Murdoch Lancer stepped into the kitchen; a warm smile gracing his lips as he watched Maria putting the finishing touches on the apple pie she was preparing for the oven. It was Sunday; and the housekeeper -- despite his gentle scolding at breakfast -- was still working. She never took a real day off; not in all the years she had been running his household. The grin broadened. His household; her domain.
Aware of the man’s eyes, Maria cocked her head in the direction of the door. She knew what he was thinking. She always knew what the Patrón was thinking. "Enseño Consuelo," (I am teaching Consuelo), she said earnestly, nodding at her teen-aged niece. Consuelo was holding a small saucer of cinnamon and sugar; poised to sprinkle the spices atop the pie.
“A-hah,” Murdoch nodded. It was, he knew, pointless to argue with the woman’s logic. Then, remembering his real reason for the trek to the kitchen, he asked, “Have you seen Scott?”
Maria was fluting the edge of the piecrust, joining the bottom and top crust as she sealed the seams. “No,” she said, reverting to English. The Patrón encouraged everyone at Lancer to speak in two languages; especially the young ones like Consuelo. He was aware of how it made their lives somewhat easier; more so now with the coming of even more gringos from the East. There was a sound as she used a fork to whisk a pair of eggs in a small cup; which she passed to her niece. “He came for some lemonade after lunch…” her lips puckered in a tsk-tsk as she watched Consuela brush too much of the yolk mixture on the pie’s crust, “…and then said something about finding a quiet place to read his new book.”
The woman’s eyes warmed as she looked up at her employer knowingly. “He meant someplace where Juanito would not find him,” she murmured.
Murdoch laughed. There was nothing Johnny loved more than to goad his elder brother into reading aloud, and then pestering him with constant interruptions and questions. “Then he’s hiding,” he observed. Suddenly, his head jerked to one side as he picked up a subtle movement from the hallway. “Johnny!” he called, his voice rising. “I told you to wait for your brother and me in the Great Room. Don’t you even think about going out that door!”
Consuela stifled a giggle behind her closed fists. “Juanito,” she murmured. “He thinks you have grown eyes in the back of your head, Patrón.”
From the hallway, Murdoch heard the scuffling of feet, the easing of the large front door being shut and the muttered “Aww, shit!” Johnny, he knew, was reluctantly heading back into the living room. He turned back to the housekeeper. “I’m going to keep Johnny occupied,” he said. “Do you think you can track down the other stray?”
Maria nodded. Gathering her apron in her hands, she dusted the flour from her palms; and then placed her ever-present wooden spoon snug within the space between the apron’s upper edge and the waistband of her skirt. She patted it in place. “Oven,” she said, gesturing with her head; smiling in approval as Consuelo began putting the pies in to bake.
She went up the back stairs, humming slightly, her step light. A mestiza, the descendant of a Conquistador and a woman of Mayan ancestry, she was wearing huaraches; the soft-soled sandals whispering against the wooden treads. She had lifted the hem of her skirts, her hips swaying slightly as she mounted the stairs.
Maria Larrea y la Puente was in her late forties; taller than most of the women who worked and lived at the hacienda, and built -- as Johnny oft pointed out when he was far from her hearing -- soft in all the right places; a perfect Mamácita. She had aged well, with more smile than frown lines, and though her face was beginning to show the years; her demeanor had remained constant. She had a good heart; she was intensely loyal to the Patrón, and truly adored the young Lancer vástagos (scions.)
She had also known the Patrón’s two wives. Catherine, the pale skinned, fair-haired angel of the brave and good heart; and Maria, the sultry-skinned, raven-haired temptress whose black heart contained room for no-one but herself.
The housekeeper’s pace slowed as she thought of the Patrón’s two wives; of the sons they had borne. Juanito was trouble, she mused, smiling. Even as a toddler, he had been full of mischief. For two brief years before the oppressive darkness; his childish laughter had filled the great hacienda with immeasurable happiness. That jubilation had ended when the child had been stolen away; a bitter time for the Patrón when he had poured himself into the land and the relentless search for his son.
It had been different with Scott; perhaps -- in a way -- even more difficult. Juanito had been an elusive thing, like the great mariposas (butterflies) that fluttered north and south in their migration, something to be pursued. But Scott…
The Patrón knew where his elder son was; knew the frustration of the seemingly endless battles behind closed doors, in the dark offices of the gringo abogados. So much money, the woman thought.
Scott. The woman sighed. An old soul lurked behind the kind, pale blue eyes; a soul with a great capacity for love and forgiveness.
She stepped up into the hallway, turning to her left as she continued her trek. The woman knew where she was going. A sly smile touched her lips. Very little went on in the hacienda she did not know about; and that included her knowing where the Patrón’s sons lurked when they went into hiding.
Maria’s step was lighter now. She headed directly for the small, narrow staircase that led to the tower room. Her slippered feet whispered against the uncarpeted treads as she began the steady climb. The light kiss of a spring breeze caressed her face, the gentle wind lifting her hair away from her face as she stepped through the open archway.
The woman stifled a gasp with her clenched fist, her eyes widening. Scott had placed a large blanket on the flat, tarred roof that extended beyond the tower room. He was lying on his stomach; his sun-touched blond hair -- longer now than when he had first arrived -- lifting slightly as he smoothed it with his right hand.
The young man was intent on his reading, totally unaware of the woman who was still standing at the threshold. He stretched, flexing his well-muscled shoulders; the afternoon sun adding a sheen to his skin, the early spring tan giving his flesh a fawn-like hue. Incredibly slim, he lounged like a great cat at rest, yet still on alert; a slight rippling beneath the skin as he shifted slightly and turned a page.
The young man was naked! The golden tan Scott had acquired working in the open air extended over the entire length of his well-toned body; his trim physique as finely molded as a great work of art. From his sculpted shoulders to his narrow waist, firm buttocks and well-muscled legs, he was a perfect specimen of a man who was neither pampered nor soft, and there was not one flaw in his being.
Maria was unable restrain herself. Almost without thought, her right hand drifted to the wooden spoon wedged between the top edge of her apron and the waist band of her skirt and she charged forward. “¡Muchacho! ¿Qué usted está pensando? Colocación alrededor hacia fuera aquí en el Sabat debajo de God' cielo de s, en la vista completa de la madre santa, tan desnuda como el día usted nació? ¿Tiene usted ninguna vergüenza, niño? Usted es tan malo como su hermano…” (Boy! What are you thinking? Laying about out here on the Sabbath beneath God's Heaven, in full sight of the Holy Mother, as naked as the day you were born? Have you no shame, child? You are as bad as your brother...) Thwack!
Scott bolted upright, his book forgotten. “¡Señora!” he gasped; rubbing at his bare behind and feeling the welt. Instinctively, he backed up, his right hand dropping to cover his crotch. He could feel the color rising in his cheeks.
Eyes narrowing into mere slits, Maria surveyed the young man; taking her time. Then, using her spoon, she gestured towards the neatly folded stack of clothing. Certain she had made her point, she turned; her back straight as she headed back towards the door.
Alone, Scott stood with his head bowed. Sighing, he finger-combed his hair; wondering if there was any possible way for his life to get any worse.
And then he heard the soft laughter.
“Well, well, well,” Johnny crowed. He pussy-footed himself in a slow circle around his sibling, reaching out to gingerly finger the red spot on his brother’s left buttock. Wisely, he jumped back as Scott took a swing at his head.
“BOYS!!” The voice thundered up from the foot of the stairs.
There was a scuffle as Johnny grabbed for his brother’s pants; but it was brief. Unceremoniously -- and with absolutely no shame -- Scott dumped his brother onto his butt and danced away.
Johnny watched in wonder as his brother scrambled into his clothing; grinning inwardly as he remembered some of the stories his brother had shared. Must be a Boston thing, he pondered. Or not, he reconsidered, thinking of a close encounter that had occurred when Murdoch had come looking for them after a surreptitious, mid-week trip to the Silver Dollar.
Murdoch stepped out onto the rooftop; the frown coming as he spied his sons. “I distinctly recall telling you to stay put,” he groused, spearing his younger boy with a particularly harsh look.
Johnny’s mouth dropped open. His gaze shifted from his father’s face to Scott’s; not missing the smug grin on the blond’s face. Scott -- not one hair out of place -- had just finished tucking in his shirt and was picking up his book. “How come you’re hollerin’ at me?” he carped, turning back to his father. “You know what he was doin’ up here?”
Murdoch gestured towards the door with a single nod of his head. “Reading,” he answered. “Proceed.”
Scott took the lead; excusing himself as he passed by his father. Johnny forgot his manners and was immediately popped on his behind.
“I’m gonna tell,” Johnny muttered into his brother’s ear as they tramped down the stairwell. He didn’t care how stupid the threat sounded.
“No, you won’t,” Scott whispered back. “I know a few of your secrets, too, little brother.”
Johnny hated it when his brother got in the last word. They both dropped down into the hallway and he brightened considerably. Maria was standing at the top of the stairs leading to the first floor. “Ain’t my secrets I’m thinkin’ about now,” he snickered, nodding at woman.
Scott’s head came up as he attempted to meet the housekeeper’s gaze head on. He failed miserably.