“It’s gonna be a Mississippi blizzard.” Chester Harkin made this pronouncement with all the accumulated wisdom of his eighty-odd years.
From his position behind the register, Hayden Garrow scanned the crowded aisles of the Wishful Feed and Farm Supply. “Everybody else certainly seems to think so. We just sold out of the last of our generators, and I think we’re down to two space heaters.” That didn’t even touch on the run they’d had on kerosene and propane since that morning. He was grateful he’d bought up one of the generators first thing and stowed it in his truck, along with a couple tanks of propane. He didn’t really expect things to get that bad out at the farm, but if it did, he’d be ready.
At the other register, his boss, Abe Costello, just shook his grizzled head. “Everybody’s running around, actin’ a fool. They’re either convinced it’s gonna be the apocalypse or driving as if there’s nothing at all different from a normal day.”
“Well, is anything actually gonna happen?” Hayden asked.
“We’re due up for a good snow or ice storm,” Chester insisted. “It’s been…what? Ten, twelve years since the last one? We usually get about one decent one a decade.”
“Do you really think this one’s gonna turn into something?” Hayden asked. “I mean, how many times over the past five years have they called for snow and we didn’t get more than flurries?”
The door opened at the tail end of this, and Corbett Raines, the rookie officer of the Wishful Police Department, stepped inside. “It’s definitely more than flurries. The weather’s getting filthy. The rain’s already turned to sleet, mixed with snow. Temps are dropping and the roads are starting to freeze. I’ve dealt with three accidents since this morning, from people driving like idiots.”
“See?” Abe said. “Actin’ a fool. They don’t know how to drive in this kind of weather and don’t have the good sense not to try.”
Brody Jensen, a local contractor, set his purchases on the counter. “There was a guy on a job I worked a few years ago who gave the best advice I ever heard for people who have no experience driving on snow and ice. He said to imagine your grandmama sitting in the backseat, wearing a new Sunday dress, with a crockpot full of gravy on her lap, a tray full of fresh biscuits on the seat, and open jars of sweet tea on the floorboard. Everything has to get to church unscathed.”
Hayden laughed and began ringing him up.
Chester considered. “You know, that’s not half bad advice, actually.”
“I still say people need to get on home and stay there,” Abe insisted.
“From your mouth to God’s ear,” Corbett said. “Chief’s got all hands on deck while the worst of this rolls through.”
“I expect they’ll have all first responders on call.” A volunteer fire fighter himself, Hayden was ready and waiting in case he got called out. At just under six thousand people, Wishful didn’t have a full-time fire department—something they were hoping to change in the coming year.
Chester readjusted his stance, leaning against the counter. “Can’t say I’m sorry not to be worrying over animals this go round. There’s a lot I miss about having the farm, but stressing out over circumstances like this isn’t part of it.”
Abe shifted his attention to Hayden. “Speaking of animals, if you’re gonna take that dog food delivery to the shelter, you’d best do it, or it might be a few days before the roads are clear enough to get there. This cold’s coming in and sticking.” He jerked his head toward the stock room in back.
“You sure you’ve got things covered here?” Hayden asked.
“The crazy’s slowing down. And either way, we’ll be out of cold-weather supplies in an hour, if not before.”
“All right then. In that case, I’ll load up and clock out.”
“Take some care, will you? I noticed there were more damaged bags in this shipment than usual.” Abe shot him a bland look, and Hayden realized he knew.
The farm supply had a standing arrangement with the Wishful Animal Rescue. Rather than taping up and selling off torn open bags of dog and cat food, they donated them. As the number of animals at the shelter had been higher than usual lately and donations from the rest of town had been down, Hayden had been rather rougher than necessary when handling the latest shipment to make sure there was sufficient food to go around.
Feigning innocence, Hayden shrugged. “Oops.”
Abe just rolled his eyes. “I’m sure Brooke will appreciate your sacrifice.”
Okay, yeah. It wasn’t just about the animals, but about their stalwart champion with the pretty green eyes. Brooke Redding was passionate, big-hearted, and completely oblivious to Hayden’s interest, same as she’d been back in junior high school. He wasn’t even sure she realized they’d gone to junior high together. He’d been bone skinny and short back then, and his family had moved away before he got up the nerve to really talk to her. Well, he might be taller and broader these days, but some things hadn’t really changed.
Saluting his boss, Hayden headed into the stock room and slipped into his winter gear, such as it was. The thermal vest and scarf didn’t do much to slow down the wind and sleet slapping him in the face as soon as he opened the back door. Damn. It really was worse than he’d realized. He made quick work of backing the truck into the loading dock, then piling the bags of food into the bed, alongside the generator and propane he’d grabbed that morning. Covering the lot of it with a tarp and securing it as best he could, he climbed into the driver’s seat and headed out into the storm.