Life After Wife (8 page)

Eli cocked his head to one side. “Then you had to make an honest woman out of her, right?”

“Lord, no. She wouldn’t have a thing to do with me. Took me three months to talk her into marryin’ me. She wouldn’t believe that I’d been in love with her since we were kids. It got so bad that her grandma down in Louisiana had us both kidnapped and thrown out on an island in the swamp for a few days, so we’d have to either kiss or kill each other.”

A slow, lazy grin lit up Eli’s face. “I guess it’s pretty evident that you didn’t kill each other.”

“So that’s the story. I got down on one knee in her aunt’s restaurant over in Kensington, in front of all the family and friends I could talk into being there that day, and proposed right there in public in front of everyone and her momma.”

“A knight in shining whatever,” Eli said.

“You got it! If she wanted a whatever, then by damn, I’d give her a whatever. I had a shirt made with this big WHATEVER done in silver on the front. That way I was her knight in shining whatever for sure.”

“Romantic devil, ain’t you?” Eli teased.

“I’d have proposed naked as a jaybird under the red light beside the courthouse to get that woman. I never chased
after anything so hard in my life. It was about to drive me crazy,” Hart said. “And if you ever tell her that, there will be a war between the white man and Indian man that will make Custer’s last stand look like a Girl Scout picnic.”

“Be careful there, white boy. You might wind up like Custer.”

“Maybe so, but if she ever found out that bit of information, I’d probably be better off dead.” Hart laughed.

“I’m glad I came to town today. Want to go out to the ranch now and see the cattle?” Eli changed the subject.

“Sure. I’ll follow you in my truck. You and Sophie fight most of the time, huh?”

“Not most of the time. All of the time,” Eli said as they walked out together.

Hart clapped him on the shoulder. “It’ll get better.”

“I’m not so sure I want it to. I’d just as soon she stay mad at me. Maybe then she’ll decide that she can’t live in the same house I do and sell me her half of the ranch,” Eli said.

“Keep dreaming. That ranch is like a Texan’s gun to Sophie. It’s what kept her sane after her rascal of a husband died. The only way you’ll get that ranch out of her hands is to pry it out of her cold dead fingers,” Hart said seriously.

Sophie nosed her truck close to the fence, got out, and slammed the door. She didn’t waste a lot of time getting from the truck into the house. If she was going to buy refrigerated air, then by golly she would enjoy it.

She smelled something good in the kitchen and followed her nose. Elijah was standing in front of the stove, stirring
a pot of red sauce. He didn’t even look up when she sniffed the air.

“What is that?” she asked.

“My famous spaghetti sauce.”

“Is that supper?”

“It’s
my
supper. Don’t know what you are having,” he said.

“You’re not sharing?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“OK then, but remember it works both ways. What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander.”

She picked a bibbed apron from the hook beside the door and tied it around her neck. Then she went to work. In half an hour, with very little effort, she had bread dough doing a fast rise in the warm oven and a lasagna ready to bake. She removed the dough, turned the oven up to 350 degrees, and flopped the dough out onto a flour-covered cabinet as far away from Elijah as she could get. She quickly made it up into a dozen yeasty rolls and rolled the remaining dough out onto the cabinet until it was a little more than an inch thick and oblong in shape. She cut up a whole stick of butter on top of that, setting the pats just right, and covered them with brown sugar and cinnamon. In a few more minutes, there was a pan of fresh cinnamon rolls on the back of the stove rising for the final baking step.

Elijah pretended he didn’t care and didn’t even know what she was preparing, but the first waft of that bread dough sitting near the warm oven made his mouth water. He dearly loved home-baked bread, and cinnamon rolls were his favorite dessert. But he would eat sawdust and wash it down with sewer water before he admitted that to her.

He boiled spaghetti and continued to stir his sauce.

She picked up one of those fat romance books with a woman draped over a bed and a bare-chested man merely inches from her lips pictured on the front. She propped her legs up on a chair and read while she waited for the lasagna to cook.

He’d tried to watch what she whipped up to go in her dish but had almost burned his sauce, so he didn’t see what she’d added to the cream cheese, sour cream, and cottage cheese for the third layer. She’d put down several spoons of a sauce she’d made in ten minutes by browning hamburger with onions and peppers and adding a jar of prepared spaghetti sauce. Then she’d layered lasagna noodles on top of that. Uncooked ones. He’d never seen it done that way and wondered what the finished product would taste like. After that it was the white mixture. He thought he heard her cracking eggs, but surely not.

The timer sounded loudly. He drained the spaghetti noodles and poured them into a dish. He loaded up a plate and topped them off with a healthy serving of the sauce and carried the whole thing to the den where he put it on a wooden folding tray. A trip back to the kitchen netted a Dr Pepper from the refrigerator.

She looked up when he walked past. “Where’d you get that?’

“Bought it.”

“Where?”

“At the store?”

“When did you go to the store? I had a list started of things we need for the house,” she said.

“You need something. You pick it up. I needed Dr Pepper.”

“Be careful there…” She bit back the word “chief” before it was out in the room. “I bought the last toilet paper. I could take it all to my bedroom and carry a roll with me to the bathroom. I don’t have to share it.”

“I don’t plan to go into your bathroom. You stay out of mine. I’ll buy my own paper.”

“Good. I’ll be nice enough to leave what’s left on the roll for you. After that don’t you dare steal a single roll out of my bathroom. Better get to that famous spaghetti. It’s going to get cold,” she said.

It took a healthy dose of his willpower to let her have the last word, but he managed to do it without choking on the unsaid words. He ate slowly and enjoyed every bite. When he finished, he washed his dishes, put the sauce in jars, stored them in the refrigerator for later, and meandered out the back door as slowly as he could.

She watched from the kitchen window and waited until he was halfway to the barn before she took out a jar of his sauce and dipped a spoon into it.

When it hit her mouth she moaned. “Mercy, that’s the best sauce I’ve ever eaten. Why does he have to be such a rat and not share with me?” She ate two more bites and then put the lid on the jar with a long sigh.

Her bread turned out perfect. Light. Fluffy. Browned to perfection. She buttered the tops and turned the cinnamon rolls upside down on a serving tray before topping them off with a thin butter cream glaze. Then she turned on every ceiling fan in the house and opened his bedroom door. If he hated yeast dough, he’d have to live with the odor. If he loved it, she hoped he couldn’t think about anything else.

She cut up a salad and dished up a healthy plate full of lasagna, added a roll on the side and a cinnamon roll on a separate plate, and carried it all out to the deck. The sun was setting, and the temperature had dropped a few degrees since she’d come back from Fancy’s place.

Elijah was sitting in the hayloft, back in the shadows, when he saw her come out of the house. He quickly shimmied down the ladder into the barn and headed toward the house.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“Watch
60 Minutes
, a little
Sunday Night Football,
and then
Cold Case
at nine o’clock,” he said.

“I watch
Desperate Housewives
at nine,” she said.

“The big screen has
Cold Case
on at that time. You want to watch anything else, you do it in your part of the house,” he told her.

“Anyone ever tell you what a mean old rat you are?”

“One time. I broke his nose. Anyone ever tell you what a witch you are?”

“Twice. They haven’t found their bodies yet.”

He shrugged and went into the house, where he carefully removed a cinnamon roll from the platter and shoved all the others up to fill in the space. He put it on a paper towel and carried it to his room. He locked the door and sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed while he ate it slowly, relishing every single bite. When he finished, he licked the remainder of the brown sugary goo off the napkin and from his fingers, not wasting a bit of it.

CHAPTER FIVE

“I promise I will be there for you just like you’ve been for me.” Fancy managed to flash Sophie a weak smile after the delivery of her six-pound baby girl.

“You can be there for Kate, not me. It looked like too much pain for me,” Sophie said.

Kate giggled. “I’ll come collect your word, Fancy Lynn, and I’m not going to be nice and deliver at supper time. I’m going to do it at three in the morning. You’re going to have to pay with interest. I want them two at a time so that I can catch up. Besides I’m tougher than either of you.”

They were all gathered around Fancy’s hospital bed. Theron’s smile was bigger than anyone’s as he squatted down to show Tina the new baby.

Hart stuck his head in the door. “Room for one more?”

“Sure. Come and meet Emma-Gwen,” Theron said.

“Emma-Gwen?” Sophie frowned. “I thought you were naming her something weird, like Fancy or Echo.”

“That’s my name,” Tina said. “Echo Martina is my name. New baby can’t have my name.”

Fancy winked. “Her full name is Glory Emma-Gwen, with a hyphen between the Emma and Gwen. Tina and I may still call her Glory.”

“Her name is Emma-Gwen,” Theron protested.

Tears welled up in Fancy’s big blue eyes. “Does all that name sound like something you cure with penicillin? We haven’t made the birth certificate yet. Does Glory sound too weird?”

Sophie bent over the bed and hugged her. “Of course it doesn’t. Matter of fact, I like it very much. It sounds like the name for a woman president or Nobel Prize winner.”

“Thank you,” Theron mouthed silently from across the room.

Kate gave her a hug and grabbed Hart’s hand. “Now that our job as cheerleading crew is over, I think we’re going to get out of here and go home. Get some rest and call us. We’ll visit as soon as you get back to the ranch.”

“When are we buying her a pony?” Hart asked Theron as Kate pulled him out into the hallway.

“It’s already in the stall,” Theron answered before the door is shut.

“I’m going, too. You need to rest and some family time,” Sophie said.

“Thank you for being here with us,” Theron said.

“Hey, we were just the cheerleaders. You and Fancy did the hard work after we left you in here alone,” Sophie told him.

“You know what we mean,” Fancy squeezed her hand. “And since she was born on Sunday, we didn’t miss our gab fest. I’ll expect the same from you and Kate!”

“Kate, darlin’! Not me! She’s the one tougher’n John Wayne. I’m the pansy. I’d be standing up in the stirrups screamin’ at them to bring me more drugs,” Sophie said as she left.

Sophie sat in her truck for five minutes before starting it. She’d laughed and teased about what Fancy had just endured,
but she’d do it ten times over for a daughter like Emma-Gwen, and that’s what she intended to call her. The new baby looked like an Emma-Gwen, not a Glory.

Elijah was snoring in the recliner while someone made a touchdown on the television when she walked into the house. He roused up when he heard the front door open and opened one eye enough to see that it was Sophie and not a terrorist or burglar.

“What’d she have?” he asked.

“A six-pound baby girl that they named Glory Emma-Gwen.” Sophie sunk down into the corner of the sofa.

“That ain’t even big enough for fish bait, and what kind of name is that? Sounds like something you need antibiotics for,” he said.

“My Irish granny said that a woman could have them little, and they could grow big. They don’t have to start out at ten pounds. And the name is their choice. Theron says they’re goin’ to call her Emma-Gwen. Tina’s full name is Echo Martina, and Fancy’s real name is Fancy. It’s not a nickname. If she wants to name her child Glory, that’s her business. It’s not a bit worse than Elijah.”

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