Disclaimer: I resolve not to have any.
They were in the Great Room, Johnny just having arrived from the kitchen. Teresa was seated at the table, and the eldest Lancer son was about to pull out his chair. “It may be a new Holiday,” Scott intoned, his patience wearing thin, “but listing resolutions for the New Year is an old tradition.” He hesitated, leaning in to shake a finger beneath his brother’s nose. “You know. Like you being a pain-in-the-posterior.”
Johnny’s mouth turned down in a petulant pout. “I am not a pain-in-the…ass!” he declared. “You, on the other hand, big brother…”
Teresa stopped writing and looked up from the table. “Oh, please,” she muttered. “You spend every waking moment plotting and planning all kinds of trouble, Johnny. If you aren’t teasing me or pestering Maria for treats you don’t deserve, you’re working overtime to see just how quickly you can do something to upset Murdoch.” She speared her brother with a particularly harsh glare, one eyebrow arching. “And we all know how you are always playing your damned jokes on Scott.” Just this very evening, Johnny had made Scott late for dinner by jamming the lock on his bedroom door. Supper had not been the most pleasant of meals.
“Damned jokes?” Johnny echoed. “Looks like maybe someone should be makin’ a resolution about watchin’ her mouth.”
It was Scott’s turn to be incredulous. Johnny had a vocabulary that could only be described as extremely colorful. The boy could curse a blue streak in two languages; and had a particular fondness for the word fuck in both English and Spanish; mainly because the vulgarity set Murdoch and Maria off like a match to tinder. He composed himself. “That would be a very good beginning for you, brother,” he said; handing off a piece of paper.
Johnny looked at his brother as if the man was due to be fitted for a straight jacket. His eyes sparked with their usual defiance. He was feeling cranky. It was Saturday night – New Year’s Eve – and a torrential late night storm had the family confined to the house; the planned festivities, as far as the boy was concerned, a total bust. “Fuck you, Scott,” he chuffed.
Murdoch Lancer had just entered the room; coming up behind his younger son just as Johnny mouthed the much hated obscenity. His response was instantaneous. With deadly precision, he aimed his right palm at his son’s posterior, making immediate and solid contact. SMACK!!
Rubbing his butt, Johnny spun around to face his irate father. “Jesus, Old Man!” he griped. “That f… hurt!”
“Good,” Murdoch said, not one mote of regret in his voice. He immediately turned his attention to his other two children; smiling at Teresa. “How’s that list coming?” he teased. Teresa was a sweet child; sometimes too hard on herself and imaging faults where they didn’t exist.
Teresa returned her guardian’s smile. “I’ve resolved to make more apple pie,” she grinned; knowing it was Murdoch’s favorite.
The older man’s laughter was genuine. The drawing up of a list of resolutions had been his idea; a way of passing time until the bewitching hour at midnight when they would toast the Old Year’s Passing and the beginning of the New. He turned his attention to his elder son. “And your list, Scott,” he asked.
Scott was now sitting at the table, pen in hand. “I’ve decided to limit my list to ten things,” he said, looking up at his father and smiling. “You know, like the ‘Big Ten’,” he joshed, his gaze shifting to Johnny.
Johnny snorted. Scott was forever going on about the Ten Commandments; about how the world would be a better place if people would just adhere to God’s simple rules. “Thought the list was ‘s’posed to be about things people need to do to be a better person,” he groused.
Scott studied his brother’s face. “Ten just seemed like a good number,” he said, grinning; “and the Commandments are a good place to begin.” Once again, he offered his brother a piece of paper.
Johnny shook his head, declining the gesture. “No point messin’ with perfection,” he scoffed, backing up against his father when it looked like Scott was about to get up from his seat.
Murdoch’s laughter exploded into the room. “Perfection?” he chuffed, reaching out to place his hands on Johnny’s shoulder and gently kneading the flesh. He gave the boy an affectionate shake. “I think, after seeing the pan de campo Maria was planning to serve with the menudo, you’ll be getting some argument on that, son.” Johnny had helped himself to a large serving, right out of the center of the sweet, buttermilk bread. “You know how she feels about you sampling the food before she brings it to the table!”
Teresa looked up from her writing. “I told him he needed to make a resolution about pestering Maria,” she piped up.
“And I told you, Miss ‘damned jokes’, you need to write somethin’ about watchin’ your mouth,” Johnny shot back.
“Teresa,” Murdoch chided. The girl’s cheeks turned scarlet and she ducked her head; the embarrassment turning to annoyance when Johnny laughed.
Once again, Murdoch popped his youngest boy on the behind. “And you sit down and start writing,” he ordered. “We’re going to read those resolutions once we’ve toasted the New Year.”
Fanning his butt with his right hand, Johnny turned slightly to look up at his father. “I can think of a resolution you should be makin’, Old Man,” he groused.
Murdoch smiled. “I’ll take that under consideration, son,” he declared, laughing. Cupping his son’s arm, he guided the boy to an empty chair. “Now sit.”
The clock in the Great Room pinged the quarter hour. Teresa leaned back in her chair and sighed; her gaze going to the window and the rain that was pelting against the glass. This was far from the party that had been planned before the storm had hit. She folded her paper and handed it across to Scott. “I decided on ten, too,” she smiled.
Scott had finished writing as well. He blotted his last entry, making sure the ink was dry before he folded his sheet and placed it atop Teresa’s. To his surprise, Johnny had actually picked up a pen and was dipping its tip into the communal ink pot. “Write fast,” he grinned, tapping his sibling’s arm. “And make sure you get in the ones about not teasing Teresa, not pilfering food from Maria, and not…”
“You puttin’ in one about not runnin’ your mouth without takin’ a breath?” Johnny whispered as he brushed his brother’s fingers aside. He was hunkered over his piece of paper, doing a good job of hiding just exactly what it was he was writing.
Scott was not deterred. “I’ll add that one if you remember to put one in about not interrupting your elders,” he grinned.
Murdoch held up his hand. “The clock is ticking,” he reminded.
Maria entered from the kitchen, a large silver tray in her hands. Immediately, Scott got to his feet. “Let me help,” he offered. His face registered surprise as he realized just how heavy the tray was; and what it contained. “You should have called me,” he scolded.
The woman smiled. “It’s only a small tureen of soup,” her gaze shifted to Johnny, her eyes narrowing, “and what is left of the bread.”
Johnny was making a big production of folding his paper as many times as he could before patting it flat. Without looking up, he addressed the woman. “You makin’ a list, Mamácita? Maybe a resolution about usin’ that da… spoon for cookin’?” He bit his lip to keep from laughing.
“Johnny,” Murdoch cautioned, fully aware Maria was still very unhappy about his son’s earlier foraging. Then, feeling a need to change the subject, “I think it’s time for someone to get the champagne.”
Johnny immediately shoved back his chair and stood up. “I’ll do it,” he offered. He tossed his slip of paper to his brother. “I’ve decided to be more helpful in the New Year,” he grinned. He was off like a shot before Scott could respond.
A stunned hush descended on the room, broken by the sound of the mechanism in the Grandfather clock as it began its slow grind and prepared to toll the hour. Johnny made it back from the wine cellar just as the clock tolled for the final time.
“¡Feliz Año Nuevo!” Johnny shouted. Grinning, he handed off the bottle of champagne to his brother. “Open ‘er up, brother!”
Maria had just returned from the kitchen with the crystal glasses. Scott was diligently working on uncorking the bottle of Dom Pérignon, one of the two left from the half dozen very expensive bottles he had purchased in San Francisco. He was struggling with the muselet, untwisting the wire that secured the cork on the heavy magnum; finally able to use both thumbs to pry the stopper free. Pop!
Murdoch watched in amazement as the cork shot from the bottle’s neck; followed by a gush of golden mist that sprayed upwards and then to the left as Scott tried to regain control. Teresa’s face and shoulders were drenched; her hair soaking wet and plastered against her head. Scott was apologizing profusely, attempting to block the flow with his thumb; which only separated the stream.
Maria threw up her hands in a futile attempt to avoid the impromptu shower. More distressing was the spray of champagne that was drenching the table and the food. In the background, Johnny was laughing; one hand behind his back.
His brother’s laughter was more than enough to light Scott’s fire. He gave the magnum a shake and turned it in Johnny’s direction; sure and certain that his sibling was the cause of all the mayhem.
Murdoch swiped at his face with his broad right hand; a soft groan coming as he saw Johnny whip out the second bottle of champagne he had been holding behind his back. His swift fingered son, who had already removed the metal mesh securing the stopper, was prying the cork loose and was aiming the magnum at his elder brother.
Reaching out to grab the now soggy pieces of paper from the corner of the table, Murdoch quickly strode across the room. He put his arms around Maria, steering her swiftly towards the hallway leading to the kitchen. Behind them, the champagne duel continued; Johnny laughing heartily, Teresa shrieking her disapproval, and Scott bellowing at his brother and intent on drowning him.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Maria was seated at the kitchen table in stunned silence. She looked up at Murdoch, her mouth opening as if she were going to speak, and then closing as she shook her head.
Murdoch was at the stove, pouring two large cups of coffee. He added liberal amounts of both cream and sugar, and then – reaching into the cabinet above the sink to retrieve the bottle of bourbon Maria used to make medicinal toddies – topped off each cup with a healthy shot.
Maria accepted the proffered cup of doctored coffee; taking a deep swallow. She then gestured with the mug, signaling the need for more whisky, and slumped back in her chair.
Dosing his own cup a second time, Murdoch eased into the chair across from the housekeeper. From the Great Room the noise of more commotion assaulted his ears, and he lowered his head.
Then, remembering the papers he had rescued from the mayhem, he picked up one of the slips and began to read.
It was Scott’s list of resolutions. I resolve to be more patient with my brother, Murdoch read. He sighed, and picked up the second slip of paper. This one was Teresa’s. I resolve to try… he smiled at the wording … and be more patient with Johnny.
He hesitated before opening Johnny’s missive. The boy had folded the piece of paper into a small square. The ink was beginning to run, but Murdoch could make out Johnny’s distinctive and bold scribbling. I resolve that I ain’t goin’ to make any fuckin’ resolutions.
Smoothing the slip of paper, he reread the words, surprised when the document was snatched from his fingers. He lifted his head, watching as Maria silently read the words; and swore he could see steam coming from the woman’s ears. Maria’s posture immediately changed, her shoulders lifting as her back straightened. She was muttering now, in two languages; not a good thing the Patrón realized.
The woman stood up. She stalked across the kitchen to the counter where her array of cooking utensils were neatly lined up on hooks above the tiled surface; and selected the largest wooden spoon in her collection.
Not daring to stop her, Murdoch watched as Maria stormed out of the kitchen, intent on her mission.
A litany of orders in both Spanish and English erupted from the Great Room; the woman’s voice remarkably quiet but somehow carrying throughout the entire house. The boisterous shouting and laughter immediately ceased.
Murdoch smiled as the silence was suddenly punctuated by a flurry of loud smacks and a series of severe scoldings. The smacking continued with great gusto amid the sound of the hurried patter of leather-soled shoes, and Johnny’s sudden high-pitched yelp. All three miscreants were beating a hasty retreat, their feet thumping loudly on the stairs; Maria in obvious pursuit.
The tall Scot reached out, retrieving the bottle of bourbon. Ignoring the proper protocol, he took a healthy swig; straight from the bottle. Happy New Year, he murmured, lifting the bottle in salute to whatever God might be watching.
He sincerely hoped the old superstition wasn’t true: the old saw that degreed that however the New Year began; it would most certainly continue, changing his mind when he heard Johnny’s final, high-pitched howl.
One by one, the bedroom doors on the second floor closed; and silence descended on the Great House. Murdoch took another long drink; his attention drawn to a subtle movement in the stairwell leading from the second floor.
Maria Larrea y la Puente, the unquestioned mistress of Lancer’s magnificent hacienda and surrogate mother to Murdoch Lancer’s children entered the kitchen, a broken wooden spoon in her right hand. “I am going to bed,” she announced, pulling a thick strand of sticky hair away from her cheek. Her eyes narrowed. “And tomorrow…” The words sounded ominous. Then, her tone softening with affection, she addressed the man; “Feliz Año Nuevo, Patrón.”
Murdoch stood up, bowing slightly. When he looked at the woman, he saw the smile; saw it in her eyes. “Happy New Year, Maria,” he returned. He knew instinctively what she was thinking. After the long years of waiting and praying -- of agonizing over the things that had been lost and seemingly unattainable – the family was now complete and the great house finally a home.
The laughter came then; the good natured laughter of two people who were really quite content. Murdoch knew that tomorrow – on the very first day of a brand New Year – his three properly repentant children, on their very best behavior, would be diligently working together making the house right.
Happy New Year, indeed.