"You don't have to yell," she said.
"You'd provoke Jesus, Himself," he declared.
"Probably. Fence is busted or cut. Third wire from the bottom. Looks like someone might have cut it to slip through. You going to fight with me or fix it—or do I need to show you how to stretch barbed wire to win the bets?" she said, changing the subject.
She made him pay up what he owed her before they left the barn to go to dinner. Seventy extra dollars that she'd not counted on meant she could buy a dress and maybe even a pair of cheap sandals. Not that she was planning on a date, but she'd proven in the past week and a half that anything was possible. Maybe that handsome, dark-haired Griffin Luckadeau would come around and ask her out.
"Great God in Heaven!" she exclaimed.
"Yes He is and yes He does live there," Ellen said from the doorway into her bedroom.
"I just had a far-fetched idea that caught me by surprise," Jane admitted.
"Happens more and more as you get older. Even when I'm sober, I get these crazy notions that have me wondering if I'm sane."
Nellie appeared from her bedroom and caught the tail end of the conversation. "It's a female thing. We're able to do what Oprah calls multi-tasking. Some folks think that's just a physical thing. Like cooking beans and a cake at the same time. It's also a mental thing. Like putting on our jewelry and figuring out how to talk your sister out of some silly idea and suddenly remembering a verse out of the Bible that has nothing to do with either."
"Nellie Luckadeau, you are not talking me out of the Silver Saddle on Thursday and if you start quoting scripture, I will, too. Thou shalt not lie to thy sister."
They bickered back and forth, spouting off verses all the way to the pickup truck. Jane opened the back door of the club cab Silverado and both women crawled inside without missing a single beat. Nellie dug around in her worn, tooled-leather, saddle-shaped purse. She pulled out the keys and tossed them over the headrest into the front seat.
Jane had to hop up into the seat. She fastened her seat belt and started the engine.
"Bet this old tank won't do more than eighty, not even on a straight stretch," Ellen said.
"You will not goad her into driving fast," Nellie informed her sister.
"Don't know until you try," Ellen said. "It might have worked if you'd have been quiet. She's young and she probably likes speed and good-looking men, too. I'm surprised she wasn't out in the yard at the party staking a claim on one of those tall Texas Luckadeaus."
Color filled Jane's cheeks.
"And don't make her nervous so that she drives faster to get us there in a hurry to get away from your smart mouth," Nellie said.
"Wouldn't think of it. I just hope this doctor doesn't have a room full of squalling kids with snotty noses or take forever checking your blood pressure and pulling out some blood. I want to find a new outfit for the Silver Saddle on Thursday."
Jane reached the end of the lane and turned right. She drove through the small town of Ringgold, which was only a handful of houses sitting three or four miles from the Red River, and made another right-hand turn. The first sign said it was thirteen miles to Nocona. The land wasn't so very different from her part of the world in Mississippi—take away the pine trees and add mesquite, make the hills just a little more rolling.
"Is Amarillo like this?" She tried to steer the conver sation away from whatever the Silver Saddle was and toward something less controversial.
"No, honey, it is not. It's flat and sandy and I love it. The sunsets are spectacular and the men are gorgeous. You should come on out there and stay with me and see for yourself. It's a haunting beauty. I'll pay you double what Nellie is giving you to come live with me and be my driver."
"Don't you be trying to steal her. I found her and she's mine," Nellie snapped.
"Oh, don't get your granny panties in a wad. I was only teasing. What do you mean you found her? I figured she was someone's kid you knew from around Nocona."
"I found her in the bus station after you left to go back to Amarillo."
"You picked up a stranger in a bus station and took her home? God Almighty, no wonder Slade is in a snit. She could be a serial murderer or a suicide bomber. Are you on a holy mission to kill everyone in Ringgold?" Ellen leaned forward to stare at Jane.
"No ma'am, just needed a place to stay and a job," Jane said.
Nellie slapped the air beside her sister's arm. "Don't get your red silk thong in a wad. I know people better than you do when I meet them and besides, how many men have you picked up in bars and taken home with you? Any one of them might have been a serial murderer or a suicide bomber just waiting to level your place in Amarillo. I bet there's one casing the Silver Saddle right now, hoping you'll pick him up so he can put another notch on his walking cane."
"If you hear the bed springs on Thursday night you can put an extra plate on for Friday morning break fast.
be carvin' an extra notch on the bedpost," Ellen said.
Jane suppressed her laughter. She had no idea if the bickering had turned to arguing or if they were still teasing. She had certainly never encountered two elderly women who acted like Nellie and Ellen. Nellie, with her chaste gray hair cut in a short, stylish do that took very little upkeep, usually wore jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. Today she had on cute little blue capri-length pants with a matching knit shirt and sandals, but that was as dressed up as Jane had seen her.
Ellen's red hair had been ratted up into a big hairdo that took a ton of hair spray to keep in place. She wore bright red spandex capri pants with a loud, floral gauze shirt over a bright yellow tank top. Her yellow sandals laced around her thin legs and had neat little bows an inch below the hem of her pants.
"If I hear bed springs on Thursday night after we come home from the Silver Saddle, I'm not going to worry about it. They'll only be noisy five minutes, tops," Nellie finally said.
Jane bit the inside of her lip. Ellen had goaded her sister into admitting they were going to the Silver Saddle.
"Maybe so, but I'm damn good. In an hour they might squeak for another five minutes. What are you buying today to wear? Can I pick it out?"
"God, no. You are not going to start dressing me. I have a seeing problem, not Alzheimer's," Nellie said. "Turn right at the next street. It'll take you right back to the clinic and hospital."
"Then can I pick out your dance partners?" Ellen asked. "You might not see well enough to know which one is a homeless reject and which one is a rich oil man."
Jane had to admire the sister. She was digging in deeper and deeper until pretty soon Nellie would think the whole idea of going dancing at the Silver Saddle had been hers. Before it was all over, Nellie would probably let Ellen pick out a new outfit for the night. Jane parked the truck in a space close to the front door but before she could open the door for the ladies, they were already out and marching arm in arm toward the clinic—Nellie, the tall one in her conservative clothes; Ellen, a head shorter, in her Hollywood hooker outfit. Both of them giggled as they shared a story in whispers.
When they reached the door in the corridor, Nellie and Jane entered, while Ellen broke away and went to the ladies' room. Nellie went to the desk and checked in with the receptionist then joined Jane in the corner, where she'd chosen three seats.
"You're thinking I let her talk her way around Thursday night but just for the record, I didn't. Sometimes I let her win one just to keep things inter esting. Besides, I had to get her off onto something else so she wouldn't drive you crazy with questions about why you were in a bus stop and who you really are," Nellie said.
"You're really good."
"Lots of experience. One time a baby kitten came up to my back door. Wild as Saturday night sin. Bit the fire out of me when I tried to pick it up. Took me six weeks to tame that critter with food and love. She's the mother of those kittens out in the barn. A good mouser. Wonderful pet. Good addition to the Double L. Just took a little persuasion to get her to see things the right way."
Jane cocked her head to one side and frowned.
"Think about it. It'll come to you when you least expect it. Kind of like a Bible verse when you're thinkin' on stranglin' your sister."
"I don't have a sister," Jane said without thinking.
Nellie smiled and patted her hand.
Ellen swept inside the waiting room. It wasn't so much an entrance as a force entering the room. "They haven't called you to go back there yet?"
A nurse opened a door and peeked out into the nearly empty room. "Nellie Luckadeau?"
Nellie followed her and Ellen took her chair.
"I worked that real good, didn't I? She didn't even see it coming. Now we're going dancing on Thursday night. She doesn't get out enough. Cooks for the crew on the ranch and devotes her life to Slade. He was a good boy, just like his daddy. That Thomas couldn't be beat. Was so smart it was scary—and good-lookin'?" Ellen fanned her face to put out the imaginary flames.
"He looked just like his daddy, Lester. Now there was a man who could have gone out to California and give them men movie stars a run for their money. If I'd been a little older, Nellie wouldn't have gotten him. If she hadn't been my sister I would have seduced him just to see if he was as good in bed as I imagined. Only differ ence was, Lester was smart when it come to women. He married Nellie and adored her right up to the day he died of a heart attack before he was even sixty. She raised Slade from the time he was eight and his sorry momma dropped him in her front yard. His momma, Terra, sends Slade a card on his birthday and Christmas and drops in to see him for a day a couple of times a year. Never spends the night. Nellie says it's awkward. Slade doesn't know what to do with her and Nellie wants to shoot her and throw her out on the back forty for the coyotes."
Jane wondered why Ellen was telling her so much. Was she expecting Jane to open up to her and share her story?
"Anyway, Slade's daddy had some of my blood, because he married that woman. He should've just had an affair with her and went on to the next hot little girly. But oh no, he had to marry her. I can't say much. I've had to marry for love four times. At least when I left the feller each time I came out a little richer instead of poorer. Poor old Thomas was about to go to the bankrupt court by the time Terra finished with him. If he hadn't died in that car wreck, they'd have been living on the streets or back at the ranch with Nellie, and Thomas hated that ranch with a passion. So does his brother, Robert. Robert lives down in southern Texas. He's got two sons, both of them blonds like the Luckadeaus, but they're adopted kids. Turned out Robert couldn't have kids because of a late dose of mumps. Those boys both hate the country as much as their father. Always have. It's a chore for them to come home for a weekend once or twice a year. Now Tim, he liked it but that's another story. Tim got killed in Vietnam and we still don't mention him in front of Nellie. Slade's momma had enough insurance money to get her by for six months until she could twitch her tail and catch a rich man. Who, by the way, did not want an eight-year-old boy in his life."
"Oh my," Jane mumbled.
Nellie came out with her arm bent up to hold the cotton ball in place. "All done."
They met a young mother with four kids coming in as they were going out.
"Saved by the grace of God," Ellen said when they reached the pickup.
"Well, we were. He was good to us today."
"You don't like kids?" Jane asked.
"Love 'em. Wished I would've had a yard full of them. But since God saw that I was unfit and wouldn't let me have them, I don't want to look at other women with them and wish they were my grandkids."
Nellie fastened her seat belt. "You are full of shit."
"Yep, I am. God didn't think I was unfit, Jane. But He was wise in not giving me kids. First time I married I was too young to be a mother. Married and divorced before I could legally buy a bottle of Jack Daniels. Looking back, that's why I married him. So he could buy it for me. Second time around I was twenty-four…"
By the time they reached Saint Jo, Jane had heard the whole tale of the four marriages with commentary by Nellie. She felt as if she'd just watched a movie, complete with the gag reel at the end.
"If you'd turn here and go up to Illinois Bend, you'd find Griffin Luckadeau's ranch. Want to go visit him?" Ellen asked.
"We could blow off the whole shopping trip and run up there for a glass of cold tea," Nellie said.
"No, thank you. What would either of you wear to the Silver Spur on Thursday if we didn't shop?" Jane said.
"Silver Saddle," they said in unison.
"So didn't you find him handsome with that white shock in his hair? He does stand out amongst all those blond Greek gods, doesn't he?" Ellen asked.
"Very, very handsome, but I'm not in the market for a man," Jane said.
Ellen raised both eyebrows. "Now or ever?"
"I'm not gay. I've just come out of a very ugly rela tionship and right now I wouldn't trust anything that wore pants…" she thought about Ramona, "… or a skirt, either. Only people I trust in this world right now are you two."
She didn't see Nellie wink at Ellen or Ellen squeeze Nellie's leg. She had no idea that Nellie had just gotten the second bit of information from her. Number one: she had no sister. Number two: she'd had a bad relationship.