Word Count 1,995
The older man lovingly watched the younger, dark-haired man through a small open crack in the door leading from the study to the dining room. The younger man sat at the dining room table, unaware of the older set of eyes that were upon him, and studied the large maps of the Lancer domain that sprawled out in front of him. The same dining room table where, just seven months before, the older man had painstakingly removed a bullet from the younger man’s back in what was to be the beginning of a volatile, tumultuous, but loving relationship between father and son.
The older man had the feeling the younger man was enjoying the task he had been given, which was to study the layout of the north and east portions of the vast empire and recommend to the older man which section would be best suited for a much-needed well to carry additional water to the ranch. Normally, he would have given this task to his older son, who had proven his ability at paper work, as his younger son tended to the more physical demands that was so much a part of life at Lancer. But he decided that was not always fair to his younger son, that both men needed to learn all aspects of the business, so today his older, book-smart son tended to the physical tasks and his younger, physically active son got to relax in the house with the tall glass of lemonade that Teresa had prepared him. There was another reason for the older man’s choice of tasks; the younger man had not been himself the last few days. While not physically sick, he seemed a bit melancholy, even tired, and not the playful, quick-witted person, particularly with his older brother, that the older man had come to know the past few months. Probably thoughts about “old ghosts” again, the older man surmised. Perhaps a few days of rest and quiet would help.
The older man watched as the younger man studied the maps and subconsciously make normal, mundane movements like pushing his dark bangs back from his forehead, rubbing his eyes or scratching his nose, and rolling his eyes in delight as he enjoyed a sip of the cool lemonade. The older man so enjoyed these unguarded moments with the younger man. They had been few, but meaningful: when the younger man was so sick after being shot and the subsequent “surgery” performed by the older man, the way the older man gently and lovingly rubbed his hair and held his hand, without the knowledge of the unconscious younger man. The way the older man would watch in amazement as the younger man rode his beloved Barranca and broke the wild horses that had been captured. He did have a way with horses, he was almost perfect when he was on or around them, just as his mother had been. The older man could see so much of the younger man’s mother in him during these unguarded moments; the way he moved, sometimes the way his voice sounded, his facial expressions, even his sarcastic, somewhat off-color, sense of humor. The love the older man felt for the younger man was undeniable; if only the older man could let go of some his pride, and tell the younger man how he felt. It seemed no matter how hard the two of them tried, the hot-headed older man and the hotter-headed younger man would somehow get into it, only to be brought back to their senses by the gentle, even-tempered oldest son.
The older man watched as the younger man suddenly looked up and looked suspiciously around his surroundings in the expansive, nicely-furnished hacienda, as if to sense he was being watched. He quickly went back to his task, though, as if to say to himself he was safe in this house with his family nearby, so he didn’t need to worry. The older man learned early on in his relationship with the younger man that he had a “sixth sense” about his surroundings, which was learned at an early age and was a protective mechanism to keep him always remindful that someone, somewhere, might want to do him harm. It made the older man regretful that the younger man had to live his life this way, but it also made him happy to see the younger man put down his suspicions when he felt safe in his present surroundings.
After a few minutes, the younger man again began to have that feeling that he was not alone. The older man sensed the younger man’s uneasiness, and realized the unguarded moment was about to end. He quietly left his chair from the study, and as non-chalently as possible, made his entrance into the dining room where the younger man sat. Slightly startled, the younger man looked up from his maps and gave the older man a small, but genuine, smile of acknowledgement.
‘How’s it going?” asked the older man in reference to the task being done by the younger man.
“Pretty good” was the reply. The older man pulled a dining room chair next to the younger man, sat down, and they began to discuss the task at hand; options, pros and cons, and suggestions. The younger man suggested the north portion of the vast ranch would be better, mainly because of its locations near water and the rolling hills surrounding it. The older man was silently impressed with the younger man’s reasoning. While exhibiting great confidence in less than desirable surroundings and situations, the younger man could, at times, be irresponsible and inattentive, particularly regarding matters around the ranch. But perhaps this small amount of responsibility had given him the confidence he was looking for, and the older man decided to draw on that.
“I like your ideas,” he began, “and I think we ought to act on them.”
The younger man seemed pleasantly surprised. “Really?!” the younger man’s deep blue eyes brightened.
“That’s good to hear, but don’t you think it will cost too much money? That’s what you always tell Scott when he talks to you about the books,” referring to the oldest son.
“Well,” the older man replied, “I may have to consider getting up with the times when it comes to keeping the books. That’s why I let Scott help me handle it, he knows the latest techniques and he might be able to teach me something, I just need to bend a little, I guess.”
“Teach him something. . . I thought he knew everything,” the younger man thought to himself.
After discussing things for a few more minutes, the older man sensed the younger man’s enthusiasm begin to wane as his melancholy manner began to return. “What is it son? You seem, well, not yourself the last few days. Can I help?”
The younger man was silent for a few moments, then began to speak. “You know, mama’s birthday was two days ago.”
“I remember,” the older man said sadly. “I didn’t know if you were aware of it, so I didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to upset you.” The older man had noticed that as of recently, the few times the young man had mentioned his mother, he referred to her as “mama.” A feeling of comfort, he hoped.
“How old would she be now?” inquired the younger man.
The older man paused for a moment, then replied, “Forty-two. Forty-two years old. Hard to believe. It seems like yesterday. . . .” His voice drifted off.
The younger man spoke, almost in disbelief. “I can’t believe she’d be that old.”
Murdoch chuckled to himself at the thought that forty-two is ancient to a twenty-two year old.
Johnny then wondered, “I wonder what she’d look like now.”
The older man responded, matter of factly, “Just as beautiful as she did when she was twenty-two.”
“I remember her as being so pretty,” Johnny responded, almost to himself.
A calm, comfortable silence surrounded them, as they both were alone with their thoughts. A light sniffle from the younger man caught the ear of the older man, who could not really begin to understand the sadness and confusion his youngest child must feel. But as his father, he knew he had to do something to help his son out of his unhappy mood.
“ I have an idea. Why don’t I have Teresa fix us a lunch, and you and I take a ride up to the north portion and check out the land. We can have a nice ride up there, have lunch, and figure out the best position for a well, if that’s what we decide to do. Then tonight, we can talk to Scott about it and he can help in figuring out the cost, supplies, and everything.”
The younger man brightened up. “Just you and me?” Johnny paused, then delightedly responded, “That sounds great. It’s a great day for a ride, and I’m gettin’ tired of being inside. There are conditions, though.”
“What?” the older man asked, suspecting some wit from the younger man.
“I want Teresa to pack an extra piece of apple pie for me, and an apple for Barranca.”
The older man laughed. “You sure do take care of that horse, don’t you?”
“We’re comrades, partners for life,” the younger man replied. “A man only gets a chance at one good relationship in his life, and right now that’s the only one I want.”
Murdoch then gave a little fatherly talk to his son. “Oh, some day John, you’ll meet the right girl. I bet you’ve broken a lot of hearts already, haven’t you?”
Johnny just blushed.
The older man laughed, then said “Get the horses saddled and our gear together. I’ll get with Teresa and meet you at the stables in 20 minutes.”
“OK”, responded the younger man playfully, as he rose from the chair and headed toward the front door. He turned, and shyly spoke to the older man. “Thanks.”
The younger man searched for the words he wanted to say. “Oh, I don’t know. . . . . for listening, for talking, for understanding. For asking me to go riding with you. It makes me feel. . . .well, important.”
The older man sat still, pleased with what he’d heard from the younger man. It was almost as if the connection that he had been looking for all these months to bring the two of them together was beginning to form, and he didn’t want to break it. “You don’t have to thank me, Johnny. I’m your father, that’s what I’m here for, to listen to you and understand and help you with your problems. Remember that, OK?” He paused. “Oh, another thing, you are important. And don’t you forget it. “ You’re very important to me. . . .I don’t think you know how important, ” Murdoch said to himself.
Then the older man did something without even thinking about the consequences. He got out of his chair, walked the few steps to the younger man, and tussled his soft, dark hair. Then he gave him a light hug, which the younger man returned. Their eyes met, the younger man’s beginning to fill with tears, but tears of love, of happiness, of comfort. He quickly caught himself, smiled at the older man, and gave him a playful wink.
“Twenty minutes, don’t forget,” and he bounded playfully out of the house, grabbing his hat off the rack and cockily placing it on his head. The older man watched, another unguarded moment, one he would cherish and treasure forever.
As he turned toward the kitchen to talk with Teresa about lunch, he thought about the events that transpired and the afternoon he would have with his son. It would just be the two of them. An older man and a younger man. A father and a son. Murdoch Lancer and Johnny Lancer. Together.
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