I didn’t know how much more I could take. It had been three days since I’d arrived in Kotter’s Folly and Beau’s idiotic obsession with hoaxes and conspiracy theories, along with Bobbi’s near constant matchmaking efforts, were driving me mad.
The only solace I had was that I didn’t have to deal with it while working at Red’s ranch. They’d started me out with some physically difficult, mentally unstimulating manual labor. It gave me time to reflect.
When I’d woken up the day after I arrived, I dug through my e-reader library and started refreshing my memory of ‘Sons and Lovers’. When I finished it, I pulled out my laptop and read through my paper on it. I laughed at how badly done it was, but it was a second year class and I had no real idea what I was talking about. It would be good enough for a group of older ladies, who had no real education in literature, though.
On Sunday and Monday, I just focused on work and settling in, but I was inundated with Beau’s bullshit or dragged out to meet someone Bobbi thought I might like. All I wanted to do after I got home was relax, maybe talk to my nieces about their schooling, or read something. By Tuesday, I was about to snap.
I got home from work to find Bobbi had errands for me as soon as I was cleaned up. After I took a shower and dressed in blue jeans and a green polo, I went to find out what she needed me to do. I found her in the kitchen packing a casserole dish into a thermal bag. She zipped it up and smiled at me.
“Good! You look nice. That’ll make Letty happy. Here’s a list of places I need you to go. First though, is Letty Kent’s house. She asked me to make her my sausage casserole. It makes a good amount of leftovers and she just loves them for lunches. Then, I need you to pick up my pie plate from the Grants and go to Sew Much Time to pick up the floss I ordered. When you get back, supper will be ready.” Bobbi told me.
I took the paper with the list and the insulated bag with me as I collected the car keys and headed out. At least running errands would get me away from Beau and his rants. I had to wonder how he became so successful if he was that stupid.
Pulling up to the first stop, I braced myself. There was no telling what this Letty person would be like. With my luck, it was another of Bobbi’s eager girls. I picked up the bag and went to ring the bell. After a minute, the door opened and a woman in her seventies answered, much to my relief.
“How can I help you?” She asked.
“I’m Jaxon, Bobbi Jensen’s brother. She asked me to bring you a casserole, ma’am.” I smiled politely.
She lit up with a bright smile. “Oh! She’s sent me a handsome young man this time! Please come in. You can call me Miss Letty. Come, come.”
Miss Letty unlocked the screen and let me in. I followed her to the kitchen. When we got there, I pulled the casserole from its bag and set it on the counter. It smelled amazing. I’d forgotten lunch that day and my stomach growled.
“My! Sit down, young man. Let me get you somethin’ to eat.”
“I appreciate it, Miss Letty, but I have to get going. Bobbi said supper would be ready when I got home. I’ll be fine until then.”
“Just a little servin’. That way you won’t get sick. Please.” She begged.
“Sure, Miss Letty. Thank you.” I smiled.
“Anythin’ for that sweet smile. You sit there, sugar.” She pointed at a stool by the counter.
I perched on it and watched her move around getting me a small bowl of the casserole and a glass of lemonade. She talked to me about her late husband, her grandchildren, and her hobbies. The only group she belonged to, outside of church, was the book club Bobbi was in.
She talked to me about her thoughts on the book based on her knowledge and experience. It was so interesting talking to someone with so much life experience who wasn’t trying to use it as a tool against young people. I was really enjoying my time with her. I almost wished I was staying with her instead of Bobbi and Beau.
“Miss Letty?” A soft feminine voice called out from the living room.
“In the kitchen, Juni.” She called back.
I steeled myself. This was the plan all along, wasn’t it? Damn. I was too gullible.
The door swung open and a girl, who was probably a little under a foot shorter than me, with dark brown hair tied back in a high ponytail, entered. There was nothing seductive about her clothing and appearance, unlike the other girls I’d been introduced to. It looked like she was just doing what she always did, how she always did it. She was carrying three grocery bags and a messenger bag.
“Alright, Miss Letty. I’ve got the movies you wanted, a book of stamps, a box of envelopes, and your new checkbooks came in. You need to remember to check your mail more than twice a week. I’ll get these groceries put away, then I gotta get going. Remy got in a fight at school and I’m meeting with the other boy’s mother before I head home.” She chattered as she moved around the kitchen, not even acknowledging me.
“Juni, don’t you wanna meet my guest?” Miss Letty asked.
I watched their interaction while trying to focus on my food. Juni finished loading things into the fridge and turned with a sigh. I could feel her dismay.
“Miss Letty. I’ve told you, and all the ladies in the club, I’m not interested in a setup. So, I will pretend he doesn’t exist to save us both the embarrassment. See you on Friday, ma’am.” She said with a smile, patted her on the shoulder, and left without even looking at me.
We stared at the door. And I looked at Letty with a raised eyebrow. She blushed sheepishly.
“I didn’t intend a setup. It just occurred to me that you and Juni might not have met. Do you suppose your sister sent you here with an empty stomach to get you to meet Juni?” She wondered. I most definitely did.
“Thank you for the food and lemonade, Miss Letty. It was really good. I better finish this list and get home. You have a good night.” I smiled and took my leave.
Getting in the car, I could only think of the strange girl. Why would Bobbi be trying to set me up with a single mom? She seemed awfully young to have a school aged child. Not that I was judging. It just wasn’t for me. I wanted kids eventually, just not now.
I grinned at the way she’d blatantly ignored me and didn’t even look in my direction. She sounded northern, probably a transplant from somewhere else, looking for a good place to raise her kid. At least she had the sense to avoid setups by nosey older ladies.
Her confidence was great. It was one of the most refreshing interactions so far. I found myself wondering about her a little. She wasn’t really my type in a few ways, but something about her appealed to me. I shook my head. This wasn’t the time to start a new relationship, especially not with someone who didn’t want one.
Once the errands were done, I headed back to the house. Supper was served and I ate quietly while everyone else talked about their days and upcoming events. I’d thought Bobbi would ask me about Miss Letty’s, but she didn’t. She just smiled and thanked me for taking care of her work. It was the strangest meal we’d had, like she didn’t just try to set me up. I’d have to keep my eye on her, she was playing some sort of game with me, and I wasn’t going to lose.
On Wednesday, I decided to take an early supper at a bistro downtown and head right to bed when I got home. I was exhausted and didn’t think I could handle interacting. The host guided me to a booth in the back when I’d asked to be as far from the windows as possible. There was a partially walled off area that had a table in it right near mine. I’d asked about it, but the host said it was reserved.
I placed my order and waited, sipping my drink and reading the book on my e-reader. The restaurant was quiet. I went to the bathroom and when I returned, someone was occupying the private table. I couldn’t see who it was from my seat, but I could hear female voices.
“Okay, I can help with science and math. That’s what I work on with Kelly. Anything else, you have to book your own tutoring time, Amber.” A familiar voice said.
“Fine, just help me with this damned calculus. I don’t want to fail and miss out on goin’ away to college with my Tammy.” Another female voice whined.
“Get out your homework and show it to me. Let me see where you’re having trouble.”
“Thank you for helping her, Juniper. She really is hopeless when it comes to numbers.” A third voice sighed.
“You need to go, Tammy. You’ll distract her. I’ll see you after school tomorrow for Comp. Sci. and some sparring.”
“Just don’t expect to win.” Tammy scoffed.
My meal was delivered. I enjoyed every moment of having my supper without having to get involved in a conversation. Except the one conversation that was too close for me to ignore completely.
“So… Got some gossip.” Amber chirped.
“Amber. This is why you’re failing calculus.” Juniper groaned.
I almost laughed. At least she owned it.
“What is it? Mama will want to know.” Juniper sighed.
“Bobbi Jensen’s little brother is livin’ with them before he heads to the University of Texas in the fall. He’s really hot and Bobbi’s been draggin’ him ‘round to meet every unattached girl in town. Has she brought him to you yet?” Amber drawled.
“She knows better. I’m serious about school. Plus, what would I want with some old guy. Hot or otherwise, that’s just gross.”
“No. Little brother. He’s, like, in his early twenties or something.” Amber responded.
“My plate is full with a million other things; I’m not going to chase after some cute boy just because he’s available. I have available guys ask me out all the time. Just the other day Logan Daley from the football team came up and started flirting at lunch, remember?”
“Who could forget? You told him you only date boys who have the ability to count to twenty-one with their socks and pants on.” Amber snickered.
I grinned. It was a great insult.
“I’m not looking for a boyfriend.” Juniper insisted.
“Or a girlfriend?”
“No. Neither one. Can we get on with this? Hank’s still out of town until Friday. I want to enjoy the freedom a little longer. You know how he is.”
“Come on. You never talk about what you like in a guy. Just indulge me and I’ll leave you alone.” Amber begged.
I was completely distracted by their conversation. I realized where I recognized the voice. It was the girl from yesterday, the one from the first day I was in town. The one that lived in that huge mansion. She was in high school? How did she have a kid in school then?
“Just fuckin’ tell her. I can’t concentrate and there’s a test on this tomorrow.” A new voice that sounded almost like a little girl growled.
“Sorry, Kelly. Let me see. Oh, you forgot to move a number over in this equation. It should look… like… this. There see?”
“Shit. I’m gonna stop workin’ until you make her shut up.”
“I don’t know. What are you looking for in an answer here? Physically? Spiritually? Intellectually? What?” Juniper sounded angry.
“Everything. Just everything.” Amber seemed rapt.
She sighed. “Dark hair, blue eyes, I like that combination. Accepting of others beliefs and willing to fight to protect them. An ally, because I won’t date a homophobe. At least as smart as me. Playful, funny, protective. I want to feel safe with whoever I date.”
“You look sad again. Juni. You know what you need?”
“What do I need, Amber?” Juniper scoffed.
“A summer fling. Find a hot guy, ride him hard, and throw him away. That’ll fix you right up. You should try for Bobbi’s brother. She’s in your book club. Have her set you up.” Amber said.
“I don’t want that. You have to stop. I might date after college, but I don’t want to be distracted. My education is important. Plus, I’ll have less time with Remy if I start dating or have a summer fling. He’s going to grow up fast while I’m away at college. I want to have fond memories before I’m just seeing him on breaks and holidays.”
“I know you love your little brother, but you need to take care of you. At least let me buy you a vibrator for your birthday.”
I stiffened. That serious, strange girl making sounds and faces like the one on the bus had. Maybe making better ones. Breathing heavy and arching her body while the telltale buzzing of a toy filled the room. I imagined her begging for release while I teased her with it. I shook my head. An intrusive thought like that could get me in trouble.
“Do not. I will throw it away. Focus on your school work, pervert.”
“Fine. But you could use a little pleasure in your life, Juni. Release some of that tension.”
“Not talking about anything but math or science from now on.” Juniper stated sternly.
The conversation died down into school studies. I didn’t know why I felt a sudden lust for Juniper, but I knew I had to keep cool. I wasn’t about to be trapped into something with this girl. I felt a smile spread across my face. At the book club, I’d show her she’s not as smart as she thinks. Then she definitely wouldn’t want me and I could avoid the only real temptation I’d felt since I arrived.