***Monroe Dirt Ranch***
Abby stared at the dress on the bed. She knew that time was ticking away, grains of sand slipping through that hourglass, but her mind was still trying to process the past few hours. Was this what they meant by cold feet? Some crazy part of her shouted, ‘Run.’ As far and as fast as she could. But she knew she would not. Another part of her demanded that she find another dress. Who did he think he was, controlling her? Right down to which dress she wore?
But those words haunted her brain again. When Jack said them, the way he said them, did something to her that made her feel alive. Really and truly alive. For the first time. The honest truth was that she had not really lived until she fell into his arms in the casino last night.
She had a dozen or more messages from Mercy, Lizzie, and even Stacey Reynolds. All of them demanding to know if she was alright. Mercy’s hinted and teased about so much more. Abby wanted to dial the café and speak with Lizzie. But what advice would Sebida’s last vestal virgin have for this situation? Mercy might be a better bet, but they had never been that close. Honestly, the girl was probably better friends with Jack. And why the fuck did that bother her?
Her hands caressed the soft cotton material as she smiled. How had he known? Another truth was that this was her favorite dress, the one she would have chosen herself. And that fact did not escape her. He had chosen what she would have. And somehow, that made everything seem even more right.
She sighed as she looked out the window on a bright, sunshiny Texas morning. She could see the fields of bluebonnets that lay like a comforting blanket as far as the eye could see until it met the lighter blue of the skyline. She did not know why she dawdled as Nana called it. Yes, she did. She was still afraid. She supposed that she should be. This was to be her wedding day. Her wedding day? To a man that was more legend and fantasy to her than reality. Her logical brain called her a fool, a dreamer, warned her that nothing good could come of such rash and ill-conceived plans.
But Abby had spent a lifetime listening to that logical side of herself. Being everyone else’s idea of a good girl. She had been the perfect student. All ‘A’s’ of course. She had gone to the best college and yet again outperformed most of her peers. She had even dated the ‘right’ man from the best family. And when Nana needed her, she had given up her job and apartment to come rushing home. She had lived her twenty-seven years…all of her life so far…to please others. Andrew Jackson Greywolf was what she wanted. He always had been. And feeling alive like this, like she never had…that was what she wanted.
She picked up the dress and held it against her as she danced over to the old-fashioned dresser. She opened the pink drawers, remembering his comment about wanting to make love to her somewhere besides in this pink palace. She chuckled at the room that had not changed since she was six. She had been back for over a year now. Why had she not changed anything? Because she needed the comfort of having everything remain the same. That little girl still hated change. She feared all that it would bring. In complete honesty, that was probably why she had stayed with John for so long. He was familiar and comfortable.
Nothing about Jack was either of those things. He was as mysterious as the gas clouds of Jupiter. But oddly enough, that was comforting. Not comfortable, but comforting. Abby frowned; something deep inside her told her that she could trust Jack, something she never really had with John. It seemed odd that after such a long time, a third of her life, if she lived to be as old as Nana had, she would throw it all away, stop listening to that logical side, and cast caution to the wind. Like her mother had?
Had all that logic and caution gotten her anywhere, though? She had denied herself everything her heart craved, been what other people wanted/expected her to be, done the right thing – been the ‘good girl.’ And for it, she ended up right back where she started…alone on the family ranch that was falling apart, without the money to restore it and foreclosure looming over her head. Hell, her job was only temporary substitute teaching even. And her engagement? That was a laugh. No, logic had brought her life to as tragic an end as rebellion had her mother’s.
Abby pulled on another pair of stockings and fixed a pale pink garter belt in place. She found a matching pale pink bra and panties set. When she reached for them, Jack’s words came back to haunt her, and she left the panties at the bottom of that drawer. She dressed quickly and selected a couple of dresses from the closet. The red one, as he had commanded, a bright sunny yellow as well.
Then she went digging at the back of her closet. The black plastic garment bag with the store name embossed across it in silver. It had been an impulse purchase in one of her more romantic moods. She had fallen in love with it the moment she laid eyes upon the ivory satin material with its fitted bodice and sweetheart neckline trimmed in tiny pearls. Its full skirt had flowed about her legs when she tried it on.
She had known that this dress would never do for the monstrously large and ornate church wedding the Cummin’s family demanded, but still, something inside of her had just known this was the dress for her. She had thought that perhaps she could convince John’s mother that it would be an acceptable going-away outfit with its matching scalloped half-waist jacket and a pillbox hat with a veil.
If this dress would never do for such a high society event, it would be perfect for this one. Abby smiled as she hugged the garment bag close to her body and found the tiny suitcase to pack the rest of her things. She threw them all quickly into the case and zipped it. She remembered his words, ‘waiting on the front porch in half an hour.’ She wanted to start this new life, this adventure, off on the right foot.
***Lucky Wolf Casino***
Jack Greywolf shook his head as he tried to step inside the cluttered confines of the old trailer that sat behind the casino. Hoarder! His mind revolted at the fact that the same man who kept the casino, his office, and its books immaculately clean and organized, had chosen to live among a collection of old newspapers, junk, and goodness only knew what else. It was another of the things about his grandfather that never made any sense. But coming to terms with his grandfather’s faults was not what he was here to do this morning. No, he had avoided this place, sleeping on the couch in the office or a spare room at the casino when one was available.
But this place held something he wanted. Something that seemed right somehow. He just hoped that it was still where the Old Man had always kept it. It had been years since he had last seen it. The image flashed through his mind like it was just yesterday. His grandfather was raging like a prize bull, throwing the thin door of the trailer back. Jack had thought it might come off its hinges. Then the man had stormed into the tiny kitchen and living area that had doubled as Jack’s bedroom. The place had not been as cluttered then, though it had never been what most people would consider clean. But it had been serviceable.
The old cabinets had squeaked loudly as his grandfather had thrown them violently open too. He had reached for a dusty old canning jar at the back of the cabinet. It was the old-fashioned kind with the metal fixture across the top that held a glass plug securely in place until released. The Old Man had cursed ‘that stubborn, heartless woman’ as he released the latch and removed the glass lid. He had taken the little black velvet box from his shirt pocket.
Jack had heard the audible snap as the lid of the box gave way. But he had not expected what lay inside. A silver, turquoise, and diamond ring. Its simple beauty had taken the boy’s breath away. But more so, the dawning knowledge of what had happened in that house as he swung the little girl in the tree. The pain that he saw in his Grandfather’s eyes that day would stay with him for a lifetime. He would swear that tears glistened in their depths.
His grandfather cursed ‘that woman’ once more before snapping that box closed with a finality that broke something inside of Jack. Joe Greywolf had stuffed the box into the wide-mouth Mason Jar then replaced the glass lid and the wire latch that seemed to pronounce the finality of it all. The old man had shoved it to the back of the cupboard, but when he pulled his hand out of the cupboard, it was wrapped around the neck of a bottle of ‘firewater.’
That alone had said more than Jack needed to know about the tragedy that must have transpired in that old house. His grandfather had never been a drinking man. How many times had he preached the ills of the ‘white man’s firewater’ to Jack? How many warnings had the young man been forced to endure? Although the fate of his mother should have been warning enough.
Jack picked his way carefully through the tiny pathway between the doorway and the kitchen. He faced the fact that he really did need to do something about this place. And while he had always thought to simply hire someone to haul the whole damned trailer to a junkyard somewhere, let it become someone else’s problem, something told him that he owed the Old Man and himself more than that. Something told him that this place held the key to understanding his Grandfather…and, perhaps himself.
But that would have to wait for another day because he came here with a specific purpose in mind. He stood before the old stained wooden cabinet that held so many memories. He hesitated. What if his grandfather had gotten rid of it? What then? Jack supposed he could pick one up once they got to Vegas. Next to the casinos, the wedding chapels and businesses that catered to them were the second-largest source of revenue in the desert town, well, legal one anyway.
There would be hundreds of jewelers more than happy to help him part with a large chunk of his savings. Not that that was why he was looking for this ring. Money was just money; he had always known that. And as a simple man with simple needs, he had acquired more of it than he needed in this life.
No, this was about redemption, about closing circles of life, about closure itself. He had learned that his grandfather had made that ring himself as a young man, one not much older than Jack had been that summer. A young man in love with a girl that he could never have. A man that loved that same woman throughout a lifetime. Through marriages and children and grandchildren. A man that fucking followed ‘that’ woman as he called her that day into the next life.
And some warped, sick, nostalgic part of Jack thought that perhaps, just perhaps, if that ring could close the circle of destiny between Greywolf men and the Monroe women that stole their hearts, then maybe, just maybe the Old Man and ‘that’ woman might find something happier in the next life. “When did you become such a sentimental old sap, Jack?”
He could almost hear the deep gruff laughter of the Old Man as the image of dainty hands curled beneath rosy cheeks of a sleeping angel sprang to his mind. “Gees, thanks for the reminder, Old Man. So dare I ask? Is the thing still here?”
Jack was not even aware that he was holding his breath until the metal spring latch gave way, and the glass lid slid from place to reveal a black velvet box that he had not seen in twenty years. He shook his head; whether, at his newfound sentimentality or his grandfather’s, he was not sure. Either way, he pulled the box from its resting place, wondering if, in all those years, the Old Man had ever taken it out of this jar. Even just to look at it?
The sound of the lid on that box was so rusty that he doubted it. But his breath still caught at the sheer beauty of the intricate craftsmanship that he could see in this ring. He imagined his grandfather as a young man, younger than Abby even. The love and hours of pains-taking details that he had put into the tiny silver symbol remained unchanged by time. Hopefully, the Greywolf men’s destinies would be, as he thought about slipping the thing on Abby’s finger in a few hours.
“A sign would be a good thing, Old Man. I could sure use one. Of all the fucking women in this world, why her? Why ‘that’ woman’s granddaughter? Fate sure is a bitch sometimes, ain’t she?”
Jack sighed as he looked around the place that his Grandfather called home long after he could have afforded so much better. The casino manager had found him right over there. In his favorite chair with the television still blaring. He had gone to check on him when Joe Greywolf missed a staff meeting. The coroner said it was a heart attack, but Jack knew the truth – a broken heart was more accurate.
“We need our head’s fucking examined, Old Man,” he chuckled self-deprecatingly as he slipped the tiny box into his shirt pocket and promised himself that he really would do something about this place soon.
It took him only a couple of minutes to run into the casino and speak with the manager. After months of running itself, Jack was confident that his unexpected trip would have no ill effects on this place. Well, no more so than the ‘good’ sheriff’s corruption, the economy, and this virus were having. He’d have to make some tough choices soon.
But not right now. She was his top priority – Abby Jean. Damn, he racked his brain, trying to remember her last name. He knew he must have heard it at some point. But for the life of him, he could only think of Monroe. He did not want to waste time on something that did not matter a hill of beans anyway. The important thing was what her name would be in a few hours – Greywolf. Jack stuffed a few items of clothes in an old bag. He supposed he ought to think about what he would wear to his wedding. That did not matter either, but what she wore did. This whole wedding thing was suddenly looking way more complicated than he had thought at first.
“Shitpissdamncockcuntmotherfuckinsonsofbitches, I could sure use that sign, Old Man,” Jack stood in the parking lot considering his baby or Miss Myrtle’s old Chevy. Sebida gossip mill be damned, he was making the only logical choice and going with Baby. That stupid VW van he won in a poker game and restored to keep his mind from imploding between missions might have to surrender that title soon.