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Written by IllaRouge

"That'll be $16 even, sugah."

A Northern Hawk-owl couple set a $20 bill on the counter, and a 7'5" tall Asian giant hornet took it. Bronwyn O'Malley pressed a few buttons on the cash register, which dinged, and she went to make change. The husband held up a wing.

"Nah, missy, you keep the change."

The hornet buzzed in appreciation. "Aww, y'all shouldn't have."

The couple giggled. Bronwyn waved as they left. She'd set aside the extra cash for the next customers, frame it as a special or them being the such-and-such customer for the day. She didn't need the money, and she knew her parents needed specific receipts. But this was all second nature to her. She'd been helping in the business for as long as she could remember, so spending a few hours a day staffing the storefront in the off season was no big deal to her.

Just as the couple left, dinging the bell on their way out, Bronwyn's father, Darren, ducked in from the back entrance. The facade of the storefront resembled a log cabin, though they'd sprung for birch logs to brighten up the space. The elder wood bison, squat but robust, smiled at his daughter as he entered.

"How's the shop, honey?"

"Pretty good, pa." Bronwyn untied the apron from behind her neck. Underneath, she wore a red plaid shirt and jeans. "Mom need help with harvesting?"

"You got it." She handed him the apron, which he slid over his head, catching it on his horns. Bronwyn helped him correct. He thanked her and looked at the four dollars behind the register. "You know, I'm starting to think I'm not as fetching in my old age."

She chuckled. "What you mean?"

"Only you and your mom get tips like that. Making me feel older than I already am," his enunciations holding a few inflections from his Irish heritage, but mostly masked by his faux-curmudgeonly demeanor.

Bronwyn snickered and bent down to nuzzle the top of his head. "I'm sure we can find you a strapping young lad at square dancing later to make you feel young."

The bull guffawed, swatting the still snickering hornet away. "Go help your ma, you little troublemaker."

His decidedly not little daughter turned and ducked through the very door he had come through. They both waved without looking to each other. Her father pulled up a high-backed rocking chair and set in while she went off.

Bronwyn liked being outside. There was enough for her to do around the apiary that it substituted for training quite well. If she wasn't helping out with the bees, she was doing work with the small team her parents employed for the orchard. However, the bees were her family's domain; they never hired extra help for the honey harvesting, even as her parents broke into their sixties.

The hives were a small hike from the store, so there wouldn't be any stray stings to their customers. As she approached the evenly spaced hives, she stopped at a post with hooks on it. A set of goggles hung from one of them, and she took it and slid them over her eyes. Common beekeepers needed full suits, but her exoskeleton did plenty for her. She saw her mother in the distance at one of the hives. The elder bison only wore a hood, her dense fur otherwise doing the job of deterring stings. Smoke rose from a canister she held as she calmed the first hive they would work on. Bronwyn jogged through the rows, which got her mother's attention.

"Brynn, come hold this." Her mother, Aoife, pulled one of the cells out, and Bronwyn took over holding it. Her chitinous hands made her impervious to stings. With the smoke in effect, the hive was pretty calm. Her mother worked to brush the excess bees off of the open cells. Once she was confident she got most of them off, she slid them into ten gallon buckets and repeated the process. They worked together until they had two buckets each. They carried the unprocessed cells and placed them onto the bed of the pickup truck, and they returned to do it all over again. Once the bed was filled, Aoife pulled herself into the driver's seat. She popped her head out of the window. "You gonna jog?"

Bronwyn nodded. "Got to work on my endurance."

The buffalo nodded. "All right. Don't keep me waiting." She started the truck and threw it into drive. She pulled out onto the dirt path and drove down the road. Bronwyn put her goggles back onto the post, and she set off after her mom.

These little ways to train in the off-season were what Bronwyn was looking for. It was always her intention spending her free time coming back to the apiary, but she wanted to come back to the next season stronger than ever. She had mixed feelings about her performance in her rookie year. It didn't bog her down, only motivated her. It was only a half-mile to the processing building, so she made it just in time to see her mother pull the first two buckets from the truck. As Aoife took those buckets in, Bronwyn hopped onto the back of the truck, pushing it fairly far down with her weight. She pushed each of the buckets forward so her mother could easily access them. Once they were in a better position, she got down and started carrying her share in.

After a few minutes, the hornet brought the last of the buckets in. "How much are you hoping to get?"

Aoife pulled out a few cells. She used a large knife to scrap off the surface wax, which she deposited into containers. She then placed them into a hand-crank centrifuge to pulled the honey out. "Oh, much as we can get, but I think this cluster should pull in a few hundred pounds." Their family's apiary had a few different clusters of hives, so as to not proctor too much competition between them, but their main set on this property had about 25 individual hives. They harvested in rotation so as not to overwhelm the elder bison, but they knew they had maybe a few more seasons before they'd have to swallow their pride and invite new workers to help them. With Bronwyn, it seemed that they had extra time on their hands.

Bronwyn cranked the centrifuge while Aoife worked on the next set. They set aside the first pull of the raw honey to be processed and jarred. The wax they kept for candles, crafts, and other such uses. Bronwyn had fond memories of making little sculptures with the wax at the kitchen table, while her mom and dad made more impressive figures. It was her proudest day the first time someone bought one of her lumpy sculptures. She'd since gotten better.

Every few cells, Aoife would find a particularly nice batch of honeycombs. These, they set aside to cut off sections and sell them whole. The two worked in perfect synchrony. An hour passed, and they had finished the initial processing.

"Any of this for snacks or desserts?" Bronwyn asked.

Aoife tried some of the honey on her hooved fingers. "Not this batch. We can use some of last season's. This should stay as is." Some of the honey was used for flavorings and infusions. A local bakery also used their honey for some of their recipes, and they sold some of the batches in the storefront.

With their efficiency, it only took them a few hours to process the honey and wax. With several storage containers filled, they set everything aside for jarring and other things later.

"All right, time for lunch," her mother announced. It would take several more trips and days to get everything done, but Bronwyn liked the work. They walked out of the building, and Aoife locked up. "More jogging?"

Bronwyn shook her head. "But I'll ride in the bed."

"Fair enough."

The hornet hopped into the bed and pulled the gate closed. Her mother got back into the driver seat. They were on their way to pick up Darren.

The odd trio ate and chatted. They'd each helped with preparing lunch. Aoife took care of the tofu chicken while Darren shucked corn. Bronwyn got to pick dessert that day, so she'd made some baked apples with honey, the magical stuff never far from their table. She'd taken a liking to expanding her palette after leaving home, but this kind of meal was near and dear to her. The house filled with earthy and sweet smells. They each helped set the table and sat down together.

Darren started them off by dishing out some corn with the tongs. This was how their meals always went, with each of them helping each other out. They put their hands together and said a silent prayer together. They weren't religious, so it wasn't to anyone in particular, but it was tradition all the same. They ended it and started eating.

"I know I keep saying it, Brynn, but work's so much easier with you around," her dad said.

"Who knew having your larger than life daughter around would make for easier work?" Aoife said with a touch of snark.

Bronwyn laughed. "You know I've never been one to complain about doing my share."

Aoife finished a bite of her corn. "Well, we're getting on in the years, so you've been doing more than your share."

"You thinking about hiring more workers?"

"Can't," Darren said. "Haven't been pulling in as much lately. How many hives we lose this season, hun?"

"About a dozen."

Bronwyn buzzed a little in concern. "Same problem?"

"Same problem," Aoife said. "Bees keep dying. But it's not all bad. We're still doing well enough to keep up with the bills. Can't turn our noses up at that."

"No, ma'am," her husband said. They each raised a glass of lemonade in agreement.

"You know," Bronwyn said, "I could help out with money if it'd help."

Aoife chuckled. "You know, I keep forgetting that you're making a lot of money with all this." Bronwyn turned her gaze away in embarrassment, which only endeared her parents. "But we're fine. I don't think your father and I are too proud to ask for help if we need to. If the time comes and this doesn't feel worth it anymore, we'll probably sell off the business."

Darren nodded. "We've managed to get through life and raise you off of all this. We've got a few good years left in us."

The hornet nodded. She'd only known the apiary as home, so the thought of it going away gave her pause. But they were right; things seemed to be okay for now, and her parents genuinely enjoyed the work.

"Though I can't help but notice," Aoife interjected, "that you haven't done anything fancy for yourself."

"Hmm?" Bronwyn had a mouthful of apple.

"All that money, and you're still coming home to work with us. No fancy cars or trips. Not even a new phone," Aoife said.

It was true. Bronwyn managed to function with only a flip phone.

"Well, I guess I'm just interested in getting better." Bronwyn kept a pretty low profile for the most part. As much as a so-called 'murder hornet' could at her size. "I really love being in the FBA, and the Thrust have been nice. I don't really care about having nice things all that much. I want you guys to have nice things, and I want to keep getting better at what I do."

Both of her parents reached across the table and squeezed a hand. Bronwyn buzzed in appreciation.

"Then we'll work you twice as hard," Darren offered. This got everyone laughing again.

After lunch, they cleaned up together. They each had other small chores to do, so they separated. What they'd said stuck with Bronwyn. She wanted more out of her freedom, even in the service of basketball. She realized she hadn't made many friends. Except for that one woman, a fellow draftee. Maybe she'd give her a call.

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