Homecoming Ranch | Chapter 34 of 43

Author: Julia London | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 3588 Views | Add a Review

Please hit next button if you encounter an empty page

TWENTY-SEVEN

When Luke and Leo were kids, the whole family would come out to the ranch, and beneath the Chinese lanterns his mother hung on the trees, they would have big dinners on one long table. His mother had always dressed it up with a tablecloth, flowers, and fancy dishes. The kids would play on the lawn while the meal was prepared, and again, afterward, when the adults would sit around with their homemade pie and coffee.

Tonight, they were missing the backdrop of the mountains and the fancy dishes, but Patti had put up Chinese lanterns and had brought her own tablecloth. And the lasagna was as good as anything Luke’s mother had ever made. It took him back to a simpler, happier time. Could it be like that again?

He looked at Madeline. To him, she was gorgeous. And tonight, so different from the woman he’d met up on Sometimes Pass. She was laughing at something Leo said, her eyes crinkling in the corners. They could be this, he thought. They could be this couple, living this life.

Leo was entertaining them all with his grand schemes to win tickets to a Denver football game. Patti was appalled—and rightfully so—that Leo had convinced his young friend Dante to try and get the tickets through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“Come on, Aunt Patti,” Leo had scoffed as Marisol mashed up his lasagna to a pulp. “He thinks it’s pretty cool. He wants to go. And he wants to take me. But just in case that doesn’t fly, I am working on backup plans. I will see a game at Mile High Stadium if it’s the last thing I do!”

No one said anything for a long moment.

Leo laughed. “Okay, it won’t be the last thing I do. Better now?”

“I think it’s great,” Greg said, and pointed his fork at Patti. “You know Cathy always said this kid was going to be something someday,” he said, winking at Leo.

“I am something,” Leo said. “I’m a chick magnet. Just look how many I’ve got around me right now.” He grinned, trying to turn his head to look at Libby, Madeline, and Marisol.

“The only thing you have around you now is flies,” Marisol said casually. “Just like the rear end of a horse.”

“You love me, Marisol,” Leo said cheerfully. “Just admit it. Come clean. We all know it and it’s embarrassing.”

“Do you boys remember the lasagna Cathy made for my Tyler’s birthday?” Patti asked.

Dad laughed. “That thing was a brick. Could have been the cornerstone of a new house.” The Kendricks laughed while Patti explained to their guests that Luke’s mother had overcooked the lasagna a wee bit.

Luke remembered that day very clearly. Mom had been beside herself—with fifteen people for dinner, the lasagna burned to a brick. Under the table, he put his hand on Madeline’s knee, and she turned a brilliantly warm smile to him. Yes, he could see her at this table for years to come. He could see them, dining under a Colorado sky, their children playing on the lawn while the two of them ate pie and drank coffee.

“Libby, you have a pretty big family, don’t you?” Patti asked.

“Me?” Libby said, looking surprised. “I have a lot of cousins. My mom has four sisters. There are a lot of them, but we don’t get together like this. It’s usually my mom, her husband, and my twin brothers.”

“What about you, Madeline?” Patti asked.

“Ah… it’s just me and my mother,” Madeline said politely, but Luke could feel her tensing.

“Where’s your mom, in Orlando?”

“Yes.”

“Well, this must have been a great surprise,” Patti said.

She was only making small talk like any good hostess would, but Luke knew Madeline well enough now to know how uncomfortable these questions would make her. Her fist curled in her lap, and she glanced at Luke. He smiled reassuringly. On some dusty, remote level, he understood the anxiety that she seemed to live with. In moments like this, he felt sorry for her. Madeline had not had an easy life.

Madeline suddenly sat up. “It was a huge surprise,” she said, and laughed a little, looking at Libby across the table. “Of all the things I imagined about my dad, this wasn’t it. Two sisters and a ranch? I was not expecting that.”

“I’m really glad you came out, Madeline,” Jackson said. “When are you heading back to Orlando?”

“Next week.” She said it without hesitation, so easily, that Luke realized her mind was made up.

“What?” Leo exclaimed. “But you can’t. You have to stay and redeem your piss-poor performance on ‘Hounds of Hell.’”

Madeline smiled warmly at Leo. “I would love to, but I have a lot of active listings. And my mom needs me.” She turned that warm smile to Luke.

He did not smile back, and he saw something flicker in her eyes. Guilt?

“Time for dessert!” Patti announced, and stood up. “Madeline, would you help me?”

“Of course!” she said, and hopped up, picking up hers and Luke’s plates.

Luke watched Madeline walk into the house behind Patti, looking pretty damn gorgeous in that yellow dress that hugged her hips. He thought of how her hair felt in his hands, how she felt beneath him, and he wondered if he was crazy for feeling like he did about her.

The woman had issues. Serious issues.

He wished he knew the first thing about how to fix those issues.

Image

Madeline was assigned drying dishes while Patti washed. Patti chatted gregariously about life in Pine River. A new Applebee’s was going in on the Aspen Highway, which excited her because she’d heard they printed the Weight Watcher point values on their menus. She was sorry to see the Piedmont Tire Store close up in town, but it couldn’t be helped because old Mr. Piedmont had emphysema.

Marisol joined them, bringing in food to be put away, fitting it into a tiny little fridge that seemed absurdly small for three men.

“Did you hear?” Marisol said to Patti, pausing to bend sideways and look outside, where the men were now engaged in a game of poker. “Julie Daugherty has split from her husband.”

“Oh no,” Patti said. “I so hate to hear that. I thought she and Brandon were a cute couple. I mean, obviously I thought she and Luke were cuter, but if that couldn’t work out, I was happy to see her with a good man.”

“He is a dog,” Marisol said emphatically. “He has his thing in any woman who will bend to him.”

“Marisol!” Patti said, her face going bright red. She gave Madeline a sheepish look. “Sometimes, you just have to ignore her,” she said, with a pointed look at Marisol.

“I say only what is true,” Marisol said with a shrug. She covered a bowl of beans and said low, “Now, she wants to be again with Luke.”

Patti stopped washing and turned around. “What?”

Marisol nodded furiously. “She comes here, two, three times a week. Leo, he has heard this from Luke, that she wants to be together again. They sit on the porch and they talk long time. Long time.”

“Well, that’s their business, Marisol,” Patti said primly.

“Yes, of course it is their business,” Marisol said with shrug. “But I do not like to see her with him again, do you?”

“It’s none of our business,” Patti said firmly. “I want whatever makes Luke happy. That’s all.” She turned back to her washing.

Marisol frowned at Patti’s back. “Very well, pretend you do not hear me,” she said with a flick of her wrist. “But if they come together again, she will hurt him again. I know this woman. I know how she is.” Her gaze shifted to Madeline, and then to the plate Madeline held.

Only then did Madeline realize that she was not moving, that her towel was stuck to the plate, her body going cold. She slowly resumed drying, her thoughts racing now. She’d known when this affair with Luke began that it could never be more than it was, in spite of any fantasies she might have harbored that it could be. And now it felt as if her instincts to protect her heart, to cocoon it, had been right. Luke liked her, she knew that he did. But he didn’t love her, not like she was beginning to love him, she was fairly certain—how could he love her and Julie at the same time?

She took her time finishing up, stacking the dishes neatly on the bar, as there was no place in the two cabinets to put them. By then, everyone was eating pie and playing cards.

Madeline wrapped her sweater tightly around her and walked outside. Mr. Kendrick apparently had bowed out of the game and was sitting on the steps of the little porch.

“May I join you?” Madeline asked.

“Come on,” he said, and patted the wood step next to him.

She sat down on the step and fixed her gaze on a Chinese lantern.

“You don’t want to play?” Mr. Kendrick asked.

“No.” She smiled sheepishly. “I’m horrible at games, and there is nothing I hate more than losing money.”

He laughed. “Me, too.”

It was ironic for him to say, given how much he’d lost in selling Homecoming Ranch. He seemed a good man, and Madeline couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. How did one man bear so much loss? She looked at his creased face and imagined him striking his deal with her father, the devil. “May I ask you something?”

“Shoot,” he said.

“What was he like? Grant Tyler, I mean.”

Mr. Kendrick studied her for a moment, his gray eyes—Luke’s eyes—regarding her with the same casual interest. “Well, I can say that he wasn’t any good with women, but I guess you knew that.”

Madeline smiled. “That is the one thing about him I knew.”

“He thought he was some hotshot, some business brain, but I think he made more messes than anyone I ever knew. When Grant was on top, there wasn’t no one higher. But when he fell, he landed with a bang.”

Madeline glanced down, wishing she would hear something about Grant that she could honestly admire. Just one small thing that would make her feel as if she hadn’t descended from a long line of losers.

“He wasn’t all bad,” Mr. Kendrick said, as if she’d voiced her thoughts out loud. “I mean, he really was trying to help me out. He thought he was a wheeler-dealer and was probably just shy of the law, but his intentions were good. He knew I needed the money for Leo.”

“For Leo?”

“Yep. Insurance only covers so much, and that was back when I could get insurance for my son.”

Madeline bit her lower lip. He’d sold the ranch for so much less than it was worth so that he could take care of Leo.

“I take it he wasn’t much of a dad,” Mr. Kendrick said.

“You’d have to ask Libby,” Madeline said with a shrug. “I never knew him.”

Mr. Kendrick nodded. “I won’t make excuses for him,” he said. “But I’ll let you in on a secret—Grant himself told me he was never the same after his son died.”

Madeline started. “What? What son?”

“Hadn’t heard about that? He had son with his first wife. To hear Grant tell it, he doted on that kid. They had a little house out in Florida somewhere. He’d just gotten out of the military, was doing something with aviation equipment. Said he was really happy then. But that kid, somehow he got out from under their watch and they found him in the pool. He was about two when he drowned.”

Madeline’s stomach dropped. She’d had a brother? A baby who had drowned? She suddenly felt sick to her stomach. “I didn’t… I never…”

“Well I guess he kept that ache to himself then,” Mr. Kendrick said. “I don’t think he would have told me, but when this last wife left him, he came over one night, just as drunk as he could be, and he poured it all out.”

“Oh my God,” Madeline murmured.

“Now I never approved of the way Grant handled his kids, I can tell you that much. But after he told me, part of me always wanted to cut him a break. I just know how crazy I’d be if I lost one of my two.”

They sat in silence for a long moment. Madeline swallowed down a lump in her throat. She had never thought of her father as anything other than slightly less than human. She could not imagine the pain of his loss. And here she was sitting next to a man who had sacrificed so much for his child. A child he would lose.

She felt guilty for something she hadn’t done, guilt by association. “Mr. Kendrick, about the ranch—”

“Now Madeline, you do what you need to do about that,” he said, cutting her off. “We’ll be fine. We’ve made it this far and we’ll keep making it, no matter what. One thing I’ve got is two strong sons. We can weather just about anything.” He smiled, then surprised her by squeezing her knee. “You take care of you. Do what you need for you.”

She appreciated his sentiment, but the little green house was scarcely big enough for Leo’s wheelchair. How could she worry about only herself?

Libby appeared before them, her purse on her shoulder. “There you are. Are you ready?” she asked brightly.

Luke walked up behind Libby. “You’re not leaving, are you?”

“We have so much to do tomorrow,” Libby said. “The Johnsons will be here on Thursday.”

Madeline stood up and looked at Luke. He said, “Are you leaving?” She had the feeling he was asking her something else entirely, something much deeper, and Madeline didn’t have an answer for him. She could feel a sea change in her, as if everything she had ever known, everything she had ever been, was turning over, bottom-up. It felt big, overwhelming. This time, she couldn’t reason everything out, couldn’t chart it and follow a predetermined path. She felt strangely paralyzed by the life she’d worked so hard to achieve.

She looked at Luke. He deserved some explanation from her. He deserved the best the world had to offer, not some woman from Orlando with a trunk full of emotional baggage. She wanted to tell him how she felt about him and what she meant to do, but honestly, standing there, she didn’t really know what she meant to do. “I have to go,” she said simply, and smiled sadly.

She could see in Luke’s pained expression that he understood her.

Image

Luke walked Libby and Madeline out to their car after they’d said their good-nights. He stepped back inside the fence and watched until the red taillights of Libby’s car disappeared around the corner. When he turned back, he was surprised to see Jackson with one hip perched on the railing of the porch, watching him.

“So what’s up, Luke?” Jackson asked shrewdly. “You look a little like a sick puppy.”

“Funny,” Luke said.

“Hey, I got a call from your attorney, Dan Broadstreet. He had a few questions for me.”

“Did he?”

“I guess he was looking for something to help you out. But he told me it didn’t look good, that case law won’t back up the deal your dad made, and that it would be a big waste of money to try it.” He shrugged sympathetically. “But I guess you knew that.”

“I knew it,” Luke said. “My goal is to fight it long enough that I have time to get enough money together to buy the ranch back. I’m driving over to Denver tomorrow to go over things with Dan.”

“Seriously?” Jackson said, surprised. “You guys don’t have the money for that.”

“I have the money,” Luke said.

Jackson sighed. “Everyone appreciates your determination, Luke. But your dad doesn’t want to go back to the ranch. Do you know that? I don’t know if it’s because his wife is gone, or it’s too hard to handle Leo out there, but he’s been pretty straight with me—he doesn’t have any interest.”

“Maybe so. But Leo and I do.”

Jackson cocked his head to one side. “Leo, too?” he asked, sounding skeptical.

“Yes,” Luke said. “Leo, too.” He didn’t know if that was true or not, and now he would make it a point to speak to Leo about it. “But definitely me, Jackson. Everyone seems to forget that Homecoming Ranch is my legacy, too.”

Jackson nodded. “I thought you were sticking to Denver.”

“I am,” Luke said. “For now. That’s where the work is. But one day, I’m going to have kids. And I want the ranch to be there for them, just like it was for Leo and me. Like it was for my dad. I’m not willing to say, hey, you know, my dad made a mistake, and move on. There is too much family history, too much of my life wrapped up there.”

“I hear you, man. But it’s happening all across Colorado. Ranches are too expensive to run and maintain. We can agree to disagree about Grant’s methods, but he was onto something. You’ve got to have twice as many cattle up there to pay for that operation. Your dad was sinking faster than a stone in a pond.”

Luke folded his arms across his chest and stared back at Jackson.

Jackson groaned. “Okay,” he said, throwing up his hands. “Okay. I’ll help you however I can. Just promise me one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Promise me you won’t tell me how much money you lose in this deal. My tiny money-grubbing heart can’t take it.”

<< < 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 > >>

Comments

user comment image
Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

Share your Thoughts for Homecoming Ranch

500+ SHARES Facebook Twitter Reddit Google LinkedIn Email
Share Button
Share Button