"I thought you said you grow all your food yourself", Hardison complained. He was struggeling with four reusable shopping bags Eliot had make him carry back from the farmer's market.
"There's only so much you can do in a rooftop garden", the hitter explained matter-of-factly. "We just have to make one more stop and then we are all set."
"What else do you need?" Hardison asked resignation clearly audible in his voice.
"Honey. I used to have my own bees, but the neighbors complained and I had to get rid of them. So we'll have to stop at Annie's to get some organic thyme honey."
"Who's Annie?" Hardison asked. Eliot did not answer but crossed the street and headed for a small shopfront. The sign read "Annie's Foodbasket". One of the shopwindows was broken. A woman with short brown curls who was probably in her early thirties was wrestling with a large piece of plywood trying to close the gap. Eliot shoved the shopping bags he was carrying into Hardison's arms and rushed inside. The bellchimes over the door gave a nice melodic ring when he pushed it open. The woman looked up at him.
"Eliot. My favorite customer!" She smiled, but her smile faded when the plyboard started to slide out of her hands. Eliot swiftly stepped to her side and extended a hand to keep the board from crashing to the floor.
"Hi Annie!", he said. "What happened to the window?"
"Baseball", was all she offered as explanation while she started to hammer the board in place. After a few hits she winced and let the arm with the hammer sink to her side for a moment. Eliot noticed that her wrist was bandaged.
"I sprained my wrist in a bike accident the other day. It's nothing, really."
Eliot shook his head. "Let me finish this for you", he offered.
"You don't need to do that", Annie protested, but Eliot had already braced the board in place with his hip and gently took the hammer from her.
"My pleasure", he said simply. Annie smiled and touched his shoulder affectionately.
"Thank you. That's really nice of you." Then her gaze fell on the glass door and she laughed. "I better go and let your friend in", she said. Hardison, trying to balance all seven shopping bags at the same time, was struggling to turn the doorknob. Annie opened it for him and caught two of the bags as Hardison lost the fight against gravity.
"Why don't you set your bags down there at the counter while you take a look around" Annie suggested cheerfully. "You have not been here before, have you?", she asked.
Eliot laughed once. "Hardison? Not likely."
Hardison put down the shopping bags thankfully and looked around. The store was tiny, but the high shelves were filled with everything from fresh produce to chocolate. There even was a small cooler with dairy products and fresh milk. "All organic", Annie explained and there was a certain pride in her voice. Eliot hammered a last nail into the plyboard.
"That should hold till you get new glass in"
"Thanks a lot", Annie smiled.
"You're more than welcome."
"No, really, you have no idea how much I appreciate this. I had such a crappy day ... a streak of crappy days, actually. It's just so good to have something nice happen for a change." Eliot frowned at that.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?" he asked. Annie shook her head.
"No, seriously, you have done enough. What do you need, by the way?"
"Thyme honey. I am going to bake Russian honey bread for desert. We are having a bit of a celebration at work, a job well done"
"Nice", Annie commented while she rounded one of the shelves and came back with a honey jar. "You're lucky. That's the last one. I have to order new supplies anyway."
"Oh, in that case, could you get me some of those turnip seeds again? I wanted to save them, but I was out of town when they flowered, so I gonna need new ones."
"Sure, no prob. I'll just write it down", Annie offered. Hardison still wandered through the shelves, looking a bit awstruck.
"This place looks like the grocery store my Nana used to take me to. I haven't seen a store like this for years", he said. Annie offered him a huge smile.
"Yeah. That's one of the things I try to do here. I mean, it is about the organic and sustainability thing, of course, but I also try to make this shop feel as cozy and secure as possible. I have customers, mostly elderly people, who come here just because of that, because they feel lost in a large supermarket."
"And you are doing a wonderful job with it", Eliot assured her. "You know, sometimes, when I had a bad day at work, I just come here and buy something because the place always cheers me up. And sometimes I sit down in that little caf over there and just watch the people coming out of your little shop, and I swear to you, they all smile when they leave here." Annie bit her lower lip and blushed a bit.
"You should not make fun of me", she said and busied herself writing down Eliot's order.
"I'm not making fun. It's true."
"Do you want to give me your phone number?" Annie asked. Eliot looked confused for a moment. Annie laughed. "So I can call you when the order gets in", she explained.
"Oh, yeah, sure"
She took down the number. When Eliot wanted to pay for the honey, she refused.
"No, that's on the house. For the help with the window"
"Thanks. Take care now!" Eliot gathered up the shopping bags and shoved some of them towards Hardison.
"And you", Annie smiled. "Have fun with your dinner tonight."
"My Nana would have loved this place. Seriously." Hardison said. "Keep it just as it is."
"I'm trying to", Annie said quietly to the closing door when they both had gone.