Dirty Scoundrel(10)

By: Jessica Clare


That girl would have texted Clay back and asked him not to leave. She would have told him she needed him, and she didn’t want Stanford nearly as much as she wanted him.

But that girl’s dead and gone, I guess. All that’s left is Howdy Doody’s more garish cousin, Pinky Doody. Or something. I make a face at my reflection.

A riding lawnmower roars to life outside, which means that there’s no more time to fart around. I finish putting my dark hair into the Loretta pigtails, stuff on my pink cowboy hat, and head downstairs. Time to kick things into high gear. I grab another cup of coffee for myself and a bottle of Gatorade, heading out onto the porch just in time to see Old Jimmy, our neighbor, wave as he mows the sculpted lawns of Weston Ranch’s twenty-five acres. Well, kind of mows. More like he drives the mower over the lawn and cuts most of the grass. Not all of it. I like to think that it looks a bit like a cinnamon roll. Or zebra stripes.

Or like a nearsighted ninety-year-old mowed it, which is the case.

It’s too much yard for anyone to tackle, but Old Jimmy’s a fan. He’s the sweetest man and a great neighbor, and it’s not something I can handle on my own. When he volunteered, I took him up on it, no questions asked. I can’t even complain, really. He loves doing the yards just for a chance to come and have dinner with us once a week. He’s not very good at them, but he tries. He tries really, really hard.

Story of my life. Seems like that’s what’ll be written on my tombstone. Natalie Weston—she’s not very good, but she tries really hard. I trot outside to greet Old Jimmy and hold out the sports drink, yelling over the sound of the motor. “Morning, Jimmy.”

He flips the mower off and beams at me, his lined face crinkling. His glasses are already sliding down his nose—no surprise, since the lenses are thicker than magnifying glasses. “Morning, Miss Nat. How’s your dad today?”

I put a smile on my face. “It’s not gonna be a great day, but he might perk up by the time it’s autograph time.” Dad loves having his picture taken, even to this day, and manages to have a few lucid hours for his fans most of the time. “Gonna be a hot one. Stay hydrated, okay?” I hand him the drink.

“Of course. You fix that leaky faucet upstairs yet? Want me to come take a look at it?”

“It’s fixed,” I lie, giving him a cheery expression. “Called the plumber last week.” There’s no money for a plumber, but there’s also no money to pay Jimmy, and I feel bad enough abusing his goodwill as it is. I’d do the lawns myself but there’s absolutely no way I could do the yards and the cleaning and the museum on my own. Plus, I have to stay close enough to Dad in case he trips and falls.

Plus, if he fixes it half as well as he mows the yard . . . well.

“Got a few loose shingles on the roof,” Jimmy comments, unscrewing the lid on the Gatorade and taking a gulp. “You got someone to look at it for you?”

“I know a guy. I’ll call him.” I pat Jimmy on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry about it. Anyhow, I need to get inside. It’s almost opening time.”



Clay

When the limo comes to a stop, a surge of memories comes over me at the sight of the sprawling Western ranch ahead of us.

“What in fresh hell is this shit?” Knox asks, rubbing his beard as he stares out the window. “Bonanza Land?”

“Chap Weston Land, more like it. Supposed to be a museum now.” I tip my baseball cap back and gaze out the window on his side. He’s not wrong about this place being a bit like a movie set—the ranch is sprawling but . . . man, is it ugly as fuck. The lawns look like they’ve been mowed by a three-year-old, and the main house itself looks like a reject from a Western movie. A really old, cheap one. There’s a red Spanish-tile roof over a bright yellow exterior, and a big weather-aged sign shows a picture of the black-and-white movie star Chap Weston welcoming visitors to his home. There’s a gravel parking lot and a few wood cutouts of horses in the distance. It looks different than I remember it from back when I was dating Natalie.

Didn’t remember it being quite so . . . garish. So very . . . Chap Weston–y. I should have expected this, given that I remember coming to this place as a teenager . . . but still, seeing it again is strange as hell. Knox is right—this place is garish as fuck and it looks like it’s gotten worse over time.

“Thought this was the girl that turned you down, man.”

I elbow Knox for sayin’ that shit. He knows good and well who I came after. There’s only ever been Natalie Weston in my life, far as I’m concerned. I’ll flirt with waitresses and buy a girl a drink at the bar if I’m feeling particularly lonely, but no one goes home with me. No one gets my digits. Never been room in my life for anyone but her. Knox knows that.

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