Word Count 2,820
I would like to thank two of our fellow writers for their help with this story.
First, to Sprite, whose portion of the “Dear Angus-Summertime” story gave me the idea for my story.
And to Southernfrau, whose beautiful poem, “Midnight Trip and Ponderings” (also from Sprite’s story) provided me with the inspiration for the ‘midnight confessions’ between a father and his newly-found, somewhat tired, son. Enjoy.
It was a few minutes past midnight when Murdoch Lancer decided to retire for the night. He was tired, more mentally than physically. But the ache in his leg and back from the bullet he received from Day Pardee just five short months ago added to his fatigue.
But his mental tiredness was a result of the events of the last week. For it was just a week ago that his two sons came home. And all hell broke loose. Besides the stress of meeting his sons for the first time, of trusting one and doubting the other, Pardee and his gang of ruffians finally attacked Lancer after months of taunting and needless killing. And it was during that raid that Murdoch, his oldest son Scott, and his loyal vaqueros fought to protect Lancer. And won. And it was also during the melee that Murdoch’s youngest son, Johnny, was seriously wounded, shot while helping protect the land as well, although at the time, his actions were questionable.
For the past several nights, Murdoch held a night-long vigil at his wounded son’s bedside, catching a few hours of restless sleep during the day when Teresa O’Brien, his ward, and Maria, his housekeeper and loyal friend, would sit with Johnny. Murdoch would eat dinner with Scott, then Scott took over the evening watch of his younger half-brother, to be relieved by Murdoch for his nightly vigil.
The recurring fever that kept Johnny more or less oblivious to his surroundings the past several days had ceased once again, and today, after a thorough exam by Dr. Jenkins, the young gunhawk was finally allowed out of bed, much to his glee. But only long enough to dress, walk downstairs, and sit on the porch in the warmth of the sun. And this simple action wore the young gunfighter out. When Murdoch returned from a short ride on the ranch with Scott, he found his youngest son on the couch, asleep. And that is where Johnny was lovingly left, and looked after, until he was gently awakened and helped back to bed.
Murdoch was concerned when he felt the heat from the recurring fever again radiate from Johnny, and began fussing over him. Johnny, safe and comfortable in his bed once again, grumpily told his father to “stop fussin’ and pickin’ at me. “Leave me alone.”
To which his father replied, sternly, but understandingly, “Let me fuss at you, John. It’s about time you let somebody worry about you.”
Exhausted and exasperated, Johnny sighed, rolled over on his stomach, and quickly fell back to sleep.
Murdoch had spent the remainder of the evening with Scott, both enjoying much-needed brandys. The past days had taken their toll on Scott as well, as Murdoch noted the tired look on his face and in his eyes. When Scott retired to his room a little after ten, Murdoch followed him and spent a few minutes chatting with him, ensuring his oldest son was all right. He then went to check on Johnny, and was pleased to find his fever down, and the young man deeply asleep.
So it was after midnight, when Murdoch finally finished the mundane paperwork he could no longer ignore, that he decided to make his way to bed. But not before he checked on Johnny one last time, for this night.
Murdoch decided he would leave Johnny on his own tonight, the first time since he was shot. After all, his independent youngest son was on the road to recovery. But Murdoch knew he would sleep with ‘one eye and one ear’ open, and he smiled to himself as he recalled how his own mother would tell him and his brothers that very same thing.
He went into Johnny’s cozily lit room, where the young gunhawk had moved onto his back. Murdoch again checked for fever and feeling Johnny’s cool face, smiled. He noted his son’s left arm was underneath him, near the wound on his back, so he gently moved it and placed it across his chest. And as he had done so many times the past nights, brought the covers up around his son. Still can’t stay covered, he laughed to himself, remembering the little boy who slept in this room and could never seem to keep his blankets on.
Satisfied that his son was comfortable, Murdoch turned around, and just as he grabbed the brass doorknob to the heavy wooden door, was slightly taken aback when a soft, tired voice said, “You don’t have to go. I’m awake.”
“Sorry, Son” Murdoch softly said, as he walked back to Johnny’s bedside. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You didn’t. I was kind of awake, you know, not sleeping, but not awake either,” Johnny tried to explain. “I just keep waking up for some reason. . .”
“Well, I think that’s a good thing,” Murdoch surmised. “Means your body has begun healing itself, and you’re ridding yourself of all the medication you’ve had the last several days.”
“I guess,” Johnny mumbled, “but now I’m up all night and sleep all day.”
“It will get better Johnny, I promise,” Murdoch coddled, just a little.
“Can I get you something? Water or anything?” Murdoch asked.
“No, I’m all right,” Johnny advised.
Murdoch continued to stand by Johnny’s bed, unsure of how long his son wanted to talk. But when Johnny eyed the chair and nodded, Murdoch knew that was his cue to sit down and stay awhile. And he knew his youngest son was still very groggy, so he decided he would let Johnny be in control of the conversation. To let his son, this one time, ‘call the tune.’
Johnny sighed heavily and closed his eyes for a few seconds, but when he opened them, his face showed a small smile as he eyed his father closely.
Murdoch’s curiosity was piqued. “What are you smiling at?”
“Well. . .it’s just that, you don’t look anything like I imagined you would,” Johnny answered, chuckling.
Murdoch chuckled as well. “Is that good?”
“I think so,” Johnny responded. “See, I didn’t think you’d be so.. . .tall. And, big,” he said as he spread his arms out in front of him.
“Well, my size has been known to surprise some folks,” Murdoch admitted.
“I’ll have to stand on the landing of the stairs just to talk to you eye to eye, Old Man,” Johnny informed, somewhat seriously.
“And, I thought you’d have darker hair,” Johnny said, disappointment in his voice.
“Well Johnny, my hair wasn’t always gray, you know,” Murdoch laughed.
“Was it as dark as mine?” he asked, hopeful.
“No son, it was lighter than yours. But,” he added, “it was darker than Scott’s.”
Murdoch sensed this topic of discussion was over, and was surprised when after a few seconds, Johnny began to rise out of bed and become extremely excited.
“The fire! We’ve got to stop it, Murdoch, or it will burn the ranch!”
Murdoch grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and gently pushed him back down on the bed, and realized he was talking about the fire that had been set by Pardee shortly after his and Scott’s arrival.
“Easy, Son. The fire’s out. We took care of it, remember? There’s no danger anymore,” he tried to soothe his son.
“Yeah,” Johnny said, unconvinced.
It took a minute or so for the young gunhawk to calm down, and his eyes remained closed as he asked his father, “Murdoch, where is that place?”
Murdoch had absolutely no idea where Johnny was referring to, and realized his son was still very much under the effect of the laudanum he had been given.
“What place, Johnny? Where are you referring to, Son?” he gently asked.
“You know,” Johnny answered, a bit annoyed. “You told Scott about it that day in your study, you were on a boat or something. . . .”
“Oh,” Murdoch said, as he realized where Johnny was referring to. “Inverness. It’s in Scotland, and I grew up there.”
“Why did you leave?”
Murdoch was a bit surprised at Johnny’s question. “Well, I’d always wanted to come to America since I was a child. I used to read a lot of books, and I was fascinated by the new land across the ocean. Besides, Scotland was pretty country, but it was cold and rainy much of the time. I knew the American west was warm and dry.”
They both laughed, then Johnny asked, “Were your parents sad when you left?”
Murdoch thought back to the day he bid his parents farewell. “Well, my mother, she, you know, she cried and hugged me and all that. And my father, he shook my hand and wished me well. But, I do remember seeing a tear or two in his eyes just before I turned around to get on the boat.”
“Hmmmm,” Johnny murmured, somewhat impressed. “Did you ever see them again?”
“No. No I didn’t,” Murdoch answered, his voice regretful. “We wrote back and forth, but I never saw them again after that day.”
“Are they still alive?” Johnny questioned.
There was a silence as Murdoch considered this conversation. He knew that if Johnny were all together, this conversation wouldn’t be taking place. And even if the questions were being asked under normal circumstances, Murdoch more than likely wouldn’t be so open with his answers. But Johnny had a right to know, he obviously wanted to know, and in his present state was saying whatever came to his mind, not caring about the consequences. So Murdoch answered his questions. After all, Johnny was ‘calling the tune.’
And, Murdoch realized, it felt good to talk about his parents.
“No, Johnny, I’m afraid not. My mother died 15 years ago. She was much too young. And my father died five years ago.”
“Did. . . .did they know about. . .me?” Johnny asked, sounding a little unsure of the answer his father would give.
“Of course they did, Johnny. They knew all about their little grandson in far off America. They had planned on coming here someday, to see you, but that wasn’t to be. . .”
Murdoch was lost in his own thoughts, when Johnny started going on about the fire again.
“Murdoch! We’ve got to stop it! I hate to see my property go up in flames!”
“The fire’s out Johnny. We took care of it the other day.” Another outburst about that fire, and I’ll have to come up with another tactic, Murdoch thought.
He watched as Johnny dozed for a few minutes, then watched as his sapphire eyes opened. As Johnny began to speak, Murdoch realized that this time, the young man was very much aware of what he was saying; he was very much in control of his thoughts, and the conversation as a whole.
Johnny’s voice was deeper than it had been; and Murdoch sadly knew it bore the same tone as the young man in his study that first day: Johnny Madrid.
“I won’t stop loving her, you know, just to stay here with you. If that’s the case, I’ll leave right now. But I won’t hate her just to please you, Old Man.” His voice was cold.
Murdoch knew exactly who his son was talking about. His mother. And that if it meant Johnny having to stop loving the memory of his mother to please his father, he would leave and think nothing of it.
“Johnny,” Murdoch said, softly and gently. “I would never ask you to do that. Of course you love your mother. It never occurred to me that you would have to choose one parent over the other.”
Johnny’s manner softened as he considered what his father told him. “But. . . .but she made you sad. I. . .thought you hated her. . . .hated. . . me,” Johnny remarked, his voice now sounding very much like a frightened child.
Murdoch cleared a lump from his throat. “Johnny, your mother did not make me sad. What she did. . . .leaving Lancer, and taking you with her, that made me sad. But your mother herself only made me happy. She brought meaning and joy back into my life. She brought life and music into the hacienda. Made a house a home. And she gave me. . .you. And the two years we spent together, as a family, were the happiest two years of my life. So please don’t ever feel like you have to choose. Because you don’t. And I could never. . . .hate. .you. You’re my son. A part of me as much as you are a part of your mother.”
Murdoch looked at Johnny and noticed the tears flowing from his tired blue eyes. He handed his son a damp cloth to wipe his eyes and nose with. “Thanks,” Johnny gratefully acknowledged. And as he looked down at his son, he was reminded so much of the two-year old little boy whose tears he dried so many years ago.
Murdoch realized that Johnny was exhausted from this midnight talk, so he decided it was time he take control of the situation. It was once again his turn to ‘call the tune.’
“Son, don’t fight your sleep. Just rest, we can talk some more tomorrow, if you want,” Murdoch gently suggested.
Johnny was quiet for a minute or so, then began rambling on about that damn fire again.
“Johnny, I have Scott taking care of it. He’ll make sure it’s put out,” Murdoch lied.
“Scott’s taking care of it?” Johnny asked.
“That’s right, Johnny. Scott will handle it.”
“Well, I feel a lot better. Scott can handle anything. He’s smart, and a good rider.” After a pause, he asked his father, “You like him, don’t you?”
“Yes, Johnny,” Murdoch answered, amused. “I like him very much.” He could already sense the feeling of trust and the beginning of the ‘big brother knows everything’ feeling from Johnny regarding Scott. It gave Murdoch a warm feeling inside.
“I should’ve listened to him, Murdoch, and went along with his plan. All I did was end up gettin’ back shot . . . . .”
“Johnny, you and your brother had a different way of handling things. He did it his way, and you did it your way. I’m proud of both of you.”
Murdoch stroked Johnny’s hair as he spoke with him, and Johnny put up no resistance. “I just wish you wouldn’t of gotten shot. . . .” Murdoch offered.
“My back. . .it hurts, Murdoch”, Johnny admitted in a pain-filled voice.
Murdoch realized this was the first time Johnny had admitted pain, and it was such a small admission from all the young man had endured.
“I know Son,” Murdoch responded sympathetically. “Do you want something for the pain?”
Johnny frowned and nodded no.
“Don’t fight it, Johnny. Just sleep. So you can get well and come back to us. We. . .I. . .need you. . . . . .” Murdoch whispered.
It took a good five minutes for Johnny to fall back to sleep. As he waited, Murdoch thought about his night-time vigils at his son’s bedside, and how he felt it was Johnny Madrid he was watching over and taking care of. But as he considered this midnight conversation, he realized it was his first conversation with his youngest son. Those first few days he had spoken with Johnny Madrid.
But the person he spoke with tonight was Johnny Lancer; a young man who opened up to his father, asked questions about his grandparents, and spoke candidly about his mother.
Murdoch knew the questions that Johnny asked were due to his pain and exhaustion. But still, the curiosity and the wanting to know was there, deep inside him, and his confusion and the medication he had been given provided the outlet for him to express thoughts he otherwise would of kept deep inside him.
And Murdoch wondered just how much Johnny would remember about these ‘midnight confessions,’ if anything at all. He hoped the boy would remember at least part of it. But even if he did, Murdoch knew it would never be spoken of.
All Murdoch knew was that he would remember it. Always. And cherish it. For it would be a long, long time before father and youngest son ever spoke to each other in such an open and honest way.
As he prepared to leave, he did something he hadn’t felt compelled to do for the past several nights. He kissed his son on the forehead. His son Johnny Lancer. And it felt good.
“Welcome home, Johnny Lancer. Hope you stay awhile,” Murdoch whispered to his sleeping son.
Then he lowered the lamp, kept the door slightly open, and made his way to his bedroom, knowing that this night, he would sleep with ‘one eye and one ear’ open, ensuring that everyone he loved was safe and sound.
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