Summary: A man alone gets used to keeping his own schedule.
Word Count: 959
I feel guilty sneaking about like this, but I’m trying to get to my bed before anyone notices it ain’t been slept in.
The thing is, it’s late, real late, and dawn ain’t far off…which makes it real early, I guess! Dios! That there fact makes me very late coming home!
I’m almost at the front door now and so I stop and remove my spurs. The spurs still jangle in my hands, though, and as I ain’t taking any chances of them giving me away, I hide them behind an empty flower pot. I knew it had to have a use.
The hacienda is in darkness, the ranch at rest. Except for the distant, occasional lowing of cattle, the night is steeped in silence. I linger a little on the porch, enjoying the stillness and the heady scent of honeysuckle that fills the air.
It reminds me of another tantalizing smell and the reason I’m standing here now. I lost track of time, you see, easy to do when you’ve got a woman in your arms, especially one as sweet smelling as Sal!
I’d a stayed with her a mite longer ‘ceptin’ I wanted to get home before the old man missed me. I don’t think he’d approve, and I don’t want to get into a shouting match with him over breakfast.
Barranca ain’t used to being out so late neither; I swear he gave me a look of disapproval as I left the saloon. Still, it weren’t anything near as bad as the look the old man gives me when I mess up!
One thing about my four-legged compadre, he doesn’t hold a grudge. But then a little extra attention always works well with him. And I’ve just spent half an hour making it up to him! Rubbing him down, cozying up his stall with some extra hay and I’ve given him a couple of those sugar lumps he likes so much. It’s a shame they don’t work on Murdoch; he could do with sweetening up at times!
Heaving a sigh, I ease the front door open and step quietly into the hall. I decide to remove my boots; they’ve been known to squeak and I’m desperate not to be betrayed by anything.
Boots in hand, I head for the kitchen and the back stairs. I’ll not have to pass his room if I go that way…
“What time do you call this?”
I start violently at the sound of his voice. Jeez! He almost frightened the life outta me. What’s he doing sitting in an armchair this early in the morning? Can’t he sleep?
Heart thundering in my chest, I look over at the grandfather clock. The room is lit only by moonlight and I can barely make out the hands or the figures they are pointing to. Without thinking, I answer his question “It’s almost half past three…”
“I know what time it is, boy!” the old man yells. “It’s you that seems unaware of it! Where the hell have you been until now?”
He’s on his feet, striding towards me, eyeing me expectantly. Too bad! He’s got my back up now and I’m pretty certain I don’t owe him an explanation.
“Out,” I snap back heading for the kitchen.
“Don’t you dare walk away when I’m talking to you, young man!”
I spin around and glare up at him. “Talking? Shouting is more like it!”
“I asked you a question!” he roars.
“And I answered you!” I roar back almost as loud as he.
“Some answer,” he growls
“Some question,” I snap.
A deathly silence fills the air between us and we stare at each other; neither one of us prepared to look away first.
Finally he speaks, his voice softer. “You said you wouldn’t be late.”
He’s got me there! That’s exactly what I did say and I meant it at the time. I ain’t used to rising at dawn, not every damn day anyways, and I did intend getting home before midnight. I would have been too, if Sally hadn’t paid so much attention to me! One thing led to another and before I knew it, we…well its best I don’t think about that right now!
“Yeah, I know; I didn’t intend to be. I’m sorry.” The apology just slips out, taking us both a little by surprise.
His face softens. “I was worried about you, John.”
I’m stunned by that remark. He was worried? Worried bout me?
I feel the sudden rush of heat to my cheeks and quickly bow my head. The room’s fairly dark but I’d hate for him to see the embarrassment I feel.
“You don’t have to worry about me, old man…” I finally reply, trying to instill some calm into my voice. “I can take care of myself. I’ve been doing it a long…” I swallow the last word, realizing that what I’d said — been about to say — would look very much like a dig, and it certainly wasn’t intended that way. My head snaps up and I meet his gaze. “Murdoch I didn’t mean…I wasn’t…I’m sorry I shouldn’t…” I stumble, stutter in my haste to put things right. “I just ain’t used to having someone worry over me…” I try again to explain myself, but fall silent as he reaches out to me, his hands gently gripping my shoulders as he speaks.
“Well it’s something you are just going to have to get used to, son.”
I swallow the lump in my throat and nod. Yeah! I think that’s something I could easily get used to.