2010 Valentine’s Day Challenge
Teresa was just crazy about holidays, so was Scott for that matter, Johnny thought. Any possible reason for decorating the house, giving gifts, and otherwise, being silly and they went into action immediately. He’d never even heard of Valentine’s Day.
Apparently, the town was holiday happy as well, there was to be a Valentine’s Day dance. This one was called a Sadie Hawkins Day Dance, in honor of the leap year. It was an even crazier idea. The women had to ask the men.
The sewing circle was meeting in Green River on Saturday, at the dress shop. Murdoch asked Johnny to escort Teresa into town. Johnny complained about this and so Murdoch relented, allowing Teresa to drive the surrey, but he was to ride with her to and from town. Johnny was happy with that. He never liked to go into town without his horse, especially when Teresa was involved. If his past crept up on him, it was easier to keep Teresa safe by being able to leave on his horse.
Green River was bustling as usual for a Saturday morning. It was the day most people came into town for supplies, to shop, sell livestock, or just relax at the saloon, which was what he was planning to do after seeing that Teresa made it to the sewing shop.
Johnny helped Teresa settle Zanzibar at the livery and escorted her to the door of the dress shop where there was already a large group of women gathered. He opened the door and carried Teresa’s bag inside for her. He felt the hair on the back of his neck raise as suddenly, it seemed all the women were eyeing him with something on their minds. There were a lot of “hello Johnny’s” coming from the room. After Teresa was seated and he had placed her bags near her, he told Teresa, “You get Val or one of the other men to come get me when you’re ready to go.”
“I will Johnny.”
It was Johnny’s way of saying ‘don’t come near the saloon.’ They both knew Murdoch would have him by the short hairs if Teresa stepped within twenty feet of the place. Johnny stood, tipped his hat to the room and said shyly, “Ladies.”
He walked out the door, spurs jingling with his self assured rhythmical walk, not knowing, but feeling as if all of the women were staring at his backside. He was relieved when he closed the door. Those necks hairs suddenly flattened as he headed towards the saloon looking for a cold beer and a poker game.
A collective sigh by the group was not missed by Teresa as her attractive ‘brother’ left. She was surprised to see many of the women watching Johnny as he walked out. Her face flushed and she began searching through her bag to hide her embarrassment.
Naturally, all the chatter for the sewing circle involved the upcoming Valentine’s Day dance, who was asking who, and what they were wearing. When it was over, Teresa really didn’t remember much other than it started when Mary Lou told Teresa that she was going to ask Johnny to the dance. Linzee Calvert stood up and told her that she could not, that Johnny ‘was hers to ask.’
Teresa suddenly found herself in the middle of chaos, girls and women alike, screaming, kicking, and even punching each other. Several of them grabbed hold of her and she felt as though she was going to be pulled into pieces. They were demanding her to convince Johnny to go with them to the dance. It turned into a full fledge brawl.
Val Crawford was napping in his office, trying to get some down time before night fell. Saturday nights were always long as between the saloons, cantinas, and the brothel, there was constant commotion and need for his services.
Tim, his deputy flew into the office, the door slamming behind him. Val almost fell over backwards in his chair. “Val, I need help!”
“What is it Tim?” He jumped up, checking his gun belt.
“It’s the dress shop, hurry!”
‘Who the hell would rob a dress shop’ he though as he followed Tim out and down the street. He could see a crowd gathering around the outside. As they neared, he realized it wasn’t a robbery, but a brawl. The crowd parted as they neared the scene, anxious to see how their scruffy sheriff and his deputy would handle this. About the same time that Val and Tim arrived, Johnny and some of the men from the saloon came running down the street to help.
Val, Tim, and Johnny looked at each other with horrified amazement at the women inside, screaming, pulling hair, and some even throwing punches.
“Teresa’s in there, Val!” Johnny cried out.
The three squeezed into the doorway, trying to be somewhat gentle in sorting out the women, trying to get Teresa out first. They saw her being grabbed from every direction, her hair a mess, having fallen down in the melee. There were even some tears in her skirt and blouse. Johnny made contact with her, pulling her to him as Val and Tim pulled an angry Arabella and a swearing Julie off of her. Jenny Calvert, Linzee’s sister saw him and yelled, “There he is!”
Suddenly, women began clamoring and grabbing for Johnny. Eyes wide open; he grabbed Teresa bullying his way through the mass of women, and almost strangled on his stampede strap as one of the women grabbed the back of his hat. Val and Tim were trying to keep the women inside the shop and off of Johnny and Teresa at least long enough for them to escape. The pushing and the shoving of the mass of women moving towards the door and window of the shop ended violently as the force pushed Val right through the large plate glass window, sending him crashing onto the boardwalk in a shower of glass.
Tim, the young deputy did not fare as well. He was at the doorway and was trampled by the women as they forced their way outside. The last thing he remembered seeing was underneath Linzee Calvert’s skirt.
Bystanders fled as the women flooded out of the door.
“There he goes Linzee!” Jenny Calvert yelled. Lizee immediately pulled her skirt up and took off running after Johnny, who was trying to run and not drag Teresa as he fled.
With Linzee in the lead, the women followed, a swarm of angry bees, flowing and turning as one, darting through alleys and back out onto the street following Johnny, who could think of nowhere safe to run to, except . . .
Pushing the door open with such force that it rattled the window sashes and broke out the door’s glass window with ‘Sheriff” painted on it, Johnny, who had long thrown Teresa over his shoulder, and carried her, entered Val’s office. He snatched the keys to the cells off of their hook, yanked open the large wooden outer door which separated the cells from the office area, and carried Teresa to the end cell, whereupon he dropped her, as gently as he could in his hurry, onto the cot, and slammed the door to the cell, reaching outside the bars to lock them in the cell.
Moments later, the sheriff’s office was flooded with women. Val and Tim, along with the bartender from the saloon and two hands from the Conway ranch managed to push their way inside.
Scott was making his way down the main street in Green River. He had delivered a horse for his father that morning, and had planned to join Johnny in the saloon for some drinking and poker. As he and Charlie moved down the street, he noticed a melee of sorts outside the sheriff’s office. He quickly pushed Charlie into a canter, getting as close as he could to the office.
It was hard to determine what was going on inside. The crowd outside the building was cheering, jeering, and laughing. He could hear Val yelling at the top of his lungs inside. He forced his way towards the door with the broken window and couldn’t believe his eyes. It seemed that most of the young ladies and women of Green River and the surrounding ranches were inside.
One of the ranch hands who was inside the office, pulled on the door and pushed against the women as Scott pushed inward from the outside to gain entry. The two of them then, at Val’s demand, began sliding the barred door which was inside, across the doorway, preventing any entry or exit from that door. The other ranch hand was pulling on the other side and secured it.
It wasn’t all that difficult to get the women into the remaining open cells. Johnny was the attraction, and since he had so fortuitously locked himself and Teresa in the one at the far end, Val, Tim, Scott, and the ranch hands managed to just keep pushing at the back of the crowd until they were either in one cell or another, unwitting to the fact that they had entered the cells. Their attention was completely on Johnny. The bartender had managed to make his way through the crowd to get to Johnny and get the keys to lock the cells with.
When the women were secured, the bartender opened the last cell and allowed Johnny and Teresa to come out. Once they were inside the office, Val slammed and locked the wooden door, cutting down the noise from the cell area.
Throwing his keys onto the desk and dropping heavily into his chair, Val looked up at Johnny. “Just what in THE HELL have you gone and gotten yourself into, Johnny? A’mighty!”
Johnny, who was standing behind a seated Teresa in front of Val’s desk, looked up wild eyed and said, “Me? I haven’t done a DAMN THING VAL!”
“If you’ll remember, I got there same time as you!”
Val had not failed to notice that everyone in the room, including him, was still panting from exhaustion. He reached down and pulled open a drawer. He pulled out some glasses and poured a shot in the three glasses and handed one to Scott who took it for Teresa. Val kept a glass and gave the other to the bartender. The others just took turns swigging out of the bottle.
“Miss Teresa, honey, do you think you could tell us what started this?” Val used a soft and tender voice, one he reserved only for women and Johnny when he was hurt bad.
She nodded shakily and took another sip of the whiskey, grimacing and coughing a little.
“I, I’m not sure exactly. We were all just sewing and talking about the dance. Everyone was excited as we, us girls, were gonna be able to ask the boys this time. Mary Lou looked over and told me that she was gonna ask Johnny to the dance. That’s when Linzee jumped up and told her no, that Johnny was hers. They argued for a minute and then Linzee came over and punched her in the face. After that, I don’t remember much. Mary Lou fell on top of me and before we could get up, everybody was screaming and pushing and hitting.”
“Linzee Calvert, huh?” Val asked, glaring at Johnny, who immediately found something interesting to look at on the floor.
“Johnny, how many times I gotta tell ya to leave that little gal ALONE!” Val was put out.
“ME? I wasn’t even THERE VAL! I haven’t even spoken to her or seen her in two weeks!”
Scott just shook his head, “Are you all right Teresa?” he asked.
“I’m just still in shock I guess, but, I’m not really hurt.” She responded.
“Do ya wanna press charges Miss Teresa?” Val asked her softly again.
“Looked to me like Arabella and Julie were assaultin’ ya pretty good when we got in there.”
Teresa looked up at Johnny with wide eyes. He shrugged and looked away, so she turned to Scott. Scott gave her a sympathetic look.
“Would that mean we would have to go to court?” she asked.
“Well, at a
minimum, you’d have to talk to the judge.” Val responded.
Teresa thought for a moment, and then said, “I, I don’t think so. I guess it was all just a misunderstanding.”
“Are you sure Teresa?” Scott asked in that authoritative way that he had.
“Yes, I’m sure. I think it might be better if we just put this behind us.”
“If your sure, then best we take control of the rest of this situation.” Val said standing up. He poured himself another whiskey and knocked it back. “Tim, head out the back door, sneak over to the livery and tell Billy to get Zanzibar and Barranca ready and to bring them the long way to the back here. Don’t want nobody ta see ‘um or it’s yours and his hides. Ya got that!”
“Okay, Val, I got it.” Tim headed out the back door.
“You two,” Val nodded at the Conway hands, as he walked over to the gun rack and unlocked the chain securing the rifles and shotguns. Take these here shotguns.” He passed them to the men and took one for himself, “I want one of ya on each side of the door.”
“Scott, I wantcha by the back door with Teresa and your brother there; ready to sneak outta here when Billy and Tim git here with the horses.”
Scott nodded and helped Teresa up. He and Johnny escorted her to the back, but not before Val gave Johnny a reprimanding look, resulting in Johnny looking like a guilty schoolboy.
The crowd had grown outside the front of the sheriff’s office as word had spread about the melee in the dress shop. Angry parents and boyfriends of the girls were outside waiting for an explanation.
Once Tim had come back and Val knew that the Lancers had disappeared out of the back door, he had the bartender open the grate, and the two ranch hands led the way out, stepping aside on opposite sides of the door frame. Val stepped just outside the door and fired his shotgun in the air, gaining everyone’s attention.
Little was said on the trip back to Lancer. Teresa still seemed to be a little in shock. Johnny and Teresa had headed straight for the ranch. Scott had taken advantage of the fact that no one was watching the dress shop, except for the owner, who stood in the middle crying, and headed inside to try and find Teresa’s bag and dress project. The woman helped him and he apologized, for what he wasn’t sure of, but assured her that the town would help her get back on her feet.
Scott caught up to Teresa and Johnny, who was driving the surrey, Barranca tied behind. They continued in silence the entire way home. All dreaded what Murdoch would make of the situation.
Murdoch was standing in the yard talking with one of the hands when he saw the trio coming under the arch. Something about their posture didn’t bode well for him. Something wasn’t right, but they all looked unharmed. Johnny driving the surrey was certainly a concern though.
Jelly looked up from where he was nailing some fence boards back on the corral by the barn. He could tell that something wasn’t right and he felt certain Johnny was in the middle of it. He glanced over and saw Murdoch watching the trio ride in, and saw the scowl on his face. He looked down at Dewdrop who was keeping him company and said, “Thangs don’t look to good for Johnny a’tall Dewdrop. Reckon I’d better git over there and try to keep Murdoch from hurtin’ that boy. If somethin’s happen ta Miss Teresa, he’s likely to run Johnny off if’n he don’t kill him first.”
Johnny pulled the surrey near the front door. When Murdoch saw Teresa and Johnny’s torn clothing and overall disheveled appearance, he couldn’t hold back, “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO TERESA, JOHNNY?! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, BOY?!
Johnny flinched at his father’s booming voice, which virtually stopped all the activity on the ranch in its tracks. He never even looked at his father. He set the brake, tied off the reins, jumped off on the opposite side from his father and lifted Teresa out of the surrey, setting her down gently. By this time, Scott had dismounted and was next to them. Johnny knew Teresa was safe and headed towards the front door, but not before Murdoch reached out and grabbed at Johnny’s arm. Having expected it, Johnny was prepared and evaded the grab, and took off running for the door.
“I WANT ANSWERS AND I WANT THEM NOW, BOY! DO YOU HEAR ME?! JOHNNY!”
“Murdoch, please, calm down. Teresa’s okay. It’s not Johnny’s fault. Let’s just go inside and get Teresa settled and I’ll explain.” Scott said in his always calm collected manner.
Murdoch reached out and grasped Teresa by her upper arms and turned her to face him. “Darling, are you okay, did Johnny do this?”
“MURDOCH!” Both Teresa and Scott admonished him simultaneously.
“I’m fine, Murdoch, really, I’m fine. Johnny had nothing to do with it; at least not directly. In fact, he saved me.”
Murdoch looked bewildered. He pulled Teresa to him with a bear hug, and then kept her close to him until they entered the house.
Johnny was in the great room, the whiskey bottle on the sofa table in front of him. He knew he was in for it from Murdoch and figured he might as well get it all over now. Scott joined him after getting two glasses from the bar. He poured himself a drink and one for his father, who had escorted Teresa to her room. Neither spoke as they waited for Murdoch.
Johnny slumped further down in the sofa when he heard Murdoch’s heavy footsteps across the floor of the great room. Scott reached over and topped off their glasses. Murdoch pulled the ottoman over right next to Johnny and sat down heaving a sigh. He took the whiskey offered to him by Scott, knocked it back, sat the glass down and leaned in towards Johnny.
“Well, boy, what is it this time?” He ground out between his clenched jaws.
Johnny was now both angry and hurt at the accusation. He turned and glared at his father. “I didn’t do a GOD DAMN THING MURDOCH, EXCEPT get her out of that dress shop full of banshees!”
“DON’T USE THAT LANGUAGE WITH ME, BOY!” Murdoch growled.
Scott knew it was time to referee once more. Murdoch and Johnny were almost eye to eye, just inches apart, growling in loud, low tones like two dogs about to fight.
“Murdoch, really, Johnny is not responsible for this.”
“Scott, you need to let your brother explain this.”
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY? I TOOK HER TO THE DRESS SHOP, CARRIED HER BAGS, WALKED HER IN AND LEFT! Next thing I know, the whole town’s outside the dress shop and all the women in there were brawling like cowboys in the Painted Lady on Saturday night! Teresa was inside about to be pulled apart by that chancho, Arabella, and that other pig, Julie! Me ‘n’ Val, ‘n’ Tim all got there at the same time and went in. I got Teresa out, and all the damn women started chasin’ us down the street ‘n’ all over town. The only way we could get away from ‘em was to lock ourselves in the jail! Meirida! What the hell was I supposed to do?”
Scott had to turn his head at the vision of Johnny and Teresa running for their lives through the town. He knew a smirk or a laugh would set both of them off. The look on Murdoch’s face was priceless.
“Dios, Murdoch, if you don’t close your mouth, flies are gonna start settlin’ in.” Johnny said unrepentantly as he poured himself another shot and downed it in one attempt. His face full of resentment.
Scott leaned over and refilled Johnny’s glass and attempted again to intervene. “Apparently, Murdoch, Linzee and Mary Lou started a fight about who was going to ask Johnny to the dance on Saturday night and well, I guess like a saloon brawl, it got out of hand. Teresa did say that that Arabella and Julie started in on her to get Johnny to go with them. That’s how she was involved.”
“You mean all this was over a dance?”
“Yes, Murdoch, the Valentine’s Dance. It seems little brother here is quite popular with the ladies, even the ones he doesn’t find appealing.”
Murdoch leaned back in disgust and not without a growl. He shook his head and picked up his drink. “So what happened to all the women?”
“Well,” Johnny was starting to look less angry and more embarrassed. “They followed us into the jail, but thank god, I got the cell locked and had the keys. Val, Tim, some of Aggie’s hands, Vern from over at the saloon, and Scott, well, they crowded ‘em into the cells and locked ‘em in before they knew what was happenin’. We had to sneak out of town out the back door just to be sure we were safe.”
Suddenly, the room was filled with braying laughter, startling everyone. Jelly had left to fetch Maria to care for Teresa and had slipped quietly into the great room and was bent over with laughter. Tears ran from his eyes. That was all it took for Scott to lose it as well. Murdoch and Johnny remained stoic until Murdoch finally caught the vision of Johnny fleeing with Teresa through the town and voluntarily locking himself into a jail cell to escape the lovesick women of the town. A deep chuckle began in his chest and finally made its way into the open.
“Son, I don’t understand what it is with you and women.”
Johnny was horrified that his father found this situation funny. He didn’t enjoy being teased and laughed at by his brother or Jelly, but Murdoch laughing at him, well that was the ultimate insult.
Suddenly, there was a lighter laughter ringing into the hall. Maria, having heard the tale from Teresa, was headed back to the kitchen, chortling all the way.
The sound of horses outside stopped all the fun. Jelly, closest to the French doors looked out. “It’s the doc and Val.”
All the men rose from their seats while Jelly showed the guests into the great room.
“Sam, Val,” Murdoch greeted them.
“Murdoch, boys,” Sam returned as Val drawled out, “Mr. Lancer.”
“I guess we all know the reason for your visit. Unless of course there’s some sort of charges.” Murdoch ventured.
“Teresa in her room, Murdoch?” Sam asked. “Yes, I appreciate your coming out to check on her.”
“Anytime, Murdoch, anytime. Can’t let my best nurse go down! Johnny, how ‘bout you?”
“I’m okay Sam, just some scratches. Just make sure Teresa’s okay.”
Sam left and Val joined the men in a drink.
“A’mighty Johnny! What have you done to make all the women in these parts so loco?” Val sighed.
“I ain’t done nothin’, Val.”
“Well, I gotta tell ya, in all my years, I ain’t never seen nothin’ like that, not since them church ladies tried to close down the whore house in Abilene.” Val shook his head.
“What did you do with the women, Val?” Scott asked.
“Well, after I got y’all outta town, Aggie’s boys held everybody outside with shotguns, and then we let their mommas and daddies come inside one atta time and pay a fine. Reckon the orphanage is gonna luck out on this one. I gave everybody a fifteen dollar fine. Five for the orphans, five for my door, and five to help Aileen with the damages to her shop.”
“Your door?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny sat quiet. He knew he was in enough trouble, besides, if they hadn’t been chasing him, he wouldn’t have broken that window. ‘Crazy bitches ought to have to pay for it anyway.’
“Yep. Don’t know how or why that happened. I tell you the town’s a mess.” Val shook his head. “Got two men boardin’ up the dress shop window and the door. Widda Hargis is over helpin’ her ta straighten things up. . . . the place is pretty much destroyed. Rest of the store keeps are pickin’ up their displays ‘n’ such from outside where they were chasin’ the two of ‘em and not lookin’ where they were a goin’. Course Johnny saw fit to run through the mayor’s store, so it’s a total disaster. Reckon he deserved it since his daughter was one a the ones grabbin’ hold of Miss Teresa.”
“My God.” Murdoch exclaimed. Jelly burst into laughter again. Scott stood up and excused himself to check on the doc and Teresa, only to walk out of the room so he could laugh to himself.
“Johnny, I hate to say this, but I reckon you ought not to come back inta town before next week. I think ya need to forget about comin’ ta the dance altogether.” Val looked at Johnny.
“Ain’t got nothin’ to worry ‘bout with me, Val. After today, I don’t want nothin’ ta do with Green River for awhile.”
“I know it’s a touchy subject Johnny,” Val glanced at Murdoch, “but I cain’t say enough about you stayin’ away from that Calvert girl. She’s trouble all the way. Her daddy must be makin’ her work in the forge or somethin’. Turns out, she cold cocked two of them big Swiss gals with a right hook that woulda made a boxer proud. They stayed down ‘til doc used the smellin’ salts on ‘em.” Val continued, giving Murdoch a look to not start in on Johnny about the girl.
Sam and Scott returned just then to pronounce that Teresa was just fine. “Nothing a hot bath and a good night’s rest wouldn’t fix.” Sam proclaimed to everyone’s relief.
Johnny excused himself and went to Teresa’s room, where he informed her that he would prepare a hot bath for her in the bath house since for some reason, the whole incident was his fault. She assured him that he was not responsible, but that she did appreciate the bath being filled for her.
By the time Johnny returned, Val and Sam had left to return to town, laughing all the way back at the expression on Murdoch’s face when it sank in how much damage the town had seen because of his youngest son. Johnny’s expressions were pretty laughable too, especially the pouty look he took on when Val warned him about coming into town.
The next morning at church, Murdoch and Scott noted that not only did most of the young women seem to have trouble sitting, but most of them had black and blue marks on their faces, that is, all but Linzee Calvert. Mary Lou seemed to have a bald spot in the back of her head. Teresa sat quietly, grateful to be seated between Murdoch and Scott.
The sermon that morning was unrelenting. The minister was on a roll after the previous day’s brawl. It ranged from the sins of lust and fornication to turning the other cheek. By the time he was finished, Scott thought he could feel the fringes of hell’s fire right beneath his feet. Murdoch sat there expressionless. He knew that jaw clench of his father’s. He might not show it, but he was unhappy with the sermon.
To make matters worse, at the conclusion of the sermon, the minister had an announcement to make on behalf of the sheriff. “Sheriff Crawford wanted me to let you all know that Johnny Lancer will NOT be attending the dance next Saturday night.”
To add insult to Murdoch’s perceived injury, there were quite a few loud “Amens” resounding within the congregation, accompanied by quite a few frowns from the young ladies.
The minister and his wife were not invited to Sunday dinner this day.
The night of the Valentine’s Dance arrived. All during the day, Johnny had listened and watched Scott and Teresa floating around, they had been busy, cutting and gluing colored paper hearts and making them into cards for their dates. Johnny had no interest in this matter. Finally, as Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa readied to get into the surrey to leave for the dance, Teresa turned to Johnny. She stretched up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Johnny! I left you a surprise in the kitchen.” She whispered in his ear before turning to be helped into the buggy.
Johnny watched until the surrey had passed under the arch. He then headed straight for the kitchen. There, he found Maria, with a heart shaped chocolate cake. “For you, niño.” She smilled.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mamacita!” He picked her up, swung her around and kissed her on the cheek! She squealed and gave him a ‘love tap’ with her ever present wooden spoon.
“These are from Teresa,” she indicated a tin. Johnny opened it and laughed. It was a tin of heart shaped chocolate cookies!
“Gracias, Mamacita, gracias!”
“I must go niño. Buenos noches!”
Maria left out of the back door to go home. Johnny had a large piece of the chocolate cake and big glass of milk. When he was finished, he grabbed the tin of cookies, went into the great room and retrieved a bottle of tequila and headed to the barn. He put the items in his saddlebags, tacked up Barranca and headed towards Green River.
He veered off just before town, taking a back way to Val’s house.
Quietly, he put Barranca in the barn and made his way to the back door. Just as he opened the door, he heard the hammer of a revolver cock from the other room. “It’s me, Val,” he called out.
“Just makin’ sure. You bring some tequila?”
“Yep! And some cookies!”
Johnny walked into the front room to find Val relaxing in his leather chair, a plate of limes and salt in front of him and two clean glasses.
Johnny pulled up a chair, opened the tin of cookies and placed it on the little table between them. He opened the tequila and poured them each a shot. When they were ready, Val held his glass up towards Johnny and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day amigo!”
Johnny laughed and shook his head. “You too, amigo!”
“I’m just damn glad we got a few years before this Sadie Hawkins thing rolls around again. Town just can’t take that ever year, Johnny!”
“Town? Town? How ‘bout me? Dios, those women were looking at me like a stud horse!”
They downed their tequila and basked in the comfort of their own company, playing chess, drinking tequila, and eating Teresa’s cookies.
Happy Valentine’s Day!