“Comon’ Scott, it’s easy. Just turn around me,” Johnny stood at the other end of the open field and made a half-circle motion around his back. “I’ll swing up.”
Charlie, feeling his rider’s unease, shifted his front feet and grabbed at the bit. “Are you sure you aren’t mad about last time?” Scott yelled, recalling the too quick turn that had knocked his brother flat on the previous run. “I should swing wider . . .”
“No, you need to turn close. I won’t miss ya that way.”
“Okay, then,” Scott flexed his calves, loosened his reins a little and the lean bay leapt forward. The ex-cavalryman sat deeply in the saddle, well prepared for the upcoming turn. With a steady hand they barreled toward the dark haired man crouched in a ready position.
Biting his lip in concentration, the blond brother estimated the strides left and sat deeper, causing the charging horse to set back on his hindquarters in preparation for the turn. Then, with Johnny just at the horse’s shoulder, Scott reined left.
Johnny left arm snaked out and snagged the horn of Scott’s saddle as Charlie was turned abruptly 180 degrees. Instinctively, the older brother reached down and grabbed the blue flowered shirt, causing him to sit up, which in turn signaled the horse to slow down.
“No, no, just go!” Johnny shouted. The momentum of the horse’s turn started to throw him up behind Scott, but the abrupt slowing stopped him in mid air. When Scott released the handful of shirt, his little brother managed a few running steps before he was sent sprawling once again.
Looking back over his shoulder as he reined to a stop, Scott couldn’t help but wince at the sight. “Ooo. . .”, he breathed in sympathy.
A poof of dust rose lazily from the ex-gunfighter’s final resting place, and it took him a moment to sit up. Johnny brushed off his sleeves and slowly rose to his feet. When he glanced up and saw the bay walking toward him, he waved it off. “We can do this! Come again!”
Scott opened his mouth to state his objection, but Johnny’s finger pointed at him with determination. The older brother clearly saw the scowl that etched his little brother’s face. Scott rolled his eyes. “You asked for it!” he yelled at the same time he directed Charlie at Johnny once again.
This time Scott held off a fraction of a second on the turn and forced himself to lay low. Charlie slid around the turn with his hindquarters digging into the soft ground for purchase. Johnny grabbed the horn and swung successfully up behind his brother, but when the muscled bay leaped away with surprising speed, the younger Lancer found himself laid out flat along the horse’s back instead of sitting upright behind Scott.
Johnny hung on to the horn with his left hand and the cantle with his right, his neck and shoulder hugged painfully against his brother and the saddle. In an effort to work his way into a sitting position, he began to use his knees to work his legs into a more traditional position.
Charlie took exception to the maneuvering. His head popped up and his ears slammed flat against his crest. Scott started to rein him in, but Charlie had other ideas. He ducked his head and started to buck on the run.
“Whoa!!” Scott yelped, grabbing for the horn. Instead, he grabbed Johnny’s arm and unintentionally pulled it from the saddle horn.
“Hey!” Johnny was able to yell as he scrambled for another anchor point. He settled on the back of Scott’s pants, but still felt himself slipping off Charlie’s rump. The horse decided to save some energy and stop running, choosing to channel his focus into the bucking instead.
Johnny knew his time was short so he decided to cut his losses and take the fall. Scott, however, decided to put his energy into saving Johnny. Their efforts, combined with Charlemagne’s efforts to put a stop to this nonsense, resulted in a dusty pile of entwined Lancer brothers.
With a haughty final kick of his heels, the bay bounced to a halt and snorted. He stood for a moment and regarded the pair on the ground, then dropped his head and began to graze peacefully.
Johnny spat out some dirt. "Glad I could break your fall, brother," he drawled, and then winced as he tugged his arm from under Scott. "Good thing I'm not wearin' my spurs."
Scott groaned and pushed himself up to a sit, untangling his legs from Johnny's. "I appreciate it. But you have to remember it was your idea to enter the Rescue Race at the picnic." He scooted to one side and checked his elbow. "How about the sack race instead?"
"I ain't hoppin' in no sack. And I'm not entering the shootin' contest or racin' Barranca." Johnny clambered to his feet and brushed his pants off.
"There's the pie eating contest," Scott offered as he lurched to his feet.
"If it was a chocolate cake eatin' contest, I would think about it." He slapped Scott on the shoulder. "Maybe we'll just have one 4th of July picnic where we don't do nothin'," the younger Lancer suggested with a cocked eyebrow.
The two young men thought about that for a moment, then the elder one's forehead furrowed with thought. "But Murdoch's entered that bull, Teresa's entered her needlepoint and Maria's entered her plum jelly. Jelly's even entered Dewdrop!" Scott's voice became stronger as he spoke. "Johnny, we all have to enter something."
The smile on Johnny's face after that statement made him pause just before suspicion flared. Slowly, Scott raised his finger and directed it at his grinning brother. "That is not a good smile. What are you thinking?"
"Oh, I just figured out what I'm enterin' that day." The self satisfied smile was fixed to his face as he brushed off his rump and arms. Then he turned and whistled shortly, calling his beloved palomino from the shade of a nearby tree. Johnny greeted the horse and gathered the reins.
"Well?" Scott prompted. "What?"
Johnny swung up. "Scott, the only thing I’m enterin' at the 4th of July picnic in town is Rio's Saloon." He gave his horse a nudge and continued to talk as he slowly rode off. "Then after that, I’m enterin' a pleasant poker game. Then, if I'm lucky, I'll enter a winnin' streak!" A slight motion pushed the palomino into a jog.
"Johnny!" Scott called to his retreating brother. "You can't do that! It's a family outing!"
"So what?" Johnny replied, still jogging away.
That's when Scott knew he had to pull out the big guns. "Maria will be very upset. Don't think she'll make tamales for a month." After a second, Barranca slowed to a walk. "And Jelly! Just think how he's going to nag you. Murdoch will be mad too, but, hey, you're used to that. But Teresa . . ." The gold horse stopped abruptly. "Teresa will be so disappointed." Scott paused dramatically. "She just may be upset enough to stop speaking to you!" Scott saw Johnny's head drop in defeat. "Or, she just may cry! Do you want to see your little sister cry?" Although he wanted to laugh, Scott managed to have a stern look on his face when Johnny finally reined Barranca around. Scott placed his hands firmly on his hips. "Do you? Big, old tears, running down her face?"
Scott heard a spat expletive and then was alarmed to see his brother push Barranca into a gallop . . . directly at him.
"HEY!" Scott yelled, shock rooting his feet to the earth. Then he saw Johnny lean forward and stretch his left arm out toward him.
Barranca veered to Scott's left and the older brother's left arm automatically reached out to his younger brother. When Johnny grabbed his upper arm, he instantly hooked his hand around Johnny's saddle horn.
There was a brief moment where he felt like he was flying then Scott found himself firmly seated behind Johnny and galloping in the opposite direction. After a shocked moment, he broke into a huge grin and whooped loudly.
"That was perfect, Johnny! Perfect!"
Johnny slowed his horse and directed him to Charlemagne, who was still happily grazing. When the palomino stopped Scott slipped off, still smiling, and grabbed the loose horse's reins. He looked up and saw that his little brother was grinning, too.
"Guess we just got the parts mixed up, brother!" Johnny shook his head slowly and chuckled. "Looks like we're not lettin' the family down after all."
"'We?'" Scott puffed as he mounted. "I had no intention of letting anyone down. I'm already entered in the pie eating contest."
"Well ain't that somethin'," Johnny replied with a sparkle in his eye. "Just when were you gonna tell me that?"
Scott looked serious as he urged Charlie homeward. "I wasn't. But it looks like I just rescued you from a family shunning. Get it? Rescue Race? I just rescued you?" Scott laughed at his own joke while Johnny rolled his eyes.
"Your sense of humor must come from your mother's side," Johnny shot back as he tapped Barranca into a lope, just missing Scott's swat. The bay fell in behind in hot pursuit as they galloped home.