Allan Fitzgerald's front yard was unusually shallow for a parcel that had once been a working farm. A mere sixty feet separated his front porch from the curb of NY 231. Behind his humble little ranch, his spread extended a quarter mile further eastward, and was almost as wide as it was deep. The previous owner had once operated a moderately successful corn farm there, as had the owner before him, but the viability of so small-scale a farm had come to an end when the massive machines of Lyons-Davis Agricorp rolled into Onteora County.
That didn't matter to Allan. He'd never been a farmer. The field stood idle. In the barn beside the ranch, the tractor and harvester gathered cobwebs. The old Bellamy farm was merely his retirement home, where he hid more or less comfortably from the world and its reminders of his failures.
Allan didn't bother much about the field or the barn. When the mood struck him to be outside, he invariably went to sit on the front porch. Traffic on NY 231 was too sparse to annoy him, and the Compton farm across the way was as idle as his own.
That morning, he'd been sitting on his porch for about an hour, musing indifferently over a mediocre fantasy novel, when the girl ambled into view.
Foot traffic on NY 231 was unusual in the extreme. It was a truck route, a bypass for the city of Onteora. It had no sidewalks, and was flanked by no consumer-oriented stores or places of employment. It connected to US 90, forty miles to the west, but those who traveled it eastward were seldom Onteora bound.
At a distance the girl was ordinary-looking: medium height, a broad-shouldered but bosomy build, shoulder-length blonde hair. She was probably in her early twenties. She wore a heavy wool sweater, blue jeans, and work boots. A shabby satchel of modest size dangled from her right hand. Her walk was strong but unhurried. A surge of curiosity impelled Allan to lean forward, as he attempted to make out her face.
She noticed, stopped, and returned his gaze. Embarrassed without a clear reason, Allan smiled formally and forced his eyes back to his novel.
The words startled him half out of his chair. She'd approached so quietly that he hadn't noticed her arrival on his porch, practically in his lap. She backed away a step as he resettled himself.
"Not particularly. Just a way to pass the time. What can I do for you?"
"I'm looking for work." She waved at the barn and the field beyond. "Your first planting is late. Need a hand with it? I'm good with machines."
He grinned ruefully. "You can't imagine how late. There hasn't been a planting here in seven years. This isn't a working farm any more. It's just my retirement spread."
The girl's face fell. She nodded, hefted her satchel, and made to leave.
"Just a moment."
She turned and looked at him questioningly.
She's not dirty or unkempt, but...
"How long have you been walking?"
She shrugged. "Couple days. A trucker dropped me off at the end of 90."
"Got a place to stay?"
She shook her head.
"Had any breakfast?"
"Granola bar." She indicated her satchel. "They're easy to tote around."
"Uh, yeah." He rose. "Look, I was about to fix some lunch. If you're not in a big hurry to get on down the road, you're welcome to join me."
She stared at him in silence for several seconds.
"Okay, thanks." She stuck out a hand. He took it, her calluses evident against his fingers. "I'm Kate."
"Allan," he said. "Let's get fed."
Kate attacked her ham sandwich with evident appetite. Allan smiled to himself, fetched bottled soda, potato salad, and a plastic container of grapes from the fridge, and loaded them onto the kitchen table.
As he laid out forks, napkins, and plastic cups, he said "Work's pretty sparse these days."
She nodded. "Not just here."
"You're not a New Yorker, are you?"
"Jayhawk." She snapped off another bite of sandwich, chewed and swallowed quickly. "The big outfits have taken over back there. They don't have much use for local hands. They bring in their own crews. Mexicans, mostly."
"They're the same here."
She nodded and shoveled up a monstrous bite of potato salad. He seated himself across from her and steepled his hands before him.
"So how long have you been on the road?"
She swallowed, laid down her fork, and looked at him as if she were trying to gauge the sincerity of his interest.
"Been a few weeks."
"No takers for an experienced hand in all that time?"
Her look of disgust was eloquent.
"So what do you think of New York so far?"
She scowled. "Not much. You don't use what you've got. God gave us the land to grow something. To give life. You folks don't seem to realize that. Unless your neighbors are different from...what I've seen so far."
"Me too." He hesitated. "Can I have a shot at changing your opinion of us?"
Her weighing, measuring stare returned at full force.
"What do you have in mind?"
He rose. "Come with me."
Kate ran a hand caressingly along the tractor's steel flank.
"This is a forty-seven Springfield. They don't make 'em like this any more. All plastic and sheet metal nowadays."
Allan nodded. "Think you can get it running?"
She chuckled. "Oh, I'll get her running, all right. She's a classic. Pure power, just waiting for the starting gun. When I'm finished with her, she'll be able to pull your house off its foundation." Her face clouded; she halted and swiveled to face him. "For what?"
"You want to grow things?"
"Yeah, but --"
"Do it here."
She gaped at him.
"I don't use the land. Why shouldn't you?" He waved at the array of machines and tools, idle since he'd taken possession. "Stay here and work it. You're welcome to do what you like with it. And keep the proceeds, of course."
She gazed doubtfully at the tractor, plainly uncertain what she'd really been invited to do.
"I have a spare bedroom."
Her eyes rose to his, challenging. "Is there lock on the door?"
"There is. You won't be disturbed, I promise."
"Lend me a few bucks for seed and fuel and stuff?"
He nodded. "Not a problem."
"Whatever you want."
She pondered in silence for a long moment.
Allan was overwhelmed by the fury of Kate's attack on his offer. She rose at five the following morning, was showered and dressed by five-twenty, and out in the barn immediately thereafter without even a cup of coffee. The constant clanking, scraping of tools against parts, and occasional heartfelt profanity kept him aware of her labors throughout the morning. It took all his resolve to keep him inside so she could work in privacy. He peered out the kitchen window at the open barn doors more often than he'd care to admit.
Just before noon, there came a brief, rapid whirring, followed by the roaring of a powerful engine awakening from slumber. Moments later, the tractor rolled out of the barn, with Kate grinning triumphantly in the driver's seat, and arrowed up the gentle grade toward his house.
Allan closed the back door behind him and stood on the landing as Kate halted the old monster a mere yard from his steps and killed the engine. Her smile was impossibly wide.
He nodded. "Indeed you did. Get on in here."
She frowned, but followed him inside. He gestured her to sit at the kitchen table, then laid a legal pad and a ball-point pen before her.
"Make a list of what you need."
"Huh? I was going to --"
"I know you were. But it's a fair drive to the best clump of suppliers, so I want to be sure we don't forget anything." He cocked an eyebrow. "You didn't think you were going to carry a few hundred pounds of seed, fertilizer, and fuel back here, did you?"
"Well, no. But I was going to hitch Nellie up to the disc harrow and --"
"The Springfield. That's her name." She grinned. "All these years and you didn't know?"
He groaned. "Okay, so I'm insufficiently inquisitive about my machines' monikers."
"Hey! Shorter words, please. I'm only a farm girl."
He fixed her with a no-nonsense stare.
"You're a farm woman."
She opened her mouth, closed it, and nodded. "Okay, whatever."
"So make that list. I'll fix us some lunch."
For the next three days, Kate didn't let up. She put twelve to fourteen hours into the little farm each day: first tending the machines, then clearing away the debris of earlier years, then tilling the soil and readying it to receive seed. She paused only for meals, and at the end of the day to shower and retire to her room. Yet the grinding effort seemed to agree with her; she never complained, and she looked stronger and more assured with each day's work.
Allan knew that, without assistance, Kate would have to limit her ambitions. She certainly wouldn't be able to cultivate forty acres' crops with no hands but her own. He kept silent, and waited patiently for her to disclose her plans for the season before her. It was Saturday dinner before she revealed them.
"Think I'll plant four acres for trade," she said between mouthfuls of beef stew, "and put asparagus on two more. Won't be worth a damn for at least two years, but you have to invest in it if you want stuff that's worth the money. Plenty of money in good asparagus."
"So what will this year's cash crops be?" he said.
"Scallions and rhubarb."
She grinned. "You expected corn? Why bother? The big guys grow enough corn to feed the whole world about five times." She sopped up stew gravy with a chunk of her dinner roll, thrust it into her mouth, chewed and swallowed. "Small operators have to do specialty crops. I'm really good with rhubarb. You ever had a rhubarb pie?"
He shook his head.
"Then you haven't lived. I promise you, nobody near here will be able to touch our rhubarb." She nibbled at the roll. "The hard part will be selling the stuff. Are there any specialty markets around here we could approach?"
"A few. Feel like taking a drive tomorrow, making inquiries?"
She was silent for a moment. "Sure. When's Mass?" she said.
The swerve hauled him up short. "I go to the seven-thirty. The church is on the other side of the city. You're coming with me?"
She shrugged. "Of course. Why not?"
They drew more than a few stares in church. The seven-thirty Mass was populated by the most constant of congregations. Nearly all the attendees sat in exactly the same place every week. An unfamiliar face was sure to excite interest, and more than a little gossip. Especially since it was the face of a young woman', sitting by the side of a considerably older man who'd come to Mass alone for seven straight years.
Father Ray stopped them on the church steps.
"Do I have a new parishioner?"
Kate answered before Allan could compose a response. "For this season at least, Father." She held out a hand, and the priest clasped it. "I'm Kate Morrell."
"Welcome to Onteora parish, dear. I'm Father Raymond Altomare." The priest looked an avalanche of questions at Allan, who did his best to maintain an expression of bland amiability.
"Father," Kate said before the awkward silence could run too long, "would you know of any markets in the area that might take some specialty produce on consignment?"
The priest's eyebrows rose. "Are you reviving Bellamy Farm?"
She nodded. "Maybe you'll be calling it the Morrell Farm this time next year."
Father Ray smiled. "Wait here." He trotted off toward a knot of other congregants, animatedly exchanging words and gestures on the church's front lawn, and returned moments later with a solid-looking man in a sport jacket and NFL-logo tie.
"Hello, I'm Jack Taliaferro. I run the local farmers' market." He held out a hand.
Kate shook the proffered hand but did not release it. Her voice dropped a full octave and became husky. "I'm Kate Morrell. Allan has hired me to turn his spread into a working farm again. We've put in several acres of champion-line scallions and rhubarb. Very high return per unit. But I'm only good at growing things. I'm hopeless at selling them. Do you think you might be able to help?" With that, she produced a smile of such dazzling power that Allan's heart clenched in his chest.
Taliaferro's mouth dropped open. Beads of perspiration formed on his forehead. His free hand went to his collar and tugged it away from his throat.
"I think I might," he croaked. "Give me a moment?" He reclaimed his hand with some reluctance and beckoned to another congregant. "Solly? Come do some business!"
Presently Kate was chatting, laughing, and backslapping with the two merchants as if they were friends of twenty years' standing. A few minutes later, she shook hands with both again and returned to Allan.
Allan took Kate gently by the elbow and steered her back toward the car. "How did you do that?"
The smile she awarded him was 200-proof innocence. "Practice."
They went on that way, day after day and week after week. Kate would rise at five, if not earlier, and set to her labors at once. Allan, an hour or more behind her despite his best efforts, would cook for them, clean for them, and provide the relaxation of small talk at their meals together. At seven each evening she would put away her tools, shower off the grime of the day, and sit quietly before the television with him until weariness compelled her to sleep.
Allan kept his distance with difficulty; Kate was too much the dynamo, too filled with life and the fire of enterprise. She electrified him even at her arm's-length remove. She shone with the quality whose loss had impelled him toward an unusually early retirement: the simple joy of dedication, the ecstasy that comes from giving oneself wholeheartedly to work one genuinely wants to do.
She asked for nothing. He had to drag her away from the farm to drive her into the city for clothes, shoes, and grooming items. Her unwillingness to allow him to spend on her made it difficult verging on impossible, but he would not relent. He used Mass as the rationale; contemporary mores aside, he said, it was unseemly to attend church in stained jeans and work boots. She acquiesced, at first reluctantly, then with visibly growing pleasure.
It grew upon him over time that, while he had adjusted to being alone after his divorce from Marie, he had never come to enjoy it. He was not truly a solitary man. He'd been plagued by his sense of unworthiness and his awkwardness with others, and had come to prefer isolation to their torments. Yet in Kate's company he could feel neither.
One June morning, she woke him by force, shaking him out of a dreamless slumber to the rising light of dawn. He focused with difficulty, blearily wondering what emergency could justify her unprecedented invasion of his bedroom. The clock on his nightstand made it half past five.
She insisted that he don a robe and follow her, and led him to the fields she'd cultivated. To his sleep-hazed vision, all appeared as it had the day before. She scampered a few paces into the field, squatted, and beckoned to him to join her.
The scallions had sprouted. Green shoots about an inch long had penetrated to the air and sunlight. He looked from them to her, and found in her smile a joy that words could not capture. Instead of speaking, he raised her to her feet and offered his hand in congratulations.
She stepped past his hand and wrapped him in an embrace of crushing power. He returned it hesitantly. Twin streams of tears dampened his shoulder.
That night, Allan teetered on the verge of sleep when a warm intrusion made its presence known against his side. He groped through the darkness and found a cushiony silken mass: a woman's breast.
She chuckled. "Unless you've got someone else coming over." A hand landed on his chest and slid caressingly down to his groin. He became erect at once.
"What are you doing?"
"What do you think?"
"Shut up, Allan." She reached into his boxers' fly and took his organ in her hand. "We farm girls aren't into a lot of conversation at times like this." Seemingly in one motion, she divested him of his shorts and rolled him on top of her.
She was muscular yet soft and welcoming, a blanket of loving flesh that sought him with an eagerness he'd never encountered even as a teenager. He had to be the one to slow them down, to delay actual coitus and make room for foreplay. As he acquainted himself with her body, she clutched at him repeatedly, as if she were afraid that he might somehow slip away. He reassured her with fingertips, lips, and tongue, using all he remembered of the art of love from his distant days of joy with Marie.
When she was gasping raggedly beneath him, desperate for the ultimate union, he gently parted her labia, started to slide into her, and hit an unexpected barrier. He pulled back at once.
"What's wrong?" she breathed.
"Are you wearing a tampon?"
"Shut up, Allan!" And she slammed herself onto him with irresistible force.
They cried out together from the pain of her deflowering, but from that moment forward she would not allow them to be separated. It was only a moment to her first shuddering orgasm, a minute or two to her second one. As she approached the third, the tides in Allan's groin swelled toward their peak. No power on Earth could have restrained them. Her fingers dug deeply into his buttocks as he arched and came.
She screamed deafeningly as his seed flowed into her. She refused to let him withdraw, gripping him so powerfully that his pelvis groaned under the stress. His outpouring of semen seemed to go on forever, a torrent no effort of his could stanch. The force and duration of his orgasm left him exhausted, almost too weak to breathe, but still conscious enough to fret.
Dear God, I've broken a virgin. I might have impregnated her into the bargain.
She held him inescapably, her arms and legs woven around him, as they slowly regained their breath and their senses. He remained lodged deep in her body. He did not attempt to breach the embrace.
"Why?" he breathed at last.
"I love you," she whispered.
"How not?" she replied.
"Time enough in the morning, Allan."
With a twist of her hips, she rolled them onto their sides. Arms around one another, still locked tightly together, they slept.
As usual, she was up before him, but this time he found her in the kitchen, coffee made and mugs steaming at their respective places. She looked up as he entered and smiled.
It was the radiant smile of the morning before, when she'd shown him the first visible sign of the life she'd nurtured, but it was more. It compounded discovery, triumph, love, and peace into a single visible expression of joy. He could hardly believe he was its object.
He sat at his place and stretched out his hands. She took them in hers.
"What now?" he murmured.
She shrugged. "Breakfast, a quick shower, then I guess I'll weed and water."
She leered. "Got something else in mind?"
"From where I'm sitting, everything's great, Allan. What's got you so wound up?"
"I might have impregnated you last night!"
"You think I'm not aware of that? Farm girl, remember? Oh, excuse me, farm woman. I've inseminated cows, Allan. I know what semen is for."
He was unable to speak, barely able to form a coherent thought. She grinned and chafed his hands.
"God gave women wombs for the same reason He gave us the land: to grow something. To make life. I want your baby inside me. If I didn't catch last night, maybe I'll get lucky tonight. Or tomorrow, or the next night. Think you're up to the job?"