When Strangers Meet by Laraine

Word Count 3,645


That special time between dusk and dawn when an unearthly stillness surrounds the world and everything is at peace.  When the stillness is broken by only the faintest of breezes which cleanses the earth and prepares it for the approaching light of a new day.

It was during this time that the pretty, exquisitely-dressed blonde woman leaned forward against  the fence of the corral and took in the silhouetted form of the Lancer hacienda.  It had an eerie appearance about it as the last of the faint stars disappeared into the black/gray sky.  But she reveled in the sheer magic of the moment, and knew that with the rising of the sun the breathtaking beauty of the ranch would emerge.

A tinge of regret touched her soul.  The ranch was just a shell of its present glory the last time she saw it, when she was filled with much hope for the future.  But other things were planned for her that she still didn’t understand, and she learned a long time ago not to question the hand of fate she had been dealt.  For she had loved this place so.  And loved the man that lived there with her. 

As  her mind wandered to what might have been, what should have been, the soft sound of horse hooves caught her attention.  She turned around and saw a lone rider making its way toward her, or rather, toward the ranch. 

As the rider grew closer, she noticed it was another woman, about the same age, dressed in brown jeans and a beige and brown flannel shirt.  She was beautiful.  Long, dark, hair  caressed her shoulders and her ease at riding the spirited black stallion was evident.

They were just a few feet from each other now, and an uncomfortable silence came between them, with soft blue eyes meeting the fury of dark brown eyes.

This is my home, my domain.  You have no right to be here.  You caused nothing but pain and sorrow with your selfishness, the blue eyes glared.

It may have been yours, but it’s mine now.  I brought life into this home.  A child that brought much joy.  You are the one that brought sorrow, the brown eyes shot back.

Realizing this was getting them nowhere, they made a silent truce, with the blonde woman gently nodding and the dark-haired rider dismounting her horse.  She tethered the horse to the fence and jumped up on it, swinging her tiny legs around and placing her feet on the second rung of the fence. 

She stared contently at the hacienda, and like her blonde counterpart, considered how much had changed since she had been there last.  The tiny tree planted by the tall, gruff, but gentle man and the sweet little boy that once lived there was now fully grown.  And she smiled at the memory.

It was the pretty blonde who spoke first, breaking the uneasy silence between them.

“He’s done well with it.  I always knew he would.  But I had no idea it would turn out to be this. . . .grandeur,” she commented.

“Si.  It is beautiful here.  He had his vision, and he achieved it.  He spent his whole adult life building this place.  I hope it makes him happy,” the dark-eyed beauty responded, a tinge of bitterness in her voice.

“Perhaps he spent his adult life building it because he had nothing else to look forward to,”  the blonde stated, rather coldly.

The brown eyes glared at her.  “That’s because you left him, with no warning.  He was heartbroken.  Then his baby was taken.  He was never the same after that.”

“I had no choice!  I was made to leave, by powers beyond my control.  You had a choice, and you left out of selfishness.  No reason, no explanation.  And you are the one who stole his baby.  I had no say in what happened to mine,” the blonde woman scolded, her blue eyes clouding with tears.

There was a silence as the dark-haired woman considered what the blonde had said.  “You may have thought I had a choice.  He may have thought so, too.  But I didn’t.  I don’t know what was wrong with me.  I had these voices in my head, confusing me.  I wanted to stay, to love and be loved.  But the voices kept telling me to leave.  It seems that  I was never happy.  Was never really at peace.  Even now. . . . .” her voice was  filled with sadness.

“You’re worried about the boy?”  the blonde questioned.

“Si.  He is so tired of fighting, so tired of hurting.  He wants it to end.   He was ready, that day in front of that awful. . .firing squad.   He told me he wants to be with me,” regret and sadness in the voice of the brown-haired beauty.  Then she asked, “You’re are worried, too?  About the other boy?”

“Oh yes.  I’ve always worried about him.  I always knew he was safe, and well-cared for.  But still, he silently questioned why I was not there for him.  Why. . .he. . .was not there for him.  I feel like. . .I’ve failed him. . .” sadness in her voice as well.

“You have failed no one.  Like you said, it was beyond your control,” the dark-haired woman assured the blonde.

The two young women were quiet for a few minutes, alone with their thoughts.  Suddenly, they looked at each other, and realized they were thinking the same thing.

“We must help them!  The boys.  They belong together,” the dark-haired woman exclaimed.

“You are so right, dear.  We must help them to see that they need each other.  The oldest must be shown that his protective nature, his intelligence, and his patience is needed to guide and tame the youngest,” the blonde explained.

“I agree.  And the youngest must be shown that his lust for life, his wit, and his spontaneity is needed to excite and challenge the oldest, ” the dark-haired woman advised.  A frown appeared on her face, and she asked, “What about. . .him?  Do you think he needs. . .or wants. . .our help as well?”

The slightly older and wiser blonde responded, “Don’t worry about him.  He knows what he must do.  If he puts aside his stubbornness, his. . . .”

“Pride,” the dark-haired woman interjected.

“Yes, my dear, his pride, then things should work out.  It won’t be easy, but with the two of us helping the boys, and them in turn helping him, it should work.  It has to,” the blonde sighed.

The dark eyes looked warily at the blonde.  “I have always. . . .resented you,” she confessed.

“Why?  You didn’t even know me,” the blonde questioned.

“Si, but I knew of you.  I knew of your beauty, your intelligence, your prestige.  He. . .he loved you very much.  There were times when I felt I was living in your shadow.  That you would have done things differently then me.  That somehow, I wasn’t quite as good as you.  And that if it wasn’t for the little boy, he wouldn’t have given me a second thought.” 

She felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders; a weight she had been carrying for over 20 years.

A gentle hand was placed on her shoulder, and the soft voice of the blonde spoke to her. 

“You had no reason to resent me.  He loved you for you.  It is true I was his first love, and my passing hurt him deeply.  But he was able to get beyond that.  You are the one that put meaning and joy back into his life.  You.  And the boy.”

“But he still loves you,” the dark-haired woman sighed, her dark eyes holding back tears. 

“Of course he does.  He always will.  There is a piece of his heart that is for me alone.  But there is a piece that is for you, and you alone.  And a very important piece that is for each of the boys.  He needs to awaken each piece, and learn to live with them, so his heart can become whole.  Then there will be love for all of us.  Together.”

The blue-eyed woman boosted herself on the fence, placing herself next to the brown-eyed woman, and both were silent.  The dark-haired woman wrapped her arms around herself and began to rock.

“Are you cold?” concern in the voice of the pretty blonde.

“No.  It’s just, well, you are really a nice person.  Not at all like I thought you would be.  You speak with intelligence, and concern.  You are concerned for me.  And the youngest boy.  I must admit, there were times when I didn’t give a. . .darn. . .about the oldest boy.  Wanted him to stay away.  But now I know how important it is for them to be together.

I’m sorry for the feelings I’ve had for you all these years.  They were wrong,” the sad brown eyes filled with regret.

The soft blue eyes met the dark brown eyes.  “I have a confession, too,” the blonde began.  “I have also resented you for many years for leaving him like you did, and taking the little boy with you.  For robbing that child of the life he should have had.  And robbing. . him. . of the love of his child.  But I now believe that it was beyond your control, like my leaving was.  We just left in different ways.  My feelings for you were wrong as well.”

There was a comfortable silence between the two young women, when suddenly the dark-haired woman spoke.

“I am evil.  And the boy is evil as well, because of me.  I have failed him as I failed everyone.  Perhaps it would be better if he were to come with me,” she cried, her voice soft and full of guilt.

The usually calm and quiet blonde became defensive.  “No! That is not true!  You are not evil.  And the boy is not evil, either.  Misguided.  Confused.  Wild,  yes, but definitely not evil.  That is why it is so important we help each of the boys.  To help their lives be all they can be.”

After a pause, she asked, “Do you really think it would be best for the boy to be with you?”

The brown eyes lowered to the ground.  “No.  No, I do not.  I just want him to be happy, to be at peace.  He deserves so much more than what he has had, because of me.”

“The boy loves you, you know.  Despite everything, he has a heart of gold,” the blonde woman advised.

The brown-haired woman smiled.  “Si, he is special, isn’t he?”

The blonde replied, “Yes.  They all are.”

They were each lost in their own thoughts, when they noticed the approach of dawn.

“It will be light soon.  We must be on our way,” the blonde informed.

“Si.  A new day, for them. So, our work begins, no?” the brown-haired beauty asked.

“Our work begins,” the blonde responded, chuckling.

After a few seconds, the brown-haired woman stuttered, carefully choosing her words to the blonde-haired woman who sat beside her.

“I am really glad that, well, that I finally met you.  We will be spending a lot of time together.  I hope that maybe, you can think of me as a. . .well, maybe your.. .friend?”

The blonde took the hands of the dark-haired woman and pulled them tightly toward her.  “My dear, we may have our differences, but the special people that we share, the people we love,  have brought us together.  Of course I want to consider you my friend.  We should have been, all along.  I guess it took our men to bring us together,” she gently explained.

“Gracias, Catherine,” the dark-eyed woman gently cried.

“Thank you, Maria,” Catherine gently responded, and the two Lancer women exchanged a loving hug.

Catherine gently took Maria by the shoulders.  “We must be on our way.  Dawn is coming, and we have our children to talk to.”

“Si, our boys.  Your Scott, and my Johnny.  Do you  think they will learn to trust one another?  To be brothers to one another, Catherine?”

“Maria, with our help, I think they will.”

Maria hopped down from the fence and mounted the stallion.  Catherine gracefully got down from the fence, and smoothed the beautiful, emerald-colored silk dress she wore.

Maria looked at her, and smiled a pleasant smile.  “That dress.  It is the most beautiful I have ever seen.”

“Thank you, Maria.  It was always my favorite.  This is the dress I had on when I first met. . .him,” she said, sadness in her voice and eyes.

Maria nodded in understanding.

“We must go Catherine.  Do you need a ride?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Maria frowned, just a little.  “You do know how to ride? No?”

“I’ll have you know, Maria, I was the equestrian champion of the Boston Country Club three years running.”

“You are amazing,” Maria chuckled.

She gently grabbed Catherine’s hand and helped her up on the stallion, whereas Catherine sat sidesaddle and put her gentle arms around Maria’s tiny waist.

“I’m ready,” Catherine said.

“So am I,” Maria answered back.

And with one last look at the place they both loved, Catherine and Maria rode off into the heavens, the soft hooves of the stallion echoing in the silence, and the rising sun bringing with it the promise of a new day. 


Inside the hacienda, Murdoch Lancer awoke with a start to the sound of a horse’s hooves.  He quickly rose out of the chair where he had spent the night by his youngest son’s beside and went to the window of his son’s room.  He feared that some of Pardee’s men may have returned for a return performance of 24 hours earlier, but looking out, he saw nothing, only the beauty of the rising sun.

The promise of a new day, he sighed.

He walked over to Johnny’s bedside and gently felt his forehead.  Murdoch sighed at the knowledge that the fever had begun to take hold, and he could only hope that the young man had the strength and desire to fight it and come back to his newly-found family.

The bedroom door opened as his oldest son, Scott, entered the room, and  Murdoch smiled at his older son’s sleepy appearance. 

“I thought I heard a horse, Sir,” Scott sleepily advised.

“So did I.  But there’s nothing out there,” Murdoch responded, puzzlement in his voice.

“Must have been a stray,” Scott conceded.  “How’s Johnny doing?” he then asked, his voice laden with concern.

“He had a pretty good night, but his fever’s caught hold.  He’s getting pretty restless now,” Murdoch advised his older son.

As they walked to Johnny’s bedside, they were surprised when the two blue eyes opened.  There was a blank expression in them for a few seconds; finally, there was some recognition as he spied his father and brother, and he tried to speak.

“Hey, take it easy, Boy,” Scott softly said. 

“Are you with us, Johnny?” Murdoch asked, quietly.

Johnny nodded, and began eyeing the pitcher of water he knew was on the nightstand next to his bed.  Scott grabbed the pitcher and poured the water into the glass and handed it to Murdoch, who  gently lifted Johnny’s head and gave him a drink of the cool water.

After Johnny laid back down, his eyes began to survey the room, trying to remember where he was and who he was with.   Murdoch and Scott gave him a few minutes, softly talking to him while Murdoch brushed the dark hair out of the sad, confused eyes.

“Murdoch?” the hoarse, tired voice acknowledged the presence of his father.

“Yes, Johnny. I’m here,” the older man replied.

Johnny eyed his brother, and a small smile came across the tired, but still handsome face.  “Hey, Boston,” he said.

“Hey, Johnny.  You’re going to be fine,” Scott chuckled at the nickname it seemed he had acquired.

Johnny continued to survey his surroundings, when a frown came upon his face.  “Murdoch?  Is Mama here?”

Murdoch was a bit taken aback by his son’s question, but figured it was the fever beginning to take hold on Johnny.

“No Johnny,  you’re mother’s not here,” he quietly, and sadly,  answered.

Johnny’s voice became louder and stronger.  “She was here, just a minute ago.  I talked to her.  I told her I wanted to go with her, but she said I had to stay to take care of you.  And. . .you,” he said, looking at his brother.  “Don’t you people believe me?” 

He was becoming very excited, and both Murdoch and Scott had to hold him down.

“Of course we believe you, Johnny,” Scott said.  “Now lay back down, you need to stay still.”

“Scott, get me the laudanum on the nightstand,” Murdoch commanded.

Johnny was oblivious to what his father had asked for.  “Where is the other lady she was with?  The pretty blonde lady in the fancy green dress.  I think her name was. . . .Catherine, or something?”

Murdoch and Scott just looked at one another.  No one that they knew of had told Johnny the name of Scott’s mother, just as no one had mentioned the name of Johnny’s mother to Scott.  The older son had put his brother’s ramblings down to the fever and his confused memories of the last few days.

But Murdoch Lancer had a feeling.  The fact that Johnny said he spoke to his mother could have been a dream.  But no one in the world except Murdoch and Catherine knew about the existence of the beautiful emerald colored dress, the dress that Catherine had jokingly told Murdoch she would love to spend eternity in.

Scott handed the medicine to Murdoch, who in turn lifted Johnny’s head and told him to drink.  Johnny did so, not realizing what it was, and after it registered with him what he had been given, told Murdoch to do something that wasn’t very nice.  Scott couldn’t hold back his amusement at his brother’s audacity, and Murdoch just looked at Johnny, realizing he couldn’t hold what his son said against him.  It’s probably what he’s wanted to say to me all these years,   he sadly thought.

As the laudanum took effect, Johnny continued to talk softly, in Spanish.  Although Murdoch couldn’t quite understand everything being said, he knew his son was talking to his mother.

“Sir, you look tired.  Why don’t you go get some rest, and I’ll sit with him for awhile,” Scott offered.

“That sounds like a good idea.  I am tired.   The doctor will be looking in on him later this morning.  Would you get me then?” Murdoch inquired.

“Of course I will,” Scott assured his father.

After brushing the hair out of Johnny’s eyes one last time, Murdoch left the room, and Scott took his place in the chair by Johnny’s bedside.  He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, and was relaxed by his brother’s gentle mumblings.   Scott felt a warm presence around him that he never felt before.  And just before he drifted into a comfortable doze, he suddenly felt very close to his mother, the  gentle lady he never knew.


A tired Murdoch Lancer returned to his room and lay down on the huge, comfortable bed.  He thought about his two sons; about how different they were.  And he thought about their beautiful mothers.

His thoughts of Catherine and Maria were never simultaneous; they were always separate thoughts, separate memories.  And truth be told, it was the exotic beauty that consumed his thoughts more than the beautiful blonde.

Catherine was gone.  There was closure, although he would never understand why.  She was so loving, so happy, so full of life.  She didn’t deserve her fate. 

But with Maria, there was no closure.   He never knew where she was, or what she was doing.  Or where Johnny was, or if  they were even alive.   And that hurt.

But this one night, with his boys together for the first time, he pondered what the outcome would have been if the two strangers, Catherine and Maria, would of met.  He groaned at the thought.  Probably instant dislike on both sides, he sadly thought. 

But then he remembered that Catherine was not the snobbish, society type.  She loved everyone, and everyone loved her.  And even Maria truly liked people.  It’s just that the prejudices of people against Mexicans made it difficult for her to trust anyone.  But Catherine would have been different, Murdoch was sure of that. 

Maybe, just maybe, they would have been civil to one another, he mused.  And he hoped that his sons would be able to find at least some of that hoped for civility between the two of them.

He finally fell asleep when the distant sound of the horses hooves again entered his consciousness.  He made his way to his bedroom window and looked out, looking for the horse that concerned him so.  But instead, he saw two pretty ladies leaning against the corral fence, looking at the hacienda, and smiling.

The green dress on one of them and the long, black hair on the other caught his attention.  He blinked his eyes, looked out again, and they were gone.  He stumbled back to his bed and slept soundly, the best he had slept in a long time.

When Murdoch awakened, he felt an odd closeness to his long-gone wives that he hadn’t felt in a long time; a closeness that would forever be entwined through him and his two sons.

And he wondered if maybe, somewhere, Catherine and Maria had met, and were no longer strangers. . . . . .but friends in a common cause.  To bring him and his two sons together.

Hope you enjoyed this little tale of the hereafter. . .
Happy Halloween 
By Laraine
October 2004



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