“Hey there,” he says drawing out his R. His accent is thicker than Courtney’s. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was faking it, but I know it’s one hundred percent authentic.
“Jackson, this is my boyfriend, Drew. Drew, this is Jackson.”
He takes my hand firmly in his, and I match the hardness of his handshake. He almost looks surprised, and I see him stretch his hand out before he throws Courtney’s bag over the tailgate. I put my suitcase with hers but keep my suit bag with me. Courtney and I climb into the backseat of the truck and sit beside each other for the hour drive to the ranch. I stay quiet, listening to them chat and it all seems so strange.
“John, Evan, and Alex are waiting for you at home. Benita is there with a few friends because she and Aaron have vowed not to see each other ‘til the weddin’. Of course, Aunt Charlotte and Patsy came over when she heard we were gettin’ together. Mom made a big thang of potato salad and gumbo. Dad was movin’ cattle from the back pasture to the front when I left, knowin’ it would take him a few hours. I think he was just tryin’ to avoid the commotion.” Jackson rolls his eyes.
“Why didn’t she just invite the entire family?” I can sense the sarcasm in her tone.
“They might all be there by the time we show up. News travels fast ‘round here.” He laughs, knowing Courtney is annoyed.
“So, Drew, whatcha do for a living?”
“I’m a police officer.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he says, patting his knee. “Court-Court went and snagged herself a man that can shoot a gun and wrestle bad guys. Didn’t you say that’s what your dream man would be able to do?”
“Oh my God. You’re so embarrassing,” Courtney leans forward and tries to slap Jackson in the back of his head, but he’s too quick.
“Did she tell you how good of a shot she is? Straight shooter, that one. Gotta watch her.”
I turn and look at Courtney, arching my brows and smiling. “You can shoot a gun?”
“Don’t look so surprised, geez. I grew up on a ranch in Texas, remember? Everyone here has guns. And there’s probably a lot of things about me you don’t know yet.” She looks back at Jackson, threatening him with her eyes as she speaks to me. “You’ll probably know a little too much by the time we leave.”
Instead of responding, he just keeps chatting away. “Oh, she’s got a knack for rifles, handguns, pistols, shotguns, you name it. She can filet a fish. Help deliver baby calves and herd cattle. Drive a tractor…”
“That’s enough,” Courtney says, the tone of her voice is scary and serious.
Jackson keeps talking as if he didn’t hear her. “…Put up a barbed-wire fence, saddle a horse with her eyes closed, bale hay, vaccinate pigs, change the oil in a pickup, chop firewood, and shovel shit out of a stall like I’ve never seen before. She’s a pioneer woman hiding in California behind the fake tans and surfboards. Glad you’re home, lil sis. Now don’t be forgettin’ where ya came from.”
“As if you’d ever let me,” Courtney huffs, but I’m impressed. I had no clue she could do all of that. We’re going to have to have a little talk later, and she’s going to tell me everything.
Jackson continues and soon we’re pulling off the freeway and turning down a paved road with no shoulder. We drive up tall hills and around curbs so fast I almost ask him to slow down, but don’t want to seem like a pussy. The ‘safety first’ motto has been drilled into my head. Soon I realize we’re in the middle of nowhere. He takes a hard right and turns down an old gravel road, and I can see dust kicking up in our wake.
Land stretches out for as far as my eyes can see. Every half mile or so Jackson slows down to roll over metal piping, and everything in the truck shakes and vibrates. I look out the window to see what it is. Courtney bursts out laughing. “It’s a cattle guard, so the cows don’t get out. They take a little getting used to.”
“This place is huge,” I say, looking out at the vastness.
Jackson speeds up, and I look out the windshield as we roll under a big iron sign that says Circle B Ranch. “We’ve got around fifty-four hundred acres of land, and it’s been a working ranch since the early nineteen hundreds. At the other entrance, we’ve got a nice bed and breakfast setup for people to come and stay throughout the year. It’s a little ole Texas retreat,” he says, answering my question before I can even ask. “It was my brother, Evan’s idea. He’s the brains of us all; well, except Court. She’s got the IQ of Einstein.”