He hadn’t been back since that day but it was just as he remembered. He dropped the reins, leaving the palomino to graze and walked the remaining few feet.
The tree was huge, weighty with age. A twisted network of roots wormed their way in and out of the rocky soil helping to anchor the giant. Slowly he worked his way around the trunk, the fingers of his gun hand trailing across the weathered bark. Sunlight filtered through the whispering leaves casting dappled shadows along the ground.
A slab of stone protruded from the base of the tree, its surface worn smooth by the elements. Instead of working to expel the interloper the tree had gathered it within its woody embrace.
Tossing his hat beside the stone he eased down onto the unlikely perch, leaning to rest against the trunk. The bark was rough and scallop-edged and the thin fabric of his shirt offered little protection. He shifted, grudgingly thankful for the square of padding covering the still tender wound. He would have dispensed with it days ago but it made the women happy and he had to admit he enjoyed their fussing—within limits.
His fingers got busy all of a sudden, flicking the worn edge of one silver concho.
Been a long time since anybody bothered to worry about him.
His fingers abandoned the concho and plucked a leggy blade of grass, absently twirling in between his thumb and forefinger as he rested his wrist atop a drawn up knee.
From his vantage point he had a clear view of the hacienda and its surroundings. The light reflecting off the white adobe walls forced him to look away so that he noticed the handful of women taking down the day’s laundry at the rear of the house, their skirts as well as the laundry whipping in the breeze. His gaze drifted, focused briefly on a few vaqueros moving cows from one enclosure to another before settling on a couple of horses kicking up their heels in a far corral. The wind sighed, stirring the tall grass, bending it to its will.
Hard to believe all this was his; well a third of it anyway.
About as hard as imagining his mama living here, married to a man like straight-laced, ‘I call the tune” Murdoch Lancer. Sort of like expecting a wild filly to hunker down and work in tandem with a solid, dependable draft horse. His mama had been brash and passionate and opinionated and Murdoch was…what?
Not that he was blind to who and what his mama had done, how it had changed her and him.
They had made damn sure of it.
He hadn’t believed them at first, the other boys, the ones who ran the streets of every town they ever lived in. Figured they were jealous because he had a mama and they didn’t. But there had been one gang that had been different. Where the others had been coyotes, stealing and swearing and swaggering like men grown, these had been worse; they had been wolves.
He had been surrounded and herded into the nearest alley as they pushed and shoved, slapped and punched, their bare feet darting between his trying to trip him up. He hadn’t even seen the older boy until he found himself pinned against a wall. The boy had leaned in real close, his breath smelling of liquor and cheap cigarillos. He said if he knew what was good for him he would see to it that his mama let him pay her a visit. He must’ve looked confused because the boy snorted in disbelief before joining in the chorus of course laughter. With a pitying look for his naivety the boy went into excruciating detail about what went on between a man and woman, thrusting his hips against him for emphasis. The boy then had fished in a pocket, extracting a coin and flipping it into the air. He remembered staring, following its brief flight before it landed in the dirt at his feet. For ‘services’ the boy had said before he and the others vanished.
The boy never carried through with his threat. His body was discovered on the communal garbage heap outside of town a few days later.
He glanced back at the hacienda, swiping a wayward strand of hair out of his eyes. The women were gone as were the vaqueros. A wagon was heading up the road toward the house, men on horseback keeping pace on either side. From the looks of it, Murdoch wasn’t ready to let his guard down quite yet.
He sighed. Instead of answers all he had were more questions. Not that he still thought Murdoch was lying. Mama had had a way of spinning stories. He would never know why she left Lancer. Why she lied. If she ever regretted the choices she made. Especially at the end when she seemed to be tempting fate.
He loved his mama; that was never going to change. Forgiving her, well forgiving her would take some time.
Given time he might even be able to love his old man.
Loving both didn’t mean he had to take sides.
He retrieved his hat, settled it on his head. Time he was getting back they’d be getting worried.
A corner of his mouth quirked upward. He chuckled softly ducking his head to study the ground between his feet before looking back toward the house.
Nope, he wouldn’t mind getting used to that one bit.
September 2013 Loyalty Challenge