Word Count 2,806
*Thanks to Marilyn Handt for the story picture and many thanks to Doc and Alice Marie for help with the Beta.
The slam of the hacienda’s front door rattled the windows and broke the evening’s silence.
Ranch hands and vaqueros at the bunkhouse looked up from what they were doing, wondering what had ignited the fire between the Patron and his youngest son this time.
Cipriano stepped out of the barn and shook his head. Christmas was still a week away and everyone was looking forward to a peaceful and quiet holiday, especially after what they’d been through during the past year. He watched the Patron’s youngest son for a moment, then sighed and went back to work. Whatever was wrong would have to be worked out between the Patron and his hijo.
Johnny’s spurs rang as he stomped across the yard to the corral. He kicked the fence twice before leaning against it. Folding his arms on the top rail, Johnny looked out over the pasture into the growing darkness. He took a deep breath, relaxed, and closed his eyes. It took a few minutes, but finally, his heart stopped racing and the mad seeped out of him.
Johnny looked back at the hacienda. The lights of the Great Room made it easy to see inside. Murdoch sat at his desk, with his back to the large window. The old man’s shoulders were slumped and he had his head in his hands.
Across the room in the corner stood the Christmas tree. Scott and Cipriano had taken a wagon that morning, and when they returned, it took three men to carry it inside. They’d place it where Teresa told them while Johnny and Scott stood back out of the way. Johnny remembered laughing when the thing touched the ceiling. It took some doing, but finally, the tree was in place. Teresa had been so excited she’d clapped her hands and squealed with delight, then announced they’d decorate it right after supper.
Well, supper had come and gone, and now the floor around the tree was littered with boxes of abandoned decorations, and the tree remained bare.
This was their first Christmas at Lancer, the first as a family, but everything had gone wrong in a matter of minutes. Now Johnny wondered if there would be a Christmas at all.
Earlier at the dining room table, Scott told stories of how he’d spent Christmas in Boston. Johnny and Teresa were enthralled with every word and the season’s excitement built.
When the meal ended, they’d all headed for the Great Room, and that’s when Teresa made one simple request in a voice that was so quiet it was hard to hear.
“Johnny, would you take off your gun?” She must have seen the expression on his face change because she hurriedly added, “I mean just for tonight, while we decorate the tree?” Then she’d smiled at him and batted her eyelashes, her blue eyes shining. Who could refuse her?
Johnny was on the verge of unbuckling his gunbelt when Murdoch spoke up. “That’s a good idea, Johnny. In fact, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your gun.”
Murdoch walked across the room to his desk. His hand hovered for a moment over his pipe rack before he chose one he’d told them had come from Scotland. He took his time packing the hand-carved pipe and then struck a match before looking back at Johnny. Murdoch lit the tobacco and took a puff.
Johnny could tell the old man was stalling for time. The longer it took for Murdoch to finish what he’d started, the more Johnny dreaded what was going to be said.
Murdoch exhaled and smoke curled from the pipe’s burgundy colored bowl, sending a hint of vanilla wafting through the room.
“You know, son, how I feel about wearing guns in the house. It’s been eight months and I think it’s past time you started leaving yours at the front door with mine and your brother’s.”
Johnny froze; any idea of taking his gunbelt off was now gone. His voice started out low and soft in a drawl that had once caused men to shake in their boots. “You do, do you? Well, that ain’t gonna happen, old man.”
From there, it had gone downhill faster than a charging bull in a china shop. As the argument escalated, their voices rose louder and louder until Johnny turned and walked away, leaving Scott and Teresa in shock, and slamming the front door behind him.
Johnny shook his head and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He’d been looking forward to tonight, although he wasn’t about to let anyone know how much. Teresa’s excitement had overflowed and touched them all, especially the man from Mexico. Johnny Madrid had never experienced a real Christmas and for sure not a gringo Christmas. Johnny Lancer, he was told, had spent at least two Christmases at Lancer, but he had no memory of them, so they might as well never have happened.
It was supposed to be a night of laughter and singing something Teresa called carols. Tonight was going to be spent with his family. Instead, he’d ended up butting heads with his old man. Those raised voices and angry words pushed the joy and happiness right out of the room; the slammed door a final nail in his coffin.
Spinning around, Johnny already had his gun in his hand.
“Whoa there. It’s just me.” Scott stood a few feet away, his hands raised in front of him.
Johnny relaxed his shoulders and reholstered his gun. Shaking his head, he turned his back to his brother without saying a word.
“That was bad. Murdoch’s upset.”
Johnny sighed and raised his head to look up.
Scott moved to stand at Johnny’s shoulder.
“Pretty out here, ain’t it?”
Scott looked up at the night sky and nodded. “Yes, it is. Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Johnny sighed. “Teresa gone to bed?”
“She went to her room.”
“Sorry for what? Getting into another argument with Murdoch, ruining Teresa’s evening or for making her cry?”
“I didn’t mean ….”
“I know,” Scott snapped. “You and Murdoch don’t ever mean to get into a fight, but you do.”
“Don’t tell me again how sorry you are. You two fight and the ones who are left to pick up the pieces are Teresa and me. To tell the truth, I’m getting tired of trying to smooth Murdoch’s ruffled feathers.”
“I never asked you to.”
“No, you didn’t, because you don’t want to stop arguing with him.”
“That’s not true, but I can’t stop wearing my gun.”
Scott slowly nodded. “I understand, but I can see Murdoch’s point as well. Can you? This is his home as well as mine and Teresa’s. We don’t like feeling like we’re living in an armed camp all the time. I had enough of that during the war.”
Scott stopped for a breath, and his voice softened. “Johnny, think about it. At this time last year, Teresa had just lost her father and Murdoch was still confined to a bed. No one knew when Pardee was going to strike next. All there was for that girl upstairs was guns and violence. She doesn’t deserve to live like that any longer. You need to resolve your differences with our father.”
“I can’t take it off!”
“Can’t or won’t? You need to leave the past behind, just like Murdoch said that first day. Your gun is part of that past. Is wearing it the house truly worth destroying this family?” When Johnny didn’t respond, Scott nodded. “I guess it is. I should knock your heads together.” Turning, he said, “Well, I’m going to bed.”
Johnny glanced at Scott’s face, “Good night, Boston.”
Scott stopped long enough to put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder but didn’t respond.
Johnny took a deep breath and exhaled. What was he going to do? He couldn’t keep fighting with Murdoch and making everyone’s lives miserable. He had a decision to make: either stop resisting and let the tune caller have his way, or … or what? What would Murdoch do if he refused to stop wearing his gun in the house? Would the old man finally kick his ass back where he belonged, back to the border?
Lancer had gotten under his skin, and the thought of leaving made him sick. So far, he’d held onto some semblance of free will in the form of the gun he wore on his hip. What would happen if he gave up a bit of it?
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Hell no, he was Johnny Madrid, and Madrid needed a gun to stay alive. Johnny’s hand went to the butt of the Colt on his hip, and his fingertips caressed the well-worn wood. That’s right, he was Madrid and…
Johnny huffed. He’d been trying for eight months to leave Madrid behind and bring Johnny Lancer back to life. Here he was still declaring himself to be Madrid, trying to hold onto everything Madrid represented.
He lifted the gun from his holster and stared at it. He’d been trying to change his life and the entire time, this gun anchored him to his old life. Maybe now was the time to change all that.
Johnny looked into the Great Room again. Was it worth it? Was the gun in his hand worth losing his family and the only real home he’d ever known?
All Murdoch was asking was that he didn’t wear his gun in the house. Was that too much to ask of him? It wasn’t like the old man was asking him to walk around without it all the time.
He wasn’t good at backing down from a fight, but this was one he knew he’d never win and wondered if he really wanted to win it. Sometimes you had to give a little to gain a lot.
Johnny smiled. Decision made, he walked back to the house.
Johnny stood outside the front door with his hand on the handle and his forehead pressed against the cool wooden slab. On this side of the door was Johnny Madrid, who needed a gun every minute of every day. Johnny Madrid didn’t have a family, and the closest he came to celebrating Christmas was sitting alone in a saloon in some border town with other lost souls.
On the other side of the portal was Johnny Lancer, who could lead a life with a family he knew loved him—a family he could bring happiness to with one simple gesture. On the other side was the Christmas he’d dreamed of all his life.
All he had to do was open the door and step through.
Easing the front door open, Johnny stepped inside and gently closed it behind him. He looked towards Murdoch, and then his eyes went to the Christmas tree he’d been so excited about only a short while ago.
Johnny didn’t know much about Christmas, and he’d never really celebrated it. What he did know he’d learned from a Priest in Sonora when he was ten years old, right after his Mama died.
The old Padre had told him there wasn’t one true meaning to Christmas, and it was different for everyone. He said Christmas is about celebrating God’s ultimate gift: the birth of the Christ child, but it is also about family. It is a time to give up one’s very self, to think only of others. To bring the greatest happiness to others.
When he’d asked, “How do you do that?” The Padre responded, “Stop thinking about yourself and think of those you love. That’s what God did when he gave us his only son. That’s the true meaning of Christmas.”
Stop thinking about yourself and think of those you love.
Johnny stared at Murdoch, still sitting at his desk. Did he love his family? The answer was without hesitation. Yes. He didn’t know when it had happened, but there it was; he loved them and knew he’d do anything to keep his family together and make them happy.
Johnny took a deep breath and licked his dry lips.
Murdoch’s head came up, his eyes meeting his son’s. He stood and waited as if knowing what was about to happen would set the tone for the relationship between father and son from that point forward.
Johnny took a few hesitant steps into the room and stopped. Looking down at the buckle of his gunbelt, he took another deep breath and let it out. Biting his lower lip, Johnny looked at Murdoch. Their eyes were locked as he unbuckled his rig.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
Backstepping, he hung the gunbelt on the rack near the door.
Johnny could see Murdoch’s expression soften and his shoulders relax.
“You’re sure?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny smiled and shook his head. “No. I’m not sure, but we can’t go on like we have been. It’s tearing all of us apart. I don’t want that and I don’t think you do either. If me taking my gun off in the house brings some peace around here, then I’m willing to give it a try.”
Murdoch strode across the room, coming to a stop in front of his son. “Johnny,” he paused. “Thank you. I know this isn’t easy for you.” Murdoch placed a hand on Johnny’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “I promise you, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you’re safe. Trust me, you won’t need your gun while you’re inside the house.”
“I’m holding you to that, old…Murdoch.”
Both men smiled and they could feel the tension leaving the room.
Johnny was the first to look away, his eyes falling on the undecorated tree. “You think it’s too late tonight to finish putting all that stuff on the tree?”
Murdoch looked at the tree and the scattered boxes of decorations.
“No, I don’t think it’s too late.” Murdoch walked to the bottom of the stairs and yelled up, “SCOTT! TERESA! Get back down here.”
In a matter of minutes, Scott, barefooted and his shirt unbuttoned, and Teresa, wearing her dressing gown and robe, stood on the stairs looking at Murdoch with his arm around Johnny’s shoulder.
Scott’s eyes went to Johnny’s right hip and his face lit up. The missing gun spoke more than words ever could.
Teresa flew down the last steps and threw her arms around Johnny’s neck, then whispered in his ear, “Thank you.”
Johnny hugged her and swallowed the lump in his throat. He pushed her away and found his voice.
“Teresa, you know I don’t know much about how gringos celebrate Christmas, and I never had a tree before. So, I’m counting on you to help me figure out what to do with that one over there. It sure looks like it needs some of those decorations you had us drag down from the storage room.”
Scott joined Johnny and Teresa, throwing an arm around them both. “Well, little brother, it looks like you two came to a meeting of the minds.”
Johnny laughed, “You could say that.”
They turned at the sound of Murdoch clearing his throat.
“Teresa. Scott. John and I want to get the tree decorated tonight, that is, if you feel up to it. We thought….”
“Oh, yes,” Teresa squealed. “Let me get dressed, then I’ll make hot chocolate and there are cookies already made.” She was smiling as she turned to hug Murdoch. “This is going to be wonderful, and we’ll make this the best Christmas ever.” She raced upstairs.
“I’ll be right back. I want to get my boots.” Scott hurried back upstairs, buttoning his shirt as he went.
Alone again, Murdoch and Johnny turned to look at each other, almost afraid to say anything that would break the peace between them. Johnny’s hand kept going to his hip, feeling for the familiar object that was now near the door.
“Son, are you alright?”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “Not real sure, but I guess I will be. At least, I hope so.”
Murdoch smiled. “I have no doubt that you’ll be alright, that we all will. After all, this is a time for thinking of others and for new beginnings and new traditions.”
“Like decorating a tree?” Johnny asked.
“And drinking hot chocolate and singing Christmas carols?” Teresa chimed in as she walked down the stairs with Scott.
“And being together as a family?” Scott added.
“And leaving the past behind,” Johnny stated with a slight smile. “Or at least at the front door?”
The smile on Murdoch’s face was all they needed to see.
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11 thoughts on “The Door To Christmas by SandySha”
What a lovely Christmas story. The Lancers coming together s a family was so touching. Johnny managed to give up one way of life to embrace the new one. He knows he wants his family, so he made the right choice. Once again, another enjoyable story from you, Sandy.
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Thank you for reading and for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed it Barbara.
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Another nice family story. Give and take just like all families go through.
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Hi, Sandy! I found myself siding with Madrid, and hoping Johnny didn’t have to take the gun off… Talk about getting wrapped up in the characters! Thanks for sharing this story!
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As always, a great story. You capture Johnny’s struggle between Lancer and Madrid so well. Love the family dynamic. Thanks for sharing your stories and talent.
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Thank you for this lovely story ! Those Christmas times then are so different from those today.
They were asking a lot for Johnny not to wear his gun in the house. Johnny deciding not to wear his gun shows how much he trusts his family to watch his back. Thanks for sharing.
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Hi Sandy, sweet story, although personally I find it unfair to force Johnny to give up his gun…… But you did a good job, as always!!! 🙂
This is a beautiful story, but sad in a way. Someone said it was a give and take situation, Johnny is the only one giving up something and taking the heat if he don’t. They’re all trying to mold Johnny into what they think he should be. It hurts to think that all he’s gone through in life he’s still not good enough to be called Lancer without bending to their will. SMH
You are such a wonderful writer and the fact that your stories stir such heated emotions in your readers are evidence of that. When you make us mad, pat yourself on the back cuz that means you done good. I think if I were to comment on this story, it would sound a lot like Ruby’s. It is usually Johnny giving in to the desires of others. I suppose that makes him the bigger man but not necessarily the smarter one. I know from experience that home is not always a safe place. Bad things can and do happen everywhere. Of course, all of us fanfiction lovers know that, sooner or later, the Lancers will figure that out.
Thank you, Carolyn. Yes, Johnny does seem to give in to the family more than the others. I think there are times he’ll do that because he wants something he’s never had.