“Now remember, the goats can sense when you’re nervous, so it’s important to be calm and gentle.” Connie patted the rump of the spotted Nubian she’d just brought up to the milking stand. “See how she’s kicking? That means she’s feeling a little uncomfortable.”
You and me both, goat, Jillian thought.
It was still early morning, but she was exhausted. She had spent over an hour and a half in the prayer room before Grandma Lucy finally dozed off to sleep, but not before inviting Jillian to pray with her over the dozens of photo albums she kept in a pile next to her prayer chair.
Jillian never understood how that woman could talk so long. Jillian had no problems with the short, simple kind of prayers her family offered around the dinner table, but her version of saying grace was like a child’s crude stick figure and Grandma Lucy’s was a Michelangelo masterpiece.
Maybe Jillian would have turned into a prayer warrior like that. She’d certainly been spiritual enough as a kid that she might have carried that fervor into her adult life if things hadn’t turned out the way they did.
“Don’t hold too low now or you’ll squeeze off the milk.” Connie repositioned Jillian’s hands on the udders. They were milking later than normal since Connie was taking time to walk her through each and every step. Jillian felt about as patient as the swollen goat to get the barn chores over and done with.
I knew this would happen if I moved back here.
When she and her family left for Seattle, she’d sworn to never step foot in this wretched part of Washington state again. Of course, having her grandmother living here made it hard to avoid Orchard Grove entirely, but aside from Christmases and other major family events, Jillian was done with this stupid town.
Or at least that’s what she had thought.
Yet another one of life’s unexpected twists. God was probably laughing his head off.
At least she was away from her parents, but in some ways she’d just traded in one set of conservative, judgmental guardians for another.
Grandma Lucy hadn’t talked about what brought Jillian back to Safe Anchorage Farm this morning in the prayer room. She didn’t give the lecture Jillian had prepared for, but what did that matter? Even if she didn’t say how disappointed she was, Jillian knew it anyway.
As if she were the first pastor’s kid who ever fell off the deep end. Some people were so stupid and arrogant. Closed-minded fools who lived in a world where children were sold into slavery, teens were dying from drug overdoses, terrorists were strapping bombs to themselves and blowing up crowded buses filled with innocent civilians, and folks acted as if one tiny indiscretion was enough to send the entire world to its destruction.
So Jillian had started dating someone she shouldn’t have. The way her parents treated it, she would have been better off joining the Taliban as long as she kept herself pure in the process.
Ridiculous. Here she was, a grown adult in the twenty-first century, and her parents were so scandalized they sent her off to an entirely different part of the state. It wasn’t like they were living in Victorian England where girls were quietly and conveniently put away in situations like this. It wasn’t like Jillian was the first or the last pastor’s daughter to find herself pregnant out of wedlock.
But conservative Christianity was her birthright, as much a part of her biological makeup as her strawberry blonde hair or her sunophobic complexion. She couldn’t cut that part of her upbringing out of her any more than she could scrub off the small freckles that spotted her cheekbones. Her parents acted as if her departure from the faith happened the moment she decided to date that no-good-loser-turned-boyfriend-turned-ex-boyfriend-turned-stalker.
As if she could have known the kind of person he was back then.
As if the moment she agreed to dance with him when she went out with her friends, God removed his Holy Spirit from her, branded her a backslidden believer beyond any hope of redemption, and condemned her soul to hell.
“I think she’s dry now. We better get her down and keep moving along.” Connie gave a half-hearted chuckle. “It might be lunchtime before we’re done.”
Jillian sat on the milking stool while her aunt got the spotted Nubian down and led forward a large goat with an almost pinkish coat. “Say good-morning to Peaches.”
Did her aunt expect her to remember each and every one of their dozens of goats’ names? Did she seriously think Jillian cared?
“Peaches is a sweet one. Uncle Dennis sometimes calls her my puppy goat because she’ll follow me around the entire yard if I let her, just like she was a dog.” She patted the animal gently between the ears and crooned sweetly to her in a babyish voice.
Jillian sighed as she washed the udder. At least Peaches wasn’t as skittish as the Nubian had been.
Connie handed her a new pail. “I’m going to take what we’ve already got into the house and be right back. Just holler if you need anything, but I’m sure Peaches won’t give you any trouble at all. She’s a good girl, isn’t she? Isn’t she?” Connie puckered up her lips and brought her face so close to the goat’s, for a moment Jillian thought she was going to kiss it.
No wonder her aunt always smelled like goats.
Connie bustled out of the barn, a pail of milk swinging from each hand.
Her back aching from hunching over, Jillian leaned her head against the animal’s slightly swollen belly.
“All right, Peaches,” she whispered, wondering how long it would be until she started baby-talking to the goats just like her aunt. “Let’s see what you’ve got for us today.”