Word count 2,668
This story is for our December 31, 2022, Lancer Writers Event Calendar. Hope y’all enjoy it and have a very Happy New Year.
The greatest gift you will ever receive will never be found under a Christmas tree. It is far too valuable to be stored in any other place but in the depths of your heart.
Three POVs of what that gift is to each one.
L * A * N * C * E * R
During New Year’s Eve day breakfast Murdoch shared a quote by an unknown author and asked his sons to ponder what gift they would store in the depths of their hearts.
Grinning at the look on Johnny’s face, he hastened to reassure his younger son, “Johnny I’m not asking you to tell anyone unless you want to share it.”
After breakfast the men separated to do any necessary jobs, since it would be a short workday. Val and Sam would be coming for New Year’s Eve dinner and share in greeting the new year with the family and Jelly. It was also agreed Val and Sam would spend the night rather than facing a cold, dark ride home.
L * A * N * C * E * R
Finally the last bill was entered and the columns totaled, sighing, Murdoch placed his pen in its holder. Then he stood and stretched his back grimacing at the loud crack.
Settling into his comfortable leather chair, he gazed into the fire. He knew exactly the gift he stored in his heart and that gift warmed his heart as much as the fire warmed the room.
He had had such dreams when Catherine told him about the pregnancy. She was so sure, ‘there would be a son and his name will be Scott’. He chuckled at the memory and how she had stood firm on the issue. He could see her in his mind’s eye, hands on her hips, shoulders forward, an expression that warned him not to argue the point. How he loved her, and he knew their son would have that same strength of will.
Bowing his head he stared at his hands, lost. All was lost when land pirates came after Lancer. He thought he was sending Catherine to safety but instead… A lone tear ran down his cheek, it only brought tragedy. Her death, left alone with strangers, and Harlan stealing his son. The grief almost choked him. It would be many years before the son would be at his father’s side, as it should have always been.
In his grief and the need to be away from the source of his pain, he had spent the next few years hiring out as a deputy. He justified his decision that at least the work helped support Lancer, Scott’s birthright. However, he never gave up hope of one day going to Boston to reclaim his son.
While in Mexico on a job, the unexpected happened. He met Maria, and the ice in his heart melted. Love entered his life, again.
He was given another chance for the family he always wanted and a new hope it would be possible to bring Scott home.
Memories were overwhelming him. Shaking himself free, he rose and headed for the kitchen.
“Maria any cookies left and a cup of coffee?”
“Sí, Patrón.” She hustled him to a chair.
As he watched her pour a cup of coffee and place cookies on a plate; another memory overtook him. This time a wonderful memory, and one he shared with this Maria. He relaxed in the warmth of the kitchen and let it come to him.
It was a cold December night and he had been expelled to the great room. She and Sam were with Maria; while he sat waiting and praying. Maria had been making all kinds of anguished sounds, but then… that first loud cry. He was out of his chair and running up the stairs and into the room where he stopped, transfixed at what he saw.
There was Sam holding a very angry, squirming bundle that he quickly handed off to the housekeeper. When Maria calmly cradled the distraught child, the crying stopped immediately. Sam had returned to the new mother, and at the same time, in a voice not to be ignored, ‘Go downstairs and Maria will bring you the boy once he’s cleaned up.’
Grinning ear to ear, it was only then he realized the child was a son.
At the touch on his shoulder, Murdoch’s mind returned to the kitchen. Nodding his thanks, he accepted a refill of coffee and headed to the great room. He pushed away the sadness that had overtaken him. Pushed away the memory of loss, and the long wait for yet another lost son.
Standing before the fire and soaking in the warmth, contentment graced his face. All his prayers had at last been answered. The Bible says we are to wait on God’s timing, he had, and now his sons were home where they always belonged. Finally they were becoming a family.
That was the gift stored in his heart.
He bowed his head, “Thank You, Lord.”
L * A * N * C * E * R
He had remembered reading the quote while at Harvard, but he didn’t believe he had a gift that merited that precious location. No, not then at least, but now?
Ulysses shifted under him, “Okay, okay, I know it’s cold.” They moved down the hill and across the pasture, both seemed relieved that the fencing was intact. Both anxious for someplace warm.
Finally, they entered the yard and not soon enough for horse or rider. Scott gratefully dismounted and led Ulysses into the warm barn. One could almost hear both sighing with relief. Tending Ulysses always had a calming effect on him, and he couldn’t help smiling as he thought about Johnny and how he went overboard spoiling Barranca.
Seeing the empty stall, he hoped Johnny would be home soon. Grinning to himself, he also knew how much Johnny hated the cold weather. He chuckled as the image popped into his mind of Johnny napping on the rug in front of the fireplace, like a cat seeking warmth.
He was home now and he was content as he had never been before. All those years he had yearned for his father to come for him. To take him home to live with him in California. All those hopes and dreams that never seemed to come true. All those prayers that seemed to go unanswered.
Well, they had been answered, all of them, just not on his timeline.
“Well, Ulysses,” he leaned into the horse’s neck savoring the warmth, “I have my gift.” He stood back and laughed, “Who knew I would have a giant of a father, who had built the largest ranch in the valley.”
Scott leaned into Ulysses, the words full of anguish, “The father who always wanted me.” He started to shake, “Murdoch had come for me when I was five years old. Only to be turned away and threatened by grandfather.” He moved from Ulysses’ side as his budding anger was making the horse nervous. He drew in a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves.
“Despite what I was led to believe by grandfather. That my father was inconsequential and unable to provide the lifestyle becoming the heir of the Garret Empire,”
Pushing down the resentment, and seeking comfort, he once again leaned into the Ulysses’ shoulder. “I knew I wanted to meet my father and make my own decisions. I was not happy in Boston, I was wasting my life.”
Rubbing the strong neck, “So many lies, Ulysses, sometimes I wonder if I was nothing more than a possession to grandfather. A weapon to use against my father.”
He stood back and straightened his shoulders.
“No more regrets, I have the father I always wanted and who always wanted me. The little brother I always wanted.” Laughing, he reached out and stroked Ulysses cheek, “Not exactly the little brother I had in mind. Certainly not a famous and deadly gunfighter, Johnny Madrid, the very name strikes fear in the heart.” Chuckling, he whispered in Ulysses’ ear, confident knowing it would not be repeated. “Sometimes I hurt for what Johnny has suffered, but at the same time I know that suffering made the man I love and the man I call brother.”
He now felt calm enough to go inside and let Murdoch know all is well on Lancer land.
One last pat, “Well, Ulysses, thanks for listening, Happy New Year.”
Scott pulled his jacket closed and headed into the cold wind looking forward to that warm fire and a brandy with his father. Hopefully Johnny will be joining them soon.
He paused next to the corral and stared into the night sky. He searched for a star and found it. “Thank You, Lord, I know for sure the gift that has finally earned that precious location.
That gift is a home with my father and little brother.”
L * A * N * C * E * R
Barranca made his way carefully along the partially frozen stream, “Well, amigo it looks like the bridge is in good shape.” A shiver made him pull his collar higher, “Sure miss Mexico’s warm weather, not too happy seeing my own breath.” Barranca nodded his head in agreement, his own breath came out as steam.
“At least we will be home soon and you’ll be in a nice warm barn. Hope Scott is home, but then he’s used to this weather. He sure does like going on about all the fun he had in the snow. Sounds crazy, huh?” Barranca again nodded his agreement.
“Murdoch sure is serious about this gift in the heart thing, at least he said I didn’t have to tell. I’m pretty sure I know what it is, but not sure how I could ever put it to words.” Another nod of agreement from Barranca. “I can always count on you, amigo.” He petted the golden neck.
After thinking some more and finally, maybe, getting the words right, he continued. “I know I’m glad to be home with Murdoch and Scott.” Pausing not sure how he wanted to continue, “Well, I guess I am glad to have a home and a decent bed to sleep in, sure better than most places I’ve slept.” Another agreement from Barranca although he had no personal knowledge of Johnny’s past sleeping locations.
“It’s nice to have regular meals, and good ones too. Maria’s a really good cook and when she cooks Mexican,” he smiled, “I’m in heaven. You have it pretty good too, warm stall and plenty of food and water. Bet ya can’t wait to get home and see Ulysses.” He smiled at Barranca’s nodding and noticed the quickening pace.
“Ya know, I always wanted a big brother to watch out for me, someone to care…” He paused and bowed his head as memories flooded in. After a few seconds he shook his head, “Ain’t going there.”
Barranca stopped suddenly, Johnny looked up and realized where they were. Mad at himself for his laxness, “Gotta pay more attention and less daydreaming, not safe, gotta pay attention to my surroundings.” They overlooked the hacienda and the fence he jumped running from Pardee. “Scott ran out and dragged me to the tree,” he unconsciously rubbed his back.
Wiping his face, he cleared his head of that memory.
“Val was the only one who cared a hoot about me. At times he was father, big brother, and best friend all rolled into one.” Barranca started moving toward home. “But Scott, well sometimes he’s awful hard to understand. He sure is smart and I’ve learned some things listening to him. “ Barranca nodded and continued to listen to Johnny’s ramblings as he made steady progress toward home.
“I guess if I had to admit it, Scott’s a pretty good big brother, I wouldn’t want anyone else and I appreciate all the times he’s stood up for me. Guess I shouldn’t compare him to Val. Scott’s his own man.” Barranca turned his head toward Johnny. “Yeah, I’ll admit it, Scott’s the best big brother I could hope for, happy now?” Barranca nodded and continued toward the barn.
Johnny removed the saddle and blanket, grabbed the brush and began the grooming. A contented nicker made him smile, “Guess you’re happy to be home?” He was answered with a swish of a tail since Barranca was busy eating his oats. Johnny laughed and continued with the brush.
“Ya know, Barranca, Murdoch ain’t what I expected after what mama always told me. Boy was I surprised when I saw him, he sure is big. Takes a big man to build what he’s built Lancer into, the biggest ranch in the valley.” Another tail swish was the only reply.
“He was a hard man that first meeting and, ‘the past is in the past’ speech sure left me wondering if I should give him the hour then grab the money on my way out.” He shook his head, “Don’t know for sure why I stayed.” This received a snort from Barranca. “I know, guess I just really wanted something more from him, why my past wasn’t explained, did he really throw us out, did he hunt for me, or was my gun what he really wanted?”
Barranca pushed his head into Johnny’s chest. “I guess he needed me as much as I needed him; needed him to want me for a son.” Johnny leaned into Barranca’s warm neck, he always felt a calmness when he was with his horse, his amigo. “You’re the best horse I’ve ever had, and you’re a good listener too.”
Barranca rubbed his cheek on Johnny’s shoulder. “You’re right, I have a home. A father who it turns out didn’t throw us out, did want me and spent all that time and money hunting for me.” He sighed, “All those years I dodged the Pinks and they just wanted to bring me home.” He reached up and cupped Barranca’s mouth then moved up the scratch his amigo’s ear.
“Sure cut it close, but the Pink arrived before bullets put an end to it all. Remember standing there and thinking, well, I’ll never know the truth.” He paused, almost choking, “At least it will all be over.” Barranca gently shoved his head against Johnny’s shoulder. Coming aware, Johnny circled his arms around the strong, warm neck. Receiving the support he needed.
“Amigo, you are the first and best gift I ever received.” Then he pulled back and leaned against the stall’s half wall, just staring at his beloved Barranca.
Bowing his head, “I guess when it all shakes out I finally know the gift hidden in my heart.” He raised his head, “It’s easy to tell you, not so sure it’s easy to tell them.” He looked into Barranca’s eyes, “Maybe it’s enough I know it?”
Barranca rested his head on Johnny’s chest. “My gift…” he leaned into the golden head and whispered.
“My family, a father who always wanted me and the big brother I always wanted.”
They separated but faced each other, “Well, Barranca you are all groomed, and ready to settle in for the night. At least you’re not alone, ya got your amigo, Ulysses, to keep ya company.”
After one last pat on the golden neck, and a head butt to the chest from Barranca, Johnny moved out of the stall, and closed the door.
“Happy New Year Amigo, thanks for listening.”
Johnny leaned on the top rail. of the corral fence and gazed into the sky.
Then he saw it, a bright star. He bowed his head, “Gracias, Dios”.
The end of 2022
December 31, 2022
Happy New Year to all you wonderful Lancer Ladies, prayers that 2023 will be a better one for us all.
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6 thoughts on “The Greatest Gift by EJ”
A lovely little gem of a story, EJ. Happy New Year to you, too!
Elin responded: Thank you for letting me know you enjoyed my story. Hoping 2023 will be good for all of us.
Nice peaceful New Year tale,well written as always
This was a beautiful story. Thank you.
Thank you Jan.
Thank you Caterina