Authors: Colette Cabot
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
“Kathy Mae, I like that name,” he said, standing still before her with his files in hand.
She waited and smiled involuntarily as he looked her over suggestively, as if she were a pheasant under glass. This made her a little uncomfortable, yet stimulated profoundly.
Outside, a rain shower began to fall, the soft pitter-patter hitting the aluminum roof of the realty office and embracing her with a comforting feeling. She loved the rain, and the way it smelled out in the fields, cooling the heat of a bright afternoon sun, drifting down to earth, washing everything clean and soothing the sharp edges of dried bristles of prairie grass. Mason must have noticed the change in her demeanor, and he smiled. But, he still stood there, as if waiting for her to say something.
“I love the rain, it’s so soft and so gentle,” she smiled, innocently. “I guess to some, it is probably a nuisance.
“Stops work sometimes,” he said, “but, I have to admit I like it, too.”
Then, he added, “You from around here?”
“Guess it shows,” Kathy Mae said smiling shyly. “I can guess you're not.”
“Me, I was born and bred in the Ozark’s south of here a little ways,” he answered.
“I have never been to the Ozark area,” she continued, glad to involve him in any kind of conversation. “I had a school trip that was going there once, but I was sick that day, and couldn’t make it.”
“Well, that is something,” he said flirting unabashedly, “If you had made that trip, I might've met you sooner. So far, I like everything I've seen in this neck of the woods,” Mason said, laying his hand on the counter next to hers, almost touching her as he leaned on his forearm relaxing casually.
“So, what brings you to these parts?” she inquired, “Do you work in construction or something?”
“Nope, I train camels,” he answered, smiling, expecting the usual look of surprise. He couldn't wait to see her astonished expression and what it would do to her soft doe eyes.
“Really, camels?” she laughed, “Camels in the Ozarks? Are you teasing me?”
Kathy had never heard such a crazy idea in her whole life. She had heard of training horses, but camels in Missouri?
“No really,” he insisted convincingly, “I train them and just moved them here to Nevada where I'm starting my own exotic animal farm. I used to work for a bigger company, traveling across the country, using the animals for rides, petting zoo’s and once I even raced them in California. They are really wonderful animals to work with, as long as you don't get stepped on or spit upon. Now, I've decided to branch out on my own.”
“Well, that is pretty amazing,” she commented sincerely, “I sure would love to see them some time.”
As Kathy smiled, and seeing Mrs. Wade through the front window, she realized her break time was over. She wondered if she would be in trouble for fraternizing with a client, or if she might become an object of jesting if Mrs. Wade comprehended what had been happening beneath the surface. No doubt she was the type to notice such things.
“I have to go back to work,” she said bruskly, hoping he would understand her fears. “Everyone is coming back from lunch. It was nice meeting you. Hope you like your new house, Mr. Wheelwright.”
“Call me Mason,” he insisted, “And, actually, I don’t think I will be hanging around the new house that much. That is my dad and stepmother’s place. I sleep out with my animals in the trailer. I enjoyed talking with you Kathy Mae,” he said, winking with his back to the door so that Mrs. Wade, entering, would not see it.
“Oh, Mr. Wheelwright,” Lois Wade said to his back, “I was going to mail those papers to you. Did you get everything you needed?”
He tipped his hand and nodded affirmatively without breaking his stride. Obviously he did not care to enter into any kind of conversation with her.
“Girl, you okay?” she said, looking at Kathy Mae. “You look little flushed. Did you screw up something? I told Phillip that it was too soon to tell if you would work out. You never even had your drug test yet. You aren’t on some hopped-up drugs are you?”
“No ma’am, I think I'm a little hungry,” she said, remembering the promised Subway sandwich.
Mrs. Wade scrunched her piercing blue eyes at Kathy Mae to give her a proper examination, then tossed the food package on the desk. It was supposed to be turkey with Swiss but looked like the lunch meat combo. She didn't care. Food didn't matter to her, not today anyway.
“You can take it in the back room and eat it,” she said, rather sharply for someone gifting food. “You deserve a lunch break, by law.”
“When you have finished lunch,” she continued, “I'll explain the filing system. We're really backed up in that department.”
It became apparent that the back up to which she referred was the stacks of papers on the folding table in the back room. From the look of things, Mrs. Wade never filed anything at all—except, perhaps for her nails.
At the end of the day, Kathy Mae found she still had Mason on her mind. He had touched her with his eyes, and it was as if he had run his fingers over her face with just a look. He saw her, really saw her. She felt that he’d seen through her simple, perhaps even drab, appearance and saw the real Kathy Mae Graves—someone she hardly knew herself. She grabbed her purse and walked cheerfully to the door. What an amazing day it had been! She woke up jobless, landed a great job, and met a fascinating man that made her feel like a woman. The future looked good to her for the very first time.
Passing the hallway and to the front desk, Mrs. Wade stopped her to give her a computer print off with her schedule. Reading it over before leaving for the day, Kathy Mae saw that she worked a few late afternoons.
“Is there a problem?” asked Mrs. Wade.
“I'm scheduled to close on several nights,” Kathy Mae answered, “and I don't know the procedures.”
“The procedures are simple,” Mrs. Wade answered snidely, as if Kathy Mae had to have been incredibly stupid to not inherently know what to do. “We shut down the computer, turn off the lights, and lock the door. That’s it. In the real estate business we have to accommodate people’s work schedules. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Not at all. Thanks, see you tomorrow,” said Kathy Mae, going outside. She then realized that she dreaded going home. If she had had any friends, she would have called them.
Once, she had a best friend, Carrie Stapleton, several years ago. In the early years of high school that friendship had been a comfort. By the time they were both seventeen, Carrie had decided that Kathy Mae was too nice, and perhaps too dull for her taste. A little drinking, dancing, and driving around town without a license was one thing. But, Carrie was quickly becoming the local tramp, despite being under age. She was out having sex with every guy that called her number which they found scribbled in all the men's toilet stalls for miles around. This was not something Kathy Mae liked, and the guys Carrie tried to fix her up with seemed to expect it. Carrie ended up pregnant by some plumber named Tom who took little interest in her welfare. He was already married to someone else and had several kids.
Several years after high school, Carrie renewed their friendship once life's lessons had slowed down her spirit of adventure somewhat. By then she lived with her alcoholic cross-dressing father and druggie mother. Kathy Mae discovered this secret the first night she went to Carrie's to see her little boy and hang out. She remembered knocking on the door, and looking through the glass pane to see a green skirt and white high-heel shoes flutter past. Finding that Carrie came to the door in sweat pants and that her mother was out, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the rest of the story. She asked about what she had seen, and Carrie confirmed her assumption.
Not long after they had just started getting reacquainted, Carrie started going out with another man, and got pregnant again. Kathy Mae had never even met him, and only knew that his name was Adam. Then one morning she was watching the news about a local child who had been beaten and was in critical condition. It was Carrie Stapleton's child, Matthew, and he died the next day. Kathy Mae cried for two days, remembering the boy's adorable face—his dark complexion and bright green eyes. Her friend’s sanity was gone from that time forward; she began smoking marijuana even though she was pregnant with another child—the one fathered by the man who had beaten Matthew to death.
Carrie gave birth to a baby girl and gave it up for adoption. The next Kathy Mae knew Carrie had moved to Joplin. With neither of them owning a car, that essentially marked the end of the friendship. But, the final end came one November day when Kathy Mae learned that Carrie had died at age 24 in a car accident on her way to work. This had been the only experience with friendship Kathy Mae had ever known. It had ended tragically, like everything else in her life.
Walking home, these things filled her thoughts because the prospect of good things in her life triggered fear in her heart. It would take time to rid herself of the habit of expecting loss and grief. If thinking of Mason had done this, then she wouldn't think of him, she told herself. She would cross the prairie park on her way home, although it was a little out of the way. She wanted to look at the buffalo and listen to the mating call of the prairie chickens in the fall. The sky was clear with pinks, grays and blues. These things eased her troubled heart as she learned to thrive on the beauty around her.
She wanted to be free, travel like Mason across the United States, meet people from around the world and enjoy things of which her parents, her aunt, and her solitary friend had never dreamed. It excited her that she had made one step in the right direction.
Just as she began to walk down the lonely gravel drive past the sign
“Prairie State Park” Kathy Mae
was startled by a car coming behind her. At this time of day this was unusual, and it put her on edge, in spite of the still daylight hour. Moving over to the side of the road to let the car pass by, she became concerned when it slowed down and still followed behind her. Kathy Mae picked up her pace and turned onto a trail marked Fox Way. No sooner than she had done so, it occurred to her that this had been a mistake. Although the vehicle would not be able to travel on the narrow path, this route took her into more isolated territory. She glanced cautiously behind her to see that it was a truck and not a car that she had heard behind her.
The large white Dodge truck honked its horn twice. Such was not the action of a rapist or murderer, she confidently told herself. Then it occurred to her that no such precedent had been established. He beckoned her to him with that sound, and she saw no good reason for such action—except to get her into the cab of his truck. Without turning to see the driver, she also did not see him waving from the rolled-down window. She began running, hoping that she could reach the other side of the field before he could exit his vehicle and follow. Bending herself cautiously between the two electric wires set to keep the buffalo penned, she thought perhaps that obstacle would confound her pursuer. If shocked with voltage powerful enough to discourage a buffalo, he might change his mind.
Kathy Mae had not imagined what the buffalo within the enclosure might think of her intrusion into their space. They were as leery of her as she felt about the man behind her. The tall strands of grass covered her completely. The young bull less than twenty feet from her had gone unnoticed until she heard him snorting from behind. It wasn't a comforting sound. Panicking, she tripped and fell only to notice that she was close enough to this animal’s hooves to feel the heat from his body. Fear froze her motionless. The animal watched her with its bloodshot eyes, chewing on a bit of bluegrass as if this were a casual encounter. It was a trick in nature used by every predator on earth. Be still, pretend not to care, then pounce the life out of the prey! She next heard footfalls crushing the grass behind her as the second most frightening male in the field came up from behind.
“Move very quietly backwards towards me Kathy Mae,” he said softly in a voice she immediately recognized as belonging to Mason Wheelwright.
She complied, cautiously and very slowly.
“That’s it, thatta a girl,” he said, giving her a sense that she would be safe once she reached him.
When she finally reached Mason, he shoved her behind his body, then spread his arms and waved them wildly, whooping like a lunatic. This alarmed the buffalo, causing him to run in the other direction. Kathy Mae clung to his back side, her heart thumping loudly.