The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride
Author:Carolyn Brown

Chapter 10

 

 

 

 

Clarice and Dotty were in the kitchen heating up leftover soup and stuffing slices of chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and picante sauce into flour tortillas, making sandwich wraps for supper, when Emily got home that evening.

 

“Shut the door, child. That cold wind is chillin’ my feet,” Dotty said.

 

Emily hurriedly pulled the door closed and sniffed the air as she hung up her coat and hat and removed her boots. “Something sure smells good. Is that onions and peppers?”

 

“Louis made his famous picante sauce this afternoon. We made wraps for supper to go with the leftover soup,” Clarice said.

 

“Did you get any bazaar things made?” Emily peered over Clarice’s shoulder at the soup pot. “You are going to have to start putting sticky notes on the cabinet doors. That refrigerator is completely covered.”

 

“Yes, we did get bazaar things made,” Clarice said. “We’ve got one more week and then we’ll take down the notes. We do it once every six months. We love those little notes. They spice up our days.”

 

“What do you do with them when you take them down?” Emily asked.

 

Dotty giggled. “We put them in a shoebox. This will be our second one. Then we put the box on the attic. They’re like them things they bury in the ground and then dig up. Someday, in a hundred years, there will be a family in this house who will find all that shit. By then sticky notes will be a thing of the past and they’ll think they’ve found some big history thing. Hell, by then they won’t even need computers. Everyone will just get one implanted in their big toe and they can send their thoughts without even typing or writing. Fingers will disappear and that’ll be a damn shame because they’re pretty damned useful for other things. And to answer your question, we made cowboy dream catchers,” Dotty said.

 

“And I even know what you meant when you said OMG!” Clarice beamed.

 

“Can I see one of the dream catchers?”

 

“They are in there in the den. I made four and Dotty made five, but she used the center of the doily she’d been working on yesterday, so she didn’t really do more than me,” Clarice pointed out.

 

Emily peeked around the corner to see where Greg was and whispered, “That woman, the stripper you met on the dating site, showed up, Dotty, and she wasn’t wearing anything under a denim duster but underwear. I had to pretend to be Greg’s wife to get her to leave.”

 

“What woman?” Clarice asked.

 

“I’ll tell you all about it. Follow me, Clarice. Did he figure anything out?” Dotty tilted her head toward her apartment.

 

“No, I fixed it,” Emily whispered.

 

“You go on in there and look at the dream catchers with him and I’ll explain to Clarice. I knew that damned old hussy was up to no good.” Dotty grabbed Clarice’s arm and led her out of the kitchen.

 

Emily crossed the kitchen, went through the dining room, and across the foyer to the den. Greg was already there looking at the dream catchers with amusement written all over his face.

 

“How many folks do you think will really buy these?” He chuckled.

 

“I’m buying several and putting them up for next year’s Christmas presents. Taylor will hang it over the rearview mirror in his truck, and Dusty will put hers on her vanity. We all believe in dreaming. Don’t you?” She held one up in the air.

 

“I don’t dream. I believe that you make your own future and dreams have little to do with business,” he said.

 

“How sad.”

 

“Why would you say that? Aren’t you plannin’ on takin’ what’s left of a ranch and turning it around to be a big working business? That’s not dreams, and it’s not fate. It’s sweat, hard work, and lots of business savvy.”

 

“I believe that paths are laid out before us. If we travel down one it will take us to a much different future than if we took the one right beside it. Yes, it takes work and business smarts, but we make the choices that are laid upon our hearts. And we work with what we have in the way of intelligence and soul for that day. It’s our choice, but we do have to live with the consequences.”

 

Dotty stuck her head in the door. “Supper is ready. We’re eating off the bar tonight so y’all can stand in here and admire the pretty things or come eat. It’s your choice.”

 

“See, it’s our choice, but we have to live with the consequences of what we decide. We can go eat and not be hungry, or we can stand here and look at all this hard work and starve to death.” Emily laughed. “I’ll be right there, Dotty. I’ve got to go wash up first.”

 

 

“Beat you up the stairs,” Greg said.

 

“What’s the winner get?”

 

“Kissed,” he said.

 

“Not this week, cowboy,” she said.

 

“What if, because you’ve slowed us down, our relationship takes off like a hound dog chasing a coyote? What if we find that the slowing down didn’t do anything but fan the flames so they are even hotter?” he asked.

 

“We’ll go down that path when the road forks,” she said.

 

***

 

Emily dipped out a bowl of soup, set it on a plate, and added two chicken wraps. She carried it carefully to the table and sat down just as Greg found his way back to the kitchen. He’d changed into clean jeans and a knit shirt that stretched across his muscular chest. She caught a whiff of fresh shaving lotion and swallowed hard. In her mind’s eye, she could see the path forking right up ahead of her. One way led to Shine Canyon, the other right into Greg Adam’s arms.

 

She blinked several times to clear her mind and studied the two older women at the table. Dotty was dressed in a red sweat suit with a picture of kittens on the front, and Clarice wore jeans and a red flannel shirt with an embroidered picture of a kitten on the pocket.

 

“Y’all like cats?” she asked.

 

Dotty looked at her with a blank expression.

 

Clarice smiled. “We both love cats, but it’s just a coincidence that we are both wearing them on our clothes today. This is one of my favorite shirts for cold days because it’s worn and soft. Dotty’s son sent her that outfit for Christmas, and since he’s coming for the bazaar this year, she figures she’d better wear it a lot so it will look worn. Jeremiah fusses at her if she’s putting things up for good.”

 

“Is Jeremiah going to be on the auction list?” Greg asked as he sat down right beside Emily.

 

“Hell, no! He ain’t a cowboy. Working on this ranch when he was in high school taught him right quick that he did not like cow shit and working out in the cold or heat,” Dotty said.

 

God was punishing Emily!

 

Either that or the devil loved her.

 

Maybe it was both because they’d put the biggest of all temptations right beside her. She wanted so badly to touch Greg, to take off his glasses and kiss his eyelids, to trace his lip line with her fingertip. It would be so easy to give in to what she’d been fighting all afternoon up at the cabin. All she had to do was lean over six inches and her shoulder would touch his. She could reach under the tablecloth and lay a hand on his thigh and no one would even know.

 

She didn’t have to do either.

 

He leaned to his left to reach for the bowl of picante and the chips and his whole left side stuck to hers like they were both magnetized and were fused together. Dotty and Clarice would have to call the Ravenna Volunteer Fire Department to bring the Jaws of Life to get them apart.

 

“I love kittens. Do you?” Clarice was asking when Greg moved away from Emily and she could think sanely again.

 

“Oh, yes. I always wanted one, but Gramps was allergic to cat hair. We had barn cats, but I couldn’t bring them inside. I named them all, and when I was little, we had funerals when one died. After he got sick, Gramps confessed that he didn’t always tell me when one died because he hated to see me cry,” she said.

 

Bless Clarice’s heart! Emily could hug her for taking her thoughts away from Greg. Even unfortunate kittens were better than what she’d been thinking.

 

Then, be damned, if Greg didn’t decide that he needed more chips, and there he was plastered to her side again. She looked over her shoulder only to find his face close enough to kiss and his eyes boring into hers. It was a wonder her hot breath didn’t fog his glasses right over.

 

“We aren’t allergic to cats in this house. Greg, next time you find a litter about ready to wean in the barn, you bring one in for Emily. What color do you want?” Clarice asked.

 

“Green,” she whispered.

 

“Sorry, darlin’, we don’t have green cats.” Clarice giggled.

 

She gulped and quickly said, “I mean green-eyed. I want one with those pretty green eyes. Other than that, I don’t care about color. I like them all. Orange, black, calico, any of them.”

 

The sizzle was practically audible in the distance separating them as he straightened up in his chair again. “There’s a litter out in the barn now. The momma’s been hissing at them, so I started giving them dry food last week. Want to go out there and pick one out after supper?” Greg asked.

 

It was on the tip of her tongue to say yes, but she shook her head. “I can’t.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I’d get attached if I did and I’d cry when I had to leave it behind,” Emily said honestly.

 

“When you leave you can take it with you. There’s always plenty of kittens around here in the springtime,” Dotty said.

 

“And there’s another reason,” Emily said. “If there’s a litter, I’d feel sorry for the ones left out in the cold. You pick out one for me, Greg, and I’ll be happy with it, even if it doesn’t have green eyes.”

 

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do. It’ll have to use dirt in a box until we can get to town and buy a litter pan,” he said.

 

“There’s still half a bag of litter in the pantry and an old plastic dishpan that she can use,” Clarice said. “Remember Smoky?”

 

“Holy shit, Nana! That was fifteen years ago. You sure that litter is even still good?” Greg said.

 

“Holy shit, Gregory!” Dotty roared at her own joke. “Litter ain’t got no expiration date on it. It’s just for cats to scratch in, not to eat!”

 

Clarice explained, “Greg was fifteen and a little gray cat got thrown out in the grocery store parking lot. Nothing doing but we bring it home. We bought litter and a pan and food and the whole nine yards, but Smoky hated being in the house. He whined and carried on until we had to put him outside. We had a lot of gray kittens for the next ten years and then he disappeared and we started getting less and less gray ones.”

 

Greg chuckled. “I think he’s got a great-grandson out there in the barn. One of those that I saw tumbling around with his siblings was solid gray. I’d forgotten about old Smoky, but I do remember what a big boy he grew up to be.”

 

“Oh, yeah, and evidently quite the mama cat’s idea of a good father,” Clarice said.

 

After supper, when he disappeared out into the darkness, Emily wished that she would have said that she would go with him. She had never had a pet that was allowed in the house, and she’d passed up the opportunity to pick out her favorite. So she just paced the kitchen floor and looked out the window at the end of every loop around the table.

 

Dotty had gone to her room to watch television.

 

Clarice was in her apartment reliving her past by reading letters again.

 

Max and Louis hadn’t come back to the house after lunch.

 

Did people on the outside of a birthing room feel like she did as they waited for the first cries of a newborn baby? She peeked out the window toward the barn and squealed when she saw the lights go out. That meant that Greg was on his way back with her kitten. She rubbed her hands together. What would it look like? Hell, at this point she didn’t care if it had yellow or blue eyes or even one of each and was the ugliest critter ever born to a mama cat.

 

He opened the back door and his hands were empty. Her heart dropped to the floor and tears welled up behind her eyelashes. She swallowed hard. She would not weep over a damn kitten that she’d never even known.

 

 

“Couldn’t catch one, huh?” she finally said.

 

“Nope.” He grinned.

 

It wasn’t funny, not to her. But then he couldn’t know how much she really wanted a pet her whole life. A kitten. A puppy. Just something that would love her and she could keep in the house but preferably a kitten.

 

He reached into the deep pockets of his coat and brought out a squirming ball of yellow fur. “Its eyes are blue like yours.”

 

She reached for it. “You are mean to tease me like that. Oh, look, it likes me. Is it a boy or a girl? I have to know, so I can name it.”

 

“I didn’t tease you, darlin’. I couldn’t catch one, but I could catch two because they were playing together. Besides, if I brought one in the house, it would whine and cry. Two will be playmates and sleep together.” He pulled out a smoky gray one with the greenest eyes she’d ever seen.

 

“Oh!” she gasped. “Will Clarice mind me having two?”

 

“You could have probably brought in the whole litter. But these were the only two I saw, so they are what you get.”

 

She hugged them both up under her chin, petting and talking in a high-pitched voice to them. “Oh, you are the prettiest babies in the whole world and we’re going to get along so good. You can sleep in my room, yes you can, and you can play chase under my bed, and I’m going to love you so much.”

 

“They are both boys, which will mean a trip to the vet when they are four months old or you’ll have problems with them marking their territory in the house,” he said.

 

She held them up and pursed her lips as she looked at the yellow one. “You look like a miniature lion, so you are Simba after the critter in The Lion King. And what is your name if yellow boy gets an important name like Simba? You are one chubby little fellow. Help me, Greg.”

 

He shook his head. “Oh, no! I’m not naming cats for you.”

 

“Fat Boy. If you don’t help me this boy will go through life as Fat Boy.” She giggled.

 

“Bocephus,” he said quickly.

 

“Perfect, and Hank Williams Jr. appreciates it, I’m sure.”

 

“I’m surprised that you even knew that was Hank’s nickname.”

 

“Hey! I’m like the song Barbara sang about being country when country wasn’t cool, so I know who Hank is and his nickname. I know his father and his history. Gramps loved Bocephus and it fits my boy cat just fine. So the boys are Simba and Bocephus. I like it. Will you bring the litter and the pan up to my room? I’ll put it on the tile in the bathroom so it’ll be easy to keep swept up when they scratch it out on the floor,” she said.

 

She carried the wiggling fur balls and he followed behind her with a blue plastic pan, half a bag of litter, and two bowls: one for water and one for the jar full of dry food he’d fetched from the big bag in the barn.

 

***

 

Clarice and Dotty peeked around the corner of the hallway leading to Clarice’s little apartment, where they’d been hiding all along.

 

“Look at them, taking their first babies up to the bedroom. Simba and Bocephus. I like that. We sure dodged a bullet when that hussy showed up here, but I told y’all Emily would keep our secret. She even did better than keeping it, she helped us. We need that girl on Lightning Ridge,” Clarice said.

 

“Don’t be gettin’ your hopes too damned high, old girl. It might not pan out. She thinks with her heart and he thinks with his head. It ain’t going to be easy,” Dotty whispered.

 

“Listen to them giggling. There’s nothing like baby kittens to bond a couple, now is there? I remember our first house cats when Lester and I married. We used to get so tickled at the way they walked all sideways and cocky. And Dotty, it might not work out, but it won’t be because I didn’t do everything in my power to make it happen.”

 

Dotty poked her on the arm. “You’ve got everything you ever wanted except Marvin, but I’m tellin’ you, if you have a heart attack because she leaves, I’m going to die with you. Losing that sumbitch husband of mine wouldn’t be as tough as losing my best friend. Might as well just go on and die with you as I drink myself to death.”

 

“You are full of shit, Dotty!” Clarice said.

 

“Why, Clarice Adams, such talk comin’ out of your mouth! You been hangin’ around with me too long. Let’s go to my room and make some of that microwave popcorn that tastes like damned old Styrofoam and break out a bottle of cold Pepsi to celebrate our new grandcats.” Dotty grinned.

 

“When we go to Walmart this week, we’ll buy blue baby blankets and cute little collars,” Clarice said.

 

“You know what that makes us, right?”

 

Clarice raised an eyebrow. “What? Grandmas?”

 

“Hell no. If they’d have gotten dogs we would be grandbitches. They got kittens so we are grandpussies.”

 

“Dotty!”

 

She put her hand over her mouth and giggled. “That old floozy that showed up at the cabin don’t have a thing on us.”

 

“You are horrible.”

 

“Yes, I am and proud of it. When we go to Walmart I’m going to buy one of those tree things to sit in the corner of the den for our grandkitties to climb on while we are babysitting them. You know she’s not going to leave them all alone up there in her room while she is out working with Greg on the ranch. Like I said before, we can’t go countin’ the chickens before they are hatched, but I do believe we might have worked some magic with our kitten shirts today.” Dotty looped her arm into Clarice’s and they tiptoed to Dotty’s room.

 

“And we didn’t even know that she liked cats when we wore them,” Clarice whispered.

 

 

 

 

 

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