When it comes to affairs of the heart, does a six-year-old know more than her shy father?
Aliya Harris leaves her family and moves to Brazoria, Texas, for an elementary teaching position. She is befriended by one of her students, six-year-old Marissa Patterson. Sensing her teacher might be lonely; Marissa decides to fix up Aliya with her shy and widowed father, Kolby.
Kolby lost his wife Meredith in an accident two years ago and has dedicated his life to raising Marissa alone. After meeting the beautiful Aliya Harris, Kolby decides to give this dating thing a try. Can he find love with the city girl without his domineering mother Sonya spoiling his last chance for happiness?
"When are you going to find a girlfriend?" six-year-old Marissa Patterson asked her father Kolby as they rode together aboard his dapple-grey stallion Thor.
"Why do I need a girlfriend?" Kolby asked, keeping his eyes on the track. He'd taken his daughter on a scenic tour of the ranch, through her mother's favorite patch of land where the wildflowers on the Patterson Cattle Ranch grew. His deceased wife Meredith used to like the Texas bluebonnet which grew during the mild winter months. Then in the spring the seedlings turned into tall plumes of blue flowers which gave off a sweet scent.
"Because all of your friends have girlfriends or wives," Marissa answered. "Aren't you lonely?"
"No, because I have you," Kolby said, leading Thor back toward the ranch house.
"That's not the same thing and you know it," Marissa said, hugging him tightly around the waist. For a six-year-old his daughter was very perceptive.
"To tell you the truth I still miss your mother, darling." Meredith and her parents died in a car accident two years ago. She'd been the love of his life since elementary school and Kolby had never ever looked at another woman that way.
"I miss her too," Marissa said. "But it's time to move on. Genieva thinks so too."
Genieva was his younger sister, a twenty-eight-year old butinsky who always tried to run his life.
"You and Aunty Genieva don't have anything to worry about," Kolby said. "I'll find a girlfriend one of these days, but until then I'll just share all my love with you."
Marissa sighed deeply.
Kolby rode past the old cabin where his parents used to live when they first got married, before his father built their present home. Kolby used the place when he wanted to escape for a couple of hours. Everything inside was still fully functional, including the electricity and plumbing. He kept the refrigerator and cabinets stocked with basic necessities for those rare occasions he spent the night there after coming home drunk from one of the bars in town and didn't want to disturb his family or wake Marissa. He also kept a couple of outfits there for the times when he got muddy working with the cattle or in the fields and he didn't want to track dirt into the ranch house. The cabin had a working shower, a built-in soaking tub, and a flushing toilet.
"We're almost home, sweetheart," he said to Marissa who'd gone quiet behind him.
Riding on the back of a horse always made Marissa sleepy. He'd taken her with him after she had gotten home from school so he could spend some time with her. Spring had arrived, which meant he'd be busy working on the ranch and they wouldn't have a lot of time together. His father Kirk was getting older, and since Kolby was the oldest and only son, much of the hard work fell to him while his sister Genieva helped their mother Sonya inside the house.
Kolby spotted the house before him. The Patterson Cattle Ranch was located one hour south of Houston, Texas. The current property had an executive ranch-style home, barns, stables, equipment, and lots of livestock. Marissa liked to play in the pasture near the big oaks where he'd built her first tree house. There was also a bunkhouse for the single cowboys to stay in, which made sense because sometimes they worked long into the night herding cattle and performing other ranch-related tasks.
Hale Christian, Kolby's brother-in-law, came to meet him and helped him get the sleepy Marissa down from the back of the horse. His mother Sonya waited on the veranda and led the sleepy child inside to finish her nap. Hale accompanied Kolby to put Thor in the stable.
"Well, what does it look like out there? Did the wind do much damage to the fence?" Hale asked.
Yesterday they had their first real rainstorm of spring and it came packing a lot of wind.
"Not much," Kolby said as he brushed Thor's hair. "There's a couple of days work on the north side fence near the creek. And I saw some damage to one or two of the oak trees."
"I'll get some guys to cut down the trees," Hale said. "You and I can take care of the fence tomorrow. We still have some replacement planks in one of the storage units."
"Sounds like the perfect plan," Kolby said as he finished with Thor and gave his horse a lump of sugar. The horse snorted.
Kolby and Hale also made sure Thor and the other horses in the stable had enough food and water before stepping outside. Hale and Genieva had been married for five years and he and Kolby got along just like brothers.
"We better go into the house. I'm sure dinner is ready and you know mother hates to be kept waiting."
Sonya Patterson, the matriarch of the ranch ran an efficient kitchen inside the house for breakfast and dinner and outside the house with the other cook, Joe, during lunch time.
Hale followed him from the stable. They entered the multi-room, two-story house where everyone in the family stayed. Meredith had thought it odd at first when Kolby moved her there after they were married until she learned how spacious the home was.
Hale and Genieva had their suite of rooms on the second floor, west side, while he and Meredith had theirs on the eastern side. Each suite had its own private bathroom. His parents Kirk and Sonya had their rooms downstairs on the first floor so they didn't have to go up and down a flight of stairs all day. He and Meredith had planned to move out and into a home of their own in the future. Kolby had even picked out a parcel of land to build their nest on before Meredith died. After that he just gave up on the idea of moving since he now had Marissa to raise and he needed help from his mother and sister. So far things were working out just fine.
"Go wash up and come down to dinner," Sonya told him and Hale. "Pronto." When his pint-sized mother spoke, everyone jumped, including his father.
"Yes, ma'am," Hale said, heading toward the stairs.
"That means you too, Kolby Patterson," Sonya said, putting her hands on her hips. "And don't wake Marissa. A young girl needs her beauty rest."
"Yes, ma'am," Kolby said, squeezing her shoulder in silent gratitude for her care of his daughter before following Hale to the second floor. He peeked in at Marissa. She was asleep in her princess-bed in the little girl's room that she would outgrow in a couple of years. Kolby closed the door and entered the one leading into his room. He grabbed some clean clothes and walked into his bathroom to shower. Afterwards he headed back downstairs to join the family for dinner. And as usual, everyone had beaten him to the table, including his cousin Harry.
"It took you long enough," Harry teased. "We're having pot roast." Harry was his first cousin on his mother's side. Their mothers were sisters. Harry Ansara was just a year younger than Kolby and had grown up on the ranch with him since his mother brought him there from the reservation to visit when Harry was five. "You know how much I like Auntie's pot roast."
Kolby rolled his eyes at his cousin and sat down at the table next to Genieva. The seat on the other side of him was empty. That's where Meredith used to sit. Now it belonged to Marissa.
Sonya brought the food out of the kitchen and began serving her family. Besides the pot roast with little potatoes and carrots, she had also made cornbread. They were midway through the meal when Marissa came down to join them with a bad case of bed hair.
Kolby sighed after all the time it took him to braid it this morning.
Sonya got up to serve her granddaughter before sitting down again. Sonya had given Marissa only a small piece of roast, but she had piled on the vegetables just the way Marissa liked it. Marissa poured ketchup over her food. Sonya turned up her nose. Kolby smirked. Marissa had inherited that from him. He too put ketchup on almost everything he ate.
"Do you guys want to go out to Frankie's tonight?" Harry asked Kolby and Hale as they sat around the den watching the news.
Frankie's was a local bar in town which featured live bands every night, twenty-five cent hot wings, and large pitchers of iced cold beer.
"Hale has a wife," Sonya said to her nephew. "He can't be hanging out with you guys like he used to do when you were kids."
"He can go," Genieva said to her mother. "I have some papers to grade, and he'll just be lying around the suite sighing, trying to get my attention."
"Thanks, darling," Hale said. "I'm going to treat you real special when I get back."
"Ew," Sonya said chuckling. "Thanks for sharing."
"What about you, Kolby?" Harry asked.
"I have a daughter to raise. I probably need to help her with homework or something."
"I'm straight," Marissa said, sitting on the floor playing with her dolls. "Ms. Harris only gave us a chapter to read in our books. Grandma can help me with that. You go out and have some fun."
"Why volunteer me?" Sonya asked "What if grandma wanted to go out with the boys to a bar?"
Marissa laughed. "Grandpa wouldn't let you."
"I sure wouldn't," Kirk said, agreeing with Marissa. "I'll read you a bedtime story after grandma helps you with your homework."
"Well, Kolby?" Harry asked.
"Okay," Kolby finally agreed. "But I can't stay out too late. I have a fence to mend tomorrow morning after I see my daughter off to school."
"We'll be back before ten," Harry assured him.
Of course Kolby didn't believe him. There must be some girl Harry was anxious to see and he needed them with him in case something happened, which always did whenever Harry was involved. Most of the time the night ended with one of them in jail after being involved in a fight.
Kolby liked a good barroom brawl as much as any of the guys, since they mostly fought guys they grew up with. Hell, sometimes they even fought each other and people just jumped in. A cowboy led a hard life and had to find a way to vent and relieve some stress. Hale was lucky enough to have a wife to go home to. Genieva was used to patching up her six-foot, dark-haired brawler. And there was always some young lady willing to nurse Harry back to health. But all he could do was go back to his room at the ranch and tend to his own aches and pains while trying not to disturb Marissa. After dinner the three of them got into Kolby's truck and headed for town.