One Stormy Night
Time Frame: Late April 1871, a little over two years after the boys come home. Johnny is 23, Teresa just turned 18.
PART ONE—THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
It was just after lunch when Teresa O’Brien entered the buckboard and waited for Johnny Lancer to take her into town. They were supposed to have left earlier that morning, but a sudden thunderstorm delayed their plans. Teresa asked Johnny if they could go when it stopped raining, since it didn’t really matter to her when they left.
What did matter to her, though, was that he would be taking her.
As she watched Johnny saunter his way over to the buckboard, in no apparent hurry, she didn’t notice Clay Hathaway come up to the other side of the buckboard. Clay was one of the new Lancer ranch hands, and a good one at that. He was young and strong. And it was no secret he was smitten with the comely Miss O’Brien.
“Afternoon, Miss Teresa,” he greeted, tipping his hat. Teresa was startled, and the slight frown on her face didn’t go unnoticed by the young ranch hand.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he apologized.
“It’s all right, Clay. My mind was somewhere else,” she smiled.
“I really enjoyed your birthday party last weekend, and I enjoyed dancing with you. I was wondering, well, if it’s all right with Mr. Lancer, and if you agree to it, I would be honored if you would attend the Spring Festival with me in Green River next week.”
Teresa’s brown eyes looked down at the ground. She wondered how she could turn him down gently, without hurting his feelings. For he was a really nice boy, and she liked him. And she wanted to go to the Festival. Just not with him.
“Thank you, Clay. But I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be attending. I have a lot to do here on the ranch, spring cleaning and all. But, I’ll let you know.” She hoped he would take the hint, and not be hurt.
“Oh, well, all right. Just let me know, Miss Teresa,” Clay requested, as he dejectedly walked away from the buckboard and back to the corral.
To her left, Teresa heard a soft drawl. “Teresa, that boy is so sweet on you I can taste the honey in the air,” Johnny laughed to his ‘sister.’
“Johnny, let’s just go. Clay Hathaway and I are none of your business,” she smartly informed.
“Yes, ma’am,” he chuckled. Then he added, “He really is a good kid, Teresa. Hard worker, and he has goals for his life. And as guys go, he ain’t a bad lookin’ one,” he winked at that comment.
“Johnny Lancer,” she sighed. “Yes, he is very nice, and I like him. As a friend. I’m just not sure I want to go out with him, that’s all.”
“That’s a switch. I remember a little 16-year old who pouted in her room for a week ‘cause Murdoch wouldn’t let her go to the church social a few years ago. Boy, you sure have grown up since turnin’ 18. Really takin’ control of your life, ain’t you?” he teased.
“Johnny. Don’t tease me. It’s just, well. . . . .”
“Oh, I know. You’re sweet on somebody else, huh? Who is he? Anyone I know?” he inquired.
Yes, you know him, she sighed.
“Let’s go, Johnny,” she commanded, and gave him a playful slap on the back.
The two enjoyed pleasant conversation all the way to town. Johnny stopped the buckboard in front of Senor Baldomero’s store, and Teresa felt a quiver when his strong arms grabbed her waist to help her down.
“Did I tell you that you look very pretty today?” Johnny sweetly inquired.
“No, you did not,” Teresa shyly responded.
“Well, you do. Isn’t that your new birthday dress?”
“Yes. I just felt like wearing it again.”
“Well, it’s very pretty, and so are you,” Johnny said, and kissed his sister sweetly on the forehead.
The young girl flushed, and suddenly felt very weak.
“What time do you want to meet?” Johnny asked. There was no response. “Teresa?”
“Oh. . . in about an hour or so,” Teresa absently replied.
“That’s good,” Johnny informed. “It won’t take me long to get the few supplies I need. And it will give me time to go to the dress shop to visit. . . .”
“Abby,” Teresa sighed.
“Yep, it’s been a while since I’ve seen her. Just thought I’d say hello, let her know I’m still alive and kickin,” he grinned, then headed off to the general store.
Teresa sighed and entered Baldomero’s store. After exchanging pleasantries, she perused some cloth, along with some ribbons and accessories. As she idly looked over the goods, she wondered what had happened to her the past few months. And why she suddenly had feelings for someone she knew she shouldn’t have.
Feelings for her ‘brother.’
For Johnny. . . . .
She thought back to the talk that Murdoch Lancer had with her when he told her he had found his sons, and they would be coming to Lancer. Her father had been dead a short time, and she was still grieving. Murdoch was on the mend from his run-in with Pardee, but was far from recovered.
He told the then 15-year old about his boys. Scott was 24, Johnny was 21. He told her he knew very little about them: their personalities, their likes or dislikes, or even what they looked like. He did tell her, though, that if they looked anything like their mothers, they would be good looking. She remembered he seemed proud at that thought.
He told her that should Scott and Johnny decide to stay at Lancer, she should treat them like her older brothers. And in turn, he would ask them to treat her like their younger sister. It was then that he explained to her who his youngest son was: a gunfighter that went by the name of Johnny Madrid.
She remembered Murdoch told her that if either one of them ever said or did anything ‘inappropriate’ towards her, to tell him. At the time, she wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but she had an idea.
But from the very beginning, both of Murdoch’s sons treated her with respect, and like nothing more than a kid sister. She was a bit leery of Johnny at first, but the two got close when he was recovering from his own run-in with Pardee. And although she would ‘tease’ and ‘scold’ both brothers, it was always Johnny she would playfully slap on the back. Or throw something at. Or tie his socks together after they were laundered. And it was Johnny who would respond in kind—telling her he had a present for her, then presenting her with a frog. Or hiding her knitting. Or telling her a tall tale with such sincerity that she believed him.
But in the last few months, something changed. With her. Maybe, she thought, it had something to do with her turning 18. But her sudden fondness for wearing dresses instead of jeans, and worrying about such things as how her hair looked, confused her. And she found herself wondering what was ‘out there.’ Beyond the beauty that was Lancer.
She had long conversations with Scott about Boston. And New York City. About the big cities back east. She found herself wanting to visit these places that a year ago, she had absolutely no interest in whatsoever.
And then there was Johnny. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but he had changed as well. Ever since he was blinded by the sniper, and his heart broken by Maddie. He seemed to of grown up overnight, become more mature, more sure of himself. His relationship with his father had improved, and both treated each other with respect.
He was involved with his father and brother on decisions regarding the ranch. And his playful nature with her had ceased.
Johnny no longer treated Teresa like a ‘kid’ sister; rather, he treated her like a young woman who happened to be his sister.
But there was more. Although she had always considered him her ‘brother,’ his new maturity made her look at him in a new light. She no longer saw him as just a brother, but as a man. And a very attractive one at that.
One that she could consider wanting. . . .
But Johnny had other interests. And her name was Abigail, or Abby. Their on-again, off-again relationship was off, at this point anyway. Teresa wasn’t sure what their particular disagreement was about this time, but she thought it had something to do with Johnny’s past.
A past that was a lifetime ago, she sighed. . . . .
And although she had met Abby and even liked her, she viewed her as a rival. Teresa hoped that maybe, Johnny would realize how she felt, and could see her in a different light. Not as his sister, but as a woman.
And she knew that’s where Abby had the advantage. She wasn’t considered his sister. . .
Teresa paid for her goods and went to the buckboard to wait for Johnny.
Johnny entered Mrs. Dawson’s dress shop, and spied Abby arranging a new dress on the rack. He snuck up behind her and put his hands over her eyes.
“Guess who?” he teased.
“President Grant?” she laughed.
“Nope. Just me. How are you? I’ve. . .missed you,” he said shyly, and gave her a gentle peck on the cheek.
“I’m doing good. I’ve missed you too. Have you been behaving yourself, Mr. Lancer?”
“Nope, I never behave myself. Life would be no fun if I did that.”
They joked for a few minutes, and Johnny stepped aside as Abby helped a customer. After a few more minutes of talking, Johnny asked Abby if she would attend the Spring Festival with him next week.
After a hesitation, she responded, “I’m sorry, Johnny. I’m leaving for San Francisco on Monday to visit my cousin. I’ll be there all week.”
Johnny was visibly disappointed. “Oh, I see. Well, what about when you get back? Can we get together then? Dinner at the ranch maybe?”
“I. . .I’m not sure, Johnny. I’m still thinking about things. . .”
“What things, Abigail?” Johnny questioned, his temper rising.
“Johnny, please. I’m working,” she quietly scolded. Then after a few seconds, she explained. “I’m just not sure if I can deal with. . . with your past. I’m afraid something will happen to you. I’d hate to marry you and have someone with an old grudge kill you. I don’t want to be a 23-year old widow,” she said a bit forcefully.
Johnny was quiet. “I can understand that, Abby. But I was honest with you about my past. Nothin’s gonna happen. Madrid is gone. And besides, I can take care of things. . .” his voice trailed off.
“Besides, Abby, your past isn’t exactly squeaky clean. I don’t take nicely to a woman being with a married man. But you told me about your ‘affair’ and I’ve accepted it because I care about you,” Johnny argued.
“And I care about you. But I just need more time. I’ve made one mistake already, and I don’t want to make another,” Abby advised.
“Fine. If that’s what you think we are, a mistake,” Johnny angrily replied.
“That’s not what I said,” Abby stated firmly.
Blue eyes met blue eyes in what seemed like an eternity. “See ya around, Abigail,” Johnny huffed as he turned around and left.
“Johnny. . .” Abigail whispered through tears.
As Johnny made his way back to the buckboard and Teresa, his blood boiled. How dare she, he thought. Johnny Madrid, and more recently, Johnny Lancer, had never been turned down by a woman. Not counting Maddie, he sadly thought. But the former gunfighter and the popular rancher that he now was always seemed to have a girl on his mind. Or in a bed, he slyly thought.
That Abigail Burton was playing hard to get angered and amused him a little. But the fact that the pretty girl was cautious about their ‘involvement’ did manage to bruise the ego of the much sought-after young man.
Johnny returned to the buckboard, hopped on it, and grabbed the reins. Teresa could tell things had not gone well between he and Abby.
“Did you talk to Abby?” she asked.
“Yeah, I talked to her,” Johnny softly said. “You ready to go?”
“Yes,” Teresa replied.
With a quick, hard tapping of the reins, the buckboard took off with a jerk and sped out of town a bit more quickly than Teresa liked. Once out of town, Johnny tightened his grip on the reins as the horses and the buckboard traveled faster.
“Would you mind slowing it down?” Teresa commanded. “I’d like to get back home in one piece.”
Johnny brought the horses to a halt. “Sorry, Teresa. I’m just a little angry right now. Why don’t you take the reins for awhile, if you don’t mind?”
Teresa took the reins, and the mode of speed in which they traveled was more appropriate.
“I take it things didn’t go well with Abby?”
“No, they didn’t. I just don’t get women, sometimes. . .” he chuckled as he glanced at his ‘sister.’
“Does that include me?” she coyly asked as she skillfully led the buckboard.
“Well, sometimes I don’t get you, but most of the time I do. ‘Sides, you’re my sister, you don’t count,” he jokingly said.
However, Johnny’s words made Teresa’s heart sink. Why can’t you see that I am a woman, too? A real woman, Johnny, she sighed.
There were a few minutes of quiet thoughts, then the young man and woman began pleasant conversation. They were halfway home, with Teresa still in control of the reins, when suddenly the buckboard jerked as it hit a bump, or something, on the road. Johnny got down and whistled.
Teresa reached over and looked down, and saw the wheel of the buckboard stuck in a rut in the road.
Johnny looked at her, a bit perturbed, as she innocently asked, “Oh, did I do that? Sorry,” she giggled.
Johnny breathed heavily, told her to get down, and he would see what he could do. “Sit down over there, don’t want you to get your pretty new dress dirty,” he said as he removed his jacket and placed it on a rock as she sat down.
The warm sun that had emerged after the morning rain had gone, and the sky was now turning dark with rain clouds, and a cool wind was picking up. “Best get this thing movin’ before the rain comes,” Johnny commented.
It took a few minutes, but with Teresa’s help in guiding the horses, the wheel found its way out of the rut and the two young people continued their journey home. At least they thought so.
The clouds broke loose suddenly, bringing an onslaught of rain and wind. Johnny, now in control of the horses, had a difficult time as the rain fell in their direction, making it impossible for him to see.
And the fact that Teresa was fussing about her new dress getting wet didn’t help his already foul disposition caused by Abby.
Both realized they wouldn’t make it home, so Johnny began his way to the line shack he knew was nearby. He had hollered to Teresa, through the wind and rain, where he was headed, and she agreed it was a good idea.
It seemed like an eternity, but the horses and buckboard struggled through the wind, rain, and mud, and the line shack was in sight. Johnny grabbed Teresa and ran with her to the shack, making sure she was safe inside. He then returned and took care of the horses as best he could.
When he himself came inside, he was drenched. “Whoooee!! I feel like a drowned rat. I don’t think I’ve ever been this wet before!” he exclaimed. Water dripped everywhere from him, and a very deep puddle began to form where he stood.
He dried his face and hair with his jacket, and got his first good look at Teresa. She was soaked through, shivering, and crying over her beautiful new dress. Johnny couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for her.
“Oh, honey. I’m sorry about your dress. Come here,” he said gently, as she came to him and he wrapped his strong arms around her. “Let’s get you dry.”
Johnny grabbed the blanket off of the cot and wrapped Teresa up in it. Then he reached underneath the cot and pulled out some clothes, his and Scott’s. “Here, put these on,” he said as he handed her his spare clothes. “They’ll fit you better than Scott’s. I’ll change into his.”
“Since when do you keep spare clothes in a line shack?” Teresa asked, a bit amazed.
“Since I have a brother named Scott who doesn’t like to be wet or dirty,” Johnny laughed. “The first time we came up here it rained, and neither of us had a change of clothes. From that point on, he made sure we had extra clothes just in case,” Johnny explained.
“So, does every line shack on Lancer have Scott and Johnny’s clothes lying underneath the cot?” Teresa teased.
“Just about, honey.” At that, Johnny asked her for the blanket. She handed it to him and he hung it from the boards in the ceiling of the line shack, making a curtain. “You can change behind there,” he informed. “I’ll get the fire started. I’ll change when you’re done.”
“Thanks, Johnny,” Teresa said, a little embarrassed.
Johnny winked at her. “No problem.”
An hour later, the wind and the rain continued. But inside the line shack was warm and cozy. The fire was strong, Johnny had made coffee, and Teresa found some canned goods that she heated up.
Johnny couldn’t help but chuckle at Teresa. She looked so cute. . .and young. A few hours before, she looked all grown up in her beautiful new dress, her hair styled attractively on her head. She’d been wearing it that way a lot, he thought, but he wasn’t sure he liked it.
Teresa tied her wet hair in a ponytail. She had on Johnny’s shirt that was way too big for her, and his pants, which were way too long.
The rope he found for her to tie around her waist added to his amusement. And it was obvious she had nothing on underneath, as her undergarments were discreetly drying by the fire next to her dress, along with his clothes. He could tell she was slightly embarrassed.
Of course, he didn’t look like a prize either. Scott’s clothes were too long for him in the arms and legs, and a bit loose around the waist.
“Boy, don’t we make a pretty pair?” he had teased her.
They laughed at their predicament, and Teresa said she hoped Scott and Murdoch weren’t worried about them. Johnny assured her that they wouldn’t be; they probably knew they headed to the shack for shelter.
“You seem to know where everything is in here,” Johnny commented.
“I ought to. I spent a lot of time with my father here when I was little. I always wanted to go ‘to work’ with him, and whenever he worked around here, I would play here. I always considered this my playhouse. See the lace curtains on that window? I put them there. None of the hands were allowed to touch those curtains,” she laughed.
“Besides, I spent the night here once. By myself,” she told Johnny, her brown eyes large and shining though the light of the lantern.
“Murdoch and your father let you stay here by yourself?” an amazed Johnny questioned.
“Not exactly. When I was about 11, I ran away from home. I was mad at the both of them. So I packed my little bag, had Maria fix me a lunch. . .”
“You ran away and had Maria fix your lunch?” Johnny asked incredulously.
“Oh, yeah. Then I told my father and Murdoch what I was doing and where I was going. They just laughed and said ‘Go ahead.’
Johnny listened intently as Teresa continued her story.
“Anyway, I got on my pony, Sunshine, and rode right here to this shack. That’s when I hung the curtains; I wanted privacy and I wanted to make it pretty,” she giggled. “I had no idea that my father and Murdoch camped outside, just down the path. I was never out of their sight for a minute.”
Johnny laughed over the story of Teresa’s wild childhood adventure. And he was slightly saddened at the thought that his childhood could have been that way too. If he had grown up at Lancer.
And he briefly wondered if he and Teresa would have gotten along as kids. . . . . .
Johnny and Teresa passed the time talking, laughing, and. . . .playing poker. Johnny remembered he and Scott had stashed away a deck of cards for them to use when they were at the shack. He was surprised that Teresa was good at cards; she reminded him she did grow up around a bunch of ranch hands and she did, believe it or not, learn to play poker quite well. Unbeknownst to her father and Murdoch, she added.
When it finally became too dark and the only light was from the constant lightening from the storm, Johnny and Teresa decided they would just go to sleep. Teresa had the cot, of course, and Johnny made himself as comfortable as he could on the floor. Teresa felt bad; she offered to sleep on the floor and give Johnny the cot, but he would not hear of it.
“Besides,” he told her, “I’m used to it. Seems whenever ol’ Boston and I are here, he gets the cot. We flip a coin for it, and I always end up losing. I think he’s got a two-headed coin or somethin,” he laughed.
After a few minutes, Johnny heard a quiet, “Good night, Johnny.”
“Good night, honey,” he softly responded.
And a few minutes later, the only sound inside the line shack was the soft breathing of Johnny Lancer and Teresa O’Brien as they peacefully slept.
PART TWO—THE STORM
Johnny awoke suddenly, and realizing he was not tired, got up and put more logs on the fire and re-lit the lantern. He checked on Teresa. She was shivering ever so slightly, so he gently brought the blanket up around her shoulders, and he smiled lightly at her.
He made his way to the coffee pot, poured himself a cup, and sat down at the table. The rain continued to fall. He looked up at the ceiling, hoping the roof didn’t have a leak in it. In the distance, he heard the rumble of thunder, and the occasional streaks of lightning lit the sky, quickly lighting up the interior of the small line shack. It was during one of these moments of light he grabbed his timepiece and looked at the time.
It’s only 11:30, he sighed. It was going to be a long night. . . .
As the storm continued, Johnny’s mind wandered back to the time he and Abby met.
He had been at Lancer only a few months, and was still trying to come to terms with the fact he had suddenly acquired a family. And a home. And a job. And all the responsibilities that go along with it.
He had run into her, literally, on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. She dropped her packages and bent down to pick them up; he bent down as well to help, and two pairs of blue eyes met. He tipped his hat and apologized; she smiled and accepted. They briefly introduced themselves, then went their separate ways.
He wasn’t interested in a relationship at that particular time, and she was dating the son of the town’s bank president. But in the months that followed, Johnny and Abby always seemed to come into contact with one another. And they would chat. And once, while waiting for the rain to stop so he could return home, Johnny went into the hotel for coffee and pie. Abby was there, having lunch, and she invited him to join her.
They dated on and off, but nothing serious. He would start seeing someone else, and so would she, but after a few weeks, they would rekindle their friendship.
Then came last September. And Maddie.
After she left, Johnny was despondent. He developed a fever from the wound, and Dr. Jenkins told them that Johnny’s recovery would depend on his will to live, which wasn’t strong at that time.
Johnny remembered his family rallied around him: Jelly was there, and Scott was at Johnny’s side, encouraging him and letting him know his family wanted him back. He remembered Teresa holding his hand and talking to him, and all he could think of was that he wished it was Maddie’s hand he was holding.
Then there was his father. Murdoch Lancer had become Johnny’s strength. It was the older man who was finally able to get through to his heartbroken son; and the tender moments they shared were not forgotten by either man. Johnny had asked Murdoch if maybe, he should write to Maddie. Murdoch told him it was his decision, but he advised against it.
“Sometimes, son, these things are better left as they are. There was a reason for the two of you. She saved your life, and for that I will always be grateful to her. But she got a chance for a better life, and she decided to take that chance.”
So Johnny put Maddie away in his heart, with all his other heartbreaks. What he didn’t count on, though, was Abby.
She had heard about what happened and came to the ranch to visit him. For the first time in a month, Johnny laughed and enjoyed himself. The two began to see each other. And only each other.
Murdoch had expressed concern to Johnny that he was seeing her on the “rebound,” but Johnny told her they were just friends, that he wasn’t ready for anything serious. But that was then.
Finally, last month, Johnny and Abby cemented their relationship, and it was then that he told her about his past. She had been honest about her past dalliances, and she knew he had been a hired gun, but stories of his past saddened her. And frightened her as well. She suggested they ‘take a break’ from one another; she needed time to consider if a life with an ex-gunfighter was what she really wanted.
That was the last they saw of each other. Until today. And although Abby hadn’t said they were through, they didn’t part on friendly terms. And right now, Johnny felt rejected.
His thoughts were broken by a loud roar of thunder and a bright lightning flash. It hit low. And close. Johnny jumped out of his seat at that one, cursing as his cold coffee spilled to the ground.
He was just about to go to the window when he heard Teresa call out.
“Daddy! Daddy!” she screamed, then began sobbing uncontrollably.
Johnny ran to her and realized she was having a nightmare. He shook her gently by the shoulders, calling her name. He shook her a little harder, then the brown eyes opened and looked at him blankly. After a few seconds, the recognition came, and she began to cry.
“Oh, Johnny. I dreamed about my father. I saw him getting shot. He was calling for me, to help him, and I wasn’t there for him. God, Johnny, I wasn’t there for him. . . .”
Johnny grabbed the frightened and sobbing girl in his strong arms and cradled her. “S-h-h-h, it will be all right. It’s all right. . . .”
He continued to hold and cradle her for several minutes, with the storm continuing its fury outside the tiny shack.
When she was able to speak, she looked up at Johnny with big, sorrowful eyes. “I didn’t even say good-bye to him. Do you know what his last words to me were?”
“No,” Johnny softly answered.
“ ‘Teresa, get back in the house!’ He and Murdoch were going after the stallion, and he yelled at me to get back in the house. I never saw him after that. . . .” and the young woman cried thinking of the tragic death of her father.
Teresa curled up against Johnny’s chest as he rocked and comforted her, speaking in the soft, lulling voice that could be described as hypnotic. She felt safe and warm in his arms. She could feel his breathing, feel his heart beat. She mindlessly brought her hand up to his chest, and through the open buttons of his shirt she could feel his warmth, the soft hairs of his chest, the chain to the medallion he wore. She brought her hand up around his neck, and felt the end of his soft, dark hair. And she felt a tingling inside her she never felt before; all she knew is that it felt good. And she wanted it to continue. . . .
As Johnny held Teresa tightly toward her, comforting her, he realized that her body was soft and warm in his arms. His face was caressing her soft, long hair, and he gently kissed the top of her head. The ribbon that she had tied her hair into hours earlier had given way, and his hand made its way through her hair, and he thought to himself that her hair smelled really good. But Teresa always smells good, he smiled to himself.
He felt her cuddle up close to him, and he felt her hand caress his chest, then the back of his neck. He gently took her head in his hands, and moved her hair away from her face. Through the dim light of the small fire, the lantern, and the streaks of lightning, her soft, doe-like eyes and his sapphire eyes, now soft and gentle, met. They stared at one another as if time stood still. Then carefully, slowly, their lips met, and touched.
Softly. Gently. Quietly.
Their lips parted, and again they looked at one another, as if seeking reassurance from each other to continue. Finally, their lips met again, this time, their tongues entwining, their embrace on each other becoming stronger.
He felt her lips find his shoulder, and felt her tongue, ever so lightly, make its way to his neck. He felt an ever so gentle bite on his neck, and he shivered at the feeling.
In turn, she felt his warm lips lightly cross her cheek, she felt the moistness of his tongue as it licked her ear, she felt his warm breath caressing her neck, and felt a gentle bite. She sighed loudly, and thought that was the best feeling she ever had.
Their playfulness continued for another half minute or so, when Johnny suddenly pulled away from her.
His breathing was heavy as he looked at her and told her, “We. . . .I. . . .can’t do this. It ain’t right. . .”
“Because. . . .you’re my sister. . . .”
“No.. . . .I’m not. . . . .”
There was a long pause, and through the rain hitting the roof, their breathing could be heard by one another.
Finally, Johnny countered Teresa’s reasoning.
“Well, you’re just. . . . .a kid. . .”
“No. . .I’m not,” she firmly but softly said. At that moment, she unbuttoned the shirt she was wearing, his shirt, and removed it.
In the dim light, Johnny saw before him Teresa, her long black hair against her pure white skin. The tears of innocence welling in those brown eyes he could never resist.
And her breasts. . . . .
At that moment, Johnny realized this was not the sweet girl that had greeted him and his brother that first day in Moro Coyo. And he also realized that she was not, and could never be, his sister.
This was Teresa O’Brien in front of him. A young, beautiful woman. And he wanted her.
And she wanted him.
They made their way toward one another; they embraced, and kissed. He felt her removing his shirt, then his pants. . . . .
And it was easy for him to slip off the oversized pants she wore, his pants. . . . .
Outside, the storm raged, but inside the cozy little line shack, Johnny and Teresa were oblivious to it, their only thoughts on one another. And the next several minutes were pure ecstasy for the two young people, who had known each other, and lived in the same house together, for over two years.
Finally, two very exhausted people fell asleep on the floor of the line shack, safe and warm in the embrace of each other. And they peacefully, and contently, went to sleep.
PART THREE—THE AFTERMATH
Johnny awoke with a start. For a minute, he didn’t remember where he was, but his eyes adjusted to the dim interior of the line shack and his mind registered that it was dawn. He felt a bit stiff, and realizing he had slept on the floor, went to move when he felt someone sleeping beside him. Very close beside him.
Teresa, he remembered.
He moved carefully, as he didn’t want to wake her, and when he was comfortable, his mind began to replay the events of the past 24 hours, and more exact, the events of last night.
The stormy night. . . . .
Dios, what have I done? I’ve slept with Teresa. . .my ‘sister,’ he fearfully remembered, and his mind began to think all sort of unpleasant thoughts.
He thought about Teresa. What will she think of me? She’ll hate me. I’ve taken her innocence from her. Dios, how can I face her? I guess I really am like my mother, she could never turn down a man. Seems I can’t turn down a woman, no matter who she is. . .
Tears began to well in his eyes when he thought of Murdoch. His Old Man. If he ever finds out what I’ve done, he’ll hang me for sure. He may of given me chances before, but this time I’m gone. History. He’ll only have one son now, the good one. I’ve taken the most precious thing in the world to him, to Scott, to me, and I’ve dirtied her. God, forgive me. . . .
Then his thoughts turned to Abigail. There’s no chance for us now. How can I face her, when I’ve been with another woman? Regardless, I had no right to do it with anybody, just because I was mad at her and feeling sorry for myself. I really love Abby, I could see myself spending my life with her. But I’m not good enough for her. For anybody really. . . .
He felt Teresa move and he looked down at the sleeping girl. She looked beautiful. And it was all Johnny could do but to jump up and run away. But he was too tired, and his head hurt. He closed his eyes and before he knew it, he fell into a fitful sleep.
The next time he awoke, he was on his stomach and he could feel the blanket over his naked body. . . . . .
He heard her before his eyes could open to see her. Teresa.
“Good morning, Sleepyhead,” she softly teased. “I’ve got some coffee for you. I managed to scrape enough together for a couple of cups.” His eyes opened, he turned on his side and lifted up on one elbow.
Teresa was kneeling beside him smiling, coffee cup in hand. She still had on the shirt, his shirt, and he noticed it wasn’t buttoned all the way up, like it had been yesterday. And while the day before Teresa was embarrassed at the thought of wearing his pants and shirt with nothing underneath, this morning she was quite comfortable with wearing just the shirt. He frowned a little at that.
He took the coffee and drank it. It was pretty bad, but it was hot and felt good on his throat. As he drank the coffee, Teresa swayed over to the now dead fire where her dress and his clothes had dried.
“Look, Johnny. My dress is dry and I don’t think it’s ruined. It has some dried mud on it, but I think Maria will be able to make it look as good as new.” She was quite glad as she had fretted about the condition of her beautiful new dress all evening.
“Ain’t even sure why you wore it to town,” an irritated statement by Johnny aimed more at himself than to Teresa.
“I told you, I just felt like wearing it,” she angrily replied, but her thought was Because I wanted to look pretty for you.
She grabbed Johnny’s dried undergarments. “I’d put these on before you get up,” she giggled, and playfully threw them at him.
“Teresa!” he exclaimed.
“I’ve seen your underwear before, you know. And Scott’s, and Murdoch’s. Although, yours is the most, how shall I say, revealing?” she teased.
Johnny considered Teresa. She wasn’t angry at him. Or embarrassed. Or frightened. She was absolutely. . .giddy. She glowed. It was if she was on Cloud Nine.
He knew the reaction. He had seen it before. Many times, after he had been with a woman. Even Abby had the same reaction, but their night together was different. It was special; they had shared their love for one another. And he had felt happy.
But this morning, he felt sick. And disgusted. And he didn’t like it. He didn’t like himself.
He managed, somehow, to put his undergarments on, remaining carefully under the blanket. He then asked Teresa to bring him his dried pants and shirt, which she did, and which he quickly put on. He completed his dressing by putting on his belt, boots, and gun belt.
He was now fully dressed and felt much more comfortable, as he had an issue that needed to be taken care of. And quickly.
He grabbed the blanket from the floor, and just as he did the afternoon before, hung it over the boards of the ceiling of the line shack, making a curtain. He grabbed Teresa’s dress, which she had carefully placed over a chair, and angrily threw it at her.
“Teresa, put your damn clothes on. It’s not right you’re paradin’ around here like we’re married or something!” he scolded at the girl.
She retorted. “You didn’t mind it yesterday when all I had on was your clothes.”
“Yeah, but that was different. Our clothes were wet, and you had your legs covered, and the rest of you. You might as well take it all off, girl, ain’t much coverin’ you now,” he angrily shot back.
“You sure didn’t mind it last night,” she angrily said, then grabbed her clothes and marched behind the curtain to dress. Johnny stalked outside, stating he needed to check the horses, which he did. But his real reason was to try to calm his anger at Teresa, and to calm the disgust he felt at himself for letting last night happen.
Johnny returned to the shack about 20 minutes later. Teresa sat in a chair at the table. She was crying. But this was one time the ‘crocodile’ tears would not tug at Johnny’s heart as they so often did.
He sat down beside her and studied her. She looked so young. Her hair was long, and straight. You look so much better with your hair that way, rather than stuck on top of your head, he sighed to himself.
He gently patted her trembling hands. “Teresa, we need to talk,” he softly informed her.
When there was no response from her, Johnny took a deep breath and tried, the best he could, to explain the events of last night.
“Teresa, I’m sorry about last night. It shouldn’t of happened, but for whatever reasons, it did. I’m sorry if I hurt you. I just don’t want you to hate me. I never meant to. . .disgrace. .or embarrass you in any way.” He paused, sighing heavily, holding back the tears he felt growing. “You are very special to me, and I hate what I’ve done. I’ve taken away the most important thing in the world to a woman, something that should be saved for that special night. .her wedding night.”
He looked at her; she was frozen. The only movement from her were the tears rolling down her beautiful, pale face, and the sniffling of her red nose.
“I don’t know what else to say. Except. . .I’m sorry.” His voice was soft and gentle. And sad. Almost pleading.
There was no response for a long time from Teresa. Finally, she softly spoke.
“So, what are you saying? That what happened. .that last night. . .meant nothing to you?”
Johnny looked at her, surprise on his face.
“I want to be more than just another notch in your gun belt,” she angrily said.
“Teresa. . . .”
“No, Johnny. I don’t know what your problem is, but last night meant something to me. If you remember, I’m the one that. . .well, I didn’t exactly turn you away. I swear, sometimes men are just the dumbest things to walk the earth. . .”
“Teresa, you aren’t making sense. . . .”
“Johnny! Don’t you know? Haven’t you figured it out? I. . . .I love you!”
There was a long pause as Johnny stared at her in total shock.
Teresa took a deep breath as she began to explain her feelings to Johnny.
“You. . .all of you. . .Scott and Murdoch included. You all must think I’m 10 years old. How I could live with the two best-looking, most sought after men in the valley, and not have some kind of feelings, well, you must think I’m dead or something,” her voice was shrill and animated.
“What. .do you love Scott, too?” Johnny asked, totally confused.
“Yes, but as my brother. He’s. .he’s so different from you. You’re one of a kind, Johnny. You have a way about you, and I think you know it. All you have to do is stand there, and women want you. Well, I’m a woman, and I’m no different.”
“But, I’m your brother. . .”
Teresa rolled her eyes, exasperated. “No. No, you’re not. I’m no more your sister than Abby is. Just because Murdoch Lancer decided two years ago, when you and Scott came home, that we could live in the same house and exist as brothers and sister doesn’t make it so. I guess he never thought that some day I’d grow up, and that I could be attracted to one of his sons. To. . . .you.”
Johnny squirmed in his seat. “But I’ve never done anything to. . .lead you on, have I?”
Teresa sighed. He just didn’t understand, so she decided to spell it out for him. To make him see what it was like for her to live with Johnny Madrid Lancer.
“No, but like I said, you’re one of a kind. Johnny, I’ve lived with you for two years, and I’ve seen you at your best. And worst. I’ve seen the cold and heartless Johnny Madrid. And the warm and loving Johnny Lancer. I’ve seen your temper, and your humor. I’ve seen you as you’ve washed up at the pump, your tanned chest and strong arms. . . .” She paused as she composed herself.
Holding back tears, she continued. “I’ve seen you doze on the couch, so innocent looking. I’ve sat with you when you were sick and injured, talking you through fevers, praying you wouldn’t leave us. And I’ve seen you. . . .blind, Johnny. You were so scared and vulnerable. And it was me who sat with you, holding your hand, while you cried for Maddie. But she wasn’t around, Johnny. She took off, selfishly I’ve always thought. But I was there for you. How I could not fall in love with you, with all I’ve been through with you, well, it was just bound to happen. . .”
Johnny sat in silence, her words cutting through him like a knife. He realized everything she said was true. How could he, how could anyone, not see what was happening? Teresa was right. The Lancer men had to be the most naive people in the world. Having a beautiful young girl, no woman, living in the same house with two young, attractive men that she wasn’t related to. Something was bound to happen.
But Scott should have been the one. He’s so much better than I am, Johnny thought.
His reverie was broken when he heard her say, “I’m not sorry for last night, Johnny. I wanted it. And I think, you did too. . . .”
She got up and walked outside, sobbing softly, leaving Johnny alone to ponder her words.
PART FOUR—MAKING IT RIGHT
Johnny and Teresa made it back to the ranch, though they didn’t know how. They were both in such a state of shock and confusion they were oblivious to their journey home.
The next few days were difficult for both of them. Johnny would rise and leave early, before breakfast, to some remote area of the ranch, and take his frustrations out on fence posts. When he returned home in the evening, he would make sure he cleaned up at the pump farthest from the house, so Teresa would not see him as he removed his shirt to clean up.
He felt the need to confide in his brother, or his father, but he was just too damn afraid. Afraid they would hate him for what he did. If only he would give them the benefit of the doubt. . . . .
Teresa busied herself in her garden, and she finally rearranged her room, a project she had been putting off for months. But it kept her mind busy; made her forget about how embarrassed she felt proclaiming her love to a man she had considered her ‘brother’ for two years.
Then one afternoon when Maria had finished the laundry, she asked Teresa to fold it for her. Teresa was fine until she came to one of Johnny’s shirts. She brought it to her face and cried in it. She wondered if he would miss it; it had been his oldest shirt and she considered keeping it in her secret box of treasures.
But she changed her mind and returned it to the pile of clothes.. . . . .
That night, Johnny laid on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Five nights. It had been five nights since “it” happened. He tried not to think about it, but tonight the memory invaded his consciousness. And he realized that he had enjoyed it. Had enjoyed her. . .
He began to look at things differently. Teresa loved him. She admitted that. And the words she had told him that day stuck to him like glue. No other woman had known Johnny as well as Teresa; she had seen him at his best. And worst. She was always there for him, even in the early days, when she would stand up for him against Murdoch. No one ever stuck up for Johnny Madrid Lancer. Ever.
Except for the tiny, black-haired girl with the spirit of a wild stallion. . .
Teresa was everything a man could want in a woman, and any man would consider himself lucky to be the object of her affections. He realized he was flattered at that; and even honored that she would consider him, when Scott was the logical choice.
He began to consider that maybe, a relationship between them could work. After all, he did love her, as a sister, and he thought maybe that love could revolve into one more meaningful, and a commitment could result.
After all, he owed her that. . . .
He then thought about Abby. Beautiful blonde, blue-eyed Abby. Oh well, he had been heartbroken before, and so had she. They would get over each other. He decided Abby wasn’t right for him anyway. Too independent, too stubborn, he thought. And he wasn’t sure where they stood, but if their last meeting was any indication, their relationship was over.
He had made his decision, and it felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Johnny decided that tomorrow, after dinner, they would talk.
And he knew that’s what he had to do. To make things right. With Teresa. . . .
The next morning, Teresa made her weekly trip to town. This time, though, it was Jelly who took her. She remembered that it had been six days since she and Johnny had made the normally uneventful trip.
As they traveled the familiar road, Teresa glanced to her right, knowing the line shack was just down the path. She always considered the place to be special for her; she just never imagined how special it would become.
They arrived in town and Teresa visited with some of her friends. They were discussing the Spring Festival that was taking place the next day, but Teresa informed them she wouldn’t be going. “Too much going on at the ranch right now,” she explained.
She completed her shopping and was headed back to the buckboard when she heard her name being called. It was Abby calling from the dress shop. She was motioning Teresa towards her, so she made her way over to the pretty, blonde-haired woman.
Abby invited Teresa in. “I thought you were out of town,” Teresa greeted.
“I was, but I came back early. Teresa, I need to talk to you. Do you mind?” Abby asked.
“Of course not, Abby.” Teresa’s interest was piqued, especially when Abby placed the ‘Out to Lunch’ sign on the door and locked it.
“I don’t want to be disturbed,” she explained.
She directed Teresa back to Mrs. Dawson’s little office, and asked her to sit down. Abby sat at the desk and asked Teresa if she wanted tea or anything. Teresa declined.
“Oh, Teresa, I’m afraid I’ve really messed things up with Johnny. I’ve been so upset at how we left things last week. Is he all right?”
Teresa nodded and stated he was fine.
Tears began to well in Abby’s eyes as she professed her love for Johnny to his ‘sister.’ “Teresa, I feel like I can talk to you. Johnny speaks so highly of you, you’re so lucky to be his sister. You’ll have him forever, no matter what.”
The words she spoke perked up Teresa’s interest in the conversation.
“It’s just that, I love him Teresa. So very much. But I’m just so afraid that someone from his past will. . .take him away from me. And I couldn’t bear losing him. He’s so sweet to me, and so good. And he deserves the best life has to offer. When he told me about his past, about how he witnessed the death of his mother, it broke my heart. But it scared me, too. He’s just too good for the life he was dealt. . .” Abby sobbed as she wiped her eyes and nose with her pretty, lace handkerchief.
Teresa considered Abby, what she said and how she said it. The girl was obviously in love with him. And the fact that Johnny had told Abby about witnessing the death of his mother made Teresa realize there was a trust between Johnny and Abby as he shared his darkest moments with the woman he loved. Moments he shared with no one else. . .
Not even Teresa. . .
She thought about how Johnny’s face lit up at the mention of her name, and how close they seemed the one time he had invited her to dinner at the ranch.
And although it hurt her deeply, Teresa began to realize that Abby truly loved Johnny. And that he, in turn, truly loved Abby.
There was a silence in the small office as Teresa considered what she should say to Abby. Obviously, Abby felt she could confide in her, and before she knew it, Teresa’s words poured from her mouth.
“Abby, Johnny’s past is something that you need to learn to live with. We have. It’s something that’s always there, but much less as time goes on. If you love him as much as you say, you’ll accept it, and in turn, you’ll be accepting him. And I’ll tell you, with Johnny, the good definitely overshadows the bad.”
There. Teresa did it. She had released her love for Johnny and gave it to the woman who really and truly wanted it. And in doing so, Teresa opened up her feelings for her brother. The brother she knew would always be with her. Through good and bad.
“If you want, Abby, I’ll let Johnny know you’re back, and let him know you’d like to see him,” Teresa offered.
“Thank you, Teresa. You know, someday I hope that you and I can be ‘sisters.’ I’ve always wanted one,” Abby softly said. Teresa just nodded.
The two young women embraced, with Abby giving a heartfelt thank you to Teresa for listening. As she walked to the buckboard, a lump was in Teresa’s throat as she realized she had to talk to Johnny. She decided that tonight, after dinner, they would talk.
And she knew that’s what she had to do. To make things right. With Johnny.
PART FIVE—THE TALK
They agreed to meet “at Barranca’s house,” as Johnny called the barn, trying to make light of the situation. It amazed them both how uncomfortable they felt around each other. He for knowing how she felt; she for knowing how he didn’t feel.
When she entered the barn, Johnny was brushing the golden horse.
“Rub any harder and that horse won’t have any hair left,” Teresa teased.
Johnny looked at her and smiled, then motioned for her to sit down on a hay bale. She shivered slightly.
“Cold?” he asked, taking off his jacket and placing it over her shoulders.
“No. Just. .a little nervous, I guess,” Teresa softly said.
An uncomfortable silence fell between them when finally Johnny spoke. “I’ve always been one to let the lady speak first, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to say what’s on my mind now,” his words were soft and serious.
Teresa smiled softly, then nodded for Johnny to go ahead.
“Teresa, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since. . ‘that night.’ I still don’t think it was the proper thing for me to do. But I also know that I did feel something for you.”
She looked at him, surprise in her big, brown eyes.
“Anyway, what I’m tryin’ to say is, you are a really beautiful woman, one that any man would be honored to have as his. And I would be honored if you would, well, consider letting me court you. . . .”
Teresa’s eyes opened wide at Johnny’s ‘proposal.’
Johnny shyly continued. “It would be a proper courtship. And if I had to, I’d move in with the hands or into a line shack until the time of our. .marriage. I figure a year of courting would be good, you’d be 19, then a six-month engagement. That would be December of next year, you’d be close to 20, anyway. I always thought a Christmas wedding would be nice. Murdoch told me that’s when he and my mother were married. He said it was beautiful, with all the Christmas stuff and everything. But that would be totally up to you.”
Teresa was truly touched by Johnny’s plans. A Christmas wedding would be nice, she thought.
“Course, the final decision would be Murdoch’s. He’s responsible for you until you’re 21, but I think once he realized this is what we both want, he’d be all right with it.”
After a silence, Johnny slowly added, “But it’s up to you. I’d be a good husband, Teresa, and a good father. And if anything happened to me, my 1/3 would be yours.” He laughed a little, “Besides, you’d be a ‘real’ Lancer then.”
She smiled slightly.
“You don’t have to let me know now, but do think about it. I’d be honored to have you as my wife, if you feel I’m worthy of you.”
Johnny bowed his head, as he so often did when he felt so little about himself.
Tears welled in Teresa’s eyes as she listened to Johnny’s proposal. And she realized the sacrifice he was making. For her.
There was silence, and Teresa felt yet another lump in her throat. She reached up and gently rubbed Johnny’s cheek. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. And I would be honored to have you as mine.”
Johnny’s eyes met hers, and Teresa couldn’t quite read his expression as she gently, and quietly, continued.
“But, I’m afraid I can’t. Because you’re my. . . brother. And because I know that deep down, your heart belongs to another.”
He looked at her, this time a look of confusion on his handsome face.
“Johnny, I’m not sorry about the other night. And I can’t help the way I feel. But I also know that when two people talk of marriage, that feeling has to be the same for both people. And I know you don’t share the same feelings I have for you. I know you’d be a great husband, and a great father, but I think that somewhere down the line, you would resent me. Because you weren’t with the person you really wanted to be with. The person that I talked to today in town.”
Teresa was crying, and Johnny took her in his arms. Then he realized what she had said, and his eyes grew wide as he exclaimed “Abby! You saw Abby today?”
Teresa sniffed. “Yes, she came back early. She feels badly about your argument, and she wants to talk to you. Johnny, she loves you so much. She’s just afraid of losing you to. .your past. But I told her if she really wanted you, she’d have to accept it, like we all have. And I also told her that the good in loving you overshadows the bad.”
Johnny’s face brightened. “You told her that?”
“Yes, and I meant every word. She’s a good girl, Johnny. I think the two of you are right for one another. Please go talk to her, and make things right. With her. You deserve to be happy; you owe it to yourself.”
Teresa continued to cry, and Johnny realized the sacrifice she was making. For him.
“I will. I’ll go see her first thing in the morning. Maybe take her some flowers, what do you think?”
“I think she’d like that,” Teresa answered.
Johnny considered what he was about to ask next. “But what about us? Can you stand to still live with me, knowing how I feel. . .about someone else?”
“I’m not saying it will be easy, Johnny. In fact, it will be very hard. . .” Tears welled in her eyes and Johnny brought her gently to him.
“What I said before. . .about moving in with the hands or going to a line shack, for awhile. If it will make it easier for you. . . . .” Johnny’s quiet offer was silenced by Teresa.
“No Johnny. Lancer is your home. More yours than mine, if you think about it.” After a pause, she continued. “Besides, I’ve been thinking about something for a while. I’ve even talked to Scott about it. I think I would really like to go to New York in the fall, with Victoria and Audra Barkley. The thing is, getting Murdoch to agree.”
Johnny breathed heavily. “Yeah, that’ll be a tall order. What does Scott say?”
“He said he’d talk to Murdoch. He thinks it’s a good idea.”
“Well, if you want me to, not that Murdoch cares much about what I think, but, well, I could talk to him, too,” Johnny offered.
“I’d like that. . . .”
“Besides, I think that would be a good experience for you. Let you see there is a world out there besides Lancer.”
“Thank you, Johnny. And. . Murdoch does value your opinion. . .” she smiled.
“I know,” Johnny quietly answered.
They sat on the bale of hay, alone with their thoughts, when Barranca’s gentle nicker brought them back to the world.
“We’ll always have that ‘one stormy night’ between us,” Johnny softly said. “Can you handle that?”
Teresa smiled. “Yes.” She sighed heavily, not really believing her own answer. But she wanted Johnny to know just how special that night was for her—how special he was.
“It was a wonderful night, Johnny. A night that was filled with love, and respect, and gentleness for both of us. What you gave me that night. . .well, it was beautiful. And I’ll never, ever forget it. But I know that I have to move on. . .”
The tears flowed freely from her eyes, and she and Johnny embraced. “I’ll tell you what. .Abigail Burton is one lucky lady,” Teresa choked through tears.
“And the man that gets you will be one lucky man,” Johnny offered back. “Sorry I don’t have a handkerchief. That’s Scott’s department,” Johnny gently teased.
They sat and held each other, comforting each other, for this situation was hard for both of them. After a few minutes, Johnny softly said, “I love you, sister.”
“I love you too, brother,” Teresa choked her reply. “I’ll always be there for you.”
Johnny smiled. “And I for you.”
They exchanged a hug, and Johnny kissed Teresa’s forehead, like he had always done.
“Reckon we better get back before they send the cavalry after us,” Johnny tried to tease.
They took a few more minutes to compose themselves, and decided then that the ‘one stormy night’ would forever remain between the two of them. And only the two of them.
“Are you all right? Are you ready to go back?” Johnny asked.
“Yes,” was Teresa’s quiet, one-word answer.
As they made their way back to the hacienda, Johnny asked, “I saw you baking a cake earlier. Is it for me?”
“Maybe,” Teresa tried to tease. “Can Abby cook?”
“Yeah,” Johnny grinned. “But not as good as you. Would you mind giving her some lessons?. . . . .” and they continued their way to the hacienda. Where they lived as a family. . .
They knew the next several months would not be easy, but Johnny Lancer and Teresa O’Brien knew just how lucky they were. They had talked, and would continue to talk, and would come to an understanding about their special relationship: One of friendship. Respect. And Love.
For they both knew that was the way it had to be. And they knew they would always be there for one another. Through good and bad. . . . .
Because, after all, they were. . . .
Brother. And Sister.
Hope you enjoyed this “very special” Love Story. . . . . . . .