Jake,” she repeated with a smile. “Perhaps I could treat you to dinner and you could help me make some notes of things I need to look into?”
Jake’s smile made her breath catch, and she found herself watching the way his eyes crinkled at the corners. Blue eyes, she noted. A deep blue, like the summer sky in late evening as the sun is dropping to the horizon.
“I'm not gonna turn down a home cooked meal,” he said, bringing her back to herself. “You’ve got yourself a deal. When suits? I’m free tonight and tomorrow nights, but I’ve got one or two things on after that.”
A home cooked meal? Hope gulped. She had forgotten where she was and the distinct lack of restaurants nearby. Of course he was expecting a home cooked meal. And it wasn’t like she could even order in and fake it.
“Um, tomorrow? I’ve got, um…” She trailed off. “Tomorrow would be better?” She peered up at him. There was no way she could do a meal for two tonight, not unless he wanted baked beans on toast. She’d have to go to the grocery store tomorrow. And find a recipe. Surely there’d be plenty of recipes online. Wait, she didn’t have the internet hooked up yet. Could they even get internet out here? Hope started to panic at that thought.
“Tomorrow’s perfect,” Jake said.
Continued in Hoping For Change (The final chapter)