by  Paula R.

Disclaimer: I don't own them, just use them for fun. IMHO they belong to the fans and those who write and read the fan-fiction, thus keeping the characters alive. That said, if I could, I would keep Johnny, but then I'd have to fight so many to keep him…of course, it would be worth it!

Note: I've spent time listening to reports about Hurricane Irene and praying for those affected by her; hearing reports about a storm named Katiana (sp) and praying that it would turn away from the US coast; and two days listening to winds and rain from Tropical Storm Lee as it lollygagged along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Those storms inspired this story. I'm still praying for the victims of Irene and still hoping for the best for the rest of the hurricane season.

Note: This story is unbetaed and any and all errors are my own. Also, it's not a good excuse, but I had a couple of Mudslides while writing this story, so maybe not all those errors are mine – they may be belong to the Kahlulah <bg>.  Feedback is welcome. Constructive criticism is also welcome as it will help me to improve. Hope you enjoy.

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The winds were fierce, pounding the house with a vengeance. Rain came in torrents, so hard at times that it seemed a curtain was coming down blocking the view of the world beyond. The storm had been preceded by a few days of lighter rain showers and short gusts of wind. The only good thing about the storm was that the temperature was lower. He was tired of the rain, the mud puddles, and the wind blowing everything that wasn't heavy, tied down, or weighed down.

He'd gone to his room early, using his getting soaked earlier in the day as an excuse. Of course, the moment he'd mentioned it, Teresa had to make a fuss.

"I'm okay, Teresa. Just want to get in a soft, warm bed and rest. We'll probably have cattle scattered and fences down that will need tending tomorrow and since Scott sprained his ankle, I'll need the extra rest so I can keep up with things."

"Sorry, Johnny, I'll make it up to you when my ankle is better."

"Oh, I'll see to it that you will, brother," Johnny teased.

He lay in the bed listening to the storm for a long time. Sleep eluded him, but not memories.

----- ----- ----- -----

He remembered a storm of greater intensity; one that had come when he and his mother had lived in a village near the coast. Maria had worked in a cantina in the small village and he helped in the stables. Antonio Ruiz owned the cantina where Maria worked as well as the small house Maria and Johnny lived in. He wasn't like the other men for whom Maria had worked. Antonio treated Maria with respect, was kind to her and Johnny, and did not expect more from her than for her to do her job at the cantina. Maria paid very little in rent as long as Antonio stabled his horse there and Johnny saw to its care. Antonio asked only one other thing, that Johnny call him Abuelo.

Antonio's son and daughter-in-law had lived in the house where Maria and Johnny now lived. Antonio's son, daughter-in-law, and unborn grandchild were killed when a hurricane had struck the village. The house, made of adobe, had withstood the strong winds, but the door of the small stable behind it had been blown open and the horses inside were frightened. The young man had gone out in the storm to try and secure the door and calm the horses. When the eye of the storm was passing, the young woman went out to see where her husband was. She'd found him near the stable, he was returning to the house during the calm. They did not immediately return to the shelter of the house and were outside when the hurricane winds and torrential rains started again. A large tree fell just missing the house, but the couple had been crushed under it. Antonio's son had lived only long enough to tell his father what had happened; the girl had died instantly.

Had the couple not died; had the baby been born, the child would be the same age as Johnny was now. It was this reason Antonio gave for asking Johnny to call him grandfather. Maria had only told Antonio that it was up to Johnny to decide if he would call him Abuelo, but she would explain everything to her son so he would understand why this was asked of him.

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There had been something in the air, the animals sensed it and were reacting to it. The clouds were heavy and dense and the wind from the coast was growing stronger. The past two days had seen an increase in rainstorms. Each shower had increased in duration and intensity, but it was different today. Today even the calm, gentle pony that Antonio stabled at Maria's was acting nervous.

After supper, Johnny went to the stable to check on the horse one last time and to ensure things were secured. He had not long been in the house when the storm began its assault on the village. Maria remembered the story of Antonio's son's death and made Johnny promise not to leave the house until she told him it was safe.

"Mama, I thought Abuelo was coming to stay with us during the storm."

"He should have been here by now; perhaps he is on his way."

As the storm continued, Maria became worried for the older man, but tried not to let her worry show. She told Johnny that Antonio had probably decided he was safe enough at the cantina to stay there.

It seemed to Johnny that the wind and rain would never stop. Finally the lull in the storm that indicated the eye was passing came. Johnny wanted to go out and check on the horse.

"Maybe Abuelo is in the stable. Maybe he got that far when the storm got bad and is waiting there…."

The story of Antonio's family in mind, Maria reminded Johnny of his promise to remain in the house until she told him it was safe.

"Juanito, you cannot go outside yet. The horse is fine, only frightened by the noise of the storm and Antonio would be very upset if he knew you went out there. Do you not remember the story I told you about his family?"

"Si, Mama, I remember. Maybe I could just…."

"No, you cannot and please do not ask again."

When the hurricane and its rain bands had finally moved beyond the village, it was nearly daylight. Maria decided they would go to check on the older man before checking for damages around their house.

"Come, we will go check on Antonio."

Johnny wanted to run ahead, get to Abuelo's cantina and see for himself that all was well, but Mama made him stay by her side. It was not far to walk, but they had to go around large mud puddles and debris from the storm and it seemed to Johnny that his mother was walking far too slow.

There seemed to be little damage to the houses near the village and only two or three buildings on the street that ran through the village were badly damaged. The cantina was at the end of that street. From where Maria and Johnny stood, the front of the cantina looked fine. When they got closer the damage was more evident. A tree that had stood behind the cantina had fallen knocking down part of the roof and a wall in the back of the cantina. The windows had been shuttered, but a couple of barrels that had not been taken in before the storm had been slammed into the front door and it hung slightly crooked on its hinges.

Maria called out to Antonio. A muffled groan was heard on the other side of the damaged door.

"Juanito, go tell Pablo we need his help."

The boy ran as quickly as possible to the home of the blacksmith behind the livery. He pounded on the man's door and called out to him. "Pablo, ahora, por favor. Abuelo needs some help."

Pablo and his oldest son came to the door. "What is the matter, chico? What is going on?"

Johnny quickly told them what he and Maria had seen at the cantina and how the only answer to Maria's call was a muffled groan.

Pablo sent Johnny to enlist the aid of two others in the village while he and his son went to the stable to get some items they thought would be useful.

The blacksmith, his son, and the other two men Johnny had been sent to recruit, surveyed the damage to the cantina and planned how they would move the tree and debris to get the older man out. Johnny stood by Maria listening to the plans and wanting to help. Once the work to rescue Antonio had begun, Maria sent Johnny to find the old woman, Rosa. She knew about herbs and medicinal plants and was often called on when someone was ill or injured.

It was slow work to move the tree and clear some of the debris to get to Antonio. He was pinned under beams from the roof. The tree's additional weight had made it impossible for Antonio to free himself, but now that the tree and other debris were being removed, he was making an effort to do so.

Rosa had been helping other victims of the storm when Johnny found her. There weren't many who suffered extensive damage to their property, but injuries were numerous – some were only minor, but there were some whose injuries were more serious in nature. Property damage seemed worse in the outlying areas because the wind met less resistance in the less populated area and houses and lean-to structures bore the brunt of the wind's fury.

Johnny had told Rosa that Antonio was trapped in the cantina and that Pablo and others were working to get him out, but she may be needed. "Tell them I will be there soon, Nino. I need to check on a couple of more people, then, I will go see how he is."

By the time Rosa had arrived, Antonio was freed from the ruins of the cantina. She checked him over although he protested that he was fine.

"Fine? You have a sprained ankle, count your blessings it was not broken, and you had a very bad bump on your head. Oh, si, you are fine! You must stay off that leg for a couple of days so it can heal and you should rest until the bump on your old hard head is gone."

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It was nearly a week before Antonio was able to walk on his ankle, but he did not seem interested in rebuilding the cantina. Whenever Maria said anything about it, he would say that he was thinking about what he would do.

Antonio decided that he did not wish to stay in the village any longer, but he dreaded telling Johnny. The boy had won the old man's heart and he knew that the child was happy here. He was accepted here as there were those whose ancestors were Spanish and had blue eyes, so the prejudice that the boy had faced in other areas was not evident here. Antonio wished that would be so everywhere the child would go, but that was not the way of the world.

The day finally came when Antonio could no longer put off telling Maria and Johnny of his decision. He was walking better and the bouts of lightheadedness were gone. He only wished the ache in his heart would also lessen, but the closer it came time to divulge his plans, the worse that ache became.

He was going to Matamoros. He had a brother and a cousin living there and they had asked him to come there after his son and his family had died. Antonio had the cantina to run then and had wanted to stay in the village. Now the cantina was gone, his son and his family were gone, and Antonio felt too old to start rebuilding the cantina and his life. Maria and Johnny could stay in the house for another month; it was the agreement Antonio and Pablo had made when the house was sold to Pablo's son, Jose. The young man and his fiancé would be married in six weeks and they would need the house then. Antonio thanked Johnny for the wonderful care he'd given to the horse, Amigo.

"When we get to Matmoros, my cousin will give Amigo a good pasture to run in and a couple of mares to keep him company. Some day, when you are older, you come see me and I will talk my cousin into giving you one of Amigo's colts, eh?"

Johnny was devastated. Antonio was the only Abuelo he'd known, the first man Johnny could remember treating him as though he mattered and the first Johnny could remember to care if the boy had food to eat and a safe, warm place to sleep. Johnny wondered if his mother would be the only one who cared about him enough to stay in his life. Putting on a brave face, he wrapped his arms around the old man in as fierce a hug as he'd ever given anyone.

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Johnny remembered that day as clearly as though it was only yesterday. Antonio left the village the next morning. Two years later, Maria was dead and Johnny had killed the man who murdered her. Johnny had gone to Matamoros three years before the revolution that put Johnny Madrid in front of a firing squad and the subsequent events that changed his life. Antonio had died less than a year after moving there. He'd gotten sick and pneumonia had set in, he just did not fight the illness, succumbing to it shortly thereafter.

Johnny thought about the horse, Amigo. Perhaps he would contact Antonio's cousin and ask if Amigo had sired any colts.

Paula Richard






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