Make Me Crazy (Loco, Texas) (2 page)

BOOK: Make Me Crazy (Loco, Texas)
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“Yeah, that’s why I wrote he had to have his own career, so he’d stay out of mine,” she said, tugging on her braid. “Should I have him sign a pre-nup or something?”

“I would, and make it very clear from the beginning it’s not an option.” He read the next line and spluttered, “Marriage in name only?”

A deep scarlet hue colored her cheeks. “Sex just complicates things. This is a business arrangement.”

“Yeah, a long ass business arrangement.” Rubbing his neck with his hand, he asked, “So, are you going to care if he’s seeing someone else on the side? Or is he supposed to just spend his spare time with rosy palm for a year?”

“I don’t care what he does, as long as he leaves me alone,” she said stiffly.

“Okay, so if this is a business arrangement, is there a monetary incentive?” He asked, curiously.

A flash of hurt swept through her eyes so swiftly, if he didn’t know her like he knew himself, he’d have missed it.

“You think I’d have to pay someone to marry me?”

“Hey, you said it was a business arrangement. If that’s the case, then some kind of payment seems logical.” Slipping his arm around the back of the couch, he patted her shoulder and added, “You know, you could spend the next three months trying to meet someone for real. Haven’t you ever thought about marriage and kids?”

“And end up like my mother? No thanks, I’ll pass,” Rand said, shaking his hand off. “You’re probably right about the money. I’ll have to think about it.”

Jake knew that Rand’s parents hadn’t had a happy marriage, if only by the many nights she’d crawled through his window and slept over, but she was way too jaded for a twenty-five year old woman. Surprising himself, he reached out to brush a piece of hair from her forehead and said sincerely, “There are a ton of men in this town who would be lucky to have someone like you.”

He barely had time to dwell on the softness of her skin before, in true Rand form, she started making gagging noises. “Alright, if we’re done with the touchy feely moment, can I start this movie? Disembowelment I can handle, but this sappy chick talk is nauseating.”

 “How is it you can be more of a guy than I am,” he asked, watching her get up and head towards the DVD player, silently cursing himself for his craziness. Whatever weird glitch was going on with him, he needed to nip it in the bud. For a brief moment, he was thinking Red wasn’t so nuts to consider marrying Rand. If she was willing to give her future husband some kind of financial help, as long as he stayed out of her business, why not him? He’d been wanting to buy Loco Tack and Feed for several months, had planned on applying for a loan, but with the money from Rand, he wouldn’t need to deal with the bank.

And it wouldn’t be like it was a real marriage.

 “I don’t act like a guy,” Rand said, twisting around after putting the DVD in. “I’m just not one of those prissy girls you and Red seem to think are sooo wonderful.”

Red’s idea about fluffing up Rand’s femininity popped into Jake’s head. “What if you dressed up a bit? Put on some make up? Maybe you’d catch someone’s attention.”

She gave him a dubious look as she sat next to him. “Because I don’t believe in false advertising. Now, hush up. I want to watch this guy get sliced up.”

“Morbid.”

“Entertaining.” She contradicted.

They settled back against the couch and Jake watched her more than the movie. The straight slim nose was nice with the light sprinkling of freckles: a guy could find that kind of thing endearing, especially if he counted the freckles with his lips.

As appalled as he was by that idea, the sight she presented when she looked over at him, a smear of pizza sauce running from the corner of her mouth to her chin brought him back to reality like a cold shower.

 
“What are you staring at?” She asked, the nose he had been admiring moments before scrunched up at him.

Oh yeah, live with her charm? Not happening, even if it could help him buy the store
.
“A brat with pizza on her face.”

 
“Gone?” She asked after swiping at it vigorously with a napkin.

“Give it.” He said, reaching for the napkin.

“Just tell me where it is, and I’ll get it,” she said, holding the napkin away.

Snatching the scratchy piece of paper from her, he took her chin between his thumb and forefinger. “Hold still.”

“You make me crazy,” she muttered as she obeyed.

“Likewise,” he countered.

Less than a foot stretched between them, nothing that had never happened before, but this was the first time he’d ever noticed the black flecks in her dark brown eyes or the way her lashes fanned her cheeks without any make up or artifice. As he wiped gently at the sauce, he heard her catch her breath, and he wondered what she was thinking. Was she surprised? Was she feeling the same strange fascination with him as he was with her?

“Is it gone?” She asked, her voice so soft he had to bend to hear it.

Clearing his throat, he released her chin and broke the spell. “Yeah, sorry, it was in a weird pattern.”

 
“Thanks.” Sitting back away from him, he noticed she scooted further away and tucked her knees up, like she was trying to protect herself from him.

Moving back himself, he watched as Freddy terrorized a new group of teenagers on the screen and pondered what this new fascination with Rand meant. Was it the fact that she was about to take this giant step (albeit a false, business transaction step) towards growing up and he was still here, hanging with his friends on Saturday night and going to his same management job he’d had for the last five years? He’d never committed to anything, not a woman, not a decision about his future. He had always planned to get married someday, have kids, and own his own business. Was all this weirdness with Rand because she was being forced to face the future, a future that terrified him?

Rand’s booing broke into his deep doldrums and she looked over at him with a raised eyebrow. “What? You said I could boo and hiss.”

Maybe her reaction to him was all in his head. She certainly didn’t act like it had fazed her in the slightest. Not the way it had affected him.

Next week I’ll call the bank manager and talk to him about a loa
n
, he thought with determination. Facing the future head on is what any mature twenty seven year old would do.

Glancing towards Rand, he just hoped his new steps towards maturity shook off the bizarre sparks between the two of them.

Chapter Two

 

As Rand got ready for church the next morning, she was preoccupied with thoughts of Jake and her insane reaction to his touch.  For a moment it had seemed like he was going to kiss her, but she knew that couldn’t be it. Jake liked girls that were ultra-feminine, and she would probably break something if she tried on a pair of heels. No, Jake wasn’t interested in her, but something else was going on. She just didn’t know what.

She walked out of her bedroom, trying not to trip as Scout weaved in and out of her legs. Stopping briefly to fill Scout’s bowl, the bi-polar Calico growled while she ate, like Rand was going to take her food away.

“You know, for a cat that would have died without me, you sure are an ungrateful little snot.”

A low growl was her answer as she walked out the front door and across the large
 porch, staring out across the ranch as she stepped down the stairs. Green fields surrounded by trees, with a creek running just beyond; it was a beautiful piece of land, but to her, it was more than that. This was her home. She’s spent the better part of her life, putting her blood, sweat, and tears into it. Her granddaddy’s will stated if she didn’t marry, then the ranch would go to her only other relative, her cousin Percy. Percy lived in Chicago and had no interest in The Double C, unless he could sell it for a profit.

Over my dead bod
y
. As she climbed into the truck, she kept thinking about her choices as far as men went, but the only man that seemed to fit was Doctor Jay
.
Well, not the only man, but the only man that would wor
k
, she amended as the image of Jake pushing her hair back flashed in her mind.

Pulling out onto the road, she cursed herself for obsessing. She had gone twenty five years without obsessing about a man, except for maybe Branson, but he was a yellow livered dog. He wasn’t worth the cow shit on her worst pair of boots, and she still kicked herself for thinking there might have been more than meets the eye. Granted she had been barely eighteen at the time, just a dumb kid, but after what her no good daddy had done to her mama, she should have been able to see right through him.

She drove through the heart of Loco, Texas and smiled at the closed signs in the windows. Most of the shop owners took Sunday as their day of rest seriously, with the only exception being the gas station at the end of town. The old buildings had been repaired and repainted over the years, and had adopted the “loco” theme for nearly every business. Whether it was Crazy Al’s Food and Drug or Nuttier than a Fruitcake Bakery, the town’s gimmick worked well.

 
She pulled into the church parking lot and went inside the big doors, sneaking past a group of women yammering and giggling. One of them looked up and called, “Oh, Miranda, how are you doing?”

Rand winced at the use of her name in that sweetly sick tone that reminded her of every sharp dig she’d been hit with in high school and turned to face Kimberly Taggert. The short blond woman should have grown out of bullying after graduating high school, but for some reason, she continued to draw pleasure from tormenting Rand.

 “I heard about your predicament. It’s really unfair of your granddaddy to put so much pressure on you, bless your heart. I mean, who could find a husband in three months, let alone someone like you,” Kim asked, feigning sympathy.

Rand wanted to sock the fake little tart. “How did you know about my granddaddy’s will?”

Kim’s smile was sweet as honey, but her eyes twinkled with malicious glee. “Why, I heard from my mother, who heard it from Greta Johnson, who was told by Mr. Cranston’s secretary, Mabel.”

Rand wanted to throttle all of them, starting with Kim. Swallowing her natural urge to call her something as vile as she was, Rand simply stated, “Well thank you for your concern, but I’ll be just fine.”

“Oh I’m sure you will be.” She said it reassuringly, but Rand knew she was just setting up for the kill and wasn’t surprised when she continued, “After all, you always have Earl Humphries. We all know how much he adores you.”

Rand clenched her fists and stepped toward Kim. Earl was in his fifties, and about as friendly as a cotton mouth. Most of the town avoided him, but she loved the cranky old goat like a father. The harpies could pick at her all they wanted, but if they started getting on Earl, she was going to make them sorry. Church or not, God would understand. “I’d be lucky to have him. Earl’s a good man.”

One of the other women piped in. “You mean ornery and mean. No wonder you two are so close. Like is attracted to like, I guess.

Rand was ready to leap at them when a strong arm slipped around her shoulders and a deep voice said, “Guess that means me too, since Rand and I are such good friends.”

Rand didn’t normally enjoy being rescued, but, as she was an inch from starting a brawl in church, she let Jake handle the vicious twits.

Kim stepped forward, looking contrite. “We were just teasing Miranda, Jake. You know how we girls play.”

“Oh yes, I know how you can be, Kim.” His brittle expression changed as he looked down at Rand and she felt better as he guided her around and inside. “Red and I saved you a seat.”

She didn’t even bother turning around, just gave the group of women a very unflattering gesture, causing gasps of outrage. A satisfied grin spread over her lips and she slipped her arm around Jake’s waist. “Have I mentioned lately that you can be a pretty okay guy sometimes?”

He squeezed her close. “Only okay sometimes? I’m awesome all the time.”

She rolled her eyes as he led her to her seat between Red and him. She had to step over Jake’s mother to get to her seat and Karen Hansen squeezed her hand as she passed. “Good Morning, Miranda.”

Jake’s mother had always been kind to her, and she squeezed her hand back. “Morning, ma’am.”

When Rand flopped down next to Red, he asked, “What kept you?”

“Kim Taggert wanted to congratulate me on my upcoming nuptials,” she said tartly, still burning with frustration that she had never been able to put that woman in her place.

“What a witch with a capitol B.” Red said, patting her leg comfortingly. The touch made Rand smile. As much as Red tried to be obnoxious and sometimes even a little sexist, he had always taken her side. Even when she’d kicked Ray Bartman in the balls for telling her she couldn’t play football with them because she was a girl. Ray had tackled her, and pulled back his arm to pop her one, but Red had picked him up and body slammed him. After that, Ray had left her alone.

He usually ruined these glowing moments of sweetness though and sure enough, he added, “Of course, next time she starts something, make sure you wait for the hair pulling and shirt ripping until I get there.”

Rand didn’t even get to respond before a gloved hand whacked Red from the other side. “Ow! Ma!”

Hannah Calhoun scowled at her only son and hissed, “You apologize to Miranda and hush your mouth.”

“Sorry, Rand,” he muttered.

Jake chuckled on the other side of her and his mother pinched him. “Rudeness is never funny, Jacob.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he acknowledged.

Rand caught the twinkle in his eye and hid a smile. Everyone always called her the mischief maker in their little trio, but Jake could stir up as much if not more trouble; he was just really good at charming his way out of it.

The sermon began and Rand did her best to stay awake.
  Glancing around the crowded church, she caught site of Doctor Jay sitting next to his veterinary assistant, Jamie Sullivan. Jamie and she had always been friendly, if not friends. It helped that they were the black sheep of the town, the weirdoes that didn’t quite fit. Jamie’s brown hair was piled up on her head, strips of platinum and pink racing through the dark strands, and on top of her head was a tiny top hat in fire engine red.

Rand grinned. Jamie didn’t give a tinkers damn what anyone thought and Rand appreciated that quality in her. She wished she could see more than the back of Doctor Jay’s light blond head, but maybe afterwards she could catch him outside.

The service went on and on, making Rand squirm. She never had been very good at sitting still, especially when she was on a mission.

Jake’s hand landed on her knee. “Quit fidgeting.”

The warmth of his palm through her jeans sent tingles of awareness up her leg.

Before she could say anything, he removed it, wiping his palm on his own jean clad thigh like there was something on it.
 

Rand drove to Earl Humphries house after picking up the pre-baked crumb apple pie from her freezer. Earl’s place was a one story ranch house, with trees planted for privacy and several large hounds patrolling the property. Earl didn’t like solicitors knocking at his door and all these things made his home look scary and haunted. When they’d been kids, she’d led Red and Jake over to steal one of Earl’s hens, but he’d caught her hopping the back fence. He’d grabbed her by the scruff and she’d growled, “Let me go, butthead!”

He’d just laughed, which had surprised her more than anything else that followed.  He hadn’t bawled her out like she thought he would. He’d taken her back to his house and had her call her father, who didn’t answer. Earl had asked her gruffly if she was hungry, and she’d barked a no at him. He’d made her an egg salad sandwich anyway and asked her questions which she’d refused to answer, although she did eat the sandwich. Afterwards, he’d driven her back to her home and warned her, “Now I catch you stealing again, and I won’t be so nice next time.”

The next day she’d gone out to play and found the red hen she’d tried to steal in a crate on the porch, a sack of feed next to her. Rand had never owned a pet before, and filled with excitement, she’d taken the hen into her room, giving her a bowl of food and water. Pulling out her crayons and some paper, she’d drawn her best picture of herself holding Henny, as she named her, and wrote “Thank you.” at the bottom. She’d run most of the way out to Earl’s place and slipped the picture into his mail slot, only to have the door open.

“What are you doing here?” He’d menaced.

He’d been such a big man to a seven year old, but she’d just stuck her chin out and snapped, “I was just thanking you for my hen.”

“Well, don’t be sneaking around like a burglar. You come to the door proper, and thank me.”

She’d bent down and picked up the picture she’d drawn and handed it to him. “Thank you, sir.”

He’d taken the picture and a ghost of a smile spread over his lips before he’d gruffly said, “I was just about to sit down with a slice of pie. You want to join me?”

That had started many afternoons spent at Earl’s, listening to stories, both true and fishy. When she’d moved out to her granddaddy’s home, it was too far to walk, but her granddaddy had driven her out once a week. If R.E. ever thought it was strange that Earl had taken a shine to his granddaughter, he never said. Earl and R.E. had enjoyed a mutual respect that always consisted of nods and comments about the weather.

The hounds met her as she pulled up, baying at her loudly and pulling her back into the present. She got out of the truck and tossed two bones to them. “Shut up, you obnoxious creatures!”

“Don’t you talk to my dogs like that, missy,” a gravelly voice shouted from the front porch.

Rand grinned up at the ramrod straight man standing on the porch.

“I’ll talk to them any way I want to, old man!” She grabbed the pie and ice cream, hopping up the squeaky steps and kissed his stubbled cheek. “You’re looking as ugly as ever.”

He grunted, rubbing his cheek where she’d kissed him. “And you’re still in need of a caning.”

She laughed as she balanced the grocery bag and held the door open. “Well come on, I want to get this pie in quickly. I’m hungrier than a bear in a berry patch.”

He held the door, shooing her in and she caught the smell of cedar wood and old spice. It was a comforting smell. The smell had always calmed her, like the smell of her granddaddy’s pipe tobacco, or her mother’s perfume.

 
She closed the door and headed straight to the oven to pre-heat it, before she put the ice cream in the freezer. “I don’t suppose you made lunch?”

“Egg sandwiches in the fridge.”

Rand’s stomach growled and she opened it up quickly, grabbing the plates like a starving woman. She put one in front of him before plopping down in her own chair. “How’re you doing, Earl?”

“Alive and kicking. How’re you? I figure you’re missing your granddaddy pretty bad.” He took a bite of his sandwich and watched her as he chewed.

Her stomach churned as she thought about the will, and said, “Granddaddy left me a stipulation in his will. He wants me to get married in three months or the Double C goes to Percy.”

Earl’s bushy black eyebrows snapped low over his blue eyes and he roared, “That’s dumber than a box of rocks! What’re you need a husband fer? Marriage ain’t nothing but a way for someone else to get ahold of your money and squeeze the life outta ya.”

Rand bit back a smile. “And the trouble of finding someone willing to marry me, move in with me, and stay put for a year.”

He took a bite of the sandwich and griped, “He must have been sniffin’ cow shit too long. Dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. You can’t get out of it?”

BOOK: Make Me Crazy (Loco, Texas)
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