Petting Zoo Promise

Laurie Ingram Sibley

Zahra scanned the pumpkin patch, automatically counting kindergarteners. Eager children roamed the rows of vines, searching for their perfect future jack-o-lantern. She tugged at the hem of her yellow wool peacoat. They were approaching the part of this annual field trip that she dreaded. The petting zoo. 

She appreciated zoos. She did. Just not the petting part. Animals should stay in cages, or better yet, on social media, unaccompanied by barnyard smells. But kindergarteners lived for chasing chickens and getting up close and personal with pigs. 

Sooner than she wished, Zahra was directing her students to climb into the wagon for the hayride. “Find a seat. Farmer Tim is waiting for us.”

“Actually, Farmer Tim’s not here today,” said a deep voice behind her. 

Startled, Zahra turned to see a man who was decidedly not the stoop-shouldered old farmer who always drove the tractor. This man’s shoulders stretched the fabric of his thermal shirt, and he was at least thirty years younger. 

One of her students clambered into the wagon. “Who are you?”

“I’m Farmer Marcel.” He held out his hand to help Zahra as she settled on the prickly hay bales.

Somehow even the name “Farmer Marcel” sounded sexy. Releasing his hand, Zahra’s empty fingers fluttered over her halo twist and then latched onto one of the wooden buttons on her coat. She deliberately looked away from those rich brown eyes. “Hold on tight to your pumpkins. The ride’s about to start.”

“It might be bumpy, but we’ll try not to lose anyone over the side.” Marcel swung himself onto the tractor with an easy grace.

“Is that true, Miss Mitchell? Someone might fall out?” Nakisha whispered.

“Farmer Marcel is just teasing.”

“Haven’t lost a single passenger today,” Marcel called over his shoulder. “Of course, this is my first ride of the morning.”

The tractor engine roared to life, swallowing Nakisha’s nervous giggle, and Zahra tucked her arm around her, just in case.

Within minutes, all children and pumpkins accounted for, the hayride came to an end beside a large enclosed area. Goats, chickens, and rabbits swarmed the fence as her students’ voices rose shrilly. Apprehension pooled in the pit of Zahra’s stomach.

“Leave your pumpkin at your seat, and let’s make a calm line,” she called out. 

Her students snaked their way out of the wagon and past Farmer Marcel, who scooped feed pellets into each child’s cupped hands. When the gate had clanged shut behind the last student, Marcel offered the bucket of feed to Zahra. 

“Oh, no thank you,” she said quickly. Too quickly.

Marcel quirked an eyebrow. “Not going in?” 

She cast about desperately for an excuse. “I should probably keep an eye on the kids’ pumpkins…”

Her voice trailed off as Marcel made a show of scanning the area for would-be pumpkin thieves. He cocked a hip and leaned against the fence. “You have something against farm animals?”

She fastened the top button of her coat in self-defense. “I have something against animals touching me. Farm or otherwise.”

One of her students let out a happy shriek. “Look at this crazy goat!”

“That’s Anastasia,” Marcel told the kids. “The other one is Drizella.”

“No Cinderella?” Zahra inquired. “That’s the only one I wanted to meet.”

Marcel raised his eyebrows in silent challenge. “She’s the pig.”

Zahra’s smiled drooped. 

“How about this?” Marcel said. “You come pet Cinderella. And I’ll take you out to dinner tomorrow night.”

She hesitated. It was tempting. He was tempting. 

“Fine. But it better be a fancy restaurant.”

He offered his elbow, and Zahra clutched his arm as they approached the pig. Marcel leaned down to scratch Cinderella’s hairy belly. She snorted softly and then collapsed over onto her side, exposing more of her stomach to Marcel’s ministrations. 

“Awww,” several of her students cooed, kneeling to help scratch. Zahra had to admit that might have been slightly cute, except the pig had landed on her foot when she rolled over, trapping Zahra’s shoe beneath her bulk. 

She was trying to tug her glass slipper out from underneath Cinderella when something struck her forcefully on the backside. She lurched forward with a grunt and toppled over the pig, knocking over two children and landing with her face in the hay-strewn dirt. 

“Anastasia,” Marcel scolded. “No head butts!”

The pig squealed in panic, writhing beneath her. Kindergarteners screamed, but not as loudly as their teacher. 

Marcel grasped her under the arms and hauled her upright. Zahra heard a wailing sound, realized it was coming from her, and clamped her mouth shut. 

“A steak dinner,” Marcel said, brushing frantically at her coat. “And two desserts.” He plucked hay out of her hair. 

“Are you okay, Miss Mitchell?” 

“I’m… fine, children.” Attempting a shaky smile, Zahra looked down to reassure the small figure leaning against her and saw it was Drizella, nibbling one of the wooden buttons right off her coat.


Zahra slipped a thick cardigan over her dress since her coat was out of commission. It would need to be dry cleaned to remove the eau de barnyard and goat slobber. The unique buttons had been her favorite feature. Replacing the missing one with an exact match would be impossible.

The doorbell chimed. Marcel was irresistible in a slim navy suit, no trace of yesterday’s farmer in sight. 

“Cinderella and the goats send their apologies.” He extended his hand to her, palm up, a round object in the center. 

“My button,” she exclaimed, then drew back. “Did that—?”

“No, no. That one’s gone for good. I carved this one as a replacement.”

The button was sanded smooth, the slightest bit lopsided, and perfect.

He crooked his elbow. “Let’s go. You might turn into a pumpkin if you’re not home by midnight. And I know how you feel about those.”

She swatted him. “I think pumpkins are fun. Hayrides, too. It’s just what comes next…”

Marcel’s eyes shone with promise. “Next comes the happily ever after.”

Laurie Sibley
Laurie Ingram Sibley is a pastor’s wife and mom of three. She and her family live in South Carolina where they’re planting a cross-cultural church. Laurie homeschools and does freelance editing and proofreading. If that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she squeezes in pockets of time to write inspirational romance.

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