Word Count 8,640
The sequel to Blame
Scott spent the next few weeks trying to figure out how to make it up to his brother. Things had definitely changed between them as he had feared they would and it was all his fault. He had been so quick to believe it was Johnny’s past that had nearly killed their father and he had been so wrong. Johnny had said it was okay but he was distant now, not joking with Scott the way he used to. It was almost like when they had first arrived at Lancer. Tiptoeing around each other, afraid to say the wrong thing.
He wished he could talk to Murdoch but he was too ashamed of himself to admit what he had done. He watched as his father healed from the bullet wound to his chest that nearly stole him away from them all. He watched as Murdoch and Johnny seemed to grow closer since it had happened. He was glad for that, maybe Johnny would talk to Murdoch about how he was feeling. Maybe he already had.
He knew his words had cut his brother deeply. He was still amazed at how angry he was at Johnny, and how easy it was to not care where he was or what he was doing. In that moment of confrontation, that’s exactly how he had felt. Maybe the truth was finally revealed. Maybe he had been trying to ignore his brother’s past because it was the only way he could accept Johnny. All he knew was the look on his brother’s face seemed to agree with his outburst. Johnny had blamed himself too easily as well.
They were spending less and less time together now. Johnny worked alone and stayed as far away from Scott as he could. He hated to admit it but he knew they would never be as close again. He couldn’t forget his brother’s words to him that day. Even though he agreed with Scott’s assessment that this was his fault, his brother had always supported him, until now.
He spent more time with Murdoch or Jelly these days. He went to town more often. Anything to stay out of his brother’s way. He couldn’t look at him anymore without remembering. It hurt to know Scott’s true feelings but at least it had come out. He didn’t have to worry himself anymore that his brother would ever think badly of him. He knew the truth and it hurt like hell.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if Scott hadn’t kept insisting all this time that his past didn’t matter and they would face anything together. It was all pretty talk until it came down to the crunch. He couldn’t blame him though. Murdoch had been shot and they were both afraid for him. He wanted Scott to stand up for their father, to protect him against anything that might threaten. He just never imagined it would break the bond between them.
Murdoch watched as his son’s grew further apart and it was killing him. He was completely healed from his wound now and had resumed his life. Now, he had to figure some way to mend the rip between his boys. He knew from Jelly what Scott had said to Johnny. He had been both stunned and appalled that his eldest would turn on his brother. He knew it hurt Johnny terribly. He just didn’t know what he could do, what would repair their love for each other.
And he knew they loved each other, if not, this wouldn’t be so hard for them both. It was evident to anyone who looked that they were both miserable. Johnny avoided Scott and Scott could not meet his brother’s gaze when they were in the same room. They didn’t speak to each other unless it was necessary. He sighed deeply as he stared at the paperwork in front of him, not seeing any of it.
“Penny for ‘ em ,” Johnny grinned as he watched his father deep in thought from his spot by the door.
“Hello, son. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I don’t reckon you did. What are you thinkin so hard about?”
“You, as a matter of fact. And your brother.”
“Johnny, come in here. We need to talk.”
Johnny strolled into the room and plopped down on the sofa. “Ok, talk,” he smiled.
“What would it take for you to forgive your brother?” Murdoch asked, point blank.
Johnny was surprised by the question. “There’s nothin to forgive him for.”
“I know what Scott said to you the day I was shot. Jelly overheard the whole thing and told me, son. I know it had to hurt to hear Scott say those things.”
Johnny bowed his head and sighed. “He told the truth. I can’t forgive him for that. Like I said, there’s nothin to forgive him for,” he said softly.
“Alright. Maybe forgive is the wrong word. What will make things right between the two of you?” Murdoch tried a different approach.
“I don’t know. Things will never be the same between us, Murdoch. He lied to me and probably to himself for so long, I don’t see how you can change that.”
“Lied to you? What do you mean?”
“This is how Scott really feels. I don’t blame him for it, that’s just how it is. I don’t want him to try and hide his real feelings about me. I know he loves me and I love him but, it would have been a lot easier if he’d been straight with me from the beginning.”
“How do you think he feels, son?”
“He pretended to accept me. I should have known then, it was too easy, too fast. I thought he must be some kind of saint at first. It was easy, I guess, until something happened to you. We both thought it was because of me and even though it wasn’t this time, it could have been. He’s afraid that my past will hurt you or Teresa or Jelly. It was fine if he got in some scrapes with me. He could accept the risk for himself, but not for all of you. Do you see what I’m saying? This is how it should be. He should always protect all of you above me, always. That’s what I told him, too.”
“So, if Scott had been able to see that something might hurt one of us, he wouldn’t have gotten so close with you. Is that what youâ€™re saying?”
“Yeah, that’s it pretty much. Look, what happened was bound to at some point. I should have seen it, realized it would happen eventually. I should have talked to him about it a long time ago. I guess I was so happy to have a brother that accepted me for who I was, I put blinders on where Scott was concerned. To me, he’s always been perfect. He could do no wrong in my eyes. I guess that’s what’s so hard because I know I can do wrong in his eyes.”
Murdoch didn’t know what to say to this. He wasn’t sure Johnny was wrong. He realized he was talking to the wrong son. Scott was the one who needed to come to terms with his brother’s past. “I’m sorry any of this happened, John. I wish I could fix it for you both.”
Johnny smiled at his father. “Well, you can’t help that. Fathers are supposed to want to fix everything, aren’t they?”
Scott walked in on another shared moment between his father and brother and immediately felt awkward. Johnny saw him and patted his father on the leg, then got up and went to the kitchen.
“I’m sorry, did I interrupt something?”
“No, son. We were finished. Come over here, I want to talk to you.”
Scott walked over and took the seat his brother had just vacated. “What’s on your mind?”
“You and your brother. I was talking to Johnny and I realized I should be talking to you,” Murdoch answered.
“Scott, I know what happened between you. I know what you said to him.”
“He told you,” Scott said in a monotone.
“No, he didn’t. Jelly told me; he heard it all. I’ve known for weeks. What I want to know now is how you really feel about Johnny.”
Scott slumped his shoulders and shook his head slowly. “I thought there was nothing I wouldn’t do for him. I would give my life for him. But when I thought he was to blame for you getting shot, I was so angry. I just felt so much rage. I was so tired of it at that point. It’s always the same, except this time, it was you who was hurt and not Johnny. I just get so tired of having to deal with his problems, his past. It never ends, Murdoch. It never will.”
Murdoch was shocked by this answer. He expected Scott to tell him he didn’t mean any of it. “And you can’t live with it anymore?”
“I don’t have a choice. I have to live with it!” Scott blurted out.
“No, you don’t,” Johnny said from the doorway. “You don’t have to live with it, Scott.”
“Johnny, what are you saying?” Murdoch asked.
“I’m saying he doesn’t have to live with it. He has choices, let him make one.”
“Like what?” Scott asked.
“Like leaving or ignoring me or staying out of the way when I have a problem. So you see, you have all kinds of choices, brother,” he answered. There was no malice in his voice, no emotion at all, in fact.
“You don’t have to involve yourself in my life. Nobody told you that was part of the deal. Nobody said you had to stand up for me. Nobody ever said you had to care one way or the other; that was your choice. Now you can make another choice.”
Scott stood up to face his brother. “Well, I’m not leaving, so there’s one choice,” he said angrily.
“See? That wasn’t so hard. Now all you have to do is choose what else you are or are not going to do. Makes no difference to me. ” He remained emotionless, his face, his voice were void of any hint of how he was really feeling at that moment.
“So you want me to ignore you, to stay out of your problems?”
“I didn’t say that. I said you had choices. I just gave you a few of them. There are a lot more. You’re a smart man, I’m sure you can think of them.”
“I don’t hate you, Johnny.”
“I never thought you did. You hate what I was and what it could do to the family. That’s fine. I want you to feel that way. Just don’t think I don’t feel that way, too. So you tell me, Scott. What’s the answer? What would make it better for you?”
“You have choices too, Johnny,” Scott said, his anger on the rise. Not from what Johnny was saying but the way he was saying it, so cold and heartless.
“I’ve made my choices since I was old enough to know what the word meant. I choose to live here, to work here and to be with my family. What I want to know is, what would make it better, easier for you to live here.”
“Well, first it would be easier if you could show a little feeling instead of standing there with that mask on your face!” Scott spat.
Johnny nodded his understanding which only fed the anger in his brother. “Would you like to know why I’m doing that?”
“Yes, I would!”
“Because I can’t talk to you about this any other way,” he said simply. “Why are you avoiding my question, Scott? What would make it easier for you to live here?”
“What do you want me to say, Johnny? That I want you to leave?”
“Do you? Would that make it better for you?”
“No! It might make it easier but it wouldn’t make it better!”
The mask melted away before their eyes as Johnny heard what he had been waiting for … the truth. He frowned and bowed his head, nodding as he finally wrenched it out of his brother. Swallowing the lump that had risen so quickly in his throat, he found his voice, though it was barely above a whisper.
“What about you, Murdoch? Would it make things easier for you?”
“No, son,” Murdoch answered. He found he could barely hear his own voice at the moment as the ringing of Scott’s words reverberated in his head.
Johnny took a deep, if hitching breath and looked up at Scott. The mask was gone, the emotions were plain as he searched the face of his beloved brother. “I always thought I could count on you for anything. You made me trust you, made me open up. I’ve told you things I would never tell another living soul, not even him,” he said, nodding toward his father.
“But it’s all gone now. The truth is you don’t trust me. I think you wanted to, I think you made yourself believe it didn’t matter. But it does matter and I just wish you could have realized that before I started loving you. Now, we’ve reached an impasse and there’s nothing more to say or do. Nothing can change it now. I love you, Scott, I always will. You will always be my big brother but I can’t be your little brother anymore. You can’t let that happen anymore. It’s okay, I’m sorry I hurt you. I won’t do it again.”
Johnny turned and walked out of the house. Â
Scott stood forged to his spot, unable to move, unable to breathe as he realized what he had done. He had ruined everything they had shared together, every moment of trust and love. Every emotional upheaval they had shared was gone forever. He had lost his brother, his best friend because of his inability to face his true feelings. No more would they share their secrets with each other, no more would he have a strong shoulder to lean on in times of trouble or heartache.
It was as if Johnny had died, no … as if he had died but didn’t have the sense to lie down. He could have taken this opportunity to make things right between them instead, he had gotten angry again. Why? Why did he feel this way? What was causing it? He had never felt like this toward Johnny before. No matter what, they had stood by each other. There had to be more to his feelings than anger, didn’t there?
Murdoch stared at his oldest son’s back, entranced by what he had just witnessed. His sons had severed their bind to each other and he knew of nothing he could do about it. He never thought he would live to see this day, never thought anything could tear them apart. But it had, and it had nothing to do with Johnny’s past at all. It was his past that had killed the relationship between them.
That was the startling part, that it had all been so wrong, so unnecessary. He didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t be angry with Scott for revealing his true feelings, yet he had seen the pain it caused his youngest. He was torn between the two of them, unable to take sides, unable to do anything for either of them.
Johnny walked out to the barn and started currying Barranca. He stopped after a few strokes and buried his face in the palomino’s neck. The horse stood perfectly still, allowing his master the comfort he needed. The tears streamed down his face as he could no longer contain himself. He had lost the most important person in his life. He should be used to it by now but he wasn’t. It never got any easier and this was the hardest loss of all to take. He wasn’t sure he could take it and live.
He felt as if his heart would stop any minute and he was certain his soul had been ripped from him. Why couldn’t Scott have been straight with him from the beginning? It would have saved so much pain. No, it’s not his fault. He had told Johnny how much he had always wanted a brother. He had to make Johnny into his ideal so he could have his dream. He sank down into the stall and pulled his knees up to his chest, hugging them and rocking back and forth as he tried to come to terms with what had happened.
Jelly walked into the barn and started counting haystacks for his inventory. He heard something near the horse stalls and went to investigate. When he got to Barranca’s stall he was astounded by the site before him.
“Johnny? Hey, are you ok?” Â He got no answer, no inkling that his presence was even known by the young man. He opened the stall gate and knelt down beside the boy.
“Johnny, what is it?” He petted the raven hair and still got no response.
Johnny was crying; sobbing as if his heart were breaking and he knew instinctively there was only one thing that could reduce him to this. Jelly sat down beside him and pulled him into an embrace.
“Alright, now. It’s gonna be alright. Don’t you worry about nothin . We’ll fix it,” he cooed softly.
Johnny laid his head on the comforting shoulder but he couldn’t stop the sobs that racked his entire body.
” Shhhhh , there now. It’ll be alright. You boys just gotta work it out is all. Scott loves you so much. You know that,” he continued trying to soothe the aching boy.
This only made him cry harder and Jelly was stumped as to what could have happened between them to cause Johnny so much pain. He sat with him until he fell asleep from emotional exhaustion, and continued to hold him for fear of waking him.
Murdoch walked into the barn and called Johnny’s name. Jelly couldn’t see him from where he sat but he shushed him as loudly as he dared. Murdoch heard him and walked over to the stall. “
” Shhh , don’t wake him. He’s wore out. What the devil happened? He was cryin like a baby,” Jelly asked.
Murdoch knelt down beside them and stroked his son’s hair. “Johnny, wake up,” he called softly.
Johnny stirred and opened his eyes, seemingly confused as to where he was for a few seconds. He looked up into his father’s eyes and the pain hit him again like a bolt of lightning. He lowered his eyes and pulled away from Jelly, standing to leave.
“Wait, son. Talk to me,” Murdoch said gently.
” Nothin to say,” he murmured and walked away.
“Boss, what’s goin on? What happened between them two?”
“Oh, Jelly. I don’t know what to do. Scott is so angry and Johnny is being too understanding . It’s like he’s accepting his brother’s feelings without a fight. Like he expected it to be this way,” Murdoch vented.
“I can’t believe Scott really feels that way about Johnny. Somethin else has got to be wrong.”
“I can’t believe it either, but I heard it with my own ears. He told Johnny it would be easier to live here if he were gone.”
“No! Scott said that?” Jelly stated, astonished.
Scott paced his bedroom floor trying to understand what was wrong with him. He refused to believe these were his true feelings. He had always accepted Johnny and his past. What had changed? Nothing as far as he could see. The only answer he could come up with was fear. He had been afraid of losing Murdoch. But that didn’t account for these feelings continuing.
If he were to be honest with himself, he felt the same way he had the day he had said those things to Johnny. It was natural to be concerned for all their welfare of course, but that had always been the case. Then, it had never touched them this brutally before. It had never threatened to take his father away from him. He and Murdoch had spent many sleepless nights sitting vigil over Johnny because of some ghost from his past. He had spent more than enough time worrying about his brother and praying for his life to be spared. But never Murdoch; never anyone else.
So was that it? As long as it was Johnny paying the price for his past it was alright? No, it was never alright. Maybe this was just the apex, the final blow that brought it all to the surface. He had no answers, no idea why he felt all this anger toward his brother. He remembered reaching Murdoch’s side and seeing Johnny’s hand pressing on the wound, blood seeping through his fingers. Murdoch’s blood. He shivered at the memory and the anger that had risen in him at that very moment.
They had made promises to each other, promises to stand together no matter what happened. But he felt he could no longer keep that promise if it threatened the rest of his family. Scott made a decision then; one that he hoped would help him find the answers he so desperately needed.
Murdoch sat in front of the fireplace deep in thought when Scott came in.
“Sir? May I have a moment?”
“What is it, son?” Murdoch asked distantly.
“I need to go to San Francisco for a couple of weeks.”
Murdoch turned and looked at his son then. “Why?”
“I have to figure out what’s wrong with me, what’s really behind all of this. I don’t believe it’s Johnny. I don’t know what it is but if I don’t do something to figure it out, I can’t stay here,” Scott explained.
“Why San Francisco ?”
“I don’t know. It was the first place I thought of, I guess.”
“Alright, son. I hope you find what youâ€™re looking for but Scott, whatever you decide, I want you to come home first.”
“I will, I promise. Would you tell Johnny? I’m sure he doesn’t want to talk to me,” Scott said morosely.
Scott left the next morning. Johnny watched him ride away from his bedroom window. He put his hand against the glass as if trying to reach out for his brother then, he turned away.
Scott arrived in San Francisco and checked into a hotel. He felt like crawling into bed and just staying there but he had a purpose for this trip and he set about arranging it. It didn’t take him long to find what he needed and he would start first thing in the morning working on sorting out his feelings. He knew it might be the most painful experience of his life but he needed answers and he needed them now. He spent the rest of that first day wandering the streets, visiting museums and generally feeling lost.
He entered the office early the next day and took a seat after announcing himself. Ten minutes later, he was ushered into the inner sanctum. It was a large room with big windows that allowed the sunlight to brighten the interior which was decorated in dark woods and leathers. He approached the large desk and introduced himself. The man rose and shook his hand, then offered him a seat.
“How can I help you, Mr. Lancer?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. I’ve never done this before. I’m not sure where to start,” Scott said, feeling a bit embarrassed already.
“Why don’t you tell me what your specific problem is as you see it. We can go from there.”
Scott nodded his head, took a deep breath and began. He told the man what had happened between his brother and himself, what had brought it on and about Johnny’s past. He told him about his relationship with his father and the long history of where he grew up and how he came to be at Lancer. He told him as much as he knew of Johnny’s past and what had led to his former profession. It took over an hour to get this all out and when he was finished he looked at the face across the desk from him, hoping for an easy answer.
“So, what do you think is wrong with me, Doctor?”
“My goodness, you have had an interesting life to this point. Tell me more about yourself, though. Before you came to California , were there any traumatic events in your life?”
Scott tensed but knew he had to be truthful. He told about his time in the army and his stay at Libby Prison. He described, in detail, the horrors he witnessed and experienced in the prison camp and on the battlefield. He kept comparing these events to things that had happened since he came home.
“Mr. Lancer, why do you keep coming back to your life here when you talk about the war? They are two separate events, two different times in your life, yet you compare them to each other. Do you feel like youâ€™re fighting a war at home?”
Scott gawked at the man. “No, I … I didn’t mean … I don’t know,” he stammered.
“Your brother has had a very difficult life. Do you feel as if you’ve had advantages that he should have had?”
“Of course I do! Johnny never deserved to live like that. It wasn’t fair!”
“You’re very passionate about your brother. Let me ask you, the time you spent at Libby, do you feel that experience equals some of the things your brother endured?”
Scott’s brows knitted together and he thought about this. “I suppose I’ve suffered similar hurt but my hell lasted a year, Johnny’s lasted twenty years.”
“So, your ‘hell’ was nothing,” the doctor commented.
“What you went through in Libby can’t possibly compare to what your brother has gone through and, in fact, is still going through. Your ‘hell’ ended but his hasn’t. So, you feel that your experience trifles in comparison.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true.”
“Rubbish! Mr. Lancer, may I call you Scott?”
“Scott, you can’t compare pain. Everyone’s experiences are unique to them. What you suffered was torture, pure and simple. You can’t minimize that because someone else has had it harder. You deserve to have your pain acknowledged and understood. If we start saying, ‘well it doesn’t matter because Joe over there had it a lot tougher’, we begin to bury our own pain until it becomes all consuming. Eventually, that pain will find its own way to show itself. It can be in a positive way or a negative way. You needn’t be a martyr.”
“Are you telling me that I yelled at Johnny because of the war? That’s ridiculous, I wasn’t even thinking about that at the time!” Scott exclaimed.
“It doesn’t matter if you were thinking about it or not. It’s there, always just beneath the surface. You said you don’t talk about it much. If you don’t talk it out, it will sneak out when you least expect it. Pain is something that will not be denied. Our minds will hide it, bury it deep inside, but at some point, it will expose itself. Usually at the most inopportune times.”
“But I have talked about it. I talked to Johnny about it once.”
“Once? How much did you tell him? Never mind, I think I already know. You told him it was awful but it’s over now, right?”
Scott only nodded.
“Deep, painful memories require more than a fleeting mention. You must talk about those feelings. You can talk to me about it or you can talk to someone else, but until you are honest about those feelings, your real feelings about it, you will never be free of that torture.”
“I understand but, Doctor, I don’t think my brother will. I hurt him so badly, I don’t think I can ever make it up to him. I don’t think he will ever forgive me or believe me again.” The pain in his voice was not missed by the man sitting across from him.
“Tell me more about your brother. Not about his past but what kind of man he is.”
Scott smiled then and proceeded to tell the doctor about his amazing brother and all his attributes. This went on for half an hour before the doctor put his hand up to stop Scott.
“And this is the same man who was a gunfighter? I think I would like to meet him,” the doctor said, amused.
“I wish you could. Maybe you could explain this so he will understand,” Scott said sadly.
“Perhaps I can. I was thinking of taking a little break, a holiday. The San Joaquin valley sounds lovely. It may be just what I need,” he smiled.
“You can’t do that! I mean, you can’t just stroll in there and announce your going to make Johnny your patient. He might shoot you and then me!”
“Scott, what if you invited your new found friend to visit for a while? No one would have to know I’m a psychiatrist. I could talk to your brother and he would never know what I was doing,” the doctor said conspiratorially.
“You would do that? Why?”
“Well, normally I don’t make house calls, especially so far away. But I must admit, I’m intrigued . I don’t believe I’ve ever had a case this interesting. The history of your family is incredible and I would very much like to meet these people. It is as much for my benefit as a professional as it would hopefully be for you.”
Scott considered this explanation. Why not? It certainly couldn’t make things any worse. “Alright, when could you come?”
“Next week. I’ll have to clear my appointments then, I can leave.”
“I told my father I would be gone a couple of weeks, so I suppose I could wait and we could go back together.”
“Excellent! I must say, I’m looking forward to this. Not only for the learning experience and to help you, but truthfully, I need to get away from the city for a while,” the doctor explained. “We can talk more about Libby as well,” he added.
Scott spent the week visiting the doctor every day. They talked through the war and his imprisonment. He talked about the hell he went through and the torture he had endured. By the end of the week he was exhausted but he had to admit, he was coming to terms with that darkest hour of his life.
Monday morning they set out for Lancer. Scott was nervous, he wasn’t sure this would work but he had nothing left to lose at this point. He had already lost his brother, now he had to get him back, no matter what it took. He sent Murdoch a wire letting him know he was returning with a new friend.
Murdoch received the wire from Scott and shook his head. ‘Another stray,’ he thought. He wished he knew if Scott had found the answers he was looking for but it was impossible to tell from a telegram.
“Scott’s on his way home,” he said to Johnny as he walked in the house.
No response. Since Scott’s departure, Johnny had withdrawn into himself. He seldom spoke to anyone, ate little and slept even less. He worked from dawn to dusk and came home exhausted, hoping for a little dreamless sleep each night.
“He’s bringing a new friend he met there for a visit,” Murdoch went on. Still nothing. “Johnny, did you hear me?”
He nodded his head. Murdoch sighed heavily and went to his desk.
Scott arrived three days later with his ‘friend’. They hired a surrey and went straight to the ranch. His apprehension rising, he voiced his concerns to the doctor.
“The worst that can happen is he won’t talk to me,” the doctor reassured.
Scott knew that wasn’t the worst that could happen though. Johnny’s temper was legendary and if he found out he had been tricked, his wrath would come down directly on Scott’s head. He had to credit the doctor with some common sense though. He had made sure to dress more casually for this trip and looking at him, you would never know what he did for a living. In fact, he could have been a cattleman.
Murdoch stood in the yard and watched his son approach. “Scott! Welcome home, son,” he smiled.
“Thank you, Sir. This is my friend, Ben Walters.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Walters,” Murdoch said, extending his hand.
“Thank you, but please call me Ben,” the doctor replied accepting the handshake.
“Alright Ben, call me Murdoch. Well, come on inside, you must both be tired from your trip.”
“Where’s Johnny?” Scott asked.
“Did you tell him I was bringing someone with me?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, it’s just that I was telling Ben about him and he wanted to meet him,” Scott explained.
“I’m sure I’ll meet him soon enough, Scott,” the doctor intervened. Scott was too skittish and was causing immediate suspicion from his father.
Johnny rode in just before supper. He had begrudgingly promised Murdoch he would be on time since they had a guest. He headed straight for his room to get cleaned up and was not seen until supper was ready. After quick introductions, they sat down to the meal. Scott was relieved Johnny was being civil to the doctor, even if he had all but ignored his brother.
“Johnny, Scott tells me you’re quite a horseman,” Ben said.
“Guess so,” Johnny replied softly.
“I’m afraid I don’t know much about them except that they are beautiful animals. I’m not much of a rider. I was hoping you could give me some lessons if you have the time,” Ben tried.
“Scott’s the cavalryman, I’m sure he could teach you,” Johnny said with just a hint of sarcasm.
Silence hung thick in the room for long moments. Scott was at a loss as to how to break down his brother’s defenses. The doctor, however, was not so easily dismissed.
“Well, I just want to tell you how I appreciate this. I certainly needed a break from the city,” he said.
“What do you do, Ben?” Murdoch asked.
“I’m an accountant,” Ben replied.
Johnny nearly choked on his coffee when he heard this.
“Is something wrong?” Ben asked.
“No, nothin ,” he replied. ‘Figures Scott would make friends with someone in the same line as his grandfather,’ Johnny thought bitterly. He excused himself from the table and went to his room.
“He looks exhausted, Murdoch. Is he alright?” Scott asked with deep concern.
“No, he’s not alright,” Murdoch clipped. “Excuse me, Ben, I’m afraid I’m quite tired tonight. I’m sure Scott can entertain you. Goodnight,” he added and left the table as well.
“This is never going to work,” Scott said miserably.
“Give it time. Scott, I want you to make yourself scarce tomorrow. Let me take another shot at this.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘shot’ too loudly if I were you,” Scott replied sardonically.
Scott left early the next morning before he could run into Johnny and as requested by the doctor. He didn’t know what the man had in mind. He just hoped it didn’t get them both killed.
Johnny was working horses in the corral when Ben finally caught up with him. He leaned on the rail and watched in pure amazement as the young man talked the horse through his fear. He watched as Johnny mounted the animal and held on as the horse bucked for all he was worth until, finally, he began to obey the commands of the bit. Johnny took him around the turns a few times, then slid off and stroked the horse’s neck, speaking so softly, Ben couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“That was magnificent,” he commented when Johnny came near.
“What did you say to him?”
“Doesn’t matter what you say, it’s how you say it that counts.”
“That makes sense. Scott was right, you are amazing.”
Johnny locked eyes with the man but could find no sign of sarcasm or anything but honesty in the man’s eyes. “Scott should mind his own business,” he clipped.
“Youâ€™re pretty angry with him,” Ben ventured.
“That ain’t none of your business, mister,” Johnny shot.
“No, it isn’t. I’m sorry, it was just an observation.”
“Yeah,” Johnny mumbled.
“How long does it usually take you to break a horse?” he asked, changing the subject.
“That depends on the horse. Some are more stubborn than others and some are more scared than others. My horse didn’t take long, but he knew.”
“Knew? Knew what?” Ben asked.
“He knew I was the one and I knew it too,” Johnny shrugged.
Ben smiled, needing no further explanation. Scott was right about his brother. He wished now he hadn’t stopped him when Scott was describing Johnny to him in his office. He wanted to know more about this young man.
“I thought I’d take a short ride. Do you think you could pick out a horse for me? A nice tame one.”
Johnny smiled for the first time. It was a small smile but a smile nonetheless. “Sure, come on in the barn.”
Ben followed him into the barn. “Wait, I want to see if I can pick out your horse.”
Johnny stood still, not looking at any of the animals and waited for the man to play his game. He figured Scott already told him which was his but he wanted to see if the man knew a palomino from a pinto.
As if reading his mind, Ben said, “Now Scott told me it was a golden palomino. Of course, I can’t tell the difference but I would wager … it’s this one.”
“How much?” Johnny asked. “How much would you wager?” he reiterated, seeing the confused look on the man’s face.
Johnny smiled again, this time it was more of a genuine smile. “Pay up,” he said and walked over to Barranca.
“This is my horse. This is Barranca,” he said lovingly.
“Darn!” Ben said as he pulled the five dollars out and paid Johnny.
Barranca nuzzled him with his nose and Johnny laughed softly. “You don’t get any, it was my bet, amigo,” he said.
Barranca snorted and whinnied, stomping his foot in disagreement.
“Ok, ok you can have a treat later. How’s that?” The horse nuzzled him again; he was placated.
“He understands you,” Ben said in amazement.
“Sure he does. I told you, he knew,” Johnny shrugged.
Ben felt a small piece of the wall of ice melt away and he was encouraged.
By noon , Johnny had enough of breaking horses and he came in for lunch. Scott was still nowhere to be seen. He felt disappointment, which surprised him a little. During his brother’s absence, Johnny had steeled himself against the emotions that had been tearing him apart. He had decided he would not allow Scott to hurt him again. He found Murdoch and Ben in the kitchen talking.
“How’s it going, son?” Murdoch asked as he walked in.
“Pretty good so far. Don’t see any troublemakers in the bunch.”
“I understand you’ve been making wagers with our guest,” Murdoch said with a glint of amusement in his eyes.
“Yep, and I won,” Johnny smiled.
Â Murdoch felt relief wash over him. He had not seen Johnny smile in months.
They sat and talked companionably through lunch and Ben felt that Johnny was opening up to him a little, accepting his presence at any rate. He took another chance.
“Johnny, I was wondering if you would show me around the ranch a little. Scott said he was behind on his chores due to his trip so I suspect he won’t be around too much. If you don’t mind, of course.”
Johnny looked at his father who shrugged his shoulders. “Sure, I can do that. How about tomorrow morning.”
“Great! Thank you, I could use the fresh air and quiet.”
‘Me too,’ Johnny thought.
Scott arrived in time for supper, hot, dirty, tired and more than a little put out. His mood improved substantially when he received a clandestine wink from Ben.
And so it was that Johnny and Ben set out the next morning for the tour. Johnny took him to several of his favorite places and they ended up at south mesa. From this high elevation, you could see all of Lancer and Johnny pointed this out to his companion.
“You’re proud of this land, aren’t you?” Ben asked.
“Sure, it’s beautiful.”
“It must have been difficult, coming here after so many years.”
Johnny gave him a side long look. “Scott tell you about that, too?”
“He sure told you a lot.”
“He talked about you mostly. He seemed very proud of you. But…” Ben trailed off.
“Well, it just seemed whenever he talked about you there was a sadness in his voice.”
Johnny looked away then. He stared out at the valley and mountains beyond. “What else did he tell you?” he asked after a time.
“He told me he had done something that was unforgivable and he felt like he had lost you. That he had said things that weren’t true and that he didn’t mean. He said he had so much anger in him and that he directed it toward you even though it wasn’t you he was angry with.”
“He said all that, huh? Did he happen to say what he was mad about?” Johnny asked sarcastically.
“Yes he did. If you’re prepared to listen, Johnny, I think I can explain things so that you understand what is bothering your brother,” Ben said earnestly.
Johnny turned and looked at the man again. “Talk,” he clipped.
“I think that some things from your past you try to bury, to forget about. Sometimes those things creep up on you when you least expect and it feels like you’ve been hit by a boulder. Do you know what I’m talking about?” Ben asked.
“More than you could ever know.”
“Sometimes you just feel the pain and don’t really know what’s causing it at the moment and you lash out at someone nearby because it makes you angry. Angry that youeâ€™r hurting but you don’t know why. Does that make sense?”
“When you lash out like that, you say things right off the top of your head. You don’t know why youâ€™re saying them or where it came from because it isn’t how you really feel. You just want someone else to hurt as badly as you do. When you do that, it’s hard to take it back because you’ve hurt someone, usually the person closest to you in heart. You can’t make them understand that you didn’t mean it because you don’t know why you did it in the first place. Do you understand?”
“I guess so. It’s like you say somethin and you know it’s wrong but you can’t stop yourself and even afterwards, you can’t stop bein mad. “
“Exactly. That’s what happened to Scott. He was angry but not at you. He wanted someone else to hurt like he did and he chose you because you were there and he knew how to hurt you. It isn’t right, it’s just human.”
“So what was eating him?” Johnny asked.
“Scott told you about being in Libby Prison, didn’t he?”
“A little. I tried to get him to tell me but he pretty much shrugged it off. Is that what’s bothering him?”
“That’s a part of it. He went through some horrible things in that prison and during the war as well. But he feels like it’s not worth mentioning because you’ve been through so much more,” Ben explained.
Johnny stared incredulously at the man. “That’s crazy! I know he went through hell there, had to, but I never knew he felt like that. I mean, what does my life have to do with what he went through? He can’t throw it away like that! It’s his, it belongs to him, nobody can make it less than what it was,” Johnny exclaimed.
Ben smiled and shook his head slowly. “You are an incredible young man, Johnny. You got right to the core of it. The question is, what to do about it.”
“I know what to do about it. Leave it to me,” Johnny said as he stood up and walked to his horse. “Can you find your way back to the house?”
“Sure, go ahead,” Ben smiled.
It didn’t take him long to find his brother hard at work on the fenceline . He rode up, dismounted and walked over to face Scott. Johnny grabbed him by the shirt collar and dragged him to the nearby stream. He proceeded to toss Scott into the cool water.
He came up spurting and sputtering. “What did you do that for?” he yelled.
Johnny crouched down so he could look Scott in the eye. “Don’t you ever do that again! “
“Do what?” Scott yelled back, totally perplexed.
“Get out of there! Sit down, shut up and listen to me!”
Scott dragged himself out of the water and did as he was told. Muttering the whole time about unnecessary use of force.
“Now, I just had a nice long talk with your friend. Scott, I cannot believe you don’t think your pain is worth anything! I can’t believe you feel like you don’t deserve to be heard because of me! What on earth would make you think that? Don’t talk, just listen. I have always told you whenever you wanted to talk about the war, I would listen, haven’t I? Shut up! I tried more than once to get you to open up about it but you just kept telling me you were fine and it was no big deal. Even though I knew that was malarkey, I respected you not wantin to talk about it. I figured when you were ready, you’d come to me.
â€œBut you didn’t, you just let it fester until it exploded all over me and our friendship. You let it come between us, Scott. You said nothing would ever do that. You said nothing would ever make you hate me. But you did let it happen, you did let it come between us and you did hate me. Now, I don’t know what to do, what to think. I don’t know how I’m supposed to stop loving you.”
Johnny’s voice began to tremble toward the end of his diatribe and he couldn’t talk any longer. Â He turned his back on his brother and his body started shaking uncontrollably.
Scott sat in dismay. The water dripping down his face mixed with the tears brimming in his eyes until he couldn’t tell which was which. He stood up and walked over behind his brother.
“Johnny, I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand what was bothering me. I knew it wasn’t you but I couldn’t stop myself from taking it out on you. I said the most hurtful things I could think of because I wanted someone else to hurt like I did. I didn’t know why and I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I let you down, I destroyed our friendship. I know you can’t ever forgive me for that. All I can say is how very sorry I am and I love you with all my heart.
â€œIf nothing else, please understand that it had nothing to do with you and I would stand by you anytime, anywhere, for any reason, if you wanted me to. I don’t want you to ever think it was your fault. If you want me to leave Lancer, I will.”
“If you leave Lancer, I swear I’ll kill you myself. I do understand, Scott. That’s the whole thing. You didn’t think I would but I do. I don’t want to lose you. I can’t. What I want, more than anything, is for you to share this with me. Talk to me, brother. Tell me about your pain, your nightmares. I want, no I need you to do that. I need to be able to help you like you help me. It’s not a contest, Scott. Who got hurt the most. Pain is pain, that’s all.”
Johnny wiped his face with the back of his hand before he turned to face his brother. Seeing the tears on Scott’s face, he grabbed him again, only this time, into an embrace. “I love you so much, Scott. Never doubt that,” he whispered.
“Johnny, I don’t know what I would do without you. You saved my life whether you know it or not. I wanted to tell you about Libby, I just always felt so ashamed of it,” Scott said huskily.
“I could never be ashamed of you, Boston ,” Johnny said softly.
Scott smiled. “It sounds so good to hear you call me that again. I can’t believe how much I’ve missed it. Let’s sit down. I need to talk.”
And they did, until the sun was setting behind the mountains to the west. Scott told Johnny about the war and his time in the prison. He explained all the horrors and the torture they all endured. He told him about the starvation, the pestilence, the intolerable smells of death and human waste. He went into detail about his own suffering and how he had changed when he returned to Boston .
He told him about what his life was like, the endless, meaningless parties and rendezvous’ with both single and married women. His shame at his own self-destructive behavior. He told him how the invitation from Murdoch had been a godsend and how much he needed to get away from that life. He told him exactly how he had felt upon discovering he had a brother and the feelings he had had about him since then.
They headed home finally, as there was no longer any light to see each other’s faces by. They continued their talk in Scott’s room when they got home and neither showed up for supper.
Ben had asked Murdoch to let them be, explaining they were talking things out and that was all Murdoch needed to hear. He had never felt such relief, as if he had been trapped under a boulder and someone had finally lifted it off him. He could breathe again.
Ben owned up to who he was, as he had discussed the eventuality of this with Scott before they ever arrived at the ranch. Murdoch was surprised, but not angry. How could he be angry at Scott for knowing he needed help and for realizing his brother needed it as well? He was grateful to Ben for getting the two of them talking. He knew that was all they needed and everything could be worked out between them.
Johnny and Scott stayed up all night talking, like best friends do. They sneaked down to the kitchen to eat in the middle of the night, laughing quietly, like two schoolboys. Like it should have been all their lives. They were catching up and if they acted like children from time to time, that was okay, they both deserved to.
Scott fessed up and told Johnny who Ben was. He wasn’t angry, a little surprised, but eternally grateful to the man for giving his brother back to him. Things would not be the same between them again, they would be better. Now that they had skirted the edge of the point of no return.
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