“So you can ride, boy?” Charlie Whitfield’s question cut Amanda to the quick; still, she kept her tongue still, leaving her husband to defend himself.
“Yessir,” said the tall black man standing before the wooden table at which Whitfield sat as he reviewed the resume and references he was given. “In addition to being a farm hand at the Morrisey farm, I helped out on the ranch.”
Whitfield sat back for the first time since we entered his wood-paneled office and looked at my husband of four years, Oliver “Oli” Jones. Then the white rancher caught sight of me.
“Who’s she?” Whitfield asked, his eyes never leaving mine, even though it was obvious that he was talking to Oli.
“She’s my wife, sir,” my husband replied. “Amanda.”
“Does she do anything?” His chair creak as he adjusted in his seat.
“Well,” Oli snuck a look at me. “She does a lot, sir….”
“I was the one who looked after the Morrisey children,” I said quickly. “That is how Oli- Oliver and I met.”
“Ain’t no children here,” Whitfield said. “The boys are all grown and acting a fool all over the place. And when they feel a mind they are working on the ranch. What else can you do?”
“I can cook and clean,” I replied. I felt off-kilter as this was supposed to be Oli’s interview, not mine.
“We’ve got a cook,” Whitfield looked at Oli then back at me. “But we are in need of someone to tend to the house.”
“Well, sir,” I tried to find a nice way of saying that I didn’t want a job. “If Oli gets this job, we would have enough money to get by and I could always get a part time job in town if needs be.”
“Look here, girl-”
“Amanda,” I interrupted. I felt Oli’s body tense beside me.
“My name is Amanda, sir,” I said, my eyes never leaving his. “I haven’t been a girl for a bit.”
At first, he just stared at me, then he brought his hand down on the wooden surface of the desk, a sound crack was soon followed by a roar of laughter.
When it subsided, Whitfield, red in the face, said, “I like a woman with sass. But look here… Amanda, as long as you are living on this ranch, you have to work on this ranch. And I’m leaning towards hiring your husband here and I don’t think he would want to be without his wife, no matter how good the pay.”
Oli looked across at me, his eyes pleading. He had been looking for a job for the last two months and this was the closest he had gotten to getting one. Our savings were almost gone and our welcome at my sister’s house was wearing thin.
“I’ve done my fair share of cleaning, Mr. Whitfield,” I said, closing my lips before a sigh could escape. I felt the tension in Oli’s body unravel and he turned his gaze to the white man sitting across from us.
“Does this mean I’ve… we’ve got the jobs?” Oli asked with care.
“It’s up to you, Mr. Jones,” Whitfield replied. “The job is yours if you want it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Whitfield,” Oli all but gushed. “I promise you, you won’t regret hiring us.”
“I hope not,” the older man got to his feet and walked around the desk to shake his new employees’ hands. “You will be working under Juan Perez, the chief ranch hand. Come with me and I’ll introduce you to him. And on the way, I’ll introduce you to Lucy, the cook, she’ll show Amanda about the house.”
Walking down a short hallway, the men spoke at length about the business of rearing cattle. We walked into a large kitchen where a short, plump woman with porcelain skin and copper hair bustled from counter to stovetop, the scent of chili filling the room.
“Lucy,” Whitfield called out to the small dynamo.
“You know better than to come in my kitchen,” she barely looked over her shoulder as she stirred the thick stew on the stove top. “But I see you got some folks with you so you’re forgiven.”
“Lucy Callahan,” Whitfield gestured towards the woman as she wiped her hands in her apron and walked over to us. “Oliver and Amanda Jones. Oliver is our new ranch hand and Amanda will be tending to the house.”
Shaking our hands in turn, Lucy said, “Is that so?” Do you know that you are up for a challenge, Mrs. Jones? The Whitfields are not known for their cleanliness.”
“Don’t go scaring the gir- Amanda off.” Lucy looked up at her employer, a small smile on her face. “Can you pull yourself away from the chili for a bit and show Amanda the house?”
“Yes,” Lucy looked back at me, her eyes studying my face. “I’ll do just that as soon as you men skedaddle, I don’t trust you alone with my cooking.”
“If your cooking wasn’t so good, you would be at the curb waiting for the next bus,” Whitfield grumbled as he led Oli towards the door through which we came. “Make sure you don’t burn it.”
“I never do,” Lucy called, walking over to the stove to turn down the burner under the big pot bubbling with goodness. “C’mon, Mrs. Jones, let me show you what you got yourself into.”
“Call me Amanda,” I said, following Lucy. “Mrs. Jones is Oli’s momma.”
“And I’m Lucy,” the other woman said, leading me into the front room. “It makes no sense we hold onto formalities. Now downstairs will be the easiest to keep clean, it includes the front room, the kitchen, the dining room, half bath, laundry room and a small store room. It’s best you concrete a system because no one is going to tell you how to keep this place clean.”
After showing me the downstairs, Lucy took me upstairs. “There are five bedrooms upstairs, three bathrooms and a store room. Most times than not you will be using the other stairs as they lead to the back of the kitchen and the laundry room.”
Quickly, Lucy showed me the three bedrooms. The master bedroom and the four bedrooms including a guest room. All were in states of disarray with the exception of the guest room which was dusty but neat.
“Not many guests?” I asked as Lucy closed the guest room’s door.
“You met Whitfield,” was the response I got.
“Yes, but he seems okay, apart from the way he speaks to people,” I said as we took the back stairs to the kitchen.
“He was a peach to you,” Lucy breezed into the kitchen, coming to an abrupt stop when she caught sight of a man standing over the pot of chili. In one hand was the pot cover, in the other was a spoon at the ready to dip into the thick stew. “Maxwell Wellington Whitfield, if you even put a dent in that chili, you won’t have a lick of it, and you would have to find your tail to Charlaine’s house for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week.”
Immediately, the pot was covered and the culprit turned around to face a very stern cook. “C’mon Lucy,” he put the spoon on the counter. “I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and you know damn well that Charlaine and I broke up week before last. Who’s this?”
Tact obviously was not a Whitfield trait and the young man did not hide his thorough inspection of me. If I didn’t know better, I would think that he had designs for me.
“Don’t be gawking on Ms. Amanda,” Lucy shooed Maxwell away from the stove. “And for the record, she’s a married woman. Her husband is the new ranch hand.”
Rounding the island in the center of the kitchen, avoiding Lucy’s hand, “That only means she got a ring and her name is on a piece of paper.” Coming towards me, he said, “Can I see the ring, Ms. Amanda?”
Putting my hands into the pockets of my full skirt, I met his wicked gaze, “I rather not, Mr. Whitfield. In fact, it’s better you go looking for your… Charlaine, she might be a bit more free with her affections.”
This only stoked his interest, “Well, she isn’t as free as you think. In fact, the main reason we broke up is because Dale, her husband, came home from the oil rig. But don’t worry about me, as soon as he goes back out to the rig, I’ll be back in Charlaine’s bed.”
“Don’t you have something to do?” Lucy piped in. “Or somewhere else to be?”
“Are you dismissing me, Ms. Callahan?” Maxwell turned towards the cook “Can’t you see I’m having a conversation with Ms. Amanda.”
“I see you are making a fool of yourself,” Lucy answered. “Now git, or you can forget about getting any of this chili.” She raised a fiery eyebrow, daring the younger Whitfield.
Backing down and sauntering towards the kitchen door, Maxwell grumbled, “That ain’t playing fair.” Backing out of the door, he smiled at me, “It was mighty nice meeting you, Ms. Amanda and one of these fine days I hope you will show me that ring.” He was gone, not waiting for a response.
“Pay him no mind,” Lucy shook her head and turned her attention to the chili. “He fancies himself a playboy but the good girls know better to steer clear of him. He’s a good guy trying to be bad.”
“Why?” I leaned on the island, spinning my wedding band around my finger. I had married Oli because he asked. He was a nice enough man and the pickings were few in the small town of Charity, outside of which the Morrissey farm was located. So when he got down on his knee and held up the ring with the words, “Will you marry me?” on his lips. I said yes. It was a good marriage so far.
“Maybe because it’s the bad boys that got the girls or so he thinks,” Lucy shrugged and looked over her shoulder. “The laundry room is through there,” she nodded towards a door near the back stairs. “See if you can handle the washing machine, and the other door in the room leads to the side yard.”
Nodding, I did as I was told, finding an old Maytag that was made at least twenty years ago. Looking it over, I felt confident that I could operate it. Opening the door to the yard, I walked out into it where there were three clothes lines. Beyond the fenced area was the ranch and in the distance, I saw Oli, Mr. Whitfield and another man, who was most likely Juan Perez.
Seeing me, Oli waved and I waved back. He was a peaceful man, a hard working man. I found stability in his arms, but I craved something else and even though I tried to suppress that need it crept out of its prison. It did that when I saw Maxwell Whitfield.
Seeing his powerful build, blue eyes under thick black brows and a rough beard that I suspected he had shaved that morning.
No, I had a good man, there was no way she was going to compromise it by courting danger. Maxwell Whitfield was off limits. Waving at the men once more, I went in search of Lucy, hoping she would give me something to do to keep my mind busy, pushing away the thoughts of Maxwell doing naughty things to me.