Taylor sniffled softly as she shifted through the clothes in the box in front of her.
The basement was cold, and her toes were going numb, but she needed that sweater.
The sweater that her mom would always wear in winter; big and fluffy and comfy. It was grey, and knit, and huge, even on her mother, and she needed it.
She sniffled again, then hiccuped softly as she scrubbed the tears trickling down her cheeks away.
Emma had been worse than usual today, and the only thing that Taylor could think of by the time she’d gotten home was that sweater, and the special cocoa her mom had always made after a hard day, and the one spot on the couch that her mom had always curled up on; close enough to the window to look out as she drank her tea.
She needed it. Just this once.
Just for today.
Something crinkled under her fingertips and she frowned, pausing. This box was just supposed to be clothes. Everything in it had come out of her mom’s dresser, she’d thought.
It took a little bit of fishing, but she managed to get a hold of the crinkling thing, sliding it out of the clothes and into the dim light of the basement.
It was an envelope. Not like a business envelope, but more like something she’d expect a birthday card to be in.
It was yellowed with age, and heavy, and the glue was so old that, when Taylor experimentally tugged on the flap, it parted ways from the main body of the envelope easily, revealing a folded sheet of lined paper.
Curious, Taylor flipped the envelope over, checking to see if there was a name on the front.
Annette, it said, in unfamiliar cursive.
It was addressed to her mom? But then… why had it never been opened?
Taylor reached up and scrubbed the last of the tears out of her eyes as she slid the sheet of lined paper out of the envelope and unfolded it.
‘My dearest Annette,
If you are reading this, then you must be in dire need.
Hopefully your need is simply for a change of pace, rather than of financial hardship, but either way, this is my final gift to you.
In this envelope is the deed to my old farm, out on the edge of the city. I know how much you loved visiting as a child, so I hope that it helps you as much as it helped me after your grandma passed.
I love you, my dearest granddaughter. I hope that the farm brings you as much joy as it did me.
Slowly, she folded the piece of paper up again, then turned the envelope over to look inside again.
Sure enough, there was a sheaf of papers in there, stapled together and folded neatly, and when Taylor pulled them out and unfolded them she was greeted with what looked like an extremely official deed, as well as something marking out property lines, and some other paperwork she didn’t recognize.
Her mom had owned a farm.
And from the looks of it, she’d never known.
For a moment, Taylor hesitated.
Land could probably sell for a lot. Enough to pay off some of the bills that her dad didn’t think she knew about, and fix up the house a little.
But… From the letter, it looked like the farm had been important to her mom when she was little.
She could at least go look at the place, right? She’d just have to find a bus route that went out near… She glanced down at the deed again, 2121 Stardew Lane.
Maybe she’d be able to convince her dad to keep it.
2121 Stardew Lane took an hour and a half to get to from her house, and involved three bus changes and a ten minute walk out to the outskirts of town where the forests that covered the low hills had come down to touch the city.
In fact, she almost walked right past the overgrown gravel driveway before the battered tin mailbox at the end of it caught her eye and made her pay more attention to the way the weeds had grown and died.
It didn’t take much to push her way through the weeds, and she peered around as she wandered up the gently curving driveway until the trees on either side of it cleared away and revealed a reasonably sized clearing, all overgrown with grass and weeds and blackberry brambles.
The driveway led all the way up to a small barn, and Taylor could see two other buildings as she scanned the clearing. One was a house; a small, cute little thing that probably only had two bedrooms, and the other an even smaller building mostly buried under mounds of brambles.
It was a mess.
A mess that would take more than a weed eater and a lawnmower over the weekend to fix.
Taylor glanced around, then sighed, and turned, and trekked back down the driveway.
What a waste of time.
Still, she couldn’t help tucking the envelope into her dresser drawer rather than handing it over to her dad, and the little farm kept drifting into her thoughts more and more until one day, after Emma and her cronies had cornered her again , and insulted her and her dead mother, again, Taylor found herself taking three busses, and walking ten minutes, and trekking up the overgrown driveway to stare at the brambles and weeds and barn again.
Maybe there’d be some gloves in the barn. It… wouldn’t hurt to check, right? She could just do a little weeding. It wouldn’t hurt, and then the place’d look better when they went to sell it.
Taylor nodded to herself, then went to test the barn doors.
The big doors in front were chained and padlocked shut, but the smaller side door closer to the house shrieked its way open when she pressed her weight against it.
Inside was dark, lit only by the weak sunlight filtering through the open door, and it smelled of old motor oil and metal and, underneath that, old, old manure, long since dried out.
Taylor shivered, peering into the darkness.
Nope. Nuh-uh. Her parents didn’t raise a fool, and walking into a dark abandoned building was just the sort of life-shorteningly stupid, white-girl-in-a-horror-movie thing that would have had her mom running her over the rules of genre savvy again.
She shut the door firmly and turned away.
She’d give her dad the deed tonight when he got home.
Except she didn’t.
He’d come home looking even more tired than usual, and she didn’t want to bring up the fact that she’d been going through her mom’s old things, and, well…
She didn’t really know why she didn’t just hand over the letter and the deed, in the end.
She just didn’t, and they sat in her underwear drawer. Taunting her.
Maybe that was why she found herself back at the little farm again that weekend, winter gloves doubled up on her hands. They wouldn’t protect against the brambles, but she could at least get started on the grass without soaking her hands and freezing her fingers off.
The first fistful of grass came up easily; the soaked ground relinquishing the roots as she yanked and pulled, and there was something strangely cathartic about it.
About pulling out the unwanted to clear new space.
It felt oddly freeing.
She fell into an easy rhythm, eventually. Grab twist pull, grab twist pull, and the pile of discarded grass and weeds grew higher and higher as the cleared ground spread further and further from her starting point.
In the end, she only realized how much time had passed when it got too dark for her to tell what she was grabbing, and she swore vigorously as she raced down the driveway and toward the bus stop.
Danny was waiting for her in the living room when she ducked inside.
She’d noticed on the bus how grubby her jeans had gotten, and how dirty the top pair of gloves had gotten, and she’d done her best to clean herself up, but brushing at the dirt with the wet gloves had only ended up smearing it around and turning it into mud, and so Taylor had resigned herself to coming in looking like she’d been dragged on the ground.
“Welcome home,” his voice was a bit dry, and Taylor winced internally.
“Hi. Yeah, sorry I’m late, I lost track of time.”
“Doing what? I called Alan, and he said you weren’t there, so…” he paused, taking in the mud on her jeans and the dirt on her sleeves.
“Are you okay? Did something happen?”
Taylor blinked, “What? No, I’m fine. This is just… I was… There’s…”
She trailed off, fumbling for words, and Danny stood.
“Your pants are all wet. Go get changed and I’ll heat you up some food and start the kettle for you, then you can tell me what’s going on.”
Taylor nodded, and slunk upstairs to get changed, draping the soaked gloves over the back of her desk chair to dry and starting to wrestle herself out of the wet denim.
Getting into her soft flannel pjs didn’t take long, and sooner than she would have liked, she was downstairs at the kitchen table, ravenously devouring slices of pizza while her tea steeped in a mug at her elbow.
Danny eyed her worriedly.
“So what happened? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing happened. I just…” she hesitated again, then made the mistake of glancing up at her dad’s face, full of concern and worry, and she crumbled.
“I found this letter, from Mom’s granddad.” she said quietly, “it had the deed for this old farm in it. I figured, maybe if I did some weeding, then it’d look better when we go to sell it.”
Danny blinked, looking almost disappointed. “You want to sell the old place?”
“What?” Taylor stared at him, “Wait, you know about it?”
Danny smiled wryly, “Taylor, I pay the taxes on that land. Of course I know about it. Someone had to, to keep it legal. The only one who didn’t was Annette, and I never knew where she kept the letter, so I couldn’t find it to have the deed put in your name after… after she… well, after.”
Taylor’s eyes widened. “Wait, have the deed put in my name? What do you mean? Why wouldn’t we sell it? Don’t we need the money?”
Danny snorts. “That place belonged to your great grandad, and he loved it. His kids loved it. Your mother loved it. It belongs to you, now, or it should. It will, as soon as we can get it transferred into your name. If you want to sell it, that’s your choice, but the money would all go into a savings account to help pay for your college.”
“But—!” Taylor flailed for a response to that, confusion warring with indignation in the face of the slowly growing, amused smile on her father’s face. “But don’t we need the money for stuff around here?”
“Taylor,” Danny’s voice was firm, “For one, that’s not your job to worry about. For two, we’re not so desperately bad off that I would take money from my daughter to help take care of things. We’re managing, I promise.”
Taylor spluttered a little more, gesticulating wildly as she tried to find words. “But aren’t we poor?”
Danny laughed . “Not quite, Little Owl. We might not be as well off as Alan Barnes, but we’re by no means destitute. Tell you what,” he stood up, smacking his hands against his thighs, “come upstairs with me, and I’ll show you the books.”
Thoroughly befuddled, Taylor stuffed her last bite of pizza into her mouth and stood, following her dad with tea in hand as he led her up into the office.
“I probably should have started doing this sooner or later anyway,” he said over his shoulder to her. “Keeping a budget is important, and it’s not like they teach that at school. Or they didn’t when I was going. Do they?”
He glanced back at her, and Taylor shook her head, blinking owlishly at him.
“Not that I know of? It might be in an elective like home ec or something.”
‘The books’ was a large three ring binder full of green spreadsheets, and Taylor looked at the neatly labeled rows and columns of numbers with surprise as her dad sat her down in the office chair and leaned over her to start explaining.
It took a while.
“Okay,” Taylor said thoughtfully a good two hours later, “So we’re not poor. But if we’ve got money from the whole Union/PRT liaison thing for emergencies and things, then how come stuff like the front porch, or the squeaky cabinets don’t get fixed?”
Danny sighed. “That’s the part that money can’t fix. Time. There’s only so much time in a day, and if I’m at work, and you’re at school, then there’s no one here to let in a carpenter. Or we don’t have enough time to do it ourselves because we’re too tired when we get home, or it’s too dark.”
Taylor nodded slowly.
“Then selling the farm really would be the best option.” she said, and Danny glanced down at her, surprised.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, if there’s not enough time to keep up around here,” Taylor started, “Then there really wouldn’t be enough time to keep up with an entire farm.”
Danny nodded slowly, “That’s a point.” he agreed, “But there’s also the fact that you don’t have to keep up with it now. It’s gone wild for the last couple of decades. Another few years won’t hurt it, and then you’ll have somewhere to move to when you decide you’re tired of living at home.”
“I don’t know the first thing about farming, though!” Her voice was the slightest bit exasperated, and Danny stifled a smile as he flipped the account book shut and went to store it back on its shelf.
“You don’t have to.” He said easily, “Not now. You can keep the farm for now, look after it a little in the summer, if you like. Hell, maybe you could camp out there for a few days here or there. If I remember right I think there’s even a small pond on the property; you could go swimming there, rather than in the bay. Then, when you get closer to college, you can figure out if you want to sell the place or keep it. There’s no rush to make a decision right now.”
Reluctantly, Taylor nodded. He had a point. There wasn’t any rush, now that she knew they weren’t going to be out on the streets due to one missed bill.
“I’ll think about it, then.” She said, and stood up to give her dad a hug. “Thanks Dad.”
“No problem, Little Owl. I’ll see if I can get off work early sometime this week and we can go get the farm put in your name, okay?”
Danny squeezed her for a moment, then let go as she stepped away.
“Alright. I think I’m gonna head to bed now.”
“Alright,” Danny nodded, “Sleep well.”
Taylor nodded, smiling slightly, and slipped out of the room.
Danny waited until he heard her door click shut, then leaned over, both hands flat on the desk, wheezing slightly.
He’d… he’d done it. He’d parented .
And nothing had gone catastrophically wrong!
Taylor leaned back against her door, a little stunned.
That was more communication with her dad in one evening than she’d had in… years, probably.
“I own a farm…” her voice sounded almost too loud in her bedroom, and she stepped almost mechanically over to her bed and dropped onto it, staring over at the drawer that held the letter and the deed.
“I will own a farm,” she corrected herself, “this is nuts. I can’t own a farm. I don’t know the first thing about farming.”
Her eyes drifted across the room to land on her muddied gloves and jeans.
She might not know the first thing about farming, but that? Clearing the weeds and grass? That had felt good.
Christmas break was coming up soon.
Maybe she could spend a little more time out there. Get more of the weeds cleared out.
Hell, maybe if she got the driveway completely cleared, her dad could come out and tell her about the place.
She fell asleep easily that night, and dreamed of little, multi-colored jellies that danced a welcoming dance and invited her to play with them.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, and when Taylor headed downstairs for breakfast she was greeted with an empty house and a note on top of a pair of gardening gloves on the kitchen table.
Work called me in today, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to fend for yourself.
I found these gloves in the garage, I hope they help if you decide to head back out to the farm. Try to be back before dark, I should be home by then, but I’ll call if they need me to stay late.
If she decided to head back out to the farm, huh? Taylor picked up the gloves, turning them over in her hands idly, before putting them and the note back down.
It looked like she had parental permission.
Breakfast didn’t take long to throw together. A couple of instant oatmeal packets and a fried egg were enough to get her going, and, after a few minutes thought, she grabbed an apple and a few slices of bread to toss into her backpack as a sort-of lunch.
She’d probably get sick and tired of weeding before too long, but it didn’t hurt to at least be partially prepared.
The bus ride gave her plenty of time to think, and more often than not, Taylor found her thoughts wandering in the direction of the farm, each tinged with more than a little incredulity.
It was hers.
She could do whatever she wanted with it.
The little house, the shed-thing that was buried under brambles. The barn. They were all hers.
Which meant, she thought, that anything left in them was hers as well.
Which just made her more determined to actually explore the barn, as well as figure out some way of getting into the little house.
Taylor had never met her great grandparents. Or her grandparents, for that matter. But this… this was a little piece of family history, and she wanted to know about it.
Eventually she found herself standing in her little cleared area, scanning around with almost comical dismay.
In the morning light it looked like so little, where before she’d been convinced that she’d made so much progress.
But that didn’t matter. Now she knew this place was hers, or as good as, she was curious about the house, and the little shed thing, and the barn.
But mostly the house.
From where she was standing, it didn’t look like any of the windows were broken, but she couldn’t see the whole house, so she sighed and started kicking her way through years and years of built up weeds and grass.
It turned out that the gravel extended to the house as well, and she nearly tripped over the stairs that led up to a dilapidated porch that creaked alarmingly under her weight. Still, it held as she carefully stepped along it to investigate first the windows (curtained over and useless for peering inside,) and then what turned out to be a small lean-to sort of thing that was attached to the house and full of firewood.
She hadn’t seen a chimney from the front, so maybe there was a wood burning stove inside, or something?
Curious now, she hopped down from the porch and started to circumnavigate the cottage, peering up at the windows. All of them had curtains drawn, but she counted twelve windows on the bottom floor, and six windows on the second, so apparently great grandpa had really enjoyed his natural light.
Two of the windows on the lower floor were fairly high up, and made of frosted glass, so that room was probably the bathroom. Although why a bathroom needed two windows, Taylor had no idea.
But she was getting distracted. She was on a mission! She was going to clear the driveway today!
Grabbing the gloves out of her backpack, Taylor dropped the bag on the porch, then set to clearing at least a small path between the steps and the clearing she’d already made, falling easily into the rhythm she’d found the night before. Grab-twist-pull, grab-twist-pull, and slowly she worked her way down the driveway, working back and forth across the hidden gravel until she had to take a break, straightening up her aching back and peering back up the drive to survey her work.
A small, satisfied smile grew into place. She’d made it almost halfway and it was only... she glanced up at the sky, then frowned and looked down at her watch.
Three-thirty?! There was no way she’d been at this almost half the day!
But another glance at the sunset-gold sky confirmed it, and Taylor scowled. If she was going to be home before dark, then she’d have to leave now.
Another glance at her watch told her that if she was going to catch the next bus, then she’d have to leave soon, so Taylor sighed and headed back up the driveway to grab her backpack.
She really had to find some other way of getting out there, she mused, crunching on her apple. Three busses was too much, and the fact that she had to head all the way downtown just to transfer to a bus that headed sort of out the way she’d come, and then transfer again just to get to the place she was pretty sure would take about twenty minutes to get to by car was more than a little ridiculous.
She’d had a bike, years ago, but it was probably too small for her now. Maybe they could take it to a thrift store and donate it for some credit for one that’d fit her better.
It would be something to ask her dad about, if he was home.
They’d talked last night, after all. Maybe it was a sign that things were changing. Going back to like before.
Maybe he could help her.
Her face fell when she rounded the corner onto their street and saw the empty driveway, but after a moment her lips firmed and her chin lifted. All that meant was that she had a chance to check the garage for the bike she vaguely remembered having, and time to dig it out if it was behind stuff.
Taylor’s steps quickened. If she was lucky, she could have it done before he got home and her case would be stronger.
Tossing her bag to one side as she entered, Taylor locked the front door behind herself and beelined for the door that led both into the garage, and down into the basement. If she was going to find the bike it’d need to be fast, since the light in the garage had gone out ages ago and neither she nor her father had ever gotten around to replacing it. She’d be relying on the little natural light coming in through the windows, for as long as that lasted.
It takes some doing. Somehow the lawn mower had gotten tangled up in a bunch of gardening equipment that Taylor hadn’t even known they had , and then there were some boxes full of old machine parts that she had no idea where they’d come from, and just as the light was vanishing entirely, she spotted it.
Or rather, them .
Three bikes propped up against the back wall. Two big, one small.
Each of the larger bikes had what looked like canvas carry-bags hooked over the rear tires, and lights on the front, while the smallest one, the one Taylor recognized as the bike she hadn’t touched since she was twelve, had neither.
Had her mom and dad biked, before? Taylor couldn’t remember. She didn’t think she’d ever seen her dad on a bike before, but she had vague memories of her mother, dark hair flying in the breeze, laughing as she rode up and down the street in front of her amazed eyes.
That’s right. That’d been why she’d wanted to learn in the first place, hadn’t it.
She’d seen the bikes and wanted to know what they were for.
Christ, she’d only been, what, five? Six? Something like that, and her mom had pulled out her dusty old bike, dusted it off, and promptly blown little Taylor’s mind by sailing up and down the street with all the grace of a drunken swan; wobbling and laughing as she swayed hither and yon.
Taylor swallowed hard against the lump in her throat, then turned and went back inside. There was no point freezing her feet off now. Not when she could just ask her dad about borrowing his old bike.
He’d probably say yes.
Hell, he’d probably forgotten he even had it.
“You want to borrow my what?”
Danny paused mid bite, his eyebrows raised in confusion over his chinese.
“Your old bike.” Taylor repeated, inwardly satisfied. She’d called it. He’d completely forgotten. “I found it in the garage. Along with a bunch of other old junk. Do you know what some of those parts go to? There’s a lot of gears and things in there, and I don’t recognize any of it.”
“Oh! Um,” Danny chuckled, a little nervously, “That’s just some stuff I’m holding onto for a coworker.”
“Oh?” Taylor took a bite of her beef and broccoli, “Someone at the Union?”
“No, ah,” Danny cleared his throat, “One of the PRT guys. He asked me if I’d mind keeping it for him for a bit. Still, it is taking up a lot of room, isn’t it. I’ll see if he’s in a better spot soon; see if we can get it out of here.”
Taylor shrugged, “I don’t mind. It’s not like we use the garage for much of anything except storage anyway.” she paused, then frowned, “Did you know we have gardening stuff in there?”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah. That’s where I found those gloves. Annette got on a gardening kick for a couple years before you were born; she wanted fresh, home grown vegetables.”
Taylor tipped her head to one side, curious. “How come she stopped?”
“Well, first you were born,” Danny said, smiling ruefully, “but honestly I think you were a bit of an excuse. Annette, as much as she was amazing at many things, did not have a green thumb. At all.”
Taylor snorted with laughter, “Oh no.”
Danny grinned back, “Oh yes. The first year she somehow managed to kill her tomatoes before she got the first one off the vine. The second year she planted twelve zucchini plants. We had zucchini coming out of our ears, and I’m pretty sure the neighbors would have rioted if she’d delivered one more box of oversized squash to anyone who lived on the street. It was the one thing she somehow didn’t kill that year, and by the time the plants died we were completely sick of the damn things.”
“Oh no !” Taylor cackled, “Oh no, poor Mom…”
“Yeah,” Danny’s grin widened. “After that, you were born and she swore off gardening. She claimed she was always better with animals anyway, but that backyard chickens were probably a step past what the neighbors would tolerate.”
Taylor snorted again, and stuffed her forkful of rice into her mouth, “Probably. Anyway, can I borrow your bike? It’d probably be faster to just bike out to the farm than it is to take the buses.”
“Sure.” Danny shrugged, “But we’ll have to get you a new helmet. I’ll give you some money and you can pick one up, okay?”
“Oh come on, really?”
“Really.” Danny said firmly, pinning her in place with a look. “Helmet, or you don’t ride. I’m serious Taylor. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Taylor hesitated, then sighed and nodded.
“Good.” He nods firmly. “I’ll pull it out tomorrow and see if it needs any adjustments, and we can fit it to you before I have to go in to work.”
“You have to go in tomorrow?” Taylor asked, dismayed, “But it’s Sunday!”
“Half-day,” Danny sighed, “Clockwork got into it with a bunch of Merchants at the docks today, so I need to be onsite to liaise with the PRT while they do their investigation. I’m sorry, Little Owl.”
Taylor sighed, slumping slightly. “It’s fine.”
At least he’d be around for half the day. She could spend the other half finishing up the driveway. Maybe she could show him the progress next weekend.
She straightened up, giving her dad a crooked smile, “After all, without you there, who knows what kind of crap the PRT’d get up to with the rest of the Union?”
Something in Danny’s shoulders eased, and he smiled back, equally as crooked. “Yeah. Gotta keep those fellas in line or they start biting off more than they can chew.”
Taylor snorted again, but didn't reply, and slowly a comfortable silence fell as the two finished their dinner.
That night, Taylor dreamed of pixies dancing with snow, cavorting with the flakes as they fell silently from the sky, landing with the soft hiss of building snowbanks.
She dreamed of tiny jellies forming rings and rings and rings of color against the stark blue-white background; dancing in circles and singing with high, piping little voices in a language she could almost understand.
She dreamed of an old man that called himself a wizard, and spells and potions. Of things long passed into myths and mythology and folklore.
Never move the rock in the center of the field.
Do not cut down the lone tree.
Do not say please, or thank you, and do not expect them in turn.
Leave offerings of your largess.
Respect the land, and all beings on it, and all will be well.
And when she woke, she remembered none of it.