By Linda B.
Johnny padded down the stairs, not needing a candle to light his way. He knew every inch of this hacienda now. He made his way to the kitchen and opened the warming oven. Sure enough, there was the evening's dinner waiting for him. He knew that Teresa wouldn't let him starve. He had missed dinner…but no one complained.
He ate in the semi darkness…only a lantern with its wick turned low illuminating a small circle on the kitchen table.
This night was an anniversary of sorts. And his family, in their wisdom, had allowed him to celebrate it alone.
Maybe sometime in the future, when years had passed and the raw emotions had dimmed, he could share this night. But not yet.
He finished the last bite of stew and set the plate in the sink, then turned and blew out the lantern.
He made his way in the darkness to the great room. The red glow of burning embers cast a gentle light on the room. Johnny banked the remains of the logs, and sat crossed legged on the hearth, feeling the warmth sting his face.
He closed his eyes and remembered.
Three years before he had met his new family, he had sat crossed legged in front of another fire, in another house, in another lifetime.
He remembered the smells; wood smoke, hot Mexican spices and the sweet scent of rosewater sprinkled everywhere. He could hear the soft snores of Pedro, exhausted, but happy after a long day tending his farm. And Rosita, her head bowed gently toward her bosom as she too slept in the quite of the early evening.
Life was good there. A resting place for a weary traveler, who had few places to rest his weary head, secure in the knowledge that he was safe and protected.
Pedro and Rosita Lopez had opened their home and their hearts to Johnny Madrid and in doing so, they had opened his eyes to what could have been. He felt love for the first time in too many years. They asked nothing of him but his trust, and he gave it willingly.
As the night grew later, a wolf howled in the distance, and both Pedro and Rosita awoke.
Rosita smiled and leaned forward to comb her aged fingers through his hair. "You feel it too, don't you, my boy?" she asked, her voice lyrical in her native Mexican tongue.
Johnny nodded. He could feel the ache in his heart.
"You have given us much joy, my son," Pedro smiled. "We have been good to and for each other. But it is time that you resume your journey. There is another life that awaits you out there, one that is your destiny. But you must be willing to accept it when it comes. Good fortune does not always knock twice, Juanito."
"And you?" His voice caught in his throat.
"It is our time. We must move on as well. But we will see you again, sometime in the future. And when we do, you will tell us of your new life…of the family that is waiting for you."
Johnny turned to face the only two people who had loved him for himself. Not his name, not his gun…just himself.
"Juanito, life has not been easy for you, and you still have a rough road to follow. But in time you will find the family you have searched for all your life. Keep your eyes open child, don't let the past cloud your future."
Johnny reached out and touched hands that had hardened with years of work. But they were proud hands.
"We ask only one thing of you, Juanito. That you remember us each year on this night. Where ever your travels take you."
"I will…" Johnny promised.
"Then go child. Leave us."
"But it's the middle of the night." Johnny protested.
"The moon is full tonight. It will guide your way. We do not want you to see our passing. We want you to remember us as we are now."
Johnny opened his eyes. He looked at the dieing embers and made a decision. It was time he shared Pedro and Rosita with his new family. Tomorrow night he would sit before this fire and tell Scott and Murdoch about a young man who had lost his way, and his will to live, and how two old people had brought him new life.
Slowly, but surely, the walls that protected Johnny Madrid were falling, overpowered by the love and companionship of his family. Of Johnny Lancer's family.