Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Sexy Men and a Mystery...
MICHAELA OPENED THE BACK DOOR TO HER ranch-style house, which led into the laundry room. The house, located in Indio, California, amid the Coachella Valley, had been built in the early 80’s and was badly in need of an update. Michaela and Brad had bought it with the horse facilities in place a couple of years after they were married, almost a decade ago. Her plans to bring it into the twenty-first century would have to wait until the debts were paid off.
She breathed in deeply. The smell of fabric softener and detergent filled the air. Unbelievable. Camden had actually been doing laundry. Huh. Surprise, surprise. She had come to believe that Camden simply went through clothes until she didn’t have any left and then went out and bought more.
Michaela pulled her boots off, not wanting to track mud through the house. Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” blared from the family room. God, why that song?
A little farther away the blender in the kitchen whirled at full throttle, probably mixing the contents of a powerful concoction— tequila, lime-aid, and more tequila. Michaela shook her head as she headed to her room to shower.
Cocoa, who recently had made it to her tenth birthday, lifted her head off her doggie bed and wagged her tail. Michaela bent down and patted the dog’s head. “Hey you, you lazy girl. I see how it is, as soon as the sun goes down you hightail it back inside. By the looks of it, I’d say Miss Camden has been letting you dig into the doggie treats again. I’m going to have to scold her.” Cocoa just kept on wagging her tail.
Michaela checked her voice mail:
“Hi, sweetpea, it’s Uncle Lou. Give me a call back. I was wondering if we could have breakfast in the morning.” She smiled. Uncle Lou was definitely one of her most favorite people.
But the smile faded when the next message came on. “Michaela, it’s Kirsten. You better sign those papers, or else we’re gonna have big problems.”
Michaela flipped a finger at the machine. Why did she let that little hooker get to her? “Ooh look at me, I have fake boobs, collagen lips, lipo on my ass, and I’m Miss Rodeo America,” she said out loud, her head bobbing from side to side in an exaggerated fashion.
“News to me.”
Michaela spun around to see her best friend and newly acquired roommate, Camden standing, in the doorway, margarita in hand. She tossed back her latest colored locks— flame red— and held out a glass of the concoction. “I gotta tell you that if those are fake boobs, your plastic surgeon did a shitty job, because girlfriend, you’re about a B cup. And, for God’s sakes who would pay five thou for a measly B cup?”
They both laughed.
“Let me guess: The evil babe who the shithead robbed from the cradle has been bugging you again.”
Camden held out the margarita. “Drink on me?”
“Nah. Thanks, though. It’s been a rough day. The evil babe came by and gave me a piece of her mind. I don’t think a margarita will cure this girl’s blues.”
“No. But a shot will, and I am not taking no for an answer. Now, c’mon.” Camden grabbed her hand.
“I need a shower.”
“Ten minutes more won’t hurt. If I can stand you smelling like a horse, then you can wait. Live a little, and don’t let this stuff get you down. You’ll be old before you know it and then you’ll be dead and you’ll be saying, ‘Damn I should have had more tequila shots with my best friend.’ ”
She held up her hands, palms out. “Fine, I give up. I know better than to argue with you. Besides, maybe you do have a point.” She followed Camden into the kitchen. “But don’t you have a date with Kevin tonight?”
“Nope. He’s taking clients to dinner. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow. He’s taking the day off and we’re going to spend it together.” Michaela frowned, and Camden added, “I know you don’t care for him.”
“It’s not that. I don’t know him that well, really. I just didn’t like that he was kind of a jerk to my uncle when he wouldn’t sell him his property.”
“He can be pushy, I admit that, but he backed off when Lou told him he wasn’t interested. He’s moved on to other projects.”
“I know, but be careful, okay? Get to know this one a bit better than the last one before he slips a ring on your finger.” Michaela had a right to be concerned that her friend would rush into another relationship. Her recent split from her third husband, Charlie Dawson— a big-time financial advisor— had left her in a lurch. Seems Charlie knew exactly how to work the financials to his benefit and Camden was out on her butt and wound up at Michaela’s front door needing a place to stay, until she could find a place of her own to rent or buy. That had been six months ago, and as far as Michaela knew, Camden hadn’t done any house shopping as of yet, only man hunting. She kept insisting to Michaela that Charlie would settle with her, because she hadn’t signed a prenup, and then she’d get into a new house. But Michaela really didn’t care. She enjoyed her friend’s company and wild ways, so far removed from her own behavior, but entertaining nonetheless.
“What, you afraid you’re gonna be stuck with me forever? That you’ll have to install a revolving door for your divorcée friend? Won’t happen, worrywart. I’m gonna find me a real man who can take good care of me and me of him. Who knows, it might be Kevin, it might not.” She shrugged. “Now, let’s have that drink.”
Ten minutes turned into twenty and before long an hour had passed and Michaela had filled up on two of Camden’s cure-alls, though refusing to down the shot. She didn’t think she could handle the booze straight. “You know that SOB has a new truck,” Michaela said. “A Ford F-350.” She shook her head. “Kirsten tried to tell me that she bought him the truck. Please. Does it say sucker somewhere on my forehead? Jerk probably hid some money away that I didn’t know about— maybe he hid some cash in a safety deposit box or under the mattress, or better yet under, his girlfriend’s mattress. He’s such a jerk, and that little trophy he hangs out with is a piece of work.” Oh boy, the alcohol was certainly going to her head.
“You know.” Camden pointed at her. “It’s not like you aren’t gorgeous. I don’t know why you always say she’s the trophy. She’s no prize. Brad lost the prize and I bet he knows it. Look at you. Oh, and I might add that you have a brain, too. A commodity Kirsten definitely lacks.”
They were sitting on the couch in the family room. Camden took her by the shoulders and turned her to face the mirrored wall behind them. “Just look at you.”
“Oh yeah, look at me. Real prize. I’ve got horse crap on my jeans, and my hair is pasted to my head from sweat. Yep. I’m a real prize.”
“Shut up.” Camden stood with her empty margarita glass. “Want another?”
“Nope. I think I’ve had enough.”
As her friend walked into the kitchen to pour herself a refill, Michaela turned back to the mirror. She pulled the rubber band from her blond hair, letting it down, and studied her reflection. Twenty-two was ages ago; well, ten years to be exact. Although her boobs were small, they were still perky, and her hair wasn’t bleached blond like a Playboy model— or Kirsten the rodeo queen— more of a sandy color, long and thick, too. That was a good thing. But, those damn freckles that the sun liked to exaggerate still gave her that “I’m the cute girl next door” look. At least her eyes were something; she really liked her eyes. They were nice— warm, hazel, garnered-lots-of-compliments eyes. Who needed fake anything, anyway? Botox was rat poison! And plastic boobs could rupture. Yep, natural worked just fine. A little more sunscreen and a Miracle Bra, maybe, but the other stuff— forget it, and who could afford it anyway? Damn if she could.
Michaela moved to a barstool at the counter, watching Camden pour some more margarita.
“It would be kind of fun to do something nasty to him, wouldn’t it?” Camden asked.
“Who? Brad?” Michaela shrugged. “Yeah, I suppose it would. I’d love to do something to that stupid new truck of his. I’m sure he loves the thing.”
“Ooh, like key it?”
Michaela gave her a look. “Nasty and mean are two different things. I don’t know if I could go that far.”
“You’re a prude.”
“Are you calling me a goody two-shoes?”
“If the shoe fits.”
“Shut up. Pour me one more of those. Tell you what. Since we’re in no shape to drive, I’ll carry out a dirty deed to give Brad a nightmare to contend with.” Camden rubbed her hands together. “On one condition.” Michaela shot her index finger up.
“This is going to be good, isn’t it?”
“We’ve gotta do this on horseback.”
“Oh, sister, you expect a lot from a friend. You want me to get up on one of those filthy beasts?”
“Um, Camden, I doubt it would be the first filthy beast you’ve gotten up on top of.”
Camden started to protest, then said, “Okay, you may have a point. So, you’re willing to take a chance on putting my drunk ass on one of those animals and venture out in the dark?”
“Yep. Besides, I know you. You’re barely buzzed. Me, on the other hand . . . phew, you make a strong drink. I’ll put you on Booger. He’s push button. I’d put a baby on him and trust him.”
“Great. I get to ride a horse named Booger. The fact that I am even doing this is so not me.”
“Who knows, you may like it.”
They took their drinks out to the barn, where Michaela saddled up the horses. “Okay now, come here and give me your left foot.” She clasped her hands together.
“Put your foot in the stirrup here. Grab the saddle horn here with your left hand, and the back of the seat of the saddle with your right hand and step up in the stirrup and swing your right leg over the rear end of the horse and sit in the saddle.”
“God, Michaela, I had no idea I’d have to do a flipping gymnastic stunt.”
“Aren’t you the girl always bragging about her flexibility?”
Camden sighed. “Fine. Let’s do this before I change my mind.” Michaela got next to her and helped to give her a boost up. Camden squealed as she swung her leg over and nearly came off on the other side. Michaela helped her get adjusted. “Oh shit, shit, shit. Get me off. Get me off now!”
“No. Now trust me. Hang on. That’s all you have to do. Hang on.”
“No shit, Dick Tracy, you think I’m about to let go?”
Michaela grabbed a trash bag filled with the contents they needed and put them inside a saddlebag. The saddle-bags tied on, Michaela put her left foot in the stirrup and swung her right leg over the mare.
“Showoff,” Camden muttered.
They headed over to Brad and Kirsten’s place, which was only a couple of miles away. It took some time because Michaela had to keep in mind that Camden hadn’t been on a horse more than three or four times in her life. Every time she glanced back to see how she was doing, she could see by the light of the full moon that Camden wore a mask of fear. She tried to make small talk, but Camden was hanging onto poor Booger for dear life. Her hands were both around the reins and saddle horn so tight and from what she could tell it also looked like Camden had poor Booger’s girth or mid-section in a vice. It was lucky Booger was exactly what she’d said he was— one mellow fellow— because a horse who wasn’t so well broke would have been having a fit with Camden on board.
The lights were on inside Kirsten’s house. Was that laughter? Yes it was. Oh, how nice for them. They were having a grand old time.
Kirsten’s place was a modest ranch-style home with a few acres of land. There were a couple of horses out in a small pasture. One whinnied at the sight of newcomers.
“Shhh. Shut up,” Camden whispered.
Michaela pulled slightly on Macey, her mare’s, reins. The mare stopped, as did Booger. “Uh, Cam, they don’t understand shut up. Besides, horses whinny at times. They won’t think anything of it, even if they can hear what’s going on out here. Sounds to me like they’re having a party.”
“Hmmm. I think you’re right. Well, good, because we are the party crashers. Still want to go though with it?”
Someone inside cranked the stereo up another notch. It was playing Faith Hill and Tim McGraw singing “It’s Your Love.” Michaela peered through the front window and saw what looked to be Brad and Kirsten dancing. He had never danced with her. Jerk. “Oh yeah, I am so ready.” Michaela dismounted and led Macey over to a hitching post next to the pasture. The other horses trotted over. The same noisemaker let out another “How do you do,” and Michaela realized that time could be of the essence if he didn’t pipe down. After enough whinnies someone would surely take a peek, and she wanted to be certain they were long gone before that happened. She wrapped Macey’s reins around the post, and walked over to Camden.
“Okay, you always want to get on and off on the left side, so bring your right foot out and back around, then kick your left foot out of the stirrup— kind of lean over the saddle with your body and basically step down and off.”
Camden did as instructed and landed on her butt. “Like that?” she asked, a smirk on her face.
“Not quite. You’ll have a second shot at it later though, when we get back home. Now come on, get off your ass. We’ve got a treasure for Brad.”
Michaela retrieved the trash bag and the two of them, quietly and quickly, all the while trying not to giggle at their immature antics, snuck up on Brad’s brand-new red Ford F-350. She opened the driver’s side door, knowing the moron wouldn’t have locked it, sliced open the bag with her pocketknife, and shoved the contents under his seat. Boy, was it was going to be a real pain getting it cleaned out. “Nothing like the aroma of fresh manure to take away from that new car smell.”
She tossed the bag down and grabbed Camden’s hand as they ran back to their horses. She quickly boosted her friend up, who this time managed much better, and then she got back up on Macey. They rode off, cracking up the whole way home, making Camden loosen up, and actually enjoy riding Booger. Their laughter didn’t stop even after they’d put the horses away, got cleaned up, and wound up on the couch with a bag of popcorn in front of the boob tube. “What I wouldn’t give to see the look on his face.”
“Oh God, I’d love to see him get in that truck and start smelling the smell and then he’ll have to get out and when he looks under the seat, he’s gonna die,” Camden said.
This put them into another fit of gut-wrenching laughter. Yes, as childish as it had been, it did feel really, really good. Facts were that Brad had left for the much younger Kirsten after Michaela had spent the last few years trying to get pregnant. With Brad’s support they’d sought out fertility specialists and Michaela had given herself shots daily in the abdomen in hopes of conceiving. She’d gone through the expensive in vitro process twice, and the day she was prepared to go through it again for the third time, Brad’s infidelities had been brought to light. Now, there were a stack of bills from doctors on her desk and every time she looked at them, she couldn’t help but be reminded of what Brad had done to her. Worse than sticking her with the bills, was his total deceit. But tonight was the first time she didn’t feel a ton of anger toward her ex. Funny how a stupid teenage-type prank made her feel a bit better.
Michaela finally made it off the couch and into the shower she hadn’t taken all evening. Then, finding Camden sound asleep on the sofa, Cocoa curled up on the floor next to her. Michaela decided to leave the two of them there, covering Camden with a blanket and patting her old dog on her head a good night. As she settled into bed, exhausted, her phone rang. She looked at the clock on her nightstand: a little after eleven. Her stomach sank. What if it was Brad or Kirsten and they’d seen her and Camden? No, caller ID said that it was her uncle.
“Hi, Uncle Lou.”
“Hi. I didn’t hear back from you tonight. Did you get my message? I thought I’d better check in and make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m fine. I did get your message. Sorry. I was a little busy.”
“No problem, sweet pea. I was only concerned because I know that you’ve had some rough times this past year.”
“Thanks. But I’m fine. Really. In fact, I’m doing, uh, really well.” She loved the way he’d called her sweet pea ever since she could remember. Her father always called her pumpkin, and that made her feel good, too, but Daddy also knew how to spank and send her to her room, or ground her when she needed it. She loved him for his sense of fairness. But Uncle Lou was the spoiler. He’d never had any kids of his own, so spoiling Michaela was one of his favorite things. “You want to grab breakfast in the morning with me, right?”
“I do. There are some things I need to talk about with you.” He cleared his throat.
“Uncle Lou? Are you okay? You sound . . . I don’t know. Tired?”
“I’m fine. Working a lot, that’s all. I’m having a hard time unwinding these days for some reason. I’m getting old, and riding the animals every day is starting to wear on me.”
“You are not getting old,” she said. “Sixty-one is a spring chicken.”
They both laughed. “I don’t know about that. I’m feeling like a cooked goose. You get to bed now, and I’ll see you about seven-thirty over at The Dakota House.”
“Ooh, sounds good.” Her stomach rumbled just thinking about the yummy breakfasts The Dakota House specialized in, especially considering that all she’d had tonight was a liquid diet. “I can’t wait. Sleep well.”
“You too, sweet pea.”
Michaela hung up the phone. Something in Uncle Lou’s voice bothered her. What was it? The sound of exhaustion? At first she thought maybe that was it, but, no. Resignation? Maybe. Defeat? Yeah, it did sound like that, but about what? She yawned. Whatever was eating at Uncle Lou, she resolved to get to the bottom of it tomorrow over a ham and cheese omelet.