“That’s why you weren’t wearing any clothes?”
I purse my lips, unimpressed with his hyperbole. “I was wearing clothes.”
I roll my eyes and resist the urge to plunk him on the forehead. “I feel like we’re going in circles.”
He shakes his head and slowly spins, taking in the shack with fresh eyes. I wonder what he thinks of it now that I’ve been here for a few days. My clothes are hanging on a line near the window. My cream-colored lacy bra flutters beside his t-shirts and I blush, resisting the urge to yank it down. If he notices it, he doesn’t say anything. His gaze sweeps over to the twin bed and then down to the floor.
It’s no Taj Mahal, but all things considered, it’s a hell of a lot cleaner than it was when I found it. I have plans to purchase a few necessities, like a lamp and a rug, this weekend—that is, if my budget extends that far. I’m hoarding most of my advance, so unless the going rate for a rug is a few dollars and a winning smile, chances are I’ll be going without.
“I’m getting you an A/C unit this weekend,” he declares suddenly.
My face is a mask of indifference. I refuse to give him the satisfaction of seeing my excitement before he breaks and admits he’s kidding.
He doesn’t notice my resolve, too busy staring down at the floor. “And I’ll have Chris and Daniel come in here and repair these floorboards. Could have them do it Monday while you’re working so they aren’t in your hair.”
I nod very, very slowly. My mouth is hanging open so wide at this point that I’m bound to catch a fly.
“After that, we’ll see about fixing the walls.”
At that, he turns for the open door, apparently finished with me for the time being.
“Was that all a joke?!” I burst out after him. “Honestly, if this is another one of your weird mind games, I don’t want any part of it!”
He doesn’t even bother acknowledging me, just keeps on walking, which I think means he was serious.
I can hardly believe it.
Soon, I will have cold, air-conditioned air blasting my face like I’m some kind of queen. I think I could cry. On second thought, it’s still too hot to cry—I have to stay as hydrated as possible until I get that A/C unit.
Friday flies by and before I know it, it’s close to quitting time. I’m about to experience my very first weekend of freedom here in Cedar Creek. I’m so excited, I don’t even get annoyed when Jack tells me he has a girl coming into town for a visit. Christine. He gives me zero details about her. In fact, I’m pretty sure he only brought her up so he could make sure I put extra towels in the master bathroom. I’m disappointed in his lack of gossip. Are they dating? Friends? Lovers? More? Luckily, Edith has no qualms about filling me in. We sit at the kitchen table during my break, sipping coffee and talking while Jack is out with the ranch hands doing all manner of manly things, I’m sure. (Earlier in the morning, I saw him carrying a rope—an actual ROPE! I always thought those were more for show. Anyway, at the sight of it, my recently kindled cowboy fantasies may or may not have ramped up tenfold.)
I get the following information about Christine from Edith: she’s a “city girl” like me, though she used to live in Cedar Creek and went to the same high school as Jack. They didn’t date back then—I asked. Also of note, Jack was valedictorian of his graduating class. I didn’t ask about this, Edith just offers the tidbit up like any proud grandmother would. She also offers up the fact that he had a dozen girls chasing after him on any given day. Also, he was the starting pitcher for varsity baseball. She’d probably keep on rambling about him all day, but I pull her back to the topic at hand.
“But are they dating now?”
“Right, yeah…well,” she continues, “Christine lives out in San Antonio and has some fancy fashion job.”
This piques my interest, but when I ask for details, Edith drops the ball.
“I don’t know what she does,” she replies, waving away my question like it bores her. “Looks at clothes, dresses mannequins—something like that.”
She goes on to say that Christine used to be sort of sweet, but in the last few years, she’s changed. Edith’s direct quote is that Christine’s “got her nose so high in the air, she’d drown in a rainstorm.” I’d ask her what that means, but she leans in close and whispers, “I think she’s overcompensating for growing up in the trailer park across town with her mama.”
My stomach twists and suddenly, I feel bad for contributing to gossip about this woman I don’t even know. “Edith!”
“It’s the truth!”
I shake my head. “She might be ‘high falutin’, as you called her, but if she makes Jack happy—”
“Well if she’s good for him—”
“Sheesh, remind me never to get on your bad side.”
“Where do you think Jack gets his?”
She stands up and carries both of our coffee cups over to the sink even though I was only half finished with mine.
“I’m not trying to be mean,” Edith says, clearly hurt.
“I know. It’s just…I know how it feels to be the subject of…rumors.”
She turns then and smiles warmly, her blue eyes twinkling. “See that? You try not to see the bad in people. You’re already nicer than she is. Prettier too.”
I throw my hands up and get back to work, though I can’t help but think about Christine. It’s not my business what (or who) Jack does in his spare time, and I definitely don’t care about the type of women he invites to sleep over. Who cares if she’s stuck up or hoity toity? You know what I care about? Whether or not she cleans up after herself. That’s all. I hope she puts the used towels in the dirty clothes hamper and loads her dishes in the dishwasher when she’s done with them. She can be as mean as she wants as long as she doesn’t make my job harder come Monday morning.
Still, I am a little bit curious about her. Call it boredom, but I’ve been imagining what she’ll be like all day, and I nearly jump for joy when I hear a car pull up out on the gravel drive.
“Christine’s here!” Edith calls from the living room.
I’m moving clothes from the washer to the dryer when the front door opens and she strolls in. I’m so anxious to see her that I stuff everything in as quick as I can and dash into the kitchen just as Jack greets her in the front hall. They hug instead of kiss, which I find interesting. Christine seems distant, offering Edith a polite nod, but nothing more. They obviously have bad blood.
She’s beautiful—though, I obviously expected nothing less. Her light blonde hair is cropped short near her chin. She’s wearing a white dress and sandals that tie up around her ankles. Dainty gold necklaces are layered around her neck, and I’m immediately envious of how put-together she looks. It’s been easy to forget about comparing myself to other women when the only one I’ve seen for a week is more than twice my age.
I’m still staring at her outfit when she rolls her suitcase into the room, bringing a trail of mud along with it. Dammit. I just mopped that floor this morning. The farther into the house she goes, the messier it gets.
“Oh, oh! Hold on, looks like you have something on your wheels.”
I rush forward with a rag I grabbed from the kitchen counter and make quick work of the mud. When I finish, I push off my knees to stand and smile. There, no more mud streaking my wood floors.
All three of them are staring at me like I’m crazy.
“Meredith, aren’t you off the clock?” Edith quips.
I point back to the kitchen. “I was just finishing up some laundry, didn’t want to leave it in the washer all weekend.”
“Laundry?” Christine frowns, glancing from me to Jack and then back again. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met.”
She’s looking at me like I don’t belong. It’s the exact same look I give the fauna in the shack, but it doesn’t faze them. If anything, they’ve invited even more of their friends. Come on! Tell Jerry and the other spiders we’re throwing a barbecue later! Yup, havin’ flies again!