Word count 896
(Note: This story was written and first shared in response to the February 2013 Memory Challenge on the Lancer_Writers group on Yahoo. In addition to answering this challenge, this short piece also serves to explain Johnny’s thoughts concerning his father’s hands in my story titled “Stranded in Dos Dedos”. The timeframe is two weeks after the end of the Blind Man’s Bluff episode.)
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Two hands, like the jaws of an iron trap, gripped his arms and jerked him backwards.
Johnny staggered, bumped into the man behind him, and stood with heart racing. A memory from long ago flashed through his mind. He shuddered even though he knew the hands that held him meant him no harm. Not now, certainly not with that team of horses having charged past inches in front of his nose. But then, they never had meant him any real harm, and they never would unless he was foolish enough to do something that deserved his old man’s rage.
As the noon stage rumbled on by, stirring up a nose-tingling cloud from off the main street of Morro Coyo, the grip on Johnny’s arms softened. “Are you all right?” Concern softened Murdoch Lancer’s voice while his hands guided Johnny back a few more steps and into the throat of the alley next to Juan Baldemero’s store.
“Yeah. I’m all right.” Johnny hoped he sounded convincing. He turned his head enough to look up at his father. “Thanks for stopping me. I almost got ran over, didn’t I?” He tried to smile but shivered instead. Those iron-shod hooves wouldn’t have left a pretty picture.
Murdoch’s brows puckered. “Almost. I guess you had something on your mind.”
Johnny sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Yeah, I guess I did.”
Johnny wrapped his arms across his chest–his gaze dropping to the dust-covered toes of his boots. He nodded. When hadn’t she been on his mind these past two weeks since she left without saying a word, without a backward glance as he cried out her name while racing after her in his bare feet with the tail of his nightshirt flapping around his legs? Didn’t she know how much he loved her? How much he wanted her with him . . . to be a part of Lancer and spend the rest of her life with him? Didn’t she care that her leaving would rip through his heart and tear it to shreds?
Firm hands slid up Johnny’s arms and rested heavily on his shoulders. Strong thumbs drew circles over bound up muscles, slowly bidding them to relax. “I wish there was something I could say to make it easier.” Murdoch’s voice was like a whisper of wind.
Johnny let out a slow breath between slightly parted lips. “I know,” he said, his chin sinking toward his chest. He felt he should say more, but the words wouldn’t come—not without making him sound like a wounded child.
After a while the thumbs stopped their circles and the hands went to kneading his shoulders. Johnny let out another long breath. What would it have been like to grow up with those hands to guide him, to protect him, and even to correct him when he got out of line? Maybe he wouldn’t have that other memory haunting him and making him shudder for no reason whenever he felt or thought of the strength of his father’s hands. Maybe instead, thoughts of those iron hands would always make him feel safe and at peace as they did at the moment.
Johnny let his father’s hands continue to sooth away his sorrow. If only they would dredge out that other memory—the one of that giant at the orphans’ home in Laredo. There had never been anything gentle about that man’s hands. They were always bloodying his lip, bruising his arms, or wielding a buggy whip—always full of rage, always bringing pain, always bringing fear. Why couldn’t the memory of that man have stayed behind when the cold walls of that orphanage faded into the darkness that night so long ago? Why did he always have to intrude where he wasn’t wanted?
Murdoch’s hand stilled. “Better?”
Johnny nodded. “Thanks, Murdoch. That’s much better.”
The hands lifted from Johnny’s shoulders. One broad palm patted his back. “What would you say to having lunch before we check on those supplies? My treat and you pick the place.”
Again, Johnny twisted to gaze up at his father. “You mean that? Any place I want, right?”
“Any place you want.” Murdoch smiled. “And I have a pretty fair idea of where that will be, too.”
Johnny grinned back. “Well, she does make the best enchiladas around.”
Murdoch chuckled. “She does at that.”
Walking side-by-side, they started for the far side of the street. Johnny felt a weight on his shoulders as Murdoch’s arm came to rest there—one hand lying against his upper arm. He looked at that big hand with its strength of iron and smiled. That other man’s hands might still haunt him for a while, but someday they would be torn loose by more powerful hands. Hands that could drive away his fears and bring comfort to his aching heart. Hands that made him feel secure in his father’s love.
~ The end ~
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