Within Your Crowd
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2010 by Jake Rivers

Mom was happy to see me but dad acted like he was mad at something. Not really mad but not happy either. After a couple of days, I'd had enough and drove him to a small bar in Johnson City, gave him a chance to have a beer, then asked, "Okay, Dad, what's on your mind?"

He looked somewhat abashed, and said, "Hell, I didn't think I was showing anything. Well, I hate to admit it, but the ranch is getting too big for me. If you don't come back pretty soon I'm gonna have to hire a manager. That'll be pretty expensive, but I don't know what else to do."

Damn, that made me feel bad. "I'm trying to work something out. Can you hold on for a few months, say the end of September?"

"Yeah, I can do that. I won't book any new hunts 'til you give me the word. That will ease things up enough, I think."

We drove back after a couple or three beers, and as we walked to the house, I could hear music coming through the open windows of the room where mom kept a piano. I recognized it as something from "The Magic Flute," by Mozart.

Dad chuckled, and told me, "That filly is here again. She and your mom are going to play a duet at the next Alumni meeting at Rice. She's damn good on that cello of hers."

I was pretty sure I knew which "filly" he had been talking about, although I'd thought it was a piano and violin playing. Shows what I know about it. But to make sure, I asked dad, "What girl is that?"

"Oh, that girl we sold the horses to. She came over to tell us how much she liked them. Turned out, she knew your ma, and she wound up staying for lunch. They got to talkin' and decided to put together a performance for their next meeting of people that went to that music school at Rice."

I turned to walk back to the truck, thinking another beer sounded real good about now, but dad grabbed my arm. "Hey, you ain't leavin' me to go in alone, are you?"

Giving up, I walked in with him. Actually, I did want to see Maddie ... Madison. We walked up to the porch and into the house. The music was louder now, and was quite nice. We walked over to the doorway of the drawing room, and watched them play. Once again, I was drawn to Madison's beauty.

They stopped, mom having seen us. We walked over, Madison staring at me. Quietly, she asked, "Hello, Billy Ray. Bobby mentioned that he'd seen you at Sheridan. How come you came back home?"

"Madison," I nodded at her. "I hurt my knee tossing a calf on his side on my last event. It didn't hurt my time—fact is I got a third in the finals. I got it x-rayed and there is nothing serious, but I do have to skip competing for a couple of weeks. By the way, Bobby's got the skills that he can be first-rate if he works at it."

She looked at me for a minute, and then looked at mom, "I think we've got it as good as we can. Let's get together for lunch next week, and plan the trip." Turning back to me, she said, in a 'don't sass me' voice, "Walk me out to my truck." She packed away her cello, and went out the front door, waving a hand at my folks.

I followed, not saying anything. She put the case in the passenger seat and fastened the seat belt over it. She came over and stopped in front of me. "What happened that night at our place?"

"What do you mean?"

"Damn it, don't pussy foot with me."

I thought it over and shrugged. "I saw you dancing a lot with that guy you're getting married to. I didn't see any reason to stay after that, so I walked over to my truck to drive home. Four of your dad's goons grabbed me, and he told me to stay away from you ... and not to call you Maddie ever again. After that they kicked the shit out of me and drove me over to the business park and left me there. I decided it wasn't worth the hassle to try to see a girl that's engaged. Then when I woke up, I was pissed enough to come back and let everyone know how I felt."

"I have to say you did a bang up job of that! I'm sorry that happened. I don't think my dad will ever apologize, but I certainly can. Dad wanted to have you arrested but mom said she would leave if he did. I understand there were a couple of witnesses that pretty much said what you did. So will you accept my apology?"

I shrugged, and nodded, not saying anything. She looked at me for a long moment, then leaned forward and kissed me quickly on my lips and then jumped into her truck. I stood there watching as she rolled down the window. "Call me. Your mom has the number."

After she drove off, I stood there for a while trying to figure out how I felt. I still had a lot of resentment, but if I were honest with myself, I was still strongly attracted to her. There wasn't much I could do about it, with her getting married. All in all, I wish I hadn't seen her—the old longings were pulling at me again. I didn't see any reason to give her a call.

A week or so later, about the time that I needed to start thinking about driving up to Pawnee, mom asked me if I had anything planned that night.

"No, just ice my knee a couple of times. It almost feels like normal, but I don't want to take a chance with it."

"Your dad and I have a friend coming over for dinner. Is that okay?"

I really didn't have anything to do, so I couldn't see any reason not to. This was a fairly common occurrence with mom, some friend or neighbor dropping over. "Sure. I'll clean up a little ... put my dancin' boots on." She smiled at that and went back to her kitchen.

I puttered around through the afternoon, icing my knee several times under mom's watchful eye. I'd been lounging around the house looking like a bum all week, so I thought I'd look nice for mom. I shaved the three day growth off my face and put on some clothes that I might go dancing in ... though at best I might whirl mom around the dining room table once or twice.

I was getting ready to go down the stairs when I heard the front door open. As I turned on the landing for the last couple of steps, I saw mom giving Madison a hug. That was the first inkling that a plot was afoot. Mom saw me and smirked, "Dad and I decided to go out tonight. I didn't want you to go hungry, so I found someone to take you out."

Madison stepped up and kissed my cheek. Taking my hand, she said, "Come on. I have a reservation for Poodie's Hilltop Roadhouse in Spicewood for a half hour from now."

I let myself be pulled along, trying to figure out what was happening. Clearly, I'd been hoodwinked, but I was having trouble getting upset about it. Madison looked quite nice, thank you, in black jeans tucked into what looked like new boots and a white shirt and a black hat. The way those jeans fit around her ... well, her derrière, like they were sprayed on. Quite enchanting.

"You know where this place is, right? It should take about forty minutes to get there." She looked over at me with a smile, "If you would have called me, I wouldn't have had to kidnap you." Her smile slipping a bit, she added uncertainly, "You're not mad, are you?"

I gave her a smile of my own, "No, not really, Madison."

"Madison, what happened to Maddie?"

"Well, I'm a lot of things, and I've done some things I'm not proud of, but one thing I've never done is try to poach some other man's fiancé. I think only Thomas Martin Kendall should be the one to call you Maddie." I looked out the window, trying to get a speck of dirt out of my eye.

"You don't know, do you? Billy Ray, look at me!"

I turned and looked quickly at her, then turned my head forward so she wouldn't see how the dirt had made my eyes watery.

"Billy, after you ran away that night after humiliating Thomas Martin and almost breaking my dad's jaw, you missed seeing me throw my champagne in Tomas' face also. I detest that man and always had. The next morning I ripped into my father and told him to quit trying to run my life." She put her hand on my arm and continued, "Billy, I liked you right away, you're nice looking, a good man, and I love the way you treat horses. Can we start over?"

I stared at her, trying to take it all in. She seemed to be waiting for an answer, so I replied, "Yeah, Madison, let's start over."

"Uh, Billy Ray, you weren't listening, I said, let's start over."

I smiled at that, and added, "Sure, Maddie."

We ate a nice dinner, she ate a small filet, and I had a huge T-bone. It was Friday night and fairly crowded as a band started playing. I didn't want to chance any stress on my knee, so we danced the slow numbers and talked a lot. This was the learning about each other we never had a chance to do the day we met. Each number we danced Maddie seemed to hold herself a little closer to me. It was clear that my instincts that I liked her a lot were right. I was falling for her like a ton of bricks.

When we got in her truck, she looked over at me with a question in her eyes. "Would you like to have breakfast with me?"

She clearly didn't mean what it sounded like and looked horrified when I replied, "Every morning, Maddie, every morning."

Blushing, she replied, "God, I didn't mean that. I'd like to show you something, and then I'll fix you breakfast. Would seven-thirty or so be all right?"

I had no idea what she had in mind, but it sounded good, and I had no other plans. "Sure, what should I wear?"

"Just some work clothes and boots."

She started the drive back to my folk's place and rested her hand on the seat. I put my hand on hers. She smiled but didn't say anything. Whenever she needed to lift her hand for driving, she put it back when she finished. When we stopped, I leaned over to give her a quick kiss. She put her hands behind my head and pulled me tight. The kiss went on for some time, dueling tongues and all. She finally broke away and said, "I've wanted to do that all night. See you in the morning."

The next morning she was early, and I was ready, so we had a cup of coffee before we took off.

My mom asked, "What you have planned this morning, Madison?"

"I'm going to show him my place."

"I think he will enjoy that."

When we were on the road, I asked, "Your place?"

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