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As I read the newspaper Grandfather sent me,
I'm watching him across the Great Room.
He has been teasing and teaching Teresa how to play chess for the
past half hour. I know he's
aware of my gazes. How could
he not? With the life he's
lived all his senses must be overactive, just like he is. We've only known of each other's existence for four months
and one of those was when he was healing from that bullet in the back.
He's not what I've been used to. My friends in Boston knew and followed the convention of good
dress and manners. I knew
what to expect from them. But
him? He called me a dandy
when I first met him, but I hazard a guess that he hasn't looked in a
mirror lately. No.
Scratch that. He
probably has. With his cockiness he knows what he looks like and the
impression others have of him.
Okay, with him living in Mexico so many years I
can see the concho buttons down the side of the pants.
For practicality, the leather pants, the spurs and the storm
strings holding his hat on his back make sense.
Even the embroidery on the shirts are a cultural thing stating he
comes from down south of the border.
But pink and red shirts? I
need to work on him and his penchant for female colors.
He makes me think of a Bantam Rooster.
Short, compact and so very sure of himself. But deadly.
He's a black panther and just as dangerous.
I've never seen someone so fast with their reflexes and economical
too so smooth.
When he draws his gun the entire process is a blur.
He disappears at times risking the wrath of our father and I hear
the sound of gunfire. It's
not safe to be there when he's out practicing.
Not that he's reckless, no. He's
very accurate. The danger is
facing his alter ego, Johnny Madrid.
I've only met the gunfighter twice now and both times it chilled me
to the bone. I don't know the man and I'm not sure I want to.
The hard stare, loose stance, and all knowing smile is scary when
Madrid takes over. Yeah,
that's it. Madrid takes over
his body. I much prefer to
know my brother, Johnny Lancer.
Johnny is the baby brother I've always wanted.
He's fun loving, obnoxious, hard working, opinionated, stubborn,
smart, caring and shy. He's a
risk taker, walking on top of fence lines, baiting Murdoch by calling him
Old Man, and throwing himself fully into any activity he tries.
The boy is a walking magnet for disaster.
That's just why he needs an older brother to guide, intercede and
protect him. Even when Madrid takes over.
I plan to be there to protect his back.
There it is again.
That slight smile with hooded eyes, he gives me every time I look
at him tonight. What's behind
that smirk? It's a puzzle I
intend to solve, little brother, the next time we get alone.
I miss my Dad so much.
He and Murdoch would sit with me at night in this room, while
drinking their whiskey and scotch and talking over the ranch activities.
They were always fine-tuning how
to improve the herd and the land. The
fireplace would pop and I could smell my Dad's pipe tobacco, a cherry rum
that he ordered from Chicago. Murdoch
always smelled of spicy cologne and leather.
Leather. That and soap
is what I smell from Johnny as he bends over to make his move on the chessboard.
Dad always said to get Murdoch to teach me, but then things
happened and I lost Dad to gunfire and Murdoch was shot.
With finding his sons, trying to save the ranch from land pirates,
and the recovering period, there was no time to sit down to chess.
I was surprised and pleased when Johnny challenged
me to a game tonight and proceeded to teach me.
I've watched him play with Scott and their styles are so different.
You would think that Scott was planning a major battle, the way he
methodically plans his moves so slow and deliberate.
On the other hand, Johnny acts like he doesn't care and is
lightening fast on his moves. He
acts so recklessly in his playing, but there's strategy behind it.
There has to be. Why
else would he win so often with Scott?
His mind works differently and he's smart.
He has to be to survive this long with the trade he practiced
before coming to Lancer. I've
never seen him as Johnny Madrid. They
tell me he's dangerous, but I can't fathom that.
What I see is the brother I've always wanted.
And in this case, I got lucky and got two.
So different, like night and day.
Scott is all sunshine, steady and calm.
Johnny is dark, moody and fun.
They both love me, but where Johnny makes me laugh 'til it hurts,
Scott makes me giggle behind my hand.
I feel a slight touch on my hand and look up to
see Johnny smiling at me. I've
been woolgathering and it's my turn.
Studying the board I attempt a move only to hear Johnny's quiet
drawl telling me a better strategy to take. Patiently he shows me how, in
three moves, I could checkmate his pieces.
This time when I look at him he bestows on me his
wide toothy grin. The man has
such a collection of smiles, the large toothy one, the crooked one when he
steals my cookies, the fun loving one, the shy one, the slight one when
he's gunshot and the sexy one with the slight grin and lowered eyelids.
Every once in a while tonight I see it, usually right after Scott
has turned a page in his newspaper reading.
Both of the guys are handsome and sexy, but Johnny is the one my
girlfriends rave about. They
say that grin melts more than their hearts.
It affects their legs too. It
gets to me also, but can I turn to jelly and still be his foster sister?
Hmm.. I'm going to have to think about that.
If he turns that sexy grin on Scott again I think
I'm going to start laughing. Scott
has such a delicious scowl on his face whenever he catches sight of
Johnny's face. Johnny must
still be in a good mood to be teasing his brother like that.
He came in early from the east pasture this afternoon covered in
cow manure. It seems that a
snake spooked Barranca into running just as Johnny was throwing his rope
at a cow. The abrupt
turnabout caused Johnny to lose his seat and he got bucked into a fresh
section of cow patties. He
came stomping down the lane not long after Barranca came running into the
barn. Johnny was cursing a
blue streak in Spanish and English but he shut up when he realized I was
watching and listening. He
sure does know some interesting Spanish phrases.
Come to think of it, he knows some great English ones too.
I fought to keep my face serious as I directed him
to the bathhouse and ran to fetch him fresh clothes.
By the time I got back he had the tub filled with hot water.
I did remember to knock before I came in but he had only removed
his shirt. I guess he was
checking for bruises. My
girlfriends have asked if his dark chest hairs go down to his waist.
I can truly say yes, and from all indications, probably further.
He was cranky over my entrance so I told him that I would make some
cookies especially for him for tonight's desert.
I even was willing to start cooking early.
His mood brightened when I told
him that I was the only one to see him come in and I wouldn't tell. He smiled as he ushered me out and locked the door.
That was his fun loving smile.
There it is again, that sexy smile.
Only now it's directed toward Murdoch's desk and not toward Scott.
I look over at Murdoch and now I am confused.
Murdoch has a ghost of the same smile on his face.
Hmmm. Like father,
His head was bowed over his desk as he relaxed
from their evening meal. It
had been a full and painful day. While
his boys had worked in separate pastures repairing fences and cleaning out
creeks, he worked at the forge in the barn.
He had shaped horseshoes to fit the wild horses that Johnny had
broken the previous day. His
back hurt and he arched it against the sofa pillow he had snatched upon
entering the Great Room. His
chair was normally comfortable, but today he needed something extra.
He allowed his head to lean back.
He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of
his family. His family.
There was a time he had none.
At least not close. Scott
had been in Boston with his grandfather.
At the same time, Johnny was lost somewhere in Mexico on his own
and the Pinkerton agents were on the hunt to find him.
It had been such a relief to get the telegram that they had saved
him from the Mexican firing squad. He
had Paul O'Brien's daughter, Teresa as his ward, but his sons were gone.
It was quite an event when both boys showed up on the same day.
He wasn't prepared, at least not for both.
He had his speech ready for Scott but Johnny was a wild card that
threw him into an abyss. Everything
he said after that wasn't taken well.
He wanted to just crawl back into his bed, come out on the right
side and start with a fresh approach.
Well, the one thing he said to both boys was the
truth. They were like their
mothers. Catherine was so
beautiful and he would get lost in her blue-gray eyes.
Her death at Scott's birth had been tough to hear. Maria, ahhh,
Maria. Her fiery temper and
zest for life was the attraction for his dead soul.
She brought him back to life and the making up times after her
temper tantrums were very good. A
tender smile played across his lips thinking of the perpetual motion
machine she had presented him eight months after their marriage date.
Johnny as a toddler went at top speed and when he
crashed, he crashed fast. Murdoch
remembered walking into a room and finding his son sound asleep. The child, from a sitting position, had toppled over
completely bent at the waist with his head and shoulders lying
on the rug between his outstretched legs.
Picking up his son, Johnny never woke up from his trip to his bed
and from being carried in his father's arms.
He was already working on his smiling attributes
at that tender age. And now
he was here all grown up with that all knowing smile of Johnny Madrid,
gunfighter. Gritting his
teeth, Murdoch remembered the arrogance of his younger son and the smiling
face taunting him to knock the chip off of Johnny's shoulder.
It had been a difficult time at the beginning and even now he often
butted heads with Johnny.
Doctor Sam Jenkins had made an observation to
Murdoch that he turned to whenever Johnny got difficult.
He could hear it in his head now, By watching his mother die,
Johnny went from being a young child to an adult within an hour.
He never went through his youth because he was fighting to stay
alive. You weren't there as a
father, but you are now. He's
just reverting to being a teenager trying his father.
Deal with it. The young man is looking for stability, independence,
respect, love and boundaries. Some
days he will be an adult and others a teen. Learn to read the signs and
adjust accordingly. You're
going through what all fathers go through, just a little later in life.
Today, Johnny had been both. While in the barn, Murdoch had seen Barranca come running in.
Opening the horse's stall, he didn't need to urge Johnny's mount
in; the horse bolted in. Going
to the barn door, he saw his
son stomping down the lane using the words of a sailor in both of his
native languages. Looking
over to the house he spotted Teresa and knew the damage was done. To Johnny's credit he had shut up when he saw Teresa waiting
for him. To her credit, she held her laughter and aided Johnny toward the
bathhouse while holding her nose from the smell.
It was pretty potent as it drifted toward the barn and to Murdoch
tucked behind the door. Sam
Jenkins' words kept running through his mind.
He would have to have a talk with Johnny over his choice of
colorful words. But that
thought was shoved out of his mind when he saw Teresa running back to the
bathhouse holding clean clothes for Johnny.
She was knocking as she was barging in.
The boys had said she would walk in on them and he saw they had a
Murdoch could see in through the open door and
watched as Johnny talked to his sister, gently ushered her out and loudly
locked the door. The first
discipline talk would be with his ward, but he needed to talk to Johnny
first. Waiting until Teresa
was safely in the house Murdoch made his way to the bathhouse, knocked and
waited for Johnny to answer. Johnny
thought Teresa was back and Murdoch had assured him that his horse was in
his stall and he would have no further trouble with Teresa's habit of
opening doors too fast. Murdoch
would be having a talk with his young ward.
He couldn't see the smile on Johnny's face but he heard it in his
voice. But his tone of voice
quickly turned contrite when Johnny
apologized to Murdoch for his choice of words earlier.
As he walked away to have his talk with Teresa,
Murdoch thought that the day would turn out okay after all. He finally had a clue on reading Johnny.
If he could keep his temper and watch Johnny's face with his many
modes of smile communication, there may be a chance.
Feeling someone's stare on him, Murdoch stopped
his scatter shooting thoughts and opened his eyes.
Johnny was looking at him and smiling a soft slight smile with a sleepy-eyed
look. Murdoch knew it was the
look of comfort and love that his son had used as a child.
Murdoch returned the smile and sighed.
For now, his family was at peace.
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