Nothing Much Happens in Sommerville (Part Three)
(Hey loves! Sorry this one is coming out a week late. I've been readjusting to being back in grad school and needed to take last weekend off to figure out my schedule. This is a continuation to the previous short story pieces about Mallory and Bennet Haynes. Hope y'all enjoy!)
"Good morning," Mallory said automatically as she heard the bakery's door open. She glanced up from the bread she was kneading and felt her heart race. "Oh, hi, Tye."
A tall, muscular man in a nice, fitted suit leisurely walked around the shop. Despite his relaxed air, Mallory noticed his dark brown eyes sweeping over the bakery with an unusual intensity. When he turned his gaze on her and smiled, she could tell he was looking past her and taking stock of all the fresh ingredients and supplies behind her.
She immediately thought about her conversation with Bennet from earlier. It had been so painfully obvious that he was hiding something from her, and now Tye's strange behavior was arousing her suspicions too.
"Hello, Mal." Tye's eyes narrowed ever so slightly, like he could sense her troubled thoughts. "Everything alright?"
"Yes, sorry, just lost in thought. About the baby," Mallory lied as she forced a pleasant expression on her face and quickly wiped her hands on her apron. "What can I do for you today?"
"Did you ever think I might just be here for a friendly visit?"
Mallory scoffed as his fingers drummed rapidly against the wooden counter. "Oh please, Tye. We both know you don't have time for friendly visits."
The beaming, white smile was back, lighting up his rich brown complexion as if he didn't have a care in the world. His lack of stress always impressed Mallory, considering Tye King was Sommerville's unofficial leader. From the smallest, residential complaints to major, threatening problems about the wall, Tye was the one dealing with everything. He had kept everyone calm when it was first announced the border between Sommerville and the rest of the world would be closing temporarily, and he continued to keep the peace as the town's confinement continued.
Not only was Tye the strong leader Sommerville needed, but he was also a close personal friend of the Haynes. He had been the one to promote Bennet to captain of the Wall Watchers, ensuring a sense of security for their family. When Mallory had woken up with her leg missing after her accident, Tye had been the first one there to calm her down. He had been the one to commission a prosthetic from Sommerville's carpenter and had been a constant support during her recovery.
Without Tye, Mallory didn't think her and Bennet would even be married.
"Fair enough," Tye said with a deep chuckle. "I am technically here to check in on the bakery," Mallory rolled her eyes as he added, "But that doesn't mean we can't catch up!"
"You don't have to explain yourself to me," Mallory said as she walked towards the stone oven at the back of the bakery. "We're all busy lately. I'd be more offended if you did spend all your time making social calls instead of doing actual work."
She pulled a steaming, hot loaf of fresh bread out of the oven and brought it back to the counter. As if on cue, she heard the distinct, rumbling sound of a hungry stomach.
"Skip breakfast again today, didn't we?"
A blush darkened Tye's cheeks. "Weren't we just talking about how busy I am?"
"All the more reason for you to take care of yourself." Mallory began slicing the bread, savoring the warm scent as it filled the small shop. "You have a lot of people relying on you."
"Yeah, don't remind me," He muttered quietly, dragging his fingers through his greying, brown curls.
"So," Mallory prompted. At Tye's blank expression she sighed before continuing, "What's up? Why are you actually here? Besides getting free bread."
Tye smirked and rolled his eyes. Currency was a thing of the Before times; everything was free in Sommerville.
"Like I said, I'm checking in on the bakery. I need to make sure everything is stocked and that all the stores like this one have working equipment and enough supplies."
"Well we're all good here." Mallory placed the sliced bread on a plate and slid it towards him. "Everything's working fine and Davis just dropped off the week's distribution of corn yesterday."
"Good, good, that's good," Tye said absently as he grabbed a slice.
There was a long silence as Mallory watched Tye nervously tear the bread apart with his fingers, but never put a piece in his mouth. She crossed her arms and arched a brow.
"There's something else isn't there?" She gestured at the bread. "You never turn down my food. So either you're not hungry," Tye winced as his stomach rumbled again. "Or there's another reason you're here and you don't want to tell me." Panic filled her at his expression. "Did something happen to Bennet?"
"What? Oh, God no, he's fine." Tye said reassuringly. "I swear."
"Then what is it?"
Tye's half-smile seemed more like a grimace as he forced himself to eat the shredded slice of bread. "Your baking is as good as always, by the way."
"Alright, alright." He inhaled deeply, like he was bracing himself for something horrible. "I... need you..." He closed his eyes as his voice dropped into a low whisper. "To cut the rations."
Mallory felt like her mind went blank at his words. It was a long moment before she finally regained the ability to think through the numb horror spreading through her.
"By how much?" She barely managed to make her question audible.
Tye shifted uncomfortably as he avoided her gaze. "By half."
"Half?!" Mallory's jaw dropped. "Cut them by half?"
"Keep your voice down," Tye hissed, glancing at the closed doorway nervously.
"Tye, no, I'm not doing that," Mallory argued, leaning forward as she lowered her voice. "You already told me to cut them in half last month. I cut them again and people are going to start noticing." She stared at him intensely. "You said the last one would only be temporary-"
"And it is," Tye interrupted sharply. "Look, Mal, Sommerville is going through a bit of a rough patch right now, alright? It's going to get better, I swear, but in the meantime, I need you to help me out." He gripped her hands tightly and squeezed. "You'll do this for me, yeah?"
"Is this why you wanted people to start saving metal?"
"Don't worry about that right now. Please," Tye's expression was manipulatively pitiful. "I'm begging you to help me out."
Mallory glowered at him. "How long am I supposed to cut rations for?"
"I'll let you know by tomorrow at the latest," He said with an already victorious grin. "But it's only temporary. I promise."
She tried to keep her resolve for a moment longer, even though they both knew she would give in. Finally, Mallory sighed and nodded.
"Alright, I'll do it."
"I knew I could count on you." Tye was back to his usual warm and charismatic self almost immediately. He leaned forward, giving her a quick peck on the cheek, before grabbing another slice of bread and turned towards the door. He paused as he gripped the doorknob and glanced back at her. "And Mal?"
Her head felt like it was spinning but she managed to regain her composure enough to respond. "Yeah?"
"Don't tell anyone about this." There was something in his expression that made her shiver. "We don't want to start any unnecessary panic, right?"
She sucked in a shaky breath and nodded once. "Right."