The Red Ear

Staff Feature: Jennifer Purcell

Sugar Hollow, GA

October 1889

Millie McAllister was convinced that corn shuckings were just another ruse to pair young people off. Especially when the matrons insisted on holding the sewing circle outside in the hot October sun.

Wiping a trickle of sweat off her forehead, she focused again on the blanket she was working on. The Sugar Hollow Ladies Guild had decided to make new blankets as their latest charity effort. Some ladies around the circle were knitting warmer blankets for the winter, but Millie was doing good just to sew a simple stitch.

A ruckus close to the barn had the other ladies looking up, but Millie kept her head down. Clearly someone had found the coveted red ear. Before long, the chosen one would saunter over to the circle and choose one of the ladies. But there was no point in watching his approach.

They never picked her.

One of the women gasped. “It’s Will Ferguson!”

“Is he the one who bought the old Pinckley place?” another asked.

“The very one.”

“Who do you think—”

A squeal interrupted the conversation around her, and Millie shot up, dropping the cloth in her lap. Her gaze searched the yard until she finally found what she was hoping she wouldn’t see.

Dewey was out of his pen again. 

She dashed out of the circle and ran toward the pig. If she caught him before the boys caught sight of him—

“A pig!” One of the Henderson boys jumped up from his seat and began to give chase.

“No, don’t!”

Dewey squealed and sidestepped the boy, heading straight for the circle of ladies, who released rivaling squeals as they scattered. 

Millie rushed to intercept his path, but Dewey darted away from her. She corrected her course and dashed after him. 

Something flew past her, landing on the ground in front of her. Just as the red ear registered, a call pierced the air.

“Sooie! Soo-soo-ie!” 

Dewey turned, his snout up in the air. 

Latching onto her helper’s plan, she grabbed the ear of corn and dangled it. “Sooie! Come ‘ere, piggy piggy. Sooie!” Out of the corner of her eye, a form edged around the abandoned sewing circle. Not daring to even look in her helper’s direction, she kept calling for Dewey to come. 

The pig stepped closer, attention fixed on the corn in her hand.

“That’s my boy. Come on, Dewey.” Releasing the snort that always caught Dewey’s attention, she kept an eye on the man creeping up behind him. 

The man grabbed Dewey, and the pig released an ear-piercing squeal, cavorting this way and that in an attempt to escape. But the man’s muscular forearms held him in place. 

For the first time since she began the pig chase, Millie actually looked at the one who had helped her. 

And her heart dropped to her toes.

Will Ferguson grinned at her over Dewey’s wriggling head. “Mind showin’ me to the hog pen?”

“O-of course.” Ducking her head to hide the heat rising to her cheeks, she led him behind the barn. She’d snorted in front of this man. Snorted! As if Dewey’s ill-timed escape wasn’t enough fodder for Mama to insist Pa finally slaughter the pig. 

Dewey kept up his squeals until Will placed him in the pen. “I think he deserves that after everything.”

She looked up to see Will pointing at the ear of corn she still held in her hand. “Yeah, reckon so.”

With a flick of her wrist, she threw it over the fence. It landed in the mud by Dewey’s feet, and he snatched it up before darting away as if afraid they’d take it from him.

Millie cleared her throat and forced herself to look Will in the eye. “Thank you for your help.”

“I have a hog farm. I’m used to chasing pigs.” He chuckled.

“But you lost your prized ear.”

He palmed the back of his neck and turned his gaze to the ground. “Wasn’t much of a loss. Being the new fella in town, I barely know anyone here. Didn’t really want the ear.”

“Guess it was unlucky for you, then.”

“I don’t know.” He met her gaze again and smiled. “It gave me a chance to talk to you.”

Heat spread to her limbs, and she clamped her jaw to keep from gaping.

“I’m Will, by the way. You probably already know that by now, though, this being a small town and all.”

Swallowing, she forced words past her throat. “Millie. Millie McAllister.”

The glorious smile he gave her created crinkles at the corner of his brown eyes. “Millie,” he repeated, saying her name like it was a blue ribbon-worthy pie. “Do you name all your pigs?”

“Yes. Mama always thought it was silly, but Pa indulged me. I always knew that one day the pig would be gone. Except Dewey. Pa’s been letting me keep him. He was the runt of the litter, and I gave him a lot of attention.” My, she was rambling.

“I name mine, too. Got one named Sue, even.”

She giggled, and his smile widened.

“You think…Would you like to… I mean, if someone hasn’t already claimed you…” He cleared his throat, a self-deprecating chuckle having him dip his head and run his hand through honey-colored hair. When he looked up again, he squared his shoulders. “When the dancing begins later, would you like to dance with me?”

This man was asking her to dance?

She licked her lips and smoothed the skirt of her dress. “Yes. I’d like that.”

“Perfect.” He held out his elbow, and she wrapped her hand around his arm. 

As they headed back to the gathering, she sent a silent thank you to her rebellious pig.

Jennifer Purcell
Jennifer Purcell is a Georgia native who loves to write about faith, family, and romance. She is an ACFW First Impressions contest winner and a semi-finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest.

When Jennifer’s not writing, reading, or blogging, she enjoys watching movies and daydreaming about happily ever afters.

Jennifer serves as the Social Media Manager for Spark Flash Fiction. Connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.