The Apple Pie Knights

The Apple Pie Knights

Deborah Smith

September 2014 $.99
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-379

A Crossroads Cafe Short Story

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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

Military men have a special place in Lucy Parmenter’s tortured heart. For the past few months, Army Captain Gus MacBride, stationed in Afghanistan, has transformed her lonely life at a North Carolina refuge for abused women and their children. The texts, emails, and phone calls between him and Lucy bubble with restrained heat; his sisters (Pickle Queen Gabby and Biscuit Witch Tal) have let on that Lucy has a painful history, and he romances her gently.

When several of her sheep show up on a freezing January morning with full-body mohawks, Lucy’s psychic "wooly clairvoyance” says the wool thieves are hiding in nearby woods owned by the MacBrides, and that Tal knows all about them. She confesses: they’re veterans—men, women, and one service dog—suffering from PTSD, suspicious and jumpy. She’s taken them to heart and won their trust with apple pies.

Lucy struggles with her fear of strangers while her heart is drawn to people so much like herself. When word of other minor thefts start to cause talk around the Crossroads Cove, Lucy has to get involved.

When Gus tells her he’s coming home on leave soon, she realizes her challenges are just beginning.

Deborah Smith is the New York Times’ and Kindle bestselling author of A Place to Call Home, The Crossroads Café, and many other romantic southern novels. The Kitchen Charmer: A Crossroads Café Novel, book 3 of The MacBrides, releases this winter and continues the story of Lucy and Gus.



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Excerpt

Chapter One

Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

Rainbow Goddess Farm, North Carolina

Autumn

Via e-mail

G.MacBride.mil@mail.mil:

So there I was, Lucy, without a clue how to connect with the village women. I knew I looked like some kind of Terminator in full combat gear, except for the crochet hooks tucked in my helmet strap and one of your scarves tied over my gear. But then I held up a picture of you I’d printed out back at the base.

They stared at your hair. It’s so pale it’s almost white in the photo. The way you dress was perfect for that picture, Luce—thank you. The scarves, the head covering. They expected an American woman to be shocking, half-naked, to be foreign, to be different from them. But you look... modest, like them. Yet still different and exotic.

I could see their eyes moving hungrily, even over the edge of the fabric that covers their faces.

Even with their brothers and husbands and uncles there to chaperone, and Master Sergeant Riley beside me to translate—because as a man who’s not their family, I can’t speak to them directly or look straight at them—even with those barriers between us, I felt a swarm of tasty swharma—I felt this mental aroma of warm, spicy stew. I had their attention.

No, you had their attention, Lucy.

"My wife,” I said, with Riley translating from beneath a scarf wrapped over her helmet. "She lives with my sister and my sister’s husband in a village called the Crossroads Cove, in a province called North Carolina.”

The concept of me having an unmarried female friend who lives alone would horrify them, make my job harder, and bring shame on you, Luce. So, for the sake of foreign relations and maybe even the future of world peace, do you mind being married to me in the eyes of a small village in Kandahar Province?

Yarnspinner@Cove_Mail.com:

For the sake of world peace, I accept.

G.MacBride:

Good. The women have given you an Afghani name. Tabana. It translates roughly to "The light of the moon.” It’s because of your blond hair and your skin. You have beautiful skin, just saying. Milk skin, my mama used to call it.

Yarnspinner:

Thank you. I spend too much time indoors, but pale skin is one of the benefits. Tabana. I like it.

G.MacBride:

I prefer my own translation of that name. Meet my wife, Moonshine.

Yarnspinner:

Moonshine MacBride. I’m honored, sir.

G.MacBride:

I’m sending pictures of the women and their children. They want my wife to see them.

Yarnspinner:

Dear Husband, tell them I’ll look at their pictures every day.

———

January 1

Kandahar Province Afghanistan, 5:00 a.m.

Rainbow Goddess Farm, North Carolina, 8:30 p.m.

Via phone

Gus: Happy New Year, Moonshine.

Lucy: Happy New Year, Husband Gus. I love this present.

Gus: The tips made me sweat. I reworked them at least five times each. I wanted to fit your contours exactly.

Lucy: You bring such military precision to knitting. So much discipline. And control. I admire that. Yet the stitches are relaxed. And this yarn you found... oh! It’s like stroking the softest wool on a lamb. That undercoat they have along their bellies, where the skin shows through, smooth and pink. I could sit here the rest of the night, rubbing the texture with my fingertips.

Gus: I bought it at a bazaar in Kabul. The dealer knows me; I’ve traded yarns with her. She set this aside for me, special.

Lucy: This... Gus, this is cashmere. I’m getting the word "pashmina.”

Gus: That’s what the dealer said. The same yarn they use in the scarves.

Lucy: A yarn this delicate... the weave will feel like a second skin.

Gus: Try it out, Luce. See if I got your curves right.

Lucy: Here goes. I’m moving slowly. Don’t want to stress the material.

Gus: I accounted for some stretch. But your proportions are perfect.

Lucy: No, I’m a little flat.

Gus: Luce, I made 3-D models of you... with homemade paper-mâché.

Lucy: For both sides? The left is flatter than the right.

Gus: Not from my point of view.

Lucy: Oh. Oh. It’s like a sheath of warm oil. I’m pulling it all the way up.

Gus: Too tight a fit? I wouldn’t want you to feel restrained.

Lucy: Noooo. It’s just right. Secure. Like a firm hand.

Gus: Try moving. See if it moves with you.

Lucy: Oh, yes. The motion is smooth. So fluid.

Gus: See how the other one fits.

Lucy: I’m a little breathless. I’m getting impatient. The next one will go faster.

Gus: Faster. I’m good with that.

Lucy: Over and in. There. Gliding. One little thrust was all it took. Snug as a bug. And up, and arching, and down, and up again, and then closing around me. That firm hand. Oh. Oh, Gus.

Gus: I’m a little breathless, myself. Would you mind texting a picture? It’s all right if you don’t.

Lucy: You know I’m camera shy, but in this case, certainly. I’m feeling wild. Reckless.

Gus: Oh, me too, Luce.

Lucy: Give me a minute to move and set up a nice background.

Gus: No, you can just keep sitting on your bed... I’ve never seen a picture of your bed... Luce? Luce? Damn. Missed my chance.

A minute later.

Lucy: I’m back. Okay, I’m putting the camera app on ‘Timer’ and perching it across from me. I’m sitting at my desk. Here goes. Five, four, three, two, one. Snap. Let’s see how that came out... Oh. I need a few moments.

Gus: Luce? What’s wrong? Are you crying?

Lucy: Just a little. I’m fine. There. I dried up. Sorry. I’ve never seen myself like this photograph makes me look. At least, it’s been a long time. How it feels to feel this way. Thank you.

Gus: Luce, I put a lot of affection into that gift. You can sense that, can’t you? And a lot of respect? But most of all, I hope you feel safe. Whatever you need to tell me about yourself, your past, when you’re ready, I’ll be here. Got it, Moonshine?

Lucy: I love that nickname. Yes. Yes. Thank you.

Gus. All right, then. Text that picture across the world. Let’s share a big pat on the back for my manly knitting skills. Let me see.

Lucy: Here goes.

A minute later.

Gus: Well, I gotta say, Moonshine, your feet look good in those socks.

Lucy: My feet are very happy to know you, Captain MacBride.

———

January 2

Via radio

"HELLO, FOLKS, AND Happy New Year! This is WTUR AM, a clear-channel favorite with an antenna on Devil’s Knob, the third highest peak in the mountains of Western North Carolina; broadcasting from our beautiful studio behind the courthouse in Turtleville, seat of Jefferson County. This update sponsored by The Crossroads Café, ‘Where the Lard Cooks In Mysterious Ways.’ Come taste the lip-smacking love of Delta Whittlespoon’s famous Biscuit Queen biscuits.

"Bring in the pets, the chickens, and that uncle who lives in the shed with the tin foil hat on his head. We’ll continue to have icy roads, snow, sleet, and temperatures that are colder ’n hell freezing over when Congress does something right.

"Your next update will be sponsored by FritzBear’s BBQ, Turtleville’s only state-licensed restaurant that serves delicious, exotic meats. Farm-raised ostrich, deer, gator, and bison. If you want a little something strange on the side, FritzBear’s is the place to eat.

"Deputy Franny Claymore at the county sheriff’s department says it was a pretty quiet night. She had another report of minor theft from the Free Wheeler road area. Some Barbie dolls were taken off a back porch. That’s the sixth minor theft in two weeks in that neighborhood. Deputy Claymore says she thinks it’s kids pulling pranks or raccoons taking things for their nests. Well, we want to know what the raccoons are doing with Malibu Barbie, right? This is WTUR AM, the voice of Jefferson County...”

———

January 5

Via phone

Lucy: Tal, you have to confess. Someone is lurking in the woods behind Free Wheeler. Last night they gave mohawk haircuts to my sheep. I have five Bluefaced Leicester ewes who look as if a lawn mower ran down either side of their spines. They weren’t hurt, but they do look humiliated.

Tal: You sent those sheep down to the hollows to do reconnaissance, didn’t you, Lucy?

Lucy: Don’t tell me they were shaved by some of Doug’s whimsical "beasties” or a family of Santa Joe’s giant "nightwalkers,”—which we all know he cooked up to keep kids away from his weed patches. Is it some kind of survivalist group? If so, they’re tough if they can take this weather. Talk to me, Tal. I’ve touched my sheep. Their wool talks to me. I know more than you think.

Tal: I come from a family of food witches. I smell baking auras around people, Gabby smells pickles, and Gus smells beer. So I’m not going to laugh at what you’re saying about your sheep.

Lucy: I had a vision of you and Doug leaving boxes full of food in the buildings at Free Wheeler. I saw your apple pies the instant I touched my mohawked ewes. You’re encouraging these strangers with apple pies.

Tal: Lucy, on your honor, you can’t tell anyone. Only you, me, Gabby, and Doug can know the truth. Your lurkers are mostly young, almost none of them older than thirty. They’re all serious PTSD sufferers. Military vets. Army. Marines. Some of them are wanted for minor crimes. One of them is from a local family. You can’t tell a soul.

Lucy: You’re hiding a soldier whose family are people we know? They’re probably desperate to find him! But you don’t feel it’s wrong to keep that secret? And I repeat: those people attacked my sheep. Why?

Tal: The soldier wants his family kept out of this. We gave our word. Just like Gabby and I gave you our word that we won’t tell Gus that you’re a patient at Rainbow Goddess Farm, not just an employee. About the sheep... we don’t know the reason for the drive-by shearing yet. Are you sure your sheepies are okay?

Lucy: My ladies haven’t lost enough of their fleeces to suffer from the cold, but they look awful. But no one has the right to take that wool. The money we make from it goes to support the counseling programs here. You know that.

Tal: I guess you won’t accept that one of the veterans might be a yarn spinner like you? After all, my brother knits and crochets. A lot of soldiers do. You send Gus yarn all the time.

Lucy: You don’t understand the danger of trusting strangers. These wool thieves are on your family’s land, so that’s your business, but Free Wheeler is right in the middle of the Cove. That makes it next door to the Rainbow Goddess Farm on one side and the Crossroads Café on the other. They could travel unseen all over this end of Jefferson County. Why aren’t you and Gabby telling Gus about this? Does Jay know?

Tal: Jay just got out of the hospital with a bullet wound in his chest. And Gus? We’re not telling him while he’s in the worst part of Afghanistan and he’s doing dangerous work that we can only guess about. He wants nothing to do with the bad memories here... at least, he didn’t until a certain wistful blond shepherdess named Lucy Parmenter became his e-mail pen pal last fall. Ahem. Eh? Hmmm?

Lucy: Do not change the subject. Why are you encouraging those vets to stay at Free Wheeler?

Tal: Grandfather built Free Wheeler to enlighten people and empower them. He’d want me to feed those campers in the woods.

Lucy: Campers? That’s like saying Wolverine is just a man with extendable knuckles.

Tal: Lucy, those ten veterans are just like you. They’ve been through horrors.

Lucy: Ten? There are ten men with anger management issues?

Tal: Two of them are women.

Lucy: Eight of them might be abusers.

Tal: I get a lot of reassuring aroma-auras off them.

Lucy: But not all of them.

Tal: I don’t get liver off anyone, and that’s the only aroma-aura that’s a guaranteed threat.

Lucy: I should tell Alberta and Macy. This is a security issue for the farm. You know that. You know how careful we are up here about men. There are two dozen women here for the winter. Most of them with small children. And what if those soldiers rob the café? Pick fights with customers in the parking lot?

Tal: They’re not going to invade either the Cove or Rainbow Goddess. They’re not here to stalk people. They’re not going to prey on an isolated farm full of abused women. They’re not going to pillage and loot and rape... Lucy? Lucy, I smell rotting fruit. Lucy?

Lucy! Sorry sorry sorry sorry. I’m so sorry. Lucy!

Fifteen minutes later.

Lucy: Back now, ’kay. ’Pology ’cepted. You hit a trigger.

Tal: I’m so sorry. Eve is with Doug at the chicken hatchery in Turtleville. He put snow chains on the mobile unit’s tires so he could make his rounds. He’s teaching her how to spot fertilized eggs for first grade show and tell. I’ve got four-wheel drive on my Bronco. I’ll come up. The café is closed, so I’m on temporary vacation as the biscuit baker. I can come up.

Lucy: No! Best left alone. Pills work. I’m floating. You didn’t mean to. I know.

Tal: All right. But only because your aura is turning back to banana cream. You will always be banana-scented to me, just like the day we met last fall up on the Trace. A herd of sheep, Tagger the bear, Alberta the Hun, Macy the Adorable, me lost and on the run with Eve, and there was Doug, a big Scottish shepherd’s pie of wonder, and you, the elf who guided me and Eve down the mountain into the Cove while eating a monkey poop cupcake I made.

Lucy: I just threw up. Urp. Panic attack. Just like that day.

Tal: Your banana cupcake scent covered the odor of the vomit.

Lucy: I thought you were brave. And very strong and Celtic and amazing and sexy and that Doug was brought to his knees in goddess worship. The look in his eyes when he looked at you... I envy that. Gus... Gus. Change the subject. I must not talk about this anymore. Gus.

Tal: Gus would understand. He’s going to come home on leave one day, and he’s going to come straight here to the Cove to find the beautiful little blond pen pal who sends him scarves and pictures of herself looking like an Amish Holly Hobbie, posing with sheep. You have to tell him what happened to you.

Lucy: Nope, nope. No. Nuh-no. Zombie to zombie only. That’s how we roll.

Tal: You’re saying only other PTSDers know the code? Only they can sympathize?

Lucy: Yup. Yep. Yes. It’s a no pity zone. Zombie to zombie. Outcasts unite. I have to go take air now.

Tal: Lucy, hon, Calm down. Breathe.

Lucy: I need time in the barn. Talk with the sheep. Better in a few. Bye.

An hour later

Via cell phone

Lucy: Where were we? Tell me more about these apple pie knights.

Tal: Your voice sounds good. These what?

Lucy: I’m giving them a new image in my mind. It’s a therapy technique. Like propaganda and marketing. That’s how the Patagonian Toothfish became the Chilean Sea Bass. So I’m calling them The Apple Pie Knights.

Tal: The leader’s code name is Night Owl. He’s the one from the local family. We’ve got to keep the group out of sight at least until we can come up with a plan. None of them are criminals. They’ve been in bar fights, they’ve been caught with illegal drugs, and one of them is wanted in three states for threatening state patrol officers then outrunning them on the back roads.

Lucy: Which one is that?

Tal: Her nickname is Gutsy.

Lucy: Look, I know I’m not the best advisor on how to help them get back to some kind of normal, whatever that is. But I know this much: if I had loved ones who desperately wanted to find me, I’d want someone to tell them where I am.

Tal: Then you’ll be glad when I give Gus directions to your doorstep?

A long silence.

Lucy... I can hear your wool spinning. And your aroma is now grilled banana.

Lucy: I’m going to yarn bomb a hidden spot in your Bronco with worsted three-ply spun from the fur of an agitated skunk.

Tal: But you’ll help us. You’ll help us protect The Apple Pie Knights. Protect them from the outside world and protect them from themselves. Agreed?

Lucy: Yes. I will. My word of honor. But you have to tell me this: who Night Owl’s family is, and if anything bad happens to him, how are you going to explain to them?

Tal: Nothing bad’s going to happen to him, but if it does, I’ll walk into the kitchen at the café, and I’ll tell Cleo and Bubba the truth. That their son is a hero who tried to help others like him and that he came home to them the only way he knew how.

Lucy: Oh, Tal.


 

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