Word Count 2,190
1st of the Empty Place Series
He never realized that the Lancer ranch could be such an empty place. After all, it had dozens of people working and living there; loyal vaqueros and their families who called Lancer home. And there were always people coming and going, seeking out his father on business or social matters, and there were always friends who stopped by. It was an active, busy, bustling place, and had never felt empty before.
Until a year ago. When his brother left. Just like that, just up and left. Said there were issues he needed to handle. But he promised he would be back. He gave his word.
And his brother’s word was gold.
As he made his way home from another grueling day on the range, he sadly admitted to himself how much he missed his brother. He missed their unending teasing of each other. He missed the talks they would have, the parts of themselves they shared, knowing their secrets would go no further.
He missed his brother’s wit, his charm, his intelligence.
And most of all, he missed his brother’s being. There were times when they would ride, side by side, in total silence. But a comfortable silence between two people who felt safe, and at ease, being with one another. And he remembered the times he would look over and see the profile of his brother, so proud and so damned sure of himself in that saddle.
And he would smile. . . . .
But he was gone now. And as much as he missed him, he couldn’t help but be angry with him as well. For he had ruined everything. Ruined the hopes and dreams of not only himself, but those of his sister. And especially, those of his father.
He knew his father’s heart was broken. And he often questioned to himself if the wrong son had left. He knew how devoted his father was to his brother, and that maybe, his father wouldn’t be hurting so much if he had been the one to leave.
But his father never showed his hurt. Or his anger. His remaining son was treated by his father fairly and with concern, but the question of ‘why’ was always present in the older man’s cloudy blue eyes.
They had been together a little over a year; 14 months to be exact, and the family that had emerged from those first difficult weeks had become strong in faith and trust. And in love. Both brothers would often discuss how their meeting had made them whole; that a piece of the puzzle in their lives had been made complete with their coming together.
Their bond was that close. Despite their differing backgrounds and personalities, the two young men became a part of one another that was so strong they could finish each others sentences, and practically read what the other was thinking.
Until that day. . . . .
It had been a great day, and he remembered the stubbornness of a calf who got stuck in the mud, and how they had worked, laughed, and just enjoyed being together.
They had returned home and sat down to dinner, and he remembered the excitement of his brother as he relayed to his father the adventures of the day. His brother was animated as he relayed the story of the calf, blue eyes sparkling and a suntanned face that complimented his beautiful smile.
They had discussed the upcoming cattle drive; it was two months away, but both young men were looking forward to the experience. Of being together, of the camaraderie with the other men.
Then it happened.
The Handyman walked in, and no one paid much attention. Hell, the Handyman was a part of the family just as much as they were. He handed the telegram to the young man, and it was opened and read by the recipient.
The smiling face turned into a frown; the blue eyes lost their sparkle. The telegram was folded and placed in his pocket.
He noticed the change in his brother. And so did his father.
“Anything wrong, Son?” his father asked, concern laden in his voice.
“No. Nothing,” was the mumbled response. And the young man with the hearty appetite only a minute before just rolled his food around on his plate.
He knew something was wrong with his brother.
It was after dinner when the bombshell was dropped.
“I have to leave,” his brother simply said. “I’ve been made aware of some issues that I have to take care of. I’ll leave in the morning. I don’t know when I’ll be back, it may be after the cattle drive is over. I’m just not sure,” and with that he turned around and made his way to his room.
“I. . .we. . .deserve an explanation,” his father bellowed. He slowly turned around. “You both have to trust me. I’ve never asked for much, but please, trust me on this.”
And so they did. He asked his brother if he could tag along, to watch his back. His brother smiled. “No need to, Brother. But thanks anyway.”
“You. . .promise you’ll be back?”
“Of course I will. I couldn’t stay away from your ‘pretty’ face for too long,” his brother laughed, and slapped him on the back.
They said good-night, and that was the last he saw of his brother.
He never came back. And they didn’t even know why.
He had waited. A few letters arrived early on, stating things were being resolved, but none had arrived before they left for the cattle drive.
The cattle drive came, and every day, he would wait for the lone rider to join them, apologizing for being late, and that they could all breathe because he was back now.
But the rider never came.
He thought that when they returned home from the drive, his brother would be there, waiting for them, sipping a cool lemonade on the veranda. And he couldn’t wait to give him hell. . .
But when they returned home, only his sister and the Handyman were there to greet them. And one letter addressed to both father and brother. It told them he was sorry, but he wasn’t coming back. He had taken care of business and was preparing to come home, but then things changed.
He wrote he didn’t realize how much he missed his old life until he had returned to it. He had missed the people, the places, the freedom. He wrote that for the first time since coming to Lancer, he felt in control. No one else to call the tune. His decisions were his to make.
And besides, he wrote, he was only kidding himself. He could never be a rancher. He was who he was, and he belonged here.
The letter continued saying he cared for everybody very much, and he would miss them, and Lancer. But he didn’t belong there. And if his father and brother wanted to split the partnership one-half between the two of them, he had no problem with that.
For he didn’t really want it anyway. . . . .
After a stunned silence, he told his father, “I’m going after him. Something is wrong, he’s in trouble. We need to bring him home.”
But the wise, older man looked at his son. With teary eyes, he told him, “Son, the only thing wrong was trying to make your brother into someone he could never be. He tried, we tried, but I guess he felt it wasn’t working for him. He’s a smart man, he knows what he has to do. I will not force him to return, he has to do that on his own. When he’s ready. If he’s ever ready. But until then, would you mind if we kept the partnership as it is?”
He simply nodded his response. And it was then that an empty place took hold of his heart. . . .
He waited. Every Wednesday, on mail day, he would gallop into town, looking for the letter from his brother that said he had come to his senses and was coming home.
But it never came. So he stopped looking for it.
And every evening as he made his way back to the estancia, he would stop at the hill that overlooked Lancer, and look for the familiar form of horse and rider, making their way home.
But they never came, either. So he found another way home, away from the hill.
And as he made his way home this day, he verbally cursed his brother. He told him that even if he came home today, he wouldn’t be welcome. The pain and sorrow he brought upon his family was unforgivable.
Besides, he had given him his word. And he sadly admitted to himself that his brother’s word meant absolutely nothing.
His sister, as usual, had outdone herself preparing dinner. Since his brother left, everyone seemed to find ways to help them cope with their emptiness. His sister turned to cooking.
He was always saddened at dinner though, coming home every evening and seeing three places, instead of four, set at the massive dining room table. Even when the Handyman joined them for dinner, he sometimes felt like the kindly old man was an intrusion. But he wasn’t, really.
As they ate dinner, he relayed the days activities to his father, who listened contently. Then, out of the blue, his father asked, “You look tired, Son. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” came his quiet response.
His father knew it had been hard on his remaining son. Good hands were hard to find. It wasn’t like in the old days, when a man would sign on and stay for life. Today, young men would come and go, always looking for the perfect job. The perfect place.
“Well, tomorrow is Sunday. You can sleep all day if you want,” his father coddled. Then returning to business, “I’m impressed with Chuck, our new man. I think he may put roots here. I’m thinking of teaming you two up. I think you’ll work well together. Is that all right with you?” he asked his son.
“I’ve been impressed with him too. I think we’ll work well together. Let’s give it a try,” he responded, trying to sound enthused. But he knew that no one could work as well with him as his brother did. They were one hell of a team.
After dinner, he turned in. He would’ve loved to have gone into town and joined the guys for a good poker game. Or enjoyed the company of a young lady. But with all the extra work placed on his shoulders since his brother left, he was just too damn tired.
And he cursed his absent brother again, this time for messing up his social life.
He stared out his bedroom window for a long time, looking at the beauty of the black sky, the shining stars and the bright, full moon.
‘He’s looking at the same sky, the same moon, the same stars,’ the sad young man said silently to himself. Then he wondered if his brother was thinking about him.
‘Probably not,’ he scoffed.
He picked up the picture that was on his dresser. The picture of his family. All four of them. It had been taken just before their first Christmas, and four happier faces you could not find. His father was beaming, his sister was glowing, and he and his brother stood behind them, looking proud as peacocks.
He took his finger and traced his brother’s image. His brother had not taken his picture with him; it still sat on the dresser in his room, waiting for his return.
But he figured his brother didn’t take it because he thought he would be back.
Or did he? That was the question that nagged at him constantly. Did his brother ever intend to come back home? And it even crossed his mind that the telegram was a fake, a ruse sent to make his escape.
But escape from what? Him? His father? His way of life here?
He didn’t think so, though, and he put those thoughts out of his head. It was like his father said. You can’t make someone be who they don’t want to be. And as much as he hated to admit it, he understood that.
And that’s what hurt.
As he removed his boots and laid down on his bed, he cupped his hands under his head and stared at the ceiling. He would fall asleep, eventually. He always did, for tiredness always overtook him. And he would sleep, for a few hours anyway, and awaken the same way he fell asleep. . . with an empty place in his heart.
For he needed his brother. And wanted his brother. And missed his brother.
And most of all, he loved his brother. And he knew that the empty place would remain until the time his brother regained his senses and came home.
He sighed and fell asleep, his last thoughts on the moment when Scott Lancer would finally return.
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