Disclaimer: Fox owns them and has been keeping them on the shelf. I’m taking them out to play.
A little explanation as to why, when Johnny was at the dinner table with his family, he always had a glass of milk.
“And what about you, boy?”
“We’d about given up on you, boy.”
He was in bed; the bandage that was wrapped around his upper torso chafing his skin and causing an itch he couldn’t reach no matter how hard he tried. But it wasn’t the bandage or the itch that was pissing him off; no, it was the stuff that was dancing around in his head.
The reminders. The damned word.
It was, he thought, leaning back; probably his father’s favorite word, the way the Old Man tossed it around. Old Boston was pretty good at usin’ it, too. Sure in hell hadn’t been all that sparing the last go ‘round. Nope. Spit it right out, he did.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
“You will learn to listen, boy.” Scott Lancer stood beside his brother’s bed, his deep voice resonating against the bedroom walls. “If I catch you out of this bed again, you’re going to have a great deal more to worry about than Teresa and Maria’s tongue lashings.” Shaking his head, he began rearranging the bed clothes; straightening the multi-colored quilt and smoothing the edges.
Johnny Lancer reached out, smacking his brother’s hand as the man attempted to pull the comforter up to cover his chest. “Fuck off, Boston,” he muttered. It had been as embarrassing as Hell; being caught trying to sneak down the back stairs and into the kitchen, his intention to use the back door to get out of the house. The girl’s yelling had been bad enough, but the housekeeper…
The woman was crazy, he thought. Popped him on the ass with a wooden spoon; raisin’ a welt that hurt a hell of a lot more than the holes Sam Jenkins’ had stitched up. And then, the next thing he knew, old Boston had him by the collar and was draggin’ him back up the stairs. The memory of that particular humiliation notched up his temper; and he felt the heat rising on the back of his neck. “I said ‘fuck off’, Boston.” he grumped; taking another swipe at his brother’s hand.
“I heard exactly what you said, boy,” the tall blond murmured through clenched teeth; grimacing at the familiar and annoying appellation. The man was now standing ram-rod straight, his arms crossed and his pale eyes the color of slate. “I would strongly suggest you do not say it again.” He smiled, but there was no warmth in the expression. “Boy.”
Johnny’s head snapped up. He was about to mouth another obscenity; changing his mind when his father strode across the threshold.
“Sir,” Scott greeted.
Murdoch Lancer simply nodded and got right down to business; looming large over his younger son. “Maria tells me she caught you in her kitchen,” he growled. “What were you thinking, boy?”
Scott didn’t even bother to try and hide the smirk. He watched as his recently discovered younger brother pulled himself up and away from the pillows that were stacked behind his shoulders.
Johnny’s face was beet red; as much from anger as the effort of pulling himself upright. “I’m thinkin’ I’m fuckin’ sick and tired of bein’ in this fuckin’ bed, and the next fuckin’ time I make a break for it, I’ll do it in the middle of the fuckin’ night!” he answered back. He turned his head slightly, tossing a sarcastic grin in his elder brother’s direction.
Murdoch’s jaws tensed; his right eye narrowing. “I would suggest you rethink that strategy, John, as well as your choice of words,” he ground out. Taking a deep breath, he changed the subject. “Sam will be arriving here shortly. He’s going to check you out and then join us for dinner. I would also suggest you pay close attention to what he has to say to you, and to not give him any back talk like you did the last time he was here.” He glared down at the young man on the bed. “Did you hear what I said, boy?” he asked.
Johnny was frowning; his fingers busily tearing at the loose threads on the top most edge of his quilt. “Yeah,” he hissed. “I heard you just fine.” Hell, a dead man could have heard the uproar. Staring straight ahead, he watched as his father turned and headed back out into the hallway; and then plunged on, his voice rising. “And I ain’t no fuckin’ boy!”
It went all down hill from there.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Sam Jenkins had chased everyone from the boy’s bedroom. He was taking his time, meticulous in the way he fashioned the clean bandage; quite happy with his handiwork. That happiness, however, did not seem to extend to his patient; who was fidgeting and exploring everything in reach of his restless fingers. “I understand from your father, Maria caught you trespassing in her kitchen,” he began, smiling as the youth turned his head to face him.
“ˇEsa mujer está loca en la cabeza!” (That woman is crazy in the head!) Johnny fussed. He flushed, and began to translate. “That woman…”
“My wife was Spanish, Johnny,” Sam interrupted, the words coming softly and with longing. “You don’t need to speak English for my benefit.” He smiled when he saw the young man’s cheeks suddenly flush a bright red. Johnny had a very colorful vocabulary; a strange combination of formal Castilian Spanish and border Mexican, and he could be extremely verbose when it suited him. Or when he was in a complaining mood regarding the medical care he was receiving, and just who was doing the doctoring.
Sam had been quite surprised to find out there were at least five ways to call a man a bastard son-of-a-bitch in Spanish; and Johnny had used them all.
Johnny’s chin was resting against his chest, and he was chewing his lower lip; at the right hand corner of his mouth. It was clear he was embarrassed by his past transgressions; and was hoping to make some kind of amends. Jenkins was a good doctor; and he had worked damned hard to keep him alive. “The Old Man should’a turned Maria loose on Pardee,” he teased; stealing a glance at the physician and relieved when he saw the beginnings of a smile. “Would’a saved us -- you -- a lot of trouble.” He laughed, softly; and shrugged. “No bullets to dig out; just a bunch of asses full of blisters!”
The physician patted the youth’s shoulder. “Apology accepted, John,” he declared; his tone gentle and the smile widening. Just as quickly, the wide grin turned into a stern frown. Sam raised his right hand, shaking a long finger beneath the youth’s nose. “But I will not tolerate any more of the name-calling, chico.”
There is was again, the youth mused bitterly. Even the doc calls me boy. And what’s this ‘apology accepted’ shit? Madrid never apologizes.
Sam was picking up the litter from the young man’s bed. He knew Maria would be washing the linen and cotton bandages; salvaging them and packing them away for future use. He sighed, covertly surveying his young patient and knowing there would most likely be more occasions when the youth would again be in need of those bindings. He shook the thought away. “Johnny, I’m going to tell Murdoch it’s time you get out of this room. I think joining the family for dinner this evening would be a very good start.”
Johnny’s head came up slowly, his blue eyes exploring the older man’s face. “And ridin’?” he asked hopefully. “When can I start ridin’ again?”
Standing up, Sam closed his bag; fastening the latch and then securing the case with the twin leather straps. Murdoch Lancer, his friend of almost thirty years, had been surprisingly open about his fears that -- once healed -- his younger son would leave; and Scott had expressed those same concerns. He considered his answer very carefully. “I’ve just made the decision it would be a good idea for you to get out of your room, Johnny,” he shrugged. “Getting out of the house, or getting out to the barn…” He hesitated. “One step at a time, my boy,” he cautioned. Hoping to forestall the coming argument, he nodded at the tall armoire on the far wall. “You need to get dressed, Johnny. If I remember right, Murdoch and Maria share a penchant for dinner being served at precisely six o’clock; and you don’t have much time.”
The diversion worked. Johnny untangled himself from his covers; stumbling a bit before he was firmly on his feet and headed for the dresser. It took him a remarkably short amount of time to get dressed; and even less time to escape into the corridor leading to the stairs.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
They were seated at the table; Murdoch, Scott and Teresa. A subtle sound in the hallway caught their attention; all three turning to stare into the Great Room as they sought out the source of the noise.
Sam came through the doorway of the dining room first, only slightly in the lead; his right hand resting lightly on Johnny’s left shoulder. “I think it’s time this young man rejoin the world beyond his bedroom walls, Murdoch.”
Grinning from ear to ear, Murdoch levered himself up out of his chair; uncertainly offering his hand in greeting to his son and just as quickly withdrawing it to brush at his thigh. Teresa was more open in her greeting. She backed out of her chair and immediately came around the table to give Johnny a spontaneous hug. The embarrassed youth accepted the girl’s gesture before placing his hands on her shoulders and gently shoving her away. As confident as Johnny Madrid could be in a bordello full of women; this mere slip of a girl -- a good girl, he reminded himself -- had Johnny Lancer feeling something akin to awkward.
Instantly vacating his own chair, Scott was on his feet. Quite purposely, he stepped away from the table and reached out to take his sibling’s arm. “Just in time, brother,” he smiled, maneuvering Johnny into the chair he himself had been sitting in; the one directly to Murdoch’s right. Already, Maria was bustling about to lay another table setting.
Johnny settled into the upholstered chair, his eyes taking in every movement at the table as everyone reseated themselves. The memory of his first dinner at the family table came back to him with startling clarity: the clutter of china, crystal and cutlery that had confounded and amused him.
“Please get Johnny a glass of milk, Maria.” Murdoch had resumed carving the roast; a flash of silver coming as the long, thin-bladed knife cleanly sliced through the juicy cut of prime Lancer beef.
Scott had just taken a sip of wine; his gaze shifting to his brother’s profile.
Johnny was toying with the bread knife, flipping the piece of silver over and over against the table cloth. “Milk?” he drawled, a smile quirking up the left-hand corner of his mouth.
Murdoch had just placed a nice slab of rare beef on the first of a stack of plates just to his left elbow. “I seem to recall, Johnny,” he smiled, “you didn’t care for the wine we had with our dinner that first night.” God, he thought, remembering, what a fiasco that had become.
Johnny snickered. “You mean that stuff I said smelt and looked like warm horse piss?” he laughed. ˇDios lo maldice, he recalled, sure set the Old Man on fire with that one. He reached out, flicking his forefinger against the crystal goblet that was sitting just above the tip of his knife; the clear ping surprisingly loud. “A little fancy for tequila, but it’ll do.”
Murdoch passed the first plate to Teresa, who passed the dish on to Sam Jenkins. “You will not be drinking tequila with your meals,” he declared, annoyed at the ‘horse piss’ comment. “In fact, until I decide otherwise, you won’t be drinking any liquor at all.” He resumed carving the beef and passing out the plates.
Scott dutifully accepted the dish from his younger brother; his right eyebrow arching as he noted the bloody juices leaking from the chunk of rare meat. He drolly hoped that was the only blood that would be shed during what -- he was sure -- was about to become a very tense situation.
“That right?” Johnny piped up, challenging his father. His eyes flicked from glass to glass around the table before settling on Teresa’s. “She’s drinkin’ wine,” he said. “And so’s Boston.”
The vegetables were beings passed around now: Teresa first, and then Sam; then across the table to Scott. Chewing his lower lip in an effort to stop the smile, Scott -- who hadn’t missed the ‘Boston’ -- vindictively scooped a generous helping of green beans on to his brother’s plate. Other than pimientas verdes (green peppers), Johnny avoided green vegetables like the plague; going so far -- when he was convalescing -- as to stuff them beneath his mattress rather than eat them. The morning Maria had discovered the deception had been monumental.
Murdoch was passing the gravy boat. “Teresa has been drinking wine at dinner since she reached her majority this past December. Since you haven’t reached that particular milestone, the issue is not open to discussion.”
Zing! Scott thought; recognizing a bull’s-eye. Sam’s disclosure of Johnny’s age during his recovery had been a real revelation for the Bostonian; something he had found a delightful source of amusement while his younger brother recuperated. There was a lot to be said for being the elder brother; at times, anyway.
Across the table, Teresa purposely lifted her goblet to her mouth, her lips bowing slightly as she took a sip. Johnny didn’t miss the girl’s smirk. Who the hell was the jackass that figured some stupid girl could be considered legal at 18, when a man had to wait until 21? Screw that. “I ain’t eatin’ until I get something decent to drink,” he announced stubbornly. He decided to clarify. “Until I get some tequila.”
There was a chuffing sound from the head of the table as Murdoch Lancer guffawed. “Then, my boy, you’re going to be very hungry before the night is over.” He paused to take a sip of wine; canting his head as he addressed his ward. “I understand you and Maria made a chocolate cake, Teresa. I’m sure,” he nodded toward the end of the table, “Sam will be most appreciative of your efforts.”
Sam, Scott noted, was eating his dinner as if everything that was going on around him was as normal as -- well, as chocolate cake for dessert.
The physician nodded. “I assume the old rule still applies here at Lancer,” he smiled, dabbing the corner of his mouth with the white damask napkin; his pale eyes twinkling. “No dessert until you clean your plate?”
Maria had just entered the room; a towel covered pitcher of milk fresh from the ice house in her right hand. “Si,” she responded, smiling at the doctor. “No clean plate, no dessert.” With that, she plunked the ceramic jug down just in front of Johnny; and bustled back towards the kitchen.
It was only seconds before Maria reappeared at the doorway a second time; a three tiered chocolate frosted cake atop a crystal platter balanced against her right forearm. The aroma engulfed the room; teasing the senses and awakening in the younger Lancer a deep need for cake no matter the sacrifice. Grimacing, he picked up his fork and dove into the food; gagging a bit at the dryness in his throat; but too damned stubborn to ask for something to cut the dust; to lubricate his tongue and his throat.
Smug, Murdoch Lancer leaned forward slightly in his chair. He reached out, picking up the pitcher of cold, wet milk; the lip of the vessel poised above his son’s empty glass. “Drink?” he asked, his tone exactly the same as it had been that very first afternoon in the Great Room.
This time, there was no smart-assed response, no “Yeah. When I know the man I’m drinkin’ with…” Instead, Johnny -- his eyes locked on the chocolate cake -- simply nodded. The milk splashed into the empty glass as it was filled to the very brim.