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Attention Economy

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Haley knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s standing at the edge of the fence of the ranch, peering in towards the animals, camera in her hands. Still life photographs of some ranch life might be popular for a Farmer’s Almanac magazine, but that’s not why she’s wearing her favorite skirt and a push up bra. That’s not why her hair is styled into perfectly messy curls, and why mascara is swept over her eyelashes framing opalescent blue eyes and looking like spider legs against her bright skin.

Pelican Town always felt too small for Haley. She loved attention and being the center of it. She surmised that long ago it had to do with her parents leaving her sister and her all alone. The town doted on them. And while Emily felt it was her duty as the older sibling to get a job and support them, Haley felt lost. Like she was swimming in the ocean, no raft in sight.

Attention economy was her form of support. After all, people do all kinds of things for pretty girls and Haley was a very pretty girl. She competed in the Flower Queen competition every year, so that she could go on to other little rural towns and parade there, winning prize money for being the best at dressing in a frilly costume and taking portraits with goats. She knew that if she were to leave the Valley, she wouldn’t get as much attention as she did in town. So, she relished in it, desiring no other ambitions that looked beyond the Valley’s borders.

Of course, that never stopped the sour feeling in her stomach when things felt too stagnant. Where she felt absolutely abandoned and needed a release. It was those times she’d meet Alex in the woods, back pressed against the fresh forest floor, panties slung off as he heaved above her. Her pageant dress covered in dirt and leaves. She’d make her way home smelling of earth and feeling completely feral.

There was only one person in town who didn’t pay attention to Haley, at least not in the way she wanted. The new farmer, Sol, who walked past her once in the town square without so much as a glance. It was like Haley wasn’t even there. Naturally, this meant she needed to amend that.

“If it weren’t for those clothes, you might actually be pretty.” She taunted, a bold pout settling on her lips. The farmer just turned; an eyebrow quirked up. Then, instead of firing back as Haley expected, she let a sideways smirk creep onto her face. She had turned away and walked off before Haley could come up with a better way to instigate confrontation.

She was so predictably reactive after that. She found Alex doing yard work later and pushed him up against the side of the house, eyes blazing. A need to quell, an urge to compromise. He consented, only pausing to take off his work gloves before indulging her.

That was a week ago, and her run ins with Sol started becoming more frequent. Maybe it’s because Haley had started to venture out of the town center, into the forest near the lake. She had her camera with her, clicking after a few moments of silence. (Sometimes, late at night in her room, she’d sit and stare at her developed photographs, a moment of stillness captured in time.) She knew the farmer was nearby, fishing or foraging, keeping her distance. But Haley knew she was watching.

That’s why she isn’t at all surprised when Sol approached her at Marnie’s.

“Scaring the livestock today?” Haley asks, her accent soft with a slight drawl.

The farmer shrugs, putting her hands in her pockets, head slightly tilted as if she’s trying to figure something out. Haley notices her eyes are a steel grey, as metallic as the chain of the necklace she wore around her neck.

“Well, don’t just stand there. Take some pictures with me.”

“Doesn’t seem like you need help.”

“Bet.” Haley sets her camera down and hops over the fence, stretching her legs over the gnarled wood.

“Be careful now.” Sol warns. Haley just winks at her from behind her voluminous blonde hair.

“I do this all the time. Now get that camera ready.” She orders and is pleased when Sol obliges.

The cow is at least ten times bigger than her in weight and size. But Haley is not one to back down from any challenge. Especially when the farmer with the steely eyes is behind her, watching as usual. She clutches the side of the cow’s neck and hoists herself up, struggling a little to wrap her legs around its sides. Successful, she turns and gives Sol a saucy pose, back arched, head twisted over her shoulder. She holds it as Sol raises her camera and takes the shot. The click must have startled the animal, because it moves suddenly, and Haley loses her balance. It isn’t that far a fall into the mud after that.

“You alright there?” Sol stands over her, a whisper of concern etched across her tanned face.

“Peachy.” Her back hurts slightly, but Haley is not going to let her know this.

“Let me help you up.” And Haley takes her hand, as Sol, with a shockingly strong grip pulls her to her feet.

“Well, look at me,” Haley chuckles, “Seems I’ve made a mess of myself.”

She’s not sure why she’s suddenly feeling vulnerable. It could be the piercing stare from Sol, or the realization that she’s been acting foolish for the attention. Sol seems to sense this too and changes the subject, perhaps their heated glance motivated it.

“So, you any good?” she asks her.

“At picture-taking?” Haley responds, “Why don’t you let me show you.”

There’s her confidence, back in spades.

The walk back to Haley’s house is silent. But it’s comfortable, Haley thinks. She’s not this silent with other villagers, using her time with each to talk senselessly about arbitrary things, enjoying her own voice as she describes a town event or a new fashion. Sol isn’t offering any conversation, just looking around at the scenery with hands in her overall pockets and sun glinting off her skin, turning her almost golden.

Haley loves the color gold.

It takes a minute for their eyes to adjust to the darkroom. But Haley is showing the farmer her process, and where she hangs each photo. Sol is nodding her approval and Haley feels something swell up in her chest. Someone actually likes the landscape photos: the stills of the villagers in town, the documentation of a rural lifestyle. Sol is praising her, acknowledging that Haley has the eye for photography, and encouraging her to pursue videography and filmmaking as well. Haley tries to think back on the last time anyone complimented something about her other than her looks.

There’s the urging again, the restlessness. This time it’s different. This time, she thinks it might actually be quelled for good. She moves closer to the farmer, tracing her jawline with her eyes. She turns then to look at Haley, and their faces are so close.

“Don’t you want me?” Haley whispers, and presses her lips against Sol’s.

The other woman seems startled at first. So, Haley draws back, but her eyes are gleaming with something mischievous. She smirks at her and bites her lower lip as she gives her a teasing glance.

And that’s all it takes. Strong hands are gripping her waist and twisting her to face the nearest table. Haley feels Sol press up behind her, and sucks in a sharp breath as lips meet her neck. Fingers are tracing circles around her stomach (usually an off-limits area but Haley is letting this slide because she can’t really think right now). They move upwards, tracing patterns above the fabric of her bra. She’s getting impatient, so she reaches behind her back to unclasp the hooks.

“Excited, huh?” Sol whispers into her ear.

At the same time, a hand is sneaking up her skirt. She feels it squeeze her inner thigh, and brush over her panties. Short breaths are coming from her now, as she plays with her own hardening nipples, and the woman pressed up behind her tickles her clit between the folds of lace and flesh. She’s building her up, excruciatingly slowly.

Haley lets out a low moan as Sol’s fingers finally enter her. She can feel her exploring, rubbing her all the while. She is gasping as she feels the slick wetness between her legs. Groaning as fingers explore other regions of her pelvic area. They are moving in sync now, Sol pressed up against her, with each thrust of her fingers eliciting a cry from Haley.

Then, Sol snakes a hand up, not the one currently buried between Haley’s thighs. She covers her mouth and bites her neck as she pushes her fingers up. Haley screams against her palm, coming hard and fast like a glass bottle breaking against a brick wall.

Much later, they are laying naked in Haley’s bed under a soft evening glow. Sol pulls a blanket over them both and rests her hand on Haley’s hip, kissing her forehead.

“You are so special.” She tells her. And Haley never wants to hear another compliment from anyone else ever again.