A Red Leaf & Ten Orchids Ch. 03byTaLtos6©
**A little more strangeness. O_o
Bart Smith was a big man, 6' 7" and built like a linebacker. Those who were close to him knew him to be a gentle giant. Everybody else just tried to stay out of his way. He was at the ranch twenty-five minutes later as Kayla explained what had happened to her car. She rode back to it with him in the wrecker. On the way, she asked him if he knew Joshua.
"Josh Taylor? Shoot, he's a friend of mine. We go back a ways. Comes by every year to stay with Rosie and Sam." He paused to puff on his cigar. "Lookin' at you, I'd say you're Rosie's kin?"
Kayla nodded. "My aunt. Sam was my uncle," she said.
"Oh, I'm sorry for your loss," Bart said. "He was a fine man. Everybody knew him hereabouts. You here on vacation or somethin'?" Bart asked.
"Sort of," Kayla smiled. "I've been transferred to Santa Fe from Phoenix, and I've got a month's leave first. I'm staying with my aunt."
They came upon the hapless Chevrolet at that point, and their conversation stopped as Bart pulled the wrecker around behind the trailer and got out. Kayla followed. He opened the hood, and then took off the radiator cap.
"She's a mite low," he said as he tried to peer into the depths of the radiator filler while blocking the bright sunlight with his hand.
He looked up, "As in, I can't see any" he said and walked back to get his jug of coolant. "Tell me, did it get all the way over to the hot side?"
"I pulled over just before then and shut it off." Kayla explained. "Why?"
Bart sighed. "Well, these things are all aluminum engine blocks now. They can't take over-temperature. The blocks can warp. If that happens and it's not too bad, you can just mill the head down a bit and live with it. If it's real bad, you'll need a new engine." he explained.
"I'll tell you what," he said as he replaced the caps on both the rad and the overflow container. "You try to start it. If she starts and runs, just drive on over to Rosie's and park it. I'll follow behind you. Don't go fast, 30 is good enough."
Kayla got in as Bart closed the hood. She turned the key, and the Cavalier cranked and settled down to an idle.
Bart looked down at her. "Ok, just take it slow, and if you can, try to pull it around so you're facing the road again. You can unload it if that's what you mean to do."
Kayla nodded and put it in drive. She pulled out slowly. Bart watched her accelerate gently, and he let out a soft whistle as he walked to his truck. "Damn," he said.
Daisy looked up as the wrecker pulled in. She acknowledged its arrival with a "Whuff!", and bounced over to greet Bart. He smiled as he got out and waited stoically. Bart was about the only person who Daisy would jump up on and nobody knew why. But really, Daisy knew full well why. She resisted all of Josh's or Rose's attempts to curb the behavior.
Up came the huge head, and her front paws landed on Bart's shoulders. He grabbed the cigar out of his mouth just in time, and hoped she wouldn't drown him with her affection. He laughed and hugged his "little girlfriend" as he fussed over her. Once this had been accomplished, Daisy dropped back down on all fours and trotted happily to resume playing with Jillian, who had watched with fascination.
Kayla said, "When I first saw her, she scared the heck out of me. But now I see that she's so affectionate. I don't know why I was afraid of her."
Rose gave Kayla a glance full of unspoken meaning. Kayla held up her hands, and laughed, "Yeah, I know, I have to learn to look past the surface."
Bart asked where Josh was. Kayla shrugged, and Rose spoke for her. "Josh didn't know my niece was coming, and Kayla didn't know that Josh would be here. They'd never met, but they ran into each other today, and you might say that it didn't go well. It's my fault, really. I should have told them beforehand."
Bart smiled as his cigar seemed to wander over to the side of his mouth by itself, "Well I can't imagine how meeting somebody like you just couldn't go well, Kayla. Josh is all right. He's a mite shy, and he keeps to himself, is all. He's good to know if you need a friend."
He paused and thought, "I don't know about your circumstances, but if you'll pardon me, I don't see a ring on your hand. This is a small place and word gets around. Without you doing a thing, it might be that the girls down at the market could have somethin' to worry about now, knowin' the way that they think..." he chuckled with an exaggerated wink to Rose.
"I was going to warn you about them sooner or later, "Rose said, "You can't imagine a bigger pack of needle-nosed busybodies with nothing to do but make up stories about people. I think that what Bart here means to say is that once it's known that you're here, and they know that Josh comes here every year, those razor-sharp tongues down at the supermarket will come up with something, I just know it."
Kayla smirked, "Oh, trust me Bart, I don't think there's any need for them to worry on my account. I made him pretty mad. I think it might be fair to say that we pretty much hate each other."
She thought about it for a moment, "Well, that's not strictly true, I guess. You know how sometimes two people can hit it off?"
Bart smiled and nodded a little.
"Well," Kayla said with a grin, "we just want to hit. I don't give a damn about any gossip. Joshua and I don't have much use for each other. Or does target practice count?"
Rose laughed a little and said, "That doesn't matter, Kayla. They'll come up with some nastiness. Every year it's the same. Joshua hits town and they go into overdrive. To hear them talk, Joshua has a new girlfriend about every hour or so – and none of it ever happens except in their little minds. He's an easy target. It's no secret that a lot of the women around here would crawl through a mile of broken glass to get to that boy."
Bart chuckled, "But Josh don't care, if he even notices them at all. I do catch him looking sometimes though. So he's human. But nobody's found the chink in that armor yet. And by the way, Kayla? If Josh was still talking to you in any way, I'd say he was just pretty annoyed. I've only seen him get really mad just one time, and he turned quiet and stone cold. And THAT wasn't pretty," he grinned as he used his index finger for emphasis.
Kayla frowned at the trailer hitch. "I don't know why we're having this conversation."
She looked up. "It doesn't matter. I don't really care if he's breathing, and I'm sure it's mutual. Look, Bart, what do I owe you for this?"
"Don't worry about it, Kayla. I told you, Josh is a friend. – AND you can put your hands back down again. Even if he's not YOUR friend, I'd do it a hundred times over for Rosie. I don't think there's anything really wrong with your car. It'll feel a whole lot better without that trailer following it around. I just added a bit of coolant. It ought to be ok. It's on the house. You just take it easy from here on out for a while, and watch your guage to make sure it don't make me a liar.
I've got to go now. Consuella will be wonderin' why I haven't followed the smell of dinner home by now and she's gonna want to know that her favorite Viking is back and hear all about the new girl in town," Bart said as he clomped back to the wrecker.
"Thanks, Bart!" the women both chimed and they settled in to unloading the trailer.
Between them, Rose and Kayla unloaded the trailer and put most of the stuff into the bunkhouse where it could wait to be completely unpacked. Then, the "kids" as Rose called them were washed. Kayla gave Jillian a bath in the tub, and Rose tied Daisy to a post, and using some warm water and shampoo, got most of the dirt off. Daisy moaned piteously throughout the ordeal, and only brightened when Rose turned on the hose for the rinse. Daisy loved the hose. By the time she shook off, Rose was soaked, and needed the bathtub herself.
Kayla put a couple of steaks on the grill. She asked Rose if she thought Josh would want one. Rose told her that it didn't matter. Even if Josh wanted one, he wouldn't eat it if he were starving, so she might as well save the steak.
"Where did Joshua go?" Jillian asked over dinner. She'd actually forgotten about him completely because of Daisy, but now that things had quieted down, she'd noticed his absence.
"He had some things that he wanted to do," Kayla replied, "like lick his wounds," she finished quietly.
Her aunt was looking off at the horizon, but Kayla saw the slight change in Rose's expression and regretted her words. "Sorry, Aunt Rose," she said, "I guess I'm just gloating now."
"Does Joshua live here too?" Jillian asked.
"No, Jilly," Rose said, "but he always comes to visit and when he does, he stays here. See that big old building there?" She pointed to the large driving shed, "the one with the open doors? Joshua lives on the top floor of that. He'll be back, ..." Rose thought about it, "sometime soon, I guess."
"Why don't you like him, Kayla? "Jillian asked, "He helped us and let us ride in his cool truck. I felt pretty sick before he came with Daisy."
"You're right, Jilly," Kayla said, not necessarily enjoying with the way that her niece had of causing her to regret her spiteful words, but a little thankful for it all the same. "I don't know why. It's not that I don't like him, I just, ... I can't really say."
She tousled Jillian's hair, "But I know that I wasn't very nice to him, and I know that I should say 'thank-you' to him, and I will if I get the chance. Sometimes people just don't get along, but he did help us." She smiled, "And he introduced you to your new friend, didn't he?"
Jillian smiled and nodded.
Kayla smiled right back, "Well, I can see that you like him, and you sure surprised me today with the way that you just jumped out of your shell. So you tell me why you like him, then." She paused for a second, "You know, ... if you know,..." Kayla knew that this would likely trigger a little game between them that they sometimes played, and it did.
"I don't know," Jillian said with a little smile, "I just like him."
"See?" Kayla laughed, "We just know what we know and we don't know why."
Jillian nodded, "You never know what you never know," she giggled, using one of her favorite sayings, "that's what I always say."
"My Jilly, the twisted little philosopher," Kayla laughed.
Jillian twisted her head a little. "What's a fill..."
"A wise person who can think deep thoughts," Rose smiled.
"Well that's not me then," the girl laughed, "I just know things."
Long after dinner, Jillian was put to bed on the couch, and Kayla sat down for some tea with her aunt. "I don't know what to do, Aunt Rose. Do you think Joshua will show up? Should I wait up for him and apologize?"
"You'll do nothing of the kind, Kayla." Rose stated flatly. "First off, I don't even know if he'll come back tonight at all. He's a man and they tend to get all pouty, some of them."
Kayla smiled at the mental image that came to her of Joshua with his lower lip stuck out petulantly.
"More importantly," Rose continued, "none of this would have happened if I'd done the right thing and told the two of you about this beforehand. It's my fault, so I'll speak to him first. He's going to want to stay out of the way when he comes back. He knows we're family now so he'll feel like he's intruding, and he more than likely hasn't finished whipping himself over that blast he gave you."
"What? He was right!" Kayla objected. "I deserved every bit of that."
"Maybe so, but he was upset, Kayla. You both judged each other pretty harshly. He gets a lot of that. He's a good man, and he's quick to offer a hand to somebody who he thinks could use one. He has no one but me now that his own folks are gone, and that's not much of a change for him anyway from what I can tell. If I know him at all, he's kicking himself around the block for what he said right now.
You just leave him be. Besides, when the time is right, you've got the perfect little conversation starter right over there on the couch." She nodded toward Jillian.
"Once she gets started, Joshua won't be able to get away to save his life," she chuckled.
Kayla smiled. "She likes him a lot, you know. She's usually really standoffish with strangers, especially men, but she liked him right off the bat. I've never seen her take to someone that quickly."
"Of course she does," Rose smiled, "there's a lot to like, since he's really just a big kid."
"Aunt Rose, I don't mean to be nosy, but you know Joshua and all, and – "
"We can speak plainly, Kayla." Rose prompted.
"Well,.. I didn't see a ring. Why isn't he ... you know ... taken?"
Kayla flushed. She didn't really mean to ask the question, and couldn't believe that it had come out that way, especially since she didn't even really know why she was asking in the first place.
Rose was looking at the horizon again, wondering what she'd do without the place where she'd lived for so long once it was sold. She didn't appear to pick up much from Kayla's question as she replied more to herself than to her niece, "There's usually at least one around here who tries to bring down that buck every time he comes to visit. Usually they only succeed in embarrassing him." She came back to herself and looked at her niece.
"Joshua was married once. It was long before Sam and I met him. I guess you could say that it was a short flight," she said quietly. "He hasn't had a serious relationship since that I'm aware of. Sam and I would always ask him why he'd come alone every time and he'd just grin and shrug."
Kayla found herself biting down on her desire to flippantly state that she thought that she might know why when she saw her aunt look away again.
She sighed absently, "I think a part of him died at the scene of the crash."
"What does that mean?" Kayla asked, "He doesn't have anything to do with women because he couldn't make a relationship work or something?"
"Poor muffin, "she pouted sarcastically. "Maybe he likes men."
Kayla knew instantly that she'd gone too far. The trouble was that from the look in her aunt's eyes, there was likely no way now to take it back.
"And maybe you ought to take a good look at your own fine history," Rose snapped back. "He dates a little from what I've heard him tell of it, but he's never found anyone that he wanted to be involved with, that's all."
Rose tilted her head and glared pointedly at Kayla, "Does that sound familiar, Kayla? Jesus, pull your claws in. He's not even here and you're on him again. If you don't like him, that's fine. This ranch is plenty big enough so that you won't need to even see him much until he leaves if it's such a big problem for you.
He's here because I need some help. He's been here working his tail off for me every day - on his vacation. He thinks it's all about getting the best price when I sell and it might come down to that, but it's not what I want. For what I want, this old place might even have to run again."
Kayla knew that her aunt was right. She didn't even know where her latest shot at Joshua had come from. "What do you want, Aunt Rose?"
"Well what I DON'T want," she said, "is to live in a condo. I've managed to keep a few little gardens here. I just can't imagine the same little kind of garden in the yard of some little place in the suburbs either. I like my gardens with about a half a mile of open space behind them.
What I want, Kayla, is a place where I can offer two people in my quickly thinning family who are very important to me a better life than they can manage to have for themselves without my help. This isn't all bone dry land. There are lots of shady places and rolling hills where I can graze cattle and my great niece can have a real childhood in the fresh air, and where my niece might just be able to heal from her troubles. And with any luck, that beautiful girl just might lose her own shitty attitude and maybe LIGHTEN UP SOME!"
She glared at Kayla, "None of that, not one little bit of that will be possible without the help of that man. I've known him for getting on to ten years and in that time, Joshua has become like a son to me, so as much as I love you, I'd appreciate it very much if you could just spare him a kind thought, and if you don't think that you can manage that, then I'd at least like it if you could keep your nasty comments to yourself."
Kayla apologized instantly, seeing how her comments had upset her aunt. They sat in silence for a long time before Kayla cleared her throat to ask about where she would sleep.
Rose thought for a second, and then stood up. "It might be a good idea for you to sleep in my room for tonight. That way, if Jillian wakes up, one of us will likely hear her if she gets confused. Tomorrow, we'll fix up something in the bunkhouse for the two of you. Would that be alright for now?"
"Sure Aunt Rose. That will be fine." Kayla replied. "Sorry for being catty."
The sun was beginning to set as Josh sat on a boulder and nursed his second beer. He felt like a flattened piece of road kill.
Joshua Taylor could admit to himself that he was upset. He didn't normally spend a lot of time over self-analysis, but he thought about it now because he knew that how he felt stemmed from a couple of things.
No matter how he looked at it, he'd been an ass and it surprised him that he'd been unaware of it at the time. Introspection wasn't high on his list unless he knew that he'd handled something badly. Looking back at it all, he wondered if he could have done any worse.
It came to him that Rose's niece had managed to light his fuse. That was a surprise. If he didn't like somebody, he normally just shut down and grew cold. Why had he reacted as he had? It just wasn't like him.
He had driven aimlessly for a while with no intention of going to a bar in the first place. He knew that a bar was the last place to be if he was upset. He had slowly doubled back to get some gas, and then headed back toward Rosie's. He'd picked up a six-pack, and settled for some drive-through food on the way. Seeing that the Cavalier was now gone, he slowly went up the swale that Kayla had parked beside earlier and meandered along until he found himself at Sam's favorite spot. He got out and had his beer then.
His ability to act like a jerk had surprised even him. He thought that he'd gotten that worked out a long time ago. Well, he smirked; he had been distracted, after all. Rosie's niece had a body that could stop a clock, and Jillian's bright eyes were like twin green suns when she smiled. "Man," he said to the bottle, "somebody somewhere sure knows how to grow them." He chuckled, and then felt the cloud of guilt settle over him again.
She'd come driving over from Phoenix she'd said, with the little girl and an overheating car. Then she'd probably taken what looked like a short cut to her to try and get some help, and she'd been rewarded with... Indiana Jones on a bad day?
What an idiot he'd been. He wasn't sure what she must have thought when she saw her aunt's house, with Rosie nowhere to be seen, and there she was in a truck with a dusty, argumentative, and – his hand went to his left cheekbone - rough looking man in dirty clothes. And then she figured that maybe something bad had happened, and she'd just reacted.
Well, it was a stretch, he thought. She could have tried something new and revolutionary like conversational dialog. It might have worked.
He'd gotten furious at her snap judgment of him. Why? It wasn't that out of the ordinary for him. A lot of people didn't trust him at first blush. The only difference was that she'd gone a little deep into left field with Sam's gun. He didn't like being badly thought of for nothing that he'd done, or prejudged and convicted all at once, but it wasn't as though it had never happened before.