“Okay now does everyone remember what to do?” Three nods confirmed that they were ready for the first wave of attack. “Good I’m heading out. Jelly, I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
“Sure thing Scott. We’ll make him see how wrong headed he is. You just bet we will.” Jelly boasted with his hands holding each side of his vest and his chest sticking out like a proud rooster.
Teresa looked over at her guardian as Scott was leaving and smiled. She was so glad that everyone was able to make Murdoch see the merit of this plan. But she also had a sneaky suspicion that he was more than willing to try anything to get his youngest to finally understand that he wasn’t on his own anymore. He had a family that would stick by him no matter what. Even when his past comes back to haunt him and try to take away what he truly deserves.
Everyone looked at each other and then headed out to their individual chores. Each of them hoping that doing something this drastic would be the eye opener that Johnny needed to realize how important he was to the whole family. They knew that if this didn’t work than maybe next time they wouldn’t be so lucky and would loose Johnny for good.
“I know that you don’t understand, Barranca, that this is the right thing to do. I just wish that it didn’t hurt so bad. They’re tired of always having to deal with my past. I know they are, especially, this time. No one even tried to argue with me when I told them I was leaving. They know that it’s the right thing too. So, why is it hurting so bad? “
‘Johnny you’ve let them get under your skin. You knew better than to do that. Johnny Madrid doesn’t deserve to have decent people like them caring for him. It is too dangerous for them and me. It takes away from my concentration, my edge. Someone could have been hurt. I’m glad that it was only me.‘
“Well Barranca, I guess it’s just you and me from now on. You’ve had it too easy boy. I guess you’ll have to toughen up some. But don’t worry I’ll take care of ya and I know that you’ll be there for me when I need ya.”
“I can’t go back to my old line of work, but would anyone want to hire me knowin’ who I am and what I did? I’ve learned a lot about ranchin’ from my old man but why would a rancher want to hire me on and chance all the trouble that could follow. I guess that we’ll just have to keep heading north and hope that if we go far enough they won’t know about Johnny Madrid. What do you say boy? Does that sound good to ya?”
“I guess that I should be glad that my family realized that I wasn’t worth following anymore. Now I’ll be able to take my time and decide what I’m going to do and where we should go.”
“I’m going to miss them boy. Especially Scott. He was kind of bossy. Practicin’ being a big brother and all. I would never tell him but I’m going to miss that. My old man and me, we butted heads a lot but he was just trying to keep me on the straight and narrow, ya know?”
“Maybe after we find some place and get settled I could write them and let them know that I really did ‘preciate everything that they were trying to do. I guess it was never meant for me to have a family. Like that old woman used to tell me when I was a kid, I was born under a bad sign. I will only hurt people so it’s best that I keep myself away from everyone. No use getting close to someone just to hurt ‘em.”
“There’s a good spot Barranca. Why don’t we call it a day and camp out here. No use in hurrying when you don’t have any place to go anyways.”
Johnny already had the camp set up. A good fire was going and the beans and coffee was just about done. He was just leaning back against his upturned saddle when he heard a horse approaching. He got up and looked. He couldn’t believe his eyes. It was Scott. He was just taking his time like he was out on a Sunday stroll.
“Oh good, I see that you have coffee going. I brought some biscuits and I also snuck one of Teresa’s freshly baked pies. I thought we could enjoy it for the last time.” Scott took a deep breath savoring the smells of the cooking coffee and beans.
Johnny walked up to Scott asking, “What do you mean last time and why are you here? I thought that you agreed with me last night that this was for the best.”
“Oh I do brother. I do.”
Frustration evident on Johnny’s face he snapped, “Then why are you here?”
As Scott started to climb down off his horse he smiled at Johnny and casually replied, “Johnny is this any way to start our new partnership?”
Now Johnny was really confused and his temper was starting to get the better of him. “Scott I have no idea what you are talkin’ about. And I haven’t started no new partnership with anyone. I’m leaving Lancer remember or has the sun baked that Harvard brain of yours.”
Scott looked down at his hands as he was meticulously taking off his gloves trying to hide the smile on his face. “Brother don’t you remember when we both promised each other that we would watch each other’s back? Well I can’t do that at Lancer if your not there so I’m going with you.”
“Are you out of your mind Boston? You’re needed back at Lancer. Murdoch and Teresa need you to watch out for them and take care of them. I can’t do it so now it is up to you.” And then Johnny tilted his head and looked over at Scott with a smirk on his face, “And beside I don’t think that you will last a month out here.”
“Why brother you’re going to make me feel left out if you keep talking like that.” Scott tried to look serious as he ground tied his horse.
“Scott I’m serious you have a place, a home, and people that need you. Go back home Boston were you belong.”
Scott turned toward Johnny with his hands on his hips and stated, “I also have a brother that needs me, even if he doesn’t know it. So how is dinner coming? I’m starved.”
“You’re not staying and you’re not eating here. So get back up on that horse of yours and go back home.” Scott sauntered over to the campfire and dished up some beans.
“Too late. I’m staying. Hey these beans aren’t half bad but I have a few ideas that might help keep our meals from becoming so boring. Are you going to join me? Eat up we have pie you know.”
Johnny stood there glaring at Scott for a few minutes. It wasn’t doing any good though because Scott just kept ignoring him eating. He then angrily kicked a stone, grabbed a plate and started eating. Nothing was said. Johnny was too busy trying to figure out how Scott had lost his mind all of a sudden. He was definitely going to have to convince Scott that this is a bad idea and send him back home where he belongs.
“Now who’s comin’. Jelly! Is that Jelly? See Scott the old man has sent Jelly out to get ya. “
“Why would he do that?” Scott had on his most innocent look.
Johnny got up and walked over to where Jelly was just pulling up. “Jelly, if’n you come after Scott there he is. You c’n get his sorry behind back home where he belongs.”
“Whoa there Johnny. I ain’t come here fer no one. I came cuz I knowed that you boys are goin’ ta be needin’ someone to do things like yer cookin’ and patchin’ you up.”
“What are you talking about Jelly. You’re makin’ even less sense than ol’ Boston there.”
“All I’m saying is that I figured you need someone to help with the cookin’ and doctorin’ around here and I figure that I’m the best one to do it.”
“Hey Jelly I think that is a great idea. That will leave more time for Johnny and me do to whatever needs doing. Welcome aboard.”
“Have you both gone loco?! Jelly you’re too old to be sleeping on the ground all the time and besides you’re needed back at the ranch.”
“Now you just wait a cotton pickin’ pea pickin’ minute. I’ll have you know that I’m as fit as a fiddle on dance night, I am. ‘Sides ol’ Murdoch has plenty of help. I figured since I’m not needed there anymore it was time to move on.” Jelly stated as he climbed off his horse and ground tied him next to Scott’s
Scott raised his coffee mug in a salute, “Here, here.”
“Scott! You’re not helping.” Johnny snapped.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea.” Finishing up his meal Scott set his plate aside.
“I think you both have been chewin’ on loco weed. Your both goin’ back and that’s all there is to it.”
Scott looked over at Johnny with a very serious expression on his face. “Sorry Johnny, we’re family and family sticks together so your stuck with us.”
Trying to control the frustration that Johnny was feeling over this situation he replied in exasperation, “You have family back at the ranch. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell ya. They need you back there.
Scott just sat there folding his arms over his chest and crossing his stretched out legs at the ankles. “You’re wrong they don’t need us. You do. We’re staying.”
Scott and Jelly looked at each other and smiled as Johnny walked away muttering something in Spanish that was probably best that they didn’t understand.
“Oh great! Now you two have gone and done it. Murdoch is coming and he is going to blame me for your foolishness. I’m going to tell him right out that I had nothing to do with this and for him to take your sorry hides back with him. I don’t want or need you two tagging along, slowing me down.” Saying that Johnny stormed over to where Murdoch was starting to dismount.
“Murdoch, I just……”
Murdoch turned and handed Johnny the reins. “Johnny, good I caught up with you. Is there still some dinner left?”
“Sure Murdoch help yourself. I got pie for when everyone is done.”
Murdoch walked over and joined everyone around the campfire. “That sounds great. I’m starved.”
Johnny was done ground tying Murdoch’s horse and started to walk over to the campfire. “Murdoch I told everyone that they had to go back. This wa……”
Murdoch looked at Johnny, “Johnny, why should everyone go back?” Then he turned to the rest of the group, “Do you want to go back?”
“Not me, I’m doing just fine right where I’m at.” Scott looked up with a big smile.
“Me neither, boss.” Jelly replied with a very determined look on his face.
“Good, Then it’s settled.”
Johnny stared at him and then shouted, “What do you mean it’s settled? You need them back at the ranch.”
“Johnny, Cip can handle things just fine.” Murdoch answered in a patronizing voice.
“What are you talking about Cip handling things? You are always the one that run things there.” The frustration was evident in Johnny’s voice.
“But I won’t be there.”
“And just where are you going to be?”
“With you, Scott and Jelly. I’m going on the road with you three.”
Johnny was bewildered and tried to make his point waving his arms, “Murdoch have you lost your mind? Who is going to take care of the ranch? And…. and you can’t just leave and go off without anyone taking care of the ranch.”
Murdoch casually informed Johnny, “I told you that Cip is going to run the ranch. He has been there many years and knows how I want things to go.”
“Murdoch, you worked hard to build that ranch. You have a gray hair for ever blade of grass. You can’t just turn your back on all that work.”
“Johnny, I have put a lot of work into the ranch. I made it what it is today. But I haven’t had much time with my sons. The ranch will always be there. You boys are what I want now. I want to build on our relationship and make it strong. I want to know my sons as much and more than I know the ranch. You are what matters know.”
“Murdoch that is what I’m trying to say. Take Scott and go back home. You have a son that will help you and stand by you.”
“I have two sons,” Murdoch snapped, “and if you don’t’ mind I want to get to know both of them. This is the end of this conversation now pass me a plate I’m starved.”
Johnny just stood there totally stunned. What had happened to everyone? They couldn’t have all lost their minds? He had to figure out what was going on and fast. He just hoped that this wasn’t catching.
“Dang it all. Now whose coming.”
“Hey, that looks like Teresa.” Scott plastered a surprised look on his face.
“Teresa? Are you sure Scott?” Murdoch echoed Scott’s surprised look.
“Sure ‘nuf, it’s Teresa.”
“Great now we have someone to cook for us.” Murdoch rubbed his hands together as if in anticipation.
Indignantly Jelly moaned, “Hey, I was gonna do that.”
Murdoch looked at Jelly and shook his head, “Jelly, I’ve had your cooking. It’s not bad but Teresa does have you beat.”
Jelly puffed out his chest. “Well, that will just leave me more time for keepin’ everyone outa trouble, it will.”
Johnny was just staring at everyone like they had two heads. He just wasn’t sure yet what to make of this.
“Hi everyone,” Teresa smiled as she got off her horse. “ I brought some freshly baked cookies.”
“Good that will go great with our pie.”
Teresa put her hands on her hips and then shook a finger at Scott. “Your pie? I wondered where that pie went to.”
Johnny was standing off to the side watching everyone. He knew that there was no way Murdoch would allow Teresa to be riding around the country side without any place to go. Now, Johnny knew that something else was going on.
“Okay I want some answers.” Johnny demanded.
“What do you mean, brother?” Scott was trying to maintain his innocent look.
“You know very well what I mean. What are you really up to? I know for a fact that not one of you would allow Teresa to live like this. And I also know that you, Old Man, would never leave your ranch.”
Murdoch leaned forward and looked right at Johnny. “Johnny. Son. If you mean would we be more comfortable living at the ranch? Yes, we definitely would. Would we be happier with one of the family gone? No, we wouldn’t. It’s simple Son. We’re family and family sticks together.”
In total frustration Johnny replied. “Not when one of the people can cause someone to be hurt or killed. Not when their past is always causing problems. Not……..”
“Johnny, you just don’t get it do you. You aren’t just part of a family when things are going well. The real strength of a family comes when things are going wrong. When we stand as one there isn’t anyone who can win against us.”
“Scott that works for people like you who don’t always put their family in danger. Who doesn’t have a past that not only causes a danger to the family but hurts the ranch . You….”
“Son, if someone robbed the bank and took off what would you do?”
“This has nothing to do………….”
“Just answer me John.”
“I would go after him.”
“I would probably get a posse to come along.”
“It would be easier to get ‘em.”
“And less dangerous.”
“I guess so, but what does that have to do with this.”
“Everything Johnny. Don’t you see. We are stronger when we are working together. If one of us isn’t there we aren’t as strong and more apt to be hurt.”
“But Murdoch the only reason someone may get hurt is because I’m around.”
“Brother, you are being arrogant. There isn’t one of us here that hasn’t had something from their past or done something that could have caused any one of us to be hurt. Even Teresa with that Blake boy. You aren’t the only one. But if you are gone then we are weaker because one of us is missing. “
“We would not only be weaker Johnny, but we would also be missing the other things you bring to this family.” Teresa looked right through Johnny with her brown eyes shining with tears. “We would miss your laugh, your sense of humor…..”
“And your arguments with Murdoch.”
“Scott!” Murdoch warned afraid that this would make Johnny want to go. But when he looked at his youngest he saw that they were getting through.
Johnny got a lopsided smile on his face as he tilted his head and said, “I guess I would miss sparring with the old man.”
“Johnny, son, do you understand what we’re trying to say?”
Johnny kept looking down at his boots as he toed the dirt. Then he looked up. His eyes were glistening with unshed tears and his face shone with gratitude. He whispered out in a soft voice, “ Never wanted to see anyone of you hurt. I didn’t realize that me leaving would also hurt you. I’m sorry.”
“Johnny you don’t have to say anything except that you’re coming back home.”
Johnny just nodded his head yes, not sure if he could hold in his emotions if he talked.
“Well good. My achin’ bones couldn’t stand much sleeping on that there cold ground. Anyhow Dewdrop would miss me.” Jelly kept rubbing his knees and elbows making his point.
Teresa smiled up at Johnny and softly crooned. “Come on Johnny and have some pie with us. It’s your favorite, apple.”
“Sure, thanks everyone,” Johnny whispered out with his head down as he took the pie.
With a relieved smile on his face Scott answered, “Any time brother. Any time.”
“Since we are all here, why don’t we just go on over to the pond tomorrow and do a little fishing. It will be good to have a day off and be a family.” Murdoch emphasized the word family.
“That sounds great, Murdoch.” Scott then looked over at Johnny his eyes twinkling with mischief, “Hey Johnny did you bring enough ammunition?”
Everyone laughed. The tension of the last few days was over. Now they could relax and enjoy each other.
Later that evening Johnny retired early. He still wasn’t completely recovered from the beating and besides he had a lot to think about.
As he laid on his bedroll, he watched his family laughing and enjoying this time together. He sighed and thought about all that had happened that day.
‘I still may not completely understand all that happened. But now I know that leaving causes as much pain to them as it does for me. They want me here even if I may be the cause of trouble. They really think that I’m worth it. I don’t know if that old lady was right but I am going to try my best to show everyone here how much they mean to me. And I will somehow make sure that no one ever gets hurt when I’m around.’
Johnny fell to sleep with a contented smile on his face. Knowing that he had found and was allowed to keep what he was only allowed to dream of before. He had a family that loved him no matter what.
The group by the fire looked at each other and smiled. They were not sure how well they got through to Johnny. They wouldn’t know until the next time something comes up. But they did see a change in Johnny that night and that was enough for now. Maybe now they will be able to sleep a little better knowing that all their efforts are finally starting to pay off.