Summary: So much meaning in one little word.
Word Count: 1202
It’s just a word. One much like all the others that exist, I guess, only its not, not really, not to me anyways!
I’ve heard it used many times — folk bandy it about all too often. It’s been casually thrown in my direction many times over the years and quite often in a condescending tone. Such use has, I admit, angered me and even ate away at my needy soul. It’s also left me miserably wistful on occasion and worst still, hungry, ravenous with the need to hear it spoken to me with true affection and real depth of meaning.
Well, that happened today; at least, I think it did. I want to believe it did! I’m still pondering on it, reliving it, trying to convince myself that it was said because it actually meant something to ‘him’ too.
It’s almost a week since Pardee’s bullet was dug out of my back, the resulting fever’s all but gone and I’m healing well. I’m regaining a little of the strength I lost with each day that passes.
Green Rivers’ old sawbones called by to check on me earlier today. The Doc said he was pleased with my rate of recovery, but then eyeing me sternly, he warned me against doing too much too soon.
I hadn’t meant to go against his orders or disrespect him in any way. I like him; I can tell he’s a good man – the kind, caring sort – and he seems pretty friendly with the ‘old man’ too.
Still, restlessness got the better of me and I strayed a lot further than the veranda and the chair I’d been told to not move very far from. It was a pleasantly shaded vantage point. From there, I could see the endless pasture and the rolling hills of Lancer. With a pitcher full of iced lemonade kindly placed within my reach, I should have been content to just sit a spell and watch the world go by, but no, as always, I did what my willful spirit urged me to do.
The rippling breeze that fanned me had also carried the sounds of a familiar activity, and my attention had quickly been drawn over in the direction of the corral. There horses were being broken in; whoops of encouragement were liberally peppered with groans of disappointment. I hankered after the very same thrill.
A backward glance through the window told me Murdoch Lancer was at his desk, eyes and mind locked on a page of figures. Telling myself he wouldn’t notice me gone and that it didn’t matter even if he did, I stood up and on stiff legs made my way over to what called to me.
By the time I reached the wooden rails, those stiff legs were trembling like a newborn foal’s. Lightheaded, the world was soon spinning around me and I grasped at the gatepost and inhaled deeply, desperately trying to fend off the encroaching darkness.
I must have looked as bad as I felt right then because the Segundo was by my side instantly. Placing one huge steadying hand on my arm, he fired a firm reprimand at me in Spanish. He was concerned but seemingly amused by my actions too, telling me my stubbornness equaled my father’s; finally, in a teasing tone, he warned me that if the Patron caught me, he’d warm my backside!
The comment drew friendly laughter from the other vaqueros and I forced a smile but inside my stomach churned. Why? Because it had implied something I wasn’t ready to accept.
My whole being was now screaming at me to return to the shade and safety of the veranda – except that was for my pride! That insisted I stay and see at least one of the mustangs broken. Well, I wasn’t going to traipse all that way and receive only a scolding for my efforts now, was I?
It seemed I was!
I bristled at the tone of my father’s voice and turned around to eye him coolly, hoping to show the indifference I felt, the indifference I wanted to feel towards him.
“What the hell are you doing out here? Didn’t Sam tell you…”
My ears were ringing by then but worryingly that wasn’t due to the volume in which the older man spoke to me. I felt myself sway and could only watch helplessly as he clamped his mouth shut and hurried towards me.
Eyes closed against the overpowering dizziness, I felt him wrap his arm around my waist; for one long moment, that was all that held me upright. Words of encouragement passed his lips, thoughtfully whispered so as to be only loud enough for my ears to register, and suddenly my leaden legs regained a little life.
He half carried me back to the hacienda, yet I know he made it look like I’d gotten there mostly under my own steam. I was grateful to him for that; I didn’t want anyone seeing me in so very vulnerable a state.
Before I knew it, I was on the couch, feet up and head nestled against a mound of pillows. As the last of the haze cleared from my mind, my eyes focused on the figure sitting beside me.
“What were you thinking, Johnny?”
Under such intense scrutiny I found myself shrinking further into the pillows.
He was talking to me like I was a kid and I resented it, yet, at the same time, it caused a strange warmth to consume me. As its heat colored my cheeks, I was forced to look away.
“You lost a lot of blood, the fever sapped what strength you had left, and you need to rest to give yourself time to recover.”
The lecture continued and I listened intently but not really to the words. No, it was the previously unheard gentleness in his voice that held my attention and it did so until he said that one little word!
My head had snapped up at that point, my eyes searching his. His gaze had been unwavering but I knew he’d seen the challenge in mine.
You see, it had slipped off his tongue so freely, he had sounded so at ease with it, yet its effect on me . . . well, it had struck me like a blow to the face!
Here in the privacy of my room, I’ve tried to put it into perspective. I’ve tried to downplay what relevance it might have. Tried but not succeeded! Almost shamefully, I admit to wanting to hear him utter it again. Maybe then I’ll be sure of the sincerity behind it!
Just as I’ve managed to reason myself into getting the sleep I’m much in need of, a rap comes on the door. It opens and his tall frame steps inside. He asks if I need anything and I hesitate before quietly answering no. I wouldn’t know what to ask for!
He smiles at me and turns to leave, but then as if reading my mind, he calls over his shoulder, “Goodnight, son” and I hear that one little word again.