Word Count 3,076
2nd in the Best Christmas Ever Series.
A lone figure sat huddled in an afghan; staring into the glowing embers of a dying fire.
Teresa had never felt so alone. Without the men and all their noise the big house seemed empty. She missed the smell of Murdoch’s pipe tobacco, Johnny teasing Scott about a chess move, and Jelly complaining about the younger Lancer son’s latest prank. The silence was oppressive she felt she was being crushed by it.
All her hopes went down the drain, it was supposed to be the best Christmas ever but she had ruined everything. She berated herself again for driving Johnny from his home. Murdoch was so hurt and angry, and she knew she deserved to be sent away. A sob escaped as she wiped away a tear.
Why did she get so carried away with the decorating and cooking? Scott had told her that he was glad to be away from the formal Boston Christmas celebrations. But did she listen, NO. Murdoch didn’t want Johnny overwhelmed with the American Christmas traditions, “We need to ease him into it.” Why did she ignore his wishes and go ahead full stream?
Now alone and waiting for the men to return she couldn’t stop agonizing over what to expect. Would they listen to her apologies? Well, she couldn’t blame them if they didn’t.
She couldn’t remember being so tired, exhaustion finally won over and she fell asleep in Murdoch’s leather chair.
“So Murdoch how about tomorrow morning we hunt for our Christmas dinner?”
Johnny’s expression was all Murdoch needed to answer, “I think that’s a fine idea.”
“Well,” Scott chimed in, “since this is Christmas Eve day, I believe we should begin a new Lancer tradition.”
“Alright Scott, what do you have in mind?” Murdoch was sure since it was Scott’s and not Johnny’s suggestion it was safe to consider the idea.
“I think we should set apart certain hours of Christmas Eve day for just the three of us, we can take turns each year to decide what the three of us will do. Johnny I think you should be first?”
“Oh no, Boston, it’s your idea so you get the first year.” He turned to Murdoch, “Don’t ya think that’s fair?” He waited.
“Yes, I think Johnny is right, you get first year, Scott.” Murdoch winked at Johnny.
Scott smirked at his father and brother, he had hoped he would get the first year so he could put his plan in action.
At Scott’s smirk Johnny worried, “Okay Scott, what are you planning?”
“Its quiet simple, we build three snowmen.” He couldn’t stop the laugh at the expression on little brother’s face. “It will be fun.”
“It will be cold.” Johnny grumbled.
“Well, it will cold tomorrow during the hunt and you aren’t complaining.” Scott waited for the expected come back.
“Yeah, but I won’t be playing I’ll be hunting.” It even sounded lame to Johnny.
Murdock was enjoying the banter. “I think it’s a fine idea, I used to make snowmen as a boy. Johnny this is a new experience for you and if you give it a chance, one you will enjoy.”
Out numbered and presently unarmed, “Okay, but when we’re done I’m sitting in front of the fire and y’all do the cooking.” This statement accompanied a world class pout.
So, out into the snow the two experts began teaching the novice how to make a snowman. In the end they decided one was enough since they all worked on it, and Johnny was turning blue from the cold.
Once inside and finally thawing in front of the fireplace, Johnny grudgingly admitted that making a snowman wasn’t awful.
After supper with Johnny back in front of the fireplace, Murdoch told them stories of Scotland.
Christmas morning had been a sad affair. Jelly stayed in his room, Maria stayed in her cabin. Cip came to take the baked goods to the orphanage but ignored her.
Teresa stood alone and stared out the French doors. She had hoped Murdoch would bring the boys back so she could apologize.
As the day passed she was still alone. Finally giving up the men would return; she sat at the kitchen table and cried. Not only had she ruined Christmas she faced losing the only home she had ever known.
She moved to Murdoch’s chair, huddled again in the afghan, and stared into the fire. Wiping away a tear she turned to the tree, it was no longer beautiful instead it was a reminder. The once brightly wrapped gifts were dull and accusing. She hadn’t bothered to open the ones addressed to her, just the thought caused her to choke on another sob.
This was the Christmas she ruined and she would carry the guilt the rest of her life. Maybe going to Aunt Emily in St. Louis would be for the best. At least there she wouldn’t have to face the men… no the man she had most wronged.
Three laughing men returned to the cabin, Johnny proudly carrying the rabbit they would have for their Christmas supper. He headed for the barn to clean his trophy while the other two entered the cabin.
Once inside Scott stoked the fire back to life, “This was the best Christmas morning I’ve ever experienced, I’m with my family.”
As Murdoch added wood to the cookstove, he turned at the sound of Scott’s voice. The glow on Scott’s face warmed his heart. “It’s always a good day when I get to be with my sons.” Then turned back and contentedly started a pot of coffee.
While waiting for Johnny and the coffee to boil, the two men sat at the table enjoying the warmth of the fire.
Murdoch continued staring into the fireplace, “Johnny never ceases to amaze me, the simplest things make him happy. Most people want presents, food, drinks, parties, all the trimmings of the holiday.” Then as if amazed at his own observation, “But not Johnny, he’s just as happy with a warm fire and something to eat.” He wondered aloud, “Why can’t we all appreciate the little things in life?”
“Well, Murdoch, I think it’s because Johnny never had much and certainly not many people he could trust during his life as Madrid. The little things seem big to him.” Scott rose and grabbed three cups from the countertop before returning to the table. It gave him a moment to be sure about revealing something from his brother’s past. He sat and faced Murdoch, “Johnny told me that he usually spent Christmas Eve in a hay loft when he was a kid, and as Madrid it was spent it in a saloon or in hiding healing from a wound.” Silence reined for a few moments.
Then Scott smiled as he considered the path of the conversation and to reassure his father, “Johnny didn’t tell me looking for pity, he told me because it explained why he was so happy to have the home and family he always wanted. I think that’s good.”
To give Murdoch a chance to consider this information; Scott went to the stove and grabbed the now boiling coffee pot.
Murdoch nodded thanks as Scott filled the two cups. “I’m glad to hear that he wants to stay, I’v always feared he might decide to leave.” Shaking his head at this revelation, followed with a hint of regret, “We seem to have too many arguments.”
The conversation stopped at the sound of stomping feet on the porch. Both men yelled, “Close the door,” as a blast of cold air announced the arrival of the youngest Lance.
“Boy, it sure is cold out there.” Johnny placed the dressed rabbit in the sink. “Once I warm up I’ll start cooking.”
Murdoch motioned to the chair, “Have a cup of coffee, I”ll cook the rabbit.”
Johnny rubbed his hands together before the fire, then accepted the coffee cup from Scott. After breathing in the steam, “This sure is nice.”
Murdoch with coffee pot in hand and headed to the stove turned to Johnny,
“What is nice?”
“Oh, being in a warm cabin, fire going, cup of hot coffee, looking forward to roasted rabbit, and a full stomach before bed. What more can a man ask for?” Coming out of his thoughts and realizing he answered before thinking, “Just that it’s nice being here with y’all.” Johnny took a sip of coffee to hide his embarrassment at revealing too much.
Father and brother smiled to themselves, both thinking this is the best Christmas, and yes indeed, it sure is nice.
Christmas evening brought a dusting of more snow but inside the cabin three men savored the rabbit, potatoes, biscuits, and Murdoch’s fine scotch. Johnny even gave up his tequila for a celebration toast.
“Well, I guess we’ll be heading back tomorrow.” Johnny gazed absentmindedly into his drink.
Scott and Murdoch could almost hear the question in the statement. “Yes, son, I think we need to get back and address the issue we are trying to avoid.”
Johnny signed, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Johnny, I want to know your feelings before we confront Teresa. Your feelings about her actions are what matters most to me.” Murdoch wanted to keep Johnny from putting the blame on himself.
“I know Murdoch, but Lancer the only home Teresa has ever known and sending her off, even to her Aunt will be like…”
“Like what, Johnny?” Murdoch leaned closer to his younger son.
Johnny straightened, to put a little distance between them. “Like tossing her to a bunch of strangers, has she ever seen this Aunt?”
“Yes, Emily came for a visit when Teresa was around seven years old, they are very fond of each other. Emily writes often and has asked Teresa to come for a visit numerous times. They are not strangers.” He hoped this would reassure Johnny.
“Yeah, but other people will be strangers.”
“She will have Emily to introduce her around St. Louis. I am sure Paul would have sent her for visits.”
“Then why didn’t he?”
“We were busy at the ranch and I was still going to Mexico…” Murdoch stopped at the shocked look on Johnny’s face.
“No, Johnny, you were not the cause of Teresa not visiting Emily. Paul said he couldn’t bear being without Teresa, he was worried she would want to stay in St. Louis.” Murdoch could tell Johnny wasn’t convinced.
Scott felt the need to intervene, “Johnny, you can’t take the blame for every perceived wrong that looking for you may have caused.” He talks to Johnny bowed head over the now empty glass.
Murdoch risked reaching out to Johnny and was grateful he didn’t pull away even though he kept his head down. “Paul and I made many mistakes with Teresa, when discipline was needed we often ignored it. We gave into her every whim, we created a spoiled child that is growing into a spoiled women. She is not the owner of Lancer the three of us own Lancer and that is the way it’s going to be.”
Silence reigned, the only sound was the soft crackling of the fire.
“I don’t want you to send her away.” It was said so softly that if Murdoch and Scott had not been next to him they wouldn’t have heard him.
“Why?” Murdoch needed to know.
“I think we can work things out, she may not be family by blood but she’s still a part of the Lancer family. Just like Jelly, Maria, and Cip.” Johnny lifted his eyes to face his father. “Would you send them away for a mistake?”
“No son, I would not.” Murdoch rose from the table. “Let’s get some sleep, tomorrow we go home.”
Teresa awoke from her cramped position in the chair, the sun was high up in the sky but no one bothered to check on her. She stretched and headed for the kitchen to make some coffee. Not sure why she was going through the motions since she wasn’t interested in lunch, or even the missed breakfast. Just another lonely day to face waiting for judgment to come home.
Out in the yard she heard horses and voices of welcome from the hands. Unsure of herself she went to the kitchen door both hoping and dreading the return of Murdoch, Scott, and especially Johnny.
The returning men were talking to the hands with Jelly ordering some of the men to take care of the horses so the Lancers could get inside and warm up. The crowd broke up with Jelly still standing by Murdoch and pointing to the kitchen.
Teresa ducked back inside not sure if she should be fixing them some lunch or go to her room and wait to be summoned. Before she could make her decision they entered the kitchen; she waited with her head bowed.
Johnny spoke first, “Hey, Teresa, why are ya just standing there? We’re three hungry men are ya just gonna let us starve?” He used his drawl to reassure her he wasn’t on the attack.
No one expected what happened next.
Teresa raced into his arms nearly knocking him into the table and sobbing uncontrollably while trying to apologize. Johnny hugged her and cradled her head in his hand while she cried. Finally exhausted the crying stopped and the only thing anyone heard was, “forgive me… forgive me…”
Pushing her to arm’s length, “Teresa, we need a new start.”
She sniffed and nodded her bowed head, still unsure of what that meant. “How?”
“No more holiday craziness, just tell me the what and the why but just shouting orders and getting mad because I want a cookie.. just don’t get carried away… you are taking all the joy out of it.”
She pulled free and ran to her room. The three men just stared after her in confusion. However the entrance of Maria brought them to awareness.
She ordered them to the great room to make a fire while she fixes lunch. To her niño she issues orders in rapid fire Spanish while pushing him out of the kitchen.
Scott was starting a fire, while Murdoch, trying not to laugh, was fixing drinks.
Johnny accepted the tequila and plopped down in front of the now going fire.
“What was Maria saying?” Scott sat on the sofa after accepting his drink.
While Murdoch, grateful for his leather chair, grinned at his younger son. “Maria was warning him not to take off again.” He used his drink to hide his smirk.
“Really, I must learn Spanish, I miss so much.” Scott nodded to his father.
“Yeah, well you’ll learn, don’t get on the bad side of a Mexican woman and really don’t get on the bad side of a Mexican cook. You should know that Murdoch, maybe you should explain that to Boston.” He downed his drink and rose to retrieve the bottle of Tequila before returning to his favored spot in front of the fire.
Murdoch simply nodded in agreement.
“So, Murdoch we still need to…” Scott motioned to the stairs.
“I know son, I’ll be right back.” Murdoch placed his glass on the table and made the dreaded trip to Teresa’s room.
Scott and Johnny waited quietly in the great room and almost jumped when they heard steps on the stairway.
Both stood when Teresa and Murdoch entered the room. She looked smaller than usual standing next to the Patrón.
Johnny came forward and escorted her to a chair while the men assumed their previous positions. Except Johnny chose to sit on the sofa next to Scott.
With head bowed, Teresa looked to be awaiting sentencing. Banishment or forgiveness, she silently continued her prayers for the forgiveness she didn’t deserve.
Murdoch opened the discussion with, “Teresa what do you think you deserve after the way you treated Johnny? You drove him away. He is my son and Lancer is his home.” He leaned toward her, “You are my ward, not my daughter, and Lancer does not belong to you.”
Scott and Johnny remained silent, this was the tune-caller’s show.
Raising her head to face Murdoch, she almost cringed at his expression. It was no longer the gentle, generous Murdoch she had always known it was the Patrón and he wanted answers.
“I’m sorry, I know that doesn’t count for much after all that has happened.” A soft sigh. “I deserve to be sent to St. Louis.” She bowed her heard again.
“If you could have a part in the decision, would you want to stay at Lancer or go to St. Louis?” Again it was the Patrón’s voice.
After sob and a sniffle Teresa raised her head again and faced the man she had known all her life and prayed a quick prayer for guidance. “Murdoch, I would want to stay and Lancer and try to make up for the damage I have done.”
She looked at Scott. “I should have listened to you about over doing it, you were right, I spoiled everything.”
Then she rose and moved to sit on the table facing Johnny. She reached out and placed her hand on his. “To you Johnny, I am so sorry for what I said. You weren’t ruining Christmas, I was.” She squeezed his hand. “I know I don’t deserve it but I am asking you to forgive me.”
Johnny turned his hand over and returned the squeeze. “I forgive you, like I said we need a fresh start. If you are willing I am too.”
She looked to Scott who nodded, then to Murdoch who nodded. It was a reprieve. She had escaped banishment. “I promise no more overdoing it, no more anger toward a cookie thief.” She smiled at Johnny then suddenly jumped up.
“Oh no.” Hands against her cheeks, “Cip took all the cakes, pies, and cookies to the orphanage.”
The men laughed and Johnny hugged her, “Well I expect you’ll just have to make another batch.”
Before they could continue Maria announced lunch was ready and come now.
Maria accepted Teresa apology and issued a strong warning in Spanish leaving Scott more determined than ever to learn the language.
They all agreed that after supper they would gather around the tree and open presents.
As far as Teresa was concerned she had already received the best gift, forgiveness.
Started December 2017/ Finished December 2020
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