A SPECIAL DATE
Saturday finally came. I was worse than a kid waiting for Santa. My usual sideline of riding Dan was out of the question. My leg was still too sore and I had too much to do. I spruced up the house and cleaned from one end to the other. I wanted the house to shine. I even went so far as putting fresh flowers in a vase. That said a lot about what an important night it was.
Besides cleaning, I laid in groceries. I was having the crew over and wanted to know that I had enough on hand. Non-alcoholic beer for Frank. I made sure John’s gift of beer from the hospital was in the fridge. Since John had picked the beer out as a special treat for me, I knew it would meet his demanding taste buds. I went so far as to pick up specialty snacks from a caterer.
I started making sandwiches early in the afternoon. With all the varieties, the grocery list had been exhausting. Pushing the grocery cart was easy with the handle acting like a crutch. What wasn’t easy was paying the bill at the checkout.
This was the most effort I ever put into a party at my own home. I knew I wanted things just right. Usually I did not worry about dust on the table or dirty windows. But today I fussed at every corner and every surface. The stainless steel appliances shown. The counter tops sparkled. The steps were swept. All that was left was to clean myself.
An extra-long shower was a good start. Even though I had shaved in the morning, I shaved again. Then there was the pesky question of cologne. Should I use Stetson Caliber or Cowboy Scent or Justin Men’s 1879? I sniffed all three and couldn’t really tell that much difference. But Stetson Caliber sounded the most macho, so that is what I used.
Picking clothes is normally an after-thought for me. But tonight I wanted to look my best. My best blue jeans had been to the laundry and had a sharp crease starched in. I picked a George Strait western shirt with a light blue cast. Judy had remarked on it matching my eyes. The leather belt was from Rod’s Western Palace. But the belt buckle was one of the few I had won in my youth. It was always a lucky talisman for me. The boots had to be my best Lucchese Barnwood Full Quill Ostrich ropers. I cleaned them but have never really figured out how to polish ostrich. The brushing had to do.
I fretted over wearing a sport coat or going without. In the end I settled on the Circle S Desert Blue western sport coat. I thought the pockets would be helpful for my nervous hands and the look a little more formal than just the shirt.
The cowboy hat was another question mark. I was really partial to my straw Jason Aldean Resistol. But like the sport coat, the felt Tony Lama Low Rodeo Silverbelly made more of a statement.
With my body clean and decked out, there was nothing left to do. I put my package where I thought it might work and headed to the pickup. I was driving old blue on a regular basis now. Unfortunately it was the one thing I had forgotten to clean. I made a mad swipe at removing the layers of crust brought on by neglect. It is hard work cleaning an old pickup in clean clothes and trying to stay clean yourself. I managed a passable job in the end.
I was supposed to pick up Judy at six. In order to leave spare time for possible flat tires, etc. I left the house at five thirty. Of course I was ridiculously early. So I drove around town to kill the time. A quick pass up and down main didn’t burn up enough time, so I made a swing past the college. But I was still too early.
In my meandering I drove past the Dunbar compound. I was surprised to see Billy Parsons in the yard raking leaves. I pulled to the curb and hopped out. Billy was all smiles and came over to visit. It wasn’t until then that I noticed his helper, Letty.
Before Billy could say howdy, Letty burst out with, “Mr. Tobin, you don’t have to look for a job for my Dad anymore. He has one. Isn’t that right, Dad?” She looked up at Billy with a shine in her eyes. I hoped giving a teenagers’ job of raking leaves to Billy wasn’t Junior Dunbars idea of a real job.
Billy looked slightly embarrassed but added, “I definitely have a job, Letty.” My eyes asked the question so Billy answered. “Mr. Dunbar was impressed with the job Frank and I did on cleaning up the bat guano. He said he was getting too old to do a lot of the work around here.” He pointed with the rake in his hand to take in the two large homes and the almost block of lawn. “So he hired me to be a full time maintenance man.”
Letty chipped in with, “The best part is we get to live in the apartment above the garage rent free. It is so nice. It stays warm and the roof doesn’t leak.” Letty was visibly jumping with her excitement. “And it’s furnished. It even has a cable TV and internet.”
Her announcement needed some response. “Well that certainly caps it. Now I suppose you will lay around on Saturdays watching TV all day.”
In complete innocence she said, “Oh no. I’ll be helping Dad on weekends. We have a lot to keep up.”
I congratulated Billy on the new position and headed back to my pickup. Billy called to me as I was about to get in. “Any time you want to sell that hood ornament back to me let me know. I plan on fixing up that old pickup and the hood looks kind of bare.” I think we both knew he was saying I know who gave a ridiculous amount of cash for that ornament and thank you.
When I got moving again, I checked my watch. Damn, I had spent so much time driving around that I was now late. I hustled the pickup to Judy’s place. Thankfully she came right out. I hopped out and got the door for her. She was dressed similar to me with jeans and a western shirt. She could sure add curves to clothing.
Now that the time was getting closer, I was all nerves. I asked Judy, “There is a surprise waiting for you and I want you to get the full impact. Would you please wear this blindfold?” I handed her a silk kerchief that I had made sure was clean.
“You want me to wear a blindfold? Can I trust you to not take advantage of a poor cowgirl while I am wearing this?”
I was a little brusque in answering due to my nerves. “Just put it on will you. Can you do that much for me?”
Judy put the blindfold on and I started out. Needless to say, her curiosity was piqued. We drove along in silence for a while before she finally asked, “Where are you taking me? I thought the party was at your place. It feels like we are out in the country.”
“You’ll see. Just make sure that blindfold stays on.”
A few minutes later I pulled up in front of the house. As the pickup went quiet Judy asked, “Can I look now?” Well, whether I was ready or not, it was time and there was no backing out.
“Okay, you can take the blind fold off.”
Judy removed the blindfold and sat looking at a doublewide modular so freshly installed that the skirting was not yet on. The deck was in place but needed staining. All the lights in the building were on, welcoming with a bright glow. “Where is the surprise, Mitch? I don’t get it. We’re at somebody’s place out in the country and it looks like they aren’t home.”
I was a little disappointed that she didn’t connect where we were. “Take a look around and see if you see anything familiar. You might recognize the land.”
Judy did a swivel from left to way over her shoulder on the right and the light bulb went on part of the way. “Well, this is your land.” She sat a little longer looking at me and added, “But you don’t have a home on your land. What’s going on?”
I corrected her. “I didn’t have a home on my land. I do now.” Judy got a perplexed look on her face. “Want to go see it?”
Judy didn’t say much as I led her up the steps of the deck and into the house. With a flourish I waved my arm and said, “Welcome to the hacienda.”
Judy stammered, “But how? When?”
I guided her to a chair and popped the top to a bottle of Champaign. “Just sit there and I’ll explain.” Judy took a sip of the bubbly and waited. “For starters I hope you aren’t too disappointed. I know we have been looking at plans for that great lot up on the mountain. But the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I was with the idea. Being up there in a fancy house with all those swells isn’t my style. You know me. I’m a simple guy. Besides Dan and Biscuit said they wouldn’t fit in.
“So I kept coming out here and riding the place. It kept growing on me. I was getting upset with myself for letting greed rule me and letting this place be designated for a mine. Greta’s attack on the mining company should have upset me but I was secretly cheering her on. When Clive said it would take years for the mining to start I got an idea. Why not move a house on here now. It may be years before they have a mining permit. In the meantime, I could live here, where I wanted.”
Judy was sitting so still and listening so well, I kept going. “I have Duke Corver as a customer. He had this house as a model home for years. I have always eyed it when I was out to his lot doing inspections. The floor plan and the big windows up front with the open country kitchen appeal to me. Since I probably won’t get any more royalties and I want to go to half time at the bank and move on to leather work, I didn’t have the money to pay for the home. But Duke was taken with my diesel pickup. So I traded Duke the pickup and the horse trailer. So what do you think?”
Judy continued to quietly sit there, taking it in. I tried to shut up because I really wanted her reaction. It was a long minute before Judy finally said something. “You did all this without me knowing. I can’t believe it. I thought working in the title company I knew everything that went on in this county. How did you get the building permit without it coming through for a recording?”
“I do know some people at the Register of Deeds. They agreed to hold the filing for a while. I knew if you saw that, you would be all over me for answers.”
Judy was a little miffed. “You mean you had this going on while you were laid up in the hospital?” I nodded my head. “And while I was playing nurse maid at your house?” I nodded my head again. “You son of a bitch. You really surprised me. I didn’t have a clue.”
That made my day. I had pulled something on Judy. In all the years of working with her at the bank and all the time we had been dating I had never been able to put one over on her. “I’m glad I surprised you. But now I would like to know how you feel about a manufactured home here rather than a big fancy house up on Crow Peak.”
Before answering Judy gave me a very expressive kiss. “I am so glad you decided to put your home here. I tried to be supportive of your home on Crow Peak since you seemed to want it. But this feels a lot more like home and it feels like you. But what about the contract with Monty? He is still expecting to be paid. How are you going to manage that?”
I smiled and said, “Monty needs to look at documents before he signs them. When he looks at that addendum he signed when he was working on his car and not working on my estimate, he is going to be surprised. It says I am no longer responsible for any expense related to Monty’s plans for that lot. And it says if Monty uses those plans with anyone else on that lot, I am reimbursed for any money I paid him already.”
Judy shook her head and said, “Well, you sneaky rascal. First you pull a surprise on Monty and now me. What next?”
I said, “I’m glad you asked. The rest of the crew will be here in a little while. Why don’t you help me do a little last minute cleaning before they show up?”
“Wait. They know we are having the party out here? Even Laurie knows. The one I work with and live with. She knows about this?”
I laughed, “She does now. I told Frank today and John helped me with the title and they are driving the girls out here as a surprise. Now why don’t you grab the broom in the entry closet and sweep up the entry way in case we tracked anything in. I’ll check on the grub.”
My eyes followed her and when she opened the closet door I walked up behind her. Judy turned around with the broom in her hand and a puzzled expression. There was a small box attached to the broom handle. She leaned the broom against the wall and removed the box. When she turned back to me I was on my knee. Judy looked at me and at the box. Finally she opened it and didn’t say a word.
I stammered out, “Judy. Will you marry me?”
Her face was hard to read. The seconds ticked by with each one seeming like an eternity. Her face went from surprise to questioning to uncertainty. And the whole time I was dying inside, afraid that her answer would be no. What would a beautiful lady like Judy want with a broken down cowboy like me. I was foolish to think I had any chance at all with her. My head must have been on vacation. Or maybe that gunshot in the leg had messed me up more than I realized.
Judy smiled brilliantly saying, “Get off your knee cowboy. The answer is yes. Hell yes!”
The next few minutes prior to the others arriving went by in a blur. I remember there was a lot of kissing and hugging and then some more kissing and hugging. We were still embracing when Frank popped the door open without knocking.
Frank said, “She must have said yes.”
I asked, “What do you mean? How did you know I was going to ask her?”
Frank laughed at me. “Like I couldn’t tell. John bet me you would chicken out.” Frank turned and hollered over his shoulder. “It’s all right everybody. She said yes.”
It was a great party. Besides Frank, Laurie, Greta and John my folks showed up as well as Charlie and Mary Beth and her husband. The new home was christened properly with some spilled beverage and food crumbs. The final christening had to wait because the beds had not been moved from the old house.
When we got back to the old trailer, I excused myself to go out to visit the horses. I had fed them earlier so they were not too interested in me but Dan patiently listened anyway. “You two are going to have a new home. Remember that place I have taken you to several times and then decided to sell. Well, I decided to keep it and there is no going back. So as soon as I can get a shed built for you two, you are moving. And you will have a new roommate. Johnny Cash, Judy’s horse is moving in with us. And as a matter of fact, Judy is moving in too. Permanently!
“I have some bad news for you Dan. You know you have been my best friend for years. Even though both John and Frank think they are my best friend. But you have been replaced. Judy is now my best friend and you are the close second. I hope you can live with it. This doesn’t mean we can’t have our late night talks or go on long rides. I just wanted to make it official by letting you know.”
I heard a movement behind me and turned to find Judy staring at me. She said, “I always wondered about that. If I could really replace Dan. I’m glad I snuck in and listened. If I hadn’t, I would still be wondering if I had replaced Dan as your best friend.”
I smiled at Judy and said, “You have an answer on who is now my best friend. But have you had the same conversation with your horse?”