(The first thing I heard, on the radio in a hotel room with the station chosen by a previous guest, was three curse words in the middle of a rap song.)
Maggie glanced up when the man said three bad words. He didn’t say ’em real loud and he hadn’t perxactly said three of them, just one. But he’d said it three times. Funny thing was, though, Miss Jenna and Mr. Quiggley—who was stupid, even if he was an adult—didn’t yell at him for sayin’ a bad word, like the teachers at school always did when kids said words like that on the playground, or threaten to wash his mouth out with soap if he said it again, like Jimmy Albertson’s mother was forever doin’. But you could bet that if she’d said that word, Miss Jenna and Mr. Quiggley would’ve had plenty to say to her.
That just didn’t seem fair, but Maggie was learning that sometimes life wasn’t fair.
Maybe Miss Jenna and Mr. Quiggley didn’t fuss at the man—Will Somethin’-or-Other—because he was so big. He was as big as the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, but he didn’t look mean. He didn’t look very happy, either, and since Maggie was pretty unhappy herself, she wondered if maybe they could feel bad together. She had to do sumthin’ while they waited for her dad—which was whole ’nuther dose of unfair, ’cuz her mom’d said he was mean and hated her, and dads weren’t s’posed to hate their kids. But since there was nuthin’ else to do, and since Miss Jenna had been telling her all week that things didn’t seem as bad if you talked about ’em, Maggie pushed off the couch and walked over and stood in front of the man. But not too close. He was a stranger, and kids had to be careful around strangers.
She couldn’t ask him why he was unhappy—that would be pryin’ and pryin’ was rude—so instead she said, “Are you a cowboy?” She thought he might be; he kinda looked like the ones on TV.
Will Whatever-His-Name-Was stopped shoving his fingers through his hair, which was really mussed up now, with little curls sproinging up all over the place, long enough to look at her and smile. “Not exactly. I’m a rancher and a horse breeder, but I do have a lot of cows.”
He had a nice smile. Smiling put little crinkles at the corner of his eyes—which were purplish-blue, just like hers—but it was kinda hard to see the crinkles unless you were looking close ’cuz his skin was real suntanned, like he’d just gotten back from vacation in Florida or sumplace like that.
Maggie wondered if there were ranches in Florida, but before she could ask, his smile disappeared like it’d never been there. He looked over at Mr. Quiggley and asked, “What next?”