Ch. 1.2 Don't Drop the Eggs

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The orange glow of sunrise oozed across the eastern sky, like a slow but inevitable flow of lava. Lacey walked down the lane as fast as she could with her basket of eggs. Meemu bounded after her. She hoped Old Joe hadn’t gone yet.

She rushed through the door of the dairy, into the bright room adjoining the main house to the barn. It was used to store equipment and load the carts for deliveries, though mostly it was a warm place for the cart-dogs to sleep. 

Ben, the youngest son, gave Lacey a cherub smile as he swept out the kennels. He was friends with Lacey’s little sister Ella, they had just started first year together at school. Lacey nodded to him absently. Her eyes fixed on the other brothers loading the carts with jugs of milk. Sal was intent on his work. He had no more interest in schoolyard nonsense, not since he had turned sixteen and aged out of school. Renalo was still in his last year. He only pretended not to notice her.

Old Joe was harnessing one of the Rotties. The other dogs lazed in a pile, waiting their turn.

“Lacey,” he called, as she crossed the room, “How many jugs does your mama need today?”

“Two please,” Lacey said. Meemu sauntered ahead of her.

“Darned cat,” Old Joe said, with his usual mock scowl. But he nodded to his youngest son, who fetched the dish of cream waiting on the workbench.

Meemu lived with humans, so his prey was the civilized sort. The dog-pile rolled its eyes in the direction of the cat, but it was hitching time, they were bound by a higher duty than keeping their den free of cats.

Lacey carried her delicate basket of eggs in a wide circle around the dogs; at any other time she would give them all a good rub. They did not take offense; duty was something they understood.

“Are you delivering to the cheese shed first?” Lacey asked. She was running much too far behind and she needed to simplify her morning.

“I could.” Old Joe winked at her.

“Could you get a round of cheddar when you pass? Mama wants to make cheese biscuits.”

“Mmmm, I sure could,” Old Joe said, patting his belly.

Lacey was pleased with her cleverness. Step two and step three done, mission accomplished!

As she made to leave, Renalo moved in front of her, blocking the door. She’d been so caught up in her cleverness that she had forgotten to keep an eye on him. He was Devan’s friend, though henchman might be a better word. He was muscular from lugging heavy jugs of milk, and tried to loom over her. But Lacey was tall for her age and their eyes were almost even. He tilted his chin so he could look down his nose at her.

 Lacey glanced behind her. The big male Rotti stopped panting and fixed his eyes on Renalo. A low growl rumbled in his chest. Too low for Old Joe to hear as he tightened the harness straps and tested the ropes.

“My pa is busy,” Renalo hissed. “Are you going to delay the morning deliveries with your tattling?”

“Are you going to come between these eggs and those biscuits your pa is dreaming of?” Lacey said, holding the basket in front of her like a shield. Her expression was stone. She refused to let him think he could rattle her.

He moved a half step to the left.

Lacey ignored his stare and tried to squeeze by. When she was close enough to smell the reek of his sweat, he leaned toward her suddenly. She flinched.

His smile was smug, and her cheeks burned.

He whispered in her ear, “He is going to be waiting for you at school today.”

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