Ferina Kincaid set the pliers down on top of the old farm sink. Cool beads of water welled from the pipe below, continuing to assault the already-full pail. She wiped the sweat from her brow and sighed as she leaned against the opposite counter, glaring at the offensive pipe. Where was Wayne, and why was he never around when things like this happened?
She clomped her dirt-crusted cowboy boots across the old wood floor and grabbed the keys off the hook near the door. Her hat hung carelessly on the porch rail, and she swiped it onto her head as she clattered down the old stairs. The sun was scorching the already brown grass, and she could feel the waves of heat rolling off the gravel drive, as she walked the short distance to the old pickup truck.
The truck, she had named Bessy, was as sure as they came. Didn’t make them like her anymore, and Ferina was glad to have her. At least she could fix most problems that went wrong with the old gal. Modern technology was lost on her. She could rope a steer, but working her cell phone was like learning a foreign language. It was half of the reason that she never remembered to carry it anyway.
The mint green, 1962 Chevy pickup was a joy to drive. Bessy chewed up the gravel road, stirring the red dust. Ferina hated to play on others’ emotions, but calling a plumber was out of the question. Money was tight, and they charged an arm and a leg. Dwight White, on the other hand, would fix it for free, as long as she chatted him up a bit and let him buy her a drink later. He’d had a crush on her ever since she could remember. She didn’t reciprocate but tried to be nice to him, which was more than the other girls around town would do.
Dwight, a mechanic at the local gas station and handyman extraordinaire, seemed to believe that one day she would fall madly in love with him, despite the fact that she had been involved with Wayne for over a year. Dwight was like a brother to her, so there really wasn’t a chance at romance.
Ferina might be able to catch him on the phone, but it would be easier to cajole him over to look at the pipe, if she appealed to him in person. Seeing the overflowing bucket, would make him feel like a white knight, charging to her rescue--she, of course, being the damsel in distress. He would feel good about helping her, and Ferina...well, she would feel good about being helped.
The sun glared off the shiny new beamer, blinding her as she drove behind it. The plates boasted New York, but Ferina didn’t need to see the plates to know the BMW wasn’t from around here. The only thing fancy in West Texas was Mallory Morrison, and that was because her Father owned the only bank in town, and they lived in a house built from this century. Ferina didn’t care about the rich, just as the rich didn’t care about the Kincaids.
She had been working her life away on what was left of her daddy’s ranch. Cattle was a tough business in West Texas. The soil was hard and dry, and the seven-year drought had all but sealed her coffin. Business was booming for beef, but keeping the cattle fed and alive was becoming harder every day. Lance Morrison wasn’t helping matters any.
Ferina owned the right to the aquifer beneath the Kincaid ranch, but the water flowed beneath Morrison land first. Lately she had a sneaking feeling Lance had something to do with the well running dry. The problem was that Lance was old money, and she didn’t have enough of anything, to get a lawyer, to champion her cause.
The BMW’s driver seemed to be lost, or looking for some place. Street signs were scarce, and the few that did exist were unreadable, bullet hole-peppered, scrap iron. The sedan slowed to stop, the window glided down, and a blond head leaned out, peering at the faint address on a mailbox.
Ferina grinned as she shifted gears, revved the motor, and passed, spraying the car with gravel. She glanced in the rearview mirror and watched the dust sift down, turning the black paint to a rust color. She tucked an errant curl under her hat and rubbed at a dirt smudge on her snub nose. The small, defiant gesture had been childish, but after spending half the day under the sink, resisting the urge just to start whacking on the offending pipe, she felt she was entitled to a rare, harmless lapse in maturity. Feeling a bit better, she cranked on the radio, to listen to her favorite oldies station. It wasn’t like there were many choices in this county. She belted out the lyrics to “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” with Nancy Sinatra, tapping her own booted toe to the beat.
The Dixie Diner partnered a building that hosted the old time gas station-slash-hardware store. If you needed plumbing parts, you went to Dixie, and if you needed a good breakfast, you went home. Oscar served the usual greasy spoon fare, but it would kill you if you ate it regularly. Patsy was a one-waitress show, so if you didn’t like what you ordered, tough. There wasn’t much use to complain. She would send it back to the kitchen, but you wouldn’t want to eat it after.
Ferina walked up to the counter to order a coke. It was blazing degrees outside, and she needed to cool off before putting the heat on Dwight. She sat at the green-flecked Formica counter top, swiveling the lower half of her body. The upholstered, round stool had seen better days. It was more gray than white. She held the straw between her teeth as she peered out the diner window. The green Dixie lettering, painted on the glass, didn’t obstruct her view of Dwight filling the window washing buckets. The beamer she had dusted pulled into the station, and the blond head she had seen driving the car got out. Ferina’s breath caught as she saw his long legs unfold from the elegant convertible. He was a beautiful specimen of a man, if you liked the kind that wore suits. His chiseled features were the perfect canvas to accentuate his designer black sunglasses. At least she figured they were expensive, based on the car and the wad of bills he pulled from his white linen pants pocket. He peeled a few off to hand Dwight then rounded the car and opened the door for his female friend. Dwight immediately turned into a smiling, goggling fool. The blonde bombshell would have made Barbie jealous.
Ferina frowned. “Guess I’ll be emptying that stupid pail again--and again,” she muttered.
Dwight would be so addlepated that, if anyone got a coherent statement out of him in the next twenty-four hours, it would be a miracle. Even if Barbie was the bitchy, ice queen type--and from the way the blonde was smiling and shaking Dwight’s hand, not likely--the poor man couldn’t handle her attention. Hot and nice, or at least able to fake it well enough.
Damn. Ferina pulled her glass close and poked holes in the crushed ice with her straw. At least the Coke was perfect. You didn’t eat a lot of meals at Dixie, unless you had a death wish, but the fountain shop part was perfect--cherry Cokes to rival Sonic and less expensive. Not that she would pollute a perfect Coke with flavoring. She loved that the owner had some sort of agreement over the border, so he stocked the fountain shop with proper sugared Coke. It wasn’t the glucose crap the rest of the US of A had to drink.
BMW bent and murmured into Barbie’s ear. Nodding, she smiled at him. They both turned and walked toward the diner. As they passed Ferina’s truck, BMW paused and frowned at Bessy. He picked up the pace, practically dragging poor Barbie, as he opened the door with a thump that made the bell ding hard. Everyone in the diner looked up.
“Hey,” BMW said to Patsy, who just happened to be near the door. “Who does that old truck belong to?”
Quirking an eyebrow, Patsy smacked her gum three times, paused, and dryly asked, “Which old truck?” She looked pointedly out the window where Bessy was sandwiched between a white Silverado and a tan C/K. West Texas was known to be Chevy country, and all three were equally mud-splattered.
BMW waved a manicured hand at Ferina’s baby and pointed. “The green one!”
Barbie plucked at his jacket sleeve, but he ignored her and frowned at Patsy.
Patsy pursed her lips, made a point to saunter closer to the window, and peered out. She indolently turned back, tucked her pen behind her ear, and asked, “Who wants to know?”
The locals were trying to hide grins and smother snickers. There wasn’t much to do in Brewster County, so they got their entertainment however they could. BMW ran a hand through his sun-kissed hair, mussing it, which only made him look hotter. Even with his face reddening, and his frown deepening, he was still one of the handsomest men, outside of a movie theater, that Ferina had ever seen. Her hands were damp from the condensation-covered glass. She used a napkin to dry them then took a deep breath and stood.
“It’s mine.” She waited a beat. BMW opened his mouth, but before he could speak, she added, “And no, she isn’t for sale.”
“I don’t want to buy her!” he sputtered, his shock evident.
“Oh, just admiring her then? Thank you. Bessy is indeed a beautiful gal.” Ferina perched back on her stool, swiveled it to face the counter, and took another sip of her Coke.
For the first time in his life, Nolan Anderson was truly speechless. He had been cowed down by a slip of a girl, who smirked at him as she gave him her back. He slowly counted to ten to calm his rising temper. It had been a long day, and he felt ready to blow a gasket.
He surveyed the diner with its eagerly awaiting patrons. His twin sister, Nadia, smiled back at him with sheer delight. He could only imagine the satisfaction she was getting, from this display. She had warned him not to bother with Brewster County. It was one thing to be a big-time lawyer in Houston but, out here in the sticks, they had their own way of doing things.
“Let them fight over their own water rights. No amount of money is worth it,” Nadia had warned him.
Now, he had to wonder if she was right again. He didn’t feel like losing their bet, so he sucked it up and turned the other cheek. She was buying dinner at Brenner’s next time!
“So what’s good to eat?” he asked, as he sat on the stool next to the woman who owned the truck. He motioned for Nadia to join him.
“Have the Oscar Special. It’s guaranteed to please.” The cheeky Chevy owner fished a dollar and few coins from her pocket for the waitress and stood to leave.
“You don’t have to leave on our account.” Nadia motioned for the woman to stay. “My brother is harmless, just a little frazzled from the drive.” She smiled. “We were looking for the Morrison Ranch, but I think we might have taken a wrong turn somewhere and--” She paused and laughed at Nolan’s expense. “Well, you know men. I thought we would never stop so I could ask for directions.”
“Morrison? Lance Morrison?” Ferina heard the dread in her own voice as it poured over her. Suit, tan, BMW, shades--LAWYER! Great, and now she had gone and pissed him off. Besides needing to repair his car, if he ordered based on her advice, he would be lucky to make it out of the bathroom by tomorrow morning. She knew she should have called Uncle Bob, but he was a divorce lawyer. It was like calling the vet when you needed open heart surgery. Useless!
Ferina felt her skin begin to burn with regret. She couldn’t seem to catch a break today. Her feet seemed to have a mind of their own. Without consciously deciding to leave, she found herself at the diner door, reaching for the handle. She tugged, but the door didn’t open. She yanked again harder.
“Oh, geez,” she said under her breath. She just remembered the door pushed open. It wasn’t the first time she had done this. In fact, it had become a town joke. Of all the times for it to happen, why did it have to be now? Exasperated, she flattened her hands on the door and slammed it open. Having had enough abuse, the bell clattered onto the pavement. Ferina felt guilty about leaving it there, but she just could not bear to go back in. With her head hung low in embarrassment, she stomped out, stepped off the curb, and walked smack into Dwight.
“Oh, Ferina!” Dwight said, practically dosey-doeing with her as she tried to get around him. “Hey, this guy came in with a BMW--and well--”
As usual, Dwight got tongue-tied, and Ferina did not have the patience to wait him out and hear what he had to say. “I know, Dwight. The owner’s in the diner. Look, I need to get home so scooch over.”
Dwight continued to block Bessy’s door. “Ferina, that guy said that--”
“That he was looking for the Morrison place. I know.” Ferina ducked under the side mirror and slid to Bessy’s side. “Dwight, I really don’t have time to chat. I’ve gotta get home.”
She nudged around him, opened the door, and hopped in, but before she could close it, Dwight caught the edge and poked his head in.
“Ferina--” Dwight never seemed to be able to talk to her, without prefacing each sentence with her name. “Ferina, the guy wanted his BMW fixed. He was pretty upset. He said some crazy broad sped around him, spraying his car with chat, and it cracked the windshield. He described the truck, and it sure sounded like Bessy.”
Ferina heaved a sigh and closed her eyes.
“Ferina, you okay? I didn’t tell him it was yours.”
“I’m okay, Dwight, and I’m pretty sure he already knows.”
Dwight mopped his brow with a grease-stained bandana that had been hanging from his back pocket. He watched Ferina kick Bessy into reverse and shimmy out of the parking lot onto Main Street. Bessy’s alignment was bad, and he had told Ferina to bring her in to get it fixed.
He shook his head in frustration at the girl he had known since making mud pies in the sand box. He had mooned over her all his life, but he knew she would never be his. She didn’t give herself credit for what a catch she really was. Ferina had inherited the second largest track of land in the county. She might be cash poor, but on paper she was worth millions.
She hadn’t sold out to the Morrisons, and Dwight respected her for that. The Morrisons owned too much already. Ferina was a strong gal and a hard worker. Dwight admired her. She employed quite a few ranch hands, and the weight of their livelihood fell on her shoulders. If the chips were to fall, she would never forgive herself.
Dwight had been at the graduation when Ferina had completed her veterinarian degree from Texas A & M University. She could have sold out a long time ago and opened a fancy clinic in Houston or Dallas, but she never gave up. When her father passed away seven years ago, she promised she would hold the land and pass it down to her children.
Dwight was rooting for her. He didn’t know what business the owner of the BMW had with the Morrisons, but he knew it probably spelled trouble for Ferina. He would go by the ranch when the station closed to see if he could help.
Ferina took the corner of Main Street faster than she should have. The steering wheel began to vibrate as the truck picked up speed. She knew she needed to get the truck in for a tune-up, but hadn’t the time or money. All Ferina wanted to do was to get home and soak in her claw-foot tub. Maybe use some of those bath salts Dwight gave her last Christmas and finish the secondhand paperback she was reading.
She dodged the numerous potholes on Pine Road, wishing the county would just repave instead of filling the craters with gravel. “I’m Stranded,” by the Saints, played on the radio. Ferina cranked the volume, hoping to distract herself. She didn’t want to think about anything--at least not tonight. Tomorrow was fine. She would deal, but tonight she just wanted one lousy break.
Ferina swerved to avoid a mattress spring. She despised the lazy asses who tossed their trash along the countryside instead of going to the dump. Bessy crested the hill, and yellow headlights momentarily blinded her. She shrieked and wrenched the wheel to the left. The right tire exploded with a fwoop! Ferina stomped on the brake, and a lopsided Bessy limped to the side of the road. The truck was impaired, but moving too fast.
“Nooo!” Ferina cried out, standing on the brake pedal with both feet.
Bessy slowed and, for a second, Ferina thought she might have dodged this particular bullet. Nope, not a chance. Bessy slid off the road, into the ditch and, with a sigh, died.
Ferina wrenched the door open and dropped to the ground. She murmured an apology to Bessy as she shut the door and climbed out of the ditch, resigned to a long walk home.
“Yellow lights?” she pondered. “Damn you, Wayne!” Those stupid, aftermarket parts he got off the Internet should be illegal.
Ferina cursed herself for not carrying her cell phone. This was one time it would have been useful. Wayne could be an A-one jerk, but she didn’t believe he would run her off the road intentionally. He was probably texting and driving. He had been in a daze lately, texting all hours of the day and night. She hadn’t thought too much about it, because she was up to her ears in ranch issues, cattle issues, water issues, Morrison issues, BMW issues, and now Bessy issues. It suddenly dawned on her that the person he was texting must be another woman. Lenny and Otis weren’t the texting type, and she didn’t know of any other friends of Wayne’s. Why hadn’t she thought to question him before? He was constantly playing on his phone, never available when she needed anything. This time he was so engrossed, he had dag near ran her over.
“Another woman?” she wondered, boiling with anger.
She pulled off her hat, threw it on the road, and stomped it several times, until her temper subsided. Taking a few deep breaths, she slowly picked up the hat, dusted it off, and put it back on her already disastrous hair.
She started her three-mile trek toward the ranch. Maybe she needed a good cooling down. As she walked, she pondered her life, watching the lightning bugs wander through the darkness. The frogs were happily singing, and she even saw a few bats flying along the tree line.
Ferina kicked a rock and watched it skitter off into the ditch. In all honesty, she guessed she couldn’t blame Wayne. It wasn’t like she had been around for any romance in a while, and they had lived more like roommates than anything else.
She wasn’t the runaround cowgirl that most men liked. There was too much work to do. She’d had a beau in college and another in graduate school. She met Wayne a year ago, when she was feeling lonely and a little sorry for herself. She knew it wouldn’t last long, so she hadn’t invested too much of her heart. She would talk to him later about finding work on another ranch and parting ways. She wouldn’t bother to ask about the woman he was chasing. It was a moot point now. Someone in town would be too happy to fill her in later.
She actually felt relief wash over her as she cleared her mind of worry. She supposed she had been putting the break up off for a while, until she could cope better. She would call Dwight when she got home and ask him if he could drive the wrecker out to get Bessy. Hopefully, he would put it on her ever-growing tab.
It took Ferina just under an hour to get home. She could have easily jogged that distance on the high school track. As a teen on the team, she had competed in the 3200-meter and the cross country. She made a point, to get to town Sunday mornings to run six miles. However, racing down this route was ill-advised. The country roads were narrow and not well traveled, so when a truck did drive by, getting run over, or covered from head to toe in dust, was a major risk. She had tromped as far over in the bush as she could, without falling into the ditch, and watched vigilantly for snakes, scorpions, and the like. A startled jackrabbit burst from the scrub and bounded out of sight as she shuffled toward home.
She hadn’t bothered to lock the door. She hadn’t intended to be gone this long. Ferina’s home had been built in the early 1900s. The Kincaid Ranch family home was a sprawling stone structure that had been added onto several times since it was originally built. She loved its quirky design. It was solidly made, but in dire need of repair. The front door opened with a screech. Most of the doors needed their hinges oiled, along with the roof that needed patching and the thousand other things that needed to be mended. Ferina tossed her cap toward the hall tree. It, of course, landed on the floor instead.
“For a quick trip into town to fetch Dwight, this has turned out to be an all-day adventure,” Ferina muttered as she nudged her boots off. Hungry, she wearily walked into the kitchen to scavenge sandwich makings. “The sink!” she cried out. Water soaked her socks as she splashed to the overflowing bucket. “Ahhh, feck!”
She gritted her teeth as she stooped down to look at the broken seal on the pipe. Water steadily trickled out, pouring into the overflowing bucket and soaking the ruined cabinet. She hadn’t thought she would be gone this long, or she would have tried to slow the flow before she left. This was definitely a crap day. She looked up and blinked back the already threatening tears that burned her eyes. It was when she thought she could handle no more that Dwight walked through the front door.
“Ferina?” he called out. “I saw Wayne on the road. Is it okay to come in? Ya decent?” he called.
“Wayne?” she ground out between her clamped teeth.
“Yeah. He stopped out at Drovers Crossing and said he was headed up to the OK Corral for a drink and to meet a friend. Told me you could use a hand...” Dwight trailed off as he surveyed the water catastrophe before him. “Geez, Ferina, you should have called me. I would have come out earlier.”
“That good for nothing! He saw this and left?” Ferina said in exasperation. “Oh, hell, Dwight, I did come to see you, but then BMW showed up with Barbie, and the whole Bessy thing, and--Oh no, Bessy!” She remembered the flat tire, bent grill, and smoking engine. The tears, that had threatened before, flowed freely now. She was not a crier, but this day was more than she could take.
Dwight quickly splashed to her and dropped to his knees. He patted her shoulders awkwardly until she reined in her tears a little. “Hey, hey, now!” he soothed. “There, there.”
“This day just sucks.” She snuffled and wiped at her eyes.
Dwight pulled out his half-soaked hanky from the back pocket of his denim coveralls and handed it to her.
“First, it was the dag burn pipe. Then I was just blown’ off a li’l steam when I dusted that beamer with a li’l gravel--I didn’t mean to hurt his car, and I didn’t expect he’d be some high-falutin’ lawyer for the Morrisons! Then I broke the diner’s bell, and Wayne ran Bessy off the road, and--” She looked at Dwight, defeated. “I think she’s gonna need more than an alignment.” Staring at the pipe, she began to sob again.
“Wayne ran you off the road?” he asked.
Ferina watched his expression move from disbelief to anger. “I don’t think he meant to, but yes, he did.”
“First things first,” he said. “Don’t you worry about that old pipe, missy! Your ol’ friend, Dwight, will have that fixed in no time. And Bessy is my favorite ol’ gal. I’ll have her back in the shop and probably ready by late afternoon tomorrow.” He helped her to her feet and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “Don’t worry about the money right now. I know things are tough. You can catch me later.” He gave her a gentle push toward the hall. “Now, you go take a nice long bath and use some of them bath salts I gave ya.”
Ferina blew her nose on the one dry corner of the hanky, began to hand it back to Dwight, then reconsidered. “I’ll get this washed for you.”
“After the shower, Ferina.” Dwight shooed her away.
In a daze, she walked to the bathroom, stepped inside, and carefully closed the door. She briefly debated about the propriety of being naked in the house with Dwight then decided that, if he couldn’t be trusted to be a gentleman, no one could. She shucked her clothes and turned on the radio. It was another gift from Dwight a few birthdays ago. He always got her separate birthday and Christmas gifts. Having been born on December twenty-fifth, Ferina never had a birthday party and rarely had gifts for the occasion. The radio was meant to be hung in a shower, but Ferina only had a bathtub, so it hung on the towel rack beside her well-used brown towel. As she filled the claw-foot tub with water and dusted it generously with the contents of the prettily packaged bath salts, she listened to “Tiny Bubbles,” by Don Ho, playing softly in the background. She slowly lowered herself in the vanilla-scented water, rested her head on the back of the tub, and closed her eyes.
Ferina jerked awake, splashing water over the sides of the tub. Water seems to be the theme today, she thought ruefully.
“Ferina--the pipe’s fixed,” Dwight repeated.
Ferina grabbed the worn towel and hastily began to towel off. “Give me five minutes.” As she wrapped the scanty towel around her body, she realized she hadn’t brought a change of clothes in with her. “Could you wait in the kitchen for me, Dwight?”
She waited a moment then fled to her bedroom and threw on the first thing she could find. The old caftan had been her mother’s favorite. She usually wore it in the morning after a shower while consuming that first crucial cup of coffee. She knew with its psychedelic sixty’s colors, it looked silly, but it was her mother’s and Ferina loved it. Her mother died when Ferina was eleven years old. Her father got rid of almost all of her mother’s belongings and rarely spoke of her.
Ferina joined Dwight in the kitchen, which, to her amazement, was completely dry. “Dwight, you didn’t need to clean up that mess.”
“The pipe wasn’t that hard to fix, and I had the time, Ferina.” Dwight paused. “It’s a makeshift job. It won’t stay fixed. You gotta get a plumber out here and soon.” He was soaked almost from head to toe. He must have needed to lie down to have access to the pipes under the sink.
“Take off all your clothes,” Ferina said.
The expression on Dwight’s face was almost worth all the crap she had been through today. Despite his dark tan, Dwight reddened to a brick red shade. “Ferina!”
“I am not letting you go home soaked after all you have done for me. I’ll toss everything in the dryer. I am sure I can find some of Daddy’s clothes to fit you while we wait.”
© 2017 by Zari Reede