Pulling up a chair next to him, I relax back. “Who's teasing who?” I ask, flipping down my sunglasses and looking out into the crowd of people as they move through the market.
“You started it.” Nudging me with his shoulder, a customer comes up and he jumps into action.
His smile is bold, broad, and eye catching. He's so comfortable, talking to the woman like she's a member of his family. Ryder sells two pies and a five pound bag of apples right off the bat.
The day flies by, and before I know it, we're packing up and heading back to the farm. We sold almost everything, coming back with about twenty pounds of apples. They won't go to waste. He'll either use them, eat them, or feed them to the animals.
Mark is waiting in the driveway when we pull in, resting against his truck. As we climb out, he walks over to greets us.
“Hey guys,” he says. “I had some extra time today and thought I would check out that tractor for you, Ryder”
“Sure,” Ryder says, then turns to face me. “This might take a bit.”
“No problem, I'll go get cleaned up.” Smiling, I head inside.
Standing in the window in the bedroom, I watch Ryder and Mark for a moment. They're looking at the tractor, walking around it and talking about what's wrong with it.
He and Mark are laughing. I'm mesmerized by Ryder's smile. There's a small dimple on his right cheek, and his eyes have a tendency to squint when he's laughing really hard.
It's the same smile I grew up loving. Some things never change, no matter how much time passes. A laugh, a smile, a twitch of a brow or hard eyes when they're upset or angry, those little nuances never go away.
Sighing to myself, I pull away from the window and drop to my knees. Fishing under the bed, I tug out my bag and dig the phone out from the bottom. Sitting down on the floor, I lean back against the bed and turn it on.
It takes a few seconds. The screen flickers a couple times before glowing bright, and then I'm hit with a million pings of new messages and voicemails. Scrolling through the messages, the tones of each one changes from curiosity to anger.
A few of my friends are pissed that I haven't called or messaged them back. While others are worried and concerned they haven't heard from me. And then I start to read the messages from my step-father.
'Where the hell are you? Call me now!'
'What is going on? I've left you four messages! This is unacceptable!'
'You're not on a damn vacation, Jenna!'
Closing the screen, I rub my temples. Pressing the phone to my ear, I listen to his messages and they're even worse. He's yelling, literally yelling, into the phone. He's demanding answers, he's screaming about how I'm a failure and can't even do a simple task.
In a way he's right, but it's not because I'm weak. It's because it's wrong. Terribly, horribly wrong. My step-father needs to understand there's more to this place than just a piece of land.
I have to just call him and explain.
The phone is against my ear, the ringing like a nightmarish echo in my brain. My heart is pounding so damn hard, and my stomach is flipping with nervous knots. It seems to ring forever before Troy finally answers with a yell in my ear.
Yanking the phone away on reflex, I can practically feel him spitting on me as he yells through the phone.
“Where the fuck have you been? Why haven't you been answering me? Do you think you have the authority to just do things any way you please?” His tone is harsh, fueled by rage.
“I'm sorry, Troy, things have gotten a bit complicated.”
“Complicated? What the hell do you mean complicated? Did he sign?”
“No, not yet.”
“And why the hell not? It's not that fucking hard to hand someone a damn pen, Jenna!”
“It's not that simple. He's not going to sign. I'm sorry, nothing is going to change his mind.”
He growls into the phone, speaking through gritted teeth. “So you failed? Is that what you're telling me? You can't handle a simple fucking task.”
“No, it's not like that at all.” Pressing the tips of my fingers deep into my forehead, I say, “This place is his home, Troy. This is his family's world, it's their legacy. His father is gone, his mother is gone, it's all he has left. It doesn't feel right to me to force him to sell it. There's nothing we have that he wants. The money doesn't matter, nothing can replace what he has here. Can't we find another place? A different farm? There have to be others.”
“Do you realize what I've done for you? Do you have any idea how much I've given to you and you're not even my biological child?” He's seething. I can hear him foaming at the mouth. “Everything you have is because of me. Your money, your clothes, school, all of it. I care about your mother, so I do these things for you. And I ask you to do one thing, one fucking thing, and you can't even do it right.”