Word Count 4,698
#2 in The Cate Series.
Catherine sat at her vanity pulling the brush through her hair in long, angry strokes. When an occasional tangle dared to impede her progress, it was forced out with an accompanying mumbled expletive.
Murdoch sat on the edge of the bed watching the fight and wondering if he dared ask the obvious. Oh, well, nothing like throwing caution to the wind. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” she ground out. “Nothing.”
“Good.” He watched for another minute. “Does ‘nothing’ have a name?”
With a sigh, she stopped the attack on her blond locks. “Scott.”
Murdoch blinked in surprise. “Scott? What did he do?”
“It’s not something he did. It’s something he does. All the time. Every day.”
“Ma’am this, ma’am that. Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am. I don’t have a name!” She went back to brushing’.
Murdoch couldn’t help the smile of understanding that grew on his lips.
She looked at his reflection in the mirror before her. “Are you laughing at me again?”
“Just sympathizing. I can’t tell you how long it was before I was anything but ‘Sir’. To Scott I was ‘Sir’ and to Johnny I was ‘Old Man’.”
Catherine gave a grimace of distaste. “Well, I guess I should count my blessings. At least Johnny doesn’t call me ‘Old Woman.” She sighed again. “And that’s the problem. Johnny and Teresa can say Catherine, but Scott can’t…or won’t. He’s keeping me at a distance.”
Murdoch held out his hand to his wife. “I can sympathize with that as well. Although in all fairness, we all did that at first. It was…awkward to say the least.”
She came over and sat down next to him. “Not easy or instant, as you say.”
He put his arm around her. “No, it wasn’t. They were both rather furious with me. I was fortunate it was just ‘old man’ from Johnny. It could’ve been much worse.” He thought back briefly to those first, hard days. “Actually, I was surprised when you said the issue was with Scott.”
She turned and looked at him. “Does everyone always assume any trouble is going to be with Johnny?”
Murdoch looked down in chagrin. “I have been guilty of doing just that. I thought I was improving. Apparently not.” He gave her a little squeeze. “Looks like we’ll still be learning this family thing together for awhile.”
Catherine shook her head. “I suppose Scott is only behaving normally for a Garrett.”
Murdoch bit back his anger at the statement. After all, he couldn’t totally disagree. “This is probably more emotionally confusing for him than it is for the rest of us…And he is not someone who shows his emotions casually.”
Catherine’s sigh this time was one of frustration. “My father’s control at work again.”
“Perhaps. It could just be Scott’s personality. It doesn’t stop him from being an amazing young man.”
“I know that. I still wish Harlan Garrett had never gotten his hands on him.” She looked at the pain that flashed across Murdoch’s face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” She gave a sigh. “I suppose Sarah Carter is more blunt than Catherine Lancer ever was.”
He relaxed and smiled. “I had noticed that.”
She returned the smile. “But you married me anyway.”
“Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s not good. I’m not the same man I was twenty-five years ago. All that time alone and bitter took a toll.”
“I had noticed that.”
He tightened his arm around her again. “But you married me anyway.”
“Yes, I did. For better or worse we’re in this together…. So, compadre, what are we going to do about Scott?”
“Other than giving him time to sort things out I’m not sure there’s much we can do. I might try asking Johnny. They usually have a good understanding of each other. I’ll see if he knows of anything particular that’s troubling his brother.”
“Good.” He grinned. “Now, Mrs. Lancer, if you still have all that energy, I can think of better uses for it than tearing out your pretty hair…”
* * * * *
Teresa hummed a little tune to herself as she began the breakfast preparations. Any minute Catherine would be coming in saying…
“Fire up the griddles, girls! We have hungry people to feed!”
Teresa smiled. All those years running the hotel restaurant had ingrained a lot of habits. Occasionally they had a difference of opinion on how the kitchen here at Lancer should be organized, but for the most part things had gone smoothly.
She picked up a bowl and spoon and turned to Catherine. “Yes, Ma’am!” she said teasingly.
The pleasant expression on Catherine’s face evaporated. “Not you, too!” she sighed.
* * * **
Johnny grabbed the lunches for their saddlebags and started to leave out the back door. “Thanks, Teresa.”
“You’re welcome,” she returned quietly.
Johnny paused with his hand on the door handle. “Something wrong?”
“I think Catherine is mad about something.”
Johnny blinked in surprise. “What? Why would you think that?”
“Didn’t you notice at breakfast? She hardly spoke.”
He thought back. “Yeah, it was a little quiet.”
“I keep trying to think if I did something to upset her.”
Johnny thought about that for a moment. Catherine wasn’t the only one who had been quiet lately. He came over and pulled her into a hug. “I don’t think it’s anything you did, Querida. We’re just figuring things out here. So is she.”
Teresa sniffed. “I guess so.” She stepped back away from him. “Well, you better get to work. I’ll see you later.”
He gave her a peck on the cheek, and headed out to catch up with his brother.
* * * * *
The day had turned hot and Scott and Johnny had picked a shaded spot near a pond for their lunch break. Scott sat finishing his sandwich, the only sound marring the quiet was the rhythmic splashing as Johnny tossed pebbles into the water.
Without looking back, Johnny addressed his silent brother. “So, what’s up?”
Scott swallowed the last bite and dusted the crumbs from his lap. “About what?”
“You tell me.” Another stone sank into the pond.
“That would be difficult since you are the one you initiated the conversation.”
Johnny lobbed one more pebble before turning around. “Just wondering why you don’t spend any time with Catherine.”
Scott’s features seemed to harden. “Do I spend less time with her than you do?”
“She’s not my mama.”
Scott stood quickly, apparently trying to turn away before Johnny saw the anger on his face. He brushed past, heading for their horses.
Johnny caught his arm as he did so. “What’s wrong, Boston?”
Scott took a breath. “Maybe we should get back to our job.”
“Maybe we should finish talking.”
Scott pulled his arm free. “Talk away. I’m going to work.”
“Can we just finish the damn fence line!”
Johnny put up his hands in defense. “What are you mad at me for?”
“Because…” Scott stopped and took a breath. With visible effort he calmed his voice. “Because I don’t want to talk right now.”
“Ok. So, you got a better time?”
“Bullshit! If I can see you’re ignoring her, don’t you think she can?”
Without answering, Scott continued on to his horse and began tightening the cinch.
Johnny blew out his breath in defeat. With hands on his hips, he called to his brother’s back.
“Ok. So maybe I’m not the one to talk to about this. What about Murdoch?”
Scott kept fiddling with the saddle. “What about him?”
“Since you and he are related to her and all maybe you should…”
Scott slapped the stirrup down into place and spun around. “I don’t need to talk to Murdoch or you or her or anyone else. I’m tired, Johnny. Can we please just finish this and go?”
Johnny stared at his normally unflappable brother. “Sure, Scott.”
* * * * *
He stopped on his way through the great room at his father’s hail. “Hey, Murdoch.”
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
He ambled over to the desk and helped himself to some nuts in a dish there. “Sure. What’s up?”
“I hope you can tell me. I was hoping maybe your brother…”
Johnny backed up. “Whoa! If this is about Scott, I’m the last one to ask.”
Murdoch frowned in concern. “What are you talking about?”
“He’s cut me off pretty good.”
“Did you and he have an argument?”
“We didn’t have nothin, Murdoch. He just practically stopped speaking to me ever since…”
Catherine entered the room and walked over to them. “Since I came.” She stopped beside Johnny. “Isn’t that what you were going to say?”
Johnny looked from one to the other. “Something about all of this has him in knots.”
Murdoch was still frowning. “What do you mean?”
“He acts mad, but it’s hurt.”
Catherine cocked her head at the observation. “How do you know?”
Johnny ducked his head a little. “Just do, ma’am. My brother’s all twisted up inside about somethin’ and he won’t let me or anyone else help.”
* * * * *
Scott sat in his room reading, and re-reading, the same page in his book. He laid it down on his lap and rubbed a hand over his face in frustration. What was he doing? Maybe Johnny was… A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts. He went over and opened it, knowing from the polite knock who he would find there.
“Good evening,” Catherine said brightly. “May I come in?”
Scott waved vaguely back at his room. “Actually, I was just getting ready to turn…”
“Thank you.” Catherine brushed past him.
Scott stopped mid-wave. “But never mind my plans. Come right in.”
She turned around to face him. “Since you refuse to talk to Catherine Lancer, I thought I would send Sarah Carter up instead.”
Scott crossed his arms. “Pardon me if I don’t see the difference.”
“What the hell is going on with you?!”
His brows shot up. “Ah. So that’s the difference.”
“The difference is that Sarah is not anyone’s mother.”
Scott frowned. “And that’s supposed to help?”
“You tell me. If you had found a total stranger in Deermont, but I had still fallen in love and married your father, would we have a problem?”
He didn’t answer for a minute. She was still standing with her hands on her hips, waiting. “But you aren’t a stranger. You are Catherine Garrett Lancer, Murdoch’s true love.”
She frowned in confusion. “Why is that such a problem?”
“It’s not. He deserves to be happy.”
“So, it’s alright that I’m his wife, but not alright that I’m your mother.”
Scott put his own hands on his hips. “I’ve had a long day. Could we please continue this at a more reasonable hour?”
“Of course. Give me a better time.”
He huffed a sarcastic laugh. “Do you and Johnny compare notes?”
“What does Johnny have to do with this? Other than being hurt that you, how did he put it, ‘cut him out’. He’s confused by the rift you’ve made between the two of you.”
Scott lost his temper at that. “I’m not the one who…” With an effort he cut himself off and regained control. “Please, Sarah, or Catherine, or whoever, I have a long day tomorrow. I would like to turn in.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “A long day of avoiding everyone. But at least I know you can say my name.”
Scott abruptly wilted and sat on the bed. “What do you want from me?”
She knelt down in front of him and took his hands. “I want you to let someone help sort out what’s making you twisted up inside.”
His head came up in surprise at the word. “Twisted?”
“Your brother’s words.”
Scott stood and went to the window. “My brother.”
Catherine came and stood behind him. “Scott. How has my being here come between you? On the road you intimated that if it came down to it, you would choose him over a mother you didn’t know. But you’re not choosing either of us. You’re rejecting both of us.”
Scott turned around at that. “Is that what he thinks?”
“From your interactions lately, what is he supposed to think?” She sighed. “How have I caused this?”
Scott looked down but didn’t answer.
He looked back up at her seriously. “I’ll talk to him.” At her skeptical expression he added. “My word.”
She took his hand again and gave a little squeeze. “Alright. Goodnight.”
After she had left, he stared at the closed door. “Goodnight, Mother.”
* * * * *
The next afternoon, Scott rode in to find Johnny waiting by the hitching post. He started to dismount.
“Might as well stay in the saddle,” his brother drawled.
Scott sat back. “Are we going somewhere?”
“Yup.” Johnny vaulted onto his horse.
“Do I get a say in it?”
They rode in silence to the top of a hill. Without explanation, Johnny pulled up and hopped off of Barranca. He took his saddlebags and settled himself on the grass. After a minute or so, Scott blew out his breath and got down as well.
“So. What are we here to do?”
Johnny pulled a bottle out of the saddlebag and held it up. “Drink.”
Scott sat on the ground a couple of feet away. “And…?”
Retrieving two glasses from the bags as well, Johnny poured some in both, then handed one to Scott. “Toast.”
“To what are we toasting?”
Johnny leaned back against the hill as if he hadn’t a care in the world. “I picked the spot. You pick the toast.”
Scott shook his head, then looked down into his glass. “Well, I suppose there’s always, to Lancer. The most beautiful place in the whole wide world.”
Johnny reached over and tapped his glass and they both took a sip.
Scott raised his brows. “Does Murdoch know you stole his best malt whiskey?”
Johnny just grinned at him.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, looking out over the ranch. Scott gave a small smile. “It is a nice spot.”
“I come here sometimes.”
“Is this, ah, where you and Murdoch came?”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah. He said Mama liked it.”
“I can see why.”
Johnny laid all the way back and peered up at the sky. “Not enough, I reckon.” He paused. “Of course, I figure if she’d stayed it woulda made things kinda awkward…with Catherine alive and all.” He paused again, but Scott made no comment. “But if Murdoch had known Catherine was alive, you wouldn’t be stuck with a gunhawk brother.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Wasn’t meant to be.”
“Then what was it meant to be?”
“Just a fact. If they were supposed to be together, then I wasn’t supposed to be born. They probably would’ve had more kids. All growin’ up happy on Lancer…”
Scott’s brows furrowed in anger. “Johnny, stop it.”
“It’s hard, ain’t it? Getting slapped in the face with what shoulda been.”
“I said, stop it.”
“It’s what you think, isn’t it?”
Scott stared at him in shock. “How can you say that? You’re my brother.”
“I used to be. Before your mama showed up.”
Scott jumped to his feet and hurled the glass away from him. “Damn it! What am I …I hate this. I hate it that it’s changed everything.” He turned away from Johnny and blew out his breath.
Johnny sat up, slowly rolling the glass around in his hand. “So, things are gonna be different between us now?”
Again, Scott didn’t answer. He put his hands on his hips and looked down.
Johnny pulled his knees up and rocked a little. “Kinda hurts.”
“It hurts a lot,” Scott said to the ground.
Johnny looked up at that. “Then why are we letting it happen?” He stared at Scott’s back. “Talk to me, Brother. You seemed so happy to have her here.”
“I was. I am.”
“But now I have a mother.”
Scott’s shoulders and voice both dropped. “And you don’t.”
Johnny blinked. Then he gave a small laugh. “Oh.”
Scott turned back to him. “Something funny?”
“Just that I sat on this same hill with Murdoch and whined about the same thing. About how you having a mama made things feel…” he trailed off, apparently unable to find a word.
Scott sat back down. “Like half- brothers. For the first time, that’s what it feels like.”
Johnny looked at him. “The first time? That first day I don’t think we felt much like anything.”
“No, but at least it was the same. We were both meeting our father for essentially the first time. Both on equal footing.”
“Huh. That’s kinda what I told him the other day. The only thing we had in common is him and no mother. But now you do and it felt like we were…”
Johnny shook his head and smiled. “And here I thought I was the only one around here so messed up.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?”
They both looked out at the view for a bit. Johnny picked a piece of grass and began pulling it apart. “So, what are we gonna do?”
“It’s not fair to blame…her, for our issues. What conclusion did you and Murdoch come to?”
“He said he wouldn’t marry her if it really bothered me.”
Scott’s head whipped around. “But they did.”
Johnny shrugged. “I told him that bein willing to do something like that for me was enough. Made it seem like I was still part of things.”
“And what have I made you feel like?”
“Ain’t me you been cutting out of the family. It’s you.”
Scott sighed. “I know. It’s a bad habit.”
“Murdoch told me once that when I get hurt, I turn to Madrid. When he gets hurt, he turns back into an ass. I reckon when you get hurt you crawl inside yourself.”
Scott blinked. A couple of times. “An ass? He said that?”
Johnny grinned at him again.
“But you’re right. It’s easier to crawl into a hole and pretend to feel nothing than to feel discomfort.”
Johnny nudged him with his arm. “You sure we ain’t full brothers? Sometimes we’re more alike than different.”
Scott took a breath and said matter of factly, “Yes. Yes, we are.”
Johnny raised his glass in agreement.
“Oops!” Scott’s eyes darted around the ground. “Just a minute.” He retrieved the glass, and after blowing grass off of it, held it out for a refill. “Brothers?”
“Brothers.” They tapped glasses again and drank. “So, what about Catherine?”
“I promised her I would talk to you. So now I guess I need to promise you I’ll talk to her.”
“You promised her…?” Johnny sputtered. “Then how come I had to drag your butt up here?”
“I suppose because I hadn’t crawled out of my hole yet…Thank you. For dragging my butt up here.” He took another sip. “And for stealing Murdoch’s best whiskey.”
Johnny smiled. “I don’t think he’ll mind the investment.” He finished the contents of his glass. “You know what you’re gonna say to her?”
“What about what you’re gonna call her?”
Scott looked at him in surprise.
“You know. Ma’am this and ma’am that.”
“That obvious, is it?”
Scott held up his glass and looked at the remaining liquid. “Maybe if we finish all of this bottle it won’t be so hard.”
Johnny grinned more. “Not today. Tomorrow morning might be a different story.”
“So, I can count on you to save me from myself?”
Johnny tapped their glasses one last time, then put the bottle away. “Yup.”
Scott eyed the saddlebag. “One more for the road?”
Scott reached over and mussed his brother’s hair. Johnny responded by backhanding Scott’s belly. Then he stood and held out his hand. “C’mon, Boston. We can probably still make it to dinner if we hurry.”
He hauled Scott to his feet and they headed for the horses.
* * * * *
After dinner, Scott stood in the kitchen door, watching the two women clean up the dishes. He caught Teresa’s eye and nodded his head back towards the other room. She smiled in understanding and left.
Catherine watched in confusion as she left the room, then turned and saw Scott. “Oh. Hello.”
“I…” He took a calming breath. “I talked to Johnny.”
She didn’t seem surprised. “Since you came to dinner practically hanging off each other, I assumed something had changed. What did he say?”
“He said that I should talk to you.”
She put down her towel and sat at the table expectantly.
Scott gave a small smile and sat as well. He looked around the room for a moment. “I like this kitchen.”
“I do too.”
“It would have been nice to have grown up here in this room with my brother and sister.”
Catherine looked at him curiously at this opening but didn’t interrupt.
“But I didn’t. I grew up on the other side of the continent.” He paused. “I know we said becoming a family wasn’t always easy…”
“Or instant. I remember.”
“And it wasn’t. We are three very proud independent men who don’t find it easy to depend on anyone else. And poor Teresa trapped in the middle of it all.”
Again, Catherine waited for him to continue.
“The only thing we had in common, was that we were alone. Johnny’s and my backgrounds and circumstances couldn’t have been more different. And yet in a way that very fact gave us equal footing. We were the only two men in the world who knew what it was like to come here and meet our father…that and we were both motherless.”
Catherine leaned back in her chair. “Teresa said almost the same thing shortly after I came. She said all of you only had Murdoch – and now you had me.”
Scott nodded. “Johnny said he told Murdoch the same thing as well.”
“Teresa was trying not to be jealous.”
“Johnny is feeling more like he should never have been born.” Scott felt sorry for the sad expression on her face at that, but he had to finish this. “Suddenly we’re all different again. And I don’t like that. Plus…” He wasn’t sure how to say this next part.
“After the war…so many didn’t come home. But I did. It was hard in a way that’s difficult to explain…Why me? Those men were just as deserving…” Scott looked her in the eye. “I don’t know exactly why, but that’s what this feels like. Why do I get to have two parents that adore each other and not them? Johnny deserves…” He choked off. He swallowed and continued. “It’s why I can’t…We all call Murdoch the same thing. And I just don’t…” He sighed in frustration.
She leaned forward again. “You can call me Catherine, as they do.”
Scott’s voice was quiet. “But that’s not what I want to say.”
She took his hand. “You think calling me Mother will separate you from your brother.”
“Murdoch is our father. It’s our bond. But you’re not his mother. It just highlights the fact that…Am I making any sense?”
“I think so. And I’m so sorry that my being here is causing this.” She started to pull her hand away, but Scott held onto it.
“No. I’m not blaming you or anyone. It’s not anyone’s fault.”
“But it still is causing you pain. And that’s the last thing a mother wants to do…From my perspective, you all look about the same. I still don’t remember your birth, so it’s not strange to not remember theirs. I want to love you all as my sons and daughter…whatever you call me.” She gave a mock frown. “As long as it isn’t Ma’am for the rest of my life.” She cocked her head in the same way this son often did. “What does Johnny call you?”
Scott paused at this seeming change in topic. “Scott if I’m lucky. Boston when the mood strikes him.”
“Does anyone else call you that?”
“No, it’s just his…” Scott’s expression cleared as he grasped her point.
“So, his calling you a special name brings you closer, but it doesn’t hurt your relationship with anyone else.”
“And he doesn’t say it all the time. Not nearly as often as he used to.”
Catherine smiled warmly. “I would love to hear ‘Mother’ now and then from any of you. But being called my true name after so many years sounds wonderful too. Besides the fact that calling me Catherine, the same way you refer to your father by name has its own merits.”
Scott’s smile matched hers. “Just the Lancer way?”
“Something like that.”
He dropped his eyes sheepishly. “It all sounds so trivial when said out loud.”
“Perhaps we should start with saying it out loud first next time. But, no, I don’t think it’s trivial. The relationship you and your brother have is worth defending. Especially after waiting your whole life for it.”
He squeezed her hand. “I said it before and I’ll say it again. You are quite a woman.”
“Scott, as I said, to me Johnny is one of my children. I agree he deserves a complete family as much as you do. I don’t know how he feels, but for my part, I intend for him to have one.”
“Teresa never knew her mother growing up. We all met her when she suddenly showed up last year and tried to claim her. It was a pretty upsetting situation, so I don’t think she has pleasant memories to compete with loving you.”
It was not his place to share things Johnny had confided in him. “I know he knew her… It may be more difficult for him.”
“Thank you for the insight…And thank you for talking to me. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s not easy for you to open up and share your feelings.”
“No. I’m the biggest hypocrite in the clan. Always striving to bridge the gap between other people, but not voluntarily stepping onto that bridge myself.”
“A Garrett upbringing has definite disadvantages. ‘Show no weakness’.”
She imitated his grandfather’s tone so well, he had to grin. “I’m afraid we can’t lay that all at Grandfather’s feet. ‘Show no weakness’ may as well be on the Lancer coat of arms.”
Her brows shot up in sympathy. “Goodness! How do you manage with such a double dose of inherited stubborn?”
“Not so well, sometimes, it seems. But better now,” he told her seriously.
She took his hand in both of hers. “Your father is quite right. You are an amazing man.”
Scott blinked at this revelation but couldn’t think how to respond.
Catherine stood up. “Now, I had better finish cleaning up this kitchen we both like so well.”
Scott stood as well and took her hand again before she could move away. Then he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
She touched her cheek in wonder as she watched him leave.
* * * * *
Scott entered the Great Room and found the other members of the family trying hard to not look like they were waiting for him. Murdoch had a glass of brandy in his hand and Johnny was sitting on the arm of the couch, chewing something. Teresa smiled as she passed him and headed back to the kitchen.
Scott nodded his head at his father’s glass. “I think I’ll have one of those.”
Murdoch poured him a drink and handed it over. After a second, he poured another and held it out to his other son. Johnny hurriedly finished what he was eating and took the glass.
Scott raised his up. “To Lancer. The most interesting, complicated and wonderful family in the whole wide world.”
Johnny held his up with a grin. “I’ll drink to that, Boston.”
Murdoch smiled as well and tapped their glasses. “I couldn’t have said it better, Son. I couldn’t have said it better.”
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