Gordon whirled around with his fists up, ready to fight. Randal was not a fighter. His dad spent a lot of time teaching him basic boxing skills, but he always avoided using them. This time, when Gordon faced him, Randal reflexively put his hands up as he had been taught.

Gordon advanced, doing an imitation of a boxer’s dance. As he got closer he dropped his right hand near his hip, flexing his fist menacingly. Randal started moving in a circle, staying out of reach. He was scared and tried to think of a way out.

After a few minutes, he dropped his arms and said, “You win.” He turned and started walking away.

Gordon shouted, “No one puts his dukes up to me and walks away.”

Randal kept walking. Without warning, Gordon grabbed his shoulder from behind and spun him around. Before Randal could think, Gordon hit him with a wild roundhouse right to his jaw. Randal’s head flew around, and all the rivets went flying from his mouth. As Randal fell to his knees, he heard the rivets bouncing and rolling on the floor, sounding like Gordon had knocked all his teeth out. It was almost funny, but not. A hot stab of pain flashed in his jaw joints below both of his ears, and it seemed that some sort of fluid was flowing in his ear canals. He realized he was on his knees facing away from Gordon. He pulled his right leg up and put his foot on the floor, turning toward Gordon. As he turned on one knee, Gordon shoved him on the shoulder, knocking him onto his back. Then, as he lay there, Gordon landed a vicious kick to his right hip.

Randal shakily stood up. Gordon backed warily away. “Had enough, turd?” Gordon hissed.

There was something so patently unfair about Gordon’s surprise attack that Randal couldn’t let it go. He took the position his father had taught him—hands up again—and said, “Not nearly. Is that all you got?”

Gordon smiled, put his hands up again. He dropped his right hand again as if preparing to throw an upper cut. Randal threw a quick left jab at Gordon’s unprotected face. A sharp pain in his right hip caused the punch to land with much less force than Randal planned.

It knocked Gordon back some, but was only hard enough to make him mad. “You little bastard—I’m gonna kill you fer that.” He recovered and came quickly toward Randal. His right hand was still low, but he held it out away from his body, ready to throw another roundhouse. Randal snapped another left jab to Gordon’s face. This time he ignored the pain in his hip, and the punch had the effect Randal wanted.

Gordon’s eyes were round, and his mouth was open as he stumbled backward. Randal moved right with him and loaded up another jab, this time with all the force he could muster. Randal felt a solid jolt up the length of his arm when the blow landed.

Gordon’s arms flailed out to his sides. Randal followed, using his legs, body, shoulders, and arm to deliver a right cross to Gordon’s cheek. He hit Gordon so hard that when his butt hit the floor, his feet were still in the air.

Gordon rolled over on his face and lay on the floor breathing heavily. Randal began to shake. He had never done anything like this before.

Just then, Mr. Reese stooped over Gordon and rolled him over. The floor and Gordon’s face were covered with blood.

On one side trip, Allyson’s horse turned back to the stream. In frustration, Allyson kicked it hard in the flanks. The horse broke for the stream. Allyson let go of the reins to grab the saddle horn as the horse jumped over the stream.

Randal saw the horse start galloping with the reins flying free, and Allyson holding the saddle horn with both hands. He turned his horse after her.

As Allyson galloped through a group of riders that had been following them, three of the horses from the group turned to follow her. Allyson screamed, and her horse broke into a run. The three horses that were following began running also. All four horses were careening out of control down the trail!

Randal leaned forward to urge his horse to run faster. Each time Allyson passed another group of riders, more joined the stampede back toward the stables. Randal realized that the way the horses were running out of control, no one could stop them at the highway!

The trail back was crowded with running horses, bumping each other, leaving no space for Randal to go around or through them, a wild stampede with Randal behind and Allyson leading like a runaway train, all headed to the highway! The only way around was to cross the stream. There was no trail on that side, but the trees were not so thick. Perhaps his horse could pick his way through them and still run fast enough to pass the stampede and get to Allyson before it was too late. Randal spotted a bend in the stream where he could cross it without losing ground. With no time to think about it, Randal drove his horse to the crossing.

The horse could have balked or stumbled, and all would have been lost. Instead, he gathered himself and jumped the stream in a long smooth leap that, if anything, gained ground. The next seconds tested Randal’s skill to the limit. He let the horse have his head as they raced through the trees, the horse bolting left and right as he picked his way, Randal ducking large branches, being slapped in the face and arms by the smaller ones, rocking and rolling in the saddle to maintain his position.

Suddenly he broke from the trees. Allyson was only about thirty yards ahead and to his right. As he closed on her, he saw about a dozen riders following close behind her. All the horses were racing out of control toward the highway and the stables!

When Randal caught up to Allyson, his first thought was to pull her from the horse like he had seen in the movies, but he wasn’t a stunt rider and neither was she. The reins were flying rapidly as the horse’s head flew back and forth. Randal guided his horse up against Allyson’s horse, and he made a grab for the reins near the bridal. It was a lucky grab. He reined in his horse with his left hand and maintained a tight grip on the reins of Allyson’s horse with his right hand. Both horses came to a very bumpy stop. Randal knew it was dangerous to dismount on the right side, but he had no choice. When he jumped off, his horse bolted, but Randal got away cleanly, still holding the reins of Allyson’s horse in his right hand. He dropped the reins and helped her down. As soon as she was clear, her horse joined the others on their race to the stable.

Randal stood, waving his arms at other horses running toward them. Allyson was crouched on the ground behind him.

When the last horse passed, Allyson jumped up and threw herself into Randal’s arms in tears. “I’ve never been so scared in my life,” she said breathlessly. “This time you did save me!”

“Ah shucks, ’tweren’t nothin’, ma’am,” Randal said in his best Western drawl.

Allyson held him tight for what seemed like a long time but not long enough. He could feel her excited breathing gradually slow down.

Then she stepped back and looked up at him. “You know this was more than just wading out in a cold river. I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time.” Allyson looked at him straight in the eyes. “I love you, Randal with one L.”

Suddenly the room went dark, and a powerful baritone voice rang through the darkness. “Presentando Maria Elena de la Rosa Delgado.” A bright light shined through a white curtain at the back of the stage. A slow Spanish tune started to build as the black silhouette of a tall, lean woman in a long dress slowly undulated onto the stage with her arms held in an arch above her head. Once she was centered in front of the white curtain, her body barely moved as her arms and hands gracefully made designs, rising and falling from high above her head to her hips. The black silhouette of her hands, sometimes looking like flying birds, sometimes like flames on torches, moved in rhythm with her swaying hips and the music.

Randal was mesmerized by the grace of her motion as it told a story he could not interpret but one that conveyed its emotion through her hands and hips. The music began to build, and Maria’s body undulated with it, accentuated with loud taps from her feet in beat with the music, growing more rapid as the beat of the music built until, with a bang of drums and the clap of her heel taps, the lights flashed on, and Maria stood in the light like a statue, her arms gracefully arched above her head with her hands entwined. Her dress was black with dark-red trim on the bodice and hem. This was first time Randal had ever seen a flamenco dance where the dancer had stood in the same spot for the whole dance.

The room was dead silent for a moment and then it burst with applause. Randal was emotionally shaken by Maria’s performance. Though she had stood in the same spot through the whole dance, the motion of her hips, arms, and hands silhouetted in front of the white screen had been extraordinary—nothing at all like he had expected.

As the applause began to die down, the music started again, quiet at first but building fast. The applause stopped, and people who were standing sat down. Maria remained a frozen statue. Then her feet came off the floor and smacked down with the full power of her heel taps, and she was off, turning, spinning, moving all around the stage, her feet and taps leading the pounding music.

As she moved, somehow she kicked the hem of her dress up so she could catch it in her hands without bending. She lifted her dress, throwing it, letting it fall, spinning it out like a top, catching it again. Her petticoats and the inside of her dress were dark red. As she moved around the stage, she maintained an unreal posture with her upper body and shoulders. Her feet flew beneath her, impossible to follow, sometimes both feet leaving the floor together, but she wasn’t jumping. No matter how active her feet and legs were, her head did not bounce up and down, seeming instead to float above the dance.

The volume and rhythm of the music began to build. Maria’s dance and the beat of her tapping matched the music. Then the hem of her dress was in her hands, and she put her hands on her hips, holding her dress above her knees, exposing her knees and feet. She moved toward Randal, her knees and feet flying while her head and shoulders remained motionless. When she got to him, she flew into a spin that threw the hem of her dress across his face, and then with a loud clap of her heels she stood motionless, arms above her head, looking down at him with a large smile. Randal looked up, but he was seeing Allyson holding her skirt in the flamenco pose for him to draw. The whole room exploded in cheers and applause. Maria bowed and walked gracefully off the stage.

Randal was eight hours away from where Allyson was probably sleeping. By now there would be children, but not his children. Randal couldn’t bear it.

“I need to step out for some fresh air,” Randal said to Roberto. “Is the show over?”