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Turtle

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“First day of sun catch you off guard, hon?” I asked as the man who at this point wasn’t quite a stranger ducked under the shade of my booth. His handsome face was flushed with a developing sunburn to the color of the heritage tomatoes he stood beside. The bustle of the farmer’s market was beginning to subside, and he and I were alone under the white tent of Kelly Ann’s Vegetables. He always arrived around this time. I had begun to anticipate his visits.

“A bit yeah,” he sighed, leaning delicately against the edge of a stack of crates. “I see you were ready.” He gestured at my turquoise and garnet wide-brimmed hat. I adjusted it and pushed a few wayward bangs from my dark pixie cut back into position with a kind of happy self-consciousness. I was glad that he had noticed, though with the bright colors it was harder to miss than to spot.

“I’ve been ready since last summer. It’s the rain that always catches me off guard.”

“I guess that confirms that you aren’t from Oregon,” he flirted with a small smile that crept up into his soft, big, blue eyes. Mama told me to never date a man without kind eyes. I think she had been thinking of Estevan when she did. “I can’t place your accent.”

“I had kind of an unusual upbringing.” By now, between my name, my voice, and my personality, I was used to people inquiring as how I came to be to the way I was. I tried to not let it bother me. “Cherokee born, raised in Tucson, mama from Kentucky, and family friends from Guatemala and all over.”

“So how’d you end up here in Portland?”

“To be honest, I just decided to drive out of town, and settle down wherever my car broke. Then, when I got here, I changed my mind. My car still runs fine, but I couldn't bring myself to leave.”

“That’s a beautiful story,” he sighed, and he looked a bit in love. “I’m Jimmy, by the way. What’s your name?” I paused to think before answering. Should I tell him I was April, or Turtle? Usually, I decided based on how close I was planning to get to the person. If I wasn’t likely to see them again, I’d say my legal, more conventional name so as to avoid awkward questions. If I wanted to form a relationship, I would give them the name I preferred to be called.

“Turtle.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” he replied, without batting an eye. Physically, with my light brown skin, I stood out more here than I had in Tucson, but apparently my unusual name fit right in. The delightful scent of home wafted over just then, from the Mexican food truck across the way.

“Seeing as how we’ve now been acquainted, do you think you could watch the booth for just a second? I just wanna run across and grab one of those empanadas.” It occurred to me that Mama would have been more likely to hire Mr. T the Doberman as a babysitter than to trust her shop to any kind of man. I’d only be right across the way though, and only for a minute. Plus, he seemed too infatuated to risk it all to steal a few bucks or beets.

“I’ll do you one better,” Jimmy said, and before I could protest he ran across and bought two empanadas.

“You shouldn’t have,” I sighed, but I took the one he offered out to me. It was fresh and hot. The warmth of it bled through the paper sleeve it sat in, which crinkled below my fingers. It was a bit dry, and could have used a bit more bit more spice, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. Not that I’d exactly asked for him to buy me one. “Gracias,” I muttered through a full mouth.

“No problemo,” he replied. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about his attempt at Spanish, with his horrible, horrible accent and mixed up genders, or the way he blew off my gratitude. “So how’d you end up as a farmer?”

“I’ve always been interested in it. Apparently my first word was bean,” I answered. “My first job was helping this guy named Bobby Bingo, who sold vegetables out of an old truck down the street. He had this giant garden. Only real differences up here are what’s grown and when it’s planted. What do you make with the produce you buy?”

“Ah, I confess that I don’t actually do much cooking. I just buy vegetables here so I have an excuse to see you. Though if I had someone special to make dinner for, I might try to whip something up?” He phrased it as a question, and with his previous statement, there was no doubt that he was asking me out.

“Well I hope you aren’t letting my produce go to waste in the meantime!” I exclaimed, partly genuinely aggrieved but mostly stalling for time as I tried to decide whether I wanted a boyfriend. It might never get serious, but never having gone out on more than two dates with any man before, it felt risky. Like I might end up tied down too fast. Mama had tried to walk the same line, of independence versus connection, but I think she had fallen too far on the lonely side of things. I decided to go at this carefully, slowly. To test the waters with a toe before I jumped all the way in.

“Don’t worry, I always manage to make something edible with them,” he assured me.

“Well, maybe we should go out to lunch first, before you try cooking for me,” I suggested decisively. “How about you swing by when the market’s closing up next Saturday and we can decide where to go from there?”

“Sounds great. I’ll see you next week then, Turtle.” I liked the way my name sounded on his thin lips, and I let the corners of my mouth tilt up to mirror his small smile.