Nunca Lo Que Parece
(Never What It Seems)
A get well card/story for Melanie Maben.
Word count: 4.160
Johnny was up at the crack of dawn sipping coffee on the front porch waiting for Scott. He had already made a dent in his appetite by swiping a couple of warm buttered biscuits off the kitchen breakfast table.
Johnny had to admit he was still a little hungry. He went back inside to the kitchen and was immediately caught by his sister, Teresa.
“Johnny, what are you doing up so early? Swiping biscuits before breakfast again I see. I bet you didn’t get very much sleep last night.” Teresa had often scolded him for swiping food off the Breakfast table before everyone came down. She wondered how someone with a bear of an appetite existed on so little sleep.
Johnny sat down, “Teresa, some nights I get days of sleep and some days I just get hours. Don’t slow me down, my body don’t need much sleep. Guess that comes from the way I grew up with no one to care and make biscuits as good as these every mornin’.”
Teresa then walked over and hugged Johnny so tight he thought the biscuits he’d just eaten might come right on up. “Well you did, you just didn’t realize it at the time. You are my family. We will always care about you, Johnny. I make extra biscuits every morning only for you.”
Johnny wrapped his arms around himself and bowed his head keenly aware he shouldn’t have opened his big mouth about his past. It always made people mushy and he really did not know how to handle all the emotion.
Outside, Murdoch was enjoying his first cup of coffee watching the sun rise from the bunkhouse. Patiently waiting to give daily orders to Cipriano as he often did each morning. Always taking a moment to clear his head before the day started and launched into too many non-stop hours of ranching activities.
But before he could finish that first cup of coffee, a rider suddenly appeared out of the morning mist near the Lancer Arch. It was that blond kid, Tommy Tulio, barely sixteen who worked for the wire service.
“Mornin’ Mr. Lancer. Is Johnny around? Got an important message here marked ‘Urgent’.” Tommy breathlessly stated.
“Good morning Tommy. Johnny should be inside, but I’ll take the message and pass it onto him.”
“You sure Mr. Lancer? I wouldn’t want to put you out or nothin’.”
“I’m sure Tommy. Now you go see Jelly and rest your horse before going back.” Murdoch reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar coin flipping it over to the boy.
“Gosh, thanks Mr. Lancer!”
Murdoch took the wire, which was tightly sealed in an envelope and stuck it in his front pocket. By the time he arrived back at the house, Scott and Johnny had already eaten and left for the day.
“Well darn! Now I have to wait until Johnny returns to find out what this is all about.”
“What did you say Murdoch? I’m afraid with all the kitchen noise I didn’t hear you.” Teresa inquired.
“Nothing Teresa, Johnny received a wire marked ‘urgent’ this morning and he left before I could deliver it to him.”
“If it’s urgent, maybe someone should take it out to him. From what I understand they didn’t go far today. Johnny told me they’d be back for lunch.”
“I’m sure it can wait, I’m just really curious what is so ‘urgent’.” Murdoch said while checking over the envelope for any clues.
“Well I don’t know, but if you stare at it long enough the message might just appear on the outside of the envelope.” Teresa relayed giggling.
An impatient man, Murdoch had a peculiar habit of needing to know every minute detail happening on any far corner of his ranch. The boss man was obsessive about anything concerning his sons, especially Johnny. Murdoch had to be informed if even a new litter of kittens was making an appearance.
A communication in a sealed enveloped marked ‘Urgent’ for his son Johnny would be eating away at him all day.
It had been a very eventful day so far as Johnny and Scott rode in for lunch at the hacienda. Murdoch was out front waiting wearing a hole in the patch of dirt where he had been pacing back and forth for the last half hour.
“You’re late! What took you two so long?”
“Late? Murdoch it’s just lunch. Scott replied.
“Since when do we need to get back on time for lunch in the Kitchen?” Johnny added cocking his head to the side with a smile wide enough to light up the entire front porch on a dreary afternoon.
“Well, uh – can’t I meet my sons for lunch? I just expected you might be hungry enough to arrive earlier.”
“Sir, we stayed out a bit longer clearing that creek because it now looks like rain is a definite possibility this afternoon. Johnny and I did not want to go back through the mud.” Scott stated pounding what was left of the dust off of his cowboy hat.
Johnny stood there watching Murdoch shift and squirm, he knew something was up. His father was once again acting peculiar. “Well, let’s get goin inside then. I don’t know about you two but I’m hungry.”
Lunch went on without anything out of the ordinary. Johnny began to wonder if his instincts were failing him. And then, Murdoch finally revealed why he was so anxious all through lunch.
‘Oh Johnny. This wire came in earlier today. You all had already left. I stuck it in my pocket, I’m sorry I must have forgotten all about it.” Murdoch stated with his fingers crossed behind his back.
“Marked ‘urgent’, well good thing you remembered then Old Man.” Johnny looked curiously at the envelope turning it over a few times while Scott, Murdoch, and Teresa intensely watched. Johnny did make note of the fact that the envelope was rather worn for just being delivered that morning.
Johnny looked sheepishly up at the three members of his family, smiled to himself and right then and there decided he wasn’t going to read the wire in front of an audience, “Well, guess I’d better get back to work.” Johnny stated and with a devilish smirk plastered across his face placed the envelop in his conchos back pocket.
“Great. That’s just great! Now we may never know what’s in that wire. Why did you all have to watch him like he was a woman giving birth.” Murdoch exclaimed, obvious that he out of all three of them wanted to know what was in that wire the most.
“Murdoch, we are all just curious why Johnny would receive a wire marked ‘urgent’. Do you think he’s in any trouble? Teresa asked.
“Unlike the two of you, I took the time to notice who the envelope was addressed to and it was not Johnny Madrid, it was Johnny Lancer. So no, I don’t think Johnny is in any trouble. Well at least the Madrid kind.” Scott observed.
Johnny made tracks rather quickly into Barranca’s stall the barn. He carefully opened the envelop and read the message.
“Come quick. It’s almost time.” Melanie
As the sky darkened on a warm spring afternoon, the wind started whipping dead leaves around the Lancer front lawn in a circular fashion. Just a few hours earlier it was a lovely sunny spring day, the birds were singing, flowers seemed to bloom right out on the front range. The sweet smells of the season thriving.
Now there was a serious storm looming and Johnny did not look forward to traveling in the rain. Even though Melanie’s ranch was only a half day away, Johnny could not waste a minute of time or it might be too late.
Johnny tore out of the barn and rushed up to his room taking the stairs two at a time. He knew the window of time was not very long, but he had made a promise to Melanie. A vow that he would do his very best to be with her when the time came.
Johnny stopped once again to read the wire as if checking it one more time would somehow magically help settle down the anxiety he now felt. He should have explained the situation earlier, but the fear that Murdoch would say no to his request once again completely won out.
“Come quick. It’s almost time.” Melanie
If he was completely honest, the angst Johnny now possessed was really more about telling his family. Anxiety over having to explain that he might be gone for over a week. They deserved to know, but he was also well aware they’d never understand.
Just as Johnny was packing up his clothes, Scott rushed in to find out what made his brother tear up the stairs like greased lightening.
“Hey Boston, I need to leave for a week or so, can you cover me while I’m gone?”
“Johnny, what’s this all about?”
“Just need to take care of some personal business – a favor for a friend.”
“That’s it? Is that all you’re going to give me? A favor for a friend doesn’t explain a wire marked ‘Urgent’ and the breakneck speed at which you took those stairs only a few minutes ago.”
“Well, Boston. That is all you’re gonna get. I’ve covered for you countless times over the past eight months as all those fancy friends from back east, sent by your Grandfather to check up on you stayed at Lancer on extended vacations. Brother, I’m now calling in my chips.”
“Johnny, what was in that note? Can you at least tell us where you’re going?”
“Scott, this is my business. Now, I never once hesitated doin’ all those favors for you. Please allow me a bit of privacy and just accept I’ll be back in about a week and a half. Oh, and do me a big favor and explain it to the Old Man.”
“Johnny? Johnny!” Scott was left calling for his brother as Johnny went about his business.
Johnny tossed the copy of Melanie’s wire into the still burning embers of his bedroom fireplace. Saddle bags over his shoulder, he ran down the stairs and waltzed out the front door.
An attempted break for Barranca and the barn was foiled as he ran into a 6-foot 5-inch mountain named Murdoch.
Johnny had been taken by surprise and he was using all his inner strength to bring out Madrid and failing miserably. Johnny Madrid, the one man who was never afraid of anybody, was petrified of Murdoch Lancer. For years, the name alone threw simultaneous chills all over his body. And now he was staring his father in the face. Johnny was struggling to get himself under control. Geez, he just wanted to erupt into a wall of flames and disappear.
“Murdoch. I need to go away for a few days. I’m not in any trouble, just need some time off is all.”
“Johnny, that’s not enough of an explanation. You can’t just run out like this on such short notice.”
Johnny placed his right hand on his hip looking down for a short few seconds, then took on Murdoch gazing directly into his eyes.
“Look, Scott is going to cover for me. You keep saying no every time I ask for even just one day off. Now, this is the first time I’ve asked for time when it was really important. I need a week off and it’s been 8 months since I’ve had any time of my own off. I’ve covered for Boston every single time one of his fancy friends from back east came to visit – never complained one bit. I need this time off and I’m gonna take it.”
Whether Murdoch was more shocked at the forceful way his son spoke to him, or if he’d just been taken by surprise with the knowledge Johnny hadn’t been allowed even one day off in the past eight months – his youngest had just rendered him speechless.
Johnny was gone in a flash leaving both Murdoch and Scott watching him disappear on Barranca into the approaching mist under the Lancer arch.
Scott was absolutely stunned his father had been unable to stop Johnny or even uncover a few more clues to his whereabouts. “You didn’t stop him? Either you are losing your touch or Johnny just pulled a Madrid out of his cowboy hat.”
“He pulled a ‘I haven’t been given a day off in eight months’ and I suddenly realized he was right. You might say he shamed me speechless.”
“I had no idea, what with the constant stream of friends from back east sent by Grandfather trying to persuade me to leave Lancer and the countless days I always had him covering for me. Why didn’t you ever give him any time off? I know he asked for it and you always came up with some excuse that work couldn’t wait.”
“I guess I just wasn’t keeping track. To be truthful, whenever he did ask, I said no. I probably wanted to avoid Johnny getting in any trouble. From the minute that boy sets foot off Lancer I am always worried that he’ll never return. Trouble somehow always finds Johnny, and I am just terrified of losing him again.”
Suddenly, Scott remembered something. Johnny had thrown the telegram into his fireplace. With luck those embers may not have burned the entire message up after all. He made a mad dash for his brother’s room with Murdoch following right behind him.
Sure, enough the whipping winds from the approaching storm reached into the fireplace and tossed the paper off to the side. The notice was actually stuck to the right side of the wall with only the edges of paper singed.
Scott worried about his brother, too curious to care, and with Murdoch’s egging him on, he did something very out of character – he read his brother’s private message.
“Come quick. It’s almost time.” Melanie
Johnny raced across the countryside on Barranca and even managed to avoid the thunderstorm approaching the hacienda. By taking a short cut, he’d used through the mountains a while back Barranca was making good time and they were both enjoying the views.
Johnny was not all together truthful about his days off with Murdoch. He’d cut out early quite a few times repairing a distant line shack close to where Melanie’s Ranch was located. It was very convenient timing.
Scott never liked ranging that far from the hacienda and Johnny usually spent a week at a time there giving him ample opportunity to run up and check on her without anyone being the wiser.
As Johnny approached Melanie’s Ranch, he could see she was sitting out on the front porch with her sister Martha waiting for him. A plate full of sugar cookies, a pitcher of lemonade, and a pretty blond lady waiting told him he was definitely in the right place.
“Well, hey there Johnny Lancer! You sure got here faster than I thought you would.”
“Hey Miz Melanie. Martha, you look positively glowing. I can practically see a halo all over the front porch,” Johnny said as he dismounted smiling ear to ear.
“Oh Johnny, there you go brightening up my front porch with that smile of yours,” Melanie observed, thinking Johnny must be the most charming young man in all of California.
Back at Lancer, Murdoch and Scott were in the great room plotting their next move. Although Scott felt a great measure of guilt for encroaching on his brother’s privacy, they were both so curious about this woman named Melanie.
Who was she? Why was Johnny sneaking off to see this girl? When did he ever have time to even meet her? Was he riding into some kind of a trap? Did he need their help?
“What kind of a person sends a cryptic message like that?” Murdoch inquired.
“Probably someone who doesn’t want meddlesome family members reading a personal message. Johnny knew exactly what those five words meant,” Scott admittedly observed.
They noted that the wire came from a tiny town just west of Monteca called Tracy. Tracy was about one-half days ride on horseback from Lancer. Scott and Murdoch looked at each other and right then and here decided a trip to a tiny town named Tracy was in their future.
“And Scott? Make sure you pack those spyglasses of yours.”
There is nothing like a beautiful sunny day in April to make people happy. Spring colors bursting with beauty blanketing the countryside. The pungent smell of fresh green grass and full streams to water your horses after a spring rain. Tranquil sounds of water trickling over a rock ledge at the base of a waterfall. The sounds and sights of nature always had a calming effect on Johnny. Whenever things got too much, he’d just jump on Barranca and find someplace quiet.
The ride from Melanie’s ranch to the tiny town of Tracy was like that – filled with beauty. In some ways it surpassed Lancer’s landscape due to all the water sources in the area.
Johnny left the ranch that morning to pick up a few much-needed supplies including an extra measure of hay for the stall. He wanted to send a wire telling his family not to worry and that he was fine, but quickly deciding against it.
He spent the day patching leaky roofs, repairing the barn, fixing a few fences, replacing a few floorboards on Melanie’s porch, and most importantly entertaining Melanie’s young son Gabriel who was missing his father terribly. They worked on making the mare named Belle in the barn as comfortable as possible. The mare was getting ready to foal in the next day or two.
“Johnny? Come sit with me and have some lemonade. You are working way too hard. You do know Wayde will be back home from the army soon and he’ll not be happy you fixed so many things. We need to leave him something to do when he gets back.”
“Melanie, that’s just it. He’ll only be home for a month. Then he has to go back to Colorado. That time will go by so fast. Wayde should be spending that time enjoying his family. This is my gift to both of you. I don’t want Wayde spending what little time he has working.”
“That’s just it. I didn’t bring you here as a fix it man. You are here to make sure Barranca’s off -spring gets safely delivered. You’re going to be a grandfather soon!” Melanie giggled knowing full well she would make Johnny blush.
“Melanie, you know there is going to be more than one delivery on this ranch. Your sister Martha is due next month? Both of you are going to be really busy.”
“Yes, but Johnny it’s a good kind of busy. I can’t wait to see what Barranca’s offspring looks like.”
“Well, shouldn’t be long. Belle is actin’ awful restless. You were right to send for me.”
Melanie’s husband Wayde was soldier in the Army Reserves. This was one way he could help keep the ranch, by working with the Reserves several months out of the year to make ends meet.
Johnny and Wayde met years ago in Texas when they were just young boys. Wayde also had a Mexican mother, a white American father, and blue eyes. It was natural that the two would strike up a friendship that would last a lifetime.
Wayde was one of the few people who knew Johnny’s real name. One day he was visiting Morro Coyo and heard talk in the saloon about a guy named Johnny Lancer. Wayde knew if he hung out in the around the cantinas and saloons long enough, Johnny might eventually show up. He did and they had one heck of a reunion.
Wayde introduced Johnny to his wife Melanie and they became fast friends. Johnny stopped by her ranch to help out whenever Wayde was away and he could break away from Lancer.
Murdoch and Scott arrived in the tiny town of Tracy and quickly found out where Melanie lived. She had inherited the ranch from her ailing father about 8 years ago – so everyone in town referred to it as “Melanie’s Ranch”.
Both Lancer men, a day later were now perched up on a hill overlooking Melanie’s Ranch with those spy glasses trying to figure out if Johnny was anywhere in sight.
“Wait,” Scott observed, “there he is coming out of the barn with a woman. That must be Melanie.”
“Over there. The lady carrying all those white towels, she looks like she is expecting a child any day! Wait, you don’t think.”
“When would he have had the time? I never gave him a day off!”
“And you think that would have stopped him? Wait, look there’s a little boy too. Johnny is picking him up and playing with him.”
“Why do they keep going from the house to the barn? There is something going on in that barn.”
“Johnny is back outside.”
“What’s he doing?
“He just went into the barn.”
“Now there is another woman going into the barn. Looks like she’s carrying a pot of boiling water. What is going on in that barn?”
“Murdoch, how many times last winter did you send Johnny to that northern line shack? The one that’s located on the way here?” Scott inquired staring at his father whose face lit up with the acknowledgement that Johnny may have been able to sneak a few days off.
“Quite a few times, but he always completed everything I asked him to get done. Do you think he took time off to come up here?”
“Even though you’ll never admit it, Johnny works harder and faster than anyone. I am certain he was able to carve a few days of his own out during his line shack weeks. We need to get closer to see what’s really going on down there.”
It was late afternoon, Scott and Murdoch moved closer to the ranch closing in on the barn to try to hear what was going on.
Johnny was beginning to move some of the other horses along with Barranca outside to the fenced in pasture to get some exercise.
Suddenly, Gabriel ran out of the barn looking for Johnny and shouted, “Johnny! Johnny, hurry come quick, it’s almost time!”
Murdoch and Scott who were both now hiding behind Melanie’s barn, could no longer contain themselves. They watched as Barranca broke free from the pasture and walked through the front barn door.
“What’s going on in there! You don’t think Johnny is birthing her baby in a barn with Barranca in there? Does he even know how do that?” Murdoch was sure something bad was happening.
“The only way we are going to know is if we go into the barn and look,” Scott admitted.
So, the two curious family members walked with purpose to the front of the barn where the door was open and in full view could finally see what all the fuss was about.
They arrived just in time to see the mare Belle foal with a healthy colt. The colt had a golden coat and looked just like a mini Barranca.
“Oh Johnny! He looks just like Barranca!” Melanie exclaimed.
“Ewe, he’s got gooey stuff all over him. Will that go away?” Gabriel asked.
“That’s just him bein’ born. That will dry up. Now we need to check his breathin’ and if we wait long enough, he may stand up.”
Everyone was mesmerized by the miracle of birth in the barn. Just watching a new life being born was such a wonderful sight to behold. Even Barranca couldn’t stay away, knowing his son was being born. He surprised everyone by walking slowly toward the stall where Belle and his son lay in the hay.
This was Barranca’s foal, his first. Johnny could not have been a prouder papa watching Barranca move inside the birthing stall to give his colt a gentle nudge encouraging him to stand up.
“Johnny? Looks like Belle and her new foal have an audience. We’ve got some visitors watching from the front door,” Melanie stated.
“Yeah, that would be my family. Melanie, I’d like you to meet my father, Murdoch, and my brother, Scott. They’ve been snooping around the ranch trying to figure out what I’ve been doin’ here for a few days.”
“You knew?” Scott surprisingly asked.
Johnny slowly stood up and gave both his brother and father a Madrid stare. Then he proceeded to toss his head to the side with his trademark half smirk that erupted into a full on pearly white smile.
“Well, Johnny we thought ….” Scott started to say something, but Johnny cut him off.
“Boston, it’s just never what it seems now is it?”
~ end ~
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