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Though she was riding fences, meaning she was checking for any downed ones, or posts that would need to be replaced, Ellie found herself thinking of Roman Dunne and he was a distraction from her constantly mulling over the craptastrophe her life had turned into.

Ellie remembered Roman, he’d be tall and older and thin. Her grandfather had said that if he turned sideways and stuck out his tongue he’d be a zipper. He’d been cute, dark hair, dark eyes, and he’d been nice, and he’d been a bad boy, but he hadn’t had whatever Josh had. Josh was a true bad boy, the one who convinced her to lose her virginity to him in the loft of his parent’s barn. Now that Ellie thought about it, it would seem that Josh and Roman had almost a one-upping of who was the badder apple in the barrel. Whatever Josh did, boosting a car, stealing cigarettes, burning down a milk shed, underage drinking, Roman had to do something more drastic. Roman had done hard core drugs, had robbed a bank, and had nearly beaten a kid to death.

Thinking about Roman had made her feel all nostalgic. Ellie hadn’t really noticed him before and now she didn’t know what to think that he was sheriff. Sheriff Dunne, it did have a nice ring to it.  Would he recognize her? She did have to run into town to get the basics, bread, coffee, milk, and cheese and tomato soup. Those were the things Ellie liked the most. Maybe she’d pick up a six pack of beer and sit on the porch and watch the sunset.

Ellie rode slowly along the fence line and noted at least half a dozen posts that needed replacing. Once she had finished the line riding, she went to the barn and checked for fence posts. Luckily her grandfather had stocked up on the metal posts, seeing at least two dozen. Ellie unsaddled and unbridled Napoleon, brushing him down. The mustang gelding enjoyed it so much that he dozed as she brushed. Then Ellie turned him loose in the pasture. He’d been kept in a pasture before, but not around goats or cows. Ellie wondered how he would do.

Ellie unhitched the horse trailer and when she opened the door to the cab of her pickup, Rex jumped in. He was a good dog, and always went where Ellie went. She always felt safer with Rex nearby and didn’t exactly know why.

Driving into town as more apprehensive than driving through it. Shady Valley was too small to have more than anything other than a McDonald’s and it was attached to a chain gas station for those passing through. The gas station was the last gas for several miles. Shady Valley was almost a highway town, but it had been cheaper to not bring the highway through.

The grocery store was called Dry Goods, and run by a distant cousin of Ellie’s grandparents and then a nephew, but somehow had kept the last name of Dry. So the name, Dry Goods meant more than just dry goods. Ellie left Rex in the truck with the windows trolled down she didn’t think that anyone would bother the dog, not if they wanted to keep their fingers. A bell dinged as she opened the door and stepped into the past. That was exactly what it felt like. The house shop was shelves of canned good, oats by the scoop, bread that had been baked that morning, and fruits and veggies sold by the local farmers. The grocery store was also the pharmacy, and the post office.

Ellie didn’t recognize the man who stood behind the counter by a cash resister that didn’t have electricity. I was the old fashioned push a button and it would ring up loudly. The man was young, younger than Ellie, about twenty, wearing jeans and a tee shit with a white apron that looked to have been white once upon a time. It was covered in various stains. He tossed his black hair from his eyes and tried to smile at Ellie.

“Hello? Are you lost?” he asked and another man came out of the back of the store. Ellie recognized him as her one of her great uncle cousins, she didn’t know the family relation just that she was. The family names of Shady Valley were Barker, Dry, and Rink.

“She’s not lost, you just don’t remember cousin Ellie,” the uncle cousin said, he was Uncle Charlie to her, but Ellie wasn’t sure that he was actually her uncle. The younger man squinted as if trying to remember and then smiled.

“Cousin Ellie, I’m Michael Ray,” the young man introduced himself.” That was the thing about Shady Valley a lot of those were two first names, before Ellie had been Ellie Mae, and yes she had been named after an iconic TV show character.

“Wow, Michael Ray, you were…” Ellie indicated with her hand about thigh high, “Last time I saw you.” Michael Ray blushed and was overcome with an awkwardness.

“So you’re here for Paul’s farm, you planning on working or selling it?” Uncle Charlie had always been blunt. “Sorry about your Grandparents. They were good people.” He seemed to add after Ellie looked uncomfortable. “Some of the best in the valley.”

“Thank you. No, I plan on working it,” Ellie answered honestly.

“How is Josh?” Uncle Charlie asked and there was an awkward silence, Ellie seemed that this his death had not reached Shady Valley.

“He’s dead.” Ellie said realizing that she sounded offended or angered.

“That is terrible.” Charlies said as Michael Ray suddenly busied himself with sleeping. Ellie shrugged and picked up a basket and added things like milk bread, coffee and sugar and tomato soup and cheese. Her favorite things. She had placed them on the counter when the bell dinged and Ellie turned at the sound out of curiosity. She had to take a double table.

Roman Dunne had been a skinny tall kid, but time had been good to him. He had broadened. Bulked up, and matured. He looked good in the long sleeved brown shirt, with its badge and patches. The black belt with gun, cuffs, radio, ammo and stun fun and baton were slung low on his hips, he wore brown blue jeans, and cowboy boots. On his face was a nearly trimmed beard, and his brown eyes looked Ellie up and then down. Ellie caught herself trying to smile and then trying not to look at him.

“Well, Ellie Mae Dry,” Roman stated her began.

“Ellie Reardon,” she corrected him. “Roman Dunne, Sheriff.” She said and he gave a casual smile. Ellie couldn’t stop looking at his broad shoulders or how the sleeves of his shirt bulged over his arms muscles.

“The town is abuzz of your arrival. I do believe that Miss Rink called everyone in the phonebook.”

“That wouldn’t have taken long, only about fifty names.” Ellie didn’t mean to snap back at him. She had been raised small town, it was in her blood but she had been living in the big city for a long time and just the Podunk of the town bothered her. Roman shrugged his big shoulders and Ellie couldn’t look away. He had turned out stunningly handsome.

“How much?” Ellie asked Charlie as he had rung up her groceries. He gave her a number and Ellie pulled a small wad of bills, mostly ones from her pocket. In that time Roman crossed the floor and she noticed his long legs and how small she was compared to him. Ellie barely made it to his shoulder. It was so weird to think he could look directly down at the top of her head. He had to have been six and a half feet talk.

“Thanks Charlie,” Ellie said and when she reached to pick up the box that Charlie had placed them in, they were already in Roman’s hands.

“I’ll carry them to your truck that is your truck out there?” He nodded towards the plate glass window with DRY GOODS painted on it in faded red, nearly pink paint. “With the vicious dog?”

“Rex isn’t vicious. He’s just a good guard dog.”

“Well just make sure you put up a beware of dog sign on your grandparent’s farm.” She realized that he also hadn’t referred to it as her farm. He easily carried her groceries from the store and opened the door for her as well.

“Did you specifically come to the store to see me?” Ellie asked. She hadn’t seen Roman in a decade and whatever had happened to him had been great.

“I did. Wanted to see if what Miss Rink said was true.”

“What am I, some sort of side show?”

“You’ve been gone for ten years, Mrs. Reardon,” he said it with almost venom. As if he was angry. “Not even your grandparents had heard from you and then you just breeze back it. You plan on selling the old place?”

“No, I plan to work it, to write a novel maybe. I’m hoping that the sale of cattle will help with the bills until I publish.”

“Gonna be a novelist?” Roman asked with genuine surprise as he placed the box in the rear of her truck. “What are you going to write about?”

“I don’t know.”

“How is Josh, Mrs. Reardon?” It was as if Roman was going to rub this in. He made a spectacle of looking around.

“I’m certain you know, Sheriff Dunne,” Ellie replied, “You called me Ellie Mae Dry.”

“I’m sorry for the loss of your grandparents, Ellie, I really am, but…” Roman stopped himself.

“But what?” Ellie challenged him. She wanted to hear it. This reunion had gone so south and it wasn’t fair since she was a widow and Roman was so damn handsome. In ten years of marriage Josh had become a fat slob, but here was Roman Dunne, and she could’ve married this man instead.

“Josh was no good for you,” Roman stated flatly. “I know what he’s done to you.”

“Left me so far in debt that I had to run home with my tail between my legs?” Ellie was angry now and her face had gone all hot. Roman looked away from her, placing his hands on his hips, and Ellie had to admit she wanted to run her fingers across his stomach. He looked like he had pecs you could break rocks on.

“I meant the six ER visits in a year,” Roman said quietly and Ellie pulled open the door of her truck, turning her back to him. She didn’t want him to see how upset she was. In truth it was almost stalking but Roman had never been mean to her. He’d always been kind, and he’d tried so hard to get her to notice him.

“Good day to you Sheriff Dunne,” Ellie said firmly and climbed into her truck and closed the door. She refused to look at him. She was furiously batting the tears away. Why had she married Josh? She’d been pregnant, but she should’ve just stayed single. Be a single mom.