Billion Dollar Cowboy(9)

By: Carolyn Brown

A single lamp illuminated the small efficiency apartment. A bank of cabinets covered the south wall of the apartment. A small sink, apartment-sized stove, and under-the-counter dorm-sized refrigerator made it into a kitchen. The queen-sized bed took up a chunk of the remaining area. A rocker/recliner faced a television at the foot of the bed, and a doorway right beside it led into a bathroom.

That is where Laura headed, leaving clothing and running shoes in her wake. She turned on the water in an old cast-iron claw-foot tub and crawled into it as it filled. She leaned on the sloped back and shut her eyes. Had she missed a nuance in Colton’s actions? He’d changed slightly when she ordered the rainbow snow cone, but that’s what she always got. He’d ordered the same one, so what was the big deal? Then he’d had a strange expression when she wanted to go to the school playground, but again, that was her favorite place to go.

It always reminded her of summertime in Amarillo. When Aunt Dotty finished at the feed store and the grocery store, she would let Janet and Laura have a snow cone—if they’d been good that week. And she’d take them to the school playground to swing while they ate it. That was the highlight of their Saturday afternoons when they were kids.

She worked her toes around the faucet handle and turned off the water without sitting up. Andy said the old tub was still in the apartment because they’d have to take a wall out to remove it. She was glad no one had wanted it gone because it had become her refuge—the place where she escaped to each evening while she tried to convince herself that keeping her promise to Andy was the right thing to do when she wanted to call Janet so badly. Just hearing her voice would be enough, but she’d agreed not to even talk to her.

Knowing that Andy was right didn’t make it a bit easier. After all, Janet was her sister and Andy was just a distant cousin. True, without him, she might not have a sister. But she’d always taken care of Janet. Could she really, really practice tough love, as Andy called it, this late in the game?

She leaned back and stared at the ceiling, her thoughts going back to the broken bits of conversation she’d overheard and the snow cone incident. She had moved past that and was thinking about a new computer firewall program when she dozed off, awaking a while later to chill bumps on her bare arms and a kink in her neck. She quickly sat up and pulled the rubber plug, letting the cold water drain as she got out and wrapped a towel around her body. She dried off on the towel and draped it over the side of the tub. She had just finished pulling her favorite tattered old flannel robe over a faded nightshirt when someone knocked on the door.

No one had ever come to visit before. It wasn’t fair to get her first visitor when her clothing was strewn from door to bathroom and a wet towel was crumpled on the floor. Lord, she hoped it wasn’t Colton.

“Hey, Laura, you in there?” Andy yelled.

She slung open the door. “Come in.”

Andy’s grin brightened the room. He’d always been a teddy bear—slightly overweight, wearing his jeans below his belly, and addicted to T-shirts from country music concerts. His curly hair never looked like it had been cut, and his round face always looked slightly scruffy but his blue eyes were as honest as an angel’s. She’d always known that Andy would do anything for her. That’s why she called him when she had no other place to turn.

“Naw,” he said. “I just come to invite you to church with me tomorrow morning. Sorry, I didn’t think about it last week. Ambrose is just a little bitty place, but we got a pretty nice congregation. It’ll get you out and into the community.”

“I met the preacher this evening when I was out jogging. I sat down on the church steps to catch my breath. He asked me to come to church tomorrow but I skirted the issue. That’s my day to do laundry and catch up on my housework. It takes a lot of work to keep a place this size clean,” she said.

He leaned against the doorjamb. “I remember when I first came to the ranch and lived here. Man, it took me all of fifteen minutes every Sunday morning. You can do your laundry tomorrow afternoon after church. The utility room is available in the afternoon as well as the morning.”