Grigori looked over his shoulder as he followed. “Do you think that will hold them?”
“Time will tell. I hope so,” she said, a bit tired. Good thing she planned to hang out in her tree today. She could set up the greenhouse and build up energy for tomorrow; she’d need it.
Apparently the monsters felt she’d had enough fun, or the tree’s new defenses were doing their job. She reached the tree with no more problems and unloaded her stuff.
When she looked up from putting the last bag on the kitchen floor, Kjetil was gone.
She looked at the bracelet he’d given her, running her thumb over the medical insignia. She still wasn’t sure what to think about him or the pack’s interest.
She put away her stuff.
“I’m going to work on the stoves and set up your lamps,” Grigori offered. “I’ll put the beans in ziplock baggies in the cooler for now.”
She nodded absently and opened the door to the upstairs. The greenhouse shutters were open, the space flooded with light. Rows of raised wooden beds filled with soil awaited her attention. She opened one of the packs she’d brought from her farm, sorting bulbs and seeds.
She started a salad bar first, filling it with lettuce, greens, onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs. Squash, peas and corn had their own space, popcorn, sorghum and sweet potatoes another. She planted turnips, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, staggering their rate of growth to give her a continuous harvest, then got to work on her cash crops.
Truffles were expensive, so she started them first, tweaking the soil bed so that oak roots grew in the bed and inoculating them with the fungi. While she was at it she added black morel and portabello mushroom spawn, then moved on to coffee beans.
The cocoa seeds would become small trees, so she gave them a place of honor and started vanilla bean orchids nearby, forming a lattice for the vines, smiling as the sprouting plants filled the air with the scent of growing things. It had taken a long time to gather seeds for the tropical plants, and she’d had to learn how to properly ferment and process some of them. Each plant had special needs, and she loved learning how to care for them from start to finish, producing a superior product. She might live in an armored tree, but to her, this was the true magic.
She had saffron and strawberries sprouting by time Grigori poked his head into the greenhouse.
“Hey, I have the stove ready…” He blinked, looking around with awe. “You did all this? Just now?”
Despite her fatigue, she grinned. “Like it? I haven’t started the orange tree yet, but I figure fruit can wait.”
“Wow. I guess you won’t starve.”
“Nope. Want some veggies for your mom?” She formed a woven basket, grimacing as her bracelet vibrated in warning. Fine, fine. She’d cool it for the night. She filled the basket with cherry tomatoes and basil, adding greens for her own dinner. She’d had a busy day, and salad with fresh bread sounded good.
“Yeah. She’s always up for groceries,” he said gratefully.
She handed him the basket to him and went downstairs, happy to see he had the hobo stoves set up. A pan of steaming water was ready, so she made tea, suddenly ravenous. “You want some salad? Or do you need to take off?” By the light, it was early afternoon, but she didn’t want him wandering in the dark.
“You don’t have to eat salad. I can take you to the Indian place I told you about. You’d like the samosas, and they were excited to meet you. They think you’re a celebrity.”
She looked at the salad she’d been about to prepare. He looked so happy at the idea of samosas (whatever they were), she reluctantly decided to give the place a try. Besides, she’d get tired of salad soon enough. She put the food away and loaded the chilled beans and tomatoes in a saddle bag.
It turned out that samosas were fried pastry filled with spicy meat and potatoes, and she liked them. She still hated curry and chai tea, but the grilled chicken and naan bread were good. She even liked the thin cashew cookies, but she refused to eat rose petal anything. If she wanted flowers, she’d eat her hedge.
Mr. and Mrs. Chandra were gracious, and she liked them. Natives of India, Mrs. Chandra had a dot in the middle of her forehead and wore traditional garb. Her husband was short, dark, and had a mustache.
Juniper gave them a canister of oil and promised to try the cookies Mrs. Chandra would make. The lady seemed to think Juniper needed mothering, and she clucked over Grigori like someone who’d seen him grow.
“She’s friends with my mom,” he admitted sheepishly while the lady attended to other customers.
Juniper nodded and let him negotiate a trade of saffron threads for lunches, an equal number for both of them. A little saffron went a long way, and if she worked it right, the owners might become distributers for her.
“I like this deal,” Grigori said as he hefted the pack he’d borrowed from her. He didn’t live far away, and it would be dark soon. “Don’t plant any cherries on the way home.”
His eyes flashed with good humor. “And don’t talk to strangers.”
She gave him a little shove and mounted Twix. “Remember, I’ll be busy tomorrow. Do whatever you’re doing when you’re not bugging me.”
She was full, so she kept Twix to a fast walk on the way home. The early evening was pleasantly warm, the light golden, with a hint of sunset. She spared the cherry trees a glance, but sensed the trees were doing their job to plug the hole.This time the hazards were human.