Word Count 1,218
A December Calendar Story for Lancer Writers
Thanks to Cat, Rob, and Sandy
New Year’s Eve 1870
It would be midnight soon, and he knew he should go back to the estancia before the ol’ man sent Scott out to look for him. But he needed this time for reflection and to pull the scattered thoughts together before confronting the ‘organized fun’ Murdoch and Teresa arranged to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Another custom unfamiliar to Johnny.
Hell, every other New Year’s I spent in a saloon or cantina. Just another night… It crossed his mind not to show up. Don’t think they’d appreciate it if I… no. Can’t do that ta them. I guess they want me with them… Don’t know why.
Johnny Madrid Lancer sighed. Changes, there’d been many this last year; life-altering changes, and on more than one occasion, he’d been close to running. This family stuff is hard… Yes, it was hard, but he had to admit it was beginning to be worth the effort.
He had no idea how it happened. But it did. It was unexpected, and it made his brain scramble around in circles, and it was unsettling that Johnny Madrid let it happen. How had Johnny Lancer come to be the person he was now, with Madrid lingering in the background? More puzzling was the fact that he was alright with it.
This last year reshaped the gunfighter’s life; the reason for those changes was Lancer. Lancer. The name he hated growing up. But now, the name and the place added a new dimension, an extension of who Johnny was but the man he’d been all along. He just hadn’t known it. And now, here he was, a man with a home and a family and third owner of the largest spread in the San Joaquin Valley, and it had been there waiting for him all those lonely years.
Johnny smiled, thinking about his brother, the brother he never knew existed, the brother who had not known about him. The brother he’d grown to appreciate and admire, to respect and trust. The brother he’d come to love. When it happened, Johnny didn’t know, but without warning, those feelings were there, and they were strong. And they threw him into unchartered territory, unfamiliar but… comforting, and once he gave it a chance, he welcomed those feelings.
Huh, Johnny thought with a grin tugging the corner of his mouth, Johnny Madrid’s got a brother! Changes.
The changes over this last year had been a challenge, the largest of which was getting used to someone else ‘calling the tune’. All his life, Johnny had been his own man, not answering to anyone. And he fought hard against the temptation to leave, to tell the ol’ man what he could do with his precious ranch. And before Johnny could make heads or tails of the situation, it had become his precious ranch, too. Changes.
Barranca tossed his head, sending the long, creamy mane in a soft flurry, and Johnny patted the sleek neck and smiled. Barranca was the best horse he ever owned. He was obedient and loyal, better than most human amigos. And it was because of Lancer that Barranca was his.
And as he sat in the saddle on the hill overlooking the grand estancia below, surrounded by the horses and carriages of the guests inside those thick walls, his eyes were drawn to the stars, intense and sparkling in the cold night. The waning crescent moon, silvery bright in its ebb, was suspended in the sky like one of Teresa’s ornaments on the tree she decorated. Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Changes.
He drew in a deep breath, then let it go in a slow stream of vapor. Setting a heel in a gentle nudge to Barranca’s side, he guided the steed down the hill, and his apprehensions grew as the lights from inside cast a warm glow onto the snow-covered ground. And soon, Johnny could hear the strains of music and cheer that floated out into the chilled night air. He caught glimpses of folks through the windows whirling around, dancing in their celebration. He closed his eyes, not looking forward to mingling with folks in his father’s house that, he was sure, might resent a gunfighter in their midst; then he headed for the barn.
But, for a reason Johnny couldn’t name, Murdoch wanted him there, as did Scott and Teresa. The thought of rubbing shoulders with those who, in the recent past, made no effort to hide the apprehensions they held for gunfighters made him uneasy. But he would go, misgivings and all, he would be there. He owed his family that much.
“Ya like that, don’tcha?” Johnny whispered as he brushed the horse, and Barranca leaned into the touch. “Ya warm enough out here, amigo? This cold snap’s got me shiverin’ inside my clothes! Dios, if I’da known it was gonna be this cold, I’da stayed in Mexico!” Johnny chuckled.
Finished with the golden coat, Johnny sighed. “Well, put this off as long as I can. Better go get it over with. ‘Night, Barranca.” And with a final stroke to the velvet nose, Johnny left the barn.
He remembered Murdoch saying that it didn’t often snow in the San Joaquin Valley. Still, somehow, at this time, on this night, it seemed to fit— another change.
Halfway across the yard covered in the thin mantle of delicate crystals that glittered like diamonds, Johnny again gazed above. The magnificent sky blazed in all its glory. “That’s one thing that ain’t changed,” he murmured to himself, then continued. But he stopped as he picked up a scent in the air. Maria’s cookin’! It set his mouth to water and was as near to Heaven as he figured he would ever get. And it wasn’t until that moment that Johnny realized just how hungry he was. Wonder if she made any tamales? Sure would taste good! Them cinnamon cookies, too! He kicked at the blanket of powdery snow as he scanned the line of horses at the hitch rails as they rested on three legs, the fourth leg bent in relaxation.
Johnny now slowed his pace, wondering if he should enter and interrupt Murdoch’s fandango… “Well, would’ya look at that! That’s Jason Colvin’s horse, and he owes me some money!” Johnny grinned, thinking about the twenty dollars that would soon be tucked in his pocket. Hope Scott don’t see it… I owe him twenty bucks! And Johnny couldn’t help the chuckle that bubbled up from inside him.
Almost to the door, he halted his steps. “Hey, that’s Val’s horse!Didn’t know he was gonna be here! An’ if Val’s here, it must mean that the ol’ man’s broke out the good tequila!” he said to himself. And Johnny’s anxieties began to fade, and he stopped again, this time in reverence. Slowly he turned to look around, taking in the estancia, the front door draped in pine boughs and red bows, the barns and corrals, the horses in those corrals, and the hills beyond. And he laughed. It’s been a helluva year! Got a family an’ friends… an’ a home!
Changes, and this time for the good.
Happy New Year to all in the Lancer Fandom.
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