An Unguarded Moment
A Lancer Short Story
The older man lovingly
watched the younger, dark-haired man through a small open crack in the door
leading from the study to the dining room. The younger man sat at the
dining room table, unaware of the older set of eyes that were upon him, and
studied the large maps of the Lancer domain that sprawled out in front of him.
The same dining room table where, just seven months before, the older man
had painstakingly removed a bullet from the younger man’s
back in what was to be the beginning of a volatile, tumultuous, but loving
relationship between father and son.
The older man had the feeling the younger man was enjoying the task he had
been given, which was to study the layout of the north and east portions
of the vast empire and recommend to the older man which section would be
best suited for a much-needed well to carry additional water to the ranch.
Normally, he would have given this task to his older son, who had proven
his ability at paper work, as his younger son tended to the more physical
demands that was so much a part of life at Lancer. But he decided that
was not always fair to his younger son, that both men needed to learn all
aspects of the business, so today his older, book-smart son tended to the
physical tasks and his younger, physically active son got to relax in the
house with the tall glass of lemonade that Teresa had prepared him.
There was another reason for the older man’s choice of tasks; the younger
man had not been himself the last few days. While not physically sick,
he seemed a bit melancholy, even tired, and not the playful, quick-witted
person, particularly with his older brother, that the older man had come
to know the past few months. Probably thoughts about “old ghosts” again,
the older man surmised. Perhaps a few days of rest and quiet would
The older man watched as the younger man studied the maps and subconsciously
make normal, mundane movements like pushing his dark bangs back from his
forehead, rubbing his eyes or scratching his nose, and rolling his eyes in
delight as he enjoyed a sip of the cool lemonade. The older man so
enjoyed these unguarded moments with the younger man. They had been
few, but meaningful: when the younger man was so sick after being shot and
the subsequent “surgery” performed by the older man, the way the older man
gently and lovingly rubbed his hair and held his hand, without the knowledge
of the unconscious younger man. The way the older man would watch in
amazement as the younger man rode his beloved Barranca and broke the wild
horses that had been captured. He did have a way with horses, he was
almost perfect when he was on or around them, just as his mother had been.
The older man could see so much of the younger man’s mother in him during
these unguarded moments; the way he moved, sometimes the way his voice sounded,
his facial expressions, even his sarcastic, somewhat off-color, sense of
humor. The love the older man felt for the younger man was undeniable;
if only the older man could let go of some his pride, and tell the younger
man how he felt. It seemed no matter how hard the two of them tried,
the hot-headed older man and the hotter-headed younger man would somehow
get into it, only to be brought back to their senses by the gentle, even-tempered
The older man watched as the younger man suddenly looked up and looked suspiciously
around his surroundings in the expansive, nicely-furnished hacienda, as if
to sense he was being watched. He quickly went back to his task, though,
as if to say to himself he was safe in this house with his family nearby,
so he didn’t need to worry. The older man learned early on in
his relationship with the younger man that he had a “sixth sense” about his
surroundings, which was learned at an early age and was a protective mechanism
to keep him always remindful that someone, somewhere, might want to do him
harm. It made the older man regretful that the younger man had to live
his life this way, but it also made him happy to see the younger man put
down his suspicions when he felt safe in his present surroundings.
After a few minutes, the younger man again began to have that feeling that
he was not alone. The older man sensed the younger man’s uneasiness,
and realized the unguarded moment was about to end. He quietly left
his chair from the study, and as non-chalently as possible, made his entrance
into the dining room where the younger man sat. Slightly startled,
the younger man looked up from his maps and gave the older man a small, but
genuine, smile of acknowledgement.
‘How’s it going?” asked the older man in reference to the task being done
by the younger man.
“Pretty good” was the reply. The older man pulled a dining room chair
next to the younger man, sat down, and they began to discuss the task at
hand; options, pros and cons, and suggestions. The younger man suggested
the north portion of the vast ranch would be better, mainly because of its
locations near water and the rolling hills surrounding it. The older
man was silently impressed with the younger man’s reasoning. While
exhibiting great confidence in less than desirable surroundings and situations,
the younger man could, at times, be irresponsible and inattentive, particularly
regarding matters around the ranch. But perhaps this small amount of
responsibility had given him the confidence he was looking for, and
the older man decided to draw on that.
“I like your ideas,” he began, “and I think we ought to act on them.”
The younger man seemed pleasantly surprised. “Really?!” the younger
man’s deep blue eyes brightened.
“That’s good to hear, but don’t you think it will cost too much money?
That’s what you always tell Scott when he talks to you about the books,”
referring to the oldest son.
“Well,” the older man replied, “I may have to consider getting up with the
times when it comes to keeping the books. That’s why I let Scott help
me handle it, he knows the latest techniques and he might be able to teach
me something, I just need to bend a little, I guess.”
“Teach him something. . . I thought he knew everything,” the younger
man thought to himself.
After discussing things for a few more minutes, the older man sensed the
younger man’s enthusiasm begin to wane as his melancholy manner began to
return. “What is it son? You seem, well, not yourself the
last few days. Can I help?”
The younger man was silent for a few moments, then began to speak.
“You know, mama’s birthday was two days ago.”
“I remember,” the older man said sadly. “I didn’t know if you were
aware of it, so I didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to upset you.”
The older man had noticed that as of recently, the few times the young man
had mentioned his mother, he referred to her as “mama.” A feeling of
comfort, he hoped.
“How old would she be now?” inquired the younger man.
The older man paused for a moment, then replied, “Forty-two. Forty-two
years old. Hard to believe. It seems like yesterday. . . .” His
voice drifted off.
The younger man spoke, almost in disbelief. “I can’t believe
she’d be that old.”
Murdoch chuckled to himself at the thought that forty-two is ancient to a
twenty-two year old.
Johnny then wondered, “I wonder what she’d look like now.”
The older man responded, matter of factly, “Just as beautiful as she did
when she was twenty-two.”
“I remember her as being so pretty,” Johnny responded, almost to himself.
A calm, comfortable silence surrounded them, as they both were alone with
their thoughts. A light sniffle from the younger man caught the ear
of the older man, who could not really begin to understand the sadness and
confusion his youngest child must feel. But as his father, he knew
he had to do something to help his son out of his unhappy mood.
“ I have an idea. Why don’t I have Teresa fix us a lunch, and you and
I take a ride up to the north portion and check out the land. We can
have a nice ride up there, have lunch, and figure out the best position for
a well, if that’s what we decide to do. Then tonight, we can talk to
Scott about it and he can help in figuring out the cost, supplies, and everything.”
The younger man brightened up. “Just you and me?” Johnny paused, then
delightedly responded, “That sounds great. It’s a great day for a ride,
and I’m gettin’ tired of being inside. There are conditions, though.”
“What?” the older man asked, suspecting some wit from the younger man.
“I want Teresa to pack an extra piece of apple pie for me, and an apple for
The older man laughed. “You sure do take care of that horse,
“We’re comrades, partners for life,” the younger man replied.
“A man only gets a chance at one good relationship in his life, and right
now that’s the only one I want.”
Murdoch then gave a little fatherly talk to his son. “Oh, some day
John, you’ll meet the right girl. I bet you’ve broken a lot of hearts
already, haven’t you?”
Johnny just blushed.
The older man laughed, then said “Get the horses saddled and our gear together.
I’ll get with Teresa and meet you at the stables in 20 minutes.”
“OK”, responded the younger man playfully, as he rose from the chair and
headed toward the front door. He turned, and shyly spoke to the older
The younger man searched for the words he wanted to say. “Oh, I don’t know.
. . . . for listening, for talking, for understanding. For asking me
to go riding with you. It makes me feel. . . .well, important.”
The older man sat still, pleased with what he’d heard from the younger man.
It was almost as if the connection that he had been looking for all these
months to bring the two of them together was beginning to form, and he didn’t
want to break it. “You don’t have to thank me, Johnny.
I’m your father, that’s what I’m here for, to listen to you and understand
and help you with your problems. Remember that, OK?” He paused.
“Oh, another thing, you are important. And don’t you forget it. “
You’re very important to me. . . .I don’t think you know how important,
” Murdoch said to himself.
Then the older man did something without even thinking about the consequences.
He got out of his chair, walked the few steps to the younger man, and tussled
his soft, dark hair. Then he gave him a light hug, which the younger
man returned. Their eyes met, the younger man’s beginning to fill with
tears, but tears of love, of happiness, of comfort. He quickly caught
himself, smiled at the older man, and gave him a playful wink.
“Twenty minutes, don’t forget,” and he bounded playfully out of the
house, grabbing his hat off the rack and cockily placing it on his head.
The older man watched, another unguarded moment, one he would cherish
and treasure forever.
As he turned toward the kitchen to talk with Teresa about lunch, he thought
about the events that transpired and the afternoon he would have with his
son. It would just be the two of them. An older man and a younger
man. A father and a son. Murdoch Lancer and Johnny Lancer.