Word Count 6,344
It all started with the elderly Haney twin sisters, and Mrs. Webster, and Ophelia Dalrymple and her 8 year old daughter Millie when they came to visit Teresa who was hostessing the weekly quilting club at Lancer two weeks ago Tuesday. And then it just got out of hand because Scott saw an opportunity where no opportunity had a real right to be, and he took advantage of it. So poor Johnny! (But Johnny’s dog loved it!)
Well, anyhow, that’s when it all started. But of course a lot happened in-between Then and Later, when Scott was sitting in the mud in his best suit with the carnation in its buttonhole and Johnny’s dog licking his face.
That quilting day, when all those hens were cackling loudly while they laid their quilted eggs, Scott was feeling sorry for himself. He had planned on reading, but peace and quiet weren’t looking too promising. Pulling Murdoch’s gold-embossed edition of Hamlet off the bookshelf and settling down to relive a little tried-and-true acculturation, and discovering, amidst all the cluckcluckclucks, that he had in fact grabbed Wuthering Heights – well, poor Scott Lancer exhibited a minor fit of pique worthy of Heathcliff himself. Scott slammed the detested book back in the bookshelf in its rightful place – the back! And in the process, managed to bend his thumb painfully, which made him yelp and made Johnny’s hitherto sleeping puppy Johnnie bark. “Lamentable tripe,” Scott said, rather more loudly than he intended, and he stuck his injured thumb in his mouth where, presumably, it would magically heal.
The quilt-laying halted as twelve female eyes turned to see what the ruckus was about.
“Hush now, Johnnie!” Teresa scolded the dog. “Scott, did you say something?”
Scott Lancer, successful rancher, tall, rich, Harvard-educated, good-looking, and adult, slowly pulled his thumb from his mouth as he realized an entire roomful of females was staring at him. It seemed they expected him to say something, but he was lost. How could he possibly explain the immeasurable value of Hamlet versus Wuthering Heights to a roomful of women whose favorite antihero was probably Heathcliff, except for 8-year-old Millie Dalrymple, whose favorite antihero would probably be Heathcliff in the future? “It’s the dog,” Scott said lamely. “I’m afraid he’s bothering you ladies.”
Then the cackling started again, in particular earnest! The general consensus was that no, Johnnie the little doggie was not in any way bothering them and he was just so quiet they hadn’t even noticed he was there and wasn’t he just the cutest thing and come here little Johnnie and how could you even say such a thing, Mr. Lancer?
A roomful of quilt-making puppy-loving females was no match for William Shakespeare or Scott Lancer, and Scott knew when he was beaten. He took his thumb and his Danish king and went out to the front porch to find solace on the bench.
Nursing physical and emotional wounds caused, thought Scott, by the female militia inside, Scott sulked. Normally he would be in seventh heaven reading Shakespeare but recovery was slow in coming. And to make matters worse, he saw his brother Johnny walking toward him from the barn. Scott thankfully at least remembered to pull his thumb from his mouth before Johnny noticed him.
Johnny stopped by the bench and wiped the back of his neck with his kerchief. “Hot one today, huh, Boston?”
“Mmmmm . . .”
Johnny chuckled. “Is that a ‘yes, Johnny, how right you are’ or a ‘no, Johnny, I hadn’t noticed because I’m sitting here solving the problems of the world instead of mucking out my horse’s stall like I was supposed to be doing’?” Johnny pushed his hat forward and set his foot up on the bench. He leaned over to catch more gems of wisdom from his brother. When none were forthcoming, Johnny added, “Don’t worry, brother, I took care of it for you. You owe me one.”
Scott was not in the mood. His eyes settled on Johnny’s boot (and spurs) resting dangerously just inches from him. He knew that, between the cackling in the house and the teasing outside, he was not likely to get any peace and tranquility that afternoon. Johnny was baiting him; he knew that too, and he knew he was in a foul enough mood to fall for it. Normally he loved the good-natured bantering with his brother, but today it just would not be good enough to replace Hamlet Abandoned. Scott’s eyes moved from Johnny’s boot up Johnny’s leg, taking in those ostentatious conchos one by one, on up through the tied-down gunbelt, continuing up to the (ostentatious) shirt, open now at the neck, exposing chest hair and part of Johnny’s finely-built chest, and came to rest on Johnny’s deeply-tanned handsome face with the sparkling eyes, barely visible below the pushed-forward hat. And Scott got an idea.
Scott got a brilliant idea!
“I had to come outside,” Scott told his brother. “I couldn’t stand it in there anymore. Teresa’s women friends – all they would talk about was you! Johnny, Johnny, Johnny! Like I didn’t even exist!”
Johnny cocked his head in a stereotypically correct manner. “What are you talking about, Scott?”
“Go see for yourself!”
Deep inside, a little voice told Johnny don’t trust him, and Johnny was ninety-nine percent certain his brother was teasing him, but that other one percent . . . well, if that one percent was even vaguely true, if there was even the teeniest chance that a roomful of women was talking about him (!) . . . well, Johnny sure didn’t want to miss the opportunity to hear what they had to say. He gracefully removed his foot from the bench and very quietly opened the front door to the house. Just a crack, but enough for his optimistic ear to hear that his brother spoke the truth!
Mrs. Webster: “Oh, that Johnnie is just so darn cute!”
Ophelia Dalrymple: “I bet he gets up to lots of mischief!”
Zelda Haney – no, wait – Esmeralda Haney: “Who could resist those laughing eyes!”
Millie Dalrymple: “Johnnie’s my all-time favorite!”
Johnny looked to his brother. “Was that a . . . kid?!”
Scott nodded. “Millie Dalrymple.”
“How old is she?”
“Eight, I believe.”
“Eight!?” His idolatry with the younger set firmly established and equally unwanted, Johnny put his ear back to the door to scout out riper voices. He heard a few more phrases that pleased him, like “moves so fast I can’t keep up with him” which he liked, and “keeps getting his nose into everything” which made him laugh, but then he heard something that shocked the gunfighter to his very core. 8-year-old Millie Dalrymple said, “Miss Teresa, you’re so lucky to be able to play with Johnnie every day!”
Almost helplessly, Johnny looked to his brother. “What do you make of that?!”
Scott shrugged his shoulders. “She’s eight years old, Johnny. What does she know?”
Pretty much any explanation would have appeased Johnny, including that eight-year-old Millie Dalrymple led a secret life as a gunfighter. “Sure . . . I suppose you’re right.” Deciding to take any future comments from the eight-year-old with a grain of salt, Johnny put his ear back to the door.
“Johnny, aren’t you getting tired of hearing all that tripe . . . all those compliments?”
Scott stood up. “Well, why don’t you go in and grace them with your presence?”
Johnny turned to his brother. “You think I should?”
“Sure, of course! Brighten up their dreary lives.”
Johnny considered for only a moment. Then he smiled and said, “Yeah! They might as well see me in person!” He reached for the doorknob.
“You want me to go with you? You might need protection. There’s a lot of females in there!”
“No thanks, brother. I can handle this very well by myself! You go back to your book.” And, wearing a Cheshire Cat grin, Johnny Lancer, spurs, conchos, chest hair and all, entered the room with all the women and the dog.
Little Johnnie, who had been lying on his back allowing all those women to pet him and tickle his ears and twirl his tail and say lots of sweet things to him, suddenly realized his master was in the room. He jumped up and ran happily to the door to greet Johnny, who ignored his pet and exaggeratedly removed his hat in a long graceful swirl, bowing to the company. “Hello, ladies,” he said. “Don’t you all look lovely today!”
And no one noticed him.
Instead, what he heard was a female chorus of disappointed “Oh”s and “Come back, little Johnnie”s. Eight-year-old Millie Dalrymple ran over to the dog and scooped him up in her arms. “Don’t be bad, doggie,” she scolded. “Come back over here by us and we’re going to make a little quilt for you to cover up with in your doggie bed for when it gets cold.” She carried Johnnie back to the group, and he seemed very happy to be returning to all the attention since his master wasn’t giving him any.
It actually took three or four seconds for the situation to sink in to Johnny’s head. Nobody at all had noticed him except his dog, who abandoned him, and Teresa, who waved briefly to him, but neither of them counted because he lived with them. Nobody else even knew he was there. Not even eight-year-old Millie Dalrymple, who apparently really didn’t think he was her all-time favorite after all, and then, to add insult to injury, stole his dog from him.
Johnny gathered what little pride he had left, which didn’t take long, and went back outside, where Scott was waiting for him. “Back so soon?”
“It’s not me they were talking about, Scott, it’s my dog. They’re talking about my damn dog!” Dejected, Johnny sat heavily on the bench next to his brother.
“You sure?” Scott faked surprise.
“Of course I’m sure! They’re all mooning over Johnnie, not me!”
“Well,” said Scott, finally giving in to the temptation to laugh, “I guess that explains the ‘cute tail’ comment I heard!”
This time it only took Johnny one or two seconds to catch on. He looked sternly at his brother. “You mean you knew who they were talking about all along? And you sent me in there?”
Scott forced himself to stop laughing but a chuckle still came out here and there. “Let’s just say I had my suspicions when I heard about your ‘floppy ears!’” Scott tilted his head. “Although now that I look at them, they are a little floppy!”
For a few seconds, Johnny said nothing. Then, in his best stern gunfighter’s voice, he said, “I’m going to kill you, Scott.”
Scott warded off the attack with a warning index finger. “Tut, tut, little brother. Will this be before or after I share with you the secret to attracting beautiful women?”
Johnny hesitated. Deep inside, that little voice was back, telling Johnny don’t fall for it but once again Johnny ignored that little voice, knowing full well that . . . “What secret are you talking about?”
“The secret to the Universe! The universal race of man after woman, the secret of how you, the Man, can have beautiful Women standing in line to be with you!”
“If this works so well, how come you don’t have women all over the place?”
“Ah! Because, my dear brother, I do not have the secret weapon! You, however, are lucky enough to possess it!”
“All right, what is this secret weapon I have?”
“First, of course, you have to promise you won’t kill me! Before or after.”
“I wasn’t going to kill you Scott. Just maim you a little.”
“Uh . . .” This was the first time Scott actually looked a little rattled, but he recovered nicely. “Nevertheless. Friends?” He stuck out his hand.
“Sure,” Johnny replied, and reluctantly shook it. “Now what’s this all-fired special weapon I have? Floppy ears?”
“In a manner of speaking. It’s your dog.”
“In your chagrin, your perception has been obscured . . .”
“In English or Spanish, please.”
“You’re not seeing the forest for the trees!”
“Scott . . .” Another plea for lucidity, this one clearly a warning.
“Johnny! Listen to those women in there! What do you think they’re all fawning over?”
“I told you – my . . . . . oooooh! They’re fawning all over my dog!” Johnny’s sparkling eyes suddenly lit up.
“That’s right, brother! Women find dogs irresistible. Especially puppies. Especially friendly little white puppies with soft fur and cute tails and floppy ears! And that means women will find any man who has one of those puppy props to be irresistible too. And if you go into town with little Johnnie and – well, you don’t even have to do anything – just stand on the street with your dog and all those women will gravitate right to you. And they’ll find him irresistible, and, by extension, you!”
Johnny looked doubtful. “It can’t be that easy, Scott!”
“Oh, but it is! They’ll pet him, and play with his ears, and kiss him . . . “
“I’d rather have them pet me!”
“Oh, they will!”
“And play with my ears?”
“And . . . uh . . . and so on?” Johnny smiled slyly.
“And so on, and so on!”
Johnny laughed out loud. ‘You sure spin a good yarn, brother!”
Scott shook his head. “Go into town and try it and see for yourself!”
“Oh sure! They’ll all come running all over each other for a chance to pet my dog! All the married ones or the ugly ones, or the . . .” Johnny pointed to the house, “eight-year-olds! No thanks.”
Scott retained his solemn look. “In my experience, Johnny, the more beautiful the woman, the more likely she is to love puppies! I’ve seen it time and time again.”
Beautiful women, cute puppies. Made sense. This was apparently what Johnny wanted to hear. Scott detected some mild interest, so he continued. “That’s all the opening you need. You and I both know that the Johnny Lancer charm will be sufficient to, shall we say, go in for the kill!”
At this, Johnny smiled as widely as his imagination was stretching. “You really think this will work?”
The wind picked up and took caution with it. “Maybe you’re right. What have I got to lose?”
“Scott, how do I look?”
“You’re going now?”
“Sure! No time like the present. Besides, Johnnie looks like he’s on a winning streak, so I might as well take advantage of some of that!” Johnny laughed and whistled for his dog, who wrestled himself away from his adoring crowd and ran outside into his master’s lowered arms. Johnnie licked his master’s face. Johnny laughed and figured that was the first of many kisses he would receive that day.
“Johnny, you look just as fine as you could ever look!” said Scott. “Go get ‘em, as the saying goes!”
Once in town, Johnny was happy to see that it was fairly busy that day. He set Johnnie down and told him to stay close. At first no one seemed to notice the two Johnnies but after a while old Asa McCormick stopped to compare how many teeth little Johnnie had versus himself (the dog won). And then a couple of schoolchildren asked Johnny if he knew anything about how to structure sentence dependent clauses and he said no, he’d never been dependent in his life. And then pompous Mrs. Veneva asked Johnny if he would help her load all her new hats into her buggy. And then Johnny went inside the millinery store to ask Margaret the owner how business was and told her that his business wasn’t doing as well as hers, which made her look at him funny.
After about an hour of this, Johnny was just about to give up on finding beautiful young ladies when he saw a beautiful young lady walking his way. He recognized her as Lorelei Fredrick, the typewriter-woman at the lawyer’s office, and he had been hoping to meet her someday. Here was his chance!
He flashed his most brilliant smile at her, and she smiled right back. As she reached him she said, “Even though I’m afraid of dogs, I think your doggie is very cute. He doesn’t bite, does he?”
“Nooooo . . .he’d never bite anyone as pretty as you!” And to prove his point, Johnny picked up his puppy so Lorelei could see him (both hims) closer.
And it had been a couple hours since Johnnie had had any real attention, and recognizing distinct attention possibility, Johnnie barked.
Lorelei Fredrick withdrew the hand she had gingerly reached out to the Johnnies with and screamed a little and scampered away. “Wait!” called Johnny. “He doesn’t bite! He just . . . “ She was gone. “ . . . barks a little.”
Johnny sighed deeply. “Well, partner,” he said to his dog. “Looks like you’re not the woman-bait Scott guaranteed you would be. Matter of fact . . .” he touched his pup gently on the nose, “that last one looked like she was interested in me until she saw you!” Johnnie whined and so did Johnny a little until he realized that it wasn’t dignified for a gunfighter, past or present, to . . .
“Wait a minute! Wait just a minute here! How could Scott be so completely wrong about this?” Picking up some scent, his dog sniffed the air.
“You’re right, dog. I smell the same rat. And his name is Scott!”
Johnny quickly concocted a plan to get even with his brother. Before he left town, he stopped at the mercantile, and, when no one was looking, sprayed the mist of a couple of perfumes on his dog and rubbed a little in his own hair. Maybe to get rid of the rat smell?
And as he rode past Asa McCormick he inquired about the old man’s ‘rheumatiz’ and if he knew when it would rain again.
“Tomorra night,” came the answer. “Tomorra night fer sure!”
It was late afternoon by the time Johnny returned to Lancer, his dog on his lap to save those little legs. The buggies of the quilting women were all gone and the house smelled like cooking, so Johnny knew supper would be forthcoming soon. Scott was still sitting on the porch, with a small stack of books next to him now. A Shakespile.
Scott looked up and called out, “How’d it go?” in what would under other less illuminated circumstances pass as a genuinely inquisitive voice but Johnny knew better.
“Scott, Scott, Scott,” Johnny answered enticingly. “You were so right! I can’t thank you enough!” He dismounted and set Johnnie free. The dog ran in the house, looking to resume all the attention presumably, since he hadn’t had any for a while now.
“It worked? I mean, it went well?” Scott looked up. Surprise was evident in his voice.
“Oooooh, Scott!” Johnny sat down next to his brother. “I had them eating out of my hand!”
Scott said nothing while he tried to reconcile his visual and auditory clues with what he knew to be true – he had been teasing his brother. There was no logical way . . .
“Scott, there were so many I practically had to fight them off!” Johnny chuckled. “Of course, I didn’t try real hard!”
. . . and yet, here was Johnny, telling him in no uncertain terms that what Scott had thought of as a simple practical joke (only a joke!), was . . . true!
“Well,” Johnny said, “guess I better clean up. My hair’s all mussed up.”
Scott looked at his brother’s hair and his nose made contact with the perfume. “You smell like perfume,” he said feebly. “More than one kind, I think.”
“Yeah, they were a little relentless. I’d better go clean up before supper.”
“No, wait! Tell me what happened! I’m . . . interested.”
Hooked! Johnny counted all the winning hands and there was only one and now he was holding it. He grinned again. “Wait ‘til you hear, Scott! It worked like a charm. All I had to do was let them catch a glimpse of my dog and they came running from all directions! Petting me and then petting him and then back to me again! Took me half an hour to just sort through them! I’m all booked up for this weekend! Hope I have the stamina!”
“You are?” Scott was starting to get excited, too.
“Don’t worry about me – I’ve got the stamina! Tomorrow night I’m taking Lorelei Fredrick to the dance in town and I’m renting a buggy from the livery and I already told Marshall to decorate it with flowers, and Saturday afternoon Candy from town and me are going on a picnic . . .” he winked, “ . . . and Saturday night I’m taking snooty Nancy Michaelson for a ride in that same magical buggy. And by the way, she’s not as snooty as she pretends!”
Scott laughed nervously, already plotting how he could get in on the action. Maybe Johnny would lend him his dog . . .
Johnny put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “And I owe it all to you, brother! Oh, don’t worry – I didn’t forget about you! Tomorrow night you’ve got a date for the dance with Lorelei Fredrick’s cousin who’s visiting from Sacramento. And if you think Lorelei is cute! . . . ho, wait until you see her cousin Charity! She’s more than cute, she’s downright beautiful! And her name should tell you her attitude!”
Scott was practically salivating. “Lorelei’s cousin Charity is beautiful? And you set it up for me to take her to the dance tomorrow night? Thanks, Johnny! Let’s all ride in the same buggy!”
Johnny shook his head. “Oh no, brother, this is a buggy meant for two – just me and Lorelei.” He winked.
Scott thought hard. “Well, we don’t really have anything suitable here at Lancer. I’ll go into town and see if Marshall has another buggy he can . . .”
“Nope! Don’t bother. I rented the last one! Marshall’s got nothin’ left. But you don’t have to worry. Lorelei said her buggy will be free since I’m picking her up, so you can use that one to escort Charity to the dance. Meet her at Lorelei’s. Early, seven o-clock, I think she said. She can’t wait to meet you – wants to spend as much time as possible with you! I told you she’s got the right name!” Johnny winked on his way into the house to try to remove that perfume smell before his father caught a whiff of him. He turned away so his brother wouldn’t catch a glimpse of that dazzling smile he couldn’t hide, but Scott Lancer was deeply in thought and would not have seen it anyway.
The next night Scott and Johnny hurried through supper, anxious to go up to their rooms and prepare themselves for the dance and whatever might happen, accidentally or otherwise, afterward. These preparations always took Scott longer, so while he was waiting, Johnny took the opportunity to pretty up his dog by putting a carnation stolen from a vase by the front door in the dog’s collar.
In a few minutes, Scott appeared, wearing his best suit. “Well, Johnny, you certainly look ready for a nice evening!” Scott spotted the dog’s carnation and plucked one from the bouquet for his own buttonhole. “There! The finishing touch! How do I look?”
“Scott, you look just as fine as you could ever look!”
Even aware this was a quasi-compliment, Scott grinned. He was ready for anything and both brothers knew it. Unfortunately, one brother knew that everything wasn’t likely to happen to the other!
“Wait a minute!” said Scott. “Why is the dog looking all dressed up? You taking him with you? I thought you had already proven your canine magnetism with Lorelei.”
“Nope! He’s gussied up for you to take him when you when you meet her cousin. Don’t forget how well this dog thing works, Scott. One look at Johnnie and Charity will fall all over you! Maybe you won’t even make it to the dance!”
Maybe you won’t even make it to the dance!
“Let’s go!” said Scott, grabbing the dog.
As they trotted their horses out of the barn, the rain clouds that had been moving in all day were definitely closer.
“Taking your slicker, brother?” Johnny asked in all innocence. “I’ve got mine.”
Scott looked up. The rain did indeed look threatening. He considered all the possibilities and, knowing that Lorelei Fredrick’s house (and Charity!) weren’t too far away and that once he got there he would either be in Lorelei’s buggy with Charity or Lorelei’s house with Charity (!) and either of those was acceptable, and he was a man after all – well, that rain just dried up, in Scott’s mind. He shook his head. “Let’s not be late, Johnny.”
That chomping-at-the-bit thing was a new side of his brother that Johnny was thoroughly enjoying. They cantered along for a while, Johnny noticing Scott glancing up at the clouds discreetly, until they were closer to town and Johnny said to hold up. They were by a small gate which opened to a long path, at the end of which was a house with a picket fence around it.
“This is where she – they – live,” said Johnny. “You just go down that path and knock on the door. You hold my dog out for her – them – to see first, and then just wait for the fireworks!” Johnny held the gate open for his brother and then started leaving.
“Where are you going?” asked Scott, hoping the answer was far enough away that Johnny would not be able to interfere for several hours.
“Got to go into town and get that decorated buggy at Marshall’s so I can come back and pick up Lorelei, remember? Good luck, brother!”
But Scott knew he wouldn’t need luck. “Thanks, Johnny, for setting this up!” And Scott starting riding down the long path to the house.
“Oooooh, entirely my pleasure, Scott!” And Johnny started riding away, with every intention of returning immediately on a different path to the house where Scott could not see him. There would have been no reason for him to go into town because there was not in fact a decorated buggy waiting for him and not even a dance in town that night (!), and Charity didn’t exist, either. And there was every reason for him to come back so he could watch, under cover, when Lorelei opened the door and Scott, knowing full well how much women love little puppies with soft fur and cute tails and floppy ears, held that dog out real close to Lorelei Fredrick so she could get a real close look at it and then Lorelei Fredrick would scream and slam the door in Scott’s face . . . Yep, that was a real good way to get Scott back for the dirty trick he had played on poor innocent Johnny!
Un-innocent Johnny snickered naughtily and rode around the back of the house to emerge, unseen, close enough to the front to witness the fun. He reined Barranca to a tree and quickly snuck several yards closer to hunker down for a good view. As he settled in, the rainclouds finally opened up and the rain came down hard. He rued the fact that he had left his rain slicker and hat on his horse and turned up his collar against the rain. But the fun that was about to happen would make up for a little discomfort! Wait until Scott found out that there was no Charity and no dance and Lorelei was afraid of dogs! Johnny put his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing.
And just as Scott approached Lorelei’s house, the rain came down on him, too. Bad timing, thought Scott, but he wasn’t too far from the barn. He headed for the barn with his horse, opened the door, and led him inside. Scott did not see a buggy in there, which confused him, but spending the evening at home with Charity was equally acceptable. Quite acceptable! Incredibly acceptable!
He was wet but little Johnnie was dry because Scott had protected the dog with his coat. Scott lingered in the barn a few minutes, hoping that the rainstorm would lessen. But it did not lessen and the yard was beginning to look like a giant mud puddle.
In the meantime, Johnny was beginning to wonder what the hell was taking his brother so long! Johnny was getting wetter and wetter, but he did not dare run back to his horse for his raingear because in that short time, he might miss the fireworks. Nope, stick it out. Come on, Scott! he whispered.
Johnny got his wish a couple minutes later when his brother decided he would finally have to brave the rain and made a dash for the house, dog under his arm.
Johnny perked up.
Scott had some good momentum going on his quick sprint to the house, but, unfortunately, a few yards from the front door, he slipped in the mud and fell flat on his back!
He sat up immediately and shook his head to try to remove some of the mud from his hair. It didn’t do much good. Now he was wet and muddy! He tried getting to his feet and almost made it when he slipped again and fell – face-down this time! Now he was muddy all over.
Little Johnnie had jumped free with the first fall, and when Scott fell a second time, the dog realized it was a game. Scott went “Aaaargh!” and wiped his face with his muddy hands, making it even muddier. Apparently Aaaargh was the command to pounce on Scott’s face, and Johnnie wasted no time in joining in on the fun. Scott went “Aaaargh!” again, louder and in an entirely different octave.
When Lorelei Fredrick opened the door to see what all the noise was about, she was met with the sight of a very muddy young man sitting in the rain, trying with one hand to raise himself upright and with the other to brush away the muddy white dog that was licking his face.
From his hiding place, Johnny heard Lorelei say, “Oh, you poor man!” and saw her rush outside to lend Scott a hand. Johnny watched helplessly as the three of them then entered the house and closed the door. Seconds later, Johnny saw the door open again and little Johnnie was booted outside accompanied by Lorelei’s “No dogs in the house!”
And then Johnnie apparently picked up the scent of his master nearby and he happily ran over to Johnny, who said frantically “No, no, you’re too muddy” to no avail as little Johnnie jumped right on him and knocked him over. The two of them sat on the ground in the rain, waiting several minutes for Scott to be booted from the house as well, but Scott never came out.
Scott was in the house with Lorelei Fredrick. Something had gone terribly wrong.
For Johnny. Not Scott.
The next morning when Johnny didn’t come down to breakfast Teresa asked Scott if he would check on his brother because Johnny came in last night completely wet and sneezing and madder than a wet hen (and all he cleaned up was his dog!) and then he went right to his room and please make sure he’s OK because you’re brothers and he trusts you. Scott smiled knowingly and took a couple cups of hot coffee up to Johnny’s room and entered without knocking.
Sure enough, Johnny was sitting on his bed in (dry, thank God!) pants and his shirt was on but not fastened like maybe he made an effort to start his day but didn’t get too far. He was sniffling and holding his head in his hands. He looked absolutely miserable. “What do you want, Scott?” he said without looking up.
Scott set a cup on the nightstand next to Johnny. “Brought you something warm to drink.” He sat down in the chair nearby and sipped his coffee. “Sounds like you got caught in that rain last night, Johnny. That’s a good way to catch a cold!”
Johnny just groaned.
“By the way,” said Scott casually. “How was the dance? I never got there.”
As a gunfighter, Johnny used the piercing blue of his eyes to intimidate his enemies. He slowly raised those eyes and it was exactly that thought that crossed Scott’s mind. But Scott just smiled.
“Brother, you know damn well there was no dance! And you know damn well there was no cousin named Charity either! And I’d put a twenty-dollar gold piece on you probably knowing I was outside watching that whole performance in the mud of yours, too!”
“Calm down, Johnny. It’s not good to get so upset when you’re sick like that.” Scott just kept smiling and speaking softly.
Johnny threw his hands up in the air and then brought them down on his head hard enough to make him say, “Ow!”
“You really should calm down, brother,” Scott continued in that same soft tone. “After all, it was you playing a dirty trick on me, you know.”
Johnny stared daggers at his brother, ready, willing and able to come back with a furious response. Except, unfortunately, his brother was right. In the back of his mind, Johnny knew that if they were keeping score, he would probably be losing, but he couldn’t concentrate enough to figure it out. They stared at each other for a few moments, Scott smiling and Johnny scowling.
Johnny scowled a moment longer and then something occurred to him. “Wait a minute! How come you’re not sick? You were in the rain and the mud with Johnnie jumping on top of you . . .” He sneezed.
Scott raised his eyebrows and tilted his head.
“Oooooooh, that’s right. You got brought inside out of the rain by Lorelei Fredrick! In there for quite a while, too, weren’t you?!” Johnny said accusingly.
Scott chuckled a little and then got serious. He set down his coffee cup and looked fondly at his brother. “Calm down, Johnny,” Scott said softly. “I think this has gone far enough. I was going to let you think all kinds of things, but the fact is that nothing happened.”
Johnny still scowled. “I asked you how come you’re not sick? Tender loving kindness is what I’m thinking!”
“You’re right, but not the kind you think.”
“I’ll just bet!” Johnny sneezed again.
“Johnny, what really happened is that Lorelei heard me outside yelling, saw me foundering with your dog, and brought me into her house to get me out of the rain. That’s all.”
“I don’t think so, Scott! Lorelei lives alone, and no single woman would do that to a strange man!”
Scott smiled. “Well, for one thing, I’m really not all that strange. In fact, once I was cleaned up, she said I looked rather nice! But also, even though Lorelei lives alone, her aunt and uncle were visiting. Her aunt was there because her uncle was in town with the buggy, but as soon as he returned, he lent me some of his dry clothes and drove me home in the buggy so I wouldn’t get wet again. Very nice people. All of them.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Hah!”
“And the three of us played gin while we waited for her uncle to come home.”
“Gin! Hah! That what you call it?”
“And, as a matter of fact, I told Lorelei about you and she explained she’d met you in town and your dog scared her. She asked me to apologize on her behalf for running away from you! She said she thought you had a wonderful smile and would like another chance to meet with you.”
“Oh right. Yeah, uh huh.”
“So, Johnny, I asked her if you could make it up to her by taking her on a picnic today.”
“Picnic, right,” Johnny said flatly.
“Really, Johnny. I felt I owed it to you to set this up since I started this whole thing.”
Johnny sneezed again. “Nice story, brother, but I’m never believing anything you say again!”
Scott chuckled and stood up to leave. “Suit yourself.” Just then little Johnnie started barking right outside Johnny’s door.
“Yeah, just leave, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out! And let my dog in. What’s he barking about anyhow?”
Scott opened the door and left and Johnnie ran in, barking furiously. Johnny put his hands over his ears. “Have mercy, dog. What’s the matter with you, anyway?” When he reached down to pick up his dog, little Johnnie ran back to the door, still barking.
“Shhh! Stop that!”
Johnnie continued barking and backed out of the room.
“What’s up? Stop that barking!”
Johnnie turned tail and ran (as they say) downstairs, still barking. Johnny ran after him, yelling the whole time. “Enough barking! Quiet, dog! So help me . . . !”
And when he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw his dog, who had stopped barking because Lorelei Fredrick, who was fresh as a daisy in a pretty dress and a sunhat, had picked Johnnie up and was playing with his floppy ears. Johnny Lancer, shirt untucked, hair unkempt (chest and otherwise), 15-hour beard, barefoot, and sniffling, stopped dead in his tracks.
“Hello, Johnny,” said Lorelei with a lovely smile. “Your little dog really is quite cute. Can he come on our picnic, too?”
Johnny (and Scott, who was watching from the other room) smiled broadly.
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