Date Published: Jul 2021
. . . the same goes for the first person you make love to. You should choose someone who’s worthy of such a special gift. Someone who will make that moment as wonderful as it should be.
Cal Daily’s words played over and over in Jolene’s head as she pulled the Mercedes her father had insisted she buy into the garage bay and got out. While most people might think the words were the perfect thing to say to a teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood, Jolene did not agree. Her mother had used similar words to get Jolene to guard her virginity and look where it had gotten her. She was thirty-nine years old and still single. She wasn’t a virgin. But she was as close as she could get. She’d had sex with one man. One. And the truly sad part was that she hadn’t even chosen him. Her father had chosen him, just like he’d chosen her car.
“It’s got a leak, alright.” The words pulled her out of her thoughts and she glanced down to see Cal kneeling next to her car. He was a handsome man with his thick brown hair and pretty hazel eyes. But handsome wasn’t the word that came to mind when she looked at Cal Daily. Wounded was. His eyes reminded her of Maisy and Sawyer’s horse, Angel. The horse had been abused by its first owner. And while Maisy and Sawyer had healed the animal’s outward wounds, the inward ones were still reflected in the horse’s eyes.
Cal had a lot of wounds. His wife had run off. Then his mother had gotten sick with cancer and Cal had come home to take care of her. After she passed, the trailer he and Cheyenne were living in had burned to the ground. It was enough to make Jolene tear up every time she looked at him.
She had known Cal since they were in grade school and had always thought he was a kind person who didn’t deserve the hardships he’d had to endure.
“But it’s a slow leak.” He ran his hand over the side of the tire. It was a workingman’s hand. The knuckles were scarred, the skin was tanned, and the nails had a thin line of grease along the cuticles. “Since your tire is relatively new, I’d say you probably ran over a nail. If that’s the case, I can have it plugged and patched for you in about an hour. You can stick around and have a Coke or I can put your spare on and you can take your car and come back for your tire later.”
“I’m fine leaving my car. I need to head back to the bank anyway and it’s not that far away.”
Cal stood. He was tall. Her eye level hit right at the vee opening of his blue plaid western shirt—the exact spot where a tiny whorl of chest hair peeked out. For some reason, she suddenly felt a little breathless.
“I’d be happy to drive you,” he said. “It’s a little chilly today.”
Realizing she was staring at his chest, she quickly averted her gaze. “No need for that, Mr. Daily. I love cold weather. It makes it feel more like the holidays. I’m one of those eternal Texas optimists who still hopes for a white Christmas.”
He laughed. “Good luck with that.” He pulled his cellphone from his shirt pocket. “If you give me your number, I’ll call you when I’m finished.” She gave him her phone number and he tapped it into his phone. “Like I said, it shouldn’t take long. And if it turns out you need a new tire, I’ll pick one up in Abilene tonight when Cheyenne and I go to dinner.”
Jolene couldn’t help but wonder if, at dinner, he would give Cheyenne the same speech he’d accidentally given her. As much as she knew it wasn’t her business, she couldn’t help voicing her concerns. “Maybe you shouldn’t call it a special gift.”
Cal halted in the process of putting his cellphone back in his pocket and cocked his head. “Excuse me?”
Her face filled with heat, but she forged on. “After overhearing the words you plan to say to Cheyenne, I just don’t think you should make sex out to be . . . the Holy Grail.”
His eyes widened. “The Holy Grail?”
“You know, the treasure the knights of Arthur’s round table went in search of.”
“I know what the Holy Grail is, Miss Applegate. I just don’t understand what a golden goblet has to do with sex.”
She really needed to apologize and end the conversation. She was breaking two of her mother’s most important rules: Never stick your nose into other people’s business. And NEVER talk about sex in public. But Jolene had been breaking a lot of her mother’s—and father’s—rules lately. If her speaking up helped Cheyenne, then Jolene had to do it. She wished someone had been there to reason with her strict, overprotective parents.
She cleared her throat. “What I’m trying to say is that women shouldn’t think of sex as a treasure they can only hand over to some pure knight who can prove his worth. Because I can tell you from experience, Mr. Daily, knights in shining armor are hard to find. If not impossible. Besides, it’s ridiculous to think women should be guarding their virginity when society rewards men for getting rid of theirs. Girls are taught to ignore their desires while boys are handed condoms and told to be careful. Which is why boys have sex with the first girl who is willing and then brag about it to their friends.”
Cal’s brow creased. “Not all boys.”
She sent him a pointed look. “Maybe you didn’t brag, but I would bet that you don’t even remember the name of the first girl you had sex with.” She hesitated. “Or kissed, for that matter. And while I don’t fault you for that, I just don’t think you should preach something different to your daughter. Don’t teach her to hide from love. Teach her to make intelligent choices while embracing it. Then when she gets to my age, she’ll have no regrets.”
Jolene shouldn’t have added the last part. It was much too revealing. Her face grew even hotter as Cal stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. Maybe she had. Lately, she hadn’t felt at all like herself. She felt completely uncomfortable in her own skin like it was made of itchy wool. All she wanted to do was climb out of it and find some other, softer skin to climb into. Which might explain why she had started going against her father’s wishes and doing things she’d never done before. Including butting her nose into other people’s business. By the look on Cal’s face, she wasn’t going to change his mind. He appeared to be as stubborn as her father. Since there was nothing else she could say to save Cheyenne from her own fate, she decided it would be best to leave.
“Thank you for fixing my tire, Mr. Daily. Just let me know when I can come get my car.” She turned and headed out of the open bay door.
It was a chilly day. The cold wind whipped strands of her hair loose from her bun and made her eyes sting as she headed toward Main Street. She had just buttoned her suit jacket closed when a hand settled on her arm and whirled her around.
“Clarissa Jameson,” he said. “The first women I had sex with was Clarissa Jameson. As much as I’d like to forget it, I can’t. So I disagree with you, Miss Applegate. You should be choosey about who you make love to. I sure as hell wish I had been. Because being cautious about who you get into a relationship with is better than getting your heart ripped in two. And I won’t have Cheyenne going through what I did.” His hand tightened on her arm. Not painfully. Just enough to make her aware of his unleashed strength. “I won’t have her hurt. Do you hear me? I damn well won’t.”
Jolene might’ve been afraid if not for the love and concern she saw in Cal’s eyes. She wished she could read her own father’s emotions as easily. But Otis Applegate wasn’t the type of man who showed his feelings. She wasn’t even sure he had any. She worried that she would turn out the same way—an emotionless shell who spent all her time counting money in the family bank.
Although she wasn’t feeling emotionless now.
A warm glow spread from Cal’s hand to the rest of her body. A tingling warmth that made her feel hot even with the cold wind buffeting her from all sides. The heat seemed to burn straight through her tweed jacket and button down shirt to singe her skin and melt her bones. Before she could slip into a puddle at his feet, Cal released her and stepped away.
“Mind your own business, Miss Applegate. You take care of bank loans and I’ll take care of tires and my daughter.” He turned and angrily strode back to the garage.
When he was gone, Jolene tried to regain her equilibrium. What had happened? Obviously, going without sex for so long had finally caught up with her. Although at Boone and Emma’s wedding, she had two-stepped and waltzed with quite a few men and not one of their touches had made her feel like she felt now.
Maybe it hadn’t been Cal’s touch. Maybe it had been his anger. Maybe she was mistaking fear for lust. She shook her head to clear it before she turned and headed down the street. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts she almost ran into a ladder that was set up next to a light post.
Raynelle Coffman stood on the ladder with loops of silver garland around her neck. It went extremely well with her short blue hair and sparkly blue-framed glasses. Raynelle’s best friend, Luanne Riddell, stood next to the ladder holding one of the many plastic Santa Claus heads that hung from the light posts during the holidays.
Jolene wasn’t surprised to see her two book club buddies. She knew they were part of the town decorating committee and had waved at them earlier on her way to the garage.
“How’s the decorating going?” she asked. “It looks like you’ve gotten a lot done.”
“No thanks to Raynelle,” Luanne grumbled. “I swear the woman is as slow as Methuselah. She’s not happy unless the garland is wrapped a perfect six inches apart. Just hurry up, Ray! I’m freezing my tail off. You’ve been standing up there not doing anything for forever.”
“Because I was watching Cal grab hold of Jolene.”
Jolene cringed. She hadn’t thought anyone saw her and Cal. It looked like she had been wrong. What made matters worse was that Raynelle was one of the biggest gossips in Simple . . . with a wild imagination.
Raynelle placed a hand over her heart. “I swear I lost my breath when Cal came striding out of the garage so purposefully and grabbed your arm, Jo. It reminded me of the movie The Quiet Man, when John Wayne grabs Maureen O’Hara and kisses her after he catches her cleaning his house. Maureen’s red hair was whipping in the wind just like yours and John was all intense just like Cal.” She sighed. “Maybe I should dye my hair red instead of blue.”
“You’d look awful with red hair, Ray,” Luanne said. “And why didn’t you say something so I could see what was going on too?”
Jolene quickly jumped in. “Nothing was going on. Cal is just fixing a leak in my tire and he stopped me to . . . to get my phone number so he can call me when my car is ready. There was nothing sexual about it.” She didn’t know why she had thrown the last part in. Probably because there had been something sexual about it. At least for her. Her arm still burned where he’d touched her.
“Sexual?” Luanne stared at her for so long that Jolene thought for sure she had read through her lie. But instead of confronting her, Luanne burst out laughing. “You and Cal?” She laughed so hard that she stumbled back into the ladder and almost knocked Raynelle off.
Raynelle grabbed onto the light post to steady herself. She was laughing too, but not hard enough to keep her from talking. ”Well, of course we don’t think anything sexual is going on between you and Cal. You and Cal couldn’t be more opposite. He grew up poor as a church mouse and you grew up wealthy as Midas. He owns a mechanic shop and lives in a little apartment and you own a bank and live in a big ol’ mansion. He’s in his thirties and you’re in your forties.”
Jolene stiffened. “I’m not in my forties.”
Luanne stared at her. “You’re not?”
“Well, that’s close enough, honey.” Luanne reached out and patted her arm. “But don’t you worry. I have some great Mary Kay products that will get rid of those wrinkles around your eyes and make your skin as smooth as a baby’s—” She cut off, and her eyes widened with fear. “Hey, Miss Gertie. I didn’t see you standing there.”
Jolene turned to see Gertrude Dixon standing right behind her. She understood why Luanne was so scared. Everyone in town was scared of Miss Gertie. With her thinning gray hair, wrinkled skin, and fragile bones, she looked like a frail old woman two steps from the grave. But Miss Gertie was anything but frail. Her sharp eyes caught everything that went on in Simple. While she didn’t gossip, she had no problem butting into other people’s business when she saw fit. No one went up against Miss Gertie. Or showed any signs of disrespect.
“Good afternoon, Miss Dixon,” Jolene said. “How are you, ma’am?”
“Old.” Miss Gertie pushed her bright pink walker closer and Jolene took a step back. Not just because she didn’t want to get her toes run over, but also because she didn’t want to get scratched by the cat who sat in the basket of the walker. Rhett Butler was as ornery as his owner. But Miss Gertie kept right on coming until Jolene was backed up against Luanne who was backed up against the ladder. Miss Gertie’s piercing gaze pinned Jolene. “So Cal Daily is fixing your tire.”
It wasn’t a question, but Jolene answered it anyway. “Yes, ma’am.”
Miss Gertie nodded. “Good. You chose the right man to take care of your needs.” She glanced at Luanne and Raynelle. “Well, don’t just stand there gawking, you two. Get back to making my town look Christmassy.” She wheeled her walker around and headed down the street.
As Jolene watched the old woman shuffle away, she couldn’t help but feel like she’d missed something in their brief conversation. And Miss Gertie hadn’t been talking about a leaky tire, at all. (Taming a Texas Christmas Cowboy Excerpt by Katie Lane)