Word Count 1,481
The sharp clang of a pot hitting the edge of the tile counter rang out. Johnny lifted his head from the paper he, Murdoch and Scott had been studying at the kitchen table. Scott pointed to a section of the paper and Murdoch murmured his approval. They didn’t seem to notice that Johnny’s attention had wandered.
Johnny watched as Teresa helped Maria prepare dinner with her usual capable self. Ever since that terrible day, Teresa had done her best to smooth the way for the rest of the family and had assured them over and over that she was ‘fine’.
Johnny’s eyes narrowed as he studied Teresa while she worked. Tiny lines edged her eyes and her lips were closed and pinched. He realized that she hadn’t really smiled or laughed since the fire. He knew that many nights she cried behind the
closed door of her bedroom. The sounds were muffled as he walked past her door to his own room. She tried to explain away her reddened eyes and pink nose each morning as a possible cold, but he knew better.
She was a strong young woman who kept her head while trapped in the burning storehouse. It was her who kept everyone’s spirits up when it was discovered how much had been lost and urged Murdoch to move on and rebuild even better buildings.
The rains had been late this year and the land was a dry as a bone. There was no moisture in the air or in the soil. Add a strong wind from the east that raced down the ridge toward the ranch and the sparks from the ranch forge had turned into a dangerous weapon. Too bad that just a few months prior, much of the contents of the house had been emptied out in anticipation of fall cleaning and stored in two outbuildings near the forge. Teresa had had big plans for redesigning her room. Of everyone, she lost the most.
Murdoch looked up toward the two women working. “Teresa, Maria. Come tell me what you think.”
Maria grabbed her apron and wiped her hands dry before striding over to the men. Teresa walked behind more slowly, her hands fiddling with the waist of the
too big skirt. Johnny frowned as he realized that he had seen that outfit before in the rag bag. Material that ugly wasn’t easy to forget.
“What do think of Scott’s plan to build shelves in this part of the new building? You ladies can use it as an extended pantry. Things you don’t need right away can be stored there and we can order more in bulk.” Murdoch tapped the drawing he was referring to and handed it to Teresa.
“I liked it the way it was,” Teresa mulishly answered.
“I know, honey,” Murdoch replied. “But we have to start over and we might as well improve things. You’ll get used to the new things.”
“Sure, Murdoch,” Teresa answered woodenly. “Do you need anything else?”
Murdoch handed the drawing back to Scott. “No, we’ll make up a list of what we need in town and make the trip as soon as possible. It’s got to rain sometime and we don’t want the wagons to bog down in the mud.”
Teresa nodded and turned back to the kitchen. She stopped and called out to Murdoch. “Do you think I could get some material for some new clothes? Most of my stuff is all ashes now.”
Murdoch nodded absently, “Of course. Just add it to the list. Oh, and Teresa, do you know where’s the picture that used to be in the hall? It’s been in the family for years and I thought I’d like to move it to the Great Room.”
“It burned along with everything else. You were going to repair that wall so we packed it and put it in the storehouse,” Teresa answered flatly.
Murdoch’s face fell. “Oh.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t grab that box, Murdoch. It was right by the door and I should have gotten it out. I knew how much it meant to you. I guess I just wasn’t thinking straight.”
Murdoch walked over to Teresa and grabbed her in a hug. “No, honey. You did just fine getting out yourself. It was just things that can be replaced.”
Teresa stiffened and pushed her way out of Murdoch’s arms.
“They can’t be replaced!” she shouted. “And they were more than just things! They were MY things. Things of my dad’s. Recipes from his mother. The doll I had when I was a baby. They were a part of who I am and now it is all gone!”
Eyes streaming with tears, Teresa ran through the kitchen and out the back door. The sound of the slamming door echoed through the room.
The Lancer men looked at each other in surprise. What had just happened? Johnny stood up and pushed back his chair. “I’ll go.”
He stood at the back door and watched Teresa stalk up and down some unseen line, her arms crossed and holding herself tight. She stopped when Johnny walked up beside her.
“I hate this. I hate this country. The land takes everything and has left me nothing. My dad, my things, my memories, my cats.” She clenched her fists and brought them up on either side of her head. “It isn’t fair. I don’t want new stuff. It won’t be the same. I’m so tired of reaching for something and realizing that I don’t have it anymore. Or thinking I’ll bake these cookies for Christmas and I remember that all my recipe books are gone.”
She turned to Johnny. “I pretend that my cat must have run away, but I know she probably got scared and hid and couldn’t get out.”
“And I was so scared in the smoke and heat. I just kept saying to myself, ‘Don’t panic.’
Teresa grabbed her hair in her fists and pulled. “I’m so mad, I just want to hit something!”
Johnny bent down and picked up something. “Here,” he said as he held out his hand.
Teresa looked at him puzzled but held her palm out anyway. She blinked as Johnny placed a lemon in her hand. Teresa looked up into Johnny’s eyes and saw him watching her. He gave a little nod.
Teresa hesitantly wrapped her fingers around the lemon and then throwing her arm back, threw it as hard as she could against the courtyard adobe wall. It made a loud splat sound and then slid down the wall to the grass below.
For the next few minutes, Teresa bent down and picked up fallen lemons and threw them at the wall. When she couldn’t find one to throw, Johnny picked unripe ones from the tree and handed them to her. They didn’t make a satisfying splat as the ripe lemons, but Teresa didn’t seem to notice.
She finally threw the last one in her arsenal and stood there, chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath. Johnny walked to her and gathered her in his arms. He rested his head on top of her as she tucked her head under his chin.
As he began to sway, he rubbed her back in small circles as he’d seen mothers do to calm their babies. He stopped when he heard a small, quiet voice say, “Thank you.”
“You know it wasn’t just losing things. I feel like I lost part of myself. All those things helped define me, they were a part of my story.” Teresa sighed and looked up at Johnny. “I know people mean well when they say ‘it was just things and things can be replaced’ but they haven’t lost everything they’ve ever owned. They don’t understand.”
Johnny nodded. “They don’t know what to say and want to be kind.” She sighed. “I know.”
Johnny grabbed her hand and walked over to the bench. “It’s okay to be sad for what you lost but you can’t keep dwelling on it or you’ll become as sour as those lemons. Think you’re ready to move on now?”
Teresa gave a little nod. “Maria is going to kill us for wasting all those lemons.”
“Well, honey. I reckon that there are times when the world gives you lemons, you just gotta throw them back.” Johnny grinned.
Teresa giggled. “Good thing we have our own lemon tree and plenty of ammunition.”
“Yep.” Johnny stood up and reached out his hand to pull her up off the bench. Together they turned to walk back toward the house. They both stopped as they saw Murdoch, Scott, and Maria all standing at the kitchen door, mouths opened.
“You going to explain this?” Teresa waved her arm toward the wall and the lemon tree.
“Nope,” Johnny answered as he led Teresa past the other three and into the house.
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