Johnny sat at the table waiting for Maria to bring him his breakfast. Murdoch and Scott were in San Francisco and Teresa was visiting the Barkleys in Sacramento. He was to stay close to home and keep 'everything running smoothly' per the ol' man's orders. Johnny was surprised that Murdoch left him to run the place-alone but then Cip was here and he was sure Murdoch told him ‘to keep an eye on Johnny.’
The house was really quiet with the ol' man, Scott, and Teresa gone, it left him with odd feelings. Strange he never minded being alone before. He missed them but then he felt smothered by them at the same time, this family thing took some gettin' used too.
Maria had noticed how quiet Johnny had been since the Patron and Senior Scott had left. She was worried about her nino he seemed so lost without his hermano.
She placed his breakfast on the table and patted his shoulder.
"Thanks Maria." Johnny picked up his fork, "Sit with me?" He didn't know why he asked that-guessed he just didn't want to sit alone. Usually Teresa would be chatting away, now it was too quiet.
"Si niño, but you eat." Maria smiled and wiggled her finger at him.
"Si Maria." He shoved some eggs into his mouth then smiled, "See I'm eatin'."
"What is it niño, something is bothering you."
"Nothing, I'm fine." he picked up a piece of bacon and shoved it in his mouth. Maybe it was a mistake asking Maria to sit with him if she was going to ask questions.
"No niño, you are not fine. What is it?" Maria took his hand in hers, "Tell me."
Johnny started to pull back but she held on tight refusing to let him leave. Yep, big mistake he had let his guard down. He didn't know why maybe it was the look in her eyes, but he said, "Maria, sometimes I feel like I don't belong here." He bowed his head, damn should have kept my mouth shut.
"Why do you think that niño? You are the son of the Patron, you were born here." She kept hold of his hand. "I helped bring you into this world; I was the first to hold you."
Johnny looked up, "You were here when I was born?" It always shook him when someone remembered him as a child.
"Si niño, I held you and when you opened your eyes it was me you saw, the first person you saw." Maria remembered that night and how proud the Patron was when she handed him the boy.
She released his hand and sat back she wanted to continue, but wasn’t sure…
Johnny didn't know what to say, Maria knew him as a baby. He wished he could remember those times but they were lost to him. So much was lost, so many lies, and so many doubts.
"Would you like me to tell you about the night you were born?" she asked in almost a whisper.
Not sure he was ready for this Johnny hesitated. He bowed his head and stared at his half eaten breakfast. Damn, he needed to get out here but at the same time he wanted to know. But was knowing going to make it hurt more or less, would it ease his doubts or increase them, and…
Maria waited this had to be his decision.
Johnny whispered but kept his head down, "Tell me."
Maria patted his hand and noticed a slight tremble but she wouldn’t comment and embarrass her nino.
"It was such a cold day and everyone was busy decorating the hacienda for Christmas. The Patron wanted to show your mama his ways for the holiday. Your mama wasn't sure what was expected of her but tried to make your papa happy. It was so different from the way we celebrate in Mexico, but she did insist they go to mass Christmas Eve." Maria smiled as she remembered the minor spats between the Patron and Maria about Christmas. She had to admit to herself she thought it strange that first, long ago, Christmas when she started working for the Patron.
"You were not expected for a few weeks so the Patron agreed they would attend mass but Maria was to bundle up and they would come home immediately afterward." Maria patted Johnny's hand again, "Your papa was so worried about your mama. He loved her."
Johnny kept his head down as he listened to Maria talk. He couldn't believe Murdoch would be worried after the stories his mother had told him about her life at Lancer. His mother never mentioned any Christmases. But he knew this Maria wouldn't lie to him so he listened.
Maria waited to see if Johnny would look up but he didn't so she continued.
"Well niño you surprised them all by coming early, two days before Christmas your mama went into labor. El medico was sent for but before he could get here you came." Maria looked at Johnny's bowed head, "You were so small and when you opened those big blue eyes…" Maria took a deep breath, "Your papa ran into the room when he heard you cry."
Johnny suddenly looked up. "He ran into the room…to see me?" Johnny asked amazed his voice worked he was so shocked.
"Si niño, to see you. He was so happy and he took you from me and held you to his chest. Your papa had tears in his eyes, never had I seen the Patron cry. But they were tears of happiness."
Murdoch was happy, he cried because he was happy. Johnny didn't know what to think, all the lies his mother told him flooded his mind. Johnny wanted to leave but he knew his legs wouldn’t work and his mind was in turmoil, he felt like he was going to throw up.
Maria watched the emotions play across Johnny's face and knew he was hurting. She stood and put her arms around Johnny then she kissed the top of his head. "He loves you niño, but after so many years of hunting and disappointments he doesn't know how to show you, he doesn’t know how to be a papa."
Johnny turned and wrapped his arms around Maria and rested his head against her breast. He could hear her heartbeat and for some reason it calmed him. She was holding him like his mama held him so long ago, before she started to hate him.
"I know you love your papa and he loves you but you are both just muy stubborn." Maria tenderly scolded. "You need time to get to know each other."
Johnny pulled away from Maria and turned back to the table. "He can't get past Madrid. He don't trust me like he trusts Scott. Guess I can't blame him no man wants a half-breed hired killer for a son."
Maria sat down again and took Johnny's hand. In a forceful voice said, "You are not a killer. You did what you had to do to live."
Shocked at her tone Johnny pulled back from her and matched her tone. "How do you know that? I was a high priced gun, what do ya think they do?"
Maria shook her head and fought back tears, "No niño you were not a killer, did you kill for no reason, did you kill someone that was not trying to kill you?"
Johnny shook his head but didn't say anything. No he hadn’t sunk that low yet.
"I know you helped our people, I know that you were in prison for helping the peons against the dons and rurales.” Her voice choked, “I know you were in front of a firing squad."
"How do you know?" Johnny sadly whispered, hell he didn't want Maria to know about the dark side of Madrid.
"There are many of our people here, their la familia in Mexico tell of the great pistolero Johnny Madrid." Maria was proud of her niño, and let it show in her voice. "You are not a killer you are a hero to our people."
"Murdoch don't see Madrid as a hero. In fact he wishes he never heard of Madrid. Hell probably the only reason he sent for me was he needed my gun." Johnny was hurt and getting angry.
Maria jumped up and came around the table and pulled Johnny around to face her, her voice sharp. "Don't you say that! He wants you here, you are his hijo and he loves you." Maria started shaking she was so angry.
Johnny stood up and backed away from her. He raised his hands, "Lo siento Maria, I…" his anger faded as he saw her distress. He could never hurt Maria, she was his mamacita. She was more of mother to him than the other Maria ever was.
She stepped forward and grabbed his hands, "Si niño, si. It is hard after all the years of lies and hate. But you need to give your papa time to see the man you really are."
"Sometimes I think he can't get past the little boy he lost. I ain't that little boy no more. I wish I could be what he wants, but I can't too many things have…" Johnny hesitated, "I don't want to talk anymore." Johnny turned to leave he really needed to get away from this conversation.
Maria grabbed his arm, "No, I won't let you go. You belong here with your papa and hermano. They need you as much as you need them. All of you are muy stubborn, afraid to admit it.” Maria held tight afraid to let go. She knew he had to make a decision. He would either stay or he would leave, so she finally let go of his arm but held him with her eyes.
She stood back with one hand on her hip, grabbed the wooded spoon in her other hand, and tapped her toe against the tile floor. "You will not leave niño. You will stay and be the hijo of the Patron." He voice softened, "You love your papa and hermano, you want la familia you never had but always deserved, now is your chance. Are you going to throw it away?"
Johnny looked down at Maria, he loved her and the way she accepted him he just wished his father did. She was right he wanted a family, he wanted to belong, and he needed his father and brother.
Their talk had hurt but he learned things he wished his father had told him instead of Maria. The ol’ man’s ‘past is in the past’ speech didn't solve anything. Sure there were things he didn't want to tell of his past because he knew it would hurt his father and other parts would disgust him. It was comforting to know that his father did want him at one time and that he wasn't the half-breed mistake like his mother had said. But did Murdoch really want him now? He had a brother, he'd always wanted one, and that brother had accepted him and never judged him. Maybe someday his father would give him the same acceptance. Guess like Maria said, it's gonna take time and now he realized he wanted that time, he needed that time. He smiled and thought, 'I'll give it a try.'
Maria watched him as he worked things out in his mind, when she saw him smile she knew he had made the right decision.
"Guess I'm feeling sorry for myself, lo se Maria."
"Te amo niño, te amo." Maria patted his cheek.
"Te amo Maria." He bent down and kissed her cheek.
"Now get to work. I'll fix something special for lunch." She shooed him out of the kitchen with a gentle swat of the wooden spoon to his departing backside.
Johnny smiled when he felt the whack. He learned long ago never mess with a Mexican woman. But he knew this Mexican woman loved him, always had and always would, and it felt good.
When he left she went to the pantry to find the chocolate for the nino's cake.