Happy New Year! The newest installment of Treasure in the Corn Field is here. I hope you enjoy!
Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here.
The last thing Ellie wanted to do was go to work, but she dragged herself from bed and made it to the store with one minute to spare. How she could be even more exhausted than before after a full night of sleep, she had no idea, but she didn’t like it. The day was bright and beautiful. It felt like a personal affront to Ellie’s tired eyes. The only sign a storm had passed through was crystal clear air, small rivulets of water, and the smell of wet earth.
A small queue of various folks crowded around the door to the store, and Ellie had to push her way through to unlock the door. It was unusual for her to get here right on time. She usually opened about half an hour early, and the early birds were annoyed that they didn’t have their usual access to the store.
Ellie didn’t much care. She was too worn out. But it was a different kind of worn out than before. The kind that comes with emerging from a too-long slumber, and having to expend energy to move around again.
She sold milk, gum, cigarettes, and beer to grumbling, grumpy customers, and then the store was empty again. She wished she’d remembered to bring the cipher book Rory had given her. It would have passed the time nicely, figuring out the codes, deciphering the hidden messages.
As it was, she passed the time by shoving more bags of chips onto already full shelves and sweeping the clean floor over and over.
Mid morning, the door chimed. A man with shaggy, black, shoulder-length hair wearing an expensive-looking black trench coat walked in. Under the coat was a neatly pressed suit, also black. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes, but Ellie was impressed with his overall aesthetic. She idly wondered what he’d look like without those sunglasses on. He must be passing through from one big city to another, because Ellie didn’t recognize him.
“Morning. Let me know if you need any help,” Ellie said before returning to her sweeping.
Good morning, Eleanor.
Ellie froze with her hands around the broomstick. She couldn’t look at him. No wonder he was wearing sunglasses inside. If he tipped them down his nose, Ellie was sure she’d see glowing red eyes.
Her mind raced. He was here. He was here.
Why was he here? How was he here?
Last she saw Bartholomew, he was a hulking creature. He must have shape-shifting abilities or something, for him to be here in broad daylight, looking positively human.
Ellie finally turned to look at him. Although his eyes were concealed, they pierced right through Ellie. Her heart skipped a beat. She found her courage.
I beg your pardon?
“My name isn’t Eleanor. It’s Ellie. It’s always just been Ellie.”
Who… names their child Ellie?
“Good parents, that’s who.”
He ducked his head, appearing chastened. He picked up a bag of chips. His long, thin fingers ended in sharp, pointed nails. Careful not to pierce the bag, he gently set it back on the shelf. His nose wrinkled.
I can’t believe you people eat this garbage.
“It’s delicious,” Ellie said, suppressing a wicked grin. Now that she was over her shock at seeing him here, Bartholomew didn’t seem so scary inside the store. This was her domain, and she felt unafraid amidst the familiarity. Perhaps it was false bravado, but she decided to have some fun with him, anyway.
She grabbed a bag off the shelf and opened it. The scent of cool ranch Doritos hung in the air between them. Bartholomew looked like he was going to retch. Ellie reached into the bag and drew out one of the chips. She held it out to Bartholomew, who took a step back. Ellie placed it on her tongue and chewed slowly, watching his sickened expression.
“Try it. You might like it.”
“Suit yourself.” Ellie stepped around him, blowing some Dorito breath at him. He recoiled, but she didn’t stop moving. She wended her way through the aisles and behind the counter. Putting space between them helped her regain some focus.
Silence descended, but Ellie was no stranger to long pauses. Bartholomew watched her eat the chips, also at home in the silence. The attention made Ellie’s toes curl with discomfort, but she tried hard not to let it show. When she was done with the bag, she rang herself up and dropped exact change into the register.
“Why are you here?” Ellie finally asked.
I wanted to see where you worked. It’s…
Bartholomew looked around the store, searching for the right words. He shrugged instead.
“I know. Well, you came, you saw, you can leave.”
Do you wish me to go?
Ellie opened her mouth to spit out a “yes,” but the word wouldn’t form on her lips. She did want him to go, right?
This was ridiculous. He was a cryptid who lived in a corn field. He was going to stop her friends from helping her keep her promise to Harmon. She had no reason to want him here.
And yet, when it really came down to answering his question, she didn’t want him to go. He was an intriguing unknown in the mundanity of her life. And he’d known Harmon. She shook her head slowly, half to herself, half for Bartholomew’s sake.
The door dinged and Robbie walked in. He glanced at Bartholomew and nodded, before greeting Ellie.
“El Bell! I hope you’re okay with dancing with me,” Robbie said. “I didn’t mean to push you into anything.”
“No yeah, it’s fine,” Ellie said. She suspected Adrianna finally had that chat with Robbie about respecting people’s boundaries and asking for permission. Ellie didn’t think Robbie had a self-reflective bone in his body, and certainly wouldn’t be here otherwise. He’d always been a creature of the present, and unless he had changed a lot, he chose action over thought, every time.
“It’s good to be home,” Robbie said. “It’s been nice reconnecting with everyone.”
Ellie laughed. “You’ve been home for two days.”
“Yeah, but it’s been great.”
Ellie shrugged and smiled. She didn’t know how much catching up someone could do in two days when they’d missed six years of events, but she kept her mouth shut. She was painfully aware of Bartholomew lurking behind Robbie. Somehow, Robbie remained oblivious to the electricity in the air.
“You need anything?” Ellie asked.
“Yeah. Three lottery tickets, please,” Robbie said.
Ellie turned around to grab the tickets from the wall behind the counter. When she turned back, the bell over the door dinged, and Bartholomew was gone. She felt a pang of regret, but she supposed if she were him, she wouldn’t want to stick around for Robbie’s riveting conversation either.
Robbie held his hand out with a grin on his face. She tried to give him the tickets without touching him, but Robbie grabbed her hand as well as the tickets.
“I’ve missed you, El Bell.”
“You coulda called. My number’s still the same.”
Robbie let her hand go. Ellie shoved it into her pocket, her shoulders raised up toward her ears. She gently bounced the tip of her right foot on the counter in front of her.
“Victoria…” Robbie started.
“Ah yes, the famous girlfriend.” Ellie tried to keep the bitterness from her voice, but she must not have been successful because Robbie’s face fell.
“If there’s one thing I regret in my life, it was leaving you like I did.”
“No, I need to say this.” Robbie ran his hand through his hair, steeling himself. “I was half in love with you when I left.”
“Only half?” Ellie’s attempt at a joke fell flat in the tension. Robbie didn’t even crack a small smile.
“I was just so afraid of being stuck here forever and never getting to see the world. I didn’t think I wanted that, so I ran away. I was a coward. And now that I’m home, I see how wrong I was. I’ve missed Linewood more than I knew. I’m sorry, Ellie.”
“This is ancient history, Robbie,” Ellie said gently. “I forgave you a long time ago. We were just kids.”
“We’re not kids now,” Robbie said. “Give me another chance?”
Ellie stared at him. His face was the same face she’d always known, but older, different. His expression was open and honest, and yet Ellie still couldn’t bring herself to say yes.
She remembered their relationship with fondness, when she thought of it at all. But his complete confidence that she would remain available to him after all these years was off-putting. Adrianna was sure to have filled him in on her lack of dating prospects, but that didn’t mean she would take him back with no consideration. They needed time to get to know each other again. His pushiness bothered her.
“Just think about it,” Robbie said when Ellie’s answer wasn’t forthcoming. He tapped his lottery tickets on the counter, ducked his head, and was out the door before Ellie could grab even one thread of thought.
Her phone dinged with a text a few minutes later.
Robbie: Meet me by the creek after work? Our usual place.
She stared at the text for a few minutes, trying to work out what to say. They’d spent hours together down by the creek when they were dating. They’d eat picnics on the banks and splash around in the shallow water. She hadn’t spent any time down there since he’d left, but the place held good memories.
Her phone dinged again.
Robbie: I’m not going to railroad you into anything. Just want to go for a walk and catch up.