For a friend
Word count: 1,842
Angie, you’re beautiful, but ain’t it time we said goodbye?
Angie, I still love you, remember all those nights we cried?
All the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke,
Let me whisper in your ear;
Angie, Angie, where will it lead us from here?
“Have you managed to get anything out of Johnny yet?” Murdoch asked as he approached his desk.
“No, sir,” replied Scott as he put down the latest contracts and looked up at his father. “He’s hard to get anything out of at the best of times, right now he’s being damn near impossible.”
Since Johnny’s return from Clearwater a few days ago, he’d been quiet and moody. The only time he offered any hint of what had transpired in Clearwater was when Doc McVey had sutured the bullet wound he had received. Johnny had ridden back to Lancer, with the bullet still lodged in his clavicle. How he’d managed to ride home had baffled everyone, though Murdoch had put it down to sheer determination and that whatever had lead up to Johnny’s being shot had caused him to leave the small town in a hurry.
Today had been the first day since Johnny’s arrival back at Lancer that he’d been out of bed. The blood loss coupled with the immobility associated with the wound had forced him to stay in bed. During those days of being bedridden, both Murdoch and Scott had fervently tried to learn what had gone wrong. All conversations with Johnny had been one sided. Like so much of his past that he refused to talk about this was another event for the ‘I’ll tell you when I’m good and ready’ pile. Once his mind was made up to do something Johnny was notoriously hard to budge and this like past events had been one of those times.
The only one that had been able to obtain the slightest inkling of what had happened in Clearwater had been Jelly Hoskins, a trusted friend and foreman for the Lancers. Johnny had revealed to Jelly that his being shot had had to do with a young girl. But that was all he was prepared to say. While Jelly rabbited on about the activity taking place on the ranch and how much Barranca had missed his owner, Johnny had gazed disinterestedly out of the window. That had been three days ago and still no one was any the wiser about how Johnny had managed to get himself shot.
Engrossed in costing up the contract to supply a thousand head of beef, neither Murdoch nor Scott had seen Johnny enter the lounge and seat himself on the couch near the fire. The first indication that either of them had was when they heard the deep and even breathing of someone asleep.
“Leave him,” Murdoch said and placed a restraining hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Let him sleep, he’s probably worn himself out just by getting up and seeing to his horse.”
Scott fetched one of the Indian blankets that Johnny had bought and draped it over his sleeping brother. He pulled it up, around Johnny’s shoulders and then followed Murdoch out to the kitchen.
“How’s Johnny?” Teresa O’Brien asked. Since the arrival at Lancer of both Scott and Johnny she’d become very close to them and had assumed a sisterly role to each. With her own father dead, she had become Murdoch’s ward and an integral member of the family.
“Asleep,” answered Murdoch and sat down at the kitchen table. “Where’s Jelly?” he asked as he reached for the freshly baked buns. “I thought he would’ve been in for lunch by now.”
No sooner had Murdoch finished asking wither his foreman was than the door opened and Jelly entered. “Good,” he smiled as he took his seat opposite Scott; “I’m starved.”
“Jelly, you’re always hungry,” chuckled Scott and quickly snagged the bun that Jelly had reached for.
“It’s getting’ so a man can’t appreciate fine cooking around here,” grumbled Jelly and scowled at Scott. “Besides I need all my strength if I’m gonna take Johnny out ridin’ this afternoon.”
“What?” chorused Murdoch and Scott in unison at Jelly’s statement.
“You heard me, I’m takin’ Johnny ridin’ this afternoon.”
Murdoch out his knife down on his plate and leaned forward, his forearms resting on the table top. “I heard what you said, but … how? Did Johnny…”
“Now before you go getting’ yourself tied up in knots and if you let me explain I’ll tell you.” Jelly explained that Johnny had talked with in the barn about the possibility of hooking up he buckboard and going down to the lake, he’d said that he needed to get out of the house and be able to think.
During the course of lunch it had been decided that Murdoch should drive the buckboard and that Teresa would pack some sandwiches in case Johnny got hungry. Now it was only a matter of convincing Johnny that it would be Murdoch taking him instead of Jelly.
As the lake came closer in to view, Murdoch slowed the team and finally reined the horses to a halt. “Remember when we came up here fishing?” he asked and watched Johnny for any sign of acknowledgement. “What was that kid’s name? The one that ended up winning all the money.” Murdoch let his voice drift off when he saw that Johnny still wasn’t ready to talk. He sighed quietly to himself and disembarked the buckboard, leaving Johnny by himself.
“Willy.” Johnny finally said as he came up behind Murdoch and broke the uneasy silence between them. “Willy Sharpe, he sure did enjoy that fish.”
“Yes, he sure did, didn’t he?” agreed Murdoch. He put his right hand out to steady Johnny as he swayed slightly. “You okay?”
With a nod of his head, Johnny affirmed that he was – though his complexion told a much different story. “I guess I should tell you about this,” he said and indicated to the sling that supported his injured arm.
Murdoch closed his eyes for a brief moment, grateful for the breakthrough. “You don’t have to, Johnny – but if you want to, I’m here.” He watched as Johnny gave him a lopsided grin and began to walk back towards the buckboard. “You coming?” he heard Johnny call, his son’s voice breaking him out of his reverie. “Yeah. I’ll be right there,” he smiled.
As they sat with their backs against the wheels Johnny slowly regaled what had taken place in Clearwater. He’d stayed overnight at a saloon on the edge of town and had met up with an old friend, who happened to be a very attractive woman. Johnny was not remiss in telling any details as he described her beauty to Murdoch.
“Her eyes seemed to dance when she spoke, she had hair as black as night to match her eyes. Her voice soft like summer rain,” Johnny said and inhaled deeply. “I was a fool to think that a girl like Angie would still be burning a flame for me. Boy, I didn’t know how much a person could change in such a short time.”
Murdoch smiled at Johnny’s observation as he had seen first hand just how much someone could change. He remembered a young man who had come to Lancer to meet the father he never knew. He’d seen him endure the struggle of adjusting to a new life, one that had responsibilities, deadlines, and commitment to a new lifestyle. “No, Johnny, not a fool… just a man very much in love with someone he once knew.”
Johnny cocked his head to one side and squinted as the glare from late afternoon sun caught him in his eyes. “You sound like you know what I’m talking about.”
“I do, Johnny; I’ve been there. God knows I’ve been there,” Murdoch said as he looked into Johnny’s smoldering eyes.
“Why does it never work out the way that we want it to? I wanted her to come back with me to Lancer; to be a part of our family.” He stopped as he tried to flex his shoulder; the tight bandages restricted his movement.
“Shoulder getting sore?”
“Yeah. Just a little. It’s a bit stiff.” Johnny leaned his head back against the wheel and swallowed in effort to try and control the ache. He mentally pushed the pain from his mind and continued with his story. “Angie had already told me that she had planned to travel to Europe, no amount of convincing I tried made the slightest bit of difference. She had her mind made up, the fare was booked and what we had was gone.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, … how … did.”
“How did this happen?” Johnny forestalled Murdoch. “Would you believe a jealous boyfriend?” He chuckled at the reasoning. “Angie’s boyfriend came in to the restaurant where we were having a cup of coffee. He called me out, someone must have told him about me. He figured I was trying to move in on his girl. I tried to talk him out of it but he wouldn’t listen, and insisted that we fight it out – with guns.
Out on the street I still tried to talk him out of it, suggesting that we talk it out instead. I saw from the way that he wore his gun that he wasn’t a gunfighter, he wore his gun way too high to get it as quick as he needed it. When he fumbled for his gun I could tell he was nervous and then I saw the look in Angie’s eyes. I knew I only had one choice. I could see that she loved him, and it was then I realized that what we had once could never be rekindled. It was gone. I purposely slowed my own draw and missed when I fired.”
“You let him shoot you?” Murdoch asked incredulously.
Johnny chuckled at the absurdity. “Well, I didn’t intend to. I didn’t think he had it in him. I think he was the most surprised when he realized that he’d actually hit me.”
“But why did you ride back with the bullet still in your shoulder?”
“That’s easy, Murdoch. Their idea of a doctor in that flea bitten town was the undertaker and I wasn’t ready to give him my business,” Johnny laughed. His laugh was so infectious that Murdoch soon found himself laughing. “Angie tended it as best she could, it didn’t hurt too much then, it was still pretty numb. After that we said our good-byes and left it at that. If we’d tried to say anything else but good-bye, I know that she would’ve been hurt. Torn between a choice of the past and what a new future could bring her,” Johnny’s voice trailed off as he remembered the sadness in her eyes. He swallowed a lump that threatened to make itself known and continued with his story. “It wasn’t until McVey started to prod that it hurt, he’s definitely got to develop a better bedside manner.”
Murdoch shook his head as he tried to hide his own smile. He looked up at the sky that had begun to darken. “You ready to go home?” and extended his hand to help Johnny to his feet
“Yeah, and Murdoch … thanks.”
“Anytime, Johnny. Anytime.”
Oh, Angie, don’t you weep, all your kisses still taste sweet,
I hate that sadness in your eyes,
But Angie, Angie, ain’t it time we said good-bye?
© SilverWolf October 2000
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