The Holidays - A New Year
Today is the First Day of the Rest of our Lives
This little snippet is set a couple of years after my story-The Holidays –Feliz Navidad. Johnny is now 33 and very happily married to his wife Sarita. They have 4 children. Scott is happily married, a Senator now living in Washington with his wife and two children. Murdoch has been gone almost two years.
January 1st, 1883
Johnny shifted his stiff sore body and felt his horse shift under him. He painfully flexed his fingers around the stiff reins and realized he couldn’t feel his fingers.
‘First day of the new year,’ he mused. ‘Has to be the coldest one yet.’
His mind drifted as his horse picked its way surefooted on the trail. The day had started out like any other winter day on the ranch. He awoke slowly to the warm realization that his wife of almost ten years was snuggled against him. One arm across his chest and one leg between his. Her long dark hair trailed over his arm and he marveled at the changes she brought to his life. She sighed in her sleep and attempted to burrow closer to him.
The corners of his mouth quirked up as he kissed her nose, cheek, followed by a light brush on her lips. She smiled as one eye opened, “Is that you Mr. Lancer?” Her voice was light and teasing.
His voice was low and suddenly gruff, “And just who else would it be Mrs. Lancer?”
He felt his passion increase as she kissed him back. The feel of her silken skin and soft hair became too much as he rolled her over. His ardor crashed to a halt when a sound outside their door froze them both.
They looked at each other and reluctantly rolled apart.
As the door opened, the frustrated couple were confronted by Cristian, their four year old and his almost two year old brother Tomas. “Ma’ma? Papa? We’re hungry! When are you gonna get up?”
With a groan Sarita ducked down under the covers and Johnny could have sworn she said, “Go feed your children” but with the blankets muffling the sound, he wasn’t quite sure. “Go wake your brother and sister and get dressed. I’ll get breakfast started.”
His two youngest left leaving Johnny glaring at the lump under the covers and the unmistakable sound of giggling reached his ears. He quickly got out of bed and pulled on his pants and shirt before taking hold of the blankets and striping them off the bed. “The day’s wasting. I’ll make breakfast, but you’ve got to clean it up.”
Sarita shivered and glared at him, “I’m going to get you for this Madrid.”
Johnny reached out and pulled her to him, kissed her soundly, turned her around and gave her a little slap on her bottom as he pushed her toward her dressing table. “Get dressed.”
He started toward the door and grinned as he heard her soft, “Yes my husband,” only to followed by a whack on the back from a feather pillow.
He turned to see his wife, naked as the day she was born brandishing another pillow. “You’ve very lucky I don’t have time to teach you some manners, my wife.”
His glare failed to impress her in the least as she shot back. “Anytime my husband. I’ll be right here waiting.”
Shaking his head in defeat, he let himself out of the room, almost turning back when he heard her mutter “coward,” through the door.
Before long the kids were fed, Johnny had three cups of coffee down him to get his day started, and he was well into his ranch work. With Murdoch now gone and Scott and his family in Washington, he rarely had the time or energy to think about the future. If he was honest with himself, he was angry. He tried not to be angry at Scott. But he was. They were supposed to be partners after all and his brother did come out to the ranch whenever he could, but time and distance had pared that down to a few weeks a year.
His brother tried to be helpful when he came. He tried to defer to Johnny about ranch decisions but with his access to journals and the agricultural reports that came across his desk, he often came bearing new ideas for running the ranch but he didn’t stick around long enough to help bring those ideas to fruition.
Johnny sighed with frustration as he opened the gate into the south pasture to check on some first calf heifers. These young cows were calving and he always liked to keep a close eye on them. Before long he had completed several passes of the pasture and was at the south end of the Valley heading for the Estancia. Even now, two years since Murdoch’s passing he still thought of it as his father’s house.
Scott and his family had lived in the house until they moved to Washington and even though his brother encouraged Johnny to move back in, he still couldn’t bring himself to leave the home he and Sarita had made a few miles away. He told himself it was because of the children. Growing now and the older ones in school, their house was closer to Morro Coyo and the kids could get to and from school much easier.
Johnny was nothing if not honest with himself, when he was alone anyway, and he knew they just didn’t want to give up their cozy and somewhat crowded home for the estancia that didn’t feel like home to either of them.
Johnny rode into the ranch yard about one in the afternoon dreading the next couple of hours. Leaving his horse at the barn, he checked with Jose the blacksmith to make sure the buckboard would be repaired in time for Raul to pick up supplies next week. He took a quick look and was pleased to see the winter stock of hay for the ranch horses was holding up. With less work they only kept twenty saddle horses and four work horses in the home fields. He’d let most of the help go for the winter, keeping only the old retainers and Walt Jamison their long time foreman.
“Wait up Johnny.” Walt called as he tossed his reins over a hitching rail.
“Right on time, Walt. Let’s get this over with.”
His time with Walt was well spent as they went over the work that needed to be done for the next week. Walt would make sure the remaining men were kept busy and the work would be done with his usual attention to detail. Johnny had to admit Scott had a good idea when he suggested giving Walt a share of the profits in order to reward him for his loyalty to the ranch and the Lancer family. Walt was settled down with a wife and new baby daughter. When they married, they’d moved into a small house half a mile from the main house.
No one lived in the main house any more, but Maria still made sure he had hot coffee whenever he was working there, and there was not a speck of dust to be found.
Two hours later, Johnny groaned as he shifted in the leather chair in the great room. He still hated the bookwork but if he didn’t spend a few hours every week keeping it up to date, it was a nightmare. In fact he’d once let it go for two months after Murdoch died and he vowed he’d never do that again. He still didn’t know if he got the books straightened out and the lecture from Scott if it happened again was just more than he could take.
Shaking his head, he chided himself for that thought. His brother wouldn’t lecture, he’d note. That thought made Johnny feel better. It was hard having Scott so far away. He knew his brother was an important man for the state and he was doing good for the country. Still in all, it was hard. Scott had his duties and he had his so with a shrug he picked up his pencil and went back to work.
He took a sip of his coffee as he shut the ledger with a sigh of relief. Everything tallied. He was caught up for this week.
His mind drifted to his ride home, not looking forward to the cold trek, but definitely looking forward to getting home to his family. His thoughts turned to Sarita and his promise of retribution tonight. He smiled as he pulled the weeks worth of mail toward him. He glanced through a few contracts, once again wishing his brother was here to decipher them.
Setting them aside, he broke the seal on an envelope written with elegant script. It was from Tomas Verdugo, his father in law. He felt a great deal of fondness for Sarita’s parents. They had accepted him into their family from the first day and he felt they were as much his mother and father as his real parents had been. In fact in some ways he felt closer to this couple as they gave him the unconditional support and acceptance, that he sometimes lacked from his own parents. He felt a smile tug at his lips as he read how their family had grown with a new grandchild just in time for Christmas. “Julio Verdugo” a fitting name for a future horse trainer.
His wife’s family raised horses in the Santa Ynez Valley, two hundred miles south of Lancer. He loved the area and it rivaled Lancer in his heart. The letter brought news of a Rodeo at Don Philipe’s Rancho in May. Tomas urged Johnny to come join in. There would be a week of gathering cattle from the far reaches of the Rancho followed by a great fiesta to celebrate their good fortune. All the best vaqueros would be there showcasing their finest horses. Tomas would have several horses there to represent his breeding program, but both of them knew that Johnny’s young stallion, Victorio surpassed them all. If only, he thought and abruptly stopped that line of thinking.
He looked around the great room. The grandfather clock ticking, the sailing ship, row after row of books and he felt empty. Most everything in the room was his father's and the few things not originally belonging to Murdoch, belonged to Scott. His eyes settled on the rust red of the Indian blanket thrown casually over the arm of the couch. He thought of that day with pleasure as he’d ridden back to Lancer with Murdoch after helping Val Crawford retain his place as Sheriff after they had exposed Griswell’s plan to rob the bank. “What do you think about Indian Blankets?” he’d remembered asking Murdoch. “Indian Blankets?” he could clearly hear Murdoch’s surprise even now after all these years. He stood and walked over to the blanket, staring at it without really seeing it. He brushed a finger over it lightly. “Today is the first day of the rest of our lives,” he whispered.
He took a deep breath and shook his head. “But not for me. I have a ranch to run.” He looked once around the room and returned to the desk to stuff the letter and the contracts in his saddle bags.
Shrugging on his coat, he blew out the flame on the lamp and left the house.
As he topped the hill, he could see smoke coming from where he knew his house was and it wouldn’t be long now before he would be sitting warm before the fire, a sleepy child on each side of him and probably one on his lap. He could easily picture the scene and he suddenly didn’t feel as cold. A warmth from inside was battling the chill that was more than from winter.
His attention was taken by a sudden movement to his right and his horse, suddenly tense, impatiently chewed the bit. He tossed his head and nickered as a small herd of wild horses broke cover and galloped up the hillside.
Johnny stopped his horse and watched as they nimbly crested the hill. “Six, seven, eight.” He counted. A bachelor herd. Young colts more than likely. They banded together for protection. He made note of their direction and thought they might try to round them up come spring.
For a moment he envied these free unbroken horses. He had experienced that freedom once, and while he had no desire to return to that life, a part of him wished he could run with those young horses; just one more time.
Once again his thoughts turned to his life and where fate had taken him. When he was a boy he’d had few choices but his dream was always the same. Horses drew him. He felt at home with them. They talked to him and he listened. He knew it was the dream of a boy, not the man he had become. It had taken a lot for him to give up on that dream. He was a cattle rancher now like his father before him. Like he should have been if fate hadn’t taken that away from him. He couldn’t see any way out. He didn’t even know if he wanted out, but his dream was always with him. Even now, responsible family man, respected rancher, husband, and father, he dreamed of raising horses.
How many times had he stormed out of the house after an argument with his father about horses? Too many . When had he given up on his dream?
He thought of the letter in his saddle bag. He thought of the young colt Tomas had given him three years ago. Victorio was still unfinished but if he could get him ready in time, he might just get some of those old Californios to sit up and take notice. It would be years before he would be fully in the bridle but this colt was one of the finest horses he’d ever ridden. He’d spent a lot of time over the years perfecting his trade. A finished cutting horse was worth a lot even in horse rich California. A finely trained cutting horse was a source of pride and a culmination of a life’s work for a vaquero and that’s all Johnny wanted to be.
He glanced at a small herd of cows settled in for the evening and he made a decision. He’d been running this ranch for the last two years by himself. Longer really with Scott being gone so much and the old man slowing down.
With a horse like Victorio under him and a wife like Sarita beside him, he was ready to finally live his dream.
With a heart lighter than it had been in a long time, he guided his horse to the barn. He’d talk it over tonight with Sarita and if she agreed, he’d let Scott know he was turning the cattle operations over to Walt. If he didn’t like it, he could come out and take over. Johnny snorted as he pulled off the saddle. ‘Not likely. Still it will be several months before his brother would be back in California and they could hash it out then.’
He closed the barn door tightly against the chill wind and ran to the house anxious to start the new year and the first day for the rest of his life.
January 1, 2009