I dumped the burnt eggs in the dog's dish, hoping no one noticed. My turn to cook breakfast always ended in some kind of disaster. Why the hell four grown men couldn't eat reasonably well escaped me. We usually settled for whatever frozen dinner shit Dad brought from the store, since none of us were capable of boiling water without ruining it.
I put two boxes of cereal and a gallon of milk on the table, then poured the coffee as Dad and my brothers stomped in from morning chores.
Dad took his seat at the head of the table and the rest of us followed suit. "What the hell Jake? Thought you were making eggs."
I fumbled with the cereal box. "Well, I don't know what happened, but they got burned." I gestured over my shoulder. "Shep didn't seem to mind, but I didn't figure you would let me get by with it."
Sam and Nate poured their cereal and kept their mouths shut. They knew better than say anything, since their efforts at cooking came out the same as mine. Dad drained his coffee, stood and took his unused bowl to the sink where he dropped it with a clatter amid the other dirty dishes.
"God damn. You'd think four adults could keep the kitchen clean, especially when there's no cooking going on." He turned to pin us all with his glare. "Whose turn was it to do the wash this week? I didn't have any clean shirts at all. The upstairs bathroom looks like the cows use it. I've had enough of this shit." We stayed silent, hoping the rant would take a turn and not single any of us out for a tearing. "Fuck this. Jake, you find us a housekeeper. One that can cook and clean and keep the damn clothes clean."
I felt like he punched me in the gut. I didn't have time to do interviews and lay down rules and shit. "Why me?"
He glared. "Because you're the eldest, and you tried to give me cold cereal for breakfast again. How's a man supposed to do a full day's work on sugary stuff meant to keep kids hyped up and begging their mommas for the latest toys? It can't happen, that's how." He stomped out, muttering to himself.
My brothers gave me a gloating look. "How the hell do you find a housekeeper?" They could rub it in my face later. Right now, I was desperate. Dad wouldn't let up until I found somebody, so that meant the faster, the better.
Nate thought about it for a moment. "Call the preacher. He might know somebody that needs the work." He shrugged. "Might get lucky."
Sam nodded. "Yeah, that's a good idea. But make sure you get somebody easy on the eyes."
I shook my head. "She can be uglier than Shep for all I care, as long as she can cook. I ain't dating her." I took my own stuff to the sink and started the hot water. Maybe if I got the dirty dishes out of the way, Dad would ease up just a little. The others went out snickering, and left me to contemplate how things got this bad.
It all fell apart last year after our Gramma died. When our Momma disappeared when Sam was about three, Gramma moved in and helped Dad raise us. She was a strong woman and never took any bullshit from us, but she made sure we knew we were loved, too. She went for a ride one morning, just like every other day, and her horse stepped in a hole. The poor beast came hobbling into the barn yard with one foreleg dangling. I took care of putting it out of its misery while Dad and the other boys back tracked it and found Gramma. She survived two days, but never woke up. The doctor said she struck her head when she fell and there was simply too much swelling in her brain. In that one moment, the whole family fell to pieces.
We went through life, merely treading water, unable to do the simplest things for ourselves. Gramma didn't raise any of us that way, to be helpless, but the heart of our family was suddenly gone. None of us had the will to fight on without her. It might have been different if we'd had some warning, a chance to get used to the idea. Or that might have made it all worse.
Either way, all that led to me searching for a damn housekeeper. For the billionth time, I wished Gramma hadn't gone for a ride that morning, even though I knew she would have preferred to go out that way instead of through some lingering ailment. She valued her independence and would have hated needing someone to take care of her, or depending on machines to live. Couldn't say I blamed her, either.
I finished putting away the dishes, going the extra mile since Dad was so mad already. The preacher's phone number was easy to find. It was still stuck on the fridge with a magnet from when we had him preach Gramma's funeral. He answered on the second ring, and after a few pleasantries, he asked how he could help.
"Well, I thought you might know of somebody that could use some work. We need a housekeeper. Badly." I gave up a silent prayer he could help.
He laughed. "God works His ways. As a matter of fact, I do know someone."
"Really?" Relief bubbled through me. "Would she be able to come out to the ranch today?"
"I'll make sure of it and bring her myself. Be ready to tell her what all her duties would be and what the pay and benefits will be. See you in a couple hours." He hung up before I could ask anything more about this woman.
I looked around, at a loss. Duties? Pay? Benefits? The only people I ever assigned duties or worried about pay for were the seasonal guys who came on during the summer for short periods. Shit.