How chance and circumstance can change the lives of a persistent man and beautiful woman.
Two redheads in love is the damnedest thing. Her name was Olivia McVoy and I first saw her in Prescott, Arizona back in 1988. I was freelancing for a major airline magazine and covering the Big Windup Rodeo’s 100th anniversary. It was the usual assignment; I didn’t know squat-olla about a rodeo, but in two days I needed a story on the editor’s desk.
I had an interview set up with Jim Stoker, an up-and-coming bull rider, and was planning to do a story about his background and hopes—yada yada, same old same old: come in, get the story, and get out. While waiting for Jim Stoker in a coffee shop off Main Street, I heard some applause then whistles coming from outside. I looked out the plate glass window to see draft horses pulling a float that carried a stunning woman dressed in a patriotically colored, blouse. A white ribbon with the red lettering, “Senior Court Queen” draped her chest. But what really struck me was her plush burgundy hair, which flowed onto her shoulders in ringlets. I felt a soul mate had just crossed my path—a beautiful one at that. But unlike me with my cheeks and forehead rampant with rust-colored freckles, she was one of those redheads with skin like white China polished to perfection.
It was a practice run, and she played it for all it was worth. Waving her Stetson to the imaginary crowd, her ruby red lips would part and a glistening smile emerge.
I left the diner, and abandoned any thought of interviewing Jim Stoker. No sir, I needed to follow that float. Down four blocks and around a corner, the float stopped near a stable on the edge of the fairgrounds.
My Queen stood, raising and lowering the heels of her shiny, white-scrolled cowboy boots, her eyes wincing slightly in the sun. As she reached for the railing, I offered my hand. She took it with no acknowledgement and stepped down.
“New boots?” I asked.
She looked right past me. “Has anybody seen Jimmy?”
A cowboy, leaning on a split rail, pulled a toothpick from his mouth. “I saw ol’ Jim heading down to the coffee shop for an interview.”
“I am interviewing Jim Stoker. Care to walk back with me?” I asked.
She took me in with her luminous hazel eyes as if just noticing me for the first time. “I am capable of walking on my own.” She started toward the diner but then stopped and reached down, pressing the toe of one boot then the other.
Think bold. I told myself, think bold. “My car is nearby, may I drive you?”
She turned and leveled a discerning gaze on me.
I smiled my friendliest, I’m harmless smile.
She raised her heels and grimaced. “All right.”
I placed my hand on the back of her arm and we moved in the opposite direction of the coffee shop.
I walked slow as I could without being too obvious. “Is this your first beauty pageant?”
“Yes and my last.” She stopped. “If you don’t mind.” She raised a boot toward me. “These new boots are killing me.”
She braced her hands on my shoulders as I took off one boot then the other.
“There’s my car,” I said pointing toward an empty lot behind a feed store.
She stopped as a wide-eyed look of recognition came over her. “It’s an Edsel. And a convertible to boot? My father owned one.”
“I inherited it when my uncle passed. Want to take a spin?”
“No, I couldn’t.”
“Look, just five minutes and then right to the diner.”
“Well...” her eyes settled longingly on the car. “My father used to take me on drives every Sunday in his—just the two of us.” She turned back to where her beau and the coffee shop waited. “I think... What’s five minutes.”
I tossed her boots in the back seat and off we went.
I headed north, and within two minutes the beauty queen and I were driving through the SonoraDesert. Tumbleweed and sagebrush littered the barren landscape of sand and dust, interrupted with the occasional scrubby chaparral.
“That breeze feels mighty fine; make it a long five minutes.” She tilted her head back on the headrest and smiled a private smile.
We small-talked for a while and then it dawned on me that we didn’t know each other’s name. “I’m Jim Pepper.”
“Howdy, Mr. Jim Pepper,” she said as the wind ruffled her skirt, revealing for one enticing moment perfectly shaped thighs. “Olivia McVoy, here.”
I put a tape into the cassette. “The Thing We Do For Love” by 10cc came on. She turned to me, her eyes gleaming. “Oh, I looove that song,” she said.
I looked at her and said, “It’s my favorite.”
Up ahead a package store came into view and we pulled over. I bought a Styrofoam cooler, a bag of ice, and a six-pack of Cokes. We parked in the shade on the side of the store and gave each other brief bios. She was attending the local junior college and wanted to work in television. I had a degree in English Lit and had just finished a novel that took me eight years to complete. This job was a stopover until I found an agent and got published, I told her confidently.
Finally, after we each drank two cokes, she said, “I best get back.”
“I have an idea.”
She turned to me and smiled.
Now twenty years later, we headed back through the SonoraDesert in the same Edsel convertible. Being late November, it was cool out with a distinct chill in the air. In the distance, the outline of the mountains stood out like a dusky brown ribbon separating the land from the pale blue backdrop of sky.
Olivia turned to me and smiled her inscrutable smile. “Did I ever tell you, something about you reminded me of my father?”
I eased back in my seat and accelerated. “About a hundred times.”
Up ahead the old package store where we bought the six-pack of cokes came into view. I pulled over to get a better look. It was boarded up and a sign dangled from the eave. Standing in front of the porch, I tilted my head trying to read the dirt stained writing. “Last Stop-First Stop.”
I turned to Olivia and said, “I never noticed that before.”
“You were too busy scheming, Mr. Jim Pepper.” She tilted her Stetson, the same one from twenty years ago, over her eyes and squinted at the ramshackle little box of a building. “That was one outlandish—”
I cut in. “As I told you before, my dear, desperate means for desperate men.” I put my hands on the door, bent down, and kissed her. “Best move I ever made.”
Out of nowhere, a gust of air swirled around us then as quickly as it came; it was gone. Olivia pulled a rose-colored blanket off her lap and draped it under her chin. “You had some nerve, offering me a job as a weekend reporter when you didn’t even know a soul at the station.”
I had told her that my deceased uncle had owned the station, and I had inherited a part of it.
I had said to her, “Come with me back to Dallas and I will get you into television and out of this.” I had raised my arms up expansively as if I owned everything in sight.
She had looked at me quizzically. “Do tell. And I suppose you would like me to ride out of here with you straight to Dallas?”
Well the rest, as they say, is history. I didn’t know a soul at that TV station, but I knew from a friend of a friend of a friend that they were looking for a good-looking woman for weekend reporting. She did get that job and is now a successful news anchor in Dallas. I never did get my novel published. I have a newspaper column in a local paper and teach English Lit at the community college.
I got back behind the wheel, and we took off down the flat endless road that looked just like it had twenty years ago. Olivia turned to me and said in a husky, conspiratorial voice that I had come to know, “You really are a good BSer.”
I turned to her and smiled. “Just couldn’t resist a good-looking red-headed fella, could you?” I said as I put our song in the cassette.
As “The Things We Do For Love” played, she took off her hat and looked at me with a long, languid glance; it was a glance between old lovers with common knowledge. She then kicked her boots up on the door, slid over and put her head on my shoulder. “Yup, two redheads in love is the damnedest thing.”