Authors: Carolyn Brown
“That would not be a no, but a you’ve-got-to-be-nuts no! He’s egotistical, too old, set in his ways, used to being top dog on the porch, and…” She searched for other horrible qualities.
“Too old?” Fancy frowned.
“He’s forty. That’s old,” Sophie answered.
“That’s not much older than you are. When you were ten and he was nineteen, it would have been. When you were twenty-one and he was thirty, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But thirty-one and forty. That’s nothing,” Kate said.
“And you are almost thirty-two, so it’s only eight years and some months,” Fancy reminded her.
“It’s closer to nine years, and I don’t know when his birthday is so it could be a full nine years,” Sophie argued.
“Well, if he’s not your life after wife, then what is he?” Kate kept on.
“He’s my business partner right now. We are just barely settling into the idea of sharing a house and a ranch. I’m seriously considering giving him the ranch house and buying myself a trailer and putting it on the back corner of the ranch. The only reason I don’t is it would be giving him a point, and I’m determined not to lose even one. Give him the old proverbial inch, and he’s liable to take a mile,” she said.
Kate set the entire platter of cookies in the middle of the table. “Fancy, sit down and prop up your feet on this chair. You’re goin’ to drop that baby right here on the kitchen floor if you keep standin’ up.”
Fancy eased down into a chair and slung her legs up on the extra chair. “That does feel better, but if she’d fall out that easy, I’d stand up until dark.”
“OK, now go on, Sophie. Who cares if he gets one point? If you put a trailer on the property, he’ll know for sure that he’s not running you off. And you won’t be tempted to cook for him or clean up the house after him. He’d be on his own in that place, and you could take care of yours however you want to. Now that would be real business partners,” Kate said.
“I agree,” Fancy said. “Get a double-wide with all the bells and whistles. Front porch. Back deck. Or better yet, build a house. A great big one that makes his place look small. Talk about an ego buster.”
Sophie ate three cookies while she listened and thought about such a venture. “I like it. Only I don’t want a big house. I had that with Matt. I like the idea of a double-wide, so it could be ready to move into sooner. After the cattle sale, do you two want to shop with me?”
Fancy nodded and did the calculations in her head. “Three weeks until the sale. Baby should be here, and hopefully I’ll be able to walk without waddling. Yes, I want to shop for your trailer with you.”
Sophie looked at Kate. “How about you?”
“I’m in. You should do it. You’ve got the money, and if he’s not going to be your life after wife, then you should get out of the same abode as he’s in. No decent prospect is going to want to come courtin’ if he has to go through the chief first,” she said.
It started out as a schoolgirl giggle, with Sophie’s hand going to her mouth. It went from that to a high-pitched laugh that sounded like it could crack crystal, and went into an infectious roar that had Kate and Fancy both wiping at their eyes and woke Tina from her nap down the hallway.
Tina snuggled down into what was left of Fancy’s lap. She wrapped her arms around the baby bump and laid her head on the top. Fancy brushed her dark hair back out of her sleepy face. “Aren’t you going to speak to the ladies?”
“Hi, Kate. Hi, Sophie,” she mumbled. “What’s funny?”
Sophie chuckled again. “Kate called Elijah chief.”
“Why?” Tina raised her head up and knuckled her eyes.
“Because he’s an Indian,” Kate said.
Tina was suddenly wide-awake and interested. “You mean like on television? Does he live in a tepee?”
“No, he’s just got Native American blood or Indian blood in him. Like you have Mexican blood,” Fancy explained.
“Can I call him chief?” Tina asked.
“I don’t think you should. He said you should call him Eli,” Fancy said.
“I like chief better. It sounds like a dog. Can I name one of the kittens out under the porch, chief?”
“Yes, you can. That yellow one. He’s got attitude,” Sophie said.
“What’s allitude?” Tina asked.
“It’s what that yellow kitten has. Like when he walks all sideways and puffed up and then jumps on his brother. That’s attitude,” Sophie said.
“OK, then my lellow cat is Chief. I’m goin’ to go find him and tell him. Momma, does Eli walk all sideways and jump out to scare Sophie?” Tina jumped down and ran out the back door before Fancy could answer.
“So tell me, why did me calling him chief set you off into a fit of laughter?” Kate asked.
Sophie downed half a glass of iced tea before she answered. “We had this big argument when I called him chief. He doesn’t
like to be teased about his heritage any more than I do about my Irish heritage. So we came to an understanding real quick. Now that’s enough about me and my business partner.”
“But not about you and your love life. When are you going to start dating? It’s been almost two years. We’ve all been back in the area a year now, and Kate and I have already gotten our three magic words to come true. You haven’t even made an effort. It’s time, or else you’re goin’ to be an old, crazy ranch woman who hates men,” Fancy said.
“What’s so bad about that?” Sophie asked.
“You’ve got six months to get things straightened out. This is August. If you haven’t been on a date by New Year’s, then me and Fancy get to fix you up. You can go with me to the Ducaine family reunion. There’s always good-lookin’ cowboys at it,” Kate said.
“I can find my own dates when I’m ready,” Sophie protested.
“New Year’s and then we’re parading them through here at the rate of two every weekend. I get to pick one for Friday night, and Kate comes up with a Saturday date. Then on Sunday we’ll have a full report. Conversation, food, and whether they were good kissers,” Fancy told her.
Sophie’s eyes widened. “You wouldn’t!”
“Oh, honey, we definitely would,” Kate giggled.
Normally Elijah loved what quiet and solitude he could carve out of a day. But that Sunday afternoon, the silence was deafening. He roamed from one room to the other, sat on the deck, and watched the cows grazing beyond the yard
fence. He ate a bowl of ice cream topped with chocolate syrup and pecans.
Finally, he got into his truck and drove five miles south into Baird. He’d thought about a cycle ride, but the heat was even more oppressive than it had been the day of Maud’s funeral. Baird was an old cattle-drive town built back during the late 1800s. The three-block main street in town dead-ended at the railroad depot, which had been rebuilt in the last few years.
Elijah turned and drove slowly down the length of the place, looking at the buildings. What started out as thriving businesses had dried up one by one and sat empty, until a few antique stores breathed some life back into the town. Just like he remembered, the street was very wide with diagonal parking on either side.
He wished that the old, restored 1911 Texas & Pacific Railroad Depot was open, so he could spend an hour or so looking around in the museum located there. Maybe take a trip through the gift store or browse through the brochures in the visitor center. But it was closed on Sunday.
He parked out front and rolled down the window for a better look at the place. Heat rushed inside and sucked the air right out of his lungs. He pushed the button and rolled the window back up in a hurry. The flag out front hung limp. There wasn’t a whisper of a breeze that hot August day, but then that was normal central Texas weather. Uncle Jesse said the wind blew every day until June first. Then it stopped, and you couldn’t beg, borrow, buy, or steal a breeze until after Labor Day. Elijah smiled at the memory of Jesse sitting on the porch with a glass of sweet tea and saying those words.
He turned the Ford truck around and drove it back through town, past the courthouse, and on to the Dairy Queen. He parked out front and hurried inside, appreciating the cold air that greeted him. It was hot enough that he’d broken a sweat walking across twenty feet of parking lot. He ordered a large Dr Pepper and a hot fudge sundae and looked around for a place to sit.
“Hey, Eli, what’re you doin’ out in this heat?” Hart Ducaine called from a corner booth. “Bring that on over here and sit with me.”
Elijah carried his sundae in one hand and the drink in the other and made his way to the booth. “What are
doin’ out in the heat?” he asked Hart.
“Same thing you are probably. Got work that I could do, but it’s hot and it’s Sunday, so I can use that for an excuse not to do it. Got bored at home so I went for a drive and wound up down here. Thought I might drop by your place and get a preview of whatever cattle you might be thinkin’ about sellin’ at the sale next month. That way I’d know ahead of time if I could outbid that Australian feller that’s been comin’ around the last few years.”
Eli dipped into the sundae. “You want something to eat?”
“No, I done already had a banana split and a Coke.”
“Let me finish this and we’ll go on out to the ranch, and you can take a look at the cattle. I haven’t decided yet which ones will go to the sale. Sophie has to agree, and that’s a helluva problem,” he said.
Hart grinned. Like Elijah, he was over six feet tall. He had blond hair and light green eyes, and wore faded jeans and a T-shirt with a picture of a bull on the front. He’d followed the Pro Rodeo circuit for several years and won enough money
to keep his ranch afloat for many years ahead. He and Kate had married in the spring, and from the get-go she’d insisted that Sunday afternoons belonged to her and her two friends. Most of the time, he didn’t mind when there was a rodeo on television or even football or basketball. But that day the house was silent as a tomb.
“What are you grinnin’ about?” Eli asked.
“Those women. Sophie givin’ you a hard time, is she?”
“Worse than a hard time,” Eli admitted.
“That’s the way Kate was in the beginning,” Hart said.
“That reminds me. Sophie said what’s said in their witches’ meetings is confidential. She told me a little about the way y’all got together, but she said I should ask you about the rest.”
“What’d she tell you?”
“Not much. Just that you were her knight in shining armor.”
“Not armor. I’m her knight in shining whatever, because she forgot the word ‘armor’ the first time she said it.”
“And Theron is Fancy’s forever thing, right?”
Hart chuckled down deep in his broad chest. “Yes, he is but he can tell you that story. Kate and I have a history going back to when we were kids. We went to school together over in Albany. She was a couple of years behind me, and I didn’t notice her until my senior year. By then I was tied up with Stephanie, the head cheerleader. After graduation, Steph and I broke up, and I ran into Kate on the playground one night. We started seeing each other on the sly. I was scared to death of her father, so I didn’t ask her out on a real date. Anyway, she got it in her head that I was sneaking around with her because I didn’t want to be seen with a half Mexican. We broke up when Stephanie came cryin’ back to me. That was my first big mistake. I was young and stupid and ignorant.”
“Weren’t we all?” Eli nodded.
“So anyway, after we broke up, I went to college and she moved away. Stephanie and I lasted a few weeks before the final split. When I came home for fall break, Kate was gone. I looked for her everywhere I went when I started bull riding professionally but never found her. Then Theron and Fancy got married, and I went to the reception. But back up. First I got this call from Stephanie, after more than a decade. She said she was in trouble and needed to talk to me. So I went to her motel room.”
Eli raised an eyebrow.
Hart threw up a hand and shook his head at the same time. “Left fingerprints everywhere, but nothing happened between us. Anyway, I gave her my best advice, which was to call the cops and tell them her sad tale of woe, and went on to the wedding reception. Kate was there as maid of honor and dressed in this red satin dress that just took my breath away. I asked her who she was, and that made her mad enough to almost knock me on my ass. But in my defense, I was afraid to hope that she was really Kate Miller. So we danced and that led to having a drink, which led to the motel where we sat up half the night talking. She slipped out the next morning, and I thought it was her knocking on the door because she forgot her key. Imagine my surprise when there stood two policemen with handcuffs and guns and a warrant for my arrest for murder.”
“You are kidding me!” Eli scraped the bottom of the plastic sundae cup.
“Not a bit. They found my prints all over that motel room, along with Steph’s dead body. I couldn’t tell them that Kate was with me, since she was a relief police officer and trying
to work her way into a full-time job. She was a crackerjack detective down in New Iberia, Louisiana. They hated to see her leave down there and tried to talk her into coming back when she’d been gone about six months. Anyway, it wouldn’t look good if she was my alibi or that she had spent the night with me in a motel. We only talked that night, honest to God, but small towns have their own moral standards. Anyway, she didn’t give me a choice. She stepped right up to the plate and told them she’d spent the night with me at the Ridge Motel.”