Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters, I just borrow them once in a while.
Murdoch Lancer swallowed down the last of his brandy and watched as his younger son rose from the couch on which he’d been napping. Johnny yawned and stretched languorously. “Well, I’m turnin’ in,” he drawled. He turned to his brother Scott and grinned. “Happy birthday again, brother. Woulda liked ta take ya into town and really celebrate but--,” he cast an amused glance at their father, “somebody tole me it’d better wait for the weekend, or else.”
Murdoch cast him a dark glare that quickly turned into an affectionate smile. “Morning comes early on a working ranch, and we’ve got a lot to do in the next few days if we’re going to give the men Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off.”
Scott looked between them. “I couldn’t have moved too far tonight anyway,” he said graciously. “That meal Maria and Theresa cooked included every one of my favorite things – and I ate every one.”
“And second helpin’s on some of ‘em,” Johnny chuckled.
“You didn’t too badly yourself, little brother.”
Johnny snorted, and then started for the stairs. “You’re right. And that was the best beef stew I ever had—“
“Beouf bourguignon,” Murdoch and Scott said simultaneously.
“Yeah, whatever that means,” Johnny agreed happily.
“It’s French for…. beef stew,” Scott answered.
“That’s what I said!” Johnny chuckled. “Well, happy birthday one more time, Scott. G’night.” He disappeared up the stairs.
Murdoch shook his head and winked at Scott. “His birthday’s only three days away now… and it’ll be Friday night. I’m thinking you can both have the evening off, go into town and celebrate both your birthdays – after Maria makes his favorite dinner, of course!”
“Thank you, sir,” Scott said. “And thanks for the warning about Friday night’s dinner. Since it’ll be all his favorite Mexican dishes, I’ll be sure to drink a lot of milk that day as a precautionary measure.” He stood, swallowing the last of his own glass of brandy and set it down on the sideboard. “Thank you for the new jacket, Murdoch. It fit perfectly and I could use a more serviceable one for the cattle drive.”
Murdoch nodded. “I’m glad you liked it.”
“All the gifts were exactly what I needed. Well, I’m going to get a little fresh air, then turn in myself. Good night, sir.”
Murdoch watched him walk out through the French doors, wondering if something was wrong. This had been a nice, homey birthday but… the truth was, until this year, Scott’s birthdays had always been a lot more elaborate. The one year Murdoch had traveled back East to try to get his son’s grandfather to give him up, Murdoch had arrived on Scott’s birthday. It was a cold December 19 in Boston but inside the Garrett mansion, it was warm and wondrous. The house was decorated for Christmas and there were balloons and a giant white birthday cake, and more presents than Murdoch Lancer had ever seen in one place before. The house was jammed with people, children running everywhere while nannies and maids tried to corral them, adults standing around in clusters with glasses of champagne in their hands, and footmen passing trays of fancy treats. He imagined all of Scott’s birthdays had been similar although they were probably even more sophisticated once he and his peers were adults too.
Murdoch sighed. This had been a nice family celebration but probably a bit of a disappointment for his older son. He and Johnny had been home at Lancer nearly nine months now and he was pretty sure Johnny was here to stay after a difficult beginning. But Scott… sometimes Murdoch worried there just wouldn’t be enough to keep Scott here. Sooner or later, would he begin missing the kind of diversions a city provides, and the sophisticated company and fancy evenings? The Pinkerton Agency had given him a full report on Scott’s life in Boston. There was no opera house or fancy balls in the San Joaquin Valley, no private gentleman’s club to pass evenings with friends, and on a working ranch, no sleeping until noon. Scott never appeared to give a moment’s thought to what he’d left behind but… perhaps tonight was the beginning.
Murdoch thought about leaving him to his thoughts but he was never one to stand back and wait. He decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns. He poured two more glasses of the French brandy, and followed Scott outside.
There was a nearly full moon, and a cool, brisk breeze blew from the mountains in the distance. The big Scot’s eyes adjusted to the lower light and then he saw his son, standing at the adobe wall, staring out over the valley. Approaching, he cleared his throat softly to alert the younger man of his presence. Scott started a bit, then turned.
Murdoch held out a glass. “One more? I’m celebrating.”
Scott took the glass. “Celebrating what, sir?”
Murdoch lips tweaked up slightly. “Twenty-five years ago today… my first child was born.”
Scott looked down into the amber liquid in his glass, smiling slightly. “Oh, that.”
“I… I guess this hasn’t exactly been the kind of birthday you’re used to. Ranch work doesn’t stop, no matter how good the excuse.”
“I know,” Scott agreed. “Actually, I was just thinking this was a perfect birthday.”
Murdoch cast him a surprised look.
“No, really, sir. I.. Before, my birthday was always an excuse for a big party for my grandfather,” he said, turning his head and staring off into the distance. “Being so close to Christmas, it was his yearly holiday party and my birthday – while it was a reason for people to bring presents – it wasn’t the main focus. I probably have a hundred pairs of leather gloves back in Boston. It’s what almost everyone gave me, that or a book. And the guests were always his business associates and their children. Sometimes other children would attend my birthday party that I’d never even met before. When I got older, it was just an excuse for him to try to set me up with some business partner’s daughter, or introduce the son of someone important that he wanted me to make friends with, to further his business plans,” he said ruefully. “ There’d be a big fancy cake every year made with this hard frosting I hate…. And raspberry filling I don’t like either. I’m not sure I even tasted my own birthday cake in the last ten years. …”
Murdoch listened, not sure where this was going.
Scott turned to him and smiled. “So you see, this was really the best birthday I can remember. Maria and Theresa made my favorite foods, and that orange pound cake with the creamy frosting. I know Johnny prefers chocolate but I think that cake’s a slice of heaven on earth. And the presents, every one of them showed someone thought about what I really wanted or needed. To be honest, I was glad you told Johnny no about going into town. I… I really wanted to spend this birthday at home… with just my family.”
Murdoch felt a lump rise in his throat as he listened. Finally, he reached out and put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “You don’t know how glad I am to hear that, son,” he said, squeezing the younger man’s shoulder. “I was worried you might have been missing… the kind of birthdays you left behind.”
Scott raised his glass and Murdoch reached out with his own, clinking it lightly against his son’s. “Not at all, sir.”
The two men drank in companionable silence, staring out into the moonlit valley, with Murdoch’s big arm resting lightly around Scott’s shoulders. Finally the big man swallowed the remainder of his brandy and stepped back. “Well, morning comes early—“
“On a working ranch,” Scott finished the sentence along with him.
Murdoch chuckled. “You may be twenty-five but don’t go getting too big for your britches there, my son.”
Scott laughed quietly. “I’ll… try to refrain, sir.” They walked into the hacienda together, and Scott closed the French doors behind him.
“You and Johnny can go paint the town red on Friday night, to celebrate both your birthdays,” Murdoch said as he turned down the light. “He’s turning twenty-one. That’s a big birthday too.”
“I’ll be happy to do that if he wants,” Scott said quietly as they headed for the stairs. “But I wouldn’t be too surprised if he decided to spend his birthday at home too.”
Murdoch’s heart skipped a beat. Nothing would make me happier, he thought to himself as he followed his older boy upstairs.