Jane handed her the menu. "Please bring me a salad with ranch dressing and bread on the side to start with. After that I'll have a ribeye, rare, another salad with my meal, baked potato with everything you've got in the kitchen to stuff it with except anchovies, and another Coors."
Slade wiped his forehead in a mocking gesture. "Whew."
"If you can't afford my appetite, then tell your woman to stay at home and keep her mouth shut," Jane said.
Slade smiled up at the waitress. "Give me the same as she ordered. Extra ranch dressing on the salad and extra bread."
She wrote it all down and disappeared toward the kitchen.
Slade picked up the glass of beer and looked across the table at Jane. "Anger makes you hungry. Hunger makes you mean. I'll have to remember that."
"Why? I won't be here in a few weeks and you'll forget all about me," she said.
"Yes, but you could mean me to death in a month or break my bank account if you get really mad," he teased.
"I think women make
mean, and then when the mean is gone, you are almost civil. You almost smiled at me right then. This could work for both of us. I won't get mad if your women don't call me white trash, and you will be happier without someone who's marking you for their territory like a tom cat pissing on a tree."
"You don't mince your words, do you?"
"Never been accused of it."
"Who are you, Jane?"
"I'm Jane Day to you, and I'm glad to see food coming right now."
She went at the salad and bread like she hadn't eaten in weeks as she tried to appease the rage in her heart. When the food was half gone, she picked up the mug of Coors and downed half of it before coming up for air.
"Can you hold your liquor, or am I going to have to carry you out?" Slade asked.
"I could drink you under the table any day of the week."
"Don't make statements you can't back up with actions," he warned.
"I've never been accused of that, either." She went back to the job of polishing off her salad before the entrée arrived.
"So tell me what we're supposed to talk about for four hours," he said.
"First we'll talk about ranching and good steaks, then we'll go to a movie where we won't have to talk. This isn't a date. We don't have to find out intimate little details about each other."
"What is it?"
"A big mistake," she said.
"Well, praise the Lord and pass the ribeye, you finally spit out the truth," he said.
The waitress brought their steaks and they both lit into them. Jane made all the appropriate noises as she ate, telling him it was the best steak she'd ever put in her mouth and wondering why there wasn't a McBride's in every town in Texas.
By the time they'd finished she'd had three beers and was about to order another one when Slade said it was probably time to get on to the movies if they were going to be on time.
She didn't stagger a bit when she walked out the door. He began to wonder if she could indeed drink him under the table like she'd said. Just who was this woman who wasn't a bit interested in him or his ranch? Every woman he'd dated for the past fourteen years got all swoony-eyed when they heard how big the Double L actually was. What they didn't know was that they'd have to sign a pre-nup stating that the ranch wasn't up for grabs if Slade and fiancée ever divorced. They would receive ten thousand dollars in cash and he would be responsible for child support should there be children born of the union, but the Double L could never be part of a divorce settlement.
Just last year that very same kind of pre-nup had kept Beau Luckadeau from making a hell of a big mistake and marrying the wrong woman. The fate that put him and Milli together was the biggest stroke of luck Beau ever had. Noted for his luck with anything he touched except women, he'd finally gotten lucky in love as well. Milli was a wonderful woman, born and raised on a ranch. That was the kind of woman Slade wanted in his life. Too bad Beau had gotten to Milli first at their cousin's wedding over in Shreveport.
"Penny for your thoughts," Jane said.
"My thoughts aren't for sale," he replied.
"What's showing tonight?"
"Don't know. Hadn't planned on going to the movies. I figured I'd be sitting at the back corner of a bar sipping on beer and watching old folks dance to Elvis music."
"Me, too," she said.
"Do you think it was an honest mistake, or that they played us?" he asked.
"Who knows what goes on in Ellen's mind? God, I hope I grow up to be just like her," Jane finally smiled.
"Aha, the food is working," Slade said.
"For a little while. I might want popcorn and candy at the movies."
"You are an expensive not-date."
"Like I said, you got to pay the bill when you can't control your woman."
"She's not my woman anymore, so you can quit eating," he said.
He drove to the first theater only to find that anything they wanted to watch was already sold out. The second was the same but finally the third was playing an old movie,
The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson and Morga
n Freeman. Jane would have watched Tom and Jerry cartoons to be able to sit in the dark and not have to talk to Slade anymore, so she readily agreed when he suggested they watch it.
She had no idea what it was about and was surprised to find herself enjoying the banter between the two men's characters when they found out cancer was going to kill them within a year. Nicholson played an irascible billionaire and Freeman a scholarly mechanic, the two as mismatched for friendship as a hungry feral cat and a field mouse. They made a list of everything they wanted to do before they died and set about doing it.
Jane laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks when they went sky diving and felt her own heart pounding when they tore around a race track, Freeman in a Shelby Mustang and Nicholson in a Camaro. She sobbed at the end when their ashes were put in the same place and didn't even care if Slade heard her. He wasn't a date and she'd never see him again after her twenty-fifth birthday, so what did she care if he heard her blow her nose five times into the paper towel the concession stand lady had given her with the popcorn?
It was eleven o'clock when they walked out of the theater—an hour to kill before they drove the magic pumpkin to the Silver Saddle and picked up the two meddling Cinderellas. Jane was convinced that they had indeed known what they were doing and had done it on purpose. They couldn't have known Kristy would meet up with them in the parking lot, though. Or could they have engineered that, too? They knew everyone within a thirty mile radius who was going to the bar. No doubt about it, they knew Kristy's uncle would be attending.
"So what now?"
"Wal-Mart. I could do a little shopping," she said.
"Personal items that couldn't be found at the Gainesville mall yesterday," she said.
He almost blushed. Heat started up his neck and had almost reached his face when he got it under control. The movie had come nigh onto making him shed a few tears, especially when he heard Jane whimpering. He blamed his acute sensitivity on that rather than her comment about personal items.
"Okay. I could look through the electronics aisle while you shop," he said.
She bought makeup, a bottle of shower gel, one of Tylenol, tampons, and a jar of moisturizer. She winced when she thought about paying for it with her hard-earned money. She really frowned when she tossed the tampons into the cart. She'd left a six-month supply of birth control pills in the bathroom medicine cabinet. That morning she'd taken the last one in the packet in her purse.
Not to worry,
she thought. Why would I need them
anyway? I'm certainly not going to be having sex in
She bumped the back of her hand into the cart when Slade walked up beside her. "Ouch," she said.
"What? Did you run over your toe?"
"No, it's my hand," she held it up.
All four knuckles were turning purple.
"Good grief, woman, did you break your hand when you hit Kristy?"
She wiggled her fingers and flopped her hand back and forth. "It's just bruised."
He grabbed her hand and held onto it. There was a slight cut on the middle knuckle which had no doubt taken the brunt of the blow. "You act like you've done this before."
"Couple of times, but I was just a kid," she said.
Bite your tongue off and quit telling things.
Speak or even think of the devil and he or she shall appear. That was the first thing that came to Jane's mind when Kristy stopped her cart beside Jane's so fast that the wheels actually squealed just slightly. She still wore the same clothes she'd had on in the club parking lot and they didn't match the purple bruise under her chin.
"Are you following me everywhere I go?" she snarled.
Slade dropped Jane's hand as if it were a hot branding iron fresh from the fire.
"I'd think you were following us. Your cart is empty and mine is full, so I've been here longer. Is the whole Wal-Mart store your territory, too? Did you piss on all four corners?" Jane asked.
"Don't get mad. We don't have time to eat again," Slade groaned.
Kristy threw up her hands in disgust. "What are you talking about? Damn it all. I'll never know what I saw in you in the first place. I think you are touched in the head, and I intend to make it my mission to tell every woman you date that you are an idiot."
"Be careful. I can fight with either hand and my left one is still good. I can give you a bruise on the other side of your chin that Cover Girl will have a hard time covering up," Jane whispered.
"Go to hell," Kristy muttered and marched back to the hairspray aisle.
"Does she just rile you wrong or do you have a problem with all women?" Slade asked on the way back out to the truck after she'd paid for her items.
Jane fastened the seat belt and crossed her arms over her chest. "I have trouble with bullies, especially right now, so it would be best if she stays away from me."
She'd never displayed such low-class manners in her whole life. Her mother would be appalled if she were living. Her grandmother, who'd been a rounder in her day, would go into apoplexy if she was alive. Ranger women didn't act like white trash.
Yes, they do when they get their hackles up, and
mine have been up for two weeks. I think I just hit
the anger stage of this thing with John. It was denial
at first. Surely I made a mistake, or else it was just a
practical joke they were playing because they knew I
was there. Maybe it was even a test to see if I loved him
unconditionally. At least that's what I told myself the
first night on the bus. Then I realized I wasn't crazy; it
was real and survival mode took hold. Now it's anger.
He'd better keep his distance or we'll see who gets
planted six feet down. I'd do it without a contract or
payment and eat half a steer afterwards.
The ladies were waiting at the door when they arrived and came right out to the truck. They were visibly completely worn out, still excited and rattling on and on about who they'd danced with and seen. They didn't hush all the way home.
Slade parked the truck and they crawled out whining about sore feet and leg muscles and declaring they'd do it again the next week, so someone could just get ready to drive them again. Slade rolled his eyes at Jane. They might never know for sure if they'd been hoodwinked that time, but it wouldn't happen again.
Or would it?
It hadn't been such a horrid evening. Slade had had many worse dates that were real dates and he felt more alive than he had in years and years, perhaps in his whole life. But he wasn't giving Jane credit for that. It was simply the circumstances.
Jane told them good night and went straight to her room, where she peeled out of the new dress and slipped a nightshirt over her head. She checked the hallway and made a beeline for the bathroom, took a quick shower, and hurried back to her room. She'd shut the door and was about to crawl into bed when she realized there was another body between the sheets.
"What the hell?" she exclaimed.
The covers flew back and two heads popped up—Ellen with her red hair wrapped in layers of toilet paper; Nellie's cap of gray poking up every which way. Ellen was in a bright red silk teddy; Nellie in a white cotton sleeveless gown.
"We can't sleep. Tell us a story," Nellie said.
"You've both had too much to drink," Jane said.
"Probably, but I'm not drunk and I didn't wreck anyone's car and no one came home with me to make the bed springs squeak, so I want a story," Ellen said.
"I'm tipsy," Nellie admitted. "But I always wanted a daughter or a granddaughter and all I got was three old boys and three grandsons. And two of them hate the ranch and country life so I don't even hardly know them. So tonight you are my granddaughter and you're going to have to fill in."
"Tell us about punching old Kristy's lights out," Ellen said.
"And start it with 'once upon a time' like a real story," Nellie said.
"If I do, will you both go to bed? We've got to get up in less than six hours. You're both going to have headaches in the morning," Jane said.