Word Count 3,412
Johnny was sick, sick of his room, sick of having to stay home, and sick of Sam telling him he is not well yet. ‘What’s a bump on the head, or concussion as Sam calls it. Couple of broken ribs ain’t nuthin’ either. Ya can’t break horses without a few bumps.’ Johnny sat in his room cleaning his gun for what seemed to him fifty times since he was laid up. Picking up the rags and oil he happened to glance at the cover of his journal Scott had convinced him to keep. Scott had it lettered on the front with his name “Johnny Lancer” and his birthday “December 23rd”.
‘Hey, it’s my birthday today. I wonder why no one mentioned it at breakfast. Well, I know that everyone‘s busy, what with Christmas and all, but seems someone could wish me a happy birthday.’ Johnny left his room and headed downstairs to the great room.
Murdoch was at his desk working in the books. Without looking up, he knew Johnny had started pacing the room, a habit his picked up when something was bothering him.
“Howdy my son. How are you feeling this morning? Those ribs bothering you?”
“No sir. I wish Sam would cut me loose. I’m bored doing nothin’ all day. I read some, but my eyes were hurting, and I even cleaned my room. I can’t even ride Barranca with all you mother hens pecking at me.”
“You can come here and I’ll teach you to tally the books. You’ll have to learn some day.”
“I ain’t THAT bored. I guess everyone’s busy getting’ ready for Christmas, huh? It’s only two days away.” Johnny hoped his father would remember his birthday. He got no reaction.
At that moment, Teresa entered. “Hi Johnny. I’m headed to Aggie’s to help her with some of the flower arrangements for the church, and to finish up the gift wrapping for the children at the orphanage. Don’t track mud and hay from the barn into the house. Everything is clean.”
“Aw, Teresa I won’t. Don’t fuss. Can I help ya with anything? I could drive ya to Aggie’s.”
Teresa reached and kissed Johnny on the cheek. “No thank you Johnny. Walt is taking me. Now, be good.” With that she went to Murdoch, giving him a kiss as well. Any hope Teresa would wish Johnny happy birthday ended.
‘I know, I’ll go see Maria. She helped Sam when he delivered me. I bet she’ll remember what today is.’ He headed to the kitchen.
“Hey Mamacita, sure smells good in here. Do ya know today is?”
Wiping her hands on her towel she turned to look at him. “Yes I do Nino. It’s bread baking day, so why are you in my kitchen?”
“No reason, just wanted to say hi.” Johnny waited in vain.
Maria felt sorry for him. She cut a large piece of fresh baked bread, slathered it with butter and handed to him. “Take this, and leave my kitchen.” She gave him a peck on the cheek. “Go.”
Johnny wandered back to the great room. He ran into Scott coming through the side door. ‘Boston, he’ll remember for sure.’ Finishing his bread and wiping the remaining butter from his hands on his pants, he approached Scott. “Hey brother, how’s it going?”
“Not bad brother, especially since I’m doing my work and yours. I’ll be glad when Sam clears you for work. Here’s the list of supplies we need from Baldemaro’s Sir. I’m taking Cipriano with me to choose our tree. Christmas will be here before we know it. Johnny, stay out of trouble.” Scott left the room, leaving Johnny with a disheartened look. ‘Wow, even Scott forgot!’
Murdoch was taking pity on his youngest. “John, I understand you are bored, and while I don’t mean to ignore you, I really need to concentrate on these books. I’m going to bend Sam’s rules just a bit. Scott needs these supplies from town. It’s not a lot so you can take the buck board. Before you ask, you cannot take Barranca. It’s the buckboard or nothing, and I don’t want you running those horses. Keep it at a slow pace, understood? I need you to wait for the order, as well as the mail. Go visit with Val for a bit.”
“Really, I can go? Thanks Pa.” Johnny rushed to the door, grabbing his rig, hat and jacket.
Johnny rode into town bringing Scott’s list to Mr. Baldemero, telling him he will be back later after the mail arrives. He left the store, heading to the sheriff’s office to see his amigo Val Crawford. When he got to the office he was met by the young deputy Caleb. “Hi Johnny, how ya been? I ain’t seen you in a while.”
“I got kinda banged up breaking a horse. This is my first time out since then. So where’s Val?”
“I don’t know. He seemed in a big hurry; said he had to take care of something, and I was the law til he got back.”
Well if he ain’t back before I leave, tell him I’ll catch him later. See ya Caleb”. Johnny left the office. ‘I wonder what’s up with him. ‘Oh well, long as I’m here, might as well go see Sam, so he can fuss. Hey! He delivered me. Surely he must know it’s my birthday.’
Johnny walked to the doctor’s home, but found a note saying he was on rounds, and Mrs. Crenshaw is available if anything comes up. ‘Well that takes care of that. I guess I’ll do my own celebrating my kinda way. Happy birthday to me!’
Johnny headed to the Gilded Rose. It was early so the place was near empty. He walked in and sat at the far table, his back to the wall. He asked the bartender for tequila. The bartender brought a bottle and two glasses. Johnny looked up, a bit confused until he saw Nancy Ann, the buxom red headed owner heading to his table.
“Well Johnny Lancer, I do declare. I haven’t seen you or that handsome brother of yours in ages.” Nancy Ann sat & poured them both a shot of tequila. “It’s a little early for you to be sitting here drinking. You look like you lost your best friend. Are things okay at home?”
“Yeah, no, not really; actually I’m celebrating. Today’s my birthday. Seems my family’s busy getting ready for Christmas and I guess my birthday slipped their minds. I ain’t a kid. I’m not looking for presents, but it would be nice to be wished a happy birthday. Hell when I was a kid there wasn’t any presents, but my mother would cook a special meal for me, and she’d sing this silly birthday song. I guess I shouldn’t complain. They have given me so much already. I don’t know why this is bothering me. It’s silly I know, but I would still like to hear it.” Nancy Ann felt sorry for her young friend.
“Well darling, let’s raise a glass to your birthday. Happy birthday Johnny Lancer. May you have many more.” Nancy Ann reached over and gave him a kiss.
“Well I got time til the mail arrives. Are any of the girls awake yet?” He reached for the bottle but Nancy Ann put her hand on his in a motherly fashion, moving the bottle from his reach.
“Oh darling, we had a big holiday party last night and the girls just got to sleep. I’m sorry.”
“You busy right now?” His eyes were twinkling with mischief.
“Johnny Lancer! Murdoch would close me down and run me out of town if I did that.”
“I won’t tell if you won’t.” He gave her one of his brightest smiles.
“Why sir, you want to tarnish the reputation of this genteel flower of the south? Mercy me.”
Johnny and Nancy Ann enjoyed a laugh together. They stood and she gave Johnny a hug and a kiss. “Happy birthday again sweetheart; now I hear the stage. It is on time for a change. Let me just wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.”
Johnny left picked up the mail and got the buckboard from Mr. Baldemero. He headed home.
At the ranch while Johnny was in town:
As soon as Johnny was out of site Scott went into Lt. Lancer mode. “Cipriano, let’s get the tree from the storage barn and get it into the house. We’ll have to hurry to get this tree up and decorated. Jelly can you please take the carriage to pick up Teresa and Aggie? Maria, Mateo and Jose are ready to go get the turkey and other dishes you ladies have stashed at Consuela’s. Sir, will you be okay getting the decorations from the attic? I can ask one of the men to help.”
“No son, I’ll be fine, but thank you for the offer.”
Murdoch, Cipriano and Jelly were smiling listening to Scott issuing assignments. “Boss, do ya think that boy was that bossy in the Army? He needs ta stop and take a breath. He’s gonna wear out his lungs.”
“I suppose so Jelly. He organized this and I guess he wants to make sure it all goes well.”
Scott turned and saw the three older men chatting. “What’s everyone standing around for? We have lots of work to do.” The men broke and left to attend to their assigned duties.
Scott and Cipriano brought the huge tree in, and set it in the corner of the great room, making sure it was standing straight. About that time Murdoch entered the room with another load of boxes. “Well son, this is a great tree, really big and full. You picked a winner.”
“Thank you Sir. And thank you too for your help Cip.”
“De Nada.” Smiling, Cipriano left to check on the crews out in various locations on the ranch.
Hearing a commotion in the kitchen, it was evident Maria, Consuela, and her niece Sofia were back. The turkey and the side dishes were leaving a wonderful aroma to the house. The ladies were chattering in rapid Spanish.
“Son, I don’t think it would be a good idea to go into the kitchen just now.” About that time a knock was heard at the door so Murdoch opened the door to see his old friend Dr. Sam Jenkins, being followed closely by Sheriff Val Crawford. “Well gentlemen welcome in. You are just in time to help decorate the tree, but first, how about a drink.”
At Aggie Conway’s ranch:
Teresa was putting the finishing touches on a large chocolate cake. “Thank you so much for letting me do my baking here. If Johnny smelled chocolate cake, there would be no getting rid of him. Do you need me to help you with anything? I’m finishing up the cake now.”
“Teresa dear, I love to have you visit. It was nice having another lady to talk to in the kitchen. I have just finished the apple pie, so we should be all set when Murdoch sends someone to pick us up. Excuse me, my dear. I’ll just need to pop out for a few minutes to let Grant know where I’ll be if something comes up. Oh, and I have to get Johnny’s gift from the closet.” From the window Teresa saw Jelly driving up in the carriage. After everything was loaded, Jelly was ready to return to the ranch.
Heading back home:
Johnny left town, heading home. ‘Today was sure not my day. Everyone at home forgot my birthday; Val’s not here, Sam’s out doctoring, I didn’t even have any luck at Nancy Ann’s. Oh well, guess we better head home, horse.’ As he rode, Johnny stopped to look at the far off mountains capped with snow. ‘Guess Scott is gonna wish for a white Christmas again. I think he’s sad we don’t have snow like he had in Boston, but I sure ain’t complaining.’ As Johnny continued toward the ranch, he started quietly singing his mother’s version of Las Mananitas. “I love ya Mama. I wish we coulda had more birthdays together.”
Back in the great room:
Family and friends were all helping to decorate the tree, well almost everyone. Aggie’s eye for beauty made her a big help. She and Teresa were placing ornaments just so. Scott was behind the tree adding some to the back side. Sam tried his hand at it and was doing quite well. Val stood shaking his head at all the activity at the tree.
“Miz Teresa I ain’t ever seen so many little fancy dangly doo dads in my life. I’m afraid I might drop em. Don’t y’all have somethin’ else I can do ta help out?” Val was looking so hopeful.
Scott took pity on their friend. “Val, you can go see if Jelly needs help with anything, but stay clean. Oh and you can brush Barranca down. Murdoch wouldn’t let Johnny ride him to town & I think he is feeling lonely.” Val nodded and was out the door in a flash, leaving the room laughing.
The tree was finally trimmed, and it looked gorgeous. The boxes were put back into storage and things were just about ready for Johnny’s return. Gifts for Johnny were placed on the table by the couch. Scott had a few more instructions to hand out. “Jelly, you and Val did a great job hiding Sam’s buggy, and Val thanks for taking your horse out of sight. We don’t want to spoil the surprise.” Jelly’s chest puffed up, and Val just nodded to Scott. “I’ve asked Walt to take the buckboard from Johnny when he gets here; he’ll tell Johnny he’ll get it unloaded. We need to draw the drapes on the windows in the great room. Johnny usually comes in the front door to hang his rig and hat. Hopefully he has become a creature of habit. We’ll all gather in the great room with the doors shut. If I know my little brother, curiosity will lead him to open the closed doors. When he opens the door we’ll all greet him, and wish him a happy birthday. This plan should go off without a hitch.”
Scott was proud of himself how he planned this celebration without his brother finding out. Val was grinning and shaking his head. “Well, If we all gonna jump out and scare the kid, I sure hope he hangs up his rig before he opens this door.” Val got a laugh from the room. Scott served drinks to all as they waited for the man of the hour.
Johnny pulled the wagon near the front door, but he decided he would go to the back to unload Scott’s supplies. Walt stopped him. “Hey Johnny, climb down. Scott wanted me to take some of these supplies to him. I’ll take the buckboard to him.” Johnny hopped down and felt his ribs protest a bit. “Thanks Walt, I owe ya.” Johnny headed to the front door but was stopped by Walt who was holding the mail. “Don’t forget this. I’ll see ya Johnny.”
‘Well I guess I’ll head in now.’ Entering the room, he hung his hat and rig at the door. “Hey I’m home. Hello, anybody here? ‘Now I wonder where everybody got off to.’ His thoughts were interrupted as he noticed the doors to the great room shut. He walked to the door and knocked lightly but got no response. ‘Well, I guess I’ll go get me a birthday drink, maybe two.’
The guest arrives:
The occupants in the room were anticipating the arrival their guest. Scott had refilled everyone’s drink as they waited. Maria and Cipriano had been asked to join as well. The door opened and Johnny started in. He was startled to see a room full of people who, in unison shouted “Happy Birthday Johnny.” Johnny stood where he was; his mouth open a bit but not a sound was heard. He found his voice. “Y’all remembered my birthday? I thought everyone forgot.”
Murdoch was first to speak. “We would never do that son.” He walked over and gave his son a warm hug. Johnny winced just a bit, but it did not escape Sam’s keen eyes. “I saw that young man. I told you those ribs were not fully healed.” Sam was shaking his head at his young charge. “Aw, don’t fuss Sam. I’m fine. I just jumped off the buckboard & it kinda woke em up.” I wanna go say hi to everybody.” Aggie was next. “Happy birthday my dear.” She kissed his cheek. “Thanks Miz Aggie.” He felt a hand grab the back of his neck. “Well amigo, ya another year older but no wiser I see, happy birthday.” Johnny turned to see his friend Val grinning at him. “Well thank ya Val. Pretty soon I’ll be old like you.” Val held up one finger as a warning.
Johnny continued to make his way around the room but saved his brother for last. He walked to Scott grinning. “It was you weren’t it? You put all this together, running me around on a wild goose chase, making me think everyone forgot?” Scott ruffled his brother’s hair. “Yes, little brother it was. I wanted to give you a nice surprise, unlike some of the ones you pull on me. Happy birthday Johnny.” The brothers hugged as Murdoch announced. “Son, we have gifts for you over on the table here, but I think we should all eat supper first.” Johnny’s stomach growled loudly. “Okay by me. I’m starved!”
Family and friends gathered for the feast the ladies provided. After the meal, Teresa brought in a large chocolate cake. “This is your gift from me Johnny. I hope you like it.” She smiled and set the cake down. “Wow, for me Teresa? Thanks, but what are y’all gonna have for desert?” After the laughter die down, Johnny noticed the three candles on his cake. “Well this is nice, but I think I’m a little older than three.” Val snorted. It’s about how ya act sometimes.” He elbowed his friend. “Very funny Val.” Murdoch explained the three candles. “Son the three candles represent the past, present & future. Now make a wish and blow out the candles.”
Cake and coffee were served, and Maria was sure to bring a large glass of cold milk for her Niño. Everyone headed back to the great room. Johnny looked at all the gifts on the table and seemed a bit embarrassed. “All these for me?” Johnny was just staring at the wrapped gifts when Jelly spoke up. “Well hurry up there boy. Ya just gonna stare at em all night?” Johnny dug into the gifts, thanking each person as he opened his or her gift. “I can’t thank y’all enough for all my gifts. I won’t need anything for Christmas.” Murdoch gave Johnny a pat on the shoulder. “No son. These are birthday gifts, not to be confused with Christmas gifts.”
Johnny looked around the room at his family and friends, thinking how lucky he was to now be a part of a family and enjoy friends. His former life was such a solitary life, never letting his guard down. For if he did, he would be dead. He grew quiet and seemed to have unshed tears.
“I wanna say something to everyone in the room. Thank y’all for remembering and celebrating my birthday. I love my presents, but there is a different kinda presents. Scott taught me this. The presents are nice but what matters most to me is your presence here with me. Did I get it right Scott?” Scott grabbed Johnny in a hug. “Yes, you got it just right little brother.” After some tears were shed, everyone gathered around the tree. Aggie started singing a Christmas tune, and soon everyone joined in, and the evening was spent singing Christmas carols.
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2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to Me by Barbara V.”
Oh, poor Johnny! He thought his family had forgotten his birthday! Well, Nancy Anne remembered, then the big surprise when he arrived home. It’s fun to watch Madrid deal with family! Thanks for sharig, Sis!
Thank you. I am happy you enjoyed it. Couldn’t let Johnny go without his birthday. Thanks again, Sis.