Caught Without a Shirt by Desert Sun

Word Count 2,171

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This short story was inspired by a comment Doreen made on my story Fate of the Borrowed Clothes.

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Not one jacket or shirt hung in his wardrobe, and there were none in his trunk at the foot of the bed.  Even his sweaters were missing.  Scott Lancer scowled.  Where could they have gone?

He shifted his gaze to the shirt draped over the back of the chair between his bed and the washtub.  Now that he’d bathed, he detested the thought of putting it on again in its present condition.  The back and one sleeve were covered with mud, the front and other sleeve were smeared with blood, and the underarms were stained with sweat–all thanks to retrieving an injured calf from the thorns along the edge of a boggy spot in Briar Canyon.  It had been bad enough to have to wear the filthy shirt for the hour long ride back to the ranch house.

Scott went to his bureau.  One of his long-sleeved undershirts would have to do until he could find something more appropriate to wear–perhaps having to borrow a shirt from his brother.

The middle drawer was empty, and he let out a groan.  Where were they?  He hadn’t worn any of them since the weather had turned hot over a month ago.  The last he had looked they were all neatly folded and put away.  Who would have taken them . . . and why?

He let out a long sigh and buttoned his pants.  Now what?  He could hardly show up bare-chested at the dinner table.  The towel had slipped off the seat of the chair and fallen into the bath water so it would do him no good.

Scott continued to scowl as he sat on the bed, put on clean socks, and slipped his feet into his dress boots.  Why had all of his shirts and jackets disappeared?  All of his other clothes were where they belonged.  It didn’t make sense.

As he settled his heels into his boots, he heard a knock on his door.

“Scott!  Scott, are you decent?”  Teresa O’Brien’s voice sounded desperate.

 Ugh.  What could she want?

The knocking persisted and grew louder as did Teresa’s calling his name.

Scott let out a long breath.  He tugged his pant legs into place over the tops of his boots, went to the door, and opened it a crack.  “What do you need?”

“It’s Dee Dee.  She needs help . . . quick.”

“Help where?”  Scott’s voice hitched upward.

“Over there.”  Teresa twisted and pointed outside.  She turned back toward Scott, shoved the door open farther, and grasped his arm.  “Hurry!  I’m afraid something dreadful has happened to her.”

Despite the urge to resist, Scott let her lead him outside.

Teresa tugged on Scott’s arm all the way across the courtyard, out through the gap in the stone wall, and around the corner of the house.  She didn’t stop until they reached a circle of her friends who had arrived earlier that day in celebration of her birthday.

All eyes turned toward Scott but none looked him in the eye.  He fidgeted.  “Where’s Dee Dee?”

“Here,” a weak voice said.

Scott edged closer and peered between the nearest two girls.

Dee Dee lay on the ground looking up at him.  If she was hurt, she certainly didn’t look it.  Her eyes appeared dreamy and a slight smile graced her lips.

“Are you hurt?”  Scott asked.

“Hurt?”

“Did you fall?”

“Oh, yes, and hard,” Dee Dee replied.

Scott knelt beside her.  “Where do you hurt?”

Dee Dee placed her hand over her heart.  “Here.”  Her long, dark lashes fluttered as she dragged the word out.

“I see.”  Scott glanced up at some of the other girls.  They were all staring at him with the same dreamy-eyed gaze that he’d seen in Dee Dee’s eyes, and he felt the urge to run.  Standing there, half dressed like he was, went against everything he’d been taught.  It had been difficult enough getting used to leaving his shirt unbuttoned when bucking hay in the heat, but going without one was something he couldn’t bring himself to do no matter how much encouragement he had had from his brother.

“Do you think I’ll live?”  Dee Dee’s voice broke through Scott’s thoughts and drew him back to the problem at hand.

Someone let out a soft giggle.

Scott curbed his rising sense of irritation and spoke in a tone devoid of emotion.   “I don’t know.  That sounds like a bad fall.  It might be best to send for the doctor.”

“Oh, I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Teresa said.

“Well, I think it is.”  Scott stood.  “One can’t be too careful, especially considering the location of her pain.  It could be a sign of something very serious.”

“Maybe you should carry me inside,” Dee Dee said.

“No.  I think it’s best you stay right where you are until the doctor can examine you.”  Scott turned toward Teresa.  “She’ll need blankets and a pillow.  Make her as comfortable as you can without moving her while I find someone to send to Spanish Wells to get Dr. Jenkins.”

Teresa didn’t offer to move.  “Surely the doctor won’t be necessary.”

“Necessary or not, I insist.  As I said, one can never be too careful.  She could have broken a rib or some other bone.”

“Oh, I’m sure nothings broken,” Dee Dee said.  “If you’d be so kind as to carry me to the sofa, I’m sure I’ll be fine in no time.”

Teresa and the other girls chorused their agreement.

Scott rolled his eyes and let out a long breath.   Where was Johnny when he could use his help?  Then on second thought, he decide it was best he brother wasn’t there to see him in his present predicament.  Johnny could have a wicked sense of humor, and then there was the necessity of borrowing a shirt, which might prove that much more difficult to accomplish.

Certain that Dee Dee’s injury was contrived and seeing no other way out, Scott scooped her up in his arms, one beneath her legs and the other under her back.  “Let me know if you feel any pain,” he said as he walked toward the front entry to the house.

Dee Dee let out an audible sigh and rested her head against Scott’s bare chest, her soft hair tickling his skin.

From the sound of footsteps behind him, Scott was sure that Teresa and the other girls were following close behind him.  He could hear whispering and soft giggles, but couldn’t tell what was being said.  Whatever it was, undoubtedly he was the center of their conversation.

Scott reached the stone veranda, and Teresa rushed past him and opened the door into the foyer.   He strode into the parlor, passed by the long dining table, and went to the sofa that faced the fireplace.  As he walked, he glanced around the room to see if anyone was there.  It appeared he was in luck and would escape being seen by his brother or their father.

After easing the injured girl onto the sofa, Scott straightened.  “You’re sure you don’t need the doctor?”

Dee Dee gazed up at Scott, her eyes fixed somewhere a little lower than his.  “I’m sure.”

Scott cleared his throat and stepped back.  “If you ladies will excuse me, I’ll go make myself presentable for dinner.”

“You look fine to me,” one of the girls said.

Dee Dee breathed a quiet “yes.”

Scott heard footsteps behind him and turned.

Johnny Lancer strode closer, a devilish grin on his face.  He motioned toward Scott.  “That a new style of evening wear?”

Scott glared at his brother.  “Don’t be a smart mouth.  I didn’t have time to finish dressing.  Miss Dee Dee took a fall, and Teresa was worried it was much more serious than it proved to be.”

“I see.”

One of the girls slipped an arm around Johnny’s.  “Do I get to sit next to you at the table?”

“You got to sit by him last time,” another girl said.

Teresa spoke up and said Johnny could sit between them.

Two more girls voiced their complaints, stating that they hadn’t had a turn to sit by him either.

The grandfather clock chimed the half-hour.  Scott could see this taking some time to sort out–time he didn’t have .  He needed a shirt and his brother was the only source of one at the moment.

“Why don’t you draw straws?” Scott said.  He looked from the girls to his brother.  “Johnny, can I talk to you a minute.”

“Sure.  What about?”

“Just come with me.  I’ll tell you on the way.”

“Way where?”

Scott glared at Johnny.  “Will you do as I asked and come with me?”

Johnny swung his free arm back and forth, his fingers fidgeting.  “Sure.”  He eased out of the girl’s grip.  “I better see what he wants.  You girls sort things out and I’ll see you at supper.”

“Awe.  Do you hafta go?”

“Yep.  If I wanna live ’til supper, I do.”

Scott headed for the foyer.  He glanced back to see if Johnny was following and let out a sigh of relief.

“Hey.  What’s the hurry?  And where’re we goin’?” Johnny called.

Scott ignored the questions and hurried to the door to his brother’s room.  There he turned and faced Johnny.  “I need to borrow a shirt.”

Johnny’s brows arched.  “You do?  What’s wrong with yours?”

“Never mind, just get me a shirt.”

“Bein’ kind o’ bossy, aren’t ya?  Don’t I even get a please?”

Scott gave the doorknob a twist and shoved the door open.  “Please, may I borrow a shirt?”

Johnny followed Scott into the room.  “Which one ya want?”

“Preferably a plain white one.”

Johnny went to his wardrobe and opened the doors wide.  “Don’t have a white one.”

“What colors do you have . . . other than red or that flowery blue one?”

“Got this one.”  Johnny pulled out a solid blue shirt that buttoned all the way up the front.

Scott took it and nodded.  “This will do fine.”  He looked at his brother.  “I don’t remember seeing you wear this one.  Isn’t it colorful enough for you? “

“Teresa said she’d embroidery the front but hasn’t had time.  Keep it if ya want.”

“Thanks.  I might have to.”

“Why?”

“It seems my shirts have all disappeared.”

Johnny’s eyes opened wider.  “All of them?”

“Yes . . . all of them.”  Scott studied his brother.  “You wouldn’t have any idea what happened to them, would you?”

“Me.  How would I know?”

Scott raised one hand.  “Forget it.  I’m sure there’s a simple explanation, and they’ll show up soon enough.  In the meantime, thanks for letting me use this one.”

Johnny flashed a grin.  “That’s what brothers are for, ain’t it?”

Scott chuckled at the memory of the shirt Johnny had borrowed their first night after arriving at their father’s ranch.  “Yes.  That’s what brothers are for.”

***

Later that evening, Teresa and her friends sat on her bed talking.

“Didn’t Scott look lovely?” Dee Dee said.

“Devine,” another girl answered.

The girls who had competed for the honor of sitting beside Johnny agreed that Scott was nice but that he didn’t hold a candle next his brother.  This brought on a lengthy conversation about which young man was more handsome, with or without a shirt.

Teresa let them prattle on.  Her eyes gazed at the array of birthday gifts and other items lying beside her, but her mind was elsewhere.  Scott was pleasing enough to the eye, with a fair amount of muscle to his chest that was graced with just the right amount of blond hair to make him every bit as appealing as Johnny.  However, neither of them was the one she preferred to see shirtless.  She would much prefer to feast her eyes on that young horse-wrangler who worked for Aggie and Bud Addison.

When the chattering quieted, Teresa glanced around at her friends.  “Then you’re satisfied with our deal?”

Dee Dee sighed dreamily.  “Oh, yes.  It was worth everything you asked.”

 ~ Thus ended the day that Scott’s shirts mysteriously vanished from his room, and a new era began where more colors were added to his wardrobe–except for shades of red, of course.  Those would not be tolerated, at least not in the foreseeable future.  ~

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End
March 17, 2014

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