Clayton and the other boys pulled off their shirts and capered around in the chilly water. Gabe and Luis joined them. When he was soaked through and still covered in soot, Gabe ran at Maddie with his arms out as if he were going to kiss her. She turned the hose on him, knocking him back a step.
Luis tried the same thing with Patti, but she grabbed the hose from Maddie and blasted him. For fun, the girls raised the nozzle skyward, making the chilly water rain down on them. Rainbows shimmered through the spray. Soon, they were all dripping and laughing. Jose turned off the hose.
Polly came out with an armload of towels and handed them out from the safety of the concrete steps. “Les announced lunch,” she told them. “Dry off and we’ll bring the food out here. No way are you going inside like that.”
They did as she told them, taking places under the shelter of trees in the play yard. Les, Caroline and Polly brought out platters of sandwiches, bowls of fresh tortilla chips and several things to dip in. One bowl contained chopped onions, tomatoes and green peppers.
Gabe grinned. “Mama told you about pico de gallo, huh?”
“She and I have spent some time talking about food,” Les admitted. “She runs a nearby restaurant,” he explained to the others. “On her family’s ranch, correct?”
“Yes, sir. All the food comes from our own gardens and livestock. Everything is fresh. We even have bees to make the honey we use on the sopapillas.”
“She invited us to come to dinner tonight,” Les said, his eyes dancing. “It will be a real treat.”
“Sure will,” Gabe said. “The Rancho is beautiful.” When he said the last word, his eyes lingered on Maddie.
She had turned away and didn’t see the passionate caress he gave her with his eyes, but Clayton did. Hanging his head, he walked away from the group and wandered to the far side of the torreón. Patti saw him leave and followed him. Clayton sat in the shade of the adobe building, hands folded, head nearly resting on his up-drawn knees. Patti settled beside him, handing him half her sandwich. She invited him to share her heap of chips. Clayton managed a half smile.
“She doesn’t want him,” Patti said with confidence. “She might think she does, but it’s the whole tall, dark and handsome thing.”
“Oh, thanks. I feel so much better.”
“She has known you, literally, her entire life. Until recently, you never showed any real interest, am I right?”
“I’ve tried, Patti. She’s never seen me as anything but a brother.”
“Until last night, did you ever say, I want to be more than your friend?”
“No. I’m a schmuck, okay? I thought she’d laugh at me.”
“She wasn’t laughing when I found you.”
Clayton chuckled, it had an earthy undertone. “No, she wasn’t.” He took a bite of the sandwich. “But I can’t compete with—that!” He waved his hand in the general direction of the others.
“That guy is better built than Charles Atlas.”