Pretending and Promises by ZoeyT

Word Count 2,503

Pretending and Promises by Zoey T

I don’t own them – just enjoy spending time with them.

This is not a Christmas story, even though it was inspired by a Christmas song. The idea started running around in my head back in December when I first heard Promises to Keep in a concert by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. There’s a great video.

Promises To Keep”

Christmas time
On a cold December morning
All is calm
And the world is still asleep

Christmas lights
That have been caught without warning
Gently glitter on
Stars to wish upon
All the world is at peace

Christmas time and the year will soon be leaving
Cloaked in time till it’s just a memory
Christmas stays if we don’t forget its meaning
Days go quickly by
Years they multiply
And we go searching for thee

And the dream is still alive
From that first December morning
And it always will survive
As long as we can see
That the dreams we find in life
Are the dreams we tend to seek
And Christmas has its promises to keep

Christmas time
And the moments just beginning
From last night
When we’d wished upon a star
And if this kindness we feel is just pretending
If we pretend long enough
Never giving up
It just might be who we are

.

Johnny Lancer snugged his patchwork quilt closer, gazing up at the night sky. Even through the quilt, the stone bench chilled his backside. The half-moon glowed softly. Night sounds lulled him; the rasp of a cold breeze in bare trees, the soft scheel of a barn owl, the distant lowing of cattle. The night was comforting—shadows had always been his friends. Ugliness and doubts and sorrows and betrayals hidden by a cloak woven of moonlight and solitude. Lost in the oblivion of sleep… All around him the world was asleep.

Ugliness and pain. The pain of loneliness, of bullets, of rare, transient moments of happiness slipping away… all Johnny Madrid had except dreams and wishes. Those, too, slipped away under the glare of morning. Until now. He had dreamed of a home and he had one. He had wished for a family and he had one. He had a place and a future…

A wolf howled, drawing Johnny’s attention to the mountains; deeper black against the starry canopy. He sighed, shifting the quilt again. A lone wolf; feral; a predator. Like Johnny Madrid. Doubts, ruthlessly entombed, time and again, in the months past, gripped his heart with skeletal fingers. Could he ever really be Johnny Lancer?

Images flashed, unbidden, through his mind.

His father’s face that second day. “I don’t know what to think of you.”

But, then, a vague memory of Murdoch’s huge, calloused hands wiping his fevered face with a cool cloth after he was shot. That booming voice—strangely soft—soothing; reassuring.

The day he returned after Wes was killed. “The only thing wrong around here has always been you.” And damned if it wasn’t. The brother who was so much more than he’d ever dreamed of was gunned down because of him.

Murdoch, offering him a chance to escape. What was that if not faith… maybe even love… that Murdoch would bend his iron code? And Scott… Scott had believed in him. And been shot—again.

The night he killed Isham. Another betrayal. The strength of Murdoch’s hand on his shoulder; comforting; affirming. There had been no condemnation in his words. “You are Johnny Madrid. I guess a part of you always will be.”

Part Lancer, part Madrid… altogether… what? What am I? Am I lying to myself; pretending? Pretending to be a rancher. Pretending to be a brother; a son. Pretending to be an upright citizen, an honorable man. Pretending to not be Madrid. Pretending… dreaming… wishing… he wasn’t already damned.

The gentle scrape of a boot on stone brought him up and around, gun drawn, in one fluid movement.

“Whoa, Brother!”

The whoosh of exhaled breath accompanied the click of a hammer being lowered.

“Damnation, Scott! Don’t you know better than to sneak up on me like that?”

Lowering his hands, Scott sighed in relief, then, chuckled. “After all these months, you would think.”

Johnny picked up the discarded quilt and resumed his seat, wrapping it firmly around him again. “What are you doing out here this time of night, anyway?”

Stepping up beside the bench, Scott crossed his arms against the chill. “I could ask you the same question. You’ll be dead on your feet tomorrow.”

“You first.”

“I woke up and something seemed off. I peeked into your room and you were gone. I was hoping you were here, or in the barn, not halfway to somewhere else.”

Silence.

“Johnny…”

Johnny sighed. “Couldn’t sleep. Just thinking.”

“Not about that gunfight, I hope.”

“No. Sort of.”

“Shove over and share the quilt.” Scott settled on the bench, pulling the quilt around him. “I thought we hashed this out last night.”

Johnny resumed his contemplation of the stars. Several minutes passed in companionable silence. Johnny’s sigh was deeper, his voice so soft, Scott leaned in to catch the words.

“Do you ever feel like you’re not anybody?”

Scott’s voice reflected a puzzled frown. “I don’t think I follow.”

Frustration welled up in Johnny, mingling with doubt and dread. “I mean, do you ever feel like you’re not one whole person… you’re parts of different people. You have to be different people in different places and times. Damn, I don’t know how to explain it.”

“I think I know what you mean,” came the soft reply. “It’s sort of like acting in a play and you play different characters. Each one is composed of parts of you, but none of them is all of you.” Silence. “Like me, especially after the war. I attended all the right social events in Boston and escorted ladies from the right families, but I was just going through motions—acting. Now I’m trying to be a California rancher, but I’m feeling my way. Trying to figure out what ‘me’ I need to show when.” Johnny could hear the knowing smile. “Like you’re Lancer and Madrid. Brother to Teresa, son to Maria… something else altogether to the ladies at Miz Mena’s.”

“Am I? Lancer, I mean. I was just thinking before you came out here that I’m pretending and wishing. I’ve been doing that as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I pretended sometimes that I had a big brother. I hid in barn lofts, or anywhere I could find, dreaming about a family and a real home because if I went home…” his voice whispered into nothing. He swallowed hard. “If I went back, the real world would be a miserable shack and strange men and kids beatin’ the crap out of the mestizo. Then, I pretended to be a big, tough gunfighter, even when I was fifteen and pissin’ myself, facing a man down in the street. Now… now I’m pretending to be Johnny Lancer. But I’m not sure I ever can be.”

The silence was longer this time, both men gazing up at the blazing points scattered like diamonds across the velvet darkness. When Scott spoke again, his tones were brisk; confident.

 “Brother, mine, we all pretend. As far as I can see, you work up one hell of a sweat pretending to herd cattle, mend fences, clear streams, and all one-thousand-and-one other things that go into running this ranch. Just like I do. I believe I know what you mean, but I also believe… just maybe… if we pretend long enough and hard enough to be brothers, sons, ranchers, it might be who we become.”

“You really believe that?”

“I do.”

Abruptly, Scott’s hand swept outward to encompass the heavens. “Pick a star. Any star, and make a wish.”

Johnny pulled away in confusion, dragging the quilt from Scott’s shoulders. “Why?”

Scott jerked his edge back around him. His hand waved again. “Star light, star bright, I wish to have my wish tonight.”

Johnny stared at the dark form beside him. “What?”

Scott chuckled. “What? Don’t tell me you never wished on a star?”

Johnny snorted. “Why would I do that?”

“If you wish on a star, Brother, your wish comes true. So they say.”

Johnny snorted again. “So you’ve done this and it actually works?”

He could feel the smile he knew was on Scott’s face. “You’re sitting here, aren’t you?”

The stunned silence lasted about thirty seconds before Johnny backhanded his brother’s stomach. “You are so full of bullshit!”

They shared a hearty laugh, but Johnny’s slowly ebbed, leaving him staring down. He bit his lip, hands toying with the edge of the quilt. His next words surged up before conscious thought could hold them back. “I don’t know how you can say that. Knowing what I am. Yesterday…”

A strong, warm hand gripped his knee. “Johnny, dammit, give yourself some credit! What happened in town yesterday wasn’t your fault.”

“Maybe.”

Now Scott snorted. “No maybe about it. You did everything except stand there and let him kill you. Do you hear me, Little Brother?”

He nodded; a smile crept across his face. “Yeah, Big Brother, I hear you. But, all those folks watching. All they see is Madrid. Trouble walking.”

“I thought gunfighters survived by reading people.”

“They do.”

“So, read them.”

“Who?”

“Our neighbors, the vaqueros, the people we do business with. Most of them like you, Johnny, and they respect you.”

“You mean they’re afraid of me. Took me awhile to work out the difference.”

Scott huffed. “You can be so… exasperating. Am I afraid of you?”

“Hell no.”

“Murdoch?”

“Don’t I just wish!”

“Teresa? Maria? Cipriano? The men we work with every day?”

Johnny sat stock-still, mind scrambling for focus. The sheer force of Scott’s offensive had him off balance; something he rarely felt and didn’t like.

Scott drove onward. “When something happens that calls out the Madrid part of you, that can be good because it allows you to defend yourself. But you fall back into being locked up inside yourself and hostile to the rest of the world. Assuming the world is hostile to you. Put Madrid aside. He’s not needed now. Johnny Lancer knows I’m right.”

Johnny was already shaking his head. “And big brothers are always right?”

“Damn straight.”

“That first day, Murdoch said the past was dead and gone. My past won’t ever be gone. It’ll just keep biting me in the ass. Bitin’ all of us, Scott. I just wish…”

“Wish what?”

“Doesn’t matter. Wishes get you nowhere. Learned that a long time ago.”

“What?” Scott yanked the quilt from Johnny’s shoulders.

Johnny yanked it back. Deep sigh. “Dios, you can be a pain.”

“Damn right. It’s part of a brother’s job; especially a big brother.”

Another sigh. “I wish I could really be Johnny Lancer. That I could live up to what he’s supposed to be. You really think some star is going to make that happen?”

The moon, draped in her indigo veil, drifted westward. The owl’s scheels carried on the winter air. The wolf howled again, answered this time. The men gripped the quilt as a gust of wind tugged at it. Scott inhaled deeply.

“Johnny, you may be right—about wishes. Wishes are light things, as a rule. But dreams… ah… dreams are another matter altogether. Dreams are rooted in your soul and they can be pursued and made real. Sometimes, you don’t even realize what the dream is until you find it. That’s how it was for me. And you… you dreamed of being Johnny Lancer; not the name, but the man. In some corner of your soul, you kept that dream alive through all the years of… everything else. That dream kept you alive in all the ways that matter. Kept you from becoming Day Pardee.”

He turned from the sky to face Johnny, even though neither could discern more than a shadow.

“And when the chance came to make that dream real, you grabbed hold and fought for it. We both did.” He shrugged. “And, so, here we are, pretending and pretending until the dream becomes reality.”

“I’m real good at fightin’…and horses,” came the murmur. “Not sure about much else.”

“You are so full of bullshit.”

Stunned by the unexpected tone, Johnny rose slowly, the quilt floating gently to the stones. Scott remained motionless.

“That was one nice speech, Boston.” Doubt and anger tinged the words. “Read that in some philostofy book?”

“Philosophy. And no. I learned it from the war. I learned it from you. I learned it from being here; finding the dream I was seeking even though I didn’t know what I was searching for. Can’t you see that everyone around you pretends? That none of us is altogether one thing or another? That’s probably truer for us than most people, but we’ll figure it all out eventually.

“You’ve got a lot more faith in us… in me… than I have.”

“Hmmph. That doesn’t take much. Nonetheless, I do believe we will make this work. In spite of you and Murdoch. And you are Johnny Lancer… amongst other things.”

Scott leaned over to snag the quilt, then, stiffly gained his feet. “And I also believe I’m cold and we are both going to catch our death if we don’t get back to our nice warm beds.”

Johnny turned back to the stars. His voice drifted softly over his shoulder. “You really do believe that?”

The quilt wrapped around Johnny and he was turned toward the house. “Absolutely. Remember that. And let’s not have a repeat of you forgetting that you made a promise to keep pretending.”

Johnny stopped. “When did I promise that?”

Scott got them moving again. “When you signed that partnership agreement.”

Johnny stopped again. “I don’t remember anything about promising or pretending. Hell, that agreement left out the whole part about me owning one-third of wrestling dumb cows out of mudholes and mending fences and clearing creeks and those damn books… what’s so funny?”

Scott’s chuckle interrupted the lament.

“Johnny, we got taken; all three of us. You and I promised arms, legs, and guts for one-third of a ranch. Murdoch promised two-thirds of his life’s work for our help to hold onto it. A straightforward business arrangement. None of us really understood what we were getting into, but we are in it and there’s no going back. Business partners, yes. But, also a family with all the inherent promise and promises and problems that go with it. So, here we are—Scott Garrett and Scott Lancer. Johnny Madrid and Johnny Lancer. Murdoch the Patrón and Murdoch the father.”

“So, you’re saying we’re all pretending—Murdoch included—and we all promised to keep pretending.”

“Ayah. That’s Bostonian for absolutely. See? Easterner lurking beneath pretend California rancher.” Scott opened the door and shoved Johnny through.

ΩΩΩ End ΩΩΩ

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19 thoughts on “Pretending and Promises by ZoeyT

  1. You paint a beautiful picture of the night and the brothers’ deep feelings on life, themselves, and their families. The writing is smooth and welcoming. Thanks for sharing.
    Chris

    Like

  2. I remember telling you in another forum how much I liked this story. It holds up well to rereading. Love the exchange between the brothers. Thank you!

    Like

  3. Thanks for the feedback. I heard that song and it stayed in my head, then the Lancers found their way in, and there it is. Nice to know you liked it.

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  4. A nice, well thought out and written interlude between the brothers which I enjoyed reading. Thank you for posting.

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