Scott considered the Lancer porch swing a contrariety. First, it didn’t require a porch. Instead, it chose a sturdy branch from a massive Valley Oak tree. This location surpassed any veranda by offering a front-row view to salmon-purple sunsets that enhanced the lure of calmness...unless it was autumn when dropping acorns bounced off of unsuspecting noggins. Suspension ropes holding the swing at a perfect distance from grassy ground were always kept in good repair and offered rhythmic, relaxing creaks to its travelers.
And then there was the swing - a visual statement applauding ingenuity. An old wooden headboard from a discarded bed found new purpose as the swing’s back while its seat at one time provided privacy to a room, the door’s knob removed for backside comfort. Completing the swing were makeshift armrests constructed from mismatched table legs and a stair’s sawed-down bannister. Colorful pillows were replaced when their frayed seams let feathers escape and float alongside silky milkweed.
A contrariety indeed. But as far as Scott was concerned, it was the best damn porch swing he’d ever sat in. And it’s where he’d located his little cousin on more than one occasion when she sought solitude while still honoring his don’t wander far requests.
Today was no exception. He spied Kinsey still clutching the Dickinson poetry in her hands, unopened, while the oak leaves’ filtered light did little to improve the toll of fatigue displayed on her face.
“When was the last time you slept, Freckles?” Swing ropes protested slightly as they took on another passenger.
Scott relied upon an often-used response by his cousin. “Bullocks.” Extending an arm behind her shoulders, a subtle push-off from his planted boot renewed the swing’s back and forth sway - setting the stage for conversation. “Lean back and close your eyes. I’ll provide the horsepower for a spell.”
Kinsey’s neck settled into the crook of the provided headrest while legs tucked up under petticoats, however, eyelids only committed to half-mast. “Murdoch said the first person who called you home would find their backside nailed to the barn door.”
“Well…” Smiling, Scott’s gaze shifted to the before-mentioned outbuilding. “Johnny’s grown rather accustomed to his britches getting hung out to dry. I don’t think another nail hole in the barn door bothers him as much as it used to.”
“I’m glad you’re here.” Eyelids closed. “He didn’t know me, Scott. They brought him in, white as a ghost, and I saw it in his face. It was just for a moment but Da didn’t know me.”
Da. Kinsey had called the Lancer patriarch by the name only once before. At the time, Scott believed she spoke the endearing term without realizing it. He guessed this was the case currently. “The man took quite a tumble, little one. His leg was paining him, so I think confusion would be expected. Let’s not rush to judgment until we talk to Doc Jenkins. Besides, Murdoch knows who you are now and I suggest Moby Dick replace Dickinson.” A passing crow concurred.
“Brain hiccup.” The young lady’s tsk of disapproval reflected upcoming judgment. “Bloody hell.” Quickly followed by the banging gavel of guilt. “Is that a medical term? I think not.”
“Let’s not question Sam’s ability to diagnose just because his son puts a bee in your bonnet every time he opens his mouth.”
“You should talk, considering Will Jenkins shoves a burr up your ass-pirations to remain civil in his presence.”
Scott couldn’t argue the well-made point and so he let the creaking cadence of the swing state an opinion as his own eyelids felt weighted under the influence of slow rocking.
Best get this over with. How he wished the next discussion concerned stewed eels. “Kinsey, I can’t go to Boston. At least not until Murdoch’s up and about and we’re certain this hiccup was simply that - a fluke. And if not, then we get the mule to slow down. Take one step at a time and see which path is best.”
“Yes, of course.” The young lady’s matter-of-fact inflection had sleepiness dusting its fringe. “I’ve already sent word to Seth that our travel back east will be postponed.”
“No. Don’t delay your trip. Go. I’m certain Mrs. Westcott’s looking forward to meeting her future daughter-in-law. Besides, it will do you good to get away from the ranch.”
“Don’t you mean it will do your father good I get away from the ranch?”
“Hold up.” A boot heel dug into the ground while Scott’s bent elbow allowed a forearm brace for his cousin’s reaction to the swing’s abrupt stop. “That’s not what I said and it’s certainly not what I meant.”
“Honestly, Scott.” Pushing away, Kinsey stood and assumed her familiar stance-on-a-soapbox. “I think we can all agree stress and worry put your father in bed and I'm the one who brought him that stress and worry.”
You weren’t paying attention, lad, and that key spun right out of your hand. Best get a firm grasp.
“If a pink chicken coop and antics of an occasional spoiled little girl have put Murdoch Lancer flat on his back, then the man needs to retire from ranching.” Scott rose to his own customary stance of hands on hips. “So, no, I don’t agree. In fact, no one agrees to this ridiculous claim of yours except the opinionated finger-pointer who voiced it. And I think we can all agree who that is. Tell me, when did you start paying close attention to what Jelly Hoskins says? I’d like to know his secret. I could certainly benefit from it right now.”
Bingo. I knew it. Goddamn Hoskins. “Young lady, are we going to let this discussion snowball into a shouting match resulting in a list of things we’ll regret saying later?”
“Like calling me a spoiled little girl?”
“I said occasional spoiled little girl, disqualifying it as a spoken regret.”
A hand to her forehead released a sob wishing to be a laugh from Kinsey’s lips. “I honestly thought we’d be discussing Uncle Harlan’s health concerns before Murdoch’s.”
“Neither the Good Lord nor the devil knows what to do with Grandfather. The man will outlive all of us before they come up with a solution.”
Scott squinted up at a bright blue sky which usually put a grin on his face, but not today. Feeling cheated only added to his frustration with Jelly - and with himself. “Kinsey Rose, I misspoke and owe you an apology. Your absence from the ranch would prove hazardous to what little sanity I have left.” Stepping forward while sporting a raised eyebrow, he placed his hands on the girl’s shoulders. “You’re staying put. Don’t try to change my mind.”
Seeing a smile flutter across his little cousin’s face did what the blue sky above failed to do moment’s earlier.
Scott sat on the porch swing, arms crossed and legs stretched out. He’d sent Kinsey to her room with orders to rest and a promise to wake her when Sam arrived. In a few minutes, he planned to venture back into the lion’s den and insist Teresa do the same.
Taking in a deep breath, the held air puffed his cheeks before it slowly escaped with a weary whoosh through pressed lips.
How could one crotchety, rooster-strutting, little man cause so much trouble?
A rogue acorn fell from a branch and plunked off of Scott’s leather boot.
The Good Lord and the devil may not know what to do with Harlan Garrett but they sure as hell had thoughts to offer regarding Jelly Hoskins.