Six eggs. Six measly eggs.
“Ladies,” Michael said to the cluster of chickens scratching around at his feet. “I could use some help, if you don’t mind. What will it take to get a few more eggs, eh?” By way of response, a fat black-and-white speckled hen clucked, fluffed her feathers, and pecked at the toe of Michael’s work boot. “Watch it, Beatrice,” he said, “or I’ll put you in the pot.”
The chicken looked at him, cocked her head, and pecked his boot again. Michael sighed as he gathered the basket of eggs to his chest and closed the door of the chicken coop behind him. His chickens knew he was a soft touch. Even if he hadn’t gone against the advice of everyone he knew and given his girls names, they’d never see the inside of a stew pot, and they knew it.
Trouble was, this self-sufficient lifestyle relied on trading what he needed for what he produced, and six little eggs didn’t give him much to barter with. An image popped into his mind of Caroline’s face, that pitying look she’d give him when he failed at his dream of a simpler life. Perhaps he could hire her to give that same look to his chickens, guilt them into laying. But Caroline wouldn’t settle for being paid in eggs. Especially not now she was marrying an accountant. How would “Mr. Dotted I’s and Crossed T’s” classify eggs on his profit and loss spreadsheet?
Michael pushed the image of his smug ex-fiancée and her pompous husband-to-be from his mind. He’d been in a grumpy mood all week, ever since she’d called with the news of her impending nuptials. She was history and he didn’t need her—or anyone else—to live the life he’d always dreamed of. He transferred the six eggs to an egg box designed for a dozen. The six empty cardboard cups glared up at him like round laughing mouths. He sucked up his pride and pushed open the garden gate.
He cut down a narrow cobbled alley that led to the back of his sister Nicki’s B&B, and smelled sizzling bacon before his hand even touched the gate. He followed the scent through the neat back garden, his deprived senses picking up freshly baked muffins, toasted bread, and dark French-pressed coffee. His stomach growled, but he shook off the feeling and fixed a cheery grin on his face.
“Morning!” he said, as he pushed open the back door. The kitchen was a whirl of people, sounds, and smells, but as always, under Nicki’s management, it looked like a perfectly coordinated ballet. Jennie, the student Nicki had taken on for the busy summer months, was juggling pans of eggs made to order—fried, poached, scrambled, and hard-boiled. She looked up as Michael came in and grinned wickedly. “Hello, gorgeous.”