“It’s not all bad, but I don’t think he gives himself enough time off from work. It’s like he’s constantly trying to make his parents proud, but they’ll never get another chance to say so, to tell him he’s allowed to take a break. Plus, living on the ranch offers no separation from work and life.”
“It’s just all work.”
She nods, agreeing. “It doesn’t help that ever since the accident, he pushes people away—friends, acquaintances, relatives. Arm’s length isn’t good enough for Jack. He wants a couple feet between him and everyone else, and he gets it…except for me, of course. It takes more than a little shoving around to shake me.”
“What about Alfred?”
She smiles, recalling the memory. “I brought Alfred home a couple years back without Jack’s consent. Boy was he pissed, and he didn’t give in easy, either. For weeks, the dog followed him around the house, just a little orphan fluff-ball who knew nothing but love.” She holds her hands out to cradle her palms, showing me how small he was back then. “Jack wanted nothing to do with him in the beginning, and he succeeded in keeping his distance there for a while.”
I laugh, thinking of the way the two are now. “Clearly you won in the end.”
She beams proudly. “That’s because I know Jack. I know deep down, he still wants love and affection. He just won’t open himself up to that vulnerability. It’s logical in his mind: he’ll never have to deal with another loss like that if he doesn’t let anyone get too close.”
I lean forward, more interested in the topic than I should be. “How’d you convince him to give Alfred a chance?”
She slaps her knee, laughing. “Convince him?! Haven’t you been listening? There is no convincing Jack. I used dirty tricks. I pushed Alfred into Jack’s room every night. That puppy would sleep on the foot of his bed and lick his face to wake him up every morning. Jack took to locking his door after a while, so I had to get creative. I trained Alfred and made sure he was the best dog anyone could ever ask for. I made sure Jack was around him as much as possible. I even complained about an ache in my shoulder so Jack would have to step in and throw the tennis ball for him a couple times a week.” She winks. “I’m just a frail old lady, y’know.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t done the same thing with a woman.”
Her eyes alight with mischief, but I don’t get the chance to dig deeper. Just then, a deep male voice interrupts our conversation.
“Meredith? Is that you?”
I jerk my attention toward the speaker, stunned by the man I see standing there.
“And do you know who surprised us at lunch?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll tell me.”
Edith is unmoved by my obvious indifference.
“Makes sense, considering he works in the courthouse across the street. He probably eats there all the time. Will you hand me that wrench? No, not that one. To your left—that one.”
Edith slaps the tool impatiently into my open palm then continues. “Yes, obviously he eats there all the time—that’s not the weird part! The weird part is that he already knew Meredith! Did you know they were friends?”
Huh. I grip the wrench a little tighter.
“Had no clue.”
While that’s an interesting piece of information, I’m hoping this conversation will end soon. Edith found me as soon as she and Meredith returned from town. I’ve been out in the barn most of the morning, working on an old tractor, trying to see if I can get it to run again. It’s probably futile, but some part of me thinks the rusty beast still has a little life left in it. It belonged to my dad, and he took pretty good care of things when he could.
“Apparently the other day, when Meredith drove that old Chevy to the grocery store, Tucker helped her when it stalled on the side of the road. How sweet is that?”
I focus my attention on the tractor, trying to figure out why the carburetor’s flooding. The needle and seat could be dirty. There could be too much fuel pressure, and I’d just need to test the fuel pump—
“Yeah, sure. Nice of him.”
“Anyway, Tucker didn’t just come over to say hello and dash off. He asked Meredith out on a date right in front of me.”
I jerk up so fast, I knock over my workbench and tools go scattering to the ground. Edith smirks, having hit her mark. Now that I’ve given her a reaction, there’s no stopping her. She starts circling around me, sizing me up. If she had a pocketknife, she’d be flipping it open and closed menacingly.
“Oh, what with my old age, it’s been so long since I’ve seen romance like that.”
“What’d she say?”
“She tried to politely decline, but I wouldn’t let her. The attraction was obvious, so I invited him to sit down and stay for a cup of coffee. They talked the whole time—I couldn’t even get a word in edgewise. He’s such a nice man, and easy on the eyes too.”
“You are aware she’s married,” I point out caustically.
Edith rolls her eyes. “Something in her eyes tells me she’s been checked out of that relationship for a long time. Now that they’re separated, what is she supposed to do, shrivel up into an old maid at 28?”
“It’s only been a week!”
Her eyes go wide. “Boy, what’s got your panties in a twist?”
I bend down and start yanking tools off the ground. “It just says a lot about her sense of loyalty if she’s willing to jump ship like that. I’m not sure that trait makes for the best employee either.”
Edith’s brows arch with interest and her tone takes a sharp left turn. “Well she seems like a fine housekeeper so far, so you needn’t worry about that, and you’ve made yourself very clear about thinking she’s the scum of the earth. We’ll see what Tucker thinks.”
I furrow my brows and murmur, “She’s not the scum of the earth.”
I jerk up, having realized my mistake, and find Edith grinning like the cat that caught the canary.
I point an accusing finger straight at her. “I see what you’re doing.”
She ignores me and goes right back to telling me about lunch. “Anyway, Tucker couldn’t stay long—had to run back to the courthouse, I’m sure to a very important case—but long story short, he’s going to take her to David’s wedding!”
“David, my hand David?”
She beams. “One and the same.”
“Bullshit. She better’ve turned him down,” I say before explaining why I care. “I don’t want everyone pissed at me when she disappears back to California.”
Edith bats away my anger like it’s a wiffle ball, too accustomed to it by now. “She tried to, but I agreed for her, told her most of the town would be there and seeing as how she already has so many friends here, it’d be weird if she didn’t go.”
“You aren’t making any sense. Meredith has lived here for a week—ONE week. There’s no way she has that many friends.”
I’m wrong, of course. Meredith has more friends than I do, and this becomes painfully obvious when I’m in town on Sunday morning. I’m down at the hardware store bright and early, checking out their selection of window air conditioners for the shack, when Chris and David show up unannounced.
Apparently, they also had plans to come down here and get a window unit for Meredith. Isn’t that thoughtful of them? The pair hardly has two nickels to rub together between them, but they were about to fork over two hundred bucks so Meredith could have a little cool air blowing on her face.
“We were maybe gonna ask you to reimburse us,” David explains with a proud smile.
And if I said no?
Something tells me they would have just put it on the credit card and hoped the Lord would provide.
What the hell did she put in those muffins?
I expect them to leave once they see I’m going to take care of it, but instead, they hang around and offer up unsolicited advice about which model I should buy—they seem to think she deserves the most expensive unit the store has to offer. Once we’re done with that, they bring up the wood floors again. I’ve already made up my mind to repair them, but they lay it on thick with prepared monologues about how quick they’d fix it up, and “how little trouble it’d be, really.” I agree, but I’m going to help them, because while they’re decent ranch hands, I’d bet money they’re shitty carpenters. We spend a few minutes grabbing those supplies, and then I think better of it. While I’m doing the floors, I might as well fix a few other things around the place.