tagRomanceWithin Your Crowd

Within Your Crowd


Author's Note:

This is my sixth semi-annual "invitational." The initial one was based on the Statler Brother's song, "This Bed of Rose's." The second used the Marty Robbins El Paso trilogy: "El Paso" "El Paso City " and "Faleena." The third had stories based on the various versions of "Maggie May" or "Maggie Mae." The fourth invitational was based on any Country & Western song and the fifth on songs by Merle Haggard.

The current invitational is based on any song written or performed by Willie Nelson. I've chosen, "Within Your Crowd".

"Do you remember how they warned you once before?
They made it clear you weren't to see me anymore.
Within your world of riches poor boys aren't allowed,
And you must learn to love someone within your crowd."

I've always liked Garth Brook's rendition of "Friends in Low Places" (written by Dewayne Blackwell & Bud Lee). This story also gives a nod to that song:

"Blame it all on my roots, I showed up in boots,
And ruined your black tie affair.
The last one to know, the last one to show,
I was the last one you thought you'd see there.

And I'll be okay.
I'm not big on social graces.
Think I'll slip on down to the oasis.
Oh, I've got friends in low places"


Chapter One

She was Madison Townsend and I'm Billy Ray Lamar.

She lived in the best part of town. I lived … to hell and gone way west of town – so far out that even bothering to give it an RFD address was optimistic. The town was Austin but to be honest she didn't actually live there. Madison lived in a mansion on Lake Travis a way's west of Austin. Her dad, Bradford, had a number of patents for computer processor chips and the chips put him in the chips … so to speak.

Now let's be clear about this: Bradford was in no way some cultured descendant of antebellum Georgia whose ancestors lived in some white mansions surrounded by moss draped Live oak trees. And maybe those non-existent, cultured southern gentlemen had non-paid workers (think slaves) to keep the cotton coming so the south could have fancy carriages and debutante balls.

Well, to be honest (I could be nothing less!) he did come from a cotton background. However, his antecedents as far back as anyone could tell were sharecroppers making a hand-to-mouth existence in the Pine Barrens of East Texas. Now ole Bradford's dad did one smart thing – he just hated fightin' off those damn boll weevils to get a cotton crop in that could new shoes for the winter. Therefore, when Uncle Sam said he needed some help for a little Police Action in Korea, he joined right up. Somehow he kept his ass from being shot off during the retreat from "Frozen Chosin" and got out to an updated GI Bill that gave him twenty-six dollars of unemployment payment for twenty-six weeks.

That plus a nice hundred and ten bucks a month for college did him right fine to get a degree at the college nearby in Beaumont that led to a scholarship at University of Texas in Austin where he eventually wound up as a professor in their Electrical Engineering department. As the electronic industry eventually got started Bradford very kindly (for small sums and founder's stock options) helped fledgling companies get started. Now I really do have to Mr. Townsend dad his due, he is one smart SOB. He helped design a processor chip called the 4004 for Texas Instruments which Intel very reluctantly picked up and turned it into the 8008 which led to the x86 processor series and made a whole bunch of people filthy rich. One of those nouveau rich was a sassy kid named Bill Gates, who eventually redefined the term rich.

Bradford's dad invested well, and when he up and left to meet his maker, good ole Bradford inherited a bundle of money he had done absolutely nothing to earn. And that lead him to feel certain that he was one important SOB. It didn't hurt his ego to have married an oil heiress from Dallas with her inherited millions.

Well, you get the idea. When a sharecropper (or his get) becomes rich you would swear that in an alternate universe, he would have been knighted by the queen. Since that didn't happen, he just acts like it and expects his daughter to marry a Prince. The Prince in this case was Thomas Martin Kendall whose lucky father was an early sales manager for Ross Perot's EDS. He was never Tom, or Tommy or even Thomas but always Thomas Martin. Thomas Martin lived in Dallas in his family's mansion. I always thought he was a pretentious jerk (I'm being kind) but then that's just me.

Anyway Madison (always Madison except for me – somehow I got away with Maddie) lived on Lake Travis. My folks lived out a few miles from LBJ's place; fact is my granddad knew him well. We had a good sized ranch on the Perdernales River northeast of Johnson City. Where we were located was on the south side of the river inside a funny loop which looks from the air just like Snoopy in profile, facing left.

We have about 2200 acres and mostly breed thoroughbred horses and registered Black Angus bulls. Lately, dad has taken about half the northern side of the property and set up a hunting business. I love to hunt but I hate to be around when other people are hunting ... they don't always know what they are doing. Therefore, we worked it for me to take over the ranching part and dad the hunting. I did okay and dad was making tons of money.

So we weren't poor and somewhere back in history lurked Mirabeau Lamar, the third president of the Republic of Texas. He was noted for wanting to keep Texas as an independent country. His vision was to expel all the Native American tribes and expand Texas to the Pacific Ocean. If he had gotten his way maybe I would be a high-muck-a-muck like Bradford Townsend pretended to be.

My problem wasn't that we were poor (we were actually doing quite well, thank you), but that I had no pretensions whatever. It's just that my idea of a good time was a few (well, more than a few) beers with my buddies at the nearest tavern or honky-tonk place. I wore jeans and flannel or tee shirts depending on the season and always wore Justin boots, usually either Justin's work boot or their rancher with an extra pair of their black Westerns for when I wanted to kick my heels up.

I did go to school at the prestigious Texas A&M in College Station … oh, wait, that was West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas a few miles south of Amarillo. I majored in their Equine Industry Program, since I liked working with thoroughbreds more than bulls. It was actually a great major and supplemented nicely the years of hands-on work I had while growing up. After college, I bummed around on the professional rodeo circuit for a couple of years but finally grew out of it.

Chapter Two

I met Maddie when her dad bought four horses from us. He wanted gentle horses for Madison and her friends to ride around his ranchette – he had about twelve acres surrounding his admittedly nice mansion. I'd picked out two mares and two geldings. I was sure the two wannabe stallions had been gelded because when they were about twelve months old I'd personally watched the vet take his emasculator and … well, maybe that's too much information.

Anyway these were horses I'd personally trained and knew they would be great for anyone with even a basic level of experience. The mares were both bays, one almost brown. One of the geldings was gray and the other a glossy black. I delivered the horses myself, taking the side road around the mansion as directed. There was a large barn with stables attached on each side. There were eight stalls in each section of the stable.

Madison was waiting for me; I'd called ahead to let her know when I was down the road a piece. When I pulled up, I have to confess I sat and stared at her for a minute. She looked tall, though just how tall was hard to tell because of the expensive looking western straw hat she had on (I later found out she was a couple of inches under my six foot). Long curls of strawberry blonde hair leaked out of the hat swirling down around her shoulders (some months after that I found out she wasn't dying her hair – I mean she was naturally a strawberry blonde … in other words, oh, hell, you know what I mean).

She had a sleeveless white blouse knotted under her … well, somewhere around her navel – with a pair of very short raggedy jean shorts (in this case, there was no question why they call them shorts). This was all topped off – bottomed off? – with what looked like a pair Dan Post Genuine Deer cowgirl boots. Taken altogether it should have looked tacky, but she looked nothing short of spectacular.

I sorta fell out of the truck and almost on my face but saved my pride with a gracious introduction, "Hi. I'm Billy Ray here with the horses." Damn, that sounded like the punch line for a very lame joke.

She smiled and answered, "Yeah, I figured that horse trailer might have some horses in it. Let's put them in this corral." She was standing in front of an open gate in the corral to the side of the stables.

I backed the trailer up and led the horses into the corral. I saw her looking at the logo on the horse trailer, "Lamar Ranch" with my folks' names underneath, "Dell & Angie Lamar". Looking at me with a funny expression on her face, she asked, "Is that your mom, Angie Lamar?"

That was about the last thing I expected her to ask. "Yeah, do you know her?"

She didn't really answer, just a short, "Mmmm." She put out her hand, and added, "I'm Madison, by the way."

I took her hand, holding it in mine for a couple of hours. Well, maybe a few seconds. I was surprised to feel the calluses on her palms. Now that I was closer I could see that she had emerald green eyes that seemed to suck the life right out of me. On the other hand, maybe I just needed a beer. "Great," I said as I walked back to open up the trailer. "Can I call you Maddie?"

Those bright green eyes turned to that pale icy green sometimes seen in glaciers, and I debated crawling under a large pile of the odoriferous stuff shoveled out of the stalls. Just in time her face lit up with a smirk, and her almond shaped eyes widened a little. "No one calls me anything but Madison, not even my parents. Why should I let you?"

Then, answering her own question, she murmured with a soft, lazy drawl, "It does have a nice ring to it. Go ahead and call me Maddie until I decide whether I like you or not. I probably won't, but we'll see."

From the look she gave me, I wasn't sure whether she was going to kiss me or kill me. I wondered whether I should press my luck and ask her to show me her hay loft … maybe not. We got the horses out of the trailer and into the corral where they romped around, loosening up after the drive. I spent a good half hour telling her about each of the horses. I carried a bitless bridle that I liked to use in training horses. One at a time I put it on one of the horses – these were all around two years old – and led them around the corral, so she could look at them.

When I finished, I said, "They are all really first rate riding horses." Out of curiosity, I added, "Which one do you like?"

She looked them over again, and answered, "The lighter colored mare is really pretty." She looked at it judiciously for a moment, adding, "Yeah, she's real pretty."

I was a bit disappointed, since I know the black gelding was in all ways a much better horse. I was still madly in love with Maddie/Madison … I'd known that as soon as I'd seen her green eyes. But I guess I loved her a bit less since it was clear that a horse was just another toy for a RB (rich bitch!). However, I had to ask.

"So she's the one you will use as your personal horse?"

"Oh no, she's really pretty, but I'll keep the black for my use. He's gotta be one of the best geldings I've seen."

I'd just been infatuated before; now I was in love.

She added, "I want to ride him for a while, maybe twenty minutes or so. Just to see if I have any questions." She saddled the black and mounted. "We're having a barbeque tonight, around five or so. I'd like for you to come. Wait for me and I'll show you around."

She took off, easing him into a canter. I closed the back of the trailer and walked over to the corral, sitting on the top rail while I waited. I looked around and was impressed how well organized and maintained the place was. I could see a large patio/pool area behind the house. A man walked out of the house down towards the stable area. He stopped in front of me and pushed his hat up from his eyes.

He looked to be somewhere around the middle years of the forties, well built with broad shoulders, tall, and just a hint of mid-life spread bulging over his wide leather belt. The sun was behind him, shading his pale blue eyes, but I didn't think that was what made them look so uninviting. He watched Maddie cantering away then turned to me. After a long minute of trying to stare me down, he asked, "You belong to that truck and horse trailer?"

I didn't think he was expecting a long speech from me, so I gave him a spare nod.

"If you're finished up you can go ahead and hit the road."

"Well, Maddie is taking a ride on one of them, and I want to make sure everything is okay."

His mouth scrunched up a bit like he found a pit in the prune he must have been chewing. His face flushed an angry red, and he said in a tight, quiet voice, "Mister, you do my daughter disrespect by being so familiar with her. To you, she is Miss Townsend, and you will never call her anything but that. Now you get off this ranch just as damn as soon as you finish your business."

He turned and started to walk away, and I foolishly said, "Uh, Mad … uh, Miss Townsend asked me to stay for a barbeque."

"Son, that get-together is for friends and family. You are not family and you damn sure ain't a friend. You leave now or I'll have you escorted off the place. If there's anything wrong with the horse, I'll take care of it. Now git!"

I didn't need this kind of grief, and I didn't know her well enough to go through the hassle involved. Yeah, she was cute as hell, but I was clearly wrong when I thought I loved her.

I sashayed over to the truck and fired it up, easing it over to the driveway. Just as I turned onto the drive, Maddie – excuse me, Miss Townsend – reined her new black gelding to a stop in front of me. I looked at her for a minute then decided, what the hell. I stepped out and walked over to her, tipping my hat nice and polite.

"I thought you were going to stay, did you change your mind?"

Exaggerating my west Texas drawl, I replied, "Wal Miss Townsend, yore pappy done introduced himself and made it plain to me that the barbeque was for friends and family. Since he felt I was clearly neither, he kindly suggested I get the hell off his property."

I opened the door and started to step into the truck but Maddie had other ideas. She jumped off the horse and grabbed my arm. "Wait a damn minute. Did he really say that?"

"Yeah, and I have to say he wasn't very nice about it."

She looked over at the patio where her dad was talking with a woman, most likely her mom. She let go of my arm and took the horse over to the corral and wrapped the reins around a post. Striding back she took my hand and pulled me along at a fast clip. "Let's get this straight right now."

Her parents stopped talking and watched us as we approached.

"Mom, Dad, this is Billy Ray Lamar. His father runs the ranch we bought the horses from. Billy is my friend and I invited him to stay for dinner. If that's not okay, Billy Ray has asked me to dinner at Hudson's on the Bend in town. Do you want me to stay tonight or to go out to eat?"

Her dad started, "Damn it Madison, this is your welcome home party from college. All of your friends will …" then her mom cut in, Billy, I'm Amanda Townsend, and we'd be happy to have you stay."

Maddie gave her dad a hard look, and said, "Good." Turning to me, she said, "I need to get ready. If you want to freshen up, there is a bathroom just inside the patio door."

Since I started delivering horses for my dad, I'd gotten into the habit of taking along a change of clothes and a leather dopp kit my dad had given me when I turned sixteen. I never knew when something would come up while doing a delivery, and I'd have to stay overnight. I got a rag from the back of the truck, and after I did what I could for my boots, I took my stuff to the designated bathroom. After brushing my teeth, I shaved while taking a shower and then got dressed. What I had with me this trip was a pair of black jeans and a light blue shirt with a modicum of pale yellow flowers on it … looking in the mirror, I looked better than I'd expected. My medium brown hair was a bit shaggy around the ears and neck but not too bad.

I took my dirty clothes back to the truck and when I got to the patio Maddie was standing by a long galvanized horse trough filled with beer and ice. As I got there, she handed me a wet bottle of Rahr's Bucking Bock.

"Is this okay, Billy?"

"That sure is fine, Miss Townsend."

"Damn it, will you quit that 'Miss Townsend' crap. What happened to Maddie, anyway?"

"Well, your dad made it clear that it would never be appropriate for me to call you anything but 'Miss Townsend.' He was quite definite about that."

"Billy Ray Lamar, I decide what I want people to call me. And speaking of that, I do want you to call me. By the way, you clean up real nice."

"Maddie, you looked like a dream before, but now, gosh with that white dress you look ready to walk down the aisle with me." Damn, did I really say that?

She looked at me for a minute, then shaking her head with an exasperated look, she took me over to a table, and we sat down. There were a few people walking around setting things up, but it didn't look like any guests were there yet. After we were seated, she put her hand on mine and said, "I just graduated from Rice and tonight is kind of my formal welcome home. I'll try to spend as much time as I can with you. If it's okay, I'll have my brother Bobby hang out with you. I'll be sure to save you the last dance."

I had this vision of a twelve year old squirt following me around, so I asked, "How old is he?"

She laughed, seeming to read my mind. "He's nineteen, a couple of years younger than me. He went one year to Texas here in town, but he refuses to do more. He wants to do the rodeo full time. He's actually pretty good."

"What events does he do?"

"Oh, he likes best bronc riding, both saddle and bareback. However, he competes in most everything, but he hates the steers. He tried it in high school a couple of times, but he comes right out and says he's afraid of them. More than anything, though, he loves horses, and I gather you do too."

"Yeah, my dad tells everyone I was riding before I was weaned. I did rodeo in high-school and at West Texas A&M. I usually did Tie-Down Roping and Team Roping."

"What did you major in, Billy?"

"I did their Equine Industry Program. Our ranch has over the years been about breeding – split about evenly between thoroughbred horses and registered Black Angus bulls. I was planning on taking over the horses and dad the bulls, but dad got this bug in his head about setting up a hunting operation. I have to admit that it makes more money a lot easier that the breeding program. To be honest I love to hunt, so it's not all bad for me. I'm trying to talk dad into getting someone take over the bulls, and I'll just do the horses and help him with the hunting.

"I gave her a quick glance, "And what did you do at Rice?"

"I was at the Shepherd School of Music. I play the cello more than anything, but I dabble around with the piano and fiddle, sometimes the guitar. I also sing some once in a while."

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