Second Best
by  DaleL

He was beautiful, her dark-haired niño. She smiled indulgently as he toddled among the flowers of her garden, sturdy legs propelling him down the carefully raked pathway. Chubby hands drifted across the blossoms, bending them to his will and he laughed when the flowers deposited sticky pollen on his fingertips.

The air was warm, the heat of the sun igniting the fragrance of rose and wildflower alike. She set her woven basket on the bench and wiped her dirty hands on the apron she had tied around her waist. She looked around her with pride. There would be much to do in the coming days. Tomatoes and peppers winked like glistening jewels. Beans hung heavy on the vine easily overshadowing the cabbage and onions and long-stemmed garlic. An abundance of green and yellow squash lay on thick beds of straw beneath a canopy of leaves. Yes, she and the women would be busy preparing and canning the bounty of the garden.

Hearing a giggle, she turned to see her son disappear around a corner.

“Now, where is Juanito?” She called looking around her as she joined in his game.

She strolled down the path, stopping to look out over the flowers, a hand shading her eyes.

“No, he is not here.”

She bent and lifted a drooping cabbage leaf and peered underneath.

“He is not here either. Now where can he be?”

Again a giggle reached her, carried on the breeze.

She stared up into the tree, intently studying the leaves. A tiny brown bird hopped among the branches.

“Little bird, have you seen my Juanito?”

“Here, Mama, here!”

She spun around and saw her son step from behind a water barrel and run to her, his arms upraised, reaching for her. She swept him up, swinging him around and around as he flapped his arms, squealing in delight.

Setting him on her hip, she hurried up the pathway, snatching up the basket and heading into the house. She had heard a horse arrive while they were playing and knew that he was home, his business in town concluded.

Dropping the basket on the table she headed for the back stairs. Their son needed changing and Murdoch would enjoy playing with Juanito while she readied his bath. She was surprised that he had not already come looking for them.

She spied him sitting at his desk and almost called to him before noticing the piece of paper he held tightly clenched in both hands.

She squeezed her eyes shut. Only one thing could keep Murdoch from seeking out their son. She jumped, startled, her eyes flying open at the sound of his hand slamming palm down on the top of the desk. As she watched, he leaned back in the leather chair, fumbling in his pocket for the key to the desk drawer that was always locked, the paper discarded.

Jealousy stabbed her heart but quickly drained away replaced by an overwhelming sadness.

It had not been easy for her to leave everyone and everything she knew. Nor had it been easy to live in another's shadow; to be constantly compared and judged. She did not want her son to have to compete for his father's love, did not want him to ever feel he was second best.

Anger surged through her veins. It was not fair! They were happy, were building a life together but every time a letter arrived the longing and the pain reawakened. Why could he not be content with what he had here, now? She knew the boy's abuelo would never let him go, not without a fight, so why couldn't he?

The touch of a tiny hand exploring the wetness on her cheek returned her attention to her son. She turned her head and met his expressive blue eyes. His lower lip was trembling. He could read her moods so easily. She took his hand in hers, kissing the tip of each pollen stained digit before gently cupping the back of his head and drawing him forward, placing a kiss atop the raven black curls. She tucked his head against her shoulder and began to slowly sway from side to side, soothing him.

She looked back into the Great Room, saw her husband reverently cradling something in his large hands, knew it was her photograph. She turned and headed up the stairs on silent feet leaving the ghost of Catherine Lancer to comfort their husband.



~ end ~





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