Word Count 6,020
The air was cold on Scott Lancer’s face as he quickly awoke from a not-so-sound sleep. He was shivering, so he brought his light blanket up around his shoulders, but it did little to warm him. The bedroll he laid on did nothing to soften the hard dirt floor, and the coldness from the ground entered his back and chilled him to the bone. The fire that he had kept going throughout the night had finally gone out, but it was cold and he didn’t want to leave what little warmth he had to go over and start it up again. His stomach growled, and he wondered what they would eat today, if they could even venture outside after the blizzard the night before.
As he continued to awaken, Scott worried about his father, who had become paralyzed during this ill-fated trip the three Lancers had taken to appease Scott’s feelings regarding the Thanksgiving holiday. And Scott couldn’t help but feel that he was the reason the three of them were stranded in this cold, tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere.
On Thanksgiving Day.
Happy Thanksgiving, he mumbled to himself. He was angry. But more than that, he was disappointed. This wasn’t the way his first Thanksgiving at Lancer was supposed to be. This had always been his favorite holiday, and his mind wandered back to past Thanksgivings in Boston, where he would awaken in a warm, soft bed to the scents of turkey, ham, stuffing, and all the fixings, and where the day would find him surrounded by family and friends.
He had thought his first Thanksgiving at Lancer, with his new family, would be much the same, and he was looking forward to this milestone in his life, and that of his family. But events began to change earlier in the week, and his mind recalled what had happened the last few days that spoiled his dreams for the perfect Lancer Thanksgiving.
First of all, Jelly Hoskins, Lancer’s foreman and “adopted” family member, received an invitation to spend Thanksgiving with his sister in Los Angeles. The grizzly, but kind, old man had his reservations. He hadn’t seen, or spoken to, his sister in 20 years, the result of a silly misunderstanding. And deep down, he wanted to spend the holiday with the Lancer family, whom he had grown extremely fond of. Especially the youngest Lancer. Johnny.
But it was Johnny who encouraged Jelly to seek out his sister, to make amends. “If anyone knows about making amends and accepting family, it’s me,” Johnny had told him. So Jelly was off to spend the holiday with his sister.
And one “family” member would be missing from the Thanksgiving table.
Teresa O’Brien, the ‘sister’ of Scott and Johnny, had also unknowingly, and unintentionally, put a damper on Scott’s vision of the perfect Thanksgiving Day. Teresa had received an invitation to spend Thanksgiving with her mother in San Francisco, and to join her on Opening Night for the opening of her new play. The two Lancer sons didn’t know much about Teresa’s relationship with her mother (another taboo subject of conversation as far as Murdoch Lancer was concerned), but they did know it had been a rocky, sometimes unpleasant one. But with the death of Teresa’s father, Paul, just before the brothers came home, mother and daughter had begun to make amends. And again, it was Johnny who encouraged Teresa to visit her mother. “I only wish I had mine to talk to, to say all the things I should’ve said when I had the chance,” Johnny sadly told the pretty, brown-eyed girl.
So after receiving Murdoch’s blessing, Teresa left on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with her mother.
And another “family” member would be missing from the Thanksgiving table.
Friends had shattered Scott’s dream as well. Invitations had been offered to Sam Jenkins, Val Crawford, and the Winslows, but everyone had plans. “Well boys,” Murdoch had joked to his sons, “looks like it will be just us this year. Maybe I could whip up some tacos for our Thanksgiving feast,” the patriarch joked.
“Sounds great to me,” Johnny enthusiastically agreed. “I just don’t get the whole idea of Thanksgiving anyway. Seems all everyone does is sit around and eat until they’re ready to bust, then fall asleep from their gluttonness. And all because a bunch of Pilgrim people over 100 years ago or something ate supper with the Indians,” thus Johnny’s interpretation of the whole Thanksgiving tradition.
Scott had become angered at his brother, and felt the need to explain to him exactly what Thanksgiving was all about. “It’s more than that, Johnny. It’s a time of being together. Of family and friends coming together as one after a busy year. To reminisce about old times, to make new plans, to catch up on news. To rekindle friendships that may have been lost through the year. But mostly, to give thanks for what one has. Health, happiness, friends and family.”
Scott took a breath, and continued his uncharacteristic show of emotion regarding the holiday. “The next day, everyone begins to prepare for Christmas, with shopping and baking. The children ride their sleighs and have snowball fights. And that Saturday night, the adults, well, we would venture to the opera, or the symphony. . . . .”
His voice trailed off as he realized just how much he would miss this year. Murdoch and Johnny were a bit taken back at Scott’s outburst, and it was Johnny who quipped, “Geez, Brother, I didn’t know eating a simple turkey could bring out so much emotion in somebody.”
Now Scott was really angry at his younger brother. “Look Johnny, I’m sorry you didn’t have the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving when you were growing up, but don’t spoil it for everybody else. If I thought I’d get there in time, I’d leave for Boston right now. I just wanted this day to be special, but it seems as if nobody cares. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going up to my room.”
As he rolled over on his left side in an attempt to get warm, he found himself facing his sleeping brother, lying on the floor next to him. Scott noticed that Johnny was also shivering slightly, so he took his blanket and gently draped it over him. Since he was up anyway, Scott decided to get the fire going again, and to make some coffee. He was quiet as to not disturb his brother and his father.
God, his father. The mighty, proud, Murdoch Lancer, unable to walk because of what happened yesterday. The two brothers faced an oncoming blizzard and brought Murdoch to the cabin they had passed only a few miles before. He found it difficult to believe that 24 hours ago, his only worry was a Thanksgiving feast of tacos.
As he stared into the fire he was restarting, Scott recalled how his childishness, his selfishness, over a simple day caused himself and his father and brother to become stranded.
On Wednesday morning, Scott awoke feeling absolutely silly over the way he had acted the night before. Being angry at Johnny over his attitude toward Thanksgiving Day was totally unacceptable. Scott had forgotten at that moment that Johnny had never celebrated Thanksgiving, as it is an American holiday, and that Scott knew no more about Johnny’s Mexican celebrations than Johnny did about some American traditions. Plus the fact that Johnny grew up with none of the “privileges” Scott had only made the young Bostonian regret his actions even more.
So he decided he would march downstairs and apologize to both his brother and father, and let Murdoch know that if tacos were on the menu for Thanksgiving Day, that would be fine with him.
But what Scott found was his father and brother preparing for a trip. And since he noticed three rifles and three saddlebags, he figured he was to be a part of this trip.
“Mornin, Brother,” Johnny beamed. “You in a better mood than last night?” the question being asked with a mix of sarcasm and seriousness.
“Yes, I am. Listen, I wanted to apologize. . .”
“No need to, Scott,” Murdoch interrupted. “Your brother and I did some talking after you went to bed. We didn’t realize how important this holiday was to you. We’ve been putting so much emphasis on our first Christmas together, well, I guess Thanksgiving sort of slipped through the cracks. With Jelly and Teresa gone, I didn’t think a turkey would really be needed. . .or wanted, so I gave the ones that Johnny and I caught the other day to the church for the orphans.”
“It’s all right, really. There’s no need. . .”
“Scott,” Murdoch interjected. “Your brother and I decided that even though it will be just the three of us, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Besides, Johnny needs to understand the importance of the day. I talked with Maria, she and Cip have enough leftover side dishes they’ll give to us. But. . . .we still need that turkey. . . . .”
“So,” Johnny continued, “the three of us are goin turkey huntin. And we’re gonna get us a good one for our meal. It may not be completely ready by tomorrow, but like you always tell me, good things are worth waitin’ for.”
Scott saw the beaming faces of Murdoch and Johnny, and knew this was their way of ensuring he would not be disappointed at his first Lancer Thanksgiving.
He felt very humbled as he found himself asking, without arguing, “OK. When do we leave?”
The threesome left at 11:00 Wednesday morning. The weather was pleasant, although signs pointed to a major temperature drop, possibly bringing some Thanksgiving snow. But Murdoch and Johnny weren’t particularly concerned. When the patriarch and his younger son had gone turkey hunting a few days earlier, they had captured their prey in a few hours. But what they didn’t realize was that the fowl that had been so plentiful days earlier had instinctively taken refuge from the weather that had yet to come.
It was early afternoon when the temperature dropped 30 degrees, and Murdoch and his sons realized their trip would be less than successful.
“Well, Brother, it looks like tacos might be the meal of the day tomorrow,” Johnny grinned to his less-then-enthused older brother.
Murdoch noted Scott’s disappointment. “Don’t worry, Son. I’ll make sure that at Christmas, we’ll have a turkey big enough to feed all of Lancer.”
“Thanks,” Scott replied. Then he quipped, “Can we at least have some fine wine with the tacos?”
The three rode in a companionable silence, each thinking their own thoughts as the snow and the wind began to swirl around them. Johnny brought his collar up around him and was glad he had listened to his father, for once, and brought along his gloves. Murdoch, who was riding slightly ahead of his sons, turned around and offered, “It’s snowing harder, we might not make it back to Lancer. If it gets too bad, we can stop at Mr. Tucker’s cabin just a little off the trail. He leaves every November for Kansas and returns in the spring, but he keeps the placed well-stocked in case anyone needs it for refuge. Paul and I used it one time, a few years ago. . . . .”
He didn’t know how true that statement would become. . . . . .
A few minutes later, Barranca was becoming difficult for Johnny to control. It didn’t take long for Johnny to sense the animal’s fear and for the young man’s senses to go on “high alert.” Scott noticed it as well.
“What’s wrong?” the blonde Lancer asked his dark-haired sibling.
“I’m not sure,” was the soft reply. “But somethin’s goin’ on. I just can’t see nothin’ yet.”
Within seconds, Murdoch and Scott felt it as Major and Cheyenne, their respective mounts, began to buck as well.
What happened next occurred so quickly it made Johnny’s head spin. He saw it: the cougar in the trees, mad with starvation, ready to attack its prey: Murdoch. The cougar’s graceful leap from the tree that Murdoch just happened to be under. The pull of the trigger. The loud bang from Johnny’s rifle, breaking through the wind and the snow. Scott’s harried yell to his father to look out. The bullet finding its mark: the cougar’s heart, and the animal falling clumsily to the hard ground with a thud. The three horses bucking, and the three Lancer’s trying to keep control of them. Major rearing on his hind legs, frightened by the actions of the last few moments. And finally, a panicked yell from Murdoch Lancer as his grip on the reins of Major came loose, and he was hurled off the frightened animal to the ground below, with his lower back taking the brunt of a group of small boulders. One of the boulders met his back where the bullet of Day Pardee was still lodged, bringing a cry of pain from the Lancer patriarch that tore through the souls of his two sons.
“Murdoch!” Scott screamed, and jumped off Cheyenne to his father.
“Oh my God! Murdoch!” Johnny softly said under his breath, and ran to his father as well.
Both men had to take a minute to calm the three scared, excited horses, and with that task done, they knelt beside their father, the snow falling hard around them, and a biting wind cutting through their fear.
Both Scott and Johnny talked to their conscious father, and began to feel for any broken bones. They were both aware of the bullet that was lodged in their father’s back, a painful reminder of his encounter with Day Pardee. To remove the bullet was risky: it could either be removed with no problems, or if something went wrong, could cause permanent paralysis. Murdoch Lancer had decided before his sons came home that he would rather live with the pain and be able to walk, then to be confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life, to be waited on by his children.
But as Scott and Johnny tended to their father, his words to them cut through them like a knife: “Boys, I can’t feel my legs. I can’t move them. . . .Nothing.” He sighed, and closed his eyes in defeat.
The two brothers looked at one another, shock and fear in their faces, then a sense of control as they realized they needed to get their father to safety. They carefully dragged him under the trees to protect him from the snow and the wind. It went through both their minds that they couldn’t hurt him any more than he was by moving him. They gave him water and took their jackets off and put them around him.
Suddenly, Johnny walked over to the dead carcass of the cougar, and began kicking it, hard, cursing it until blood splattered, leaving the clean white snow a bloody red. “You son of a bitch!” Johnny cried, and kicked the dead animal harder, blood and fur splattering the feathery-white snow.
“Johnny!” Scott screamed. “That’s enough! For God’s sake, leave it alone! It’s dead!” Scott’s pleadings filling the frigid air.
Johnny came to his senses and left the animal to be found by the buzzards. He regained control, and his mind went to work on what needed to be done to help Murdoch.
He knelt down beside Murdoch and Scott, and Murdoch asked, “Are you two all right? Johnny? Don’t lose you head now, Boy. It will be all right.”
“We’re fine,” came two soft, humbled replies.
“Murdoch? That cabin you talked about? How far is it?” Johnny questioned.
“Not far. About two miles straight ahead, and a half mile or so off the trail. I know for a fact Mr. Tucker has a wagon and supplies,” Murdoch informed.
Scott and Johnny shared a look, and they knew what the other was thinking. “Murdoch, I’m gonna head off to the cabin. Get the wagon and some blankets, and get you back there, get you warm. I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Johnny informed his father.
“Be careful, Son. It will be dark soon,” Murdoch coddled as he reached up and brushed at his son’s dark bangs.
Johnny was humbled at his father’s feeling of concern. For him.
Scott followed Johnny to Barranca. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go?” he asked.
“Scott, the way I’m feelin’ now, I’m liable to lose it. Look at him, he can’t even move. I can’t handle that right now. I need to be alone for awhile, get my shit together. I think it would be better for you to stay with him,” Johnny’s voice almost breaking.
Scott had never seen his brother so emotional. “You’re probably right. I’ve got my rifle and Murdoch’s, and we’re pretty protected over there. Here, don’t forget your jacket. I’ll keep Murdoch warm. Just hurry back, Brother,” Scott said, giving his little brother a light, loving swat across his ice-cold face.
“Don’t worry, I will,” Johnny responded as he mounted his golden horse.
“Be careful, Johnny,” Scott hollered, as Johnny took off toward the cabin.
It was dusk and Scott was getting worried. Johnny had been gone for hours, the only good thing was that the snow had stopped. For now. Scott had the difficult task of keeping his father awake; of staying awake himself, for to drift off would mean certain freezing. The blonde Lancer had rubbed his father’s legs, arms, and torso to keep the circulation going, and he took some time to get up and walk around, to keep his circulation going as well.
He looked up and finally saw his brother. “Murdoch! Johnny’s here! You’ll be warm in a few minutes,” Scott excitedly told his father.
“Is he all right?” Murdoch asked. Again. The whole time Johnny had been gone, Murdoch had worried about “that Boy.”
“I’m fine, Old Man. How are you?” Johnny teased, just a little, as he made his way to his father and brother.
“I’ve been better,” the big man quipped.
The two sons carefully lifted their heavy father and gently placed him in the wagon which Johnny had covered with straw to soften it. He had found some blankets in the cabin and brought them along, and they lovingly covered their father with them.
Johnny was excited as he relayed to Scott that Murdoch had been right: the cabin was well-stocked with food and supplies, had plenty of wood for a fire, and some medical supplies. “The hard part will be gettin’ back there. The wagon’s having a hard time going through the snow,” Johnny worriedly explained.
Johnny drove the wagon as Scott stayed in the back with his father. The blonde couldn’t help but feel that this whole fiasco was his fault. They could be at Lancer right now, sitting by a warm fire, enjoying being together. Just the three of them. But no, Scott chided. You had to have a turkey for Thanksgiving. Just having your brother and father wasn’t good enough for you. If anything happens to Murdoch. . . . his thoughts trailing off.
It was a long, tough ride but the wagon with its precious cargo of three made it to the cabin. The boys again lifted their father and carried him into the cabin, placing him on Mr. Tucker’s bed. Johnny tended to the fire to get the cabin warm as quickly as possible. Scott tended to Murdoch, removing his cold damp clothes. The clothes were placed by the fire to dry, and the boys found some wrappings that they warmed by the fire and used them as compresses for Murdoch, placing them around him, particularly his legs. Johnny got hot coffee going, and warmed up some beans he found in Mr. Tucker’s cupboards. Scott tended to the few cuts that Murdoch had.
After Murdoch was comfortable and the cabin began to warm, Scott and Johnny finally tended to themselves. They found some clothes of Mr. Tucker’s and put them on, placing their wet clothes along side of Murdoch’s to dry by the fire.
The warmth of the fire, the compresses, and the bed made Murdoch drowsy, and the hot coffee that Johnny helped him to drink warmed him up inside. With their father comfortably asleep, Scott and Johnny finally caught their breaths and took stock of their situation. The blizzard had finally come, and this little cabin was well stock and supplied, so they would be all right for the next few days, anyway.
Johnny’s plan was to scout the area when it stopped snowing and ascertain how the snow had drifted. He would also hunt something for their dinner. After all, tomorrow was Thanksgiving. They knew that Lancer was no more than an hour and a half away, so when the opportunity arose, one of them could ride back to the ranch for help.
They spread out their bedrolls and lay on the ground next to the fire; their father nearby, safe and warm in Mr. Tucker’s bed. Scott and Johnny were alone with their thoughts, and just as Johnny was about to fall asleep, he heard a soft “I’m sorry” come from his brother.
“Bout what?” Johnny sleepily asked.
After a pause, Scott spoke. “For this. For getting us stranded here. And all because my expectations about Thanksgiving were not being met. I have to remember I’m not in Boston anymore, and people do things differently out here.” A loud sigh escaped his lips.
Although half asleep, Johnny responded to his brother’s feelings. “Ain’t your fault, Boston. It just happened. We’re three intelligent adults, we’ll get through this. You’ve got to stop blamin’ yourself for everything that happens, Scott. You’re bad about that. . . .Hell, if I blamed myself for everything that happened to somebody ‘cause of me. . .” Johnny’s voice drifted off, but Scott knew he wasn’t asleep.
“Did things happen to other people Johnny? Because of you?”
After a silence, Johnny quietly answered. “Yeah, Scott. Things happened to people. Nice people, too. Just because they knew me, or befriended me, or in one case, just because the person was standin’ next to me, making pleasant conversation. . . . . .”
Scott realized his brother never opened up like this. It was probably the stress of the day, the exhaustion he felt. But he felt compelled to know more, knowing this might be one of the few chances Johnny would open up about his past life. As Johnny Madrid.
“What happened to those people, Johnny?” Scott gently asked.
But he didn’t receive an answer. Scott looked over and Johnny was asleep, the fire dancing on his face. It was just as well. Scott decided he didn’t need to know, anyway. And maybe Johnny was right. . .maybe he needed to stop being so self-righteous by trying to correct every wrong done in the world.
At that thought, Scott fell asleep.
The fire had returned to life and Scott enjoyed the warmth from its reborn flames. His thoughts about the events that brought them here were broken when he felt Johnny come up beside him.
“Mornin,” the dark-haired younger man greeted.
“Good morning, brother. Come closer, get warm,” Scott invited, and Johnny inched closer to his brother.
“Is Murdoch still asleep?” Scott inquired.
“Think so,” Johnny sleepily mumbled. “Either that, or he’s playin’ possum.”
“Well, he needs his rest right now. And I need some coffee. How about you?”
“You know I’m not fit to be around without my morning coffee,” Johnny laughed.
Scott walked over to the coffee pot and poured himself and Johnny some coffee, and returned to his brother at the fire. No words were spoken as the two enjoyed the warm beverage. After a few minutes, Johnny got up and looked out the small window of the cabin. Then he went to the door and stepped outside. Scott followed him.
“Well, look at that,” Johnny sighed. It was a beautiful sight. The blizzard from the night before had left a winter wonderland as the morning sun glistened upon the white blanket that covered the earth. The two brothers enjoyed the sight for a minute or so, when Scott asked, “When do you think we’ll be able to get back to Lancer?”
Johnny looked over the situation. “The drifts to the west are pretty deep, and I don’t think the sun will be warm enough to melt this snow. We could backtrack east, pick up the trail to Lancer at King’s Crossing. But that’ll take at least half a day. I think the best thing is to wait the day out here; hopefully by tomorrow the drifts will begin to melt and we can get through.”
“So we’ll be spending today. . Thanksgiving. . here?” Scott asked incredulously.
“Well, yeah, Scott. The cabins well-stocked, and I aim to go out and get us some supper. Won’t be turkey, but I hear rattlesnake tastes about the same way. . .”the sapphire eyes sparkling.
Scott looked at his brother, exasperated.
“Well I was hoping one of us could make it back to the ranch and get help today,” Scott informed. “I just hope Murdoch will be all right for another day.”
Johnny nodded his agreement with his brother’s thoughts. They stepped back inside the cabin and reveled in its warmth.
“Morning boys,” the deep voice of Murdoch greeted. “And don’t worry, I’ll be fine here for another day,” he added.
Scott and Johnny walked to their father’s bed and began fussing over him.
“Can you. . .feel anything yet?” Johnny asked, concern in his voice.
“As a matter of fact,” Murdoch informed, “I can wiggle my toes. The swelling in my back around where the bullet is must be going down,” he explained.
“That’s good, but I won’t be satisfied until you’re back at Lancer and Doc Jenkins has had a look at you,” Scott stated.
“Yes, well, until that time comes, we have to make the best of it here. I must remember to thank Mr. Tucker for the use of this cabin,” Murdoch said, almost as an afterthought to himself.
Murdoch and his sons finished the coffee and warmed up the biscuits Maria had made for them yesterday morning. After breakfast, Johnny announced he was going out to get their Thanksgiving meal.
“Be careful, Son,” Murdoch coddled.
“And please Brother, bring back anything but rattlesnake,” Scott pleaded.
“I’ll do my best,” Johnny answered, the sapphire eyes sparkling and smiling a smile that would light up the darkest night.
When Johnny walked out the door, Murdoch and Scott just looked at each other and nodded their heads. And smiled a smile of love for their son and brother.
Johnny returned a few hours later, rabbit in tow. It was cleaned, placed over the fire, and cooked the whole afternoon. Some canned preserves were found, and Johnny showed Murdoch and Scott how to make gravy with water from the melted snow and some spices he found in Mr. Tucker’s cupboards.
Murdoch began to get “antsy” staying in bed, so the boys lifted him over to the comfortable chair by the fire, where he enjoyed its warmth on his legs. The patriarch helped in the preparation of the Thanksgiving dinner by removing the shells from the pecans that were in the cabin, and crushing them to add as a topping to their Thanksgiving meal.
Despite their circumstances, the three Lancers shared a camaraderie that was infrequent, especially where Murdoch and Johnny were concerned. And spirits were lifted when Murdoch mentioned he was getting some feeling back in his feet and ankles.
It wasn’t exactly turkey and dressing, but the rabbit meat was tender and hot, and better tasting than Scott would of guessed. They rationed the beans, and the gravy that Johnny had concocted was quite tasty.
As night approached and the only light they had was from the fire, the cabin took on a cozy feeling. More wood was placed on it, and the three men enjoyed its warmth. There was silence for awhile, no words were needed, as a relaxed feeling came upon each man.
It was then that Johnny retrieved from his saddle bag some Cusano Rojo tequila. “This is guaranteed to warm you up and make you forget your troubles,” the former gunhawk gleamed. He uncorked the bottle, took a swig, and sighed in utter delight. He poured a small amount in Murdoch’s and Scott’s coffee cups, and took another swig of it from the bottle.
“Be careful Scott. This is potent stuff when you’re not used to it,” Murdoch advised his older son.
“Murdoch.” Johnny simply stated. “He’ll be fine.”
Murdoch gave Johnny “the look.” This time though, Johnny laughed.
Murdoch and Scott raised their cups, while Johnny raised the bottle, and clanked them as Murdoch said a simple “To us.”
“To us,” the boys replied. Murdoch took a gulp and breathed heavily. “Been a long time since I’ve had any of this. It’s pretty strong, John,” he eyed his younger son.
“Yep, the stronger the better,” Johnny replied, taking another swig.
Scott took a small sip. “That’ll make your eyes water,” he quipped.
“It’s good for what ails ya,” Johnny laughed, drinking more of the potent drink.
After a few minutes of chit-chat, Johnny asked Scott, “Well, what do we do now? We’ve eaten our wonderful meal, is this when we’re supposed to make our. . . .plans for the. . .next year, and re, re, re-kindle, our friends? Like you said the other night?”
Murdoch and Scott couldn’t help but chuckle at Johnny’s “relaxed” state of mind, thanks to the tequila.
“Brother, you’re lit up like a candle,” Scott laughed.
“I know. Ain’t it great?” Johnny replied.
“Scott, leave your brother alone. He’s not hurting anything,” Murdoch commanded, with a very amused tone to his voice.
“Yeah, Scott. Leave your brother alone,” Johnny mimicked back, and took another swig of the tequila. The threesome talked and joked, and enjoyed each other’s company.
Scott and Johnny couldn’t help but notice their father staring at them in the fire-lit room, and they began to feel a bit uncomfortable.
“Something wrong, Sir?” Murdoch’s fair-haired boy questioned.
“No, not a thing,” Murdoch answered, a dreamy sound to his deep voice. “I still can’t believe that you’re both here with me is all. My prayers all these years have been answered. Sometimes I wake up, and I’ve dreamed that one, or both of you, have left. And it’s all I can do to stop myself from running down the hall into your rooms, just to make sure you’re there.”
As he spoke, his eyes looked intently at Johnny. For both knew that if one son were to leave, Johnny would be the one. “And I just couldn’t bear to lose either one of you again,” Murdoch’s voice broke.
“Well, we’re not going anywhere, are we, Brother?” Scott turned and asked Johnny, whose handsome face was draped in the dancing flames of the fire. Light enough to see, but dark enough to hide the tears forming in his eyes.
“No,” came a soft reply. “I’ll stay for. . .as long. . . .as you want me,” the words hardly heard they were spoken so softly.
“You’re stuck with me, Brother. We’re in it for life,” Scott softly teased his brother, tussling his dark hair.
Johnny looked up at Murdoch, and through the shadows their eyes met. Murdoch simply nodded to his younger son, and Johnny smiled slightly, then bowed his head down once again.
“That first day. . .I told you I only drink with a man if I know him. Well, I know you now. Both of you. And I’m proud to share a drink with you. And honored that you want to share one with me.”
“Johnny. . . .” his father whispered, through tears.
Johnny took one final gulp of the tequila. He looked up at Scott and Murdoch. “I don’t feel so good,” and at that, ran for the door and the fresh, crisp air of outside.
“Scott, go help your brother,” Murdoch said, slightly amused.
“This is one Thanksgiving I’ll never forget,” Scott mused as he ran to be with Johnny.
A few minutes later, Johnny felt better and returned to the cabin. The remainder of the evening Scott spent with his father and brother was unique. It was probably because of the tequila, at least with Johnny it was, but the three had shared a part of themselves that up until that time had been unreachable.
Murdoch had spoken of Catherine and Maria, in loving terms, and told a story about a baby Johnny that the handsome gunhawk made them swear to “keep between themselves.”
Scott had talked about his grandfather. He knew that Murdoch had little use for Harlan Garrett, but still, the man had raised Scott and the feeling the blonde Bostonian had for him should not be denied. Even Murdoch had to laugh when Scott relayed one of his childhood antics, and the way his grandfather handled the situation.
And Johnny. The ever protective mask he wore concerning his life with his mother was temporarily removed when he told of a humorous adventure he and his mother had when he was seven or eight. The story he told helped Murdoch realize that Johnny did have some good times, some good memories, of his mother.
Friday morning brought a thaw to the snowy wonderland, making it possible to travel once again. Scott awoke feeling much better than he had the previous morning, with a feeling of warmth going through him that had nothing to do with the warming trend of the temperature.
He decided that he would be the one to ride back to Lancer for help, knowing his brother would be in no condition to do so when he woke up. Murdoch awakened and advised Scott the numbness was decreasing, and he was getting the feeling back in his legs.
Johnny opened his eyes upon hearing this, saying that was the best news he’d heard all week. Then he asked Scott to ‘please close the curtains, the sun is hurting my eyes.’
“And I always thought you could handle your tequila, Brother,” Scott teased.
“Usually I can. I don’t know what happened,” Johnny wondered, and quickly fell back asleep.
It was about that time that Scott saw Cipriano and some of the other Lancer hands riding up to the cabin. They had a feeling that’s where the patriarch and his sons had sought refuge, and when they heard about Murdoch, one quickly went for Dr. Jenkins as the rest took care of Murdoch and got him back to the ranch.
The trip back to Lancer had gone smoothly, and Dr. Jenkins advised Scott and Johnny that Murdoch would be fine. The swelling around the bullet in his back was going down, and that by Christmas, the eldest Lancer would be himself once again. He did tell them, though, that the time would come when something would have to be done about the bullet, for to have it remain there could, in time, cause permanent damage.
“We’ll discuss it with him Sir, after the holidays,” Scott advised.
When Dr. Jenkins left, Johnny advised he was turning in. “Hope you’re feeling better tomorrow, Brother. Remember, the Winslows are coming over with some Thanksgiving fixings, so we can celebrate the day,” Scott announced happily.
“Yeah, whatever,” Johnny mumbled, and made his way up the stairs to his room.
Scott was alone with his thoughts in the Great Room, and they were happy thoughts. For he realized that a special day wasn’t needed to give thanks for family. He knew that every day he had with Jelly, Teresa, Murdoch, and especially Johnny, was special and should not be taken for granted.
And with that thought, he gave a silent thanks for his family and friends, knowing they were with him always, in his heart. And in his life.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone in Lancerland. . . . .
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