Word count: 20,045
Scott sat in the comfortable wingback chair, snifter of brandy on the side table, his socked feet pointed toward the fire in the massive fireplace that dominated the Lancer great room. It had been a back-breaking day of dealing with stubborn cows, muddy bogs, and vaqueros laughing at his ineptness. In the five months he had been at his father’s ranch, he was still a novice at so many things. He could rope a fencepost with regularity these days, but a moving steer was still able to avoid his lasso most of the time. Scott was not used to failure, much less ridicule. He knew he would eventually master roping a moving object, but it was going to take much more time.
After dinner, he had eagerly anticipated reading the new book from Jules Verne that Grandfather had sent him. He had to admit he greatly missed the bookstores of Boston, which received new books from Europe more quickly than any American city besides New York. The nearest bookstore to Lancer was in Sacramento, and its inventory had been sadly lacking in his estimation. Thank God his grandfather had agreed to send him new arrivals. This one was Voyage au Centre de la Terre. At least he didn’t have to worry about anyone stealing it away from him; he was fairly certain he was the only one here who could read French.
But it did take a bit more concentration from him than reading English and Murdoch and Johnny were going at it again. He didn’t want to intervene; he was just getting to the descent into the crater. It was very exciting. He tried to relegate the squabble into the background, but the volume continued to rise.
“You won’t listen to anything I have to say!” Johnny yelled.
“It’s my decision, and I say ‘no.’” Murdoch bellowed back.
As good at yelling as Johnny was, no one could out-bellow Murdoch. There was the predictable jangling of spurs, the sound of a hat and gun belt being torn off the rack, and the slamming of the front door.
Scott sighed, but at least there would be quiet for his reading. After about ten minutes, his father cleared his voice.
“Aren’t you going to go after him, son?”
“I wasn’t planning on it, no,” Scott replied. He returned to his book and another ten minutes slipped by before Murdoch spoke again.
“I think you should go after him, Scott.”
Scott continued to read his book. “If you’re worried about him, perhaps you should go after him, sir, since it was your argument with him that made him leave,” Scott suggested, knowing that would not sit well with his father.
“Don’t you get smart with me now…”
With a rather dramatic air, Scott closed his book with a bookmark, set the book down on the table, and turned to face his father. “Johnny is perfectly able to take care of himself. He doesn’t need to be followed.”
“You’ve always done it before,” Murdoch countered.
“Yes, but I’m tired tonight. I just want to sit and read my book if you don’t mind. Besides, it’s going to rain.”
“I still think you should go. You know how to deal with him,” Murdoch insisted.
“Maybe you should learn that skill, sir. Let me tell you what to expect. You’ll find Johnny at the closest line shack, so you’re in for a bit of a ride. Once you get there, he will order you to leave him alone. If you stay, he will curse you in no uncertain terms for a good long while in both Spanish and English, sometimes pushing you or hitting you and/or throwing furniture around or at you. One time he even drew his gun on me. If you continue to stay, he will then ignore you and refuse to speak to you. If you bring tequila, he will drink it but still not talk to you. Most of the time you will sit in silence until you fall asleep. The next morning, he may or may not talk to you. You will share a meager breakfast and then go to find Cipriano, in order to find out where he needs you and for what. The few times Johnny has decided to talk, he will mainly curse you, Murdoch, and rehash the argument you had with him, so if you’re not prepared to be contrite, it may go badly. I highly recommend taking the tequila bottle if you go, sir. It is the best way I know of to get him to talk to you even if it only works sporadically. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to finish my reading in my room and go to bed early.” Scott bowed slightly to a stunned Murdoch, picked up his book, and walked purposefully up the stairs, ignoring Murdoch’s orders that he come back.
Teresa walked in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. She looked around at the son-less room. “What happened to everybody?” she asked.
“You don’t want to know,” Murdoch answered, seething.
Scott got ready for bed, grabbed his book, laid on the covers of his bed, and started reading again. He half expected his father to come raging in after him, but thankfully, that hadn’t happened. He knew why his father was upset. Any time Johnny slammed out of the house in anger, Murdoch was terrified he was going to leave for good. At first, Scott had been afraid of it, too, but as the months had gone by, Scott was pretty sure his brother was at Lancer to stay despite his battles with Murdoch.
There was only one time when Scott thought Johnny was gone for good—when Johnny’s friend, Wes, had persuaded Johnny to leave. With Wes dead, there was no one presently who could lure Johnny away, and his brother’s roots here were growing longer every month. Now Johnny just wanted some time away to get rid of his anger and compose himself. Those times in the line shack Johnny had talked to him had been rather special, though, and Scott had enjoyed them even while feeling like he was on a high wire about to misstep if he were to say the wrong word. It was an exhausting experience, and Scott was just too tired tonight to deal with it. It was a bit disconcerting that Murdoch was always so worried about Johnny but never gave one thought about what was going on with him. Johnny didn’t seem to, either. Tonight he was tired and cold, and the thought of riding out to the line shack in the rain was just too much. He didn’t want to do it, and didn’t he have any say in the matter? The patter of raindrops played a staccato rhythm on his windows as he reopened his book.
It was late afternoon the following day before Scott caught up with Johnny, who was clearing out some detritus and flora from a stream, Barranca lazily grazing nearby.
“Hello, brother!” Scott called as he rode up. It was never good to startle Johnny. He always wore his gun even while in the middle of wrestling with downed bushes. “Want some help?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Johnny replied, leaving Scott in the dark about whether Johnny wanted help or not.
Scott decided the brotherly thing was to help. He wanted to talk to Johnny anyway and doing it when engaged in an activity where neither one of them had to look at the other often eased the way. Scott dismounted Remmie and the bay wandered over to commune with Barranca.
“You alright?” Scott asked as he took hold of some branches and pulled.
“I know you were pretty upset last night.”
“Scott…” Johnny growled at him, a clear warning that he didn’t want to talk about it.
Scott let it go while they worked together to haul a tangled bush out of the stream but started it up again before they tackled the next one.
“I wanted to apologize that I didn’t come after you last night,” Scott said.
“I didn’t want you to think I didn’t care you were upset.”
Johnny stopped what he was doing and looked Scott in the eye. “Scott, don’t you get it? I don’t care what you do…or don’t do.”
“Well, I usually follow you to the cabin…”
“…and I usually tell you to get out. Just figured you finally figured out what ‘go home’ meant. For a Harvard man, you can be awfully dumb.”
Scott was taken aback with his brother’s stinging words. Clearly, Johnny was in a foul mood. He wasn’t sure how to respond. “It’s just that I’ve always come after you, and last night I didn’t, so…” he stammered, repeating himself.
“So, what?” Johnny interrupted. “I told you, it don’t matter to me, you don’t matter to me, so drop it.” Johnny gave him an icy stare. “You do what you want, Scott. I don’t care.”
Scott didn’t know how to respond to his brother’s hostility. A tactical retreat seemed best.
Dinner that night was a dismal affair. Scott had little idea how to improve things. Johnny and Murdoch were still not on speaking terms. Each of them seemed angry with him, which he thought was unjustified. Even Teresa was quiet. Scott could usually count on her to chatter away just to fill the silence, but she wasn’t cooperating tonight. Some family they were.
A thought occurred. “What about a family trip?” Scott suggested. “I’ve never seen the Pacific Ocean. How about we all go to San Francisco? I hear there are theaters and museums there. Teresa could do some shopping. There should be something there for all of us to enjoy.”
Teresa immediately lit up. “Oh, that sounds wonderful!”
Murdoch was quick to damper her enthusiasm. “You’ve been here long enough to know that it would be impossible for all of us to go away. This is a working ranch, Scott. We need every hand we have just to keep up. It would take several weeks to do what you’re proposing. We can’t stay away from the ranch that long.”
Scott would not be easily deterred. “There’s no major projects that need doing right now. It’s the perfect time to get away and acquaint ourselves with each other. Cipriano is perfectly capable of keeping the ranch from falling apart while we’re gone.”
“Please say yes, Murdoch,” Teresa pleaded.
“No! Absolutely not!” Murdoch said, rising from his chair and taking his dishes to the kitchen.
That effectively ended that conversation. Scott looked across the table at his brother. Johnny remained looking at his plate and shoveling in his food sullenly.
“Thanks for your support,” Scott hissed at him.
Scott was pretty sure the words hissed back at him in Spanish were curses.
Cipriano was walking across the weathered bridge gingerly, stopping every so often to test the stability of the wooden planks. This was his third crossing. He stopped two thirds of the way across and bounced up and down a little.
“Right here, Señor Scott,” Murdoch’s second-in-command said.
Scott walked to where the Segundo was standing. He bounced on the board, too. It did give a little. “The problem is whether it’s the board getting soft or the support underneath giving way. We’d have to get up underneath to make sure, but the water’s too high and fast to take a proper look.”
Cipriano nodded. He relayed what was being said to Eduardo and José in Spanish. Young Eduardo moved to the side of the rushing stream by the bridge as if to look under it.
Scott was the first to reach him. “No!” he shouted. “El agua está…” He didn’t know the Spanish for ‘too.’ ‘Very’ would have to do. “…muy…” What was the word for ‘high’? Scott didn’t know. Maybe it was close to Latin. “…alte y rapido.” He knew the word for ‘fast.’ The vaqueros would holler it at him when they thought he was being too pokey at some seemingly impossible task. It was enough to get Eduardo to back off. Then Cipriano was there yelling at Eduardo a mile a minute in Spanish too rapido for Scott to follow. He hoped Cipriano was explaining the danger of the situation.
Let’s have lunch and I’ll think on it,” Scott suggested.
Cipriano again nodded his approval. Señor Scott was a thinker alright. Cipriano would have just left, waiting until the water level dropped later in the week to come back and finish the project. But Señor Scott liked to think about problems, and because he was El Patrόn’s son, Cip let him think.
Everyone sat in various places in the meadow, eating lunch and resting. “Siesta” Cipriano said, and Scott was grateful for the respite. After lunch, he laid down in the sweet grass and found himself dozing off and on. “Siesta” was one Mexican tradition he could wholly appreciate. It was a fairly hot day for Spring, and the thought of immersing himself in the stream’s cool water was inviting. Not getting washed away was the trick, though.
Suddenly, Cipriano was yelling, and Scott looked up to see Eduardo standing on the bank by the bridge trying to look underneath it. “No!” Scott joined in the shouting.
They were all running toward the boy when he simply vanished from their sight. Scott knew he had fallen in the water. He veered toward a horse, jumped on its back, and took off downstream. It seemed like forever before the water leveled out to more of a pond, and Scott could see Eduardo’s body headed it toward it. Scott waded into the water, oblivious to the cold and grabbed Eduardo as the current tried to flow him past Scott.
The boy was dead weight, and Scott struggled to keep ahold of him. He was sixteen or seventeen, the bunkhouse cook’s son. Then Cipriano was at his side, and between them, they got Eduardo face down on solid ground. Scott immediately started to try to revive the boy, pressing on his ribcage and pushing forward, almost willing Eduardo’s lungs to expel the water. Again and again he pushed. Some water did come out of Eduardo’s slack mouth, but not enough. Not enough. Scott began to pound on Eduardo’s back around his lungs. “C’mon, breathe!” Scott would demand, but there was no response from Eduardo.
Scott didn’t know how long he’d been at it, but he was becoming exhausted. Then Cipriano was at his ear. “No más, Señor, no más. Stop, please, Señor Scott. No more. Es muerto. He is dead.”
Scott got up from straddling Eduardo’s body and just walked away in despair. Hadn’t they warned him? Hadn’t they told him not get near the edge of the bank? Did he even know how to swim? Scott knew how to swim, and he never would have attempted that current. It was all too senseless. Senseless. One second he was there and the next he was gone. Drowned. Dead. Eduardo was just a teenager, his whole life in front of him. So fast, so fast this lazy afternoon had turned into tragedy.
Scott tried to walk off his grief, but eventually, he sat down and let it overwhelm him. José appeared with the tools wagon, and they wrapped Eduardo in a blanket and laid him in the back. Cipriano took the reins, and Scott and José walked back to the remaining horses. Neither man said a word, each lost in his own private mourning.
Dinner that night was a nightmare. Murdoch had demanded an explanation. Hadn’t Cipriano relayed what happened? Murdoch wanted Scott’s perspective. He tried to relate the accident in as dispassionate a way as possible, but in the end, he just stopped talking when his voice began to crack when speaking about his efforts to revive the boy. He had seen death before, certainly, in the war. Had seen it come to boys younger than Eduardo. But that had been war, freely entered into with a knowledge that one might not survive it. Death was lurking around every bend. Many times, Scott thought that it would come for him. So why was Eduardo’s death affecting him so? Perhaps it was the suddenness of it, the unexpectedness of it, that hit him so hard. No, death was not expected on this Spring afternoon, with the birds tweeting and insects buzzing and the sun making their skin burnished and their eyelids heavy. It had been too tranquil of a scene for death to appear. Scott was deeply frightened at how quickly death had claimed the boy. And Murdoch, Johnny, and Teresa had looked at him with something like accusation in their eyes. Or maybe it was pity. Scott knew only that he couldn’t handle either emotion.
It was several weeks later that Scott found himself standing in front of Murdoch’s desk, mindlessly crushing the brim of his hat in his hands. It had been a difficult time for him. He got the feeling that the hands were unhappy with him. Maybe they thought he was somehow responsible for Eduardo’s death. The vaqueros had been particularly disdainful of him. They weren’t as hard on him as he was on himself. He would lay awake at night going over and over that tragic afternoon looking for something he could have done differently to save Eduardo from his fate. He found no answers. He was losing sleep, losing weight, losing interest in the ranch. He needed to get away for a while. More and more he felt the urge to see the Pacific Ocean. He had wanted to see it ever since he had made the decision to come to California. What if he died before he saw it? Somehow, that thought invaded his brain and took up residence.
“What is it, Scott?” Murdoch said without looking up from sorting the month’s bills.
“I’d like to talk to you about taking some time off, sir,” Scott said.
“Yes. It may not be the best time, but then, there never seems to be a good time…”
Murdoch finally looked up from the papers. “You know this isn’t a good time. We’re just starting to get the herd together for the Spring drive. Wait until the drive is over. I think I’ll be able to spare you by then.”
“That’s two months away,” Scott protested.
“You can wait that long.” Murdoch returned to his task with the bills, signaling the discussion was over.
“Sir, with all due respect, I don’t think I can wait that long,” Scott persisted. He didn’t like begging.
“You can and you will. That’s the end of it.”
Scott wanted to yell Johnny’s line: “You never listen to me!” In truth, Murdoch listened to Scott more than he did Johnny, but Scott needed him to really listen to him this time. He just stood there, trying to come up with a better reason than “I just really, really need to do this.”
Murdoch took the silence to mean indecision as to what Scott was going to do next. “Take a wagon and check the western fence line. I think there may be some gaps in it, and I want to move half of the herd to the western pastures soon.”
Scott sighed. “Yes, sir.” He slapped his hat against his thigh before putting it on his head and marched out the door. At least he’d be working alone and not with any of the accusatory hands. As he hitched up the wagon and drove out to the western fence line, a plan was already hatching in his head.
“Did you finish that fence line, Scott?” Murdoch asked at dinner after hearing Johnny’s report of his activities.
“No, sir,” Scott lied, “but I think I should be done by lunch tomorrow.”
“Alright,” Murdoch muttered, clearly displeased that Scott hadn’t finished already.
Well, Scott thought, that was too easy for his father to believe that he was too slow to get the job done in a day. He figured Murdoch was thinking that’s what he got for assigning a Boston dandy to do a routine task. He’s just too slow to get the job done as quickly as you want. After dinner, Scott excused himself from any family interactions. He had some packing to do.
The next morning, Scott left early for the western pastures. No one noticed or cared that he hitched Remmie to the wagon. Scott knew his horse disliked being used as a draft horse, but he would do his duty, and Scott would reward him for it later. No one noticed or cared that Scott threw his tack into the back of the wagon with the fencing supplies. No one noticed or cared that a bedroll went missing.
Scott drove Remmie to the western gate, unhitched him from the wagon, and saddled him up. Scott had finished repairs to the fence yesterday, so the pastures were ready for the herd. He was leaving Lancer in good shape. He led Remmie outside the gate, mounted, and rode away without a backwards glance. He had a date with the Pacific Ocean.
Two days of riding due west landed him Salinas, where he replenished his supplies, pampered himself and Remmie with housing and plenty of food, and, most importantly, got the directions to the nearest beach. He knew riding due west in any part of California landed one at the Pacific Ocean, but he really wanted to find a place with a nice beach where he could sit in the sand. He had read that some of the ocean waves crashed into cliffs.
Now, after a full day’s ride from Salinas, he found himself in Watsonville. Stopping at the livery, he asked where he might be able to stay as close to the ocean as he could.
The livery man thought a few seconds and then said, “That would be Señora Rosa’s place. She takes in boarders sometimes if she likes ya.” He chuckled. “Course, she don’t have a place for yer horse, mister. You might as well have me take care of him.”
Scott looked at him skeptically. “How far is Señora Rosa’s house?”
“Quite a ways. As I said, closest place to the ocean. I’d say it’s over a coupla miles from town here.”
“Then I’ll ride, thank you. If she doesn’t like me, I don’t want to have to walk back,” Scott told the man.
The livery man nodded in understanding. “Suit yerself. I’m almost always here if’n you need me, though. Name’s Davie. Jest take the main road west outta town. White house on yer right.”
Scott thanked him and rode a weary Remmie at a walk out of town…and toward the ocean. Davie had given him good directions, and he found the house with no trouble. “White” could hardly be applied to it; the wood of the house was too weathered to retain much of the white paint that it once held. A picket fence ran around the property. It, too, had given up its paint to the elements. Scott tethered Remmie to the fence and opened the gate into the front yard, which was peppered with chickens. He took off his hat, smoothed his hair, and stood at the foot of the porch steps.
“Hola, la casa,” he shouted.
After no immediate response, Scott thought Rosa might not be home. He was just about to leave when a Mexican woman around Murdoch’s age came to the door. Her black hair was streaked with generous amounts of gray. Her Rubenesque body took up most of the doorway.
“Sí?” she asked.
“Su llama Señora Rosa?” Scott struggled to remember Maria’s Spanish lessons. The cook had been quite patient with him, as was Johnny when he was in a good mood, but Scott was still such a novice.
“Sí,” she said warily, wiping her hands with her apron.
“Me llamo Scott Lancer, Señora. Yo necessito un…” Room. Scott didn’t know the word for ‘room.’ He knew ‘house’ and ‘kitchen,’ but not ‘room.’ Would Latin help? He realized he didn’t know the Latin for it, either. “Um…dormire?” The Latin for‘sleep’ was all his brain could dredge up at the moment.
Rosa looked him over, then looked him over again. He wondered if he should turn around, so she could get a good look at his backside.
Finally, her assessment complete, she said simply, “Sí.” She started to turn away.
“Señora, por favor, mi caballo? Donde…”
This produced a spate of Spanish that Scott couldn’t understand.
“Despacio, por favor…” He had learned ‘slowly’ early on.
Scott could tell she was repeating herself more slowly, but he still couldn’t understand most of it. He did get “no aquí”—not here. Then where? “Donde?”
She sighed heavily, clearly exasperated. She flung her hands back in the direction he’d come. “Dos casas!” She held up two fingers.
He got it. “Yo entiendo, gracias.” He bowed slightly to her and got back on Remmie.
Two houses down the road didn’t sound like it should be very far, but it turned out to be about a mile. The owner of the stable, Frank Granger, was quite happy to take Scott’s horse and money, and Scott walked back with his rifle and saddlebags to Rosa’s. This visit was going to tax all his Spanish and pantomime skills.
The sun was setting by the time he returned to Rosa’s. She welcomed him in and showed him his room. It would do, but he had yet to see the object of his quest.
“Agua Pacífica?” He tentatively asked, giving her the dollars for which she had asked in exchange for room and board. He didn’t know the word for ‘ocean,’ but he figured ‘water’ would be enough of a clue to what he was talking about.
“Sí, sí.” Rosa pointed him further down the road.
He thanked her and started down the road that quickly turned into a path. Trees he had never seen before thinned and then gave way to long grasses. The air was heavy and salty. He had to be close. He continued to walk until the path ended in front of a mound of sand.
Up and over…and there it was. The Pacific Ocean in all its glory, and it was glorious. Water left and right and out to the horizon as far as the eye could see in any direction except behind him. Waves higher and crashing onto shore with more ferocity than the Atlantic. Scott could not imagine sailing these waves, so different from Boston harbor or on the Cape. He took a deep, deep breath and felt the sights, sounds, and smells of this magnificent ocean fill his entire being, washing away his troubles and filling him with a sense of peace. Yes, for him, this ocean was perfectly named.
Taking off his boots and socks, he rolled up his pants legs and headed for the water’s edge. The waves slithered toward him, and he let his feet get wet. The water was icy cold but exhilarating. The sunset was amazing. Sunset over the Pacific Ocean was far more beautiful than sunrise over the Atlantic—deep yellows, oranges, and reds rather than pastel pinks, apricots, and blues. Scott stood at the water’s edge and just took it all in. It was worth his father’s wrath—and there would be anger, Scott had no doubt about that—to bask in this wonderous sight at this moment. His soul needed this. It was if the last six years of his life were a jagged, raw wound and this ocean had the ability to heal it.
Finally, he had to find his way back to Rosa’s house. He didn’t want to be caught in the pitch dark and lose his way his first night here. But it had been worth it, so worth it! He wanted to see it at sunrise tomorrow morning.
He found Rosa in the kitchen.
“Quieres cenar?” she asked, speaking slowly.
He understood her! She was asking if he wanted to eat dinner. “Sí, por favor. No caliente, por favor. No jalepeños ni habeneros, por favor.” She nodded, rolling her eyes. He’d probably used too many ‘pleases.’
The beef chili-like stew was very flavorful but not throat-inflaming. Rosa had said, “Poblanos solamente, Señor,” when she had laid the dish in front of him. Scott didn’t know what she’d said, but the meal was delicious. Afterwards, he retired to his room so he could arise early to get back to the beach. “Gracias y buenos noches,” he said to Rosa as he headed for his room.
She rolled her eyes again. “Buenas noches, Señor,” she quietly corrected him.
Sunrise over the Pacific Ocean wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as the sunset. The gray landscape had merely become more visible as the sun rose behind Scott. Still, he relished the sound of the pounding surf and seeing the waves ebb and flow. He laid in the soft sand with his hands pillowing his head and just let the sounds and the smells of the ocean lay over him like a calming blanket. He didn’t know how long he laid there, but his stomach finally told him he needed to pay attention to it. He reluctantly left his spot on the beach and headed back to Rosa’s.
She was feeding the chickens as he walked up. “Desayuno, Señor, o almuerza?”
Ha! She was joking with him…maybe. It seemed too early for lunch. “Desayuno, por favor. Huevos?” He hoped he wasn’t being too demanding with his breakfast order and idly reflected that learning Spanish from Maria and Johnny meant learning the words for meals and food first above all else. Eggs should be fairly easy for her, if the number of chickens he had to wade through to get to the front door was any indication.
After breakfast, he stumbled through “Yo voy a mi caballo,” and Rosa had nodded.
“Hello, the house!” Scott hollered as he approached the Granger place.
“Back here!” Granger called back, and Scott found him in the stable. “Good morning!” Granger greeted him. “Just making sure your horse is well tended.”
Scott gave Remmie a gentle pat on the rump, ran his hand along his side and petted him fondly when he reached the horse’s head. He communed with Remmie a few seconds before greeting Granger in kind.
“He looks quite content,” Scott complimented the man.
Granger chuckled. “He is. And you? Content at Rosa’s?”
“I appreciate being so close to the ocean, but I’m afraid my Spanish is too limited to properly converse with her.”
Granger pitched some more hay into Remmie’s stall. “You do know she speaks English as well as you do. Well, as well as I do. You talk pretty fancy.”
Scott gaped at him and Granger guffawed. “Damn that woman! She be making you think she don’t understand English?”
“I…I never tried to speak English to her. When the livery man said ‘Señora Rosa,’ I just assumed she was Mexican.”
“Well, she is Mex. Any fool can see that. That don’t mean she can’t speak and understand English.” Granger laughed at him again, shaking his head. “Damn woman!” That was said with much amusement and a touch of admiration.
Scott joined in his laughter. “I’ll see to it that she pays for making me struggle with my poor Spanish.”
“You see that she does, young feller, but not too much. Rosa’s a good woman who’s seen some sorrow in her life.”
Who hasn’t? Scott thought, and Eduardo floated through his mind. The boy had merely been the latest death in Scott’s life. “Don’t worry. I learned early on not to antagonize the cook.”
“How long do you plan on staying with her, Mr. Lancer?”
“At least several more days.” He plunked some more dollars into Ganger’s hand. “And please call me Scott.”
“Frank to you, Scott.”
Scott tipped his hat and left Frank to go back to Rosa’s. His revenge was already developing in his head.
Rosa was in the kitchen when Scott returned. She looked up to make sure it was him who entered her house. “Todo está bién?”
“Oui, Madame, mon cheval va bien.”
Rosa hung her head. Then she started laughing gustily. “Found me out, did you? Must have been that Frank Granger.”
Scott joined in her laughter. “The very one. Why didn’t you tell me you could speak English rather than let me wallow in my poor Spanish?”
“Well, you never did speak English to me; just walked up and started spouting your version of Spanish minute one.”
“But I spoke it so poorly, you must have known my native language was English.”
“Truly, I thought you were trying to practice your Spanish. God knows you need the practice, boy!”
They laughed again, and in one moment, Scott’s adventure became a thousand times easier. His hostess had a sense of humor and he could speak to her in English. “I’m going back to the ocean. How do you say “Pacific Ocean” in Spanish?”
“Oh, that’s a lot closer to English than I thought.”
“But your ‘agua pacífica’ was quite amusing,” she teased.
Scott walked barefooted up and down the beach near the water. When he felt too hot, he waded in a few feet and cooled off. Going north, he walked a few miles before he was stopped by a rock pile that he wasn’t in the mood to climb over. Going south, the beach seemed to go on endlessly. By the time he’d gotten back to Rosa’s, he was beat, but he wasn’t going to miss the sunset. Rosa promised she would wake him in time and he took a much desired nap. A siesta, Rosa had said, and his mind immediately went to Eduardo again. Wasn’t this trip supposed to rid him of that ghost? At least stick the poor boy back in the box with his other ghosts and locked away, key lost?
Rosa kept her word and woke him in the late afternoon. She shyly asked if he wanted company and he said yes.
“What is it about the ocean that has you fixed, Scott?” she asked as the strange trees were thinning into the grassy dunes. They had just agreed to drop the ‘señor’ and ‘señora’ titles and address each other by their given names.
Scott assumed she meant “fixated.” He tried to find the words to describe it. He didn’t want to describe it; he just wanted to experience it, live it, breathe it. But he would try because he liked Rosa. “It’s magnificent. It’s so vast…big. It’s powerful and it roars its power. You can feel its power even standing on the shore. It’s terrifying and soothing all at once. It excites me but also calms me. It overwhelms me, yet it fascinates me. I’m not explaining it right…”
They stepped over the large sand dune that blocked their view of the ocean.
“You described it beautifully,” Rosa said as they stopped at the top of the dune to take in the view. “I’ve lived here all my life. The ocean, I’m so used to it, it doesn’t affect me much these days. But hearing you describe it, it’s like looking on it with new eyes. Gracias.”
Scott blushed and looked away. He hadn’t meant to become so passionate, so poetic about it. He didn’t know why he had opened up so to Rosa. She seemed easy to talk to, even if she was old enough to be his mother…maybe because she was old enough to be his mother. They sat in comfortable silence and watched the sun disappear into the water leaving beautiful streaks of colors behind. Finally, Rosa arose next to him and he took the hint, and they walked in silence back to the house. She seemed to sense his need for quiet contemplation of the beauty they had just witnessed.
After a chicken dinner, she asked him whether he was going back to the beach at dawn again the next day. He told her he wasn’t at dawn but that he’d be surely going back some time tomorrow and everyday at sunset. She nodded her approval of his plans and they bade each other good night in English and in Spanish.
The next morning, Scott arose late. He had a western facing window, and in the absolute stillness of the night, he thought he could faintly hear the waves as they rushed and retreated from the shore. It lulled him into a deep sleep, the deepest he’d had since Eduardo’s death. He stepped out into the front yard and looked around for Rosa. She was by the side of the house tending a rather large and thriving vegetable garden. It would rival Maria’s back at Lancer.
“Good morning!” he called, nearly stepping on a chick that then peeped angrily at him.
Rosa waved at him.
“Are these creatures supposed to be running around in your front yard? I almost stepped on one.”
“They found the hole,” Rosa hollered back.
Scott walked over to the coop. Even a chicken brain would be able to find the hole; it was gaping wide between the chicken run and the front yard.
“I’ll fix it if you want,” Scott offered as Rosa walked up.
“I don’t have the wire,” she said simply and went inside the house.
After another breakfast of biscuits and eggs, Scott grabbed his hat and headed for the door.
“Back to the beach?” Rosa asked as she started to clean the dishes.
“Maybe,” Scott said smiling.
Instead of the beach, Scott hiked to Frank’s house. He found the man sitting in the front of his house fixing a wagon wheel.
After exchanging pleasantries, Scott asked him if he had any chicken wire.
“You gonna fix that hole in her fence?” Frank asked, squinting up at Scott. It was another brilliantly sunny day in Watsonville.
“I was planning to, yes.”
“She ain’t gonna like that. She don’t like to take no charity.”
“Is that why you haven’t fixed it for her?”
Frank nodded. “I’ve offered many times.”
“Maybe she likes having chickens run around her front yard,” Scott mused.
“Nope, she hates it, and that’s a fact,” Frank stated firmly.
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, that’s women fer you, Scott. They never make one lick of sense.”
“Said by a true bachelor, Frank.”
“Yessir, I ain’t never gonna be tamed by one of them fillies.”
Scott laughed. “Do you have any chicken wire?” he asked again.
“Nope, can’t say that I do.” He looked up at Scott and grinned. “That may be another reason I haven’t fixed her fence.”
Scott was beginning to like the man’s sense of humor. He looked at the broken wagon wheel and sighed. “I don’t suppose you have a working wagon, do you, Frank?”
“Well, of course, I do! A man can’t get nowhere around here if’n he ain’t got a wagon.”
“Could I borrow it?” Poor Remmie would be pulling a wagon again, thought Scott.
“No, ya cain’t.”
“I thought we were friends, Frank.”
“Well…” Frank stroked his chin thoughtfully for several seconds. “I won’t let you borrow it, but I might be persuaded to rent it to ya and I’ll throw in my mule fer free.”
Scott sighed again and reached into his pocket. “How much?”
Rosa found Scott sitting at the table drinking a cup of coffee when she returned home that afternoon.
She scowled at him. “I don’t remember giving you permission to fix my fence.”
“Frank said you wouldn’t give it to me if I asked.”
“That should have told you something, no?”
“I wish you had been here when I returned with the supplies. I could have used your help corralling the chickens, stupid things.” He had gotten most of the chickens inside the run before he patched the fence and fixed the sagging gate to their coop. Then he had spent what felt like a very long time catching the outliers. Pitching them one by one over the fence had been satisfying.
She gave a short laugh. “What are you drinking?”
“Where did you find some? I thought I had run out.”
“You did. I picked some up when I was getting the supplies to fix the fence.”
She frowned slightly. “I should give you back some of your money for staying here, then.”
“No. I wanted coffee; I bought coffee. Keep the money I gave you. Besides, I need to give you more, since I’ve decided to stay longer than I originally planned.”
She looked surprised, so Scott said, “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
She nodded. “Por favor, I haven’t had any in a while.” She sat down heavily in the chair next to him as he rose to pour her cup. The lure of tasting coffee had taken the fight out of her, as he had hoped.
Scott was just about to ask her why not, when he reminded himself that he already knew the answer—the same answer as to why the fence hadn’t been fixed. He smiled to himself. What was she going to do when she found the sacks of flour, rice, cornmeal, potatoes, frijoles, and even sugar? She’d let him have it, no doubt. He was looking forward to it.
When Scott returned from watching the sunset that evening, he found that Rosa had already filled the bathtub for him. He wasn’t quite sure he’d ever get used to bathing outdoors, but the tub was by the side of the house where there were only the chickens and goats that could see him. And the sand was too annoying to pass a dip in the cool water and wash it off. The sand got everywhere, even in places it had no business being and he had no idea how it got there. The first time Rosa showed him where the bathtub was, he decided to pass on his urge to rinse the dust of the trail off him. The next day, however, he couldn’t ignore his discomfort any longer. Rosa had left a good-sized towel for him and had made herself conspicuously absent. Well, he had left Lancer wanting an adventure. He just didn’t think he’d have one bathing.
When he walked into the kitchen for dinner, Rosa laid a plate of beans and freshly made tortillas in front of him God, was there anything better than warm, freshly made tortillas? Just spread a bit of butter on them and they were a meal in themselves. Rosa’s were just as tasty as Maria’s.
Rosa had simply put the plate down in front of him, saying “solamente poblanos,” and walked out of the room. Scott still didn’t understand what she was telling him, but the beans were wonderfully seasoned, according to his Eastern palate. He found her afterwards in the parlor, knitting needles working in her hands.
“Muchas gracias por la cena, Rosa.”
She glared at him.
“Have I offended you in some way?” Scott asked.
“You mean other than butchering my birth language again?”
“Lo siento,” he started and then laughed. “Sorry.”
“As well you should be, Scott Lancer. You didn’t hide all those sacks of food very well.”
“I wasn’t trying to hide them. I just tried to put them where I thought they belonged.”
“I don’t take kindly to guests nosing around my kitchen nor thinking I’m a charity case,” she groused at him.
“I don’t think of you as a charity case,” he tried to placate her.
She shot him an extremely skeptical glare.
“It’s not charity when you have a guest who intends to eat all that food,” he explained, giving her his most sincere look.
She kept glaring at him until she couldn’t hold back her laughter any longer. “I swear, I’ve never had a guest as strange as you are, son.”
He liked that she had called him “son.” “If you’re going to start calling me ‘son,’ then I think I should live up to my filial duties.”
“Good lord, Scott, I don’t understand the words you say, and I’ve been speaking English since I was yay high.”
“It means I should be doing things a son would do. Have any repairs I could fix? As much as I love being at la playa, I can’t spend all my time at the beach. I like to be productive.” And her place looked like it needed so much help.
She considered. “Well, if’n you want to be useful, there is something you can do.”
Scott raised his eyebrows as a question.
“I’ll show you tomorrow. Get up a little earlier.”
“Yes, ma’am!” He gave her a mock salute. “I’ll put myself to bed, then. Buenas noches.”
She chuckled. “Now you’re learning, chico.”
Early the next morning, Scott was sitting inside Frank’s wagon with his tools and nails he had used to fix the chicken wire along with Frank’s ample assortment, including a ladder; Frank and Rosa rode up front. They stopped in front of what looked like a modest church with a gaping hole in its roof.
“Tree took it out two months ago,” Rosa was saying as she got off the wagon. “Damaged the roof right good, but a lot of us got some good wood out of her—she was a right nice oak.”
“Why didn’t the congregation fix it?” Scott asked, hauling his and Frank’s tools out of the wagon bed.
Rosa snorted. “There hasn’t been a preacher nor padre in this town for a while. Folks don’t have a lot of money; we couldn’t support any kind of minister.”
Scott walked in the door and took a look at the hole from the inside, then gazed down at the water damage to the floor of the building and to the furniture unlucky enough to be under the opening. “Then why should we bother to fix it, if it’s not used?”
“I didn’t say it weren’t used…just not for services much. Every once in a while someone would do some preaching, but mainly we used it for social things, town meetings and such. We don’t have a place for them no more ‘cause of that tree.”
Scott sighed and looked over at Frank. “How did she get you roped into this, and why didn’t she do it before I came?”
Frank grinned. “Rosa sure can talk a man into helping her when she puts her mind to it. How are you thinking of what we need to get this job done?”
Scott and Frank discussed what they needed to fix the roof, while Rosa made herself busy with setting chairs right and moving other furniture around. They all rode to the feed and seed store that had a good pile of wood in the back. Frank and Scott told the owner what they needed, and Scott roamed around the woodpile taking stock of what was there while Rosa and the owner haggled over price.
“She got ya a real good price,” Frank told Scott as they struggled with wood and adobe tiles that Scott had just bought.
“Adonde va, Rosa?” A man who had been lazing on the storefront stoop asked.
“Venga, Enrique!” she ordered.
He obeyed and sat in the back of the wagon with Scott. He helped unload the wood and then disappeared. Frank grumbled something at Rosa and she slapped his arm as Scott climbed up the ladder to the roof. Frank s started pitching the lathing strips to him.
“Guess we lost Enrique,” Scott said.
“We didn’t lose him. He ran away, lazy, good for nothin’ Mex,” muttered Frank. He wasn’t going to say that too loudly for Rosa to hear or he’d get an earful and another slap on the arm…or a worse spot.
After getting much of the lathing strips up on the roof, Frank joined Scott. Scott nudged the older man in the side. “Here comes your lazy Enrique.” They could see the man returning to the church with two other men.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Frank said in wonder.
“You probably already are, several times over,” Scott ribbed.
With five men on the job, the lathing went in quickly. Scott had never seen a roof repaired with tiles. Boston houses all had shingles. He stayed in the background and got a valuable lesson on how to tile a roof. Murdoch’s hacienda had a tile roof. Maybe he could surprise the vaqueros by knowing how to fix it.
Several hours later Rosa called them all down. There were several women inside the church serving lemonade. The women had been busy, too, sweeping the floor, mending chairs and tables, and draping a clean linen over what Scott took to be the altar. By the time lunch came around, the roof was finished, and a group of people had gathered inside to share the meal. A little paint to hide the water damage and the church would be as good as new, Scott thought. He was careful not to say that out loud, however, knowing he would be dunned for the price of the paint and brushes. Still, the bon hommie of the crowd could not be denied, and if the few dollars he had spent for the wood and tiles resulted in this good will, it was a small amount to pay. It was just a little disconcerting that everyone called him “Chico” because they heard Rosa call him that. Johnny would have laughed in his face about that.
Rosa made sure they made it back to her house in time for Scott to have his daily late afternoon communion with his ocean. She didn’t tease him about his time spent thinking and napping on the beach. He was grateful for that.
Over dinner, Rosa remarked, “You should help Frank out tomorrow morning. He lost half a day’s work today, and he’ll need help making that up.”
“Work? What does he do?”
“Well, a little bit of everything. He’s like the town’s fix-it man.”
Scott looked skeptical.
“It earns him enough to get by; he don’t need much.” Rosa explained.
“Alright,” Scott agreed. He’d put a little bit of cash in his pocket tomorrow. He was beginning to see how these people operated. They were all grifters, but he liked them a lot. What were a few dollars or twenty to Scott Garrett Lancer, son of the mighty Murdoch and grandson of the wealthy Harlan Garrett? He could well afford it, and he had brought plenty of “just in case” cash anyway, as Grandfather had always insisted when they were traveling. It was tucked away in the false bottom of his saddlebags. Might as well spend it on these good folks than on fancy hotels and meals in Paris.
The next morning had Scott following Frank to a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood on the outskirts of town with the mended wheel Scott had seen him with two mornings back.
Frank reined up the wagon outside a small adobe brick house and called out. A young Mexican woman appeared and nodded.
“With the both of us here, fixing this wagon won’t be hard,” Frank observed.
He was right. It didn’t take too long. The señorita came out while they were finishing up and talked to Frank in Spanish far too fast for Scott to understand. She apparently had more things that needed fixing. Frank disappeared inside her house. Scott wandered to the front of the house and looked out onto the dusty street. Some children were playing tag in one yard up the way. It was difficult to call it a yard. Mostly there was just a lot of dirt everywhere, although some houses had tried to fence their place in. There was some noise to his left accompanied by a giggle.
There on the roof of the lean-to was a boy around ten, jumping on the roof and making it sway. If he wasn’t careful, the whole thing would collapse. As he was walking toward the boy to make him stop, Scott noticed a small girl playing with a doll underneath the lean-to. If that structure collapsed…
“Hey!” he yelled as he broke into a run.
The boy looked up but not before he rocked the roof hard one more time. One last time as it turned out. The lean-to broke away from the house. Scott had no time to pull the child out from underneath it, so he dove in and tried to shield her with his body.
It felt like the entire building, meager as it was, had crashed down on his right shoulder and side of his head. There were sounds, so he hadn’t lost consciousness, but he couldn’t distinguish them. Slowly he realized that there was wailing going on beneath him and shouting all around. Suddenly, hands were grabbing him and pulling him from the wreckage.
“Scott! Scott!” He knew that voice. That was Frank.
Scott grabbed the girl, so they both would be hauled from the destruction together. The little girl was sobbing and trembling in his arms as she tried to kick herself free of him. He managed to hold on as the people worked to free them. Then there was daylight, and the girl was being torn out of his arms and into her mother’s. The absolute fright on the woman’s face as she hugged the child to her breast could only be that of the mother.
Scott just sat there for a few seconds, trying to compose himself.
Frank sat on his haunches beside him. “You okay, Scott?”
Scott nodded. “I’m fine.” His shoulder was bleating at him, but not enough to indicate anything was broken. He’d probably have a spectacular bruise, though. He touched his head. His hand came away bloodless. He’d probably have a good bruise there as well. Frank helped him up and steadied him when he wobbled. The crowd of concerned citizens started to disperse.
He looked around. “Is the boy alright?”
“The boy who was on the roof trying to bring it down,” Scott explained. There was no sign of the child. Scott walked around the pile of broken wood, looking for the boy. With a sigh of relief, he couldn’t find him. He must have fled the scene.
Only half of the lean-to was in tatters. Scott wondered if it could be repaired. He sorted through the mess, looking at what wood could be salvaged.
“The reason this fell was because it wasn’t attached to the house, and as a free-standing shed, it didn’t have enough structural support.” He had helped rebuild some of Lancer’s outbuildings after the Pardee raid and had learned quite a lot then.
“Can I borrow the wagon, Frank?”
“Whaddaya have in mind, Scott?” Frank asked suspiciously.
“The señora needs a new lean-to,” Scott answered already moving toward the wagon. He hoisted himself up on the seat and grabbed the reins. “I’ll be back shortly.”
Forty minutes later he returned with the bed of the wagon loaded with wood. He unloaded it at the site of the accident and returned the wagon to where Frank had been working. Then the physical labor began. The little girl sat near the door to the house and watched him. He smiled at her, but she turned her head away shyly. Ten minutes later, her brother popped out of the front door. He was limping slightly. Scott smiled. The boy shouldn’t have gotten away with his stunt scot-free, and his injury didn’t seem too bad, Scott was happy to see. Perfect come-uppance.
“Cόmo se llama?” Scott said to him.
“Y su hermana?”
Of course, with a brother named for Jesus. “Jesús, ayúdame.”
The boy walked over to Scott reluctantly, clearly wondering why the gringo was asking for his help. Through a bit of pantomime and broken Spanish, Scott was able to relate what he wanted the boy to do. Soon the child was holding posts so that Scott could hammer pieces of wood together. Then he let Jesús trying hammering. The boy was pretty good at it and was enjoying himself. The mother came out to check on them periodically. Jesús would talk to her, but Scott couldn’t understand them. She didn’t stop them, so Scott thought she was fine with what they were doing.
They had the basic frame built when Frank walked over to them. “What in tarnation, Lancer? You are the strangest feller I ever did meet.”
“Well, they needed a lean-to.”
“That don’t mean you have to do it. It and that boy damn near killed you.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. And this time it will be done right and anchored to the house. My assistant here is Jesús. He’s a great helper, and, seeing how it’s his fault they need a new lean-to, he has graciously agreed to lend me a hand.”
Frank and Jesús had a short conversation in Spanish, with Jesús grinning the entire time, so Scott thought the subject had to have been cordial. “You know, if you lent a hand and your knowledge, we could have this done in no time,” Scott suggested to Frank. He winked at the boy, and Jesús whispered a sincere, “Lo siento, Señor” that Scott acknowledged with a serious nod of his head.
Frank walked away grumbling but came back with the ladder and his tools, and less than an hour later, the new lean-to was completed. Scott shook Jesús’ hand as he thanked the boy, who was beaming with pride. His mother looked over her new shed and smiled broadly, little Maria clinging to her skirts. She shook hands with Scott and thanked him profusely, adding some words Scott didn’t understand. It was so frustrating not knowing the language! Frank talked with her a bit, while Scott returned the tools to the wagon. Scott marveled at how easily Frank switched back and forth from Spanish to English. Oh, to be bilingual! He’d envied Johnny for it, too.
His mind wandered to his brother. Where was he now? What was he doing? Scott had thought his brother would have caught up to him in Salinas. Now he was gone for a week. Surely, if Johnny had come after him, he would have gotten here by now. But Johnny didn’t care what he did, he reminded himself. He didn’t matter to Johnny, so there would be no concerned brother on his trail. On the other hand, maybe they didn’t realize he was gone yet, he thought wickedly.
“Are you all done with Señorita Hernandez’ repairs?” Scott asked, hoping Frank was finished at the house they’d originally arrived at. His head was starting to ache well and good now.
“You know, if Señor Hernandez ever caught ya callin’ his wife ‘señorita,’ you’d be in a world of hurt, boy. Now let’s get you to Rosa’s.” He and Scott both climbed up into the wagon. “I promised I’d have you back so’s you can be with yer ocean.” He shook his head over Scott’s penchant of having to be at the beach at sunset. He never much cared for the beach. Too much sand. “Yessiree, boy, you sure are a strange one.” He snapped the reins once, and the mule began the journey home.
“Señora Vasquez was very happy with you rescuing little Maria and then fixin’ her shed. I told her you were a fine man,” Frank said. Scott accepted the compliment with a nod. “I also told her you were loco.” Frank laughed heartily at his joke.
“How do these women survive here? Where are their husbands?” Scott asked when Frank had finally recovered from his wit.
“I s’pose their husbands are out in the fields. A lot of ‘em are down Castroville way now, plantin’ those artichoke things.”
“Artichokes? What are they?”
“Well, now, Scott, those aren’t real easy to describe. Kinda like a ball with scales on it.”
“What do you do with them?”
“Ya eat ‘em, man! Although I can’t figure out how the first one who ate one of them weird things figured out how you could eat ‘em. S’posed to be a real fancy thing to eat, but I’ll be durned if’n I could get one in my mouth. Those scales taste like bark.”
They rode in silence for a bit until Scott said, “Speaking of bark, do you happen to know what kind of trees are growing near the sand dunes? I’ve never seen the likes of them before.”
“Can’t tell ya. I can tell an evergreen from an oak an’ that’s about it,” Frank admitted. “And acourse, redwoods. Anybody can tell a redwood.”
“What’s a redwood? I don’t think I’ve seen one.”
“Well, you’d know it if’n ya seen one, Scott. Biggest damn trees that ever were. Ya seen one an’ ya ain’t never gonna ferget it.”
Scott was intrigued. “Where might I be able to see one?”
“Just a few hours north a here. Take the mission trail.”
“Yep. You’d like that trail—goes along the coastline.”
“And it’s called the mission trail because…” Scott prompted.
“’Cause of the missions.” At Scott’s exasperated glare, Frank continued. “Seems about a hunnert years ago some Spanish padre built missions up and down the coast.”
“To convert the heathens to the Catholic faith, doncha know? That’s why there’s so many Catholics around these parts, or hadn’t you noticed?”
“No, I hadn’t. I’m new to the area.”
Frank laughed. “Well, that explains it, then, you not knowing anything.”
Scott didn’t know what he was talking about, but Frank sounded a lot like Murdoch and Johnny. No one out here thought he knew anything. He let the matter drop; however, the redwood trees sounded very interesting. He would have to ask Rosa about them. Frank drove him up to Rosa’s fence. Scott clambered down and retrieved his tools. He went to put them away in Rosa’s lean-to while Frank and Rosa conversed. He was starting to feel nauseous. He quickly put his tools away and rushed behind the shed to expel the contents of his stomach. Afterwards, he staggered over to the pump and cleaned himself up a little. Frank and Rosa were still talking, so Scott just went to his room, laid down on the bed, and was asleep in seconds.
Rosa was worried. Scott was still sleeping and the sun had set a good while ago. She had tried to wake him so he could go down to the beach, but he seemed to be deeply asleep. Frank had told her about what happened, how Scott had saved a little girl and gotten smacked in the head for his trouble. She had called out softly to him to try to rouse him in the late afternoon, but he wouldn’t awaken. She hoped he wouldn’t be too angry with her for letting him sleep. He probably needed it. Maybe he would sleep through the night and everything would be alright in the morning.
Scott reminded her a little of Nathaniel. Of course his hair was so much lighter; Nathaniel had been dark haired like she and Zeb, but he had been tall and slim like Scott. He would have been about Scott’s age, too, if he had lived. She thought about her two boys and the tears came again. She hadn’t cried over them in some time, but having Scott here brought it all back. She would have hoped her boys would have turned out something like Scott Lancer. He was a good-hearted boy…man. He was a man and not one of her boys, but she rather wished he were. Her eyes clouded with tears and she started dropping a stitch here and there. Knitting while crying weren’t no use. She smiled at her terrible grammar. What would Papa have said?
She was just about to abandon her knitting when she heard footsteps in the hall. Scott appeared, disheveled and bleary-eyed.
“There you are! Are you hungry?” she asked him.
“A little. Do you have any leftovers? Maybe just some tortillas and butter?”
“Yes, I can give you some tortillas. Sit there and I’ll bring them out to you.”
He sat in the cushioned side chair, the one Zeb had bought for her before…the one Nathaniel could have been sitting in today, if only…
She handed him the tortillas and butter and he slowly started to spread butter on the topmost tortilla. She watched, fascinated at how deliberately and precisely he moved. He always moved that way.
“Is your head alright? Frank told me about what happened today. That little girl is lucky you were there.”
He nodded. “I’m fine,” he said too quickly for her liking. She thought he probably wasn’t but didn’t feel like telling her that. Why not?
“Best you rest tomorrow,” she suggested. “Spend more time with your ocean.”
He nodded again. “That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.” He was on his third tortilla when he said, “I wish I knew more Spanish. I envy you and Frank being able to switch between languages with such ease.”
“Mañana, hablamos solamente en Español,” she stated.
“So you’re saying tomorrow is a day of silence,” Scott said, a twinkle in his eye. “’Solamente,’ does that mean ‘always’ or ‘only’?”
“And ‘poblanos’ means?”
She laughed. This boy…man…could make her smile so easily. “There is no English word for ‘poblanos.’ It’s just the name of the peppers, very mild peppers.”
“That’s what you’ve been telling me every time you set a plate before me? ‘Only mild peppers’?”
“Well, you seemed truly worried the food would be too hot. I wanted to reassure you.” She laughed a little at that. “Guess I didn’t because you didn’t understand me. So, you see, you need the practice. We’ll work on your accent, too.”
Scott finished his fifth tortilla. “Sounds like an excellent plan, as long as I get to say ‘cόmo se dice’ a lot.”
“You can. It’s a deal.” She looked at him nod and then wince. “Does your head hurt? I have some tea that might help.”
“Yes, I’d like that, thank you.”
After he drank the tea, he excused himself and went back to his room. She wondered if he was alright. Maybe he was going to read some. She had seen the book on the table by his bed. It was in no language she had ever seen before. She wondered if he could talk fluently in that language. Tomorrow was going to be interesting.
Scott was getting quite frustrated. While he had gotten through breakfast (barely) with his limited knowledge of Spanish, understanding what Rosa wanted as he helped her clean out the chicken coop was impossible. The fact that he was distracted by his throbbing shoulder didn’t help. What was worse, he knew he wouldn’t learn Spanish this way. Yes, he probably would remember some of the words for a few days, but he knew they wouldn’t stick. He remembered more of his Latin than he did his Spanish, and Latin was a dead language. He thought of his Latin classes at Harvard. One year of tedious conjugations and declensions and a second year of stumbling through the Aeneid. That was it! Conjugations! He not only needed to learn the words, he needed to know the structure of the language.
After living through Rosa’s scolding when he refused to speak Spanish at lunch, Scott told her of his dilemma and solution. Rosa agreed to help him. He grabbed his Verne book and a pencil and began to write in the blank end pages of the book. I talk, you talk, he talks, we talk, they talk: hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos, hablan. After several verbs, a pattern started to emerge…and then was deviated from. I go, you go, he goes, we go, they go: voy, vas, va, vamos, van, all from the infinitive ir. Strange. Rosa couldn’t explain it. Most of the time the verbs followed the pattern in hablar, to talk, but sometimes they didn’t. At least he found out when he should use ‘está’ rather than ‘es.’ Maria would correct him when he got it wrong, but she never explained why he got it wrong. Now he knew. When the ‘is’ was permanent, like his name, he should use ‘es.’ It was ‘mi nombre es Scott’ because his name would always be Scott. When the ‘is’ was connecting something changeable, he should use ‘está.’ “El café está frío” for “the coffee is cold” because, presumably, its temperature could change. One little explanation, and it all made sense now!
He made a list of prepositions, a list for common adverbs, and a list of the infinitives of the verbs he would be most likely to use. Now that he knew what he needed, Maria could tell him the Spanish for the past and future tenses of the verbs. Once he got back to the ranch, he would start an alphabetical list of the words. Unfortunately, like Latin and French, the nouns were gendered with seemingly no rhyme or reason. He imagined Maria would always be correcting him over that. However, this system would definitely work for a beginner. What a productive afternoon, thanks to Rosa! She even taught him how to roll his r’s. With French, he felt like he had to swallow the r’s; in Spanish, he had to elongate them. It was strange to think both languages stemmed from Latin; they seemed so different from one another.
Later he asked Rosa if she would like to see the sunset with him. She said yes, and they watched the sun descend into the ocean again with dazzling results.
“You speak English so well; I don’t know how you do it. You don’t seem to have an accent at all,” Scott commented.
She smiled. “You can blame my father. When he was around, I could only speak English…and speak it like he did—without an accent.”
He thought about Johnny not having a Mexican accent either. How was that possible living with his Mexican mother along the border towns since he was two years old and away from Murdoch’s influence? Who had taught him the American vowel sounds? “Your father wasn’t Mexican?”
“No, he was from Missouri and as gringo as you are,” she laughed.
“That’s like my brother. He’s half gringo, too, from our shared father, but his mother was Mexican. He looks Mexican but he has blue eyes. I think he’s suffered for that.”
“Yes, he would have and will have. I was lucky to get my eye color from my mother. My father also had brown eyes, but not as dark as hers. Most people just assume I’m fully Mexican.”
“Was your life made miserable because of your mixed heritage?”
“Not too much. My father was a minister and respected in our small town. He preached that God loved everyone, and having a Mexican wife brought that message home. He was an educated man and he made sure I learned my lessons. Most ‘half-and-half’s’ aren’t as lucky as I was. Neither whites nor Mexicans seem to accept us. Knowing English so well and so properly has helped me in this life. Although living here, I have a tendency to speak the way they do here. Frank can speak proper English if he puts his mind to it, but I think he just gets lazy most of the time, and I do, too. You just learn to talk like everyone else to fit in. Enough about me, tell me about your brother.”
Scott shook his head. “I wish I could. I don’t know him very well. I didn’t even know he existed until five months ago. He’s younger than me by about three or four years. He’s wild and impulsive and smart as a whip in all the ways that one needs to be out here. My college education hasn’t helped me in learning to rope and brand cows, although it taught me how to learn, for which I’ll always be grateful.”
You do know how to learn, Rosa thought. She had seen that firsthand today when she had helped him with his Spanish. This man was scary smart like her father.
“In a few weeks, a cattle drive will start,” Scott continued, “and I have no idea what that entails. Anyway, Johnny is rather a mystery to me, and although I’d like to solve that mystery, he doesn’t seem all that interested in letting me.”
“That’s too bad,” Rosa commiserated. She wanted to tell him that brothers should be close, but it was not her place. Her Nathaniel and Robbie had been close, so close, too close.
They walked a bit in silence, each lost in their own memories. Then Scott said, “Have you ever seen a redwood tree?”
Rosa shook her head.
“Want to go find one tomorrow?”
She grinned. One day of not tending her garden would not hurt it.
They got directions to the mission trail from Frank when they went to pick up Remmie and Frank’s mule. He was going to charge Scott two dollars rental fee for the mule, but Rosa reminded him of the “friend discount,” and Frank just let her have the mule at no charge. Again, Scott wondered at the relationship between those two, but he was too polite to ask.
They found the mission trail easily and headed north, Rosa singing him songs in Spanish and ordering him to translate them. Once he had to her satisfaction, she would teach him the song. Scott thought it was a very pleasant way to pass the time, and maybe he would be able to surprise Maria when he went back to Lancer. He hadn’t thought much about the ranch while he’d been in Watsonville, but now, as he and Rosa sought the mysterious redwood tree, he had his first thoughts about going back. He knew he could not stay in Watsonville too much longer.
Two and a half hours into their journey, Rosa said, “There?”
Scott looked through the pines and saw a tree trunk that did not look like a pine about ten yards away. “Could be, but Frank said they were huge. Let’s keep riding.”
Twenty minutes later, they both said, “There!”
It was a good-sized stand of them back behind the pines that lined the right side of the trail. To the left was gorgeous views of his ocean. He and Rosa led their animals off the trail and deeper into the forest. These had to be the redwoods. The bark was a reddish-brown color and unlike any bark Scott had ever seen before. There looked to be something resembling strings running down the outside of it, some of them broken and curling, giving the bark a soft and flocculent appearance. The trunk itself was massive in diameter. Looking up, Scott couldn’t see the top of the tree.
“This is them, I know it!” Rosa exclaimed, enthralled. Scott agreed.
They ran around through the thick stand, laughing in delight. At one point, Rosa hugged a trunk and ordered Scott to do the same on the other side to see if their fingers could touch. He did, and their fingers didn’t come close. They would have needed the addition of two more people with the arm-spans of Murdoch, Scott thought, to come close to touching their fingers around the tree. Truly, massive and majestic trees.
They walked back to their mounts and retrieved the lunches Rosa had made. She picked out her favorite redwood, and they sat under it, enjoying their meal in silence as they gazed upon the splendor of the towering trees. “Biggest damn trees that ever were,” Frank had said, and he was right. Scott would not forget them. California was so beautiful. He was so thankful he had come here. He had finally met his father and a brother he didn’t even know he had. There were going to be many obstacles to overcome before they could truly be called a family but living in this beautiful part of the country was definitely worth it.
Rosa wanted one more circuit around the trees before heading back, and he indulged her. It was nice having someone more expressive than him share in his discovery of redwood trees. She romped through the forest touching and hugging the trees until they walked back to their animals.
“Ready for the ride home?” Scott asked. He knew Rosa wasn’t used to riding for so long.
“I’ll make it if old Regina here can.” She patted the mule on her neck.
“Regina? Is that her name?”
“Well, it’s my name for her. She’s a queen, don’t you think?” Scott gave a derisive snort. “Frank doesn’t name his animals, so I do.”
“How’d you come to live in Watsonville, Rosa?” Scott asked after they had ridden on for a bit.
“My husband, Zeb, brought me here after the war.”
Scott frowned. “The war between the states?” That wouldn’t have been very long ago.
“Was there a war between the states?”
Scott practically gaped at her. “You’ve never heard of the Civil War? Or the War of Northern Aggression, as they say in the South?”
“When was that?”
Scott could detect no disingenuousness in her question. “It ended five years ago.” Could it have been that long ago? Sometimes Scott felt like it ended yesterday. His nightmares kept it fresh in his mind.
“I might have heard something about it. News doesn’t get out here very fast, and I don’t read any of those newspapers anyway. I hardly get to town too often, since I have to walk.”
Scott didn’t want to talk about the war—his war. “What war are you talking about?”
“The one between the States and Mexico.”
It was his turn to be incredulous. “The United States fought a war with Mexico? When?”
“Must have been around forty-six or so. My Zeb fought for the States, but he was always torn up about it, seeing how I had Mexican blood in me.”
Scott was amazed at this information. “How long did it last?”
“Not long. Two or so years. That’s when this California was born. The Mexicans called it alta California. They had the heart to keep it, but they just didn’t have all those guns.”
No wonder the North thought the Civil War would be over quickly, Scott thought ruefully. The U.S. Army was used to winning…and winning swiftly.
“After the war, Zeb brought us up here. Like you, the ocean brought him some kind of peace. That’s why the house is so close to the beach. We were pretty far from the center of town, which wasn’t much of a town in those days. Gradually, people started coming and staying, and you can see how close Frank is to my place now. When we first built the house, there was no one else near for miles.”
“How did he make a living for you?”
“He tried to farm. The soil’s pretty sandy, so it’s not too good to grow things,” she said rather sadly, Scott thought.
“Your garden seems to thrive,” Scott said, trying to cheer her up.
“That’s because of Frank. A long while back, he went out and hauled in a wagonful of good dirt and has been doing that every other year. We mix it in with the dirt here and it grows things just fine.”
“Frank’s pretty good to you. You should make an honest man out of him.”
She laughed at that. “Good Lord, Scott, he’s ten years younger than I am!”
“So?” Scott persisted.
She just continued to laugh.
They rode another good spell before Scott asked, “What happened to Zeb, Rosa?” Too late Scott realized that was a breech of manners. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
She stayed silent for a while, and Scott thought she wasn’t going to answer his impolite question. Then she said, “I don’t rightly know, Scott. After the boys died, he just sorta lost interest in life, started drinking, and then one night he took the mule into town and never did come back.”
Scott was stunned. She had sons who died and a husband who had deserted her. Frank had said she’d known sorrow. “How long ago?” he asked softly.
“About ten years now. The people in Watsonville, well, they’re good folk. They’ve kept an eye on me and helped me when I needed it. They buy my vegetables, eggs, and canned goods. It keeps me going. That’s why it was important to me to give them back their church. A small thank you.”
“I’m sure they appreciated it. I’m sorry for the loss of your boys.” He was curious about how they died but stopped himself from asking. He wasn’t going to err twice.
“Thank you,” Rosa said quietly. They rode in a lengthy silence again, until Rosa said, “They got the fever, scarlet fever. First Robbie, the younger one. Then he gave it to Nathaniel. They were so sick. I tended them as best I could, then I got it, too. Zeb managed to pull me through, but our boys…” Her voice cracked and faltered.
“I’m so sorry, Rosa.” Scott’s voice was none too steady.
Scott felt her sorrow creep over him like the spiders in Libby. He didn’t know how to help her. What could you say to a mother who had lost her children? They rode on until Scott started softly singing one of the Spanish lullabies she had taught him on the ride up. It seemed to ease her grief; it eased his.
They deposited Remmie and Regina back at Frank’s stable mid-afternoon. Scott took Frank aside, talked to him briefly, gave him some money, and then declared he was taking them all to dinner in town that night.
As they were walking back to Rosa’s, she said, “You’ll miss another sunset if you take us to dinner.”
“There’ll be another one tomorrow,” Scott replied.
Scott stood up and stretched his back. He was helping Rosa weed her garden, and he’d been bent over for a while. Rosa was up ahead. There hadn’t been many words between them since he’d told her he’d be leaving the following morning.
“But you haven’t eaten all the food you bought,” she’d said to him softly, and he had laughed.
She hadn’t. Where was Frank? He weeded another row before he heard the sound of the wagon. Finally!
“Someone’s here!” he called out to Rosa.
She stood up and started walking to the front of the house.
There were two wagons, Frank’s being in the lead. The other wagon held several men, Enrique among them. Scott didn’t think there’d be this many. Frank hopped down and gave Scott a few dimes—the remainder of the money Scott had given him last evening.
“Didn’t think we’d be buying as many brushes as we did, but we got more volunteers than I thought,” he explained as he dropped the dimes into Scott’s hand.
Scott gave them right back, saying “Finder’s fee,” and Frank grinned at him.
“What’s all this, now?” Rosa demanded eying both men suspiciously.
Frank just glanced away, so Scott said, “Well, when I first arrived in your fair town, the livery man, Davie, told me about you renting a room and directed me to the white house. I passed your house three times before I realized he was talking about this place. If those are the kinds of directions the townspeople are going to give, your house needs to be white.” He started to unload one of the large pails of whitewash.
“Scott Lancer, what are you going to do?”
“We are going to whitewash your house.”
“You are not!” she objected.
“Go back to your vegetable patch, woman, and let us menfolk do our work!” he ordered, his eyes twinkling.
They stood facing each other with stubborn looks on their faces. A year at Libby had assured Scott that he could out-stubborn anyone, even Murdoch Lancer. Rosa would be no match for him. She stomped her foot and made a derisive “hrmmph” sound but walked back to her garden, muttering in Spanish.
“You got a right fine way with Rosa,” Frank observed. “I’m takin’ lessons.”
It took them no time at all to get everything arranged and started. After a lunch Rosa had made of tortillas and frijoles, Scott recognized Jesús walking up.
“Buenos días, Jesús!” Scott greeted him enthusiastically.
“Señor,” Jesús said slowly, “mi amigos…nosotros queremos ayudarte.”
“Gracias!” They were volunteering to help! Scott looked over at Frank. “Frank, do we have enough paint for the fence?”
“We got plenty, Scott.”
What they didn’t have were extra brushes. Scott rummaged around and found two crusty ones in Rosa’s shed. Good enough to use on the fence; however, there were three boys.
Frank walked over and plucked Scott’s brush from his hand. “Why don’t you rest, Scott? I know that shoulder’s still painin’ ya. Why don’t you take some time, go visit that ocean of your’n? We can handle it from here.”
Scott considered. His stubborn pride told him to keep painting, but his shoulder did still bother him some, especially when he reached up. He hadn’t seen his ocean for a while, and there were fresh-faced boys eager to help. They wanted to do a good deed. His pride shouldn’t stand in the way of that. He relented. “Thanks, Frank. I’ll get the boys set up and then I think I will take that walk. This is my last day here.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve kinda gotten used to havin’ you around.”
“You mean you’ve gotten used to having my money around,” Scott laughed.
Frank winked at him and then turned serious. “Take all the time you want, Scott. I’ll see to it that it all gets done right.”
Scott sat on the beach, drinking in the sight of his ocean, letting the winds washing off it ruffle his hair and cool him in the early afternoon sun. It was his last day. He took out the box in his heart, unlocked it, and took each ghost out. One by one, he remembered them, blessed them, and let them fly away to the ocean. He contemplated each one of them, acknowledging the times he’d shared with them, of how they died, and then he banished them to the water, hoping each would find peace there. The war had taken many friends. Finally, he got to Eduardo, his most recent ghost. He hadn’t known the boy very well, but Eduardo had given him a great gift. He had given Scott a renewed understanding of what a gift just breathing was. His death had given Scott the strength to defy his father and the ability to find his own way, to remember to live his own life, a life neither determined by his grandfather nor by Murdoch Lancer. It had led him to this unique and beautiful place. He’d seen the magnificent Pacific Ocean, and it seemed to Scott that he himself could die now and there would be no regrets. And to think he had also seen a majestic redwood tree! Such marvelous sights! He had been truly blessed this last week, meeting Rosa, Frank, and even Jesús. He thanked Eduardo as he banished Eduardo’s ghost to the ocean waves. He looked into the box. It was empty of the ghosts, but in their place he put back all the memories, good and bad, that he had with them. Each person had helped mold him into the man he was at this moment, and he thanked them for that. He locked those memories inside the box and put it back in his heart. He would keep the key safe. The memories would always be there but without the ghosts that haunted him. The jagged wound in his soul was healed, but Scott knew there would be a scar. There should be a scar—a reminder of the joy and even of the pain of their presence in his life.
Johnny stopped at the livery stable and looked inside. Remmie wasn’t there. Had Scott moved on from Watsonville? So far the search for him had been easy. Johnny smiled to himself. The hotel clerk in Salinas had been more than helpful. When he’d signed in as John Lancer, she had gone all fluttery. “We just had another Lancer in here last week. Are you related?” Johnny told her he was his brother and she had scoffed. “Oh, no. This gentleman had blond hair. He was tall and quite handsome.” So what did that make Johnny—cow shit? Johnny repeated his assertion that he was Scott’s brother, and since he had said Scott’s name without her mentioning it, she reluctantly reckoned that he really was the blondie’s brother. As she was already flustered and embarrassed, it was easy to get her to tell him where Scott had gone once he’d left Salinas. Johnny had stayed last night in the Salinas hotel and with her directions had found Watsonville with no trouble.
“Can I help you?” a young man said, wiping his hands on the thighs of his pants.
“Yeah. You seen a blond man with a bay horse in town last week?”
“You mean Scott?”
Johnny sent a silent thank you that his brother was so identifiable out West. “Yeah, Scott Lancer. I’m looking for him.”
The man took in Johnny’s dress and low-slung gun.
“What do you want him for? I mean, what’s he done?”
Johnny sighed. “He ain’t done nothing. He’s my brother and I’m looking for him.”
The man squinted at him skeptically. “Uh, I don’t think so. You don’t look like Scott.”
Now Johnny was starting to get annoyed. “Well, it’s the truth. Now, are ya going to tell me where I can find him or not?”
“You’re not gonna hurt him, are you?”
Johnny started to count to ten but only got to five. “No, I ain’t gonna hurt him! He’s my brother. I’m concerned about him. I want to find him,” Johnny said through gritted teeth. “Now is he here or ain’t he?”
“Um…okay. He’s here.”
“Prob’ly at the beach by now. The sun’s starting to set. Everybody’s there tonight.”
“How do I get to the beach?” Johnny asked.
“I can take you there. I was just about to leave for it when you showed up. I’m a little late for it, actually. Should be a good party.” Johnny couldn’t follow much of what the kid was saying. A party on the beach? “I’m Davie, by the way.” The kid stuck out his hand.
Johnny shook it. “Johnny Lancer,” he said.
“Does Scott know you’re comin’?”
Johnny shook his head.
“Wow,” Davie exclaimed, “is he gonna be surprised!”
Davie, you have no idea, Johnny thought.
Scott was getting impatient with Rosa. She was dawdling and he wanted to get back to the beach to see his final sunset over the Pacific. Rosa was packing up a dinner for them and she was taking her own sweet time about it.
“Maybe I’ll just go on ahead,” Scott suggested.
“Scott Lancer, don’t you dare!” she scolded him. “You need to carry this basket. Just hold on, I’m almost ready.” She smiled to herself. She was procrastinating so that Scott’s friends could get to the beach before him. Scott may not know he’d made friends in Watsonville, but he had. He had been a one-man economic boon to the Feed and Seed, and the story of his saving Maria Vasquez had quickly made the rounds of the town gossips. Many folks wanted to give him a proper sendoff home.
She thrust the picnic basket at him and picked up the blanket. “Alright, I’m here. What’s keeping you?” She couldn’t wait to climb over that dune.
Scott heard the noise of people on his usually quiet beach before he and Rosa crested the dune. Curious, he picked up his pace and…
…there were people! A lot of people. Someone spotted him and gave out a yell. Then everyone turned toward him and gave him a whooping holler. Rosa, slightly panting, reached him at the top of the dune. She joined in the cheering.
“What’s this?” Scott asked in disbelief.
“Una fiesta,” she said, “para usted.”
More disbelief. “Para mi?” he said, and she thought he’d said it in Spanish without even thinking about it.
“Yes, c’mon. I want to join the party!” Rosa tugged at his arm and gently led him down to the beach. She found a spot in the middle of the crowd and laid out the blanket. Someone started playing a guitar, and soon a violin, drum, and concertina joined in.
Scott didn’t have time to listen to the lively music. He was busy shaking hands and getting hugs and hearty slaps on the back by a lot of men and women, some of whom he didn’t even recognize. Everyone had brought their families, so children romped around gleefully. He met Señora Hernandez properly and her husband, Raul. He was a big, stocky man. Frank was right, he could have hurt Scott easily. Instead, he was eagerly pumping his hand while he talked to Scott too quickly for Scott to understand. Suddenly, Rosa was at his side translating for him. The entire Vasquez family was there, too, Mateo Vasquez repeatedly thanking him for saving little Maria and rebuilding the shed. Jesús just grinned at him with a disarmingly charming smile. He recognized the owners of the General Store and the Feed and Seed. He was even introduced to J.D. Byrd, the town marshal.
“Is there a Watson of Watsonville?” Scott whispered to Rosa.
“He’s gone. Left town some years ago,” she whispered back.
“Isn’t it bad manners to leave the town that was named for you?” Scott asked. Rosa just laughed.
Finally, the crowd of well-wishers dwindled and Rosa sat Scott down on the blanket and opened the picnic basket. “Give Señor Lancer his view of his océano. Don’t get in front of us,” she ordered the others, shooing them away with her hand.
Scott sat contentedly and readied himself for the sky painting that would emerge as the sun fell into the horizon. People were singing with the music, dancing, and milling around talking and laughing with each other. A lot of wine was being poured.
“Well, ain’t this a sight.”
Scott froze at the sound of his brother’s voice behind him. He could see Byrd start walking toward them, reaching for his gun. Scott jumped up, turned Johnny around, and embraced him in a bone-shattering hug. “Johnny!” he cried delightedly. From the corner of his eye, he saw the marshal stop and put his gun away, giving Scott an acknowledging nod.
“What’s going on, Scott?” Johnny said smiling but dumbfounded by his brother’s uncharacteristic show of affection.
“Es una fiesta, hermano!” Scott informed him, raising his cup of wine. Maybe Johnny would think the hug was because Scott was drunk. “Hey, everyone!” Scott shouted as loudly as he could. “This is my brother, mi hermano, Johnny!”
There was another cheer. Johnny was quickly engulfed in a crowd of fiesta-goers, getting his hands shook and his back thumped as vigorously as Scott had. Scott moved out of the way and sat closer to the water to watch his sunset. He was a mass of conflicting emotions. He wanted to be alone to absorb this last show of beauty, but he was overwhelmed and touched by the town’s show of affection for him. He was delighted that his brother had followed him here yet upset that Johnny had spoiled his little adventure that he wanted just to be his—his little secret until he chose to share it with someone. What was going on inside him? Maybe he was drunk.
Eventually, Rosa sat down heavily beside him. “I’m sorry if you wanted to be alone tonight, Scott, but everyone wanted to say good-bye.”
“It’s alright. Who can begrudge a fiesta?”
They watched the spectacular sunset start to fade into the night. Bonfires had sprung up and the people continued to enjoy themselves. Scott shook himself out of his melancholy mood and joined in the fun. After more wine, Rosa persuaded him to sing one of the songs she’d taught him. The musicians quickly recognized the song and the key and by the time he was four bars into it, they were accompanying him beautifully, making him sound almost melodious. Everyone clapped when he finished and complimented him on his Spanish. He’d kept an eye on Johnny throughout the evening. Johnny had been captured by the Mexican families—particularly by their children who squealed with laughter when he tried to catch them.
“I’m going to go back,” he finally told Rosa. “I’m tired and tomorrow will be a long day of riding.” She nodded. He rose. “Everyone! Todos!” he shouted. The noise on the beach died down. “I just want to say ‘thank you,’ ‘gracias,’ to you all. My stay here has been wonderful. You are all my friends! Ustedes son todos mis amigos!” He patted his heart. “Good-bye. Adiόs. I’ll see you again. Hasta la vista. Good night! Buenas noches!”
“That was very good, gringo,” Rosa teased. “Do you want me to walk back with you?”
Scott shook his head. “No. Stay and have fun. Make sure Johnny is alright. I’ve neglected him tonight. He was just such a surprise…I assume he can sleep at your house tonight?” She nodded. “Thank you for taking care of him and arranging for all of this. It was lovely, really.” He gave her arm a squeeze as he kissed her cheek.
As he walked back to Rosa’s, Scott silently cursed himself for ignoring Johnny when his brother had ridden all this way to find him. But he selfishly wanted Watsonville to be his memory, his treasure, and he didn’t want to share it. Besides, he didn’t matter to Johnny anyway. Johnny had made that abundantly clear before Scott had left Lancer, so why should he be so concerned about his feelings? What was Johnny doing here anyway, ruining his last night in Watsonville? Scott walked into his bedroom and plopped down on the bed. He should start packing up his things for the journey home, but he was too tired, too wrung out from this emotional day to get up the energy to do it. He heard some of the people walk by the house as they returned to their homes, but he soon fell asleep before Rosa and Johnny came back.
Johnny asked permission before he sat down on Rosa’s blanket, and the two started conversing in Spanish.
“My brother’s been staying with you while he was here?”
“Is he alright?”
“Really? Because he usually doesn’t hug me.”
“He was saving you,” Rosa explained.
“Saving me! How?”
“The marshal saw your gun set low, like a pistolero. He thought you might hurt Scott. Hugging you was the quickest way Scott could tell him everything was alright without alarming you,” she said.
Johnny considered her words for several seconds. “Well, that’s my brother for you—always looking out for me,” he said lightly.
“He cares about you very much.”
Johnny picked up a handful of sand and let it run through his fingers. “I don’t know why. I haven’t given him any reason to care about me.”
‘Your brother has a big heart, the biggest I’ve seen for many years. It was very troubled when he came here, in much pain. He’s better now.” Rosa said seriously.
“Tell me,” Johnny said just as seriously.
She did. For several hours.
Scott tended to the small fire of their campsite. Tonight was the last night of their return journey to the ranch. Johnny had taken off; Scott didn’t know where. Nothing seemed to have changed in their relationship. The trip home had been a silent one. Scott had decided that he’d let Johnny start any conversation between them, and that had led to a silent two days. Oh, there was small talk but nothing of substance. Maybe he should start to believe that Johnny really didn’t care one way or another about him. But if that were true, why bother to come to Watsonville? There was more of a connection between him and Frank Granger than between him and Johnny.
Frank had brought Remmie to Rosa’s the morning of his departure. Scott didn’t know where Johnny had stashed Barranca the night before. Scott was glad not to make the hike and to have a chance to say a proper good-bye to Frank. With all the people at the beach the night before, they hadn’t had a chance to talk privately. Now they were shaking hands and Scott had the opportunity to thank Frank for all his guidance and support.
“Thank you again for telling me about the redwoods, Frank. That grove was just about the prettiest spot in California.” Scott said as their conversation wound down.
“It’s nice, Scott, but it’s not the prettiest spot.”
“Really? Where’s that?”
“A little slice of heaven across the state—Yosemite Valley. It’s where God lives when He’s on Earth.”
Frank Granger was not given to flowery wordage. This Yosemite had to be really impressive if it was better than the grand redwoods. “How do I get to it?”
“It’s across the state from here. Just find the Merced River and take it straight up into the Sierras.”
Maybe that wasn’t too far from Lancer. Next trip…
“Frank, you’re a fount of good information. The only thing you don’t know is the name of those trees.”
“You mean those trees?” Rosa asked pointing toward the west at a clump of them. At Scott’s nod, she said, “They’re Eucalyptus trees.”
“Never heard of ‘em,” Frank said.
“They don’t belong here. Some people just started planting them to stop the sand from blowing inland to the farmland. I was living here when they started planting ‘em about ten or more years ago.* I can’t remember where they came from but not from the United States. Not very pretty trees. Not like the oaks.”
“Or the redwoods,” Scott said smiling. Rosa smiled back as if they shared a secret. They did—a lovely day together. He didn’t know how to say good-bye to her. They just stared at each other awkwardly until Rosa embraced him in a tight hug.
“Thank you, Scott,” she whispered in his ear. “Having you stay with me was like a little bit of knowing what it would be like to have my Nathaniel with me if’n he were alive today. I can’t thank you enough for that.”
Scott wanted to tell her that she had been like living with a mother he’d never had, but he knew he couldn’t tell her that without tears, and he wasn’t crying in front of Johnny and Frank. Rosa released him from her hug, but he took her hands in both of his.
“I’d like to write to you.” He paused and laughed a small laugh. “You know, I don’t even know your last name.”
“It’s Miller. I married Zebediah Miller.”
Scott thought that was too plain a last name for this wonderful woman. “Alright, Rosa Miller, I’ll write to you.”
“And I’ll write back in Spanish,” she promised, “so you won’t forget all I taught you.”
He leaned in, said a quiet “gracias,” and kissed her on the cheek again while giving her hands a gentle squeeze.
“Vaya con Díos!” she called as he and Johnny mounted up. He knew she would watch them ride away until they were totally out of her sight.
Scott stirred the fire a little and smiled at the memory. He heard a horse approaching and watched Johnny dismount from Barranca with enviable grace, a dead rabbit in his hand.
“Thought we could eat a little more than just beans tonight, brother.”
Oh! This was new—Johnny referring to him as ‘brother.’ Scott decided to follow his lead. “That was a good idea, brother.”
It was evident that Johnny had already gutted the animal, so Scott erected a makeshift spit while Johnny skinned it. The rabbit was tasty, and they washed it down with some whiskey Johnny had brought. Scott was a bit surprised it wasn’t tequila. He knew it was Johnny’s libation of choice. Whiskey was his favorite drink.
After he refilled both their cups, Johnny said, “That Rosa is sure somethin’.” He had bared more of his soul to her than any woman he had known.
“Yes, she is.”
“I left her five dollars.”
“I left her ten.” Scott smiled at the image of Rosa cleaning their rooms and finding the money. With them long gone, she wouldn’t be able to throw the money back in their faces.
The silence stretched between them. “Dios, Scott, aren’t you ever gonna talk to me?”
“I was waiting until you talked to me.”
They both grinned at each other.
“Well, now I’m talking to ya, so you start talking!” Johnny prompted.
Scott stared into the dying fire for a while. Finally, he said, “What happened after I left? Did anyone even realize I was gone?”
“Hell, yeah, we noticed! When you didn’t show up at lunch, Murdoch got real mad. I offered to go over to the fence line to help ya, but the Old Man said to let you be. Then he started going on and on about how slow you were with your chores and such. When you didn’t show for dinner, Teresa got all teary-eyed and worried and wringin’ her hands and such. I think Murdoch was worried, too, but his mad was getting’ in the way of it. He kept sayin’ you were gonna show up any minute and we all should just wait. Well, we waited until it was too dark for me to go out after you, and then I got mad, too. What if you were hurt?”
Scott snorted. “Me hurt just mending a fence? You must really think I’m incompetent.”
“No one thinks you’re incomp…whatever. It’s just that you’re new here. There’s a lot of things that can happen out here that you don’t know about.”
“Like a mountain lion attacking you or something.”
“I thought mountain lions stuck to the hills.”
Johnny let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m just using that as an example of something that can kill ya unexpectedly.”
Eduardo sprang to mind, and Scott scolded himself. He should always remember Eduardo and his lesson of how quickly one could die out here. “Alright, go on.”
“Anyway, the next morning, me and Murdoch and Cip go out there and find your wagon sitting all pretty next to the gate. Didn’t take no genius to figure out you’d high-tailed it out of there. You really hitched up Remmie to a wagon? Barranca wouldn’t have none of that.”
“Aw, but Remmie would do anything for me, won’t you boy?” Scott shouted over to his gelding. Remmie nickered back at him. Scott gave Johnny a smirk.
Johnny smirked back. “Since we figured you wouldn’t be gone too long, we thought we’d just wait you out.”
“Wait a minute,” Scott said a bit affronted, “how did you know I wasn’t gone for good?”
“I looked around your room,” Johnny explained, “and most all your stuff was there. You’d left that picture of you and that general guy on your dresser. I figured if you was gone for good, you’d have taken that with you, seein’ how attached you are to it.”
Scott groaned and rolled onto his back. “I’ll remember that for next time.”
“Were you trying to worry us, Scott? We were, ya know.”
Scott sat up again and stirred the fire some more, deep in thought. “No, I wasn’t trying to worry you. I just had to get away. After Eduardo died, I just knew down deep I had to leave Lancer for a while. I don’t know why Eduardo’s death affected me so much. I’ve seen plenty of death before—in the war. It was just that Eduardo’s death was so sudden, so sudden. I knew that there was so much I wanted to do, so much I wanted to see before I died. This panic or something came over me; I didn’t want to die before I’d seen the Pacific Ocean. It was like I wasn’t going to get any rest, any peace, until I saw that ocean.”
“I get it,” Johnny said softly. Rosa had told him something similar. “But why didn’t you tell anybody? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I asked Murdoch for some time off, begged him, but he wouldn’t give it to me. How could I explain to him that Eduardo’s death was eating me up inside, that if I stayed at the ranch, I would die on the inside?”
“You coulda told me.”
“Really, Johnny? Mr. ‘I-don’t-care-what-you-do-you-don’t-matter-to-me?’”
Scott saw that Johnny at least had the decency to hang his head and acknowledge the truth of what Scott said.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been thinking about that,” Johnny admitted. He started poking a stick into the embers of the campfire, too. “I didn’t mean those words I said to you back then, Scott. I sure don’t mean them now.”
“They sounded very sincere to me at the time. What changed your mind?”
“I don’t know. You leaving, talking to Rosa…”
What had Rosa said to Johnny, Scott wondered.
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t believe everything I tell ya,” Johnny said teasingly.
Scott looked at him then, held his gaze steady to Johnny’s. “You’re my brother. Of course, I believe everything you tell me. Brothers don’t lie to each other.”
Johnny laughed. “Sure, they do!”
“Not me, brother. Not about the important things, like what you mean to me.”
Johnny felt his heart clench. He’d never been talked to the way Scott was talking to him now—having someone say he meant something to ‘im all sincere-like—not even Val. “Maybe I’m just no good at being a brother, Scott,” Johnny said. “I ain’t used to having a brother.”
“Me either, but you’ll do, Johnny. You’ll do,” Scott said quietly.
Johnny thought he heard so much love packed into those words that he’d bust out crying. A long silence stretched between them. Then he said, “I think I liked it when you followed after me when the Old Man and me got into it. When you didn’t show that night, it was like you were giving up on me, too. I guess I didn’t want you to know you could hurt my feelings, so I made sure I hurt you first.”
Scott sighed in exasperation. “If you like me to follow you, why do you scream at me to leave you alone?”
“I don’t know,” Johnny admitted. “I don’t know why I do half the things I do.”
That was probably true, Scott thought, but he wasn’t going to say it. This heart-to-heart was just what he had yearned for with his brother. He didn’t want to end it prematurely. “So why did you finally come after me?”
“The Old Man was sure you’d be back inside a week. When you weren’t, he finally told me to go after you. I’d wanted to do that the whole damn week! Finding you was real easy. You left out of the west gate, you told us you wanted to see the ocean, and you used your real name at the Salinas hotel. You need to learn to cover your tracks.”
Scott was surprised that Johnny had remembered he’d mentioned he wanted to see the Pacific Ocean at dinner. That was impressive. There was more to this brother than he thought. “I wasn’t trying to hide, but I’d like to learn how to cover my tracks. Sounds like a handy skill to have. Think you could teach me?”
“Sure, Boston,” Johnny grinned at him, “you’re a real teachable fellow, according to Rosa.”
They smiled at each other and then hunkered down in their bedrolls.
“Johnny,” Scott said a little later, hoping his brother wasn’t already asleep, “I hate it when you scream at me, curse me, and then won’t speak to me when I follow you up to the cabin.” There. He’d said it, and he hoped it didn’t sound too much like a petulant ten-year-old.
Scott was just about to drift off, when Johnny replied, “The problem is you follow me too quick, Scott. You know where I’m going now. Just set off a lot later, after you think all my mad will be outta me when you get there.”
Scott chuckled. Such an elegant solution! “You’ve got a deal, little brother.”
“And Scott? Don’t forget the tequila.”
Coming in through the western gate meant they approached the hacienda from the side of the house and not through the Lancer arch. It was mid-afternoon and they encountered only a couple of men near the house as they made their way to the barn. Scott was hoping he could slip into the house unnoticed.
Johnny took Remmie’s reins after they dismounted. “I’ll see to him, brother. You need to face the Old Man.”
“And you don’t want to be there when I do?”
“Something like that. I’ll tell you what, if you and the Old Man are still at it after I’m done here, I’ll have your back.”
Scott gave his brother a skeptical look but walked toward the house with his saddlebags over his shoulder. Maybe Murdoch was out checking the herd or something and he could get to his room without being accosted.
No such luck. There he was behind his massive desk, as usual.
Murdoch spied Scott and a weight lifted off his heart. His boy was home and unhurt. Damn him for causing them all so much needless worry! The anger bubbled up. “The prodigal son returns!”
There was no mistaking the anger in those words, but Scott had already decided on the ride in that he was not going to apologize to his father for doing something he had to do.
“Should I expect a fatted calf for dinner tonight?” he said as coolly as he could manage. The question came out dripping with icicles.
Murdoch threw his pen down. “Damn it, boy, you can’t just up and leave whenever you damn well feel like it! This is a ranch. If you were a hired hand, I’d fire you!”
“If I were a hired hand, I wouldn’t have come back,” Scott retorted.
That hit Murdoch in the gut. Where had this Scott come from, he wondered. Where was his level-headed, responsible son? He made a conscious effort to lower his voice and tone. “Scott, I have enough worry over your brother up and leaving us, I don’t need to start worrying over you, too!”
Scott looked at him with icy eyes. “Well, maybe you should.” With that cold pronouncement, he marched to the stairs and was up them in three strides.
“Come back here! I’m not finished with you!” Murdoch bellowed after him. It fell on deaf ears.
Murdoch stared at the empty space, stunned. He’d never heard Scott speak to him, or anyone, like that before. What had happened to his unrufflable and reasonable son these last two weeks? Should he go upstairs and demand that Scott listen to him? No, he’d just let him stew for a while and take it up again at dinner.
Some minutes later Johnny came sauntering into the room, looking a little surprised that only Murdoch was in it. “Where’s Scott?”
“In his room, I presume. Where’d you find him?”
“He didn’t tell you?”
Murdoch glared at him.
Should he tell the Old Man or was it Scott’s place? He wasn’t sure, but he thought it was no big secret—at least Scott hadn’t told him to keep it a secret. “Watsonville.”
“Watsonville! What the devil was he doing there?”
“Seeing the Pacific Ocean.”
Murdoch threw down the pen again. “Of all the darn fool things to do! What’s gotten into that boy?”
Johnny walked to the desk. “Well, I’ll tell you, if you’re in a mind to listen.” How could he tell Murdoch about the pain Eduardo’s death had caused his brother, how lost and broken he’d felt, when his father couldn’t see past his anger at Scott?
“Go on,” Murdoch grumbled.
It suddenly occurred to Johnny that he hated standing across from his father with his father’s imposing desk in between them. It was a constant reminder of the separation between them, the distance between boss and employee, father and son. That they could never be just person to person.
“I will, Old Man, but you have to come out from around that desk and sit somewhere else.”
“Why?” Murdoch demanded. Why were his sons being so difficult today?
“Because I want to talk to my father and not to El Patrόn.”
Those words, spoken so softly, sunk in deeper than if Johnny had screamed them. Murdoch got up and walked around the desk and over to the couch. “Do I need I drink for this?” he asked.
“I could use one, too,” Johnny replied.
Once the drinks were poured and they’d settled themselves, Murdoch asked quietly, “What’s this all about, Johnny? What happened to Scott in Watsonville? He’s not the same man he was when he left here.”
No, he’s not, Johnny thought, he’s better. He took his time sipping his Scotch, gathering his thoughts on how best to say what needed to be said to a father who loved a piece of land more than his sons. He wished Rosa were here. She would know how to get through to this man as she had gotten through to him. Finally, he said, “Murdoch, let me tell you about the kind of man Scott Lancer is.”
Scott was astounded that the guillotine blade he thought was going to sever his head at dinner hadn’t descended. It didn’t even feel like it was hovering over him in anticipation. Teresa had joyously welcomed him back with a big hug and was now chattering away as she usually did, clearly happy they were all dining together. She had asked him all sorts of questions about where he’d been. He told them about the magnificence of the Pacific Ocean, sunsets, and redwood trees but didn’t tell them about Rosa. He had reluctantly shared her with Johnny. He wasn’t ready yet to share her with anyone else. Murdoch had been pleasant throughout the entire meal, and Scott kept shooting Johnny a “what’s going on?” look, but his brother’s returning half-smile was inscrutable.
Several days later, Scott was sitting on the veranda, relishing the shade and slight breeze in the late afternoon. He leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and tried to imagine the breeze was the same that had blown in from the Pacific Ocean to refresh him. He conjured up the sunsets and tried to throw himself back to his beach, where peace and beauty soothed his soul. It would always be la playa to him—it sounded so much more beautiful in Spanish. The cattle drive would commence in two and a half weeks, and he still didn’t know what to expect, except to be heckled constantly by the experienced hands. But maybe not. Like Murdoch, the ranch hands seemed to give him a wider berth and an understanding countenance since he’d returned. Now as he sat on the veranda and felt the panic of the unknown cattle drive start to descend, he needed to remind himself of the peace he’d felt on la playa with his ocean to restore his calm.
Someone sat down on the bench beside him. Too heavy for Johnny, so it must be his father. Scott kept his eyes closed and his head back.
“Mind if I sit with you, son?”
“It’s your house.”
“It’s your house, too,” Murdoch shot back irritably. No! This was not how he wanted this conversation to go! No anger, no irritation toward his elder son, Catherine’s son, their beloved son. He cleared his voice and started again. “I just wanted to tell you I’m glad to have you back, Scott.”
Oh, this was something different from his father! No demands for an explanation for his behavior? No accusations of him slacking off on his duties? No yelling at him about how irresponsible he was? Scott knew his response to his father would set the tone for their relationship for some time. Which way would he choose to answer? He chose conciliatory.
“I wouldn’t have left if it hadn’t been important, sir. I’m not one to take my responsibilities lightly.”
“Yes, yes, I know that. I should have known that. I don’t know why I didn’t realize that at the time.”
Conciliatory had been the right choice. “I thought I’d made my request rather forcefully, sir.”
“It didn’t get through to me, son. I think you were just too polite about it.”
Scott smiled. “Do you want me to slam my fists down on your desk like Johnny next time?”
Murdoch chuckled. “Maybe something in between.”
“Duly noted, sir,” Scott said with his eyes still closed. He hoped Murdoch heard the smile in his voice.
They sat in companionable silence until Murdoch said, “Will there be a next time, Scott?”
Scott heard the tentativeness in his father’s voice. Was Murdoch trying to extract a promise from him that he’d never leave like that again? Scott didn’t know if he could make that promise. “I don’t know, sir. There might be.”
Murdoch didn’t seem put off by Scott’s noncommittal answer. “Where might you go next time?”
Scott’s pleasant smile turned into a grin. “Where God lives when He comes to Earth.”
“I thought we were living on it. Isn’t it called Lancer?”
Scott laughed along with his father. He sat up and finally looked at Murdoch. “Ever hear of Yosemite Valley?”
Murdoch shook his head. “Where is it?”
“Up the Merced River into the Sierra Nevadas.”
“Rough country up that way,” Murdoch said. They’d probably cross the Merced or a tributary of it on the drive north to Stockton. It wouldn’t be too much of a detour to try to find it on the way home. He didn’t want to tell that to Scott right now.
Scott thought maybe he could try to find the place after the cattle drive was over. He didn’t think he should take off on his own again so soon after Watsonville, but it was mighty tempting. If it was more beautiful than the Pacific Ocean or the redwoods, Scott would just have to see it. But he didn’t want to tell that to Murdoch right now.
The dreaded cattle drive. “Are you sure I’m not going to be more hindrance than help on this cattle drive?” he asked.
“It’s not hard, once you get all those steers headed the same way.”
They both laughed, knowing how difficult a feat that was. It was so good to laugh with his father, Scott thought. They didn’t do it often enough. Johnny came walking out of the French doors and sat on the half-wall opposite them. Scott shut down a spark of irritation. It had been pleasant having a moment that was between just Murdoch and him.
“Am I interrupting something?” Johnny asked as he took a bite out of an apple.
Scott waited for Murdoch to answer. Maybe his father would say “Yes, could you leave us, Johnny? I’m trying to develop a rapport with Scott right now.” Scott was growing quite fond of his younger brother, but just this once…
“No, no, Johnny, come join us,” Murdoch said.
“What were you two talking about?” Johnny asked.
Scott was again taken aback by his brother’s forwardness. Had he asked a question like that back in Boston, he would have had his ears boxed and been banished to his room for the day no matter how old he was. Impertinence! The height of poor manners! “I’m concerned about the cattle drive,” Scott answered.
“Ain’t no need to worry about that, brother. I’ve got your back.”
“Can you do my roping for me?” They all laughed at that as Johnny shook his head.
Murdoch thought he had died and gone to heaven, sitting here with his sons. They were at Lancer, where they always should have been, relaxing in the afternoon shade and laughing. He had an idea. “Johnny, what are your plans after the drive?”
Johnny seemed startled by the question. Scott didn’t have any idea where Murdoch was going with it, either.
Johnny shrugged. “Guess I’ll come back here and work some more. Why?”
“How about we three take a little trip after we’re done with the drive?” Murdoch suggested. It was time to get to know his sons. Time to get to know these boys who had grown into men without him.
“Where?” Johnny asked.
“Well, now, I was thinking…” Murdoch looked at Scott and grinned. “…let’s go find Yosemite.”
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*There are Eucalyptus trees standing over the beaches in Watsonville. They are indigenous to Australia and were brought over by Australians to replace the native trees used for building houses and towns. While it is improbable that they were planted in Watsonville as early as 1860, I can only plead your indulgence and claim artistic license.
P.S. Speaking of begging your indulgence, this story stretched my high school Spanish about as far as it could go. I apologize for any mistakes I might have made.
8 thoughts on “A Man’s Gotta Do by RonD”
GoodStory!!! I think I read it before
Thanks, Dawn. It’s an oldie…but hopefully a goodie!
This was a wonderful story. I really enjoyed it. Glad Johnny and Scott made peace at the end. I like Scott’s vacation and the people he met along the way. I enjoy stories where I hope to see the original characters again. Thanks
Thank you, Charlene! So glad you enjoyed it.
Reread this story again. One of my favorite stories by one of my favorite authors. You write so wonderfully and I love Scott-centric stories. Thank you
This one gives me such a sense of peace – I live less than a mile from the UK side of the Atlantic Ocean and definitely understand how wonderful it is, sitting on a beach watching the sun set over the waves. Love Scott’s relationship with Rosa in particular, and how she could help Johnny understand his brother, who then can drill some sense into Murdoch.
This was a beautiful story. I loved your Watsonville and the people who lived there. What a wonderful place to belong to!!
The first time I read your lovely story, I realized why I was struggling to learn Spanish with Duolingo. I have the same problems that Scott does! Like him I need to know how the grammar works rather than just learning it by rote.
I’m usually more of a Johnny girl, but I really love this portrait of Scott.