Thanks to Sandy for the beta
In My Father’s House Challenge – Episode Tag for The High Riders
Flashes of lightning streaked across the room, bright as fire, hot and deadly. Thunder rolled in endless rumbles with sudden ear-splitting blasts. If the storm hadn’t woke him, the nightmares would have. Rain assaulted the windows, sounding like stones hitting against the glass.
The bed was the most comfortable he’d ever had, but that, too, kept him awake, thinking it was a dream, and when he opened his eyes, it would be gone. Vanish, just as anything good in his life had. Just a dream, he didn’t deserve this luxury, not with the things he’d done before answering his father’s request for help. How long would it take before it would crumble and fall apart, and these comforts would vanish as if it had been a dream?
Mulling the question over in his mind, Johnny Madrid knew it would come to an end, sooner or later. Why the hell was he still here in his father’s house? He should have been gone days ago, but the bullet wound in his back prevented him from leaving.
What are ya waitin’ for, Madrid? This ain’t gonna last, an’ ya know it! The ol’ man’ll boot ya outta here so fast it’ll make your head spin.
Filled with apprehensions, he threw the covers aside and ignored the pain that spread across his back from the bullet, compliments of Day Pardee, in his attempt to take over Lancer. Tonight he would walk around with no one to hover, asking him if he was alright. He needed to move, so he would. Johnny slowly left the bed and made his way to the wardrobe where he knew Teresa had put his cleaned clothes. He pulled on the heavy wooden door and retrieved his calzoneras and shirt, then struggled into them.
Johnny stopped to lean against the dresser, waiting out the dizzy spell that left him panting and wiped the cold sweat from his brow. A pair of soft moccasins waited beside the bed, and he shoved his feet into the wooly lining, savoring the warmth they provided. Then, fighting against the weakness, Johnny pushed it aside and opened the door into the hall, the hall of his father’s house.
Lamps flooded the corridor in a soft, buttery light, easy on sleep-filled eyes, should one have been sleeping. Johnny could have laughed. He remembered telling Scott that first morning he always slept well. He didn’t think his brother believed him and really didn’t care if he did or not. Johnny Madrid wasn’t there to make friends and play nice. He’d gotten his thousand dollars from the ol’ man and had no reason to believe Murdoch would keep his word and sign over one-third of the ranch to him. Not to Johnny Madrid.
The journey down the hallway seemed to take forever. He didn’t remember it being this long before, and as he shuffled his way to the stairs, a flash of memory blazed in his brain. A man, a large man with head bowed, sat beside him, and he was whispering… what was he talking about? The tones were so low, and Johnny couldn’t make them out… Wait! It was a prayer! It was the ol’ man, prayin’! For him! He’s my son! Please don’t take him away from me again! Please! Johnny stood in shock. Musta dreamt it…
Standing at the top of the stairs, he looked down, knowing he would have to navigate them on his own. He never depended on anyone, but Madrid began to doubt his ability to get to the first floor without breaking his neck. Weak from the injury and lying in bed for the better part of two weeks had taken its toll. He closed his eyes, took as deep a breath as the stitches allowed, then slowly stepped down and down again, leaning heavily on the banister for the much-needed support.
Johnny reached the bottom and took another deep breath, then turned to look back up. He smiled, thinking he would finish the night on the couch in the great room. Nope, he wasn’t gonna do them stairs again tonight.
His tentative paces took him forward but stopped when he noticed the fire blazing, casting a welcoming light over the comfortable furniture. It was late; no one should be up. Johnny turned to scout the room he hoped would be empty but was disappointed to see that he wasn’t alone. Standing by the French doors, looking out into the storm, stood his father, only this time, the ol’ man wasn’t the same unmovable mountain he’d been earlier. This time he seemed strained, troubled.
The tall frame nearly blocked out the glass in the door as the patriarch watched the spectacular light display outside. Johnny watched in fascination as the flashes washed over the craggy face, and shadows of rain that streaked down the windows outside caused tiny, wiggling silhouetted rivers over the strained features.
Johnny was mesmerized as he watched the great Tune Caller as he looked out into the night. But there was something not quite right, and Johnny witnessed Murdoch raise his hand and brush it across his eyes. His father was crying.
Johnny remained in the shadow and watched, his fatigue forgotten as he listened when Murdoch began to speak, but this time, it wasn’t a prayer. Murdoch talked to his wife, Johnny’s mother, and Johnny felt dread wash over him. He had had a lot of time to think confined to bed as he recovered from the bullet wound.
His mother told him the ol’ man kicked them out; he didn’t want a Mexican wife or halfbreed brat. Then Teresa told him a different story, and he hesitated when the girl declared Maria had left Lancer with another man, a gambler. A spark ignited; it flared bright as if in warning. Mama liked her men… Lots of them…
And now, Johnny strained to hear the words spoken in the dark, stormy night.
“Why did you leave? Why did you take him with you? I love that boy! You knew that! Why did you want to hurt us so badly? He could have grown up here, at Lancer, and had every comfort, every advantage, but you took him away to live in poverty, having to fight for every scrap of food.
“I’ll never know why you left here. You never said, never implied you weren’t happy here. I loved you, Maria, and I know I made mistakes, but love should have conquered those mistakes. Well, I hope you can hear my words and know what’s in my heart. I’ll take care of him; I love him now just as I did when he was that little whirlwind, running wild through the house. Do you remember that time he went missing? We searched the hacienda from top to bottom. Do you remember where we found him?”
Johnny saw the smile tug at Murdoch’s lips, a smile as he thought about his little boy.
“He was trying to climb into the corral with the horses, and his pure and innocent laugh rang out sweeter than the singing birds at dawn. Our child, Maria, our Johnny!”
Then Johnny watched as Murdoch bowed his head and whispered again, this time harsh, accusing, angry. “How could you do that to him? He was my son, Maria! I wanted my son!” With a last angry swipe across his eyes, Murdoch turned, walking within feet of Johnny standing in the dark, out of the great room, and mounted the stairs.
Johnny stood in stunned silence. His life, the life he remembered, had always been shadows. Never sunlight. Did he hear what he thought he heard? Murdoch said the words out loud. He loved Johnny and had wanted him… all those years, wasted.
Dizziness claimed him once more, and he shuffled his way to the couch and settled onto the soft cushions before his legs would give out, then he’d be trying to pick himself off the floor. The room spun around, making him shut his eyes in a desperate effort to control the rolling in his belly. She did lie to me! The ol’ man never threw us out… Mama, why? All this time Johnny hated his father; the ol’ man thought he wasn’t good enough, and Johnny planned to put a bullet between Murdoch’s eyes… Dios! What if I went through with it? I’d have murdered an innocent man!
Quickly Johnny pulled air into his lungs, deep breaths until the stitches began to cut through tender, newly healing skin, then he slowed and controlled his breathing. Easing his head back onto the pillow, Johnny opened his eyes and took in the room around him. This was his father’s house. The place where he should have grown up.
He smirked as he lay, looking at the room, really looking at the room for the first time. Everything about it was big. The room itself, the fireplace the biggest he’d ever seen, the ol’ man’s desk was massive, even the window behind that desk was big. Big, just like the ol’ man.But it was warm, and it was comfortable. And it felt right. Who’da ever thought I’d feel comfortable in the ol’ man’s house? Not me!
He could feel himself relax on the soft cushions and his eyes began to close. Lulled by the rain drumming the windows and the flicker of the firelight, Johnny Madrid drifted in that place between consciousness and sleep and floated until an unknown but sweet tranquility came to claim him and take him away. To a safe place. A safe place in his father’s house.
The quiet woke him… he must have fallen to sleep at some point but felt as though he’d been awake all night. Murdoch roused himself and stumbled down the stairs as he wondered what the day would bring.
His musings were interrupted when, coming into the great room, he spied Johnny sleeping on the couch. How did he get down here by himself? He could have fallen on those stairs! Coming to his son’s side, Murdoch could tell him to be deeply asleep. It was a good, healing sleep. Retrieving a blanket from the back of a chair, Murdoch covered his son carefully and noted the face, relaxed and reminiscent of the little dark-haired whirlwind of years ago.
Murdoch felt his eyes go misty, and a lump threatened to choke off his air. His son was home, but would he stay in his father’s house?
Papers shuffling… and pipe smoke. It woke him, but before Johnny opened his eyes, he had to know where he was and who was there with him. So he waited, not moving, not making a sound. Confused and wary, he couldn’t ignore the comfort surrounding him.
He was warm but wasn’t in a bed… What…? He felt… safe. Then he remembered. He opened his eyes and saw Murdoch sitting at the desk. A big man sitting at a big desk, and Johnny felt the corners of his mouth curl in a tiny grin.
There was sunlight here.
I’m in my father’s house…
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