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The afternoon Ruby Dee came to them was one of those hot summer days peculiar to the high plains, when heat shimmers up off the land and blurs a man's vision, so that he might mistake what he sees at first glance. That he was mistaken was Will's first thought when he saw coming down the dirt road what looked like a convertible tugging along an aluminum camper, going as if hell-bent to outrun the rooster tail of Oklahoma red dust billowing up behind.
Will thought he'd either had too much sun or that being bucked off the horse had addled his vision.
They were out in the blazing sun, at the training pen, working on the wild stud horse Will had caught over in New Mexico. Lonnie and the old man were giving instruction, but it was Will on the horse, taking his life in his hands. That was the way it always was: his brother and his dad throwing out opinions and Will doing all the real work.
The old man sat in his fraying green-and-white lawn chair, leaning forward on his cane and calling gruffly through the rails. "Don't give him time to think, boy--kick him and hold on."
The old man had always figured, get on a horse and show him who was boss right off. Force was his way. He got aggravated to distraction every time he watched Will work with a horse. Will didn't know why the old man insisted on coming around andwatching. His watching aggravated Will to distraction.
Lonnie sat humpbacked on the top rail. He had his straw Resistol pushed back a fraction, dark hair falling on his forehead, and a pinch of Skoal in his bottom lip. He watched the horse real sharp and couldn't resist humming low. Lonnie was one for slipping his opinions in unnoticed, and heespecially didn't want to be noticed contradicting the old man, but he couldn't help adding his two cents' worth--in this case the humming meant to soothe the animal. Lonnie's way was to sweet-talk--animals or humans.
Will's way generally fell somewhere in the middle. He worked patiently and firmly, aiming to teach new behavior, not simply to overpower instincts. He'd been working with this horse--a stocky blue-black roan mustang with a lot of quarter blood--for two weeks. He'd had a saddle on him a number of times, but this was the first day he had been on the roan's back. This animal was totally different from some hand-raised colt, which was why Will was so fascinated with him. With this horse, Will had to keep his wits sharp.
"Okay, now, buddy, we got to take a step." Speaking in a low, rhythmic voice, he lifted the soft cotton reins and moved his legs to give the horse the feel. Then he clicked to him and pressed his legs into his belly, gently. He was pleased with how quiet the stud was, him being wild and all.
The roan took two nervous steps, and the next instant he reared, pawing air. Will leaned forward; the horse came down, ducked his head and went to sun-fishing. Will was thrown in the dirt on about the third curve.
The first word he heard, when he could hear, was the old man saying that he ought to have learned how to stay on a horse by now. Lonnie was laughing fit to be tied.
Will hauled himself up off the ground. He supposed his first lesson was that the ground was a lot harder at forty-two than it had been at thirty-two. There was a ringing in his ears, and his right shoulder felt like it could rub his left. He looked around for his hat and felt pretty foolish. He could hardly believe he had been thrown. He hadn't been thrown from a horse in a long time--years.
The horse stood across the pen, watching him. Will paused to catch his breath. Sweat burned his eyes. The old man groused that he'd better get at it.
About that time, Lonnie said "Wooeee...will you look at that?"
He was staring off toward the road, and his expression was enough to make Will climb up beside him, throw a leg over the rail and look, too. And that's when he saw what certainly was a strange apparition in their part of the country.
Will shifted his hat lower over his eyes and peered harder, but the sight didn't change. It was definitely a convertible flying across that dusty dirt road, and when it turned up their drive, he could see it wasn't anything new, but a classic '60s Ford Galaxie, pale yellow, gleaming in the sun. The Airstream camper behind it was at least as old but not in nearly such good shape. Though the door was tied shut, it flopped with every bounce of the trailer.
Lonnie let out a faint whistle. "You suppose that's the housekeeper you hired us, Will?"
Will said "I ain't hired anyone yet."
He jumped to the ground. Lonnie came after him, and the old man struggled up from his chair.
The three of them stood there and watched the outfit come clanging up the drive like a passel of pans in the wind. When it came to a stop at the side of the house, the dust finally caught up and engulfed the car and trailer, obscuring them. When that dust cloud settled, the woman was out of the car and standing there, in a dress that flowed down over a willowy, womanly body and caught in the breeze near her ankles. The rockabilly tones of Elvis floated from the car, singing "Return to Sender."
Will felt like someone had hit him upside the head.
"Well, now." Lonnie gave a grin of real pleasure. "I believe I'll just go make the lady welcome."
He strode toward the woman, spitting out his Skoal and straightening his hat as he went.
Beside Will, the old man gave a snort. He leaned over, spit a brown stream of tobacco, then looked at Will with pale eyes cold and hard as January ice.
"I told you I don't want a woman in my house, and I sure as hell don't want no floozy in my house. You send her back to wherever you found her, boy."
Will was forty-two, but his daddy was still calling him boy. And saying it like Will was just another hired hand.
Will clenched the fist frozen at his side, while the old man turned and, leaning heavily on his cane, stepped away. His bad leg buckled, and Will reached out to grab his arm, but the old man jerked away and headed on his own steam up the graveled path toward his workshop. More than likely he had a bottle hidden in there, and if there was anything more Will did not need, it was to have the old man get soused and start in.
He looked back at the woman, the convertible and the trailer. She was leaning over into the car, stretching. Graceful moves, as if she flowed over the car. Will saw that she wore western boots, deep red ones. Elvis quit singing. The woman straightened and smiled at Lonnie, greeting him.
Will hadn't expected this at all. When he had spoken to her on the telephone, he had imagined someone a lot like Maggie Parsons, who had recommended the gal and set up the whole thing. Maggie Parsons was head nurse at the county health department, and was a solid hundred and sixty pounds of practical no-nonsense.
With a heavy sigh, he went to catch the blue roan and tie him where the rails gave a bit of shade. He peered through the rails, getting another look at the gal. He looked down at himself and tried to knock some more dust off.
As Will walked over to join them, Lonnie was making up to her as sweetly as a boy hoping for warm cookies, and she was smiling. Then she caught sight of Will. She watched him come.
He noticed her hat was well used, not one of those silly things only for show. Then he saw the flashy earrings fluttering and swaying from her ears, just like the hem of her dress, which the wind molded against the curves and indentations of her body. She was a smallish woman, not over five four, and slender. She had full, rounded breasts, though. The surprise came all over Will again. And he thought: We're needing rain, but we sure don't need a tornado.