Falling in love is tragedy. Sure, NOT being in love can be a lonely road, but when you’re a 14-year-old boy, and you’re getting hit with the profoundness of love for the first time, it is no fun, and when you’re competing for a young woman’s affections against your own dad… madness.
It all started innocently enough on a Tuesday. Max was in his room practicing his cello when he got the message. Rosario, the nanny, had just gotten word there was a “family emergency,” and she had to leave immediately.
Normally, leaving a 14-year-old alone for a bit is no big deal, assuming he’s a relatively good kid. But the situation here at the Goodnight Ranch is beyond what most people would call “normal.”
The reason Max had a nanny in the first place isn’t because he’s helpless, but because he lives in the middle of nowhere, a.k.a. Palo Duro Canyon, Texas on a 100 acre ranch, fifteen miles outside of town. If that weren’t stupid enough, he’s also got a cowboy dad — a professional bull rider who’s gone on tour all the time. And his mother… there is no mother.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Don’t Mess with Texas.” That sentiment is especially true when referring to Texas law-enforcement. It is illegal for 14 year-olds to drive, and the fifteen plus miles is too far to walk to get to school, not to mention everywhere else. So even though Max resented having a care-taker, he figured it was better than risking getting pulled over and having to mess with Texas cops.
Max is a capable kid. Smart. Shy. Skinny. He’s also fiercely independent, refusing to dress in cowboy garb, which he calls “a 19th century costume.” Max is an academic, an aspiring scholar. He is the anti-cowboy, and proud to stand out among all the posers.
Anyway, as I said, Rosario bolted on Tuesday. So by Friday, when Zane (Max’s dad) got home, Max had been stuck there for three days. He loved the solitude, not to mention the NOT going to school. There was plenty of food to eat and plenty of T.V. to watch. But when Zane looked around the house (especially the kitchen), it didn’t take him long to figure out there had been no housekeeping in the recent past.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Zane asked angrily once he found Rosario’s note. Max just hung his head and mumbled something Zane didn’t understand.
“I said, ‘I didn’t want to bother you,'” Max replied, meekly. Zane was more than miffed, but was too tired to argue. He just heaved a huge sigh, turned around, and limped to the other side of the house toward his bedroom.
Max noticed his limp. He also noticed that his dad was home on Friday. The event in Odessa didn’t end until Saturday. That means his dad didn’t make it to the final round. The limp meant he was hurt. Max would’ve been willing to ask him about both, but he knew better. His dad was a cowboy, tough and too proud to show his emotions.
“I need you to get this mess picked up,” Zane called back from across the house. “You’re not a baby.”
Right. Not a baby, but still in need of a baby-sitter. The irony was not lost on Max. Once Zane was gone, door closed, Max just closed his door too. The “not talking” was normal in this house. It didn’t even really bother Max much anymore.
Zane Goodnight is a good looking man. His formerly wiry body has developed into a rugged, ripped, masculine frame. He is tall with smiling eyes, though the mischievous twinkle has faded since the death of his wife two years ago.
Zane and Max are direct descendants of Charles Goodnight, the pioneer who settled this land in the 1800’s. Though the family had wealth at one time, they wound up being more famous than rich. There is an old photo of Grandpa Charlie smoking a pipe with Quanah Parker, the half American, half white final Chief of the Comanche tribe. Goodnight family lore has it that, after their meeting, Charlie told his wife: “That man killed more whites in his life than we’ll ever meet. But… he sure is friendly now.”
Zane was proud of his cowboy heritage. There are buildings in town bearing the family name, and the cowboy life has certainly benefited them financially in recent years. He never understood why his son was so ambivalent about his roots, even ashamed of them. No matter. He needed to get some sleep. He didn’t win the purse, and now he had to deal with the nanny issue.
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