Anniversary

By Cadillac Red

Scott Lancer rode through the Lancer arch at a leisurely pace. He was a little later than planned but still had plenty of time to clean up and be on time for dinner. The family's housekeeper was making a big fuss according to his father Murdoch. But the big Scot had taken a couple of bottles of his best burgundy out of the cellar that morning. He might not be as obvious as Maria but that showed today was a special day in his mind as well.

Scott brought his horse to a halt outside the house as Murdoch walked out. He dismounted as they exchanged greetings, and Scott tethered his horse to the rail. "We finished the fence ahead of time," he said, removing his leather gloves. "I figured there was enough time to move some of the herd into the north pasture…. It'll save going back there tomorrow."

"Good thinking," Murdoch said. "It never hurts to get ahead of things. Did you happen to run into your brother anywhere?"

Now Scott understood the distraction he sensed in his father. "No, sir," he answered. "But he's not late. Dinner's not for another half hour…"

Murdoch finally smiled. "You're right. It's just his crew came back without him a while back. They said he had something to do before coming in…."

"I don't think he'll be late tonight—"

"No, of course not! Well, it's not unheard of, your brother being late for dinner…." Murdoch said. Then he waved it off. "I'm not worried. Come on in and have a drink, son."

Scott sensed there was a hint of concern though and it suddenly occurred to him where his younger brother might be. "On second thought, I just thought of something I need to do," he called as he grabbed his horse's reins and bounded back into the saddle. He pulled the horse around. "I won't be late!"

"But…! What could be so impor—" He shook his head as Scott was already out of earshot. The rancher watched him kick his horse into a trot and head through the arch and away. The ranch foreman appeared at his side as he was standing there, watching Scott ride away.

"Patrón?" Cipriano said, "ees everythin' all right?"

Murdoch exhaled forcefully and turned to walk back into the hacienda, gesturing for the foreman to accompany him. "Have you noticed both my sons are loco, Cip?" he asked conversationally. "I don't think I wanted to admit it earlier but…."

The Mexican man laughed heartily, accompanied by his boss.

Scott rode with determination for almost ten minutes on the road to Morro Coyo. Coming around a bend, he saw his brother, sitting on the side of the hill up ahead. His horse was ground tethered a few yards away and Johnny was just sitting, staring, until he noticed his brother's approach. He smiled shyly, then ducked his head in a manner Scott had come to recognize. It said he was aware he'd been found out and that he didn't really mind all that much. Scott dismounted and left his horse with Barranca, then lowered himself to the ground next to Johnny.

"Brother," he said by way of greeting.

"Hi Scott," Johnny answered. "Guess ya figured out I'd be here, huh?"

"Guess I did. It's a beautiful view, isn't it? I like to stop here now and then too." As he spoke, he gazed out over the valley in which the Lancer hacienda sat. It was the view Theresa had shown the two young men that first day when they arrived, so different and from such opposite worlds.

"Three years ago today," Johnny said quietly. "It feels like yesterday sometimes. And other times…."

"It feels like we've always been here," Scott finished for him. "Sometimes I feel like everything that came before just happened to somebody else."

'Yeah! That's it. Like I remember somebody else's life but mine is here… and always has been."

Scott leaned back on his gloved hands, stretching out his back while Johnny picked up a blade of grass and began to chew on it thoughtfully.

"Remember what the ole man said that day? That he had a gray hair for every blade of grass on Lancer? And that he loved this land more than anything God had ever created?"

Scott nodded. "I… I've always thought he regretted that last part, once it was said."

"Yeah, me too. Not at first but… later. Leastwise, he's gone a long way to prove there's some things he loves even more than the land…." He swallowed hard and exhaled.

"Yes, he has," Scott agreed, laying a hand on his brother's shoulder and giving it a brief squeeze. "I also think I understand how he might have said it though, or thought it. This land—" he looked out across the green valley as shadows were growing longer and a soft breeze had begun blowing out of the San Benitos. "… it's in my blood now too. Somehow it gets into your heart and…."

"I know what ya mean, Scott," Johnny said, leaning forward and wrapping his arms around his knees. "There's no place else in the world I'd rather be. Not now. Not ever."

Scott stood up and put out a hand to help his brother up. "I think that's the definition of home, little brother," he said. "How about we head back there now, before we're late for supper."

Johnny laughed as he stood and the two young men sauntered toward their horses. "Yeah, I think most of the ole man's new gray hairs come from worryin' 'bout us!"

They mounted and without a word passing between them, the race was on. Johnny had surprised Scott in the past and gotten a lead on him but today the two men were neck and neck as they galloped their horses downhill and through the pasture toward home.

In the hacienda, Murdoch Lancer glanced furtively at the grandfather clock and then down at his pocket watch. It was getting dangerously close to dinner time and neither of his sons was home. He tamped down his rising temper and tried to think of what might have detained them, tonight of all nights.

"Se vienen los muchachos!" one of the hands called from outside and Murdoch smiled. "The boys are coming!"

He walked out of the French doors just in time to see both of his sons sail over the far fence, horses galloping, shouting at each other. The hands all surged to the near side of the corral to watch the end of the race as Scott and Johnny jumped the final fence in unison and slowed their horses to a walk, letting the animals cool down a bit and acknowledging the cheering coming from the hands. Finally Cipriano cut it off, sending most of them back to their evening chores with a good-natured pretend tongue-lashing he extended to the Lancer sons for causing such a ruckus in the first place.

"Sorry, Cip," Scott said, as he dismounted. "It was an honor race though."

"Yeah, big brother had to prove he's not quite ready for the rockin' chair yet," Johnny laughed as he handed his mount's reins to Cipriano. "Would you get someone to give 'im a good rub-down, Cip? I don't wanna be late for dinner—"

"Hello, my sons," Murdoch boomed as he approached, pointedly checking his watch and holding back a smile. "Just in time for dinner… barely."

"I got time ta change my shirt don't I?" Johnny asked, grinning.

"I think we'd all appreciate that," Murdoch said as he continued to fight the smile but it lit his eyes nevertheless. "It's just six o'clock and I told Maria to hold dinner for ten minutes. Enough time for both of you to wash up."

"Thanks, Pa," Johnny called over his shoulder as he strode into the house.

The smile could no longer be contained and Murdoch had to take a moment to compose himself. Then he turned to his oldest son. "Thanks for finding him and bringing him home," he said.

"He wasn't far. I'm sure he would have made it on his own."

"Perhaps. But… well, I don't think I've ever said how much I appreciate the way you look out for your brother. I—I couldn't have asked for… better…." Murdoch pressed his lips together and breathed in, then exhaled forcefully, looking embarrassed by his unusually sentimental thoughts. "Go on now," he continued gruffly. "Get washed up or you'll be the one late for dinner."

"Okay," Scott said, beginning to walk into the house. Then he stopped and looked back. "Thanks, Pa," he said, before turning and disappearing through the open front door.

Murdoch Lancer blinked back a tear. The big man cleared his throat as he walked through the French doors into the great room. He went to the sideboard and fixed himself a Scotch whiskey. Then walked over to the giant window that looked out on his empire, this ranch he had built with blood and sweat and tears over nearly thirty years. He loved this land… but it was nothing compared to the sons upstairs getting ready for dinner. And the gift they had each given him a few minutes earlier.

Maria and Theresa bustled in from the kitchen placing platters of food on the long dining table as Scott and then Johnny appeared and began complimenting the ladies on the array of food. Scott announced he was pouring a glass of the fine burgundy for each of them, and Johnny made a point of holding a chair out for Theresa to sit, to her surprise and delight. It was not much different than any other evening at Lancer but tonight, everything was perfect in Murdoch Lancer's world.

THE END