Word Count 1,723
(Written in honor of I Forgot Day, July 2, 2007) Re-edited July 2014
July 2, 1871:
Although the oak tree beside the gate into the south pasture blocked most of the sun, one shaft of light made it through the tangle of leaves. Johnny Lancer tipped the brim of his hat to hide the glare as well as his brother’s face. “I forgot,” he said.
“What do you mean, you forgot?” Scott Lancer sounded prickly.
“I just forgot.”
Johnny shrugged. Why did Scott have to make such a big deal over this? Sometimes things happened. You don’t like it, but life still goes on.
Scott let out a huff. “We’ve been talking about this for weeks.”
“I know.” Johnny spoke in a whisper of breath. He wished his brother would let the matter drop. The milk was spilt, as Jelly would say. There was no use crying about it now.
“Then how could you forget?” Scott’s tone demanded an answer.
“I don’t know.”
Scott crossed his arms. “I hope you know you’ll need to think of a better story than that.”
Johnny bristled. “It’s the truth.”
“Truth or not. Murdoch’s not going to believe it.”
Johnny hung his head. Scott was right. Any excuse, even the truth, would sound flimsy to their father. He sighed, walked to his horse, and swung aboard. “Come on, we don’t want to be late, too,” he said as he legged Barranca into a fast walk.
The brothers rode in silence until they reached the line shack at the base of Black Mesa.
Scott halted beside Johnny. “It appears we’re early.”
“Yeah . . . or the old man forgot.”
Johnny had to agree. Since returning to the home of his birth a year ago, he had learned from experience that Murdoch Lancer never forgot anything.
An hour passed and then another as the brothers made themselves at home inside the small adobe cabin and waited for the rest of their party to arrive. Soon the glare of the sun faded from the west window.
Scott rapped his knuckles on the table. “It’ll be dark in less than hour. They wouldn’t be this late unless they ran into trouble.” He reached for his hat as he rose from his seat across from Johnny. “We better go see what happened.”
Johnny picked up his own hat, worry tightening its grip around his middle. “Guess we better.”
Keeping a close lookout, the brothers rode toward home. Johnny’s concern increased the farther they travelled. He could see that Scott was worried, too, even though neither voiced their thoughts. It just wasn’t like Murdoch to be this late. Something bad had to have happened.
As they passed through the horse pasture, Johnny noticed the horse his father generally rode. Jelly’s mare and the buggy horse, Zanzabar, grazed a short distance away. “They don’t look like they’ve been anywhere.” Johnny pointed at the horses.
Scott’s brows pinched together. “No . . . they don’t.”
They pushed their horses into a lope. The barnyard was quiet when they arrived, and none of the hired hands were in sight.
Johnny gazed at the house. “Don’t see Doc’s buggy.”
“Doesn’t mean he’s not on his way here.”
Johnny leaned an elbow on his saddle horn and gazed at his brother. “So . . . do we rush in like we’re half worried to death . . . or tend to our horses and saunter in like everything’s fine?”
Scott appeared to study the matter. “I say the latter. A few minutes either way at this point isn’t going to make much difference . . . and we’ll retain our dignity if we’ve been worrying over nothing.”
That made sense. Johnny nodded his agreement, stepped down out of the saddle, and led Barranca into the corral. In a short while, the horses were munching hay in their stalls and the brothers were headed for the house.
Scott pushed open the heavy door into the entry hall. All was quiet, and Johnny squeezed by. Together they walked with nearly soundless steps to the arched doorway on their right and entered the large parlor.
Murdoch Lancer was sitting in the leather chair beside the fireplace. He didn’t even look up from the book he was reading.
The brothers strode closer. “You look comfortable,” Scott said as he passed the end of the sofa.
Murdoch looked up –a scowl on his face. “Where have the two of you been? I expected you home hours ago.”
Scott glanced over his shoulder at Johnny. “He forgot.”
Relief washed over Johnny. He ran a finger down the bridge of his nose and grinned at his brother. “Yep. He forgot.”
Murdoch scowled and spoke a bit sharply. “I forgot what?”
Scott waved a dismissive hand as he spoke. “Nothing. Nothing that matters, anyway.”
A gasp came from the hallway beyond the fireplace, and Teresa appeared in the open doorway. “I can’t believe we forgot,” she said as she hurried to Murdoch’s side.
“Forgot what?” Murdoch’s voice echoed from the ceiling.
Johnny shrugged. “Forget it, Murdoch. Like Scott said. It doesn’t matter.”
Murdoch’s mouth gaped open. “I didn’t.” His shoulders sagged as he seemed to wilt into the chair.
“If it’s any consolation to you . . . you’re not the only one, Sir,” Scott said.
Johnny elbowed his brother in the ribs.
Scott ignored the jab. “I didn’t remember myself until I ran across Johnny.”
What? Johnny’s jaw sagged as he stared at his brother. “You forgot, too?” He let out a laugh. Scott, who kept a journal for everything from appointments to daily happenings at the ranch, had done the unthinkable.
“Forgot what?” a new voice said.
Johnny whirled toward the foyer doorway just as Jelly Hoskins entered. “Uh, it was nothing,” he stammered.
Jelly hooked his thumbs in his suspenders–the sight reminding Johnny of a rooster on the prod. “Didn’t sound like nothing to me.”
Murdoch laid his book aside, rose, and stretched. “Believe me, Jelly. It was nothing.”
“If it ain’t none of my business, you could just say so. Ain’t no need to beat around the bush.” Jelly turned on his heel and started to leave.
Teresa ran after him. “Jelly, don’t go.” Taking his arm, she tugged him toward the sofa. “Here, have a seat by the fire.” She then gave each of the Lancer men a stern glance. “Now if you’ll give me a few minutes, I think I have a solution to our forgetfulness.”
“Anyone mind telling me what all this is about?” Jelly asked. He still sounded miffed at being kept in the dark.
“Like I told you . . .” Murdoch paused and took a breath.
“It ain’t nothing or any o’ my business,” Jelly concluded for him.
Murdoch’s cheeks flamed. “Stop putting words in my mouth.”
“I wasn’t.” Jelly’s chin rose higher. “I just thought you might need some help remembering what you so conveniently forgot!”
Johnny saw his father bristle further at Jelly’s sarcasm. If something wasn’t done, Jelly would leave–or be thrown out–and there wouldn’t be any need for whatever plan Teresa had in mind. The problem was he didn’t have a clue what to say to ease either man’s ruffled feathers.
Scott settled onto the arm of the sofa and patted Jelly on the arm. “Now, Jelly. You wouldn’t want to spoil all of our plans, would you? “
“Yeah.” Johnny didn’t know what plans Scott was talking about, but he’d back his play any way he could. He edged closer to his brother. “I know we botched things up, but that’s no reason to get in a pucker.”
“Johnny’s right,” Scott said. “Why don’t we all sit back and see what Teresa has in mind to turn this forgetful day into one we’ll never forget.”
Jelly grumbled under his breath, but kept his thoughts to himself. Johnny hoped Murdoch would do the same.
The grandfather clock announced the eighth hour. As the last gong rang out, Teresa returned with the left over cake from the evening before in one hand and a stack of small plates with forks on top in the other. She set them on the small table at the end of the sofa.
Six candles had been added to the top of the cake. These Teresa asked Johnny to light. When they were glowing brightly, she motioned for everyone to stand. “Happy Birthday!” she said.
“Happy Birthday!” Johnny’s voice blended with the voices of his father and brother.
Jelly’s brows drew together. “Why didn’t you tell me it was someone’s birthday?”
“We figured you already knew,” Scott replied.
Jelly stretched to full height. “How would I know?”
Johnny choked back a laugh. “Jelly . . . it’s your birthday.”
“Mine?” Jelly looked from one person to the next.
Murdoch eased onto the sofa and draped an arm over Jelly’s shoulder. “Yes, Jelly. It’s your birthday, but don’t worry about not remembering. It’s just been one of those days.”
Scott nodded. “Yes, it has.”
“But I’ve never forgotten my birthday,” Jelly said, unbelief written on his face.
Johnny stepped in front of the smaller man. “Don’t worry about it, Jelly. Nobody’s gunna accuse you of gettin’ forgetful in your old age. We all forgot, too. Like Murdoch said . . . it’s just been one of those days.”
“It has?” Jelly sounded skeptical.
Teresa picked up the cake and moved to Johnny’s side. “Here, Jelly. Blow out your candles.”
Jelly blew. The small flames flickered and went out.
Teasing Jelly was a temptation Johnny couldn’t resist. He grinned. “So . . . old man. How old are you?”
“I forgot.” Jelly adjusted his suspenders and glared at Johnny. “And I don’t plan on remembering any time soon!”
Everyone laughed. When it quieted, Teresa cut the cake. She placed the pieces on the plates and handed them out, starting with Jelly.
Johnny leaned close to Teresa’s ear. “Thanks. I bet this is one birthday Jelly never forgets.”
She whispered back. “Wasn’t that the plan?”
“Yep, that it was,” Johnny said, still keeping his voice low. Then he lifted his fork, saluted Jelly, and spoke loudly. “Happy Forgetful Day, Jelly. May you have many more.”
And everyone else raised their forks and said, “Here! Here!”
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