First entry for Rule of Three Blogfest.
Prompt: Someone might fall in love.
Neil scrubbed away the red dirt that smudged his face. He’d spent the night in one of the underground rooms that opened off of Heroit’s Pass instead of his normal spot up in the inn’s hay loft. It had been otherwise occupied by the innkeeper, Rofer, and a girl who most certainly was not his wife. At another time and and place it would have been entertaining, but Neil wouldn’t risk catching Rofer’s attention. As long as the surly innkeeper was unaware that he was providing a free room, Neil had access to a comfortable and warm, if smelly, bed.
He checked his image in the reflection of a window and wiped the few missed streaks of dirt from his face. He straightened his dark vest, brushing away any dust. No one would be close enough to see the numerous well-mended tears and holes. With a quick nod of satisfaction, Neil turned toward the main street of Renaissance.
He mounted the stairs of the general store’s porch with an easy leap and entered quickly, sliding neatly behind the counter and grabbing an apron. He had just finished tying the strings around his waist when an older man entered, his round glasses perched pecariously on his nose and his wispy white hair sprouting in wings from the sides of his head.
“Good morning, Mr. Feston,” Neil called, beginning his morning prep routine.
The older man mumbled a greeting, moving around the shop with unconscious familiarity.
Neil prepped the cash drawer, retrieving it from the back office, while Mr. Feston wandered among the shelves, noting the stock that needed replenishment.
Mr. Feston handed his notes to Neil. “Good thing the train’s supposed to be coming through today. We’re completely out of pickles, and Deidre Lewberry has been fussing about her fabric order every time she comes in here. But,” he said with a sigh, “find what you can. If the train is delayed again, I may have to close up shop.”
Neil started toward the stock room when the bell over the door jangled and a young woman walked in.
Her dress was a bright peacock blue, tight around her waist and billowing at her hips. Her dark hair piled in curls on her head, topped by a small hat with precise edges. Neil paused mid-stride, dropped the list on the counter and turned to her. “Can I help you, miss?”
She smiled at him, and Neil gripped the counter for support as his leg muscles wavered.
Mr. Feston stepped in front of him, blocking his view and Neil took the opportunity to sternly reprimand his body.
“What are you doing here?” Mr. Feston said, curtly.
Legs now under control, Neil stepped to the side, his view of the woman no longer impeded.
The woman raised one dark eyebrow, glancing at Neil. “I do apologize for arriving so early. I came in on the train, you see, and there was an incident with the track a few miles back.” She shrugged her small shoulders. “Thankfully, one of the gentlemen who came from the train depot was kind enough to lend me a horse.” She kept her eyes on Neil.
Mr. Feston growled, and turned back to see Neil staring. He pushed the list at Neil. “The shop’s not going to stock itself, boy. I’ll see to the lady.”
Neil dragged himself away, glancing back at the woman, and let himself into the back room. He tried to leave the door open a crack, but Mr. Feston followed him and shut the door tightly.