“You may as well forget about finding a dress that’ll look good on both Kelly and me. She’s long and lean, and I’m short and round. We don’t wear the same style of clothes.”
Eyes dancing, Kara Cochrane laughed at her sister’s glum expression. “That’s why we’re at the library. I want to look at some back issues of Bride’s World and see if I can find something that’ll look nice on both of my sisters.”
“Do you think the stork put Kelly in the wrong bassinet at the hospital?”
“Probably,” Kara agreed with a giggle. “She is the middle sister after all, and she doesn’t look like either one of us. Why is she long and lean, and we’re short and round?”
Both girls chuckled as they entered the library, an elegant red brick structure built almost a hundred years ago. Regal white columns graced the entrance and spoke of a more gracious, slower age.
They went inside and selected the latest issues of Bride’s World from the magazine racks. Kara gestured toward a scarred, worn, oak table nearby. “Let’s sit over there.”
Katie’s stack of magazines hit the table with a thump. “Where is Kelly anyway?” “She said she had to work late.”
“Too bad for her. Let’s pick a dress for short, round people while she isn’t here.” Katie tapped a picture in the magazine for emphasis. “I like this one.”
The girls snickered when the elderly librarian behind the desk cleared her throat in warning.
“Being short and round didn’t make any difference to Brandon,” Kara whispered. “He proposed to me anyway.”
“And gave hope to the rest of us short, round girls.”
Kara turned at the softly spoken greeting. “Oh, hello, Ross. How are you?”
“I’m fine. I saw your engagement picture in the paper. Best wishes.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.”
Ross nodded and moved toward the circulation desk.
“If Brandon ever gets tired of you, you can always marry Ross,” Katie whispered as she pulled another magazine from the stack on the table.
“He’s a dairy farmer for crying out loud.” Kara rolled her eyes. “Can you imagine me milking the cows?”
Katie clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle a giggle. “I’d love to see you pulling on a cow’s teats. Seriously, though, Ross may be a cow farmer, but you’ve got to admit he’s cute.”
“Shh, keep your voice down. He’ll hear you. To tell you the truth, I’ve never given any thought to his looks.”
“Neither have I until now,” Katie agreed. “He’s awfully tall and good looking. It’s hard to believe that in high school he always faded into the background.” She shrugged. “Maybe it’s because he wasn’t an athlete.”
Kara’s gaze drifted to Ross who had just handed his library card to the librarian. He had to be six three at least. Katie was right. Why had she never noticed how handsome he was? He had dark brown hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders, and a strong face with regular, even features. Even though he wasn’t an athlete in high school, he certainly had the physique for it.
“My, oh, my,” Katie breathed. “Look at the muscles across his back.”
“Probably from farm work. I think his father worked him pretty hard when he was a kid,” Kara whispered. “Don’t you remember? Ross didn’t go to the prom our senior year because his father needed him at home.”
“I bet he didn’t go because you were going with someone else. Ross always reminded me of a devoted, old spaniel. He adored the ground you walked on, and I think he still does.”
Kara chuckled when she remembered Ross’s lovesick behavior. “That’s a pretty good description. Every time I spoke to him I expected him to duck his head and blush. One word from me and he was too tongue-tied to put two syllables together.”
Katie closed her magazine. “Remember when you let him change a tire for you in the senior parking lot?”
“I remember. Brandon and I sat on the tailgate of Ross’s truck talking while Ross changed the tire.” The smile faded from Kara’s face. “That wasn’t very nice was it?” She bowed her head. “I can’t believe I did such a lousy thing.”
“I’m sure he’s forgotten all about it,” Katie comforted. “In high school girls can be such—”
“Don’t say it.” Kara slid another magazine across the table and sat back in her chair. “Here. Take a magazine, and let’s look for the perfect dress.”
* * * *
Ross Williams threw his library books into the back seat of his car and slammed the door with more force than necessary. He wished he hadn’t even bothered to speak to Kara.
“Just like in high school,” he muttered. “What is it about that woman?”
Flicking on his turn signal, he merged into the stream of late afternoon traffic with Kara Cochrane on his mind. He had first noticed Kara when they were in the second grade. That day she had worn little red overalls and a white blouse with red cherries on it. Someone, maybe her mother, had pulled her honey-blond hair back into a bouncy little ponytail and tied it with a big, red ribbon.
His own hair was dark brown and short; so was his brother’s. He only wanted to touch her hair because it was so different from his, but he didn’t intend to pull it or anything. Still, Kara had screamed bloody murder when she felt his hand on her ponytail.
Not only did the teacher make him stay inside for recess as punishment, but his brother Bobby told on him when they got home. His father had taken a belt to him and made him understand he’d better not get into trouble at school again.
From that time on she was almost always in his class, and when they got to high school she had at least one class with him every year. But Kara never noticed him. He was nothing more than wallpaper to her.
Kara and her sisters Kelly and Katie were cheerleaders. They ran with the preppy kids who wouldn’t give a country boy like him the time of day. Most people thought Kara’s sister Kelly was prettier. She was tall and slender with legs a mile long, but Kara was short, and while she wasn’t fat, she did have some definite curves.
It didn’t matter. Those curves almost took his breath away. No wonder she moved down the halls with such confidence and grace. Even though he knew the answers in class, he wouldn’t raise his hand in hopes their teachers would pick Kara to answer and he could hear her almost musical voice. Kara was more than a pretty package, though. He also admired her quick, alert mind. It came as no surprise to him when she was the valedictorian of their class.
He had fantasized about taking her to the prom, but he never gathered the courage to mention it to her. Even if he had had the money for the tux rental, he wouldn’t have asked her. It would have cut him too much to hear that sweet, lilting voice turn him down.
Ross sighed. A rather moot point now, in any event. Kara was engaged to her high school sweetheart Brandon Miles. If he had any sense he’d find a girl and get married himself. Bobby had married three years ago and had a nice little family.
Maybe it was time for him to start looking around. He’d never really had a chance with Kara anyway, and whether he liked it or not, she’d made her choice.
* * * *
Kara rushed into her mother’s kitchen with Katie right behind her. “Look, Mama,” she cried as she shoved a magazine at her mother. She kicked off her shoes to enjoy the coolness of the tile floor after the heat of the day.
“Did you find a dress?” Martha Cochrane demanded. She studied the picture as she stirred the fresh creamed corn simmering in a big pot on the stove.
“This is the best one I found. Kelly and Katie will both have to make do with it.”
“I like it,” her mother approved. She slid the corn off the burner and stuck a pan of brown and serve rolls into the oven. “I’m sure the bridal shop will be able to order the dresses for us. Here, John. Look at this and tell us what you think.”
John Cochrane snorted. “You know whatever you girls want is fine by me.”
“Just what I expected,” Kara teased as she filched a slice of cucumber from a plate on the counter. “You just want your daughters to hurry up and get married so there’ll be more men in the family.”
John laughed as his eyes twinkled. “Why deny it? I’m a little outnumbered here, Kara, and I’d like to even the odds a little.”
The timer on the oven dinged. Dinner’s ready,” her mother announced. “Kara, bring the corn to the dining room, please.”
Warmth flooded Kara. Oh, she enjoyed this time with her family – when they were all together sharing the ups and downs of their day– laughing and joking with each other.
“Mama, where’s Kelly?” Kara frowned at the empty chair across from her. “Isn’t she home yet?”
“I don’t know. She said she had to work late, but I expected her by now.”
“She’ll be here soon, I imagine,” John remarked.
Kelly burst through the door twenty minutes later.
“Sorry I’m late. I had something I had to finish at work.”
Martha indicated Kelly’s chair with a nod of her head. “Well, sit down and have some dinner. I had no idea working at a doctor’s office would get you so much overtime. We haven’t seen very much of you the last couple of weeks.”
Kelly shook her head. “Thanks, Mama. I’m okay. I grabbed something at work.”
Kara passed the picture of the bridesmaid’s dress to Kelly. “I found the dress. How do you like it?”
Kelly barely looked at it. “Very nice. Sorry, Kara. I’m really tired. I need a hot shower and to get ready for bed.”
“What’s up with her?” Kara muttered as Kelly left the dining room without once meeting her eyes.
“She’s probably tired,” Katie guessed. “With all the overtime she’s been doing, it’s late before she gets in. She can see the picture tomorrow. We can’t order the dresses until then anyway.”
* * * *
Ross grimaced when he saw Bobby’s van in the driveway. His mother must have invited Bobby and his wife Sue for dinner. He didn’t dislike either Bobby or Sue, but their five- year-old son Justin reminded him of the Tasmanian Devil. If you valued your health and peace of mind, you’d never turn your back on the child.
The noise assaulted Ross’s ears the minute he opened the front door. Justin was on a tear about something. He lay on the living room floor roaring and shrieking as if tigers were eating him alive. Bobby was trying to quiet him while Sue helped his mother Annie in the kitchen.
“What’s his trouble?” Ross shouted.
“He wants to play with Mama’s shoe collection.”
Ross grimaced and tossed his library books on the living room sofa. One of them bounced off the sofa and landed on the floor, but Ross ignored it. “Maybe we can distract him.”
He threw himself on the floor beside Bobby and made a buzzing sound. “Look, Justin. The bumblebee is coming for you!” He tickled Justin’s stomach, and while Justin was laughing, Bobby ran to the car for the child’s favorite toy tractor.
Ross breathed a sigh of relief when Justin started to play with the tractor. As far back as he could remember, his mother had collected glass shoes. She knew every shoe’s history including where or whom the shoe came from. Even though she wouldn’t say anything if Justin broke one, it would hurt her feelings.
“Come on, boys, let’s eat!” Sue called.
Ross and Bobby dragged Justin who refused to walk into the kitchen. After several failed attempts, Bobby got him strapped into his high chair.
“How’s business?” Bobby asked Ross as he attacked his pot roast with gusto. “Mama, this is great pot roast.”
“Business is good. I’m thinking of hiring a new man.”
“That’s great,” Bobby enthused. “I’m glad for you, Ross. All your hard work is paying off.”
Ross’s eyes twinkled. “Sure you don’t want to buy back into the farm? Buying you out after Dad died cut into my profits.”
Humor faded from Bobby’s face. “No, I don’t. Working so hard on this blamed farm is the reason Dad’s in his grave years before his time. Give me a nice nine-to-five job any day.”
He picked up his glass and swirled the ice around for a moment. “Ross, if buying me out put you in a bind, I’ll be glad to loan…”
Ross leaned over and punched his shoulder. “Hey, no way. I’m doing fine. I’m going to hire a new man, remember? I’m fine, Bobby. Really, I am. I was just teasing you a little.”
“If you change your mind, let me know. Say, did I tell you I saw Bart Adams at the grocery store the other day?”
Ross grimaced. “No, you didn’t. Did he give you a lecture about how I was going to ruin Dad’s farm with my old-fashioned notions?”
“Yeah, he did, but I told him you liked doing things your way. I said you liked that Little Knoll was known for compassion and kindness to its animals.”
Ross chuckled. “I’m sure that made a big impression on him. I don’t like the conditions on some of the big farms like Bart’s. If I can’t make a profit dealing humanely with my animals, then I’ll join you in the computer lab.”
The shrilling of the phone interrupted them. Ross pushed his chair back and got up to answer it. “Hello?” He listened for a moment. “No, don’t call the vet yet. I’ll be right down.” He hung up and slapped his roast beef into a roll. “Neil says one of the cows is calving and needs help. I’ll see you guys later.”
“That’s farming for you,” Bobby said as Ross dashed out the door. “I don’t see how he can stand it.”
Ross heard his brother’s parting remark through the open window as he stepped off the porch. He and Bobby had both grown up on the same farm, but Bobby hadn’t taken to it the way he had. I guess growing up on a farm doesn’t necessarily make you a farmer, Ross thought to himself. It was in his blood, though. He loved Little Knoll.
Her Kind of Man is a True Gem.