Brother Pablo helped C.J. from his saddle and onto the dirt in front of the mission. “Roberto saw you coming and called me. I thought the ride to the hacienda might be hard on your injury, but you should have stayed there and recovered.”
C.J. lifted his chin to gaze at Pablo through swollen eyelids.
“Santa Madre!” The Brother tsk-tsked, sounding like C.J.’s mother when she found out he skipped school to go fishing. “Tell me you fell off your horse to earn such a face.”
The honest concern in Pablo’s voice coupled with the memory of his mother collapsed C.J.’s wall of pride. “No. There was trouble in the courtyard. I tried to lay down my opinions as soon as I got there.”
He tried to grin to soften the admission, but the corner of his lips cracked open. Lost in dark thoughts of revenge on the ride back, he failed to appreciate the extent of his injuries. He ran his tongue over dry lips, around his mouth, and discovered a loose tooth.
Brother Pablo put an arm around C.J. “I’ll help you back to your cot.”
C.J. grunted his approval and heard Pablo send Roberto after the doctor. “You may have to obtain a bottle of whiskey to entice him. That’s all right. Charge it to the Mission, but don’t give it to him until he gets here. Tell him Seegee’s wound is bleeding again. If you see Julio, send him to take the horse back to his corral.”
C.J. stumbled and almost fell. Brother Pablo caught him and they wobbled into the sparse, adobe room for vagrants, Pablo keeping his sandaled feet away from C.J.’s boot steps.
Brother Pablo’s Care
Pablo clucked his tongue again. “You should be a Catholic for the trouble you cause me. If you were, I would hear your confession. For now, stretch out on this cot, and tell me what happened.”
For the hundredth time, C.J. recollected the scene. “Esther May was beautiful, Brother. She took my breath away. I know that’s a saying, but the sight of her in that dress put a lump in my throat I couldn’t breathe around.”
“Yes, that can happen. Go on.”
“Then that preening rooster, Ramón, struts in and I see he’s showing off for Esther May. I reckon I was too. I asked her to leave with me …”
C.J. went quiet. The image of Esther May burned in his brain. The memory both drew and repelled him. He wanted her to fly to his arms. She didn’t.
Brother Pablo extended a ceramic cup. “Sip this.”
“What is it?”
“Sacramental wine. I could pray for you, but the results of this are faster.”
C.J. was in no mood for humor. Now that he’d started telling someone how he felt, he didn’t want to stop. “Do you want to hear what happened or not?”
“Yes, please. Continue.”
C.J. Realizes He’s Lost
“That’s about it, except when she stayed put,” C.J. couldn’t keep the tremble out of his voice, “and told me to mind my manners, I could see how it was.”
He swallowed the wine and held the cup out for a refill.
Brother Pablo tipped the bottle into C.J.’s cup. “And your face?”
“I insulted the rooster.” C.J. drew a long, shuddering breath and decided to tell the story honestly. “He beat the fire out of me in front of Esther May. She didn’t say anything.” He gulped the last of the wine. “Then I left like a whipped pup.”
Know Your Opponent
Pablo took the empty cup and set it aside. “Then you did what Ramón wanted. Didn’t you know he’s Doña Maria’s bodyguard? Ramón’s killed men with his fists and doesn’t mind hurting people. He also likes to conquer women.”
Has C.J. lost Esther May? Leave a comment now.
How guys (one, at least) deal with rejection.
Those of us who hold grudges should read this article.
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