Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Dean's date is salvaged from disaster by spindly furniture and an apple tart.


Light and Shadow, Part 4

Dean Reynolds salvages his date with Jeannie Dub-Dub by means of spindly furniture and an apple tart. More backstory of Mal's parents.

To entertain you while I keep working on the next story in my continuing series...because, yes, it is coming along, thank you very much for asking. I'm working on revisions based on comments from my beta readers.

* * *

That was the low point, the absolute nadir—date didn’t get no worse than wishing the earth would split open and swallow you whole while the girl you wanted to impress laughed at you ’til her eyes streamed. He managed to get himself and his guest into the house without saying anything stupider than what he’d already said (mainly by virtue of keeping silent—that, and, he’d already said the stupidest things imaginable); and she managed to get a-hold of herself and rein it in to smiles and snickers by the time they reached the parlor.

Praise be to God, and thank Heaven for Mrs MacEachern, he thought, as they entered the room. He promised himself right then and there that he would get down on his knees and thank the Lord properly for sending Mrs MacEachern his way, soon as—well, soon as gettin’ down on his knee wouldn’t just get him into more trouble with his visitor. For Mrs MacEachern, clearly catching on to her employer’s anxiety to do right by his guest, had outdone herself. The parlor was spotless, shiny, and most of all civilized. Coffeepot and teapot stood at the ready, and plates of the finest delicacies Shadow had to offer, were all laid out on that spindly little parlor table that had been his ma’s pride and joy. He’d never before comprehended the why of that ridiculous piece of furniture, but like a revelation it suddenly struck him that its purpose was to give women-folk an impression of civility, propriety, and high-breedin’. Mrs MacEachern had understood what it was for, and placed it front and center.

Seemed to work on Miss Jeannie Dub-Dub. “Oh my, Dean! You have an antique 魯班 作坊Lǔ Bān Zuōfang tea-table!” she exclaimed, moving forward to examine the piece more closely. Her eyes were lit with excitement. Had to say he preferred that to bein’ laughed at.

He could listen to her say “Oh, my Dean!” (his brain re-arranged the placement of the comma and supplied the emphasis) ’til the cows came home. “Was my ma’s pride and joy,” he told her, “and I like it, too.” He was liking it better and better by the second, because that ridiculous tea-table was going to be the avenue for turning this date from a disaster to a success, he could tell.

“Shadow is full of surprises,” she said, allowing herself to be seated in the chair he pulled out for her. “Imagine finding a 魯班 作坊Lǔ Bān Zuōfang table here, of all places.”

“Why should it be such a surprise?” he inquired.

“Indeed, I don’t know, Dean,” she replied, with true warmth in her voice. “Any answer I give might make me sound like a stereotypical Core snob—full of myself and a sense of superiority, no respect for Rim-worlders and no sense of humility. But the truth is that although I supposedly came to Shadow to teach, I have at least as much to learn.”

He looked at her questioningly.

“You’re aware that the program that brought me to Shadow is meant to provide well-qualified teachers to underserved areas.”

“The Teacher Corps, yes.”

“Shadow is considered ‘underserved’ because there are no post-secondary educational institutions on the entire world.”

“A situation we’re tryin’ to rectify, Miss Jeannie,” Dean hastily inserted. “There’s a movement to establish a proper Agricultural College in Edmunds City, our largest center of population. Stands to reason, if there ain’t post-secondary education on Shadow, our brightest and most enterprising young folk will seek it off-world. Seems like there’d be no harm in that, but what happens is they leave and get educated in some field they can’t get a job in, when they return to Shadow. So they stay off-world. Sends our best talent elsewhere. I don’t see no point in that. What we aim to do is provide higher education in subjects they can use right here on-world—Agricultural Sciences, Enterprise Management, and the like. It’s been more difficult than you’d imagine. Edmunds City don’t have a big enough population in and of itself, to support such an endeavor. The rest of the population of this world is spread out so thinly, that we’re comin’ to the conclusion that most of the lectures will have ta be delivered via the cortex, or by correspondence courses—and I do mean old-fashioned letter writin’—for the more remote areas where the cortex ain’t reached yet.”

He was in full flow. Miss Jeannie had touched on a subject that he’d spent a lot of time thinkin’ on recently, and he had a lot to say to a person who was herself a trained educator. “That’s the best way to reach our target population—the brightest and most motivated young folk—’cause most of them, if they stay on the land instead of goin’ off-world, are already heavily involved in running family ranch enterprises by the time they graduate high school, and can’t easily re-locate to Edmunds City. There’s still some hurdles—how to verify that the people submitting the work remotely are really the registered students they say they are, for example—but I think that within a year or two, three at the outside, we’ll work the details, and hire Shadow’s first proper Ag professors. But I reckon there’ll be an advantage in that most of the students will have practical experience that students at a Core or Border world Ag School might not be able to get so easy. And there’s—”

She interrupted him. “You’re part of it.”

“Part a’ what?”

You are part of the consortium who are trying to establish an Agricultural College here.”

“Of course.” He didn’t see what was the big deal, and drew breath to go on with his description of the plans for the Ag School.

“That is just what I was talking about. So much to learn.”


“The management of Teacher Corps isn’t even aware that there’s interest in building a home-grown institution of higher learning here on Shadow. All their efforts are directed at encouraging the best students to pursue higher education off-planet—by increasing the high school graduation rate and providing scholarships, for example.”

“Scholarships are well and good, but they just contribute to the brain drain I was talkin’ about. Better put that money into building our own Ag School right here.”

“And are you, then?”

“What, putting my money into building our own Ag School? Absolutely. I want my own children to have the opportunity I didn’t have. I had to self-study, no particular guidance except what my ma and pa could provide. Leaving the land to study elsewhere wasn’t really an option—especially after they passed on.”

“How old were you? When your parents passed?”

“Twenty-one,” he answered briefly. He didn’t want to talk about the raid that had claimed their lives, and would’ve claimed his, too, had he not been out riding the range in a remote part of their land at the time.

Miss Jeannie seemed to understand his reluctance to speak of the incident, and turned the subject. “It really is extraordinary. I have so much to learn. This remote place, the Northside of Shadow, has taught me more in just a few months than six years at Bridgeford University. More than I even expected.”

She paused for a breath, and Dean gave her a look of curious interest. He waited for her to explain her thinking.

“I meet a young fellow at a country fair. He’s polite and charming—an excellent dancer—and he makes me laugh like I’ve never laughed before. Makes quite an impression.”

That’s for damn sure, he thought, but didn’t say. The right kind of impression, or the wrong one?

“When I tell Mrs MacLeod I’ve invited him for tea, she goes on and on about what a good catch he is—”

“She did?” he blurted.

“—and how all I have to do is set bait and I’ll have hooked the Northside’s most eligible bachelor.”

“Oh, good grief, this is embarrassing.”

“Though he’s too modest to mention it, the young man is the sole proprietor of what the community acknowledges to be one of the largest and finest ranches on the Northside. And then it turns out he’s deeply involved in a project to improve the state of higher education on Shadow.”

“Luckily, he took an early opportunity to correct this misapprehension of his perfection by steppin’ on your dress and makin’ inappropriate insinuations about mounting and riding,” Dean remarked drily.

“And did I mention his sense of humor?” she continued, eyes sparkling.

* * *

She raved about the apple tart.

“Is that tarte tatin?”

“Is it what?” He had no idea what made a tart tat-tan, or not.

“Tarte Tatin.”

“You mean the skillet tart?”

“Is that what you call it? The apple tart.”

“That’s just an apple skillet tart.”

“Your housekeeper made it?”

“I don’t have a housekeeper.”

“But I thought—”

“Mrs MacEachern is my cook. Hired her last month. Gettin’ to be too many of us, ranch hands and all. Used to rotate cook duty, but I finally realized it was a job for a full-time professional.”

“So she made the apple tart.”

“No. I made that myself.”

“You did? Mr Reynolds, you have hidden talents; you never cease to amaze me.”

“Dean. And I don’t see what’s so extraordinary, Miss Jeannie. It’s just a skillet tart.”

“Which you’d pay good money for in a patisserie back on Londinium. The caramel apples, the artistic design, the heavenly flaky crust—.” She rolled her eyes in ecstasy. (Now that was a look he’d like to see on her face again, and him the cause of it). She ate another bite, and he had to tear his eyes away from her lips as the fork passed between them. “It’s a divine tarte tatin. Are you sure you’re not really a pastry chef in disguise?”

“Don’t see what’s so special about melting butter and sugar in a cast-iron skillet, layin’ a circle of apple quarters in it, toppin’ it with pastry and baking it. Easy as pie.”

“Do you also know how to make pie, then?” she asked, her eyes widening with enthusiasm.

* * *




魯班 作坊Lǔ Bān Zuōfang [workshop of Lu Ban, legendary master craftsman carpenter]

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013 1:13 PM


In small towns and close knit communities, there isn't too much for people to do but to hook up the single men and women.

Fun to see Dean turn things around.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 4:23 PM


So you might say thanks to this story that all of your stories collectively could be called.

"What begins with an Apple Tart."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 5:46 PM


Thanks for your comments! Bytemite, lots of the doings in this story are based on my observations of what goes on in a rural community I visit on a regular basis. Trying to hook up the single people is a recreational sport in some communities -- regardless of whether the single people are themselves willing participants in this process. Nutluck, you made me LOL! What begins with an apple tart must end with a stock horse.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 5:46 PM


Thanks for your comments! Bytemite, lots of the doings in this story are based on my observations of what goes on in a rural community I visit on a regular basis. Trying to hook up the single people is a recreational sport in some communities -- regardless of whether the single people are themselves willing participants in this process. Nutluck, you made me LOL! What begins with an apple tart must end with a stock horse.

Saturday, January 12, 2013 10:32 AM


I had an image in my head by the end of reading this part of Miss Jeannie ending up as big as a house eating all that apple tart and pie! LOL. I like how forward thinking Dean is, and him so keen to make a good impression. Loved it, Ebfiddler! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (20)
“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (19)
“Inara, I ain’t willing for you to bribe—” “Who said anything about bribes?” “What other form of persuasion you plannin’ on using? I’m not sure I like this plan.” “Mal, I can be very persuasive,” Inara replied. After a short beat, she added, with a touch of asperity, “Fully clothed.”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (18)
Extreme measures as more things go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (17)
In which things begin to go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (16)
Waiting for the other shoe to drop

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (15)
Serenity enters the Core, Mal and Inara sleep together, and Simon and Ip come up with a plan.

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (14)
In which we find out more about Miranda

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (13)
Simon makes an announcement; Zoe and Inara take Mal to task

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (12)
Mal tells Inara a folktale from Shadow

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (11)
Inara and Zoe have a little palaver