Appointment in Balmorhea Ch. 02bylukeadams©
Sena was between movies. Sierra was between semesters. They had talked repeatedly about a road trip, just the two of them. Why not now?
"Okay," Sierra said. "Oregon or Montana?"
For the first time in awhile, Sena reminded Sierra that she loved filming Big Texan, in southwest Texas. Trust me, that part of Texas is beautiful, like southern Colorado, Sena explained. Most of the people she got to know there, thirty years earlier, were still living.
"More than any place I've been, those Texas folks were not impressed by me. Jim Greene trailed a cowboy around like a puppy dog. Those Texans are so full of themselves, they did not have room to be impressed by me," Sena added laughing.
This impressed Sierra. She had never liked being around Sena's idolatrous fans. Once they were cornered at Dodger Stadium. Sena signed autographs and posed for photos for three innings. By the time they returned to their seats, Valenzuela was out of the game.
Sierra was intrigued. Plus, her mother really wanted to go to Texas. Sierra agreed.
They took their time, puttering eastward. Best Western hotels greeted them three evenings, before they entered Texas. Sierra, traveling with friends, especially in her college days, had stayed in places several notches below a Best Western.
This type of hotel was new to Sena, almost like camping out. On location, she had stayed in some rough places, but at least Sena had been waited on like royalty.
Sierra Hamilton handled registration and brought in fast food. Sena floated around, behind her thick sunglasses. They watched movies late, and the Today Show early. Neither admitted it, but this was their best time together in years.
Like a flower needs the sun, Sierra knew that Sena eventually would need a "moment". It came in El Paso. Instead of asking Sierra to bring in breakfast, Sena proposed they go to IHOP.
Without her scarf or sunglasses, but with makeup and her best road attire, Sena made a smiling grand entrance, worthy of the Red Carpet. She asked for a table out of the way, so as to not block traffic.
Soon a line formed. Between bites, Sena signed autographs, and posed for photos. Eventually the cooks posed, too.
Today was different. Sierra enjoyed this. That is my mom, she thought.
They arrived in Pecos in mid-afternoon. Sena's appointment in Balmorhea was at noon the next day. Sierra again brought food. By coincidence that had their heads shaking, Big Texan was the Eight O'clock Movie. Again, Sena told stories about the filming. This time, Sierra was entertained.
Around eleven the next morning, they headed south, on the 30 mile drive to Balmorhea.
Not for the first time recently, Sena wondered what Ernesto looked like, thirty years later. He was almost sixty. One of Maria's girlfriends quickly latched onto him, she figured. But, she did not recall a woman's voice, the night she called him.
She wondered if Ernesto could sexually still do it. The last night before the Texas trip started, Sena's latest quasi boyfriend, fourteen years younger, a handsome fellow, gave her excellent oral service. And as usual, the actor could not get an erection.
"Dammit! I am with you, a beautiful, famous, willing woman, and I cannot perform."
"Earl, you give great head." Sena consoled him, like he was a little boy. He would not quit whimpering.
Sena changed the cassette player. She gazed at the contrast of the surrounding desert, and the Davis Mountains, on the horizon.
She thought of other contrasts. She could not imagine Ernesto repeatedly failing, and seeking sympathy like Earl. Either Ernesto could still get it up, or he had honorably retired from bedroom trysts.
Sierra shook her head. "It looks like we are still in New Mexico."
"See those mountains to the southwest? Those and Marfa beyond them are another world from this. The Balmorhea Springs are in the foothills. The Springs are great."
"Who will we meet there?"
"Ernesto Garza, a ranch foreman. He is the one that Jim Greene followed around. He's charming, and thirty years ago, he was very handsome. I told him that if he came to Hollywood, I would get him into movies. I was serious. He became a true friend. He kept a lot of people propped up and going."
"Who else we gonna meet at lunch?"
"No women? Just another guy? Who is this other guy?"
Sena was careful. "I dated a rancher, Ernesto's boss, although I felt Ernesto was the real boss. The rancher was a widow, with an eight year-old son. You were a year younger. We compared notes a lot, about the two of you. The other guy is the son.
The rancher remarried. They have a daughter, who is seventeen. We will see the rancher and several others. Just not today."
"Is the rancher's son married?'
Sena pursed her lips. She moved her hands on the wheel. "No."
Sierra's eyes narrowed. Sena felt her hostile long stare. Moments passed.
"Is this one of your set-ups, Mom?"
Sena pretended an Oscar was on the line. She shook her head vigorously.
"No. Not at all."
Sierra kept staring at Sena. Sierra slapped the dash. "Dammit, dammit, Mom! You never give up! We've come a thousand miles for you to once again try to marry me off!"
"Think what you will. We've had a good time so far. My best times in Texas were at the springs, just ahead. My best friend in Texas is Ernesto Sanchez. He could not bring the guy I dated, because he is married. Ernesto is a second father to this other fellow. And I was fond of the little rascal."
Minutes passed. Sierra knew she was trapped. Finally, Sierra asked "What is this guy's name?"
Sena grinned. "Bubba Junior." She looked at Sierra, and snickered.
Sierra observed her mother with half closed eyes. Slowly, she shook her head, for quite awhile. She gazed to her right.
Sierra repeated the name slowly, one syllable at a time.
"Bub-ba...Jun-ior." Sierra kept shaking her head.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Ernesto and Bubba Junior were unsaddling Pete and Topper in the corral near the Big House. As casually as possible, Ernesto asked "Are you and Big Shorty gonna be in the team roping event tomorrow, in Fort Stockton?"
"Naw. Sis [Ceasar Sis] will drop her colt in the next day or two. I'll hang around, probably eat with the folks."
"I want you to go to Balmorhea Springs tomorrow with me."
Bubba Junior was carrying his saddle. He stopped, turned back, looking confused. "Why do you want to do that? We go there just for Nancy's birthdays."
"I want to go just one time, and relax-when it is not an event."
They resumed walking. Bubba Junior laughed. "I did not think you missed church, except when you had to."
"Oh, I miss now and then. I just pray twice as long the next week." Ernesto was grinning.
Bubba Junior thought about it awhile. "I may be up a lot tonight with Sis. If you can wait until mid-morning, I may go with you. We won't be there long will we?"
Ernesto shook his head. Like the rest, Bubba Junior went to bed early and got up early, except on Saturday nights. Maybe once a month, he went to a dance and sometimes spent time with a girl afterwards. The other Saturday nights, he read past midnight, then slept late.
This was perfect, Ernesto thought. Sena and Sierra would not arrive in Balmorhea until noon.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Around nine-thirty the next morning, Ernesto parked his pickup at the Big House. He saluted the crepe myrtle. This was his last next to last year of good luck, according to the planting lore. What would happen after that, he wondered.
He whistled as he marched the sidewalk. As he opened the screen door, Nancy came whizzing by, late for Sunday School. "Hello, E."
Jim Ed was right behind her. "Keep it under seventy. Otherwise, I will send you to reform school," he shouted, grinning.
As Nancy eased into her three year-old Mustang convertible they recently bought for her, she gave her dad a long look. Don't forget who the real boss in the family is, her look said.
Smiling, white haired, refrigerator-sized Hermalinda emerged from the kitchen. "I have some bacon and egg tacos for you and Bubba Junior. And I have a nice picnic lunch for the four of you."
"We also need some of your delicious coffee." Ernesto wiggled his eyebrows. With his middle finger, he smoothed the area under his lip that for years wore his moustache. A few months after Maria passed, he cut it off. He had wanted to years earlier, but Maria liked it.
Janet padded in. She ignored the coffee that the men drank, and reached for the percolator. "You tell Sena that she is welcome, and you convince her I am sincere. We will show her around. She can stay as long as she wants with us." Janet pointed at him.
"But, she has to first give me a big kiss," Jim Ed said, grinning.
Janet half smiled at him. "Maybe a little kiss. On the cheek."
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Ernesto bounced the three miles to Bubba Junior's. Ring and Sally, the border collies that presently ran the place, barked and jumped on him, licking his hands. He glanced at the neat, two bedroom house, with a small loft. Ernesto knew everything was in its place. Bubba Junior got that neatness streak from his mother, at least for the house. But, he knew Bubba Junior was not there.
He entered the barn. Two empty Coke cans stood next to a bottle of horse linament on a tabled rescued from a church bazaar. An eclectic mixture of paperbacks with a few hardbacks loaded one half of the table. On another table rested some veterinary books, discontinued by the A&M Vet School, and rescued by Bubba Junior while in College Station. One book was open, face down. Stables stood on the south end. Sis and another horse, stabled to keep Sis company, snorted at his arrival.
Ernesto glanced at the telephone numbers and scribbling next to the phone. The last time he was here, he had answered the phone. "Is J.E. there?" That meant the caller knew Bubba Junior in the Marines.
Ernesto and Jim Ed, Sr. had both been in combat in World War II. But, Bubba Junior had felt more comfortable talking with Ernesto about Vietnam when he first came back. But, the subject had not been brought up by either in years.
Ernesto walked through a door on the west side. As usual, Bubba Junior was sacked out in a bedroll, several feet from the barn. Except in rainy weather, Bubba Junior slept here. Sometimes when it rained he slept underneath an overhang outside the barn. A stone lined campfire pit was close by. The lake's edge was fifty yards away.
"Rise and shine! We are burning daylight!" Ernesto remarked.
Bubba Junior threw an arm across his face. "The brown devil has arrived."
Ernesto knew they had plenty of time. And he could not push it. Bass were hungry, and were popping the water. Bubba Junior might decide to fish instead.
"I have some of Hermalinda's tacos and coffee."
Bubba Junior pulled his blond headed, six-two, 210 pound frame into a weather beaten, wooden chair. They talked about Sis and what work needed to be done in the coming days. Ernesto reminded him that Paco would be down within an hour and stay with Sis.
An hour plus later, they passed through Fort Davis, and were headed out of the mountains, toward Balmorhea.
Ernesto was driving Bubba Junior's two year-old Ford pickup. He made a dramatic sweeping gesture with his right hand.
"I have a surprise. We will meet Sena Miller at the Balmorhea Springs."
"No shit? Why is she coming to the Springs?"
"She had a good time in Texas. She wants to return to revisit the surroundings, and visit us"
"Why now? Why, after all of these years?"
"Why not now? Plus, I have invited her, two or three times, over the years, in letters."
Bubba Junior glanced at him. "Did Maria know about those letters?"
"Yes. She helped me write them." Ernesto glanced at him. "You know the story. Sena and I were just friends."
Bubba Junior stared to his right, thinking about this. "Is she bringing a Hollywood posse, to film some kind of documentary?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Well, who is she coming with, then?"
Ernesto looked as innocent as possible. "Her daughter. She is only a year younger than you. We compared notes about the two of you back then."
"Is her daughter bringing her kids? If she is my age, she must have kids. They will like the Springs."
"I don't think so."
"Is she bringing her husband? She is married, isn't she?"
"No. I don't think so."
Ernesto felt Bubba Junior staring a hole through him. Bubba Junior slapped the console.
"Shit! Is Janet trying to line me up on a blind date again? Shit!"
"Janet has never talked to Sena, as far as I know."
"Well then, dammit, are you or Dad behind some kind attempt at match making here?"
Ernesto finally glanced at him. "Not me. We already have enough bossy women on the ranch." Ernesto started whistling El Rancho Grande. "Let's sing a little," Ernesto said. Then he belted a few lines with his baritone.
"I don't feel like singing a damn song. I feel like jumping out of this pickup."
"A daughter of Sena Miller is probably nice to look at," Ernesto said. Then, he started singing again.
Bubba Junior stared at him, like he was crazy. Finally he asked, "What is the daughter's name?"
Without hesitation, Ernesto grinned at him, and said loudly but slowly, "Sierra".
Bubba Junior slowly repeated each syllable distinctly, "Si-err-a". He gazed to his right. He kept shaking his head.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
The turn indicators of the blue Mercedes toting Sena and her reluctant sidekick pointed to the left, towards Mexico. Sierra spotted a gray hatted man and his younger, black hatted detainee, perched on a bench, near the entrance to Balmorhea Springs.
Sena and Ernesto approached each other, smiling. They hugged. She kissed him on the cheek, and pulled back.
"I swear, you don't look much different, Ernesto." Her clinched fist tapped his stomach lightly. "No beer gut." Ernesto grinned broadly.
Sena studied his face. "When did you lose the moustache?" He grinned, but said nothing. She lifted his hat off.
"Heck, you still have all of your hair." Gray streaked though his temples.
He cupped her shoulders with both hands. "You are as beautiful as you were the last time I saw you."
Sena smiled softly and slightly shook her head, acknowledging that thirty years takes a toll. "At least I look better than I did in that photo of me on the beach, which seemed to go around the world. I promptly lost fifteen pounds." She waved her finger. "There is always a good side to adversity."
Ernesto chuckled but said nothing. He could not stop grinning. He was still surprised Sena had actually arrived.
Sierra and Bubba Junior glanced at each other during the old folks' reunion. Finally, their eyes settled on each other. With a long look, each conveyed they had been tricked, and were humoring people they loved.
Ernesto pointed towards a picnic table, about fifty yards away, in the shade of cottonwood trees. "Hermalinda has made a nice picnic lunch. And we have some cold beer. You remember Hermalinda?"
"Of course," Sena said, smiling. "She's got to be, what eighty years old?"
"At least, but nobody knows for sure. She won't tell. She's never been sick a day. She says hello. They all say hello. Janet, Jim Ed's wife wants you to visit and stay with them as long as you want. Jim Ed, too."
"I really appreciate it. We'll do it. But, first I want to spend time with you and Bubba Junior, and enjoy this place."
The four detoured by the two acre pool, fed by the artesian springs. Bubba Junior played tour guide, explaining where the water went from here, and so forth.
"I cannot tell any difference from thirty years ago," Sena said, while slowly turning and gazing. She did not mention that she stopped by here in 1966, coming from New Orleans.
"Since then, they brought in squirrels for the tourists," Bubba Junior explained.
"I can see the squirrels, getting on the edge of this oasis, and seeing the desert. They probably almost faint," Sena said, grinning.
They settled down with Hermalinda's fried chicken, potato salad, and fried peach pie.
The men rested on one side of the picnic table, facing the women. Ernesto had folding chairs nearby, for after lunch.
Sena small talked about their trip, and the fortuitous airing of Big Texan the night before. Ernesto grinned and nodded. Sierra and Bubba Junior sneaked glances at each other and then looked away.
He is easy on the eyes, Sierra thought. And he has the bluest eyes I have ever seen.
Bubba Junior noted that from the neck up, Sierra probably favored her father. But, she had her mother's great body. The white spaghetti straps of her camisole blouse contrasted with her tanned, toned arms and shoulders. She worked with weights, Bubba Junior noted.
Sena smiled at him. "I hear you attended Texas A&M."
Sierra chimed in, "I did not know you went to college." She immediately regretted it.
Bubba Junior eyed her coolly. "Yeah, I went to college. Graduated , too."
Sierra smiled. "What did you major in?"
"Double major-Animal Science and Range Management." He did not mention Vietnam, the Marines, or that he spent two months in her native California, a year or so after leaving the Marines.
Seirra noticed his limp, and figured it resulted from a cowboying accident.
Sena had reserved some questions and comments, to glide over touchy moments.
"Ernesto, the day I left Marfa, you and Maria came to the train, to see me off. But, you were really tired. Maria said you were up all night, with your favorite horse. Do you remember that?"
Ernesto pushed his hat back. He rubbed his chin, trying to recall thirty years' earlier. Bubba Junior grinned. He remembered.
Slowly Ernesto rolled it out. "We had a good stud horse, Dandy Jack. Most stallions are not good for anything but breeding because they are too ornery around other horses. But Dandy Jack was an exception. He could also do roundups and other cow work. He was an especially good cutting horse. The night before you left, he had a fracture in the lower leg."
Ernesto demonstrated the area with his hands, the area between the fetlock and the hoof.
Sierra interrupted. "Which phalanx of the pastern was broken?"
Ernesto stared at Sierra as if she suddenly had four eyes. "It was the short one." Ernesto looked at Sena and explained, "A phalanx is a bone, and the short one is the small one."
Sena made a smug face, as to say this made perfect sense to her.
Bubba Junior calmly studied Sierra.
"The vet had just bought an x-ray machine, but he was a hundred miles away, working. So, I located the fracture the old way, by feel. I put on a plaster cast. Dandy Jack was a perfect patient. He did not move while the cast dried. I was up with him all night just before you left.
Damn, we were lucky. Most horses rear and plunge, trying to get rid of their cast. But, he didn't. You don't leave the cast on long because of cast sores. But, even after the vet took the cast off days later-the vet was back by then-the horse didn't use the leg right away, which gave it more time to heal."
"Sierra asked, "Was he a usable horse after that?"
"He still bred mares. But, Dandy Jack's cutting horse days were over, because of the stress on a cutting horse's legs. A roping horse can be used if they recover from a broken leg, because of the short distances they work. I've seen a couple of barrel horses that were still real fast, in spite of slight limp or even a club foot. But, after a broken bone, the work days of an everyday ranch horse are over."
Ernesto was grinning. He was talking about his favorite subject, horses.
"Why? I understand that if a horse survives a broken bone, they get over the pain. Why can they still be a barrel horse, but not a ranch work horse?"Sierra asked.
Ernesto knowingly looked at Bubba Junior, who was still observing Sierra.