Either her aunt was right and there was something special about this goat, or Jillian was already starting to lose her mind after less than a full weekend in Orchard Grove.
“You’re a pretty thing, aren’t you?” She stroked Peaches’ side. Her fur wasn’t soft — as far as Jillian knew, there was no such thing as a fluffy goat — but her body was warm, and Jillian could almost swear the animal would wag her tail when Jillian rubbed a certain spot. The milking had gone well, but Jillian didn’t know how to get her out of the stand.
“Are you itchy?” She scratched gently, and Peaches swayed her back half. The motion reminded Jillian of the way Grandma Lucy would shut her eyes and rock her body back and forth in the throes of her prayerful passion.
“That feels good, doesn’t it?” She couldn’t remember if Peaches was one of the goats her aunt told her was pregnant or not. “You got a baby in there making you uncomfortable, pretty mama?”
She shook her head, envisioning herself at her aunt Connie’s age, coming out here every morning and sweet-talking to all the animals.
I’ve got to get back to the city.
As soon as she stopped scratching, Peaches stomped her foot and let out a snort of complaint. Jillian held onto the milk pail, afraid the goat might knock it over.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. I’ll pet you some more, you spoiled little thing.”
“Hey, that’s no way to talk to your favorite animal, is it?”
The voice from the barn entrance startled her. “Oh!” Her quick movement spooked the goat. Peaches kicked the pail and sent warm goat milk spilling onto Jillian’s lap and running down her legs.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I thought you were Connie.”
“Do I sound like Connie?” It was hard to say which was more irritating, the warm milk soaking into her jeans or the fact that someone had overheard her talking to one of the animals like some crazy goat lady.
She stood up with a half turn, straightening up the pail — as if there had been any milk in there left to salvage.
“I’m so sorry,” The tall, lanky intruder started unbuttoning his flannel overshirt. “Here, I don’t have any towels, but you can use this. I had no idea Connie hired someone to do her milking.”
Jillian wasn’t exactly sure how a single flannel shirt was supposed to help her clean up, but she dragged it across her legs for show and handed it back to him. “She didn’t hire me. I’m her niece, and she was just teaching me how to do it.”
The stranger had his head cocked to the side and was staring at her. Great. She knew exactly what was coming next.
“Jillian? Is that really you?”
If there was any possible way she could have denied it, she would have. “Yeah. Who are you?”
“It’s me.” he stared at her expectantly. “Me,” he repeated as if she hadn’t heard his unhelpful declaration the first time. “Ricky Fields.”
“Oh.” What else was there for her to say?
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“No, I remember you just fine. You’re that guy from church.” It was as safe an answer as any.
“Yeah. That’s me.”
“Ricky, did you say?”
His expression dropped. “You really don’t remember me.”
She shrugged. “It was a long time ago.”
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