Word count: 2,480
Teresa struggled valiantly with the quilt, but it’s weight was causing her to lose her balance. She finally managed to get half of it over the line. Stretching up and on tiptoe she pegged it down. She ran her hand across the line, creating a crease in the quilt. Still on tiptoe she lunged forward and dragged the other half across, keeping her left hand firmly on the line she was able to run her hand down the crease and secure the other end.
Satisfied it was secure she stood back to admire her handiwork. The quilt had been nearly three years in the making. She knew exactly the day she had started it. It was one day after her father’s funeral. Each stitch had brought her a memory. She leant back and found herself resting on a body. Not just any body. She knew without turning it was the lean, muscular frame of Johnny. She continued to lean against him, admiring her handiwork.
“You could have helped me.”
“I could see you had it under control.” Johnny put a hand out to support her as he moved away. “ It’s beautiful Teresa.” Teresa stood upright again. Johnny was now by her side. He reached out and touched the quilt, holding it between his long fingers. “ All these patches, they mean something huh?”
She wondered if he was truly interested or just embarrassed that he hadn’t helped. “ Do you really want to know, or are you just trying to get out of work for a bit longer?”
“You know you have a suspicious mind.” Johnny flashed a porcelain grin at her. “No, really I am interested, but I better get some work done or Murdoch will scorch my britches when he gets back. Tell you what, you can tell me all about it at supper.”
He twanged the line, watched the quilt shudder and without looking back sloped off towards the house. A few seconds later Teresa could hear him singing. She listened as the voice moved up the stairs and into his room. She shook her head. It didn’t seem he was in a big hurry to work after all.
She gave the quilt another once over. Each part did have a special meaning. They marked events that had happened in the Lancer household, and in doing so crystallised moments of both joy and sadness. That first patch meant so much, it was a part of the dress her father had bought her only a day before he died. She had never worn that dress, committing it to memory and rags almost the moment he died.
She leant back again, this time finding one of the upright posts. As she did so she noted the difference between it and the younger Lancer brother. It was rare that Johnny came so close to her. True, he would let her hug and kiss him, but he would often hang back, treating her as though she was a gilt edged bird. Teresa smiled to herself and wondered what she had done to demand such reverence. She let her mind wander for a moment and imagined he was still there, that she could still smell the coffee and cigarillo of his breath and the fresh laundry fragrance of his shirt. She could still feel his body, the moment it had tensed and gently pushed her in front of him. The strength in his arms. She thought of the difference in the smells of the Lancer men, Murdoch was smoke and leather, Scott was soap and linen, but even after a trip to the bath-house Johnny still smelt of saloons and horses.
She listened hard. Johnny was still in his room. The rest of the house was so quiet. They were the only two within a mile at least. Murdoch and Scott were in Stockton for the remainder of the week. Jelly had gone to Spanish Wells for supplies and had said he might take a day or two to come back whilst he visited the boys. Maria was away visiting friends.
Johnny was in no hurry to get any work done. With Murdoch and Scott away for at least three days he’d already sussed out a work plan, and it didn’t include breaking his back. He finally made it back down the stairs and out to the front of the house. Teresa came round the side of the house just in time to see him saunter across to the barn. He was now wearing his blue flowered shirt, it hung out from his trousers, his gun was half hitched around his leg. Without turning back he called out and waved a hand “ See you at supper.”
She watched him as he sauntered away, waited on the front porch to see him ride Barranca out . The oppressive air felt unbreakable. It was going to be one heck of a day. Within five minutes all that remained of Johnny Lancer was a dust trail.
Teresa had a lazy day. There was no one to talk to but the hens. The dogs slept in the sultry heat. She examined the garden several times. It was so hot there seemed little point in planting more flowers, nothing was going to grow in this heat. She ate alone at lunch time. She had hoped, even expected, that Johnny might have appeared but no one came. She thought for a moment of going to find him and taking him some food, but dismissed the idea. He wouldn’t want her fussing over him, giving him special treatment just because he was on his own. Maybe tomorrow I’ll suggest we have a picnic. It seemed a good idea. It would also provide her with some much needed company. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the time by herself but right now it felt unnaturally quiet.
Once she had eaten she began to prepare dinner for that evening. She knew Johnny would be grateful for some different food whilst the others were away. Every so often there was a longing in his eyes when food was placed in front of him, and she knew it wasn’t for beef and potatoes but something with a little more spice. Although Murdoch and Scott would occasionally temper Mexican food both preferred their food much tamer. Tonight, she decided she would prepare him a treat.
Dusk had settled. Teresa moved into the great room with her embroidery. Murdoch ran the house to the clock. Meals were always at a set time. She knew even if Johnny didn‘t expect things to work like clockwork, as he rarely knew what time it was, he did operate on a body clock that told him when he was hungry. He always had a good appetite. The clock struck nine. Teresa tried to stifle a yawn. She would stay up for another hour and then she would have to get some sleep.
Johnny was conscious that the house was in virtual darkness when he returned. He had been involved in sealing up a dam which had taken most of the day. It had been hot and thirsty work. He had been grateful to work in the water. The heat had been unbearable, the back of his neck was tender and raw. He’d finished late and gone into Moro Coyo for a beer. He promised himself he would just have the one, but several beers later and a good game of poker had meant that it was nearer midnight before he finally made it through the door.
He took off his boots on the outdoor step and tiptoed across into the kitchen. The strong smell of chilli reached his nose. He had been too busy quenching his thirst to bother to eat. Now he grabbed up a tortilla and hastily wrapped the filling inside. The soft bean juice dribbled down his chin. He wrinkled his nose at the chilli’s, it was hot, just the way he liked them. Mentally he thanked Teresa. He slumped down at the table, and poured the remaining mixture onto his plate. Using the tortilla’s as cutlery he mopped up the contents of the pan.
He felt the small of his back and knew he was going to suffer tomorrow from his hard work. Dang hadn’t he promised himself he would take it easy. His upper arms were also throbbing. He just hoped tomorrow would bring some relief from this heat. He rubbed his tender neck once more, stretched and grabbing a glass of milk, dragged himself up the stairs.
As he climbed the stairs he was conscious of the stillness in the house. There were many occasions when he had returned when the rest of the household were in bed but he always knew there were people occupying the rooms. The only noise came from the clock, it’s persistent ticking echoing down the corridors. He stopped outside his room and strained to hear other noises, outside the walls and beyond the corral. Nothing.
His room was bathed in moonlight, the thin curtains failing to dent it’s harsh glow. Despite the clear night the temperature hadn’t fallen significantly. Johnny dropped his clothes where he stood, stripping right down. He wiped his shirt across the dark hair on his chest and arms, knowing that minutes later he would be soaked again. He carried his milk over to the window and peered out. It was a perfect night. The moon shone across the valley lighting up the earth. As far as the moon stretched and beyond there was nothing but Lancer. His eyes took in the scene, it seemed perfect. No, it was perfect.
He lay down on the bed, it was too hot to bother with a quilt. A smile crept around the corners of his mouth when he thought about his poker hand. Yep it had been a good night. He’d come away more than even. He finished the milk. It did little to satiate his thirst. He closed his eyes, hoping that he would be tired enough to sleep and beat the heat. After ten minutes it didn’t feel like sleep would ever come. His body was sodden by sweat. He used the quilt this time to wipe the excess away from his arms and thighs. He needed some water. He sat up and rubbed his face. The back of his eyes stung with tiredness. He already knew he was going to struggle in the morning. He went over to the drawers to discover that the jug was filled with flies. There was nothing for it but to go down stairs and refill it.
Johnny crept down the stairs. Half way down he wondered why he was trying to be quiet, remembered Teresa, and continued to go quietly. His bare feet padded along the stone floor and into the kitchen.
Teresa lay on top of her bed, she had scarcely bothered to try sleeping. She had tried to stay awake to hear Johnny come home but had nodded off at some point. She heard his door open, heard him negotiate the steps and the shuffle of his feet as he hoppled into the kitchen.
Johnny opened the back door. One of the dogs was on the porch step. It didn’t even raise an eye brow. Johnny was tempted to gently nudge it, instead he passed his bare foot along the fur on the dogs back. The dog obliged and turned to have its tummy tickled. “Hey there boy, you hot in that coat?“ the dog responded by licking the back of Johnny‘s hand and gently gummed his wrist between it’s jaws. Johnny took a deep breath, it seemed nothing would break this stillness, even now the air hung heavily and there was no respite form the heat. He checked the yard, the chickens murmured slightly. Far off he could hear cattle. Peering out he could see Teresa’s quilt, still on the line. He walked out across the dirt, the dog at his heels. He fingered the material. He knew she had spent many an hour when she had watched over him, Scott or Murdoch through illness or injury. Each time those occurrences took place she would sew intently for days.
Teresa rose from her bed and poured herself a glass of water. She lifted the curtain and looked out in the yard. She could see the quilt on the line and a figure standing close by. She was struck for a moment by the definition of the body she saw, and then realised it was Johnny with her back to her, and that he was naked. She dropped the curtain back down and then lifted it again. He had disappeared. As she stood hesitating she heard him slowly climbing the stairs.
Johnny poked his head round her door. “ Hey there, sorry I didn’t wake you did I?” He looked from the empty bed over to the window where Teresa was still standing.
“You okay? What you doing out of bed?”
She nodded, and then worried he might not have seen her in the light confirmed she was fine. “ It’s too hot I can’t sleep too well.”
“Me neither. I’ve got some really cool water if you fancy some?” She saw his tanned arm with the jug in his hand.
“No, really I’m fine.”
His smile shone in the fleeting light “ Wanna tell me about the quilt.”
Teresa made her way back to the bed and sat down on the end. It was nearly two in the morning and he wanted to talk about the quilt!
“That was at teatime. Where were you?”
“I had unfinished business,” He was still smiling
“Who with? A pack of cards?” She lay back on the bed, her hair fanned out behind her. She was aware he was still there.
“Do you want to come in and talk?”
He stood undecided. “ Okay – but I better go get some clothes on.” He left the door ajar as he went back across to his own room, slipped his shorts and shirt back on and went back over to her room. Teresa had moved and was now sitting upright on her bed. Johnny sat next to her, his head pushed back into the pillows. He put his arms behind his head and turned to look at her.
“Okay, you first.”
Teresa followed the straight line of his body. Under his open shirt she could see the beads of perspiration and a fine line of sweat trickling down from his belly to the top of his shorts. She was surprised to see the muscle in his legs and the dark hair that covered his thighs. “I’m ah, I’m sorry what was that?” she asked drawing her eyes back to his face.
“Well, you were going to tell me about the quilt.”
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