Even as Frank alit from behind the wheel, Kristen came through from the rear seat and exited through the left passenger door. He motioned her aside.
“Did you mean what you said earlier about wanting to go out with me?”
She smiled and nodded. “So, uh, would you want to go out for dinner tonight?”
“As long as we make it an early dinner. We both need to get to sleep early. It’s been a long day.”
“Definitely! I thought we might try out the Big Texan Steak Ranch & Opry. I’ve seen it featured on television. Men compete to eat 72-ounce steaks with all the trimmings.”
Kristen grinned. “Is that here?”
“Yep! Amarillo! What do you say?”
“Well, I’ll skip the competition, but yes, I’ll go with you. I would like to take a shower first.”
“We’ll leave in an hour. Can you shower that fast?”
“I’ll be ready!” she told him.
“Where to?” the driver asked them.
“The Big Texan!” Frank declared. “We’re hungry!”
The driver chuckled and started off. He drove them to a large, yellow building on I-40, east of Amarillo. There, large, blue letters proclaimed they were at their destination. An oversized model of a cow stood on a trailer near the front door and invited guests to try the 72-ounce steak.
“Interesting,” Frank mused as he took in every detail.
Entering the establishment, Frank and Kristen found themselves in a country-western Mecca complete with a restaurant, a stage where a country-western band performed, a shooting gallery, and a gift shop. They would learn that it all was its founder’s solution to the absence of a cowboy steak house in Amarillo; after all, need is the mother of invention. Built with lumber from old army barracks, The Big Texan met that need generously.
The Big Texan was exactly the sort of place Frank had hoped it would be with wood floors and walls, loud country-western music, and country-western memorabilia displayed from every nook and cranny. The tall Canadian was overawed as he looked around at everything that added to the atmosphere. It was mind-boggling.
Kristen found herself swept up in the lively ambience. People were having fun, and the atmosphere sent the message that she could have fun there, too. She wanted to have fun after the intensity of the past two days. She walked up to the bar and ordered a glass of white wine. Then, with Frank behind her, she walked into the shooting gallery. She found an available rifle, a .22-calibre, and anted up.
“You’re going to shoot a rifle?” Frank asked her.
“Yes, Frank,” she replied simply as she sighted the rifle. After taking aim, she slowly pulled the trigger. A mechanical target fell over. She knocked over the remaining targets with the same accuracy. Then, struggling not to appear too pleased with herself, she handed the rifle to Frank and moved behind him. He took up the rifle and peered down the long barrel. Soon, he had managed to knock over an equal number of targets.
Both chuckled as they made their way from the shooting gallery with a small china skunk in hand.
“I’ll present this to you every time you make me mad, Frank,” Kristen said as they were shown to a table in the dining room.
“Um hm. I’m sure you will,” he replied. “So, tell me: How’d you learn to shoot like that?”
“Daddy left nothing to chance after my abduction. He had a twelve-foot-tall, electrified, wrought-iron fence erected around the property, and he taught me how to shoot a rifle and a revolver. He also sent me for karate lessons.”
Frank winced. “But you seem like a true southern lady.”
“That was Mother’s department.”
Frank nodded thoughtfully. He had a feeling Kristen had learned equally well under both parents. After they had placed their orders, Frank looked over at Kristen.
“Your dad personally taught you to shoot?” he asked.
“Where did he learn the art?”
“In the Army,” Kristen replied as her salad was placed before her. “Are you sure you don‘t want a salad?”
Frank shook his head. “So, he taught you all his military skills, did he?”
“No! He just taught me how to shoot a gun!”
“Skin rabbits...Build camp fires...,” Frank mused.
“You mean, that’s what your father taught you,” Kristen said to him.
“Something like that,” Frank admitted as he looked away.
“That must have been exciting, growing up in northwestern Ontario.”
“I thought so, especially going out hunting with Dad.”
“You must have brought back quite a lot of game, judging from how well you shoot.”
“We did okay,” Frank admitted. “We lived in an area where there were a great many lakes. In the summer, the tourists would come, and we ran the store, but in the winter, there weren’t many customers, so Mum would keep the store, and Dad and I would go out, hunting.”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Frank shook his head. “They could only have me.”
“So, your dad’s your best friend,” Kristen surmised.
“Pretty much that’s the way it was, although I had school friends. They were busy helping their families, though. We didn’t socialize much during the winter months. The key was survival.”
Kristen nodded, looking up as their dinner was served.
They dined on generous servings of Big Texas Strip Steak (his) and broiled chicken (hers) with a baked potato and cowboy beans (his) and wild rice (hers). They washed it all down with root beer (his) and iced tea (hers).
“So, you were talking about your brothers this morning,” Frank said as they ate. “Were you close?”
“I’m close to James. Edward goes his own way and does his own thing. It’s best that way.”
Frank nodded. “They both work at the bank?”
Kristen nodded. “James has run the bank since Daddy got sick. Edward...Well, we look the other way when he slips out to go to the golf course, if you know what I mean.”
Frank chuckled and nodded. “Meaning that, too, is better that way. Are you and James still close?”
Kristen nodded. “I spend quite a bit of time with James and Virginia.” She giggled. “I’d hide behind the sofa while they were dating. Then, when they would start kissing, I would giggle. James would come up off the sofa in a flash and dash after me, but I always got away before he could catch me. Well, except once. Daddy saw me coming and cut me off at the pass.”
Frank chuckled. “I’ll bet you were a real menace.”
“James thought so. However, things settled down after Virginia asked me to help her plan their wedding. I was her junior bridesmaid. I wore the prettiest yellow dress! I still have it in my closet.”
Frank cocked his head and studied Kristen. “So, it worked out when you realized you weren’t losing James but gaining Virginia.”
“I think that’s what it was, yes,” Kristen replied. She began chuckling. “When I was in college, I was just crazy about a certain boy. Once, when we were kissing on the sofa, James leaped up from behind it.”
Frank threw his head back and laughed merrily. “Well, you did have it coming.”
“So, he told me in no uncertain terms,” Kristen chuckled.
Frank was still chuckling as he wiped his mouth and laid his napkin beside his plate. “That was a good dinner.”
“I enjoyed that,” Kristen agreed.
Before Frank could take up their check, Kristen did. Then, he snatched it away from her.
“This one’s on me,” he said.
“If you insist.”
“Yep! I insist. So, shall we go in and listen to the music?” he asked.
“We can’t spend too long. Bier will be waking us to make an early start in the morning,” Kristen replied.
They danced while they listened to the music. To both their surprise, they seemed to fit naturally within each other’s arms. They swayed gently to the love ballad that was playing. All too soon, however, a faster song began.
My thanks to Mr. Dan Lee, co-owner of The Big Texan for allowing me to include it in Tales Along the Way Home.