Chapter 3. The Montana Kahuna
Janelle Meraz Hooper
Mary was so busy getting her ducks in order so she could get out of town, she didn’t have time, at first, to think much about Mark spending the night at her house. When she did, she wondered why had he picked her house when he had a brother nearby? Actually, he had his own place a few miles away, on his parents’ compound. Why was he spending the night on her floor?
Before she went to bed the night before his visit, she made sure he could find the floor. All of the old newspapers, newsletters and mail-ads were either banished to recycling or put into a box in her car trunk so she could take them to Ray, who ran the layout department. Other peoples’ magazines were a gold mine for layout and design ideas, not to mention leads for new clients for the advertising department. Mary would almost sooner throw away money than old magazines.
A rental car was in the driveway when she got home the next night, and she had a rush of guilt for not offering to pick Mark up at the airport…what was she thinking?
She forgot her guilt when she got a whiff of something wonderful. Something only vaguely familiar. Something—trout! She raced upstairs, not sure which sight was more welcome, Mark or the trout he and Kate were cooking in the skillet.
“Mark! You brought the fish, I could have at least cooked them!”
“That’s okay, sis,” Mark grinned. “Kate wanted to learn how to cook fish that aren’t named Charlie.”
“It smells wonderful! I love the way you cook fish with just salt, pepper, and flour. I hate all those Frenchy sauces.”
“When there’s sauce on the trout, lookout!” Mark cautioned, “It’s probably covering up a fish that’s older than you are.”
“I guess being frozen kept them fresh on the trip,” she said as she admired the full skillet.
“Actually, I got up early and caught these before I left the park. You’d been without so long I figured you were due. Kept them cool in an old Styrofoam ice chest.”
“Did you get any strange looks at the airport when you checked your fish box luggage?”
“No, the floor was covered with ice chests bigger than mine that belonged to people who had been fishing for Kings in Alaska. My little chest looked kind of pitiful next to theirs.”
“The best things come in small packages, they say.”
Mary left the cheerful cooks to change into a boxy pair of khaki walking shorts and a forest green tank top. She had a closet full of similar clothes. Her outfit was fine for the Northwest, especially since she was having dinner with a Montana Ranger, but she had trouble picturing it on a Hawaiian beach. She’d have to dig a little deeper into her closet and see if she could find something a little brighter.
Before she returned to the kitchen, Mary gave herself a quick look in the mirror. What looked back at her was a woman with long brunette hair and a medium frame. She was a few pounds lighter than the last time Mark had seen her, and she’d lost her tan. Both changes could be attributed to an increased workload. She hadn’t stopped any cars lately, but she thought she looked as well as she could without the benefit of one of those instant facelifts she kept reading about in the women’s magazines.
How she hated being the ex-wife. What would this ex-brother-in-law say to Brian the next time they spoke? Maybe, “I saw your ex, she looks pretty good for her age, but your new love is a real knockout.” It distressed her to imagine other people commenting, “I saw your ex, she had wrinkles all over her face! No wonder you’re shopping around for a trophy wife.” Well, she doubted that people would actually make those comments out loud, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t think them. Mary hated most to hear, “When I look at Kate, I can see just how pretty Mary must’ve looked years ago.” Mary loved her daughter, and they did look a lot alike, but who could compete with someone half her age?
Well, she was hungry, and she doubted that her two cooks would deliver fresh, pan-fried trout to her bedroom door. “There she is!” greeted Mark when Mary entered the kitchen, “How about some wine?”
“Oh, you must have found my cardboard box in the fridge,” Mary said as she held out her glass.
“Yep. Park rangers know how to find their quarry. It was marked Wednesday, so I thought it must be fresh.”
“Very funny. Actually, I’ve got a box dated Thursday, I’m giving you the old stuff.”
“It tastes good to me.”
Dinner was delicious. Mary looked down at a plate of fresh trout, green salad with raspberry dressing, and lightly buttered and toasted Como bread, and thought she was in heaven.
After Kate downed her trout like it was a burger at Dollar’s and left with a carload
of friends, Mary and Mark settled down with fresh glasses of wine on the sundeck. Mary cringed as a whole flock of fruit bats flew into her big cherry tree. The crows stripped her fruit trees in the daytime and this was the night shift. Not surprisingly, she preferred the crows.
“So, how’s it going, sis?” Mark asked as he eased into a deck chair that had seen better days.
“Not bad. How about you?”
“Good. I’m really looking forward to getting away for a few days. I didn’t get much rest this year after the forest fires started.”
“Kate and I watched the news every night. It was the worst we’d ever seen.”
“That’s for sure. We were lucky we didn’t lose any of the firefighters.”
The niceties were over, and Mary asked what she really wanted to know, “Mark, you know you’re welcome here, but why did you come here instead of the compound or your brother’s?”
“Mom is letting company from Minnesota use my house at the compound while they’re here on vacation. And I didn’t feel up to spending the night staring at the bare chest of Brian’s latest Seahawk cheerleader. I think he should start carding those girls. Besides,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I thought it would be tacky to sleep on my brother’s floor when I was thinking about dating his ex.”
Mary choked on her wine, and reached for a tissue from her pocket before wine came out of her nose. “Mark! Don’t go there!” Mary said with surprise.
“Too late! I’ve already bought a ticket! What’s wrong? Have someone else?”
“I have cooties?”
“No…Mark, I like you, but I’m just not sure if it’s smart for me to get involved with a Bergstrom again. You’re a great guy, but I don’t think I fit in with the rest of your family.”
“Mary, you fit in just fine. Don’t be intimidated by the Bergstrom money. It has nothing to do with me or us.”
Mary was still wiping wine from her nose when she said, “I can’t help the way I feel.”
“Well, I always like to leave a woman in a state of shock, so I’ll go to bed now,” he said with a grin. “Thanks for the hospitality, sis. I’ll be gone when you wake up, so I’ll call you in Hawaii to see if you’ve managed to get your mouth closed yet.” Mary felt him hesitate as he walked behind her chair, but he kept walking. Was he going to touch her? Pat her on the head? What?
Whatever he almost did, Mary was glad he hadn’t. Her brain was occupied trying to list all of the reasons why their dating wouldn’t be a good idea. Mark had already left the sundeck, so whatever thoughts she had remained unspoken. She was left with an empty deck chair, half a glass of wine, and a big full moon that she was sure was laughing at her. Or was the laughter she heard coming from the bathroom where Mark was? She vaguely felt a mosquito chewing on her bare arm and swatted it with one hand while she finished her wine with the other. She groaned when she heard him turn on the shower. There was no question that Mark was a hunk. Knowing he was less than ten feet from her made her knees tremble. What would Roxanne do? The answer to that was easy. What was Mary going to do? “Nothing!” her friend’s voice ridiculed from the darkness.
The next sound Mary heard was Mark shaking out his sleeping bag. And fluffing his pillow. He made a big deal out of fluffing his pillow. There was something else. She was sure she heard another laugh when she scooted to the bathroom to get ready for bed. He was laughing at her. She was sure of it. And why shouldn’t he?
Kate was due in soon, so any thought of giving in and crawling into Mark’s sleeping bag with him was pointless, even if she could find the nerve which, of course, she couldn’t.
By the time Kate’s friends dropped her off in her driveway, Mark was already fast asleep. How could he do that? How could he make a pass at her and then just go to sleep? Mary was in her bedroom, wide awake, curled up into a tight, fetal position, with her pillow over her head so she couldn’t hear the soft gentle breathing of a man who was totally at ease on her living room floor. For now.
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