Prettier in Person
“So what’s your favorite color?” I ask, shooting a sideways glance at the drop-dead gorgeous girl sitting in the passenger seat of my truck with her feet hooked up in the middle seat between us.
“Have you not seen my tack? Purple, duh.” She replies, giving me an ‘are-you-kidding-me’ look, that literally boils my blood.
“Alright fair enough, I suppose.” I answer, taking my hands off the wheel and holding them up in surrender.
“Keep your hands on the wheel, you idiot!” Stella shrieks, reaching for the steering wheel, but I ward her hands off with a laugh while I grab the wheel back.
“No calling me names while you’re in my truck. It’s your turn to ask me a question.” I tell her, trying not to look at her perfectly tanned, long legs.
“If you could be any character from the books, not the movies, Harry Potter, who would you be?” She asks, assuming I’ve read the books. I have.
“McGonagall, easily. The movies really didn’t do her wit and charm justice. She has some crazy sass in the books.” I laugh, and Stella quickly agrees.
“They did the same thing with Harry Potter! He was so lazy and so fast with crazy good comebacks in the books! I wish they wouldn’t have cut out some of his best lines in the book. And Ginny! Don’t even get me started on how dumb the movies made Ginny seem.” She starts blabbering about how bad the movies are compared to the actual books, and for some reason it makes me smile – and makes her even hotter somehow.
I actually have to interrupt her to get her to stop talking. “I didn’t peg you for a Harry Potter fan, Stella.”
“I could say the same thing about you.” She replies, laughing and finally shutting up about the books.
“If you could time travel, when would you go and why?”
“It depends. Can I change the past or future?” She asks, studying me.
“No.” I answer automatically.
“Well then I’d want to go back to the early 1800’s when white settlers were still moving across the United States in covered wagons. I’d want to meet my great, great, great grandparents and see how they survived.” Stella decides after thinking about it for a few miles.
“Why?” I ask, seriously curious.
“I don’t know. I always thought I was born in the wrong century. I love reading about the history of the settlers, especially diaries of young girls who were my age who traveled thousands of miles on horseback, just to find a new place to live.” She shrugs, and I was not expecting her to get this deep. I figured maybe she’d say something like getting to see how her parents first met or going to see who she’ll end up marrying or meeting her children.
“That’s incredible.” I tell her, completely aw-struck.
This girl is gorgeous, nerdy, funny, and doesn’t seem to be too shy about anything. Hell, I’ve known her for two hours and she’s already got me wrapped around her pretty little manicured finger. Her perfect laugh actually makes my heart skip a beat when it’s directed at something I said, and I pretty much had a heart attack when she pointed out that the waitress was practically bending over backwards for me to give her even half of a glance. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Stella that I’m probably never going to be able to look at another girl besides her for the rest of my life.
“Okay. Oh! I’ve got a really good question. Are you ready?” She asks, and I nod. “If you were stranded on a deserted island and you could only have three things with you, and no, one of them can’t be a boat of any kind, what would you take with you?”
“Easy. A machete, a tarp, and a mirror.”
“Why?” She asks, looking at me like I’m ridiculous.
“Well, with a machete, I can use it to defend myself, kill food, assuming there are wild animals, cut down small trees for firewood, and make spears with it. I’d use the tarp to catch rainwater, assuming that there might not be fresh water or at least access to the fresh water. And I’d use the mirror to use the sunlight reflection to alert passing planes that I need help.” I answer, thanking a Survival 101 class I took as an elective.
“Well damn. I was just assuming that you were incredibly vain, and that’s why you wanted the mirror.” Stella laughs, making my heart skip another beat.
“Oh how little you think of me!” I chuckle, and she shrugs.
“Remind me to use that answer in the future.” She yawns, and leans her head against the window. “Your turn.”
“Where are you planning on going to college, and what are you majoring in?” I ask, trying to take the turn back to a more relative topic.
“Gemma and I are both going to Savannah, I’m going to the College of the Arts and Gemma is going to Savannah State. I’m planning on majoring in ceramics. I took four years of pottery in high school, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I’ve already been featured in a couple of different art shows in Savannah, and the College of the Arts offered me a full ride to study there under an extremely well known potter named Kristen Keiffer. I honestly can’t tell you how excited I am to see first-hand how she creates her beautiful artwork.” Stella says, immediately perking up as she talks about school.
“I never pegged you as an artist, either.” I admit, totally enthralled by this girl sitting beside me.
“I love it. Clay can be so frustrating, but so rewarding when a plan I have in my head turns into something solid and touchable.”
“Well I’d like to see some of your work sometime, if you don’t mind.” I tell her, shooting her a sideways grin.
“I’m sure you’ve already seen a lot of it. The dinner plates Dad uses? Those are a set I made a couple of years ago. Any mug or cup that is in the house is mine, and a lot of the bowls I made, too. Except for the square bowls. I didn’t make those because I think they look dumb. There’s a green vase that sits on the dining room table that has a set of fake sunflowers in it that I made last year, and almost all of the small decorations you see sitting on shelves I made.”
“Well in that case, I guess I’m already a fan of your work then.” I chuckle, thinking about the plates that I’ve admired several times that Mr. Hawkley barks at me to be careful with every night that I do the dishes. Stella yawns again and closes her eyes this time. “We’ll be back in about an hour and a half. I’ll wake you when we get there.” I tell her, turning the radio up a bit and letting her sleep.
“Stella, we’re back.” I call, shaking her shoulder to wake her up. We’ve been sitting in her driveway long enough for me to take her suitcase and stuff in the house. I thought maybe she’d have woken up the time I got back out here, but she’s still sleeping. I glance around, looking for Mr. Hawkley’s truck, but both it and the stock trailer are gone, and there are some upset cattle in the big paddock. Apparently he bought enough new head today to merit two trips to Lyons. “We’re home.” I repeat, walking around and opening her door, making sure she doesn’t topple out. She climbs down and slaps her hat on her head, heading straight for the barn.
“Zeus!” She calls, sliding open the doors and nearly running down the hall to a huge, part draft, black gelding, that sticks his head over the stall door and whines when he hears her. “Hey big boy, I missed you!” She grins, kissing the gelding’s nose before grabbing his halter and hooking it around his head and leading him out of the stall and past me.
As soon as she’s out of the barn, she leads him to a mounting block, and hops on him bareback with just her halter, and she’s off. I take the time to dump a few horse pellets in each of the other four horses’ stalls before going to look at the new cattle, all the while watching Stella carefully. I’m impressed with the bond she shares with the gelding, even though I know that she raised him from a colt. Mr. Hawkley told me that he brought the colt home from an auction right before he and his wife got divorced, and Stella bonded with that little thing. He said she spent every minute she could in the barn with him, especially when he and the missus were fighting.
I return to the barn after filling the giant water tank for the cattle in the pen, and finish the mucking that I started this morning before I had to take a shower and head for Atlanta. I turn the radio in the tack room on, and sing quietly to myself while I work.
“I didn’t realize how much I missed this place.” Stella gasps as she leads Zeus back into the barn and crossties him in the aisle before going to grab a brush.
“You looked like you missed it. I guess Panama wasn’t as great as it sounds?” I ask, scooping the last bit of soiled hay out of Faith’s stall before covering it back with a mixture of straw and wood chips and putting her back in it. I lean on my pitchfork, watching her brush down Zeus before braiding his mane and combing his tail.
“Panama was nothing but the beach, mansion, and a spoiled sister.” She replies, feeding Zeus a carrot.
“Sounds like paradise to me.” I shrug, before starting on the next stall, a chestnut gelding named Apollo. I’ve learned that he’s a little shit, and will try to take a bite out of your shoulder if you’re not careful around him. I clip him up outside the stall while I remove the soiled bedding in his stall, still watching Stella and Zeus.
“It was nice for the first week. Then, I realized that I had nothing to do but sit outside and work on my tan. I really missed this place and considered coming home after only a few weeks, but then I felt guilty that I was leaving my mom. It wasn’t like it was her fault that I wasn’t having any fun. I mean, she could have taken off work for a while, but I guess someone as powerful as her doesn’t get to take off work. I did get to meet quite a few locals when I managed to venture into town whenever I ditched Bryndle, and even perfected my Spanish after only two months. Even the locals were impressed with how fast I picked up on things.” She talks, and I actually have to remind myself to keep working, or else I’d probably start drooling. “Plus, I missed Gemma like crazy, but she went on a month long cruise around the Greek Isles as a graduation gift from her parents. Apparently, she met an Italian while they were on the ship, and it was love at first sight. She spent the last two weeks in Italy with him.”
“Love at first sight. Hmm, I believe in that.” I state, thinking that I totally know the feeling. I’m 22 and should not be thinking about settling down with a girl who just graduated high school. Not to mention the fact that she’s my boss’s daughter, and I only met her about 6 hours ago.
“Anyway, she should be coming by as soon as she gets off her shift at the local diner in town. She waitresses for Miss Jane whenever she can to help save money for Savannah State.” Stella smiles as she talks about her best friend, and Apollo manages to graze my shoulder with his teeth when he realized that I was just standing there, not paying attention to him.
“Nice try, boy.” I laugh at the horse, and Stella squats down to look at me under Zeus’s belly.
“He got me once a couple of years ago on the fatty part of my back where the armpit attaches to the shoulder. I still have the scar.” She mentions, going back to brushing Zeus.
Oh, how I wish I could see that scar. Not that I want to actually see the scar, but seeing it would mean I’d be close to her without her clothes on, and THAT I’d want to see. “I bet that hurt.” I mutter, and go retrieve a new bale of straw from the loft opposite my sleeping quarters.
“Apollo managed to take an entire chunk of meat out and the ER doctor had to patch it up with skin from the back of my thigh. You can’t see that scar anymore, but it was the coolest thing ever to feel where they took the skin from. The skin where the bite was at has never been the same though.” She keeps talking, and I keep seeing images in my head that absolutely should not be there. I should not be picturing running my hands up the back of her thighs, or over her bare shoulders or anywhere else for that matter. I close my eyes while I have my back to her, and work on calming my thoughts.
“Damn, I’ve heard of doctors doing that in order to reattach fingers of ropers and bull riders that lose fingers in the sport, but never for a bite.” I mention, thinking of one of my grandpa’s buddies who had a son lose a thumb in a roping accident that had it reattached using skin from his leg.
“Do you hear something?” Stella asks, stopping her brush in mid stroke, and I stop shaking the straw for a second. I hear the stock trailer coming down the driveway.
“Sounds like your dad is back with another load of cattle.” I answer, disappointed that our time alone has come to an end.
It’s like the spell we were under broke as soon as Stella saw her dad. She was pulling the driver’s door open before the truck had even stopped rolling, embracing her dad in a huge hug and kissing his cheek. I wish she had greeted me like that. I climb into the truck after Stella gave Mr. Hawkley a chance to get out of the truck, and he nods to me as they walk inside to catch up.
Meanwhile, I unload the cattle into the second pen, and run their water as the sun starts to dip below the Georgia skyline. I return to the barn to put Apollo and Zeus back in their stalls, and finish my nightly chores of feeding, watering, and filling hay nets for the night. Before I shut the lights off in the barn and head up to the main house for supper, I look in on the pregnant mare that I’ve become exceptionally fond of in the last month and a half. Lucy looks up at me with her giant brown eyes from where she was snoozing in the corner, and comes and nuzzles my hand. According to Mr. Hawley, she should foal by the beginning of August. “Hey girly.” I grin, scratching her ears before going to dig a carrot out of the deep freeze in the tack room. She munches on the carrot, and I say good night and head to the house. Inside, I find Stella and her dad catching up while Stella stands at the stove browning hamburger.
“Hey, I hope you’re hungry. I’m making sloppy joes for supper.” She grins, pouring the sloppy joe sauce over the hamburger and adding water. “But you both best be washing your hands before you even think about getting close to this food.”
Mr. Hawkley and I send each other an eye-rolling glance, before complying to her demand.
“If you think this is bad, you should hear her barking at me when other people aren’t around. Takes after her momma for sure if you ask me.” Mr. Hawkley quietly laughs as he scrubs his dirty hands with the gritty soap he loves.
“She’s sure got a fire-y spirt, that’s for certain.” I reply, leaning against the sink, waiting for him to finish. “She really loves you, though. That I learned within the first hour of getting to know her.”
“She may love me, but she takes after her momma in more ways than just bossing me around. Some days, I think she’s her.” Mr. Hawkley admits, and truth be told, he’s never opened up to me like that. I think this will be our first sit-down meal since I’ve started working here. We’re always so busy that we eat at different times, usually just fixing a sandwich or grabbing something fast to cook in the microwave. Occasionally one of us will have time to actually cook something, but then we eat in the living room catching up on the latest baseball game. Go Braves!
“Well she sure didn’t get her looks from you.” I smirk, and quickly realize that it was the absolute wrong thing to say based on the death glare I receive from Mr. Hawkley. He glares for an entire minute before his face budges from the glare.
“Can’t argue with you there, kid.” He finally sighs, letting me wash my hands before we both join her back in the kitchen where she has corn and green beans cooking on the stove, too.
“It’ll be ready in two minutes. Please set the table.” Stella points at piles of plates, forks and cups, that Mr. Hawkley and I give each other another glance.
“Yes ma’am.” I answer, and grab the plates and forks, leaving Mr. Hawkley with the cups. Together, Mr. Hawkley and I arrange the supper table, fumbling with where everything should go, and eventually give up and sit down, waiting for Stella.
“Supper’s ready!” Stella calls, and I guess that’s our cue to help her carry stuff to the table.
“You’re in for a long summer, son.” Mr. Hawkley chuckles, slapping his hand on my shoulder. “She’ll give you a run for your money.”
“I don’t know, I kind of think I’m going to like sort of having a family.” I answer, grabbing the pots of corn and green beans.
“What do you mean?” Stella asks, carrying the sloppy joe mix to the table. “I mean, I know you said your parents split when you were 17, but you didn’t have family dinners before?”
“Nope. If we ever had dinner as a family we were sitting on a couch watching some brainless TV show, but mostly I ate dinner by myself or with my high school teams. My brother and I played every sport so we didn’t have to hear our parents argue.” I shrug, giving them a little more detail than they probably wanted to hear, but Colt is the only person who really knows about my past. I roll my eyes when they both give me sympathetic looks. “I don’t want your pity. I was just saying that it’s nice to sit down and actually eat supper.”