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Between A Rock And A Wet Place by Southernfrau

Sadly, Southernfrau is no longer with us. Her stories are archived here for her friends to remember her by. Enjoy her legacy to Lancer.

Word Count 31,050

This is an Alternate Universe Story. If you do not want to see the Lancers portrayed in a different light than what you are used to read no further. In this story Johnny is 20, Scott is 25 and Murdoch is nice and caring. The timeline for this takes place right after the events in Karen and Nancy’s story The Boy. I would like to thank them for encouraging me to write my dream Lancers. The Lancers do not belong to me but I like to take them out and play with them.

Thanks to JEB for the use of the Talbots.

Separation Anxiety is a very real condition. I was not trying to make light of it in this story. People suffering from it feel completely out of control. The person the anxiety is over can become just as frustrated trying to convince the victim they are fine. Separation anxiety in toddlers is not unusual. In fact most will experience it in varying degrees of severity and lengths of duration. Adults can suffer from it as well after the loss of a loved one or some other traumatic event such as near drowning. This is what my story proposes, after the traumatic event of nearly drowning, Johnny experiences separation anxiety.


The three Lancer men were on the road home from Green River. They had gone to put Teresa on the stage to Stockton. Murdoch led the family procession on his big bay horse Caledonia, Scott followed on his horse Charlemagne, and Johnny brought up the rear on Barranca. It was hot and Johnny was bored. He had just about driven Murdoch to distraction with his incessant questions until Murdoch and Scott had threaten to stuff his boot in his mouth if he didn’t hush.

The quiet lasted all of three minutes before Johnny sighed loudly and asked, “Why did Teresa have to go all the way to Stockton to get new dresses?”

Murdoch shot Scott a look that said; he knew he couldn’t be quiet for five minutes. Murdoch chuckled to himself before answering, ” Teresa wanted to spend some time with another female and Audra Barkley is one of her best friends. They are going to shop for clothes together and visit the dressmaker for the fancier pieces she wants.” “Well, don’t you think a month is too long for her to be gone, that’s a long time for me not to have any chocolate cake,” Johnny muttered.

Scott decided to throw in his two cents by asking, “Don’t you want Teresa to have beautiful dresses like the rest of her friends in Morro Coyo?” Johnny admitted he didn’t ever really think about Teresa’s dresses.

“What are you doing thinking about Teresa’s clothes, Boston?” He then gave an evil little grin to his older brother, causing Scott to swat at him with his hat. “When I think about dresses they certainly aren’t Teresa’s and they ain’t being worn at the time, if you know what I mean?” Scott glanced over at Johnny and then nodded towards their father as if to remind Johnny that Murdoch could hear him. Murdoch heard him all right and the look he gave him let him know he had gone far enough.

Another five minutes passed before Johnny stated, “It sure is hot!” Murdoch thought if he starts again my head is going to be aching worst than my back. If I don’t soon get out of this saddle I’ll never stand up straight again. I think I can solve both our problems. “Boys how would you like to stop at Stone Step creek for a swim?” Inquired Murdoch.” I can rest my back in the shade under a tree.” “Yeehaw”, hollered Johnny! The youngest Lancer took off in a blur of horse hooves and dust.

By the time Scott and Murdoch got to the creek bank Johnny was already off his horse and out of his shirt. He was just taking off his gun belt when Murdoch lowered himself in the shade under a tree. Just as Scott walked over to the bush where Johnny was undressing his younger brother peeled off his pants almost throwing himself down in the sand in his haste. Scott smiled at his brother’s antics thinking to himself that there was still a lot of child left in his younger brother. Johnny turned and asked Scott, “Aren’t you ready yet?” Scott said,” No and you aren’t either unless you’re planning to swim in your underwear.” “Well, Scott I been thinking about something on the way to the creek bank and I decided to wear my underwear to swim.” Scott looked at Johnny and arched his eyebrow in a tell me what your talking about now look.

Johnny blushed and inquired of his older brother, “Scott have you ever noticed how tall our father is?” Scott nodded his head. “Well, I guess you also noticed that his arms and legs are kind of long too.” Scott laughed and said, “Johnny most people’s body parts are in direct proportion to the rest of their body and Murdoch is six foot five.” “I know that Scott and his feet are so big I bet I could put my foot in his boot with my boot still on.” “So”, replied Scott, thinking would you please get to your point. Johnny turned a deeper shade of red before asking, “Have you ever seen Murdoch without his clothes?”

“No, Johnny I can’t say that I have.” “I haven’t either Scott but I’m thinking that if what we can’t see is as big as what we can see, then I don’t want to be strutting around in front of him without my clothes.” Scott choked back a laugh replying, “Johnny, I hardly think our father would sit there comparing our anatomy.”

“Whatever Brother, I just don’t want him thinking his is way bigger than mine.” Scott tried his best to keep the smirk off his face when he retorted, “Besides Johnny, he saw all you have to offer after you had your appendix out. You remember that don’t you? Wearing nothing but the blanket you were wrapped in and wetting his lap.” Johnny smacked his brother on the back of the head and hollered,” Last one in is a rotten egg.” He then took off for the deep end of the creek and dove in. Scott would recall later that if only he had entered the creek by walking down the series of natural stone steps, that gave the creek it’s name, he would have realized how slippery and dangerous the algae build up on the rocks had become.

Scott paused on his way to the creek’s edge to inquire whether or not his father might also enjoy a dip in the cool water. Murdoch assured him he was fine and to go ahead and enjoy himself. Then called after him to keep an eye on his little brother since he knew how mischievous Johnny could be.

Meanwhile Johnny was darting in and out of the depths of the creek, looking for all the world like an otter when the black, silky hair would break the surface of the water.

Murdoch couldn’t stop the happy sigh that escaped his mouth. Johnny reminded him of his own little brother Blane who could always find joy in the simplest of pleasures, such as swimming. Just like Blane you never knew what Johnny would get into next. Quiet times around the Hacienda seemed to be a thing of the past. The whirlwind known as Johnny Lancer was seldom still or silent, unless he was sleeping or up to something.

Murdoch snickered to himself as he remember how just last week Scott had accidentally overslept. Murdoch had happen by Scott’s room just as Johnny was peeking in to see if his brother was still sleeping. Before Murdoch could issue a warning his youngest son took off like a shot from a gun and launched himself on top of his older brother, with such force that the bed slats had broken sending the mattress and his sons into a heap on the floor.

Scott had been so startled to be awaken in such a manner that it had torn a terrified scream from him. Johnny on the other hand was so pleased with himself that he could barely stop laughing to inform his brother that he screamed like a girl. He then added to his brother he should have known he would scream like a girl since he was as pretty as a girl. This of course did not sit well with Scott, who promptly bopped his younger brother in the head with his pillow.

A pillow fight of great proportions ensued and ended only when the feathers were completely beat from the two pillows that had been on Scott’s bed. When Murdoch was able to get their attention, he himself had to laugh, not only because of the ridiculous sight his two feather covered sons made but also due to the infectious giggle still slipping from the not so innocent grin on Johnny’s face. He tried to keep a straight face as he informed his sons that they would be expected to restore Scott’s room to order before they could have breakfast.

Murdoch shook his head somewhat sadly over the thought of the many wonderful memories his boys would have had if they could have grown up together at Lancer. Yet he was also content to know that Johnny was just devilish enough that there were plenty of memories to be made. As the parent it would be his job to make sure things didn’t get to out of hand and whatever else he did he could not let Johnny see he secretly enjoyed his devilment.

Murdoch’s attention was drawn back to the creek at Scott’s shout of surprise at his little brother. Johnny was not content to just swim, like most younger siblings he needed to prove he could be better than his older brother at some things. Johnny was making a pest of himself by slipping up on Scott dunking him under, pinching him and finally swimming between his straddled legs grasping his ankles and pulling him off his feet. Try as he might Scott could not get his hands on his baby brother; he could swim like a fish and was as slippery as an eel. Finally Scott decided to try a little verbal sparing by reminding his brother that he, Scott, would always be the older, wiser and taller brother. Johnny laughed and replied, “So, that just means you’ll die first, forget more things as you get even older and have further to fall when you trip over your own bigger feet.” With that said he jumped on his brother’s back and pushed him under. Scott sucked in a mouth full of water as he came back up and surfaced coughing and sputtering.

Murdoch could see it was time to pull rank, as the father, and put an end to Johnny’s shenanigans before one or both of his boys got hurt. “Johnny”, he shouted, “You might not mean to hurt your brother but that is exactly what could happen if you don’t settle down. It only takes a small amount of water in a person’s lungs for them to drown. You could be the person who ends up hurt yourself.” Johnny snorted at this notion and informed his father that he could stay under water three minutes or longer, he then proceeded to prove it by sinking to the bottom of the creek and sitting as calmly as if he were sitting on the couch in the great room at home.

Scott became nervous when after what felt like ten minutes to him his brother still had not come back up. He finally reached down and pulled Johnny up by the hair of his head. “Johnny that was not funny you shouldn’t pull tricks like that, people won’t know if you’re having trouble and need help.”

Scott gave a stern glare to his brother and then left the water to sit by his father. “Murdoch, why does he do things like that he really scares me sometimes. I waited and prayed for a brother for so long and now that I have one I feel like it’s my job to care for and protect him, which is proving to be a full time job. No, make that a twenty-four hour a day job!”

“Oh Scott!” Murdoch chuckled, “I don’t think we will ever understand completely why your little brother does the things he does other than fact that he just being a little brother. My own younger brother use to worry me to death too, I think it’s God’s way of preparing us for fatherhood. I really believe Johnny just wants your attention; he was the same way as a toddler, you couldn’t leave him alone for a minute. The worst scare he ever gave me was when he was about a year and a half old. We were having repair work done on the roof, one of the workers left a ladder leaning against the house. Johnny slipped outside, when things got to quiet we realized he was missing, after searching the house we went outside and began calling him. I could hear him giggling. It sounded like it was coming from above me. I looked up in the peach tree I was standing under, about that time Maria screamed and pointed at the roof. There sat Johnny with his little toes hanging over the edge of the roof. I walked over to the house and told Johnny to stay there I would come get him. When I raised my hand to shake my finger at him, he jumped into my arms laughing the whole way down. Thank God I caught him, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch Maria when she fell over into a faint. After that whenever Maria had work to do in the kitchen she would set the table leg on Johnny’s shirttail to keep him in her sight.”

“Murdoch, do you think we could find a table heavy enough to put on his shirttail now? It would sure make me feel better and save me from going gray early.”

“Scott, you might as well look on the sunny side at least you have light colored hair the gray won’t be as noticeable. I use to have a head full of dark brown hair before Johnny came along, besides he sure keeps life interesting doesn’t he?”

Scott and Murdoch were blissfully unaware that they were about to get a fright none of them would soon forget, most of all Johnny himself.

While his father and brother had been enjoying their discussion, Johnny was exploring around the natural stone steps of the creek. He noticed as he climbed up each successive step the water became clearer and the algae a little thicker. He could also see the fish darting under the ledges that the stone steps made. He was so intent on watching the fish he didn’t notice the dip and crevice on the step he was on. When a trout as long as his arm swam by him he lunged forward to try and catch it, he stepped in the crevice twisting his ankle. He hollered and pitch forward to take his weight off his injured ankle, which caused him to fall on the slippery algae covered stones. Before he could stop himself he skidded along the slick step. Scott and Murdoch looked up just in time to see him slide under the ledge of the step all the way to his hips.

Johnny might have found the position he had gotten himself into funny if sliding under the ledge hadn’t dislodged sharp stones that had cut into his chest, his ankle was throbbing, his head was under water and most worrisome of all he was wedged in tight. The stones steps were so slick he could not get his toes to grip the rocks to back himself out. He struggled kicking his legs furiously; he thought his lungs were going to burst. He wondered if his father and brother would realize he needed help and then his vision started graying around the edges and he realized he was passing out.

Murdoch and Scott moved towards the steps wondering if Johnny was playing a joke on them or really in trouble. Just as they stepped towards the first step Johnny stopped kicking. Murdoch felt a clutch of fear in his stomach, as he got closer and saw blood in the water his heart leaped into his throat. He didn’t even pause to take off his boots; he raced right into the knee-deep water with Scott hot on his heels. It didn’t take them long then to realize that Johnny was indeed in trouble. Murdoch didn’t like how still his youngest son had become. He reached down and grasped Johnny around the waist to pull him out but he would not budge. He stared wide-eyed at Scott.

“Murdoch, I’ll grab his legs you get hold of his hands. Let’s push down and pull back at the same time maybe that will work.” The two frantic Lancer’s worked together pushing down and pulling and were able to free Johnny from the underside of the step. When he popped free Murdoch grasped him around the chest to lift him up because he had felt something snap and pop in Johnny’s left wrist when he was pulling on it. Johnny was limp, pale and slightly blue around the mouth.

As Murdoch climbed the steps out of the water his grip tighten around his son’s chest and stomach. The increased pressure caused Johnny to begin throwing up creek water just as Murdoch sank down onto the sandy bank of the creek. When the Lancer patriarch turned his son’s head towards his chest to check him out, Johnny began to retch and bring up his breakfast and lunch. The color began to return to his face but he was coughing and moaning. He was breathing with a raspy wheeze.

Scott ran to the bush where they had left their clothes and grabbed his shirt. He sprinted back to his father and brother and began cleaning the vomit from them. When that was accomplished he began checking for injuries. Starting at his face Johnny had cuts and scratches from the sharp stones. He also had deeper cuts on his chest that would most likely need stitches that would account for the blood in the water. His breathing was raspy. As his father suspected his left wrist was broken. There were no other signs of injury from his hips until he got to his ankles. Scott was pretty sure the left ankle was broken, which was probably the reason why he fell in the first place.

Johnny moaned through Scott’s whole examination. Murdoch felt helpless all he could do was hold Johnny tight and tell him everything was all right, that he had him; he was going to be fine. The shock of his ordeal was setting in and Johnny started shaking, his teeth were chattering and he was clutching his father’s arm as if his very life depended on his holding on.

Scott left his father’s side once again to retrieve bedroll blankets. He brought them back to his father and helped him get his little brother wrapped in them. The blonde Lancer then went and put his clothes back on but had to put on his brother’s favorite salmon colored shirt since he had used his own to clean Johnny up. Once he finished dressing he held Johnny while Murdoch got on his horse and then handed his brother up to his father.

Murdoch and Scott headed their horses back towards Lancer; thankful that home was a little less than an hour away. Johnny had become deathly still in Murdoch’s arms. Only his raspy breathing assured his father that he was indeed still alive. The sound of his breathing was really beginning to get to the two older Lancers. Murdoch felt like kicking his own self for wishing earlier that he would be quiet, in fact he would endure the worst headache possible if his baby boy would turn and give him one of his twinkling eyed smiles and smart aleck quips.

Scott was riding along side his father lost in his own self-incriminations, wondering why he couldn’t be more patient with his little brother. He was beginning to get the feeling that Johnny didn’t just want his big brother’s attention, he also wanted and needed time to enjoy fun, childish adventures that he didn’t get when he was younger.

Johnny felt like he was tumbling down a steep, rocky hill. He couldn’t figure out why he was hurting. He just knew that the pain in his stomach was going to rob him of his breath. A final pain rolled across his belly causing him to arch his back and start regaining consciousness, just as he came to his father leaned him over and to the side. This time when he vomited it was violent and forceful, he thought his insides where going to come up along with the creek water with bits of algae in it.

Murdoch could only hold him tight and rub his back to comfort him. When he was done his father pulled him back against his chest and wiped his face with a wet bandana that Scott had handed him. The sudden force that had cleared his stomach also seemed to have cleared his throat because he was able to breath deeper and it wasn’t as raspy or wheezy. The youngest Lancer turned his face into his father’s chest and weakly said, ” I want to go home.”

“That’s where were going son, it’s not much further now. Then you can get in your own bed and Doc Jenkins will get you fixed right up, like he always does.”

“I don’t want to go to bed, I want some clothes before Doc gets there, I don’t trust him!”

“Johnny one of these days you’re going to have to forgive Doc for that examination when you had your appendix taken out.”

“Not today I don’t cause I don’t feel so good,” with that said Johnny snuggled into his father’s warm chest and fell asleep.

Murdoch and Scott weren’t as worried because Johnny was breathing easier and had been able to talk to them. They both knew they would feel much better when Doc Jenkins checked him out.

Handy man Jelly Hoskins was repairing the gate to corral when he looked up and noticed the Lancer men coming down the rise of the hill and across the pasture. His smile turned to a frown as he noticed two of them were on the same horse. He could tell from the straight, upright way he sat a horse that Scott was on his own horse, then he saw that he was leading a riderless Barranca. The handy man’s heart sank as the horses came closer and he could see for sure that it was Johnny bundled up in blankets, held against his father’s chest. He hollered for Cipriano to go fetch the doctor, because Jelly knew Johnny must really be hurt to be riding double with his father. Johnny was too fiery and independent not to be on his own horse if he was able.

Jelly ran for the house where the Lancers were headed. As soon as Murdoch stopped his horse Jelly reached up to steady Johnny as Murdoch dismounted. Murdoch turned around and lifted Johnny into his arms like he weighted no more than a ten year old, which was about how old he looked to Jelly when he was sleeping. The grim procession marched their way into the house and up the stairs. Jelly hurried ahead to Johnny’s room to turn the covers back.

Murdoch made his way over to the bed and gently put his son down. He looked at Jelly and shook his head before starting his explanation of what happened. “Of all the stupid things to happen, he almost drown.” Jelly gasped, “That’s impossible this boy swims like a fish and how can drowning cause them cuts.” “Jelly, we were at Stone Step creek, Johnny was exploring on the steps when apparently he tripped and slipped across the algae slick stones. He went up under the ledge of the steps and was cut on some sharp rocks. He was also wedged in to his hips and couldn’t back his way out. By the time Scott and I realized he was in trouble he had already stopped struggling. It took both of us pushing down and pulling to get him out.”

Jelly stared at them with fire in his eyes, “What the hell do you mean by the time you realized he was in trouble? Why weren’t you watching him? Better yet why weren’t one of you in the water with him? You know how this boy is, you know how reckless he can be, if he don’t find trouble it finds him.”

Johnny heard Jelly shouting and opened his eyes. He pursed his lips into a frown and informed his family, “I ain’t no baby, I don’t need no baby sitter. Now quit your fussing and get me some clothes before that sneaky Doc gets here.”

Murdoch turned to Scott and told him, “Go clean up and get on some dry clothes.” “Jelly go get some warm water, soap and towels, so we can get Johnny cleaned up.”

“Johnny lets get you out of these wet blankets and underwear.”

“No! Not unless you promise to get me some more clothes.”

“I don’t have time for this young man. You are going to give me these blankets. You are going to get out of those wet underwear. You are going to let me clean you up. You will behave yourself while the doctor is here or you will find yourself across my knee and my hand applied to your backside, do I make myself clear?”

Jelly returned at the end of Murdoch’s lecture and grumped, “First you about let the boy drown and now you going beat on him.”

Johnny shot his father a looked that said ha ha at least Jelly is on my side.

Murdoch shook his head in exasperation, grasped Johnny around the chest with one long arm, lifted him up and pulled the wet blankets from around him with the other hand.

If looks could kill Murdoch would have been as dead as if Johnny had shot him between the eyes with his colt.

“Johnny, I’m not trying to upset you, I’m trying to help, now don’t fight me cleaning you up and I will get you some clothes.”

Murdoch turned as Scott came back into the room and requested, “Scott would you please look in your brother’s drawer and get him some underwear and a nightshirt.”

Murdoch then turned his attention to cleaning the cuts and scrapes on Johnny’s face and chest. He cleaned his right arm and when he picked up his left arm to clean it Johnny winced in pain. “I’m sorry son, I’m afraid I broke your wrist when we were pulling you out. I felt and heard it snap and pop. I didn’t mean to hurt you I just wanted to get you out.”

Next his father washed his legs went he got down to his left ankle it was swollen and bruised. “Johnny what happened to your ankle how did it get like this?”

“I stepped in a hole and turned my foot over that’s why I skidded on the stones because I threw myself forward to get my weight off my ankle.”

Scott who had up to now been observing inquired, “Is that when you hollered out? That’s what made us look up and see you slide under the ledge. At first when you didn’t get right up we thought you were playing a joke on us. As soon as we realized you needed help we raced into the water.”

Jelly understood better now how the accident happened and he let Murdoch know all was forgiven by patting him on the back.

“Alright Johnny, we’ve put this off as long as we can, if you want clothes on before Doc Jenkins gets here, you need to let me get this wet underwear off of you.”

“I can do it myself Murdoch, ya’ll just turn around and quit watching me like I’m some kind of saloon showgirl.”

“Son, there is no way you can wiggle out of wet underwear with a broken wrist or get another pair on. For heaven’s sake you didn’t mind my help when you got your appendix out. Believe me I helped bring you into this world, I have seen all you have to offer.”

With that said Murdoch reached over and snatched the wet clothes off, pulled a dry pair up his legs and over the slim hips. Next he pulled a nightshirt over his head.

Turning once again to Scott he said, “Stay here and watch your brother, make sure he stays in this bed. I should have enough time to change my own clothes before the doctor gets here.”

Johnny looked at Scott and asked, “Why does Murdoch need to change clothes?”

Scott gave him an evil grin and replied, “His clothes got wet when he ran into the creek, boots and all to get you out and then you threw up all over him.”

His little brother’s mouth dropped open at this. Johnny shook his head and mumbled, “This just gets better and better, don’t it? It’s beginning to sound like I did need a baby sitter today.”

Twenty minutes later Murdoch returned followed by Doc Jenkins. They had met outside the door to Murdoch’s bedroom as Doc came up the stairs. Murdoch gave him a quick explanation of what had happen and what he felt Johnny’s injuries were. The Lancer patriarch chuckled as he told Sam,” Johnny still doesn’t trust you because of the examination when you took out his appendix. I had to threaten him to get the blankets away from him and the wet underwear.” Doc Jenkins shook his head in amusement.

Doc Jenkins walked towards Johnny’s bed and exclaimed, “What have you done to yourself this time?”

Johnny gave Doc his best “I’m innocent as the day I was born look” and replied, “It wasn’t my fault Doc, it was my father’s and brother’s fault. They weren’t keeping a very good eye on me. They know how reckless I can be, they fell down on the job. If you don’t believe me ask Jelly, he said so himself.”

Murdoch, Scott and Jelly gasped at this bit of information. Murdoch was the first to find his voice and he reminded Johnny of the little talk they had about behaving and what would happen if he didn’t.

Johnny just grinned as he said, “Oh guys I was just having some fun with you, don’t get so upset.”

Doc sat down on the side of the bed and began to check Johnny over. He listened to his lungs first and was relieved that although he heard a slight wheeze, he did not hear a wet rattle. Then he checked the cuts and scrapes on his face and chest. Doc told them, “I only see one cut here on his chest that will require stitches. The rest we need to keep clean with soap and water so they don’t become infected.” After checking out his left ankle he pronounced, “I don’t think his ankle is broken, it is just a bad sprain. I’ll bind it up good and tight. He’ll need to keep his weight off of it for two weeks, then he can walk on it as long as it’s bound up.” Once he finished checking out his left wrist he shook his head and sighed,” Well the left wrist is broken, though not very bad. The bone is actually popped out of place. I can pop it back in and put a cast on his wrist for the next five weeks.”

The doctor then cleared his throat to get Murdoch’s attention, when he had it he winked and nodded towards Johnny. Murdoch didn’t have to wait long to see what his old friend Sam wanted. As he stepped closer to the bed Doc said, “Help me get him on his left side Murdoch.” Murdoch reached as if to move Johnny, who had gone pale and hollered,” No don’t, my appendix don’t hurt, it’s gone now remember?”

Sam and Murdoch broke into a fit of laughter as Sam said, “Oh Johnny, I was just having some fun with you, don’t get so upset.”

When Johnny got over his shock he hissed, “That was not funny!” He silently wondered how much jail time he would get for killing the old sawbones.

Sam motioned for Murdoch and Scott to follow him out of the room. In the hall he told them, “There’s one more thing you need to watch out for. Sometimes when a person almost drowns they’ll seem fine. Then between the actual drowning and around 48 hours later they may experience what’s called a second drowning. I don’t think that’s going to happen to Johnny, he has a wheeze but I think that’s from all the throwing up he did. Let’s be on the safe side though keep an eye on his breathing and if he seems to be struggling send for me.”

Doc Jenkins then returned to Johnny’s bedside and bound up his ankle. He put a cast on his wrist and tried his best to get Johnny to take some laudanum so he could stitch the deep gash on his chest.

“No sir! You do the stitching without giving me the medicine cause I ain’t closing my eyes around you.”

Sam finished up and gave the Lancers some final care instructions, then gathered up his equipment to leave.

Out in the hall Scott gave the doctor and his father an inquisitive look and ask, “Why does Johnny act like he doesn’t trust Sam. He has been that way ever since you took out his appendix. I can’t stand it any longer. I have to know what happened.”

Sam and Murdoch began to laugh. “You tell him Murdoch. I’ve got to get back to the office, send for me if you need me.”

They all went down the stairs, leaving Jelly to sit with Johnny. They escorted Sam to his buggy and then Murdoch turned to Scott and chuckled, “Let’s go get a drink. I’ll tell you an interesting story about when your brother got his appendix taken out.”

They walked back into the great room through the French doors; Scott strolled over to the bar and poured scotch for himself and his father. Then he sat in the large chair across from his father and said, “I’m ready, now tell me what happen.”

Murdoch smiled, with a glint in his eyes, he began to tell him,” First of all you must promise me you understand that this is a sensitive subject.”

“Oh, I promise Murdoch.”

“Oh, no you don’t Scott, you are not going to pull Johnny’s little trick on me. I don’t want your promise that this is a sensitive subject. I want your promise that you will never tease your little brother about what I’m about to tell you. It was an embarrassing and painful experience at a time when he felt helpless.”

” I do solemnly promise I will not tease my baby brother with what you are about to tell me, now please hurry before I die of curiosity.”

“Well when Doc Jenkins examined your brother to see if it was indeed his appendix causing all his pain, the last exam he did is the best indicator. Not to be to graphic here, let’s just say it required the removal of his clothes and for Sam to apply pressure with his fingers in a very private part of your brother’s lower body.”

Recognition dawned on Scott’s face and he himself turned a bright shade of red. “You don’t have to worry sir. I would never in a million years bring that up to Johnny. I have no doubt, he would draw his gun and put a bullet between my eyes before I could take my next breath.”

The next week went fairly well. Other than an annoying cough and a slight fever from the cuts Johnny was getting along fine. In fact he was actually behaving. He did not put up a fuss when Murdoch washed his cuts and scrapes every morning, afternoon and night. The youngest Lancer even graciously accepted the help he need to move about the house since his broken wrist kept him from being able to use a crutch.

Early evening on the seventh day of his recuperation he was sitting on the couch in the great room, while his father worked on the books. He keep sighing out loud and scratching his head. Murdoch looked up in annoyance and said,” Johnny, what is your problem.”

“I itch, my head itches, my back, my feet, everything itches.”

“Well, son it would probably make you feel better if you went to the bath house and soaked in the tub awhile.”

About that time Scott came through the French doors and announced, “It would also make you smell better.” This earned him a scowl from Johnny.

Johnny replied, “I guess it would feel good.”

Scott offered to help since he was done with his work but Murdoch still had work to do on the books. He strolled over to his brother and helped him hop his way to the bathhouse, right outside the kitchen.

The blonde Lancer set the water on to heat and then turned to help Johnny. He undid the binding from around his ankle. The older brother helped the younger one get his clothes off, giving him a towel to put around himself. He filled the tub with water and then added the hot water until he felt it was just the right temperature. As Scott helped Johnny into the tub he reminded him not to get the cast wet because it would fall apart since it was made of plaster. “Johnny, I think the best way to do this is for me to wash everything above the water line and you wash everything below the water line.”

Johnny nodded his consent. He relaxed down into the water while Scott went to get a cloth and soap. The warm water seem to soothe his achy muscles all at once. Wow, I could fall asleep right here in this tub, somebody should invent a bed made of water; I bet it would be the most comfortable way to sleep.

Scott came back with the cloth and soap took one look at Johnny’s relaxed, closed eyed face and said, “Oh yeah, I can see who is going to be doing most of the work this bath time. He began soaping his little brother’s back, chest, neck and arms.

Johnny felt like he was drifting, he felt so free and easy; in fact he was beginning to wonder why some kids put up such a fuss about bath time.

Scott smiled at the blissful look on his brother’s face, not realizing he was half asleep he asked, “Johnny, do you want to wash your hair too?” He thought he heard him say,” Uh Huh,” so he picked up a pot of hot water and added it to a bucket of cold to pour over Johnny’s head. As soon as the water began running over Johnny’s head and face he felt like he was suffocating, like he was back under the ledge of that stone step drowning with no way to get out. His entire body stiffen, he began to flounder and jerk around in the tub, finally he found his voice and he let loose one of the most terrifying, raw screams Scott had ever heard in his life. The first thing Scott thought was “Dear God I’ve scalded him with hot water, but his skin didn’t look red.” Scott dropped the bucket and reached for his brother who was trying desperately to get out of the tub.

Murdoch was sitting at his desk still figuring columns when Johnny’s scream pierced the air around him. He was on his feet and clearing the doorway of the bathhouse just as Scott was dropping the bucket. He took in the sight of a pale shaking Scott and a wet, terrified, screaming Johnny.

Murdoch glared at Scott growling, “What in the hell is going on in here?” All Scott could do what shake his head in confusion at his father while he tried to keep Johnny from falling over the side of the tub. He wasn’t have much success because Johnny was fighting his efforts, trying to get to his father.

Murdoch picked a towel up off the bench, stepped to the tub wrapped it around Johnny and pulled him from the water. He backed up to the bench and sat down pulling Johnny down with him. Johnny clung to his father’s broad chest, he practically crawled up into his lap, shaking with fear he whispered into Murdoch’s shoulder, “Help me Papa, don’t let me drown.”

Murdoch thought his heart would constrict into a knot and jump into his throat, over the fear in Johnny’s voice and his use of the word Papa. He began to rub Johnny’s back cooing to him, “It’s alright, I’m here, I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you ever again, calm down, tell me why you’re so upset.”

Johnny sighed and gave one last hiccoughing sob before he whispered, “Scott, try to drown me. He poured water over my head when I weren’t looking and I couldn’t breath just like at the creek.”

Scott gasped, “Johnny, I asked you if you wanted to wash your hair. I thought you said uh huh so I poured the rinse water over your head to wet it and to rinse the soap from your top half, before I soaped up your hair. I’m so sorry if you didn’t understand me. My God I thought you were screaming because I had gotten the water to hot and burned you. Please forgive me I didn’t mean to make you feel like you did that day at creek. I know those must be terrifying memories. Let me help you finish your bath.”

Johnny held even tighter to his father and shook his head at Scott. “I don’t want you to help me, I want Murdoch cause he won’t let nothing happen to me.”

It made Murdoch’s heart glad that his youngest son was finally giving him unconditional trust but something in the back of his mind set off warning bells that rough times were coming.

“Johnny, lets get you back to your room. You’ll feel better once we get you dried off and into your nightshirt, but first you do know Scott wasn’t trying to drown you, don’t you? I think you know your brother well enough to recognize he would never do anything to intentionally hurt you.”

Murdoch put his arm around Johnny’s waist and guided him towards the door, when they came back into the kitchen Maria and Jelly wanted to know what happen. They could see that Johnny was wet, pale and shaky. Murdoch frowned and shook his head saying, “Not right now.”

Jelly decided to go out to the bathhouse and see what Scott knew about why they heard Johnny screaming. In the bathhouse Scott was down on his hands and knees drying the water up that had spilled on the floor during Johnny’s fight to get out of the tub.

“Scott, what happened, did Johnny slip and fall on these tiles?”

Scott wouldn’t even look up, as he tersely replied, “No.”

“Well what is the problem then, we could hear that boy screaming all over the house,” replied Jelly.

The look of sheer anguish on Scott’s face when he finally lifted it caused Jelly to suck in his breath sharply.

“I guess Johnny’s problem is that he has an idiot for a brother. An idiot who does have an better sense than to pour a bucket of water over the head and face of a person who almost drown.”

By now the tears were flowing down Scott’s face, “I didn’t mean to scare him. I thought he knew I was about to wet his hair so we could wash it. I think he must have drifted off and the next thing he knew he was breathing in water. He panicked and started jerking around the tub trying to get out. He was screaming, I couldn’t get him to calm down. After Murdoch got him out of the tub, Johnny told him I tried to drown him, but I didn’t, I was just trying to help.”

Jelly’s heart went out to Scott. He knew the older brother would never hurt his little brother. Jelly walked over to Scott and put his hand on his shoulders and calmly stated, “Give him time to settle down, your little brother loves you better than any one in this world. You just wait and see, he don’t really blame you.”

In Johnny’s room his father was helping him dry off. Murdoch was becoming more and more concerned with how lethargic he was behaving. His normally energetic son was allowing his father to do everything for him.

After pulling a night shirt over his head Murdoch inquired,” Are you sure you’re all right? You do know Scott didn’t do it on purpose. He’d do anything to protect you, his little brother.”

Johnny sighed and nodded his head. In his heart he was sure his big brother would never try to harm him. He just couldn’t shake the feeling of the water covering his face and going up his nose, suffocating the life from him. He never wanted to feel that way again. He didn’t think he would have to as long as his father was there.

Finally he glanced up at his father and smiled while saying,” My heart knows Scott weren’t aiming to hurt me. My head was having trouble understanding it cause it was under water. I’m sorry I caused such a row.”

Murdoch hugged his youngest to his chest and whispered, “You have nothing to be sorry for. I might have reacted the same way if I had almost drown too.”

Scott entered the room carrying the bindings for Johnny’s ankle. He smiled shyly at his brother and asked, “Am I forgiven, I’m sorry for doing such a stupid thing.”

Johnny smiled back and motioned for his brother to come over to the bed. The youngest Lancer grabbed his brother in a tight hug and replied, “Ain’t nothing to forgive. I know you’d never try to hurt me. I was just startled. Let’s just call things even cause I over reacted.”

Murdoch’s heart swelled with pride over his two boys. He patted them on the backs and then reminded them they needed to get Johnny’s ankle bound back up so he could get some rest.

They had just finished with Johnny’s ankle when Maria and Jelly entered the room carrying supper for all of them on trays. The Lancers enjoyed the meal together in Johnny’s room while discussing the progress of their new facilities for training horses. After a while Scott and Murdoch realized Johnny hadn’t spoken in about ten minutes. They glanced over to the bed and saw that he had fallen asleep sitting up. His head was back and cocked to the side. Scott snickered and whispered to his father, “Amazing how young, sweet and innocent he looks when he is sleeping, but boy when he’s awake it sure is a different story.”

Murdoch nodded his agreement and softly replied, ” We wouldn’t have him any other way, would we?”

Father and brother settled Johnny down on the bed and covered him without waking him up. They left for their own rooms to get some much needed sleep.

Peace and quiet reined in the house until around two in the morning. Johnny was tossing and turning in his sleep becoming more and more tangled in his blanket and sheet. In his dreamed induced mind, Johnny was not in his bed he was once again caught under the ledge of that stone step. The harder he struggled the tighter he was caught. His entire body becoming drenched in sweat as he tried to free himself. Finally he rolled off the bed hitting the floor with a thud. That woke him up but he still had trouble catching his breath. He was still tangled in the jumble of linens. He managed to free his face, taking great gulps of air. His heart was racing and he felt like he was going to throw up. All he could think about was getting to Murdoch.

After unwrapping his sheets from the rest of his body he limped to his door. Limping his way out into the hall and then down the hallway holding the wall as he went. He peeked into his father’s room. He was still asleep. Johnny made it halfway across the room before his father opened his eyes.

Murdoch was surprised to see Johnny standing in his room in the middle of the night. He could see by the moonlight coming through the window that his youngest was wet in sweat. He jumped from the bed and raced to Johnny’s side. “What’s wrong, are you sick, do you have a fever?” Receiving a head shake to each of those questions Murdoch asked, “Did you have a nightmare? Come here it’s all right. Why don’t you lie down with me? If your bed is as drenched as your nightshirt I don’t think it would be too comfortable to finish the night in it. Here lets get this wet night shirt off of you, you can wear one of mine for the rest of the night.”

Murdoch had barely paused to take a breath. When he saw how ridiculously big his night shirt looked on Johnny he had to laugh, “Well son I guess you’ll always have to look up to me because I don’t think your ever going to grow into this now.”

Johnny smiled at his father and replied, “I ‘d still look up to you, even if I were ten foot tall. The more I get to know you makes me realize I missed out on a lot not growing up here with you.”

Murdoch felt as if he were living in a moment he could die for. At this very moment he had all he ever wanted or dreamed of, oh yes he had his ranch, but that wasn’t his greatest riches. His greatest riches were Scott and Johnny. His oldest boy was safe asleep, in his room down the hall. His youngest was sitting on the edge of the bed, in a night shirt too big for him, looking at him with those sky blue eyes brimming with trust for him.

Murdoch swallowed the lump in his throat as he told Johnny, “This use to be our time to be together, just you and me. Every night around this time you would wake up wanting to be fed. I’d go get you from your cradle and bring you to your Mother. When you were done she would go back to sleep but you would be ready for company. I would sit down in that big rocker by the window and we would talk. Well actually, I did all the talking. You were content to lie in my arms, staring at me with those sky blue eyes. I felt like you could see straight through me, right to my heart, that you could see my love for you. After your Mother took you away I taught myself to hide my love and my heart from everyone. It made my heart an awful dark place. Thank God you and Scott are back now and you have lit every corner of my heart with love again, it will never again be dark.”

Johnny was thrilled at his father’s words. He felt so safe and relaxed that he could hardly hold his eyes open.

Murdoch pulled the covers back on the bed and bid Johnny to crawl in. Then he went around to the other side of the bed and got in himself. Johnny scooted a little closer to his father and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for son?”

“For keeping you up, for making you lose out on your sleep.”

“Well don’t be. I’ll have many opportunities to sleep in my life, spending time with you, Scott, and Teresa is more important to me now.”

A soft sigh escaped Johnny’s lips. Murdoch rolled to his side and snuggled his baby boy to his chest and placed a kiss on the crown of silky black hair. He knew the minute Johnny went to sleep because his whole body seem to relax into the mattress, seconds later Murdoch fell asleep himself.

The Lancers slept unusually late the next morning and the ranch workers let them figuring they needed the rest.

Scott woke up first. He got up and dressed. Leaving his room he saw his brother’s door open and decided to peek in on him. He was alarmed to see the blankets and sheets piled on the floor by the bed. He was even more alarmed that his little brother was nowhere to be found in the room. Scott hurried down the hall to his father’s room. He skidded to a stop at the heart-warming sight that greeted him. Johnny was asleep in their father’s bed. His head pillowed on Murdoch’s chest and his arm draped across his waist. Scott stepped closer to the bed and saw that Murdoch’s eyes were open.

“Good morning, did you and your bed buddy rest well, and what in the world is Johnny wearing?” Inquired Scott.

“Good morning to you too, your brother had a nightmare. His clothes and bed were wet with sweat so I had him finish the night in here and gave him one of my night shirts to wear.”

Scott laughed, “It looks like a night dress on him, it’s so big. He sure looks small snuggled next to you dressed like that.”

Murdoch smiled and nodded, “Yes he does, how about help me up so I don’t disturb him.”

Scott helped his father up and waited for him to dress so they could go down for breakfast.

Scott was at the kitchen table enjoying another cup of coffee when an agitated Johnny limped into the room still clad in Murdoch’s night shirt.

“Where’s my father”, snapped Johnny.

Scott was startled by Johnny’s hostile tone and replied,” Murdoch is in the bathhouse. Why are you so mad? Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?”

“No, I did not get up on the wrong side of the bed. I just don’t like waking up and finding everybody gone.”

“Johnny, we weren’t gone, we were down here eating breakfast.”

“No one told me where they were going so I didn’t know that! I thought you were gone,” shouted Johnny.

Hearing the shouting, Murdoch stepped through the kitchen door to see what was going on. Upon seeing his father Johnny limped forward and hugged him. Not only did that surprise Murdoch, it concerned him that Johnny was trembling.

“Johnny, why don’t you go get dressed before you trip over the hem of that night shirt? I’ll get Maria to fix you some breakfast.”

“Alright, are you going to be here, you’re going to wait on me aren’t you?” pleaded Johnny.

“I’m not going any where Johnny, go on and get yourself dressed.”

After Johnny left the room, Murdoch and Scott looked at each other in confusion. Their expressions seemed to be asking each other, what in the world is going on. This is not normal behavior for the whirlwind known as Johnny Lancer. Scott left for upstairs to help Johnny dress.

All day long no matter where Murdoch went Johnny followed like his second shadow. The only place he didn’t go with him was the bathhouse. That night at supper he wouldn’t even sit in his regular chair. He sat in the chair next to his father.

In the great room after supper, Johnny sat on the footstool to his father’s chair, leaning back on the arm. Murdoch looked at Scott and shrugged, silently asking what do I do?

Scott cleared his throat and said,” Johnny, would you like me to help you out to the barn so you can check on Barranca?”

“Murdoch are you going too,” at Murdoch’s shake of his head, Johnny replied to Scott, “Ain’t no need to, Jelly is taking care of him for me.”

Neither Murdoch nor Scott could stop the look of shock that crossed their faces. They knew for sure now they had a problem.

An hour later Johnny’s head was bobbing up and down as he fought sleep, Murdoch couldn’t stand to watch him fighting sleep so he suggested Johnny go on to bed.

Johnny jerked his head up and stated, “I think I’ll wait on you. I’ll need help because of this cast anyway.”

Murdoch’s eyes widen and he frowned as he glanced at Scott with a what should I do look. Scott shrugged as if to say, your guess is as good as mine.

Murdoch sighed as he said, “You go on up to your room, I’ll be there in a minute to help you as soon as I get some water. Be careful on the stairs, Sam said you were suppose to keep your weight off that ankle for two weeks. It doesn’t appear like it’s bothered you walking on it bound up today.”

Scott turned towards his father, as Johnny limped up the stairs, and whispered, “What is going on with him? He acts like he scared for you to get out of his sight. This can’t be good, he’s not a toddler for crying out loud.”

“Scott, the only thing I can think of is that it’s some kind of delayed reaction to almost drowning. I don’t think it’s good either. I’m not sure what to do about it. I’m going to talk to Sam tomorrow and see what he thinks before this gets to far out of hand.”

Murdoch left Scott with a puzzled and concerned look on his face. He got his glass of water from the kitchen and then proceeded up the back stairs.

He entered Johnny’s room finding him sitting on the bed trying to unbutton his shirt. “Let me help you with that son, I guess it’s hard to do one handed.” Johnny smiled and nodded his head. Next Murdoch reached down to take off Johnny’s boot. He was struck by how much smaller Johnny’s boot was compared to his and Scott’s. “What size boots do you wear, son?” “I wear an 8 1/2, why?” “I was just noticing your boots are smaller than mine or your brother’s.” “You’re both taller than me. I guess it just stands to reason your feet would be bigger.

Murdoch smiled as he replied, “I think you also have feet like your Mother. She had tiny feet, if I remember correctly. She wore a size 4. You also got those unbelievably long eye lashes from her and that silky black hair.”

“But I got my blue eyes from you, that’s what everybody notices.”

“Yes you did and yes people sure do notice your eyes. If nothing else those mark you as my son.”

“Do you still love her, you know, my Mother?”

“I think a part of me will always love her because she gave me you.

“Well, I don’t. I hate her because she took me away from a place where I was safe and loved. Then ignored me most of the time, I know now, you wanted me. You would have made sure I was cared for and safe, just like you do now. You’ve given me more love and guidance in the time I’ve been back than she gave me in the eighteen years I was gone. I hate her and I don’t ever want to talk about her again. As far as I’m concerned she never existed.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way son. You can’t change the fact that she was your Mother. If you should ever change your mind I would be glad to tell your more about her. There was also a lot of good in her.”

Murdoch glanced around the room and noticed the clothes Johnny had just got out of were scattered around the floor along with some Johnny had kicked under the bed at some point. He laughed as he said,” I think we better pick up these clothes, if Teresa were to walk in your room and see it like this she would probably break your other arm.”

Johnny snickered as he replied, “What Teresa don’t know won’t hurt her!”

Johnny yawned and lay over on his side. Murdoch walked around to the other side of the bed saying,” I’m going to tuck your covers in on this side of your bed maybe that will keep you from getting so tangled up in them tonight. You tossed and turned the same way as a baby, a couple of times we woke up to find you had even managed to toss and turn right out of your diaper. Good night son.”

“Good night, see you in the morning, you will be here want you?”

“Yes Johnny, I’ll be right down the hall and Scott will be across the hall. Would you like for me to leave your door open in case you need anything.”

“Yeah, that will be fine.”

Murdoch left, leaving the door open.

He entered his room to find Scott sitting on his bed. When he frowned Scott said, “Don’t worry I’m not staying. I just wanted to know how he’s doing.”

“Well I guess he’s okay. We talked about his Mother some, he has decided he hates her and never wants to talk about her again.”

Scott raised his eyebrows at this before asking, “Do you think he’s finished clinging to you, that he will stay in his room tonight?”

“I don’t know Scott the last thing he asked me was if I would be here in the morning.”

Johnny tried his best to fall asleep but every time he would doze off he would think he heard a door closing. Around 1:30 in the morning he was still awake. The youngest Lancer had managed to convince himself that something bad was going to happen to his father or that he was going to disappear and he’d be all by himself again. When he could stand it no longer he got up, taking the pillow from his bed and limped down the hall to his father’s room. As soon as he saw his father he felt better. Murdoch was on his back snoring lightly. Johnny padded over to the bed placed his pillow next to his father, then eased himself on to the bed. He didn’t get under the covers because he planned to be gone in the morning before Murdoch woke up.

The second Johnny’s weight settled on the bed Murdoch knew he had been joined by his youngest. When he heard him whisper, “Mama left me alone, please Papa don’t ever leave me, ” a tear slowly trickled down his cheek for the anguish his son continued to go through.

Murdock snorted and rolled over, as if still asleep. He softly folded his arms around his son realizing this was becoming a habit that for Johnny’s own benefit would have to be broken.

Scott thought he was the first Lancer up the next morning until he looked in Johnny’s room and saw his father gathering up clothes for his brother. “Morning, where’s Johnny?” Murdoch grimaced as he said, “Still asleep in my bed. I’m going to get him up now and help him get dressed. Please ask Maria to serve breakfast in the dining room this morning. I need to talk to your brother during breakfast and I want you to back me up whatever I say. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes sir, I’ll go tell Maria now, I’ll meet you in the dining room.”

Murdoch returned to his room, he paused a minute to enjoy the relaxed look on the face of his youngest son so child like in sleep. He sighed and frowned because he knew in just a little while Johnny was going to be upset. He shook his head as he recalled how when he was a toddler if Johnny became mad or upset he would throw himself in the floor and have a fit.

He gently shook Johnny’s shoulder to wake him up. Johnny was a little concerned to see that he had not awaken in time to leave his father’s room before he woke up. When he saw the smile on Murdoch’s face he decided not to worry about it.

“Good morning sleepy head are you ready to get up and have some breakfast? I’ve already been to your room to get you some clothes, sit up and let’s get you dressed.”

Since Murdoch didn’t ask why he was in his bed again, Johnny thought nothing was going to come of it.

Murdoch made quick work of getting Johnny dressed then assisted him down the stairs.

The first thing Johnny asked that morning was to inquire, “Why are we going down the main stairs into the great room instead of the back stairs to the kitchen to eat?”

“We’re going to have breakfast in the dining room this morning so I can have a little private time with my sons.”

Scott was already seated at the table. Murdoch took his chair at the head of the table and Johnny again chose to sit next to his father. Maria brought breakfast in and put it on the table, nodded to Murdoch and went back to the kitchen.

Murdoch picked up Johnny’s plate and put bacon, sausage and pancakes on it. He cut up his food since Johnny’s cast would prevent him from doing it, then he poured his milk.

Johnny smiled at his father as he thanked him.

After the other two Lancers had their plates and were eating their breakfast Murdoch decided now was as good time as any to get down to business.

The Lancer patriarch cleared his throat and stated, “Boys, I need to give you my plans for today and I would appreciate it if you would not interrupt me.” After both boys replied, “Yes sir,” Murdoch explained, ” Scott, I would like for you to stay around the house today to work on the books and to help your brother since he is still somewhat indisposed. I need to go to town and I don’t want to be worrying about what’s going on here, so I expect you to be on your best behavior.”

Scott immediately responded, “Yes sir.”

Johnny was shaking his head no, he looked at his father and pleaded,” Why can’t I go with you? There’s nothing I can do around here with a broken wrist and a sprained ankle.”

“No Johnny, you don’t need to be riding a horse or in a buckboard yet. I have some things I want to do on my own. I will be back by lunch or shortly thereafter. You are staying with your brother and that is final.”

Johnny screwed up his face in a pout. Murdoch wasn’t so sure but what he wouldn’t resort to having a throw down fit like he did as a toddler.

Murdoch eyed Johnny as he finished the last of his coffee. Johnny had stopped eating and was pushing the food around his plate. Murdoch stood up retrieved his hat, bid the boys good-bye and headed for the door.

Johnny’s mind was in a whirl, he felt light headed, his hands were sweating and he wasn’t so sure but what he wasn’t going to throw up. He had to find a way to stop his father. He couldn’t explain it even to himself but for some reason he was terrified that if he got out of his sight he would never see him again. He had nothing to base that feeling on, it just felt so real.

All of a sudden Johnny gagged and exclaimed,” OOOH I’m going to throw up!”

Scott raced over to his father’s desk, grabbed his trashcan and ran back to Johnny’s side.

Murdoch shook his head and calmly walked to Johnny’s side. He reached out and felt his forehead and proclaimed, “You don’t seem to have any fever, why don’t you go lay down? I’ll bring Doc Jenkins back for lunch and he can check you out then.”

“Why don’t I just go to town with you and save Doc a trip?”

“No, I’m going to town by myself, you will stay here with Scott. I will see you at lunch, if you’re feeling sick you don’t need to be out anyway.”

Murdoch walked out the French doors. Scott turned to Johnny and was surprised to see that his brother actually looked a little pale. Johnny started to follow Murdoch but Scott reached out a hand to stop him. “Come on Johnny, why don’t you come help me with the books? That way we can be done way before Murdoch gets back for lunch. Then we can have some time to ourselves and you know what they say when the cat’s away the mice will play. Today we get to be the mice,” said Scott with a sneaky grin on his face.


Johnny was torn. He loved spending time with Scott but right now all he could think about was the over whelming fear that something would happen to his father. He knew he was being silly. He was arguing with his own self, his head repeating over and over to his heart, “everything is fine, everything will be fine, Murdoch goes to town all the time.”

Scott stood watching the emotions playing across his brother’s face. He could tell his little brother had an internal war going on inside his head and he was stumped on how to help him.

Finally he seemed to get control of his emotions. He turned to Scott asking, “What do you think was so important in town that only he could take care of it?”

Scott knew but he wasn’t going to tell. He felt that was something his father needed to do, so he decided to make light of the matter. He grinned widely lifted his eye brows and replied, “Well maybe he wanted a little companionship that he can’t get here. After all we slip off to town sometimes too.”

Johnny scoffed at the very idea. He even smiled when he said, “But Scott, Murdoch is an old man!”

“Little brother, he might be older than us but he is still a man. Who knows maybe one day he’ll catch a younger wife and they’ll have a baby then you won’t have to be the baby anymore. You’ll get to play big brother.”

Johnny thought on that for a moment before exclaiming, “That might be nice but I would try not to be as bossy and know-it all as my big brother.”

Scott cuffed him on the head and pulled him over to the desk, hoping there was enough work to keep them busy. He wasn’t so sure Johnny wouldn’t head out for town first chance he got.

Two hours later Scott noticed Johnny’s eyes were getting heavy and he was yawning. “Johnny why don’t you go get a nap, I’ll wake you up for lunch when Murdoch gets back.

Johnny started to argue, to tell Scott he wasn’t tired and to quit telling him what to do. He decided against it, now would be a good time to see if he could fall asleep in his own bed since Murdoch wasn’t home to run to if he couldn’t. “I guess I’ll try, don’t forget to wake me up for lunch.

Johnny climbed the stairs to the bedrooms, even though his intentions were good his effort was failing. He never made it all the way down the hall to his room. He stopped to peek in his father’s room. It smelled of him like tobacco, leather, and aftershave. He stared at the old rocker that was used for him when he was a baby. He smiled to himself as he remembered the conversation with Murdoch about the old chair. He walked the rest of the way into the room and sat down in the chair. From this height and window he would be able to see when his father was getting back. He started the chair to rocking and kept his eyes on the road, soon he was sound asleep. That is exactly where Scott would find him two hours later when he went to tell him Murdoch was back and it was time for lunch.

Arriving in town Murdoch rode his horse around to the back door at Doc Jenkins. It wasn’t office hours yet and he was sure he would find Sam in the kitchen having breakfast. He dismounted, stepped to the back door and knocked. In just a few seconds Sam opened the door. “Murdoch what brings you to town this early? Johnny’s not sick is he? I know how he is, he never wants to follow my instructions and then ends up worse off.”

“Morning Sam, no Johnny is not worse off, physically any way. I’m afraid he does have a problem I need to discuss with you.”

Sam could see his old friend was concerned about something. He motioned for him to come on in while saying, “Well lets hear what the problem is and see if we can come up with some answers on how to help.”

The two men settled down at the table with coffee. Murdoch took a minute to gather his thoughts before explaining, “I’m not sure it is a problem, at least not a bad one yet. You know all about Johnny almost drowning. He had been getting along good until I suggested he get a bath because he was complaining of itching. Scott went with him to help because of the cast. Well to shorten the story, Johnny drifted off to sleep in the tub. Scott didn’t realize he was asleep and poured a bucket of water over his head, getting ready to wash his hair. Johnny awakens to water running over his face and going up his nose as he tries to breath. He panicked, screamed and about killed himself trying to get out of the tub. When I got to him he was shaking so hard I thought he was going to pass out. He could barely talk. He told me Scott tried to drown him and then begged me not to let him drown. Scott was devastated until Johnny calmed down and forgave him.”

Murdoch sighed before saying, “The problem began that night. Johnny woke up from a dream about being wedged under the ledge at the creek. He was tangled in his covers and drenched in sweat. He came into my room seeking comfort and I’m afraid I might have over done it. I should have helped him back to his own room, changed his sheets and nightshirt, then told him good night and gone back to my own room. Instead I put him in one of my nightshirts and let him get into bed with me. When he woke up the next morning Scott and I were down stairs. He thought I had left without telling him. Johnny got so upset about it he hollered at his brother. He followed me around all day. The only place I could get away from him was the bathhouse. He wouldn’t even go to the barn with Scott to check on Barranca because I wasn’t going too. You know how it loves that horse that’s just not like him.”

Sam shook his head replying, “Is that all or is there more to have made you feel like you have a problem starting?”

“Oh yes, there’s more. I helped him get ready for bed last night. He wouldn’t even agree to go until I said I was going. He did start out in his room but as soon as he thought everyone was asleep he came to my room again. He got in bed beside me and whispered,” Mama left me alone, please Papa don’t ever leave me.” He thought I was asleep. Sam I just could not make myself send him back to his room. This morning he was as clingy to me as he was yesterday. When I told him I was coming to town and that he had to stay with Scott I was afraid he was going to have a fit. He went so far as to gag and say he was going to throw up, trying to keep me home.”

“Oh my, Murdoch you’re absolutely right, you have to nip this in the bud before it gets bigger and harder to handle. I’m afraid you have gotten soft where your youngest is concerned. I realize you missed out on a lot of years of being able to spoil him. In your eyes he will always be your child, your youngest boy, but he is a young man. This could become a very embarrassing problem for him. The only way to cure this problem is to handle it the same way you would with a toddler or young child. He is having separation anxiety while it is unusual at his age it’s not unheard of and it is completely curable. The unpleasant part will be sticking your to guns when your heart is warring with head over what you know is the right thing to do. Which by the way is exactly what you told me you should have done that first night. You should have taken him back to his room, helped him get back to bed, then told him good night and gone back to your room.”

“You see the separation anxiety is all in his head. He was traumatized by the near drowning, enough so that he feared not being with you anymore. I guarantee you his head tells him he’s over reacting. The physical symptoms his mind makes his body go through pushes him into a state of panic. He feels like he has lost control, his heart races, he sweats, he might feel light headed or dizzy, nauseous and quiet often lash out in anger. Since you were the one holding him when he came to he equates his safety to you. Being with you helps him regain control. When you’re gone he feels like he will lose control. He fears when he can’t be with you that something will happen to you and he’ll lose control forever.”

“Well please tell me how to help him. I don’t want this to get out of hand. Johnny has always been independent, even as a baby, although I must admit it feels good to know I’m still needed this behavior just isn’t my boy.”

“You are absolutely right. You need to put a stop to this before it gets out of hand. I realize your first instinct the other night was to comfort first and normally what you did would have been fine if it weren’t for the earlier emotional trauma. If he had acted fine the next morning and returned to his own bed that night I would say don’t worry. Since he didn’t and he has acted so out of character since then by becoming more dependent on you, something will have to be done to turn this behavior around. There’s no magic pill he can take either. You’re going to have to set down some rules for him, be tough. I’m going to tell you right now it will probably upset you as much as him. You will have to stifle your instinct to coddle him.”

“Sam, I will do what I have to, I love my son to much to become the crutch that would allow him to be crippled emotionally. Do you have some suggestions for what I should or shouldn’t do?”

“Murdoch the very first thing to do is point out what his behavior has been like. He will probably deny he has a problem. If he denies the problem then you can point out that the new rules about personal time and space shouldn’t bother him”

“This isn’t something that will change in one night. You will slowly retrain him, reassure him, but don’t give in. He may even get mad and lash out at you but gradually it will get easier. You will have to make him spend time to himself and eventually he will see it’s not killing him. Then he’ll be able to get his heart and head in the same place and your old Johnny will be back.”

“I want to be very clear on what steps to take to get him through this. Could you give me a kind of step by step plan to go by? I don’t want to mess this up. Johnny and I were able to work through our differences, as you know, back when he had that appendicitis. I don’t want him to feel like I’m abandoning him.”

“Alright Murdoch, I’ll even write this down for you as we go:

1) Tell him he has a problem, whether he believes it or not.

2) You cannot let the problem continue for his own good.

3) Insist he spend some time to him self each day and that you will to, during that time he is not to bother you unless it is an emergency.

4) He is to sleep in his own bed. You can escort him to his room bid him good night and you might even use the time for discussions. I would stay no longer than five minutes. If you see him falling asleep tell him good night and leave. Do not sit with him until he gets to sleep or he will fight sleep in an effort to get you to stay longer.

5) If he gets up, take him back to his room then leave don’t sit and give him five minutes or you’ll be up and down half the night.

6) If you have to lock your bedroom door at night, or any time during the day if that’s what it takes to get personal time.

7) You need to set a time to go to bed and a time to get up, stick to those times. Make him get up whether he got enough sleep or not. The body’s physical need for sleep will eventually over ride his emotional distress, that’s one way you can get him retrained when he wakes up having slept and survived he will realize he can do it. Do not let him sleep during the day or anywhere but his room.

8)This is a most important point! Do not get angry with him when or if he fails a night. You must remain calm whenever you have to enforce one of the rules should he break it. Do not let him see you get frustrated. If you lose control of the situation then he gets control and if he gets control, he gets his way.”

“Sam, we will start this today. I thank you for your suggestions and for writing them down. I will have a talk with Johnny as soon as I get home. Please do me a favor and come to the ranch for lunch at the end of the week to see how he is doing.”

“I will Murdoch. You need to include Scott in your discussion. You know how protective he is of his little brother. We don’t want him to undo what you’ve done by pampering Johnny behind your back.”

Murdoch rode back to Lancer with a heavy heart. He knew there were going to be some unpleasant days and nights ahead. He had to admit ever since Johnny’s appendicitis surgery and the scare of almost losing him; he had gotten to soft with him. It had felt so good to get their problems and differences ironed out. It had enabled him to laugh with his energetic son, enjoy his youthful antics and shower him with the same attention as when he was a child. // What was that Maria used to say, “Murdoch, Juanito is not the center of our world. We don’t depend on him for anything. We are the center of Juanita’s world, he depends on us for everything.// Well, I don’t want any of us at Lancer to be the center of anything. I just want us to co-exist as a family.

Jelly met Murdoch by the short wall around the patio. He could see the boss was deep in thought so he offered to take his horse and get it groomed and fed.

Scott was on the couch in the great room when his father came in through the French doors. He laid down the book he was reading and gave his father a questioning look.

“Is lunch ready, Scott?”

“Yes sir, we were waiting on you. Did Doc Jenkins tell you what to do to help Johnny?”

“He gave me some suggestions. It’s going to take time, but we will see him through this. All of us are going to discuss this over lunch. I will tell you this right now, you are going to have to trust me. Do not disagree with me in front of Johnny. You tend to be over protective of him. I know I’ve been soft with him. If we are going to help Johnny regain his independence we are going to have to put up a united front.”

“I understand sir. I’ll go get him. He went to get a nap.”

“Did he do all right after I left?”

“He started to follow you but I stopped him. He didn’t try to fight me or anything like that but he was real nervous,

He questioned why you had to go. He didn’t pace and fidget like he usually does when he is stuck in the house. In fact he sat down and got so still. It was almost like he was mourning. I want my whirlwind brother back. I can take this morose version.”

“Go get your brother and let’s get this done or as Johnny would say,” Let her buck!” exclaimed Murdoch.

Scott headed upstairs to get his little brother. Walking into his room he called, “Time to get up, Murdoch is back and ready to eat lunch.” Scott’s mouth dropped open when he realized Johnny was not in his room. // Oh hell, that scamp snuck out when I wasn’t paying attention, Murdoch will explode.//

Scott turned to go back downstairs to tell his father he had failed in his job for the day. At the top of the stairs he changed his mind and went instead to his father’s room. There sat Johnny, in the old rocker, sound asleep.

Scott stood and gazed at Johnny’s face. He looked so young when he slept, yet his face was not relaxed. His whole body seemed tense, like he was waiting for someone to jump out and get him. Scott shook off his dark thoughts before planting a smile on his face and shaking Johnny awake.

Johnny awoke with a start. He saw his brother smiling down at him, which helped his racing heart to slow down. “Hey, Boston is my father back?”

// He really is getting possessive about Murdoch. He keeps referring to him as my father.//

“Yes, he’s back. He wants us to come down for lunch, he needs to talk to us again.”

Murdoch was sitting at the table when the boys got to the dining room. He smiled at his sons saying, “Let’s have some lunch and talk. Before anything else is said or discussed I want you all to understand two things. The most important one being I am your father. I love you unconditionally and I’m trying to do what I think is best. Second, there will be no shouting during this discussion, you can state you are upset but keep it under control.”

Scott and Johnny stared wide-eyed at each other and then acknowledged their father with, “Yes sir.”

After everyone had a plate of food Murdoch asked, “Would you like to know where I went and what I did today?”

His sons nodded replying, “Yes sir.”

“I went to see Doc Jenkins and I like to tell you what we talked about.”

As soon as the name Doc Jenkins left his father’s mouth, Johnny turned white as a ghost. //Oh God he’s sick. He’s going to die! I’m going to lose my father.// His hands started shaking so hard he spilled most of his milk on the table. He turned to his father with a stricken look on his face.

Glancing over at Johnny, Murdoch realized his son had assumed something was wrong with him. Murdoch grabbed his hand exclaiming, “Johnny, I’m fine. There is nothing wrong with me. I went to see Sam to talk about your problem.”

“My problem, I don’t have a problem,” denied Johnny.

“Yes you do and Sam said you would deny you have a problem. Your reaction just now when I said I went to see the doctor proves my point. After I said it you turned whiter than my shirt. Your hands were shaking and you looked at me like you were going to pass out.”

His youngest son blushed and dropped his head.//What can I say they both know I ain’t been acting right. They probably think I’ve gone crazy.// “I’m sorry, I guess I’ve been a lot of trouble,” mumbled Johnny.

Murdoch felt his heart constrict. He reached across the table, placing his hand under Johnny’s chin, lifting his face so he could see into his eyes. “You have nothing to be sorry about, or ashamed of either. You went through a very traumatizing event. You have used so much of your strength, courage and determination in your short life. You had no choice. You had to be independent or you would most likely be dead.”

All three Lancer’s eyes glistened with unshed tears.

Murdoch continued,” Johnny you are one of the most independent and self- sufficient people I know, but you haven’t felt like that these past two days. It is partly my fault. When you finally needed me, first due to your appendicitis then you’re near drowning, I stepped in with my big feet and over did it. I coddled too much. You felt weak and I weaken you further. I let you lean so far over on me, that you lost your balance. Now you’re having trouble getting it back. Sam calls it separation anxiety. He told me how to help you regain your control and balance. Are you ready to give his suggestions a try?”

Johnny nodded his head in affirmation, as Scott was replying, “I’ll help anyway I can.”

“I have a paper here that Sam gave me to go by. These will be our new, shall we say, rules of independence. I’m pleased to say we have effectively dealt with three points so far. We agree you have a problem, you’re admitting it’s a problem and you have consented to help. Are we all in agreement so far?”

In unison Scott and Johnny stated,” Yes sir.”

“Alright then let’s get these rules laid out. 1) You need to spend time to yourself each day. You may spend it anywhere you wish. This will be my personal time also; we will not bother each other unless there is an emergency. This personal time will be for at least an hour. 2) You will sleep in your bed. I will see you to bed each night. I will give you five minutes to discuss anything you need to then I will tell you good night and leave. If I have to lock my door at night I will. 3) I will not sit with you until you fall asleep, if I see you falling asleep I will say good night and leave. 4) If you get up, I will send you back to bed. I will not sit with you again that night. You get five minutes that’s it.5) For now, this will change later, your bedtime will be 9:30 and you will get up at 5:30 whether you have slept or not. You may not sleep during the day. Sam said your physical need for sleep would kick in and override your emotional distress and that would help you retrain your sleeping. When you wake up enough times realizing you survived it will get easier. Basically that’s it, any questions?”

Johnny swallowed hard before replying, “No sir, you laid out everything real plain like. I promise I’m going to try. I don’t like feeling like this. I would like to say I don’t think it’s your fault, not entirely. I guess I got to comfortable leaning on you, which made it easier to lean a little more. Then when I felt my independence slipping away I felt angry. I took that out on you Scott, for that I’m sorry.”

Scott smiled at Johnny while exclaiming, “Don’t worry about it. That’s what big brothers are for, I’ve got your back.”

Murdoch grimaced as he stated, “That reminds me Scott. You are not to coddle or pamper Johnny behind my back. If he has a bad night or day he will have to deal with it. You will not intervene for him.”

“I think that pretty much covers it except one thing. I, Murdoch Lancer, will not lose my temper or patience, because it would not help to get angry and lose control myself.”

Johnny could not stop the bark of laughter as he said, “I thought we were working on my separation problem not your temper problem. I don’t think any of us has it in us to cure your temper.”

The Lancers breathed a sign of relief that things were out in the open and a course of corrective action had been decided on. They talked about other ranch problems as they finished their lunch.

“Well boys there is no time like the present to get started with our rules. Scott the tack room could use a little straightening. Johnny your room could use the same. I noticed you had clothes on all the furniture and under the bed if it’s clean hang it up, if it’s dirty bring it down to the washroom.”

“Okay Murdoch I’ll get to it later. I was going to sit down here while you work and finish my book.”

“No, you will see to your room. Our one hour of private time starts now.”

Johnny screwed up his face in a pout and started to argue. As soon as he saw the look of calm resolve on his father’s face he turned for the stairs to go to his room.

Scott glanced at Murdoch, raised his eyebrows and proclaimed, “Is it just me or was that to easy.”

Murdoch almost chuckled as he said, “I’m afraid this is the calm before the storm. He is feeling a little unbalanced to fight just yet.”

Johnny might have gone up the stairs but he stayed at the top just out of sight until he was sure he could hear his father settling in at his desk. //Why am I being so stupid? Nothing is going to happen to him sitting at his desk. I can do this. He is right here in the house. I can get to him if I need to.//

Johnny surveyed the mess that was his room. He had to agree with Murdoch if Teresa saw this pigsty she would break his other arm. He gathered up the clothes that were clean and laid them over his chair by the window. As he turned back towards his bed he heard his father’s voice float in the window with the breeze.

Johnny broke out in a cold sweat. He could feel his heart racing and he could almost taste the fear. It was dry, hot and clogging his mouth and mind. He rushed to the window, frantically searching the area outside his window for his father. He couldn’t see him. Common sense told him “Finish your chore,” but fear spoke louder, “You need to find your father. What if something is wrong.”

In the end fear won. Johnny took the stairs to the great room as fast as his sprained, bound ankle would allow. He rushed out the French door and almost collided with Murdoch as he stood under the overhang of the upstairs balcony smoking a cigar.

Murdoch calmly glanced at Johnny and announced, “Johnny this is my personal time. If you do not have an emergency please return to your chore.” He showed no emotion towards anger or disappointment. He merely went back to smoking.

He heard Johnny mumble, “Sorry”, as he walked back in the house. He shook his head and blew out a deep breath. He had deliberately call to one of the workers from this spot to see what Johnny would do when he realized he wasn’t in the house. He had heard Johnny earlier when he stayed at the top of the stairs listening for his father. // Please God give me the patience to get him through this, don’t let me do him a disservice by backing down.//

Johnny trudged back up the stairs, willing the knot in his stomach to go away.// Great going Johnny boy! You haven’t even been at this an hour and you’ve already run for Daddy.//

Back in his room, Johnny got back to business. //I guess I better get these clothes out from under my bed. Oh man I forgot I had this brown shirt of Scott’s. I told him he was loco when he accused me of having it. Great here’s the plate that chocolate cake was on. Good thing I found it before Teresa did. I really need to stop kicking my dirty clothes under the bed. My favorite red shirt has chocolate icing on it. Now all I need to do is take all this stuff to the washroom and the dishes to the kitchen.//

Johnny descended the backstairs into the kitchen. He couldn’t help himself he had to peer through the open door to see if his father was at his desk. Murdoch was there and he never looked up. He softly called, “Problem John, if not get back to work this is my personal time.”

He turned quickly and stepped into the little washroom and deposited his clothes in the soaking tub. As he was placing the dishes, he had found in his room, in the kitchen sink Maria came through the back door.

Seeing her Juanito Maria smiled. She sat the basket she had been carrying on the table she turned and bid him come look in the basket. It was filled with the sweet bread twists dipped in cinnamon and sugar that he loved. He gratefully took a handful and went outside to sit under the peach tree in the garden to eat it.

He didn’t know how long he had been sitting there, eyes downcast and thinking, when the toes of his father’s large boots came into his line of sight. He looked up as Murdoch announced, “Personal time is over.”

Johnny frowned and muttered, “Sorry, I guess I didn’t do so good huh? I mean… you know I had to make sure of where you were at three times.” His fisted hands hit down on his own thighs as he exclaimed, “Why am I being such a big baby, three times in an hour that’s really stupid ain’t it?”

Murdoch could see the frustration on his face and feel the tension in his body when he placed his arm around his son’s shoulders. He gently said, “Johnny, I didn’t expect you not to have any problems at all with this. You’re going to have to have as much patience with yourself as I am. We ‘re not going to see total improvement in one day. We will, if we work at it, see some improvement each day. Whether you accept it or not today was an improvement over yesterday. You didn’t follow on my every step.”

Johnny glanced up at his father. The Lancer patriarch had a soft smile on his face as he told his youngest,” I don’t care how old you get you’ll always be my baby boy. That’s a job you’re stuck with. We just need to get you back to being my independent baby boy.”

Johnny Madrid Lancer’s heart soared at those words. He had to swallow the lump in his throat before he replied, “I need to tell you something. You know how you said I might get angry and lash out… well I just want you to know if I do no matter what I might say, I do love you Papa!” Father and son shared a hug before entering the house.

Darkness was quietly falling over the ranch. Murdoch and his boys were enjoying a supper of roast beef, potatoes, carrots and fresh baked bread. All of a sudden Johnny felt like he had rocks in his stomach. He began pushing the food around his plate as he frowned down at the food.

Scott and Murdoch glanced at each other; both thinking here comes the storm.

Murdoch cleared his throat before asking Johnny, “Is there something wrong with your food.”

“NO! I just ain’t hungry,” snapped Johnny.

Johnny didn’t mean to snap and he mumbled “Sorry” to his father who merely looked at him with raised eyebrows.

The youngest Lancer’s mind was in a panic. It was getting darker which meant it was getting later, which meant that 9:30 bedtime was fast approaching. The panic was beginning to make him feel angry. He was angry with himself and angry at this situation he found himself in. He felt like if he didn’t do something he would explode.

He got up from the table, picked up the plate with the remains of his supper and stalked into the kitchen. In the kitchen he dumped his food in the slop bucket then slammed his plate down into the sink. Johnny would have stomped upstairs but that was not where his father was, he had moved to his chair in the great room.

He turned to the door that led back to the dining and great rooms. With his frustration and anger making his whole body tense, he tried to actually stomp across the room to release some of the pent up anger. The former gunhawk’s bound up ankle was in no shape to take that kind of abuse yet and he ended up in a heap on the floor when a pain shot up his leg from his ankle.

He cursed a blue streak in Spanish.//Oh this just gets better and better, now I’m walking and falling like a baby.//

Scott walked over and extended his hand to help him up. This made the younger Lancer mad. He drew back his hand to slap Scott’s hand away but stopped reminding himself this was not Scott’s fault. At the last second he grasped his brother’s hand and mumbled, “Thanks.”

“Little brother how about I beat you in a game of chess,” teased Scott.

Johnny was torn he knew he needed something to occupy his time. He didn’t think he would be able to concentrate on a game of chess, since there wasn’t anything else to do he nodded his consent.

Scott set up the board and the game got underway. Johnny was trying to approach the game like a gunfight. Giving it his total concentration but unlike when he was in a gunfight, he couldn’t get his tunnel vision going. That would let him block out everything but what he was doing. The ticking of the grandfather clock kept distracting him breaking his train of thought.

Every time the clock would chime the hour, the knot in his stomach would get bigger and his frustration would raise a notch. Finally it chimed nine and the half hour and it made him so mad he was tempted to shoot the clock.

From behind him he heard his father’s calm voice announce,” It’s 9:30 Johnny. This is the agreed on bedtime.” All Johnny could think of was that he didn’t want to go. He nonchalantly replied, “Let me finish this game with Boston first.”

“You can finish the game tomorrow night. Right now you’re going to bed,” said Murdoch as he grasped Johnny by the arm and pulled him up from the floor.

The closer they got to the staircase the more the panic took over. Johnny grasped the banister with his good hand and dug his heels in, “NO”, he shouted.

Scott started towards Johnny and Murdoch. Murdoch shook his head no to him. He turned around to Johnny’s back and wrapped his arms around his son’s chest and upper arms. He leaned in and calmly stated, “It’s 9:30, you are going to your room whether you sleep or not. I’m going to help you with your clothes. I will give you five minutes time to talk, then I will tell you good night and leave. Now you are going to your room if I have to carry you. You have thirty seconds to decide how you get there.”

Johnny stared into his father’s eyes, cursing the fates that had given him a six foot five mountain of a man for a father. He knew with his broken arm and sprained ankle it wouldn’t take much for Murdoch to over power him.

He let go of the banister as Murdoch moved his hand to his shoulders and muttered, “I hate this!”

“I know you hate this son. I hate it for you but I’m going to keep to the rules we decided on and so are you.”

Walking down the hall to his room, Johnny felt like he was making the final walk to the hanging gallows. In his room Murdoch helped him with the fasteners on his clothes that he couldn’t get because of his cast. As he was pulling his nightshirt over his head his father turned his covers back. Johnny stepped towards the bed then abruptly turned back towards the door.

Murdoch quickly blocked his path and asked, “Where are you going?”

“I forgot to tell Scott good night I’ll be right back.”

“No son, you should have told Scott downstairs. I’ll tell him for you when I go back down.”

Johnny scowled as he climbed in his bed then questioned, “You and Scott aren’t going to bed yet. That’s not fair. Why can’t I stay up and then go to bed when ya’ll do?”

Murdoch smiled and in an even tone replied, “No, Scott and I are not going to bed yet. Yes it is fair. We aren’t recovering from injuries, not to mention we are older than you. Finally you are going because this is the time we agreed on.”

Johnny scoffed as he asked, “Will I still have to go to bed at 9:30 when I ain’t crazy no more?”

His father rolled his eyes as he replied, “Johnny nobody thinks you’re crazy. You’re just feeling a little over whelmed. When things return to usual you may of course stay up as late as you like.”

” Scott and I will be downstairs until we decided to turn in for the night. I can’t make you fall asleep. I can make you stay in this room, even if I have to lock you in.”

“You wouldn’t really lock me in would you?” Stammered Johnny.

“Yes son, I would if that’s what it took so the rest of the house can get their rest. I would hate it but I would do it if it were for the best.”

Murdoch reached out and tousled Johnny’s hair announcing, “Well our five minutes are up, good night.”

Murdoch glanced back at his youngest as he pulled the door closed. Johnny was already sitting up. His eyes were wide open, like they were searching the room for help. He looked utterly dejected as the door clicked closed.

Scott inquired as his father came back to the great room, “Everything alright, do you think he’ll stay?”

“Well, he doesn’t believe it but yes everything is alright. No, I don’t think he will stay. He will test me to see if I stick to my guns.”

“Sir, I have to congratulate you. You’re doing a wonderful job of holding your temper. You’re not giving him ammunition for his own temper.”

“Scott, that part has been easy. I don’t feel angry. I feel heartbroken that my child has a problem that I can’t fix immediately with my hands or money. All I can do is offer my support while he fixes it himself because he’s the only one who can.”

Johnny lay in his bed in the dark room. Straining his ears trying to hear his father’s or brother’s voice so he could be sure they were there. He couldn’t hear a thing.// Why did Murdoch have to build such a big house? Why couldn’t he put the bedrooms on the same floor as the great room?//

Maybe he could slip downstairs to the kitchen and peek through the dining room to make sure they were still there. //I promise myself as soon as I see they are still here, I will come right back to my room. I will get in this bed and go to sleep.//

With his mind made up, Johnny got out of bed. He softly walked to the door, quietly opened it then crept silently down the hall. Then down the stairs into the kitchen. He made his way to the doorway between the kitchen and dining room. He blew out a deep breath of relief when he could see his father and brother sitting and reading their books.

He thought he got away with his escapade. That is until his father’s voice cut through the silence of the house when he looked towards the kitchen and asked, “What are you doing up?”

Johnny froze in place. Thinking fast he said, “I was thirsty I came to get a drink of water.”

“You have water in the pitcher in your room. A glass too if I’m not mistaken.”

“That’s water for washing up. I can’t drink water meant for washing up,” stammered Johnny.

The looks on Murdoch’s and Scott’s faces at that statement were incredulous. Murdoch replied, “That is clean water Johnny. You know that, now good night.”

Johnny slowly ascended the stairs to his bedroom.// I am the biggest idiot baby that ever lived. I can’t believe I said I can’t drink water meant for washing up.//

Downstairs Scott and Murdoch tried to keep a straight face and their snickers muffled. Scott gasped, “I’m sorry but that was the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard. He can’t drink water meant for washing up.”

Murdoch nodded as he replied,” Yes, that was a very funny excuse. The situation is not funny though, please don’t let Johnny see you laughing. He might take it wrong.”

Thirty minutes later Johnny was still wide-awake. He convinced himself again that he just needed to make sure his father was still there. Since he got caught going down the backstairs, he decided to take the stairs to the great room. That would be better because Murdoch’s back would be to him.

He thought he had been as quiet as a mouse. He only peeked around the corner of the wall with one eye. // Yep, there they are. I’ll go back to bed now.// Just as he put his foot on the next step up, it creaked.

“Johnny, why are you up now?” questioned his father.

//Damn// “I was just going to … I mean… I gotta go.”

“You’re going the wrong way, aren’t you? The bath house is right outside the kitchen. You should have used the kitchen stairs,” proclaimed Murdoch.

“I’ll just go on out this way since I’m already down here. Then I’ll go back to bed.”

Scott smiled at his brother as he walked by. The blonde Lancer told his father, “Well I guess I’ll turn in now, good night sir.”

“Good night boys. I think I’ll get to bed too.”

Johnny went to the bathhouse since that was his excuse for being up while his father put out the lamps.

An hour later, Johnny was still awake. Every time he would drift off something would startle him awake. He was feeling panicky again. He wished his father’s room was across the hall from him instead of his brother’s. Then he could hear him snoring and he could be sure he was there.

//I’ll just slip down to his room. Listen to see if he’s snoring. Then I’m getting back in this bed and going to sleep.//

That’s what he intended to do. When he got down the hall he couldn’t hear him, so he sat down by the door and leaned over to listen closer. He could finally hear him. His relief was so great; he relaxed and fell asleep in the hall.

Murdoch awoke with a smile the next morning. // Johnny didn’t get up anymore last night after I went to bed.// The Lancer patriarch got up, dressed then headed for the door to get Johnny up and help him dress.

Opening the door Murdoch started to step in the hall and stopped himself. His youngest was sprawled out in the hall sound asleep.

Coming out of his room at the same time, Scott was greeted with the sight of his father standing over his brother’s supine form in the hallway. Scott walked down the hall and inquired, “How long has he been here?”

“I don’t know, but however long it was he couldn’t have rested very well on the hard cold floor.”

“Did he stay in the hall because you locked your door.?”

“No, my door was not locked. I guess stopping himself here in the hall is a slight improvement. He made it through the night without getting in my bed.”

“I hope he sees it that way. I don’t hardly think he meant for us to find him here in the hall.”

Johnny realized he could hear Scott’s and Murdoch’s voices. //Oh no, I fell asleep in the hall, of all the stupid things to do. I don’t even want to open my eyes and see their faces.//

Murdoch squatted down next to Johnny patting his chest. “Come on Johnny it’s time to get up, it’s 5:30.”

Johnny groaned as he opened his eyes. “I’m sorry, I guess I broke the rules didn’t I.”

“Johnny do you remember what I told you about not seeing total improvement in one day? That we were striving for some improvement each day. Well this was, believe it or not, some improvement. You might not have stayed in your bed but at least you didn’t get in mine. You stopped yourself here in the hall.”

“Oh yippy yea, little Johnny Lancer is twenty years old and can sleep in the hall all by himself,” snarled Johnny.

“Come on brother, don’t be so hard on your self. You’ll get this worked out eventually,” encouraged Scott.

Anger at himself and anger at his situation, oozed from Johnny. He snapped, “Shut up, just shut up, quit treating me like a baby.”

Johnny got unsteadily to his feet and started down the hall. When he got to his room he turned around and hollered,” I don’t want no help getting dressed. I’ll do it myself.” He slammed the door so hard it bounced back open forcing him to close it again.

Scott glanced at Murdoch before announcing. “Something tells me he didn’t get much sleep last night.”

In his room, Johnny’s movements were hurried and jerky. First he tried to get out of his nightshirt by pulling it over his head. Forgetting the three buttons on the front opening, he almost pulled his ears off. Then when he jerked it back down and tried to unbutton it, he accidentally tore off two buttons.

The youngest Lancer was so frustrated by the time he got the nightshirt off he wadded it up and threw it. He watched in dismay as it sailed out of his open window.

Johnny looked in his closet for a shirt that he could manage the buttons on. He tried on and then threw across the room three shirts (one of them going out the window). He decided on his forest green shirt with the rawhide ties for fasteners, even though he couldn’t get them tied.

The former gunhawk jerked open his pants drawer. Getting angrier by the second, he threw three pairs of pants over his shoulder in a fit of temper. Two pairs of them flew out the window. He found the brown pants with the placket in the front that had rawhide ties on it. Johnny put those on but could not tie them. The rest of the pants lay in a heap in the floor.

He snatched a pair of socks from his top drawer. He sat down on his bed to put on the right one only since his left foot was still bound up. The best he could manage with one hand left him with the heel of his sock on top of his foot. Johnny decided he didn’t care because his boot would cover it.

The former gunhawk had another fit of temper that sent his boot flying through the open window, when he couldn’t get his foot to slide into it.

Downstairs Murdoch and Scott watched in amusement as they saw a nightshirt, a blue flowered shirt, two pairs of pants and one lonely boot float down from Johnny’s window.

Scott looked at his father and smirked. “Here comes a storm, from the looks of it a bad one, it’s already raining clothes and boots.”

When Johnny finally stomped, with his limp, into the dining room, it was all his father and brother could do to keep from laughing out loud.

Johnny stood there glaring at them. He looked like something thrown away. He had on one sock with the heel of it on top of his foot. His pants were too long without his boots and were falling off his hips because he couldn’t tie them closed. The shirt wasn’t tucked in and the rawhide ties were hanging loose down the front. Johnny’s hair looked like it had been caught up in a whirlwind.

The youngest Lancer knew his father and brother were trying not to laugh at him. That made him even angrier. Johnny jerked his chair out and tried to slam himself down into it. He had miscalculated and pulled the chair to far out. When he slammed himself back and down the chair wasn’t there to catch him. This caused him to pop his chin on the table edge and bite his lip as he fell.

Murdoch and Scott gasped as he hit the table and floor, for them the situation just lost all humor.

Murdoch jumped from his chair to help his son. He grabbed Johnny under the arms to lift him while Scott slid the chair under him. He checked him over quickly to make sure his chin was all right.

“Son, have you figured out yet that the more upset and angrier you get, the more you lose control, not get control.”

Murdoch shook his head as he began tying the rawhide strings on Johnny’s shirt. “Stand up and let me fix your clothes. I don’t care how mad you are or get, no son of mine is going to walk around looking like I can afford to clothe him properly.”

As he began to tuck in Johnny’s shirt he instructed Scott, “Go outside and get your brother’s boot, only the boot he will pick up the rest of his things during personal time.” After tying the placket to his pants closed, he pushed Johnny back down on the chair. The Lancer patriarch pulled his son’s sock off turned it the right way and put it back on. Murdoch finished by sliding his boot on him. Then turned up the left pants leg so it wouldn’t drag on the floor. He fingered brushed his hair in place.

“Now, lets eat some breakfast and plan our day.” Scott I would like for you to ride out to the North ridge today and check that erosion problem Cipriano was talking about. I’ll be working the forge with Jelly all morning. Johnny, I realize there’s not a lot you can do with your arm in a cast and your ankle bound up. I feel like you need something to occupy your time. Your chore today, after cleaning up the clothes you threw out the window and most likely all over your room, is to take all the books off of these shelves and dust their top edge. Then dust the shelf and put the books back.”

Johnny’s mouth dropped open and he gasped. “That’ll take me all day working one- handed there must be over two hundred books here and dusting is for women.”

“Those are your chores for the day. I expect them to be done or very near done when I come in for lunch.”

“Can I come out and watch you work the forge when I’m done with my work?”

“Yes but only if it has been at least an hour. Do not rush through your chores and do a sloppy job or you will redo them.”

After finishing their breakfast Scott and Murdoch grabbed their hats and headed through the french doors to go to the barn. Johnny followed them as far as the patio so he could pick up his clothes he had thrown out the window.

He watched his brother leave the barn on his horse. He could hear his father in the forge hammering a piece of metal. // I can do this! I can hear Murdoch working in the forge if I leave the doors open. That way I can be sure he’s still here. It’s 6:30 now if I hurry I can get done, I can go to the forge at 7:30 and spend the morning outside with Murdoch.//

Johnny rushed to his room with the clothes he had picked up and put them away. He picked two shirts up from the floor and hung them up. He opened his pants drawer and refolded the pants he had thrown in the floor and placed them back in the drawer. Then he made his bed the best he could one-handed.

The youngest Lancer hurried down stairs to dust the books and shelves. There were four large bookcases. Each one eight foot tall, lining one of the walls in the dining room. Johnny decided he would do the top two shelves on all four sections first. He could sit on a chair to do the next two shelves down of each case. Finally he could sit on the floor to do the last two shelves of each case, that way he wouldn’t get to tired.

He took half the books off the first shelf wiping the dust off of the top edge as he went. Then he wiped the top edge of the ones he left on the shelf. He slid the books over and dusted where they had been. He put them back in place and dusted the other half of the shelf. Finally Johnny replaced the books he had taken down. He thought his system was working pretty good.

He was working on the fourth shelf of the last bookcase when he began to yawn and stretch. Sleeping on the floor last night had not been very restful. The former gunhawk finished the shelf he was working on then put the chair he had been sitting on back under the table. He was so tired he didn’t even realize he had been working over an hour.

Johnny looked bleary eyed at the last eight shelves. These were the ones he could sit on the floor to do. He was so sleepy his eyes were watering every time he yawned. He gave a sigh of relief when he got to the last two shelves on the last bookcase section. Johnny yawned and blew out his breath. He leaned forward and rested his head against the bookcase for a second, that was the last thing he remembered doing as his eyes fluttered closed.

Scott was riding back into the ranch yard right at lunch time. Seeing that his father was still at the forge he dismounted and handed off his horse to one of the hands. He walked over to speak to Murdoch.

“Well how did things go this morning? Did my little brother keep checking up on you?”

“No, I haven’t seen Johnny all morning. I kept glancing back at the house but never saw him outside again after he picked up his clothes. I hope that’s a good sign, that he buckled down and did his chores I assigned him. To tell you the truth I’m a little concerned. I might have given him too much to do with his arm in a cast. I’m done here let’s go in the house and check up on Johnny, then eat our lunch.”

Murdoch and Scott were a little surprised to find the french doors had been left standing open. It was quite in the great room. They could hear the women talking in the kitchen but they didn’t see Johnny anywhere.

Murdoch frowned as they walked towards the bookcases in the dining room. He stopped at the first case. Upon inspecting it, he could tell that Johnny had indeed dusted the edges of the books and the shelves. Before he could voice his question of where’s Johnny, Scott tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the floor in front of the last bookcase.

There sitting on the floor, Indian style, with his head braced against the bookcase was his youngest son sound asleep. Murdoch chuckled as he whispered to Scott, “He use to do the same thing when he was a toddler. He would go until he was exhausted. Where ever he was when he finally got still is where he would fall asleep.”

Scott smiled at that. //I ‘d give anything if I could have known my brother when he was a carefree toddler.//

“I can see he has worked hard all morning. Look at the sweat streaks on his face and his formerly white cast looks like it’s been drug through the dirt. I hate to wake him up but we agreed no sleeping in the day. I can see now though what Sam meant about the physical need for sleep would eventually over ride the emotional distress.”

Scott grabbed Murdoch’s arm and whispered to him, “Johnny’s not in trouble is he…I mean it doesn’t look to me like he planned to take a nap like that.”

“No, Scott he’s not in trouble but he is going to wake up now and stay awake until 9:30.”

Murdoch cleared his throat and spoke louder than he had in two days. “Johnny wake up! No sleeping during the day.”

Johnny was so deep asleep he had not even realized any one else was in the room. When his father’s voice boomed from behind him, he jerked awake sending the book he had in his hand flying backwards. Scott was standing in front of his father. He saw the book coming towards him and ducked. Since Murdoch didn’t see it until it was to late to move the corner of the book struck him under the left eye. Leaving a bruise that would last over a week.

“Oh man, I’m sorry Murdoch you startled me. I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I was dusting and I just leaned against the bookcase for a second. What are ya’ll doing in here anyway?”

“Look at the clock little brother. It’s 12:00 it’s time for lunch.”

Johnny spun around to look at the clock. Sure enough it was 12:00.

The look of delight on his face was something to see when he turned around and exclaimed, “I did it. I did my job. I worked all morning by myself and I didn’t go bother you once. I mean… I left the doors open so I could hear that you were out there but I stayed in the house.”

“Yes you did son. I’m proud of you. You concentrated on your chores and you got through the morning. You see Sam was right. We’re seeing some improvement and with every little bit of improvement you’ll get a little more control.

You’ve gone from having to be able to see me, to just needing to hear me. Pretty soon you’ll be able to trust that I’m here whether you see or hear me.”

Scott smiled at Johnny. He patted his back while saying, “It appeared like you were resting fairly easy there too. I take it you didn’t have any of those bad dreams during your nap.”

Johnny snuck a glance at Murdoch when he said; “Nope weren’t seeing anything bad in my sleep. Just the back of my eye lids.”

It was a happier group of Lancers that sat down at the kitchen table to enjoy a lunch of ham sandwiches made with thick slices of fresh bread, potato salad and apple pie for dessert.

Johnny was more relaxed than he had been in days. His eyes were growing heavier by the second. The next thing he knew he felt himself falling sideways. He had to slap his hands down on the table top to keep himself from pitching over into the floor. He turned a sheepish face towards Murdoch and Scott to see if they had noticed. The youngest Lancer could tell from the look of amusement on their faces they had.

“Johnny would you like to go out to the barn and check on Barranca this afternoon?” Asked his brother.

Johnny looked at Murdoch, “Yes son, you can go to the barn after you finish those last two shelves. You need to wear something over those ankle bindings. I don’t think your boot will fit over it and mine or Scott’s boots would be to big for you.”

“I can wear my sock over it. That would help keep it and my foot clean.”

“I’m afraid it will stretch your socks out of shape. Scott go get a pair of my socks. The bindings won’t stretch them out because my foot is bigger than Johnny’s even with the bindings. Johnny while he does that you finish those two shelves.”

Johnny was done with the shelves when Scott came back with the socks. He sat down on the couch so Murdoch could put them on. “I’m going to put both socks over this it will give your foot more protection. Murdoch slid the first sock over his toes and bindings and when he pulled it up it went all the way to Johnny’s knee, which caused them all to shout with laughter. Murdoch quickly pulled the other sock over the first one and they were ready to go.

They walked along together until they got right by the barn. Murdoch veered off to go back to the forge. Scott stopped so that Johnny could watch to see where he went. When Murdoch picked his hammer up and went back to pounding the metal Johnny was ready to go to the barn.

Inside the barn you could still hear the hammer striking the metal. Scott could tell Johnny was listening for it by the way he held his head slightly cocked to the side.

Johnny made his way over to Barranca, his smile grower bigger with each advancing step. Barranca was getting excited also, the golden horse began to toss his head and whinny. When Johnny finally stopped in front of him the horse was impatiently stomping the ground.

Johnny laughed at the horse’s antics and began scratching his nose. Barranca acted curious about Johnny’s cast, he kept nuzzling it. “You don’t know what that is huh boy? It’s a cast, it’s kind of heavy and rough see.” As if to demonstrate he began rubbing between the horses ears with the cast. Barranca rolled his eyes and bent in closer for Johnny to scratch some more. “Oh you would like that.” By the time the spoiled horse finally let Johnny quit scratching him with the cast it was filthy.

“I’ll be glad when I can ride again. I sure do miss it.

“I tell you what little brother I need to get back to work. How about you jump on the back of my horse. I’ll give you a ride over to the forge. It won’t be a long ride but it’s better than none.”

“You’re right about that Boston,” replied Johnny, as he grasped his brother’s hand and pulled up behind him in the saddle.

Scott knew to be careful with Johnny injured so he never let the horse do more than a slow walk.

Murdoch looked up and smiled as Scott rode up to the forge. When he realized Johnny was on the back of the horse his mouth dropped open and he bellowed,” Scott Garrett Lancer what on God’s green earth are you doing putting your injured brother on a horse?”

Murdoch stepped to the horse and lifted Johnny off then turned and scowled at Scott. “What if that horse had become frighten and bolted, throwing him off? There’s no way he could have landed safely with a sprained ankle and a heavy cast messing up his balance.”

Scott had the grace to look sheepish as he replied, “I’m sorry sir. I guess I didn’t think that through very well.”

“No you didn’t. I expect better from you, you’re older. You’re suppose to set a good example for your little brother,” snapped Murdoch.

Pure mischief and devilment twinkled in Johnny’s eyes as he said, “That’s right Scott what were you thinking making me get on that dangerous horse? That wasn’t setting a good example for me. How would you feel if you got me killed? I’m the only little brother you got. Do you think Murdoch’s got spare kids laying around somewhere?”

Scott glared at Johnny and hissed,” I’ll get you, you scamp. I didn’t make you get on the horse. I’m going to make you sorry. When you least expect it, expect it.” Scott flashed Johnny an evil grin, letting him know it had all been said in fun.

Johnny fell into Murdoch’s arms. The youngest Lancer wrapped his arms around his father’s chest and his legs around his hips and exclaimed,” Save me, save me, my big brother is going to do me in for my share of the ranch.”

Murdoch gave a bark of laughter as he realized his sons were trying to show him he had over reacted. He decided to get in on the fun too. He turned to Johnny and said as seriously as he could, “We’ll just see about that. Go over to the tack room and get me a leather strap. I’ll give your brother something he’s not expecting.”

Scott howled with laughter as he whirled his horse around and galloped off shouting, “You’ll have to catch me first.”

The Lancers had a pleasant afternoon. The tension they had been feeling over Johnny’s problem had eased off some. They felt like they could breath easier. Johnny had improved enough that he didn’t have to see his father all the time as long as he could hear him. While Murdoch worked in the forge he wandered around the barn, corrals and garden.

Scott came riding back in before dusk fell. While he groomed and fed his horse with Johnny’s help, Murdoch shut down the forge.

They headed into the hacienda for supper. Maria took one look at Johnny’s filthy cast and flew into a fit of temper declaring, “This is not good for Juanito to get so dirty when he can’t get a proper bath by himself. He is not going to sit at the table looking like that.”

Murdoch shook his head. // When did I lose control in my own house!// The Lancer patriarch sighed as he in formed Maria, “We ‘re going to help him clean up before supper. We’re going to the bath house now.”

Guiding Johnny towards the bath house Murdoch glanced back at Scott and requested, “Go upstairs and get each of us a clean set of clothes. I’ll take Johnny and get him started. Then we can get our baths.”

As Scott was turning for the stairs he heard Johnny proclaim, “I’ll take a bath but we ain’t washing my hair.”

Murdoch was glad to see water had already been put on to heat and was ready for use. He directed Johnny to sit down on the bench while he prepared a tub of water.

Johnny sat down and untied the rawhide strings on his shirt and was able to pull it off by himself. He untied the strings on his pants to but then realized he needed his boot off first. He sat back down to get his boot off, when his father’s large hand appeared and pulled it and the sock off for him. He then squatted down and pulled the socks off his ankle bindings. There was so much dirt ground into the sock it puffed a dirt cloud when Murdoch shook it.

“Good Lord Johnny these ankle bindings are filthy. We’ll have to change them. Your toes are blacker than your hair.”

After unwrapping his ankle Murdoch exclaimed, “There’s hardly any swelling left in this ankle. It’s still discolored but it seems to be healing fine. Okay, you step out of your pants and get in the tub while I get the soap and cloth.”

Scott came into the bath house just as Johnny was following his father’s instruction and heard him reply,” Okay but I’m still not washing my hair.”

Scott frowned at Johnny before saying, “I don’t think you have actually forgiven me yet for pouring water over your head.”

“Yes I have Boston. I just ain’t aiming to relive the feeling of water covering my face anytime soon.”

Murdoch chuckled as he said, “Hold your left foot up here. Let me help you get all that dirt off of it.”

Johnny scooted forward in the tub so he could brace his foot on the end for his father to scrub it. “Hey Murdoch why is this tub so much longer than most tubs I ever seen? It makes me feel really short. I can practically lay down in it.”

Murdoch laughed and his eyes twinkled as he related,” You’re the reason this tub is so long, Johnny.”

“Me, how come?”

“Well when you were a baby, after you were big enough to sit up good, your Mother always put you in the tub with me because you splashed so much. At the time we had a regular sized tub and it was a little crowded with both of us in it. So for my birthday the year you turned one your Mother ordered me this custom made tub to be a present from you. When you were about eighteen months old, we had to put the special latch on the bath house door because you would slip in here and swim in the tub if the water hadn’t been emptied.”

Scott snickered at that, “Murdoch I’m a little surprised you did that.”

“Scott we did it out of self-defense and to save water. Whoever gave your brother a bath was going to end up as wet as him anyway.”

Scott gave an evil grin to his little brother as he replied, “Yes sir, I know what you mean. That happened to me last time I tried to help him get a bath.”

Scott was rewarded for his smart remark when Johnny threw a handful of water in his face.

Johnny washed everything below the waterline while his brother and father made quick work of everything above the line. Murdoch warned him when he was ready to pour water down his neck and over his shoulders to rinse him.

Johnny thought they were finished, until he heard Murdoch say,” I know you said you didn’t want to wash your hair but it smells like the forge fire and more than likely has soot in it too.”

At Johnny’s startled look Murdoch explained how they could do it. “You scoot all the way back in the tub and hang your head over the edge. I’ll put an empty bucket under your head to catch the water I’ll need to pour over it. Scott can roll up a towel to hold over your eyes so we don’t get soap or water in them. We’ll just empty the bucket before we rinse your hair.”

Johnny agreed and in no time they had his hair washed. Murdoch helped him out of the tub and towel dried him. Scott emptied the tub and refilled it for his own bath. By the time his father had finished helping Johnny rebind his ankle, dress and get his hair combed, Scott was emptying the tub for Murdoch’s turn.

Johnny waited on Scott to dress and then the boys went back into the kitchen. Maria grabbed Johnny in a tight hug exclaiming, “Juanito you smell just like you use too when your Papa would give you your bath. Only back then you would run naked through the kitchen before they could get your clothes on.” Scott laughed and Johnny turned redder than the apples on the table.

The Lancer boys waited for their father in the great room. When Scott heard him coming he poured a glass of scotch for him. Murdoch sat down in his favorite chair and smiled at his sons.

He noticed Johnny yawning and asked, “Are you tired Johnny?”

“Yes sir, I’ve done more today than I have in over a week.”

Maria called them to the table. They sat down to chicken and dumplings, sweet potatoes, garden peas and sweet tea for the older Lancers, buttermilk for Johnny.

Supper was quiet because everyone was tired. They were also a little leery of discussing any type of ranch problems that might break the magic spell of the good day they had going since breakfast.

After supper they retired to the great room where Scott and Johnny took up their chess game, they started the night before. Murdoch sat in his chair reading. Johnny was so intent on the chess match he didn’t even notice the clock ticking away.

When the clock chimed the time of nine and the half hour, Murdoch closed his book and announced “9:30 time for bed Johnny.” Johnny frowned and said, “But I did really good today. You said so. Just let me finish this game.”

“Sorry son, yes you had a good day. You made some improvements, but I think you realize you still have a little further to go. Sam’s suggestion are working and we’re not going to abandon them until the job is done.”

“Okay”, sighed Johnny, “I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try my luck and bend the rules.”

Murdoch smiled as he said, “Before we go up stairs lets get last nights excuses out of the way. Tell your brother goodnight. Get a drink of water now if you’re thirsty. Go to the bath house now if you need to.”

Johnny smirked, turned to Scott and said, “Good night Scott.” Turning back to his father, he said, “I ain’t thirsty and I don’t got to go.”

Upstairs Murdoch helped Johnny undress. While he put on his nightshirt his father turned his covers down. After he crawled in the bed, Murdoch reached to fasten the three buttons on his nightshirt but Johnny stopped him because it would be easier to get off in the morning.

Murdoch pulled the chair close to the bed as Johnny was getting settled. “I want to tell you how proud I am of you. I want you to realize what an improvement you have made already. If you can go from following my every step during the day and sleeping in my bed at night, to just needing to hear that I’m near, then I have every confidence you can whip this problem. If I need to remind you every day that I’m here for you I will. I want you to know even if I do have to go somewhere, I’ll always come back to you. I didn’t spend 18 years and all that money trying to find you only to abandon you.”

“I know that now. It’s like you said, I got to get my heart and head in line. My head talks my heart into racing in fear to find you. I don’t really understand how I can let myself get so upset. I survived on my own from the time I was 10 until you sent for me. I had to I didn’t have no one else.”

“That’s part of the puzzle son. You did it on your own because you had to there was no one else you could trust. I guess it says a lot for how far we’ve come in our relationship. You put so much trust in me now, that you have convinced yourself you couldn’t make it on your own. I also think part of this goes back to the time of your appendix surgery. One of us sat with you all the time. You depended on us for everything. According to Dr. Jenkins, he seems to think I got a little soft with you. If I clipped your wings keeping your from soaring I’m sorry son. I truly had your best interest at heart. Now I need to help you understand that part of trust is sometimes blind faith. Faith that you can trust me to come back when I need to go somewhere.”

Johnny dropped his head and mumbled, “I’m sorry too, cause God knows you’ve earned my trust since I’ve been home. I guess I just forgot to keep some trust for myself. I am determined to whip this problem.”

“You will son. Before you know it I’ll be right back to worrying where you’ve got to and what you’ve got into.”

Father and son looked up when they heard someone clear their throat. Scott was standing in the doorway. “I just wanted to tell you good night and to let you know I’m turning in now.”

“Good night boys. I think I’ll go downstairs, finish my scotch and read a while longer.”

Murdoch got up to leave. Just as he was about to close the door Johnny asked if it could be left open.

// I know I can do this. I can stay in this bed. The door is open I will be able to see and hear if anybody goes by.//

Thirty minutes later Johnny was still trying to get to sleep. He was feeling very frustrated. He was so tired but he could not make his eyes stay closed.

Twenty additional minutes later he saw his father go by on his way to bed. // Thank God now maybe I can get to sleep.//

Fifteen minutes later he had been to his doorway three times, trying to hear his father snoring so he would know he was there. Finally he walked down the hall to his father’s room. // The door is closed. If I open it I can hear him. I will not go in his room though. Oh no, Murdoch, why can’t you snore louder. I’ll never be able to hear this in my room.//

Johnny was about to sit down next to the now open door in defeat. As he was sliding down the wall he looked across the hall at the guest room. That’s when he got the bright idea to sleep there. With the guest room door open he could hear his father. If he needed to he could raise up on the bed to see him.

He went into the guest room and laid down with his head at the foot of the bed, so he could hear better and feel closer to his father. He was so tired he went right to sleep.

The next morning Murdoch woke up at 5:15. He decided to get up and get dressed so he could go see how Johnny did during the night. When he went to his dresser he noticed his door was open. He thought he had shut it after he entered his room. // Guess I was more tired than I thought last night.//

After dressing he stepped out into the hall. He was relived to see Johnny was not sprawled out in the hall again. He walked down to Johnny’s room and was surprised to find it empty. He looked suspiciously at the bed. Johnny was notorious for tearing a bed apart when he slept. Right now his bed looked about like it did last night after he turned the covers down.

He looked across the hall at Scott’s room. His door was closed. Murdoch frowned. // Scott Garrett Lancer if you let your little brother sleep with you last night I think I’ll tan both your hides.//

He knocked on Scott’s door and entered when he called come in. “Is Johnny in here with you?”

“No sir, I haven’t seen him since last night when I told you good night from his doorway.”

“Well he’s not in his room. I don’t think he slept there last night. His bed is not in a shambles like it would normally be if he slept in it. Please go downstairs and look for him. I’ll go make sure he didn’t slip into my room. He could have been on the other side of the bed, on the floor, and I just didn’t see him.”

Scott took off for the kitchen and asked the women if they had seen Johnny. No one had. He then made a quick trip through the dining room and great room but he wasn’t there either. He went back upstairs by the main staircase to tell his father.

Entering his father’s room he saw Murdoch looking under the bed. “He wasn’t downstairs and no one has seen him. Murdoch do you think maybe he went to the barn to see Barranca?”

“I don’t know Scott. Now it’s me worried because I can’t see him. I just don’t think he’s ready to get to far away from me yet.”

Murdoch and Scott headed out into the hall so they could get started with their search. Murdoch felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to look at Scott. The blonde Lancer was pointing into the guest room.

Murdoch blew out a breath of relief when he saw his youngest sound asleep in the guest room. He had his head at the wrong end of the bed. The covers tossed and twisted around his waist and legs.

“Scott go on downstairs and let me take care of this. Then maybe he won’t get in a foul mood like he did yesterday morning.”

Noticing the worried look on Scott’s face, Murdoch chuckled. “Don’t look so worried I’m not going to beat your little brother or anything like that. I just didn’t want him to feel embarrassed.”

Murdoch entered the guest room to wake Johnny. He stood watching him for a while. He was struck by the fact that his son looked so different asleep than he did when awake. Right now he looked so young and vulnerable. You would never guess watching him while he slept that when awake he was all light and action. When he smiled he was so handsome it turned many a girl’s head, young and old. Oh but when he slept it was all Murdoch could do not to pull him to his chest and dare anybody to hurt his child ever again.

Murdoch shook his head at the tangled mess of the covers. He would never understand how someone could get so tangled up just sleeping.

Johnny began stirring and coming awake on his own as his father stood there lost in his thoughts. Murdoch gave a startled jump when he heard the sleep husky voice say, “Good morning.”

“Good morning to you too. May I ask why you are sleeping in here instead of your room? You just about scared ten years off of me when Scott and I couldn’t find you.”

Johnny immediately looked contrite. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t get to sleep last night. I was still awake when you went to bed. After I saw you go by I kept getting up trying to hear you. I thought when I couldn’t hear you if I opened your door I would be able too. The problem was you weren’t snoring loud enough to hear you in my room. I decided to sleep in here cause I could hear you from this room. Maybe I should move to this room.”

“I understand you’re reasoning son, but moving your room is not going to solve your problem. You need to stay in the room you’re in and learn to sleep in your bed again. I admit you’re doing much better in the day with not following me around and having to see me. If you think about it you’ll realize you don’t really want to solve half your problem by moving your room. What would happen the first time I had to be away on a trip or you yourself? Let’s keep at our plan until we solve the whole problem.”

After helping Johnny dress for the day, father and son joined Scott at the dining room table. After helping their plates and eating some Murdoch outlined the plan for the day.

“Scott I need for you to ride in to Green River today and see if our fencing wire arrived. Also stop by Doc Jenkins and remind him to come to lunch tomorrow. Please ask him to bring the supplies to recast Johnny’s wrist. I don’t think I can stand to look at that one much longer it’s so filthy. For some reason it smells like a horse.”

“Johnny I’m going to give you an inside chore today. Simply because it takes so much to get you cleaned up with that cast on your arm. You won’t like this but I have some files on the silver mine we have with the Barkleys. I need you to make some handwritten copies of several pages of a report from the geologist, for Jarrod. You can use the desk in Teresa’s sitting parlor since I’ll be using my desk.”

Johnny made a face over having to do paper work drawing a snicker from Scott along with the advice, “Careful little brother your face is liable to freeze that way.”

“One other thing Johnny. You did fine on your own yesterday with a chore to occupy you. Let’s extend our time today. Instead of an hour personal time we aren’t going to see each other again until lunch. I am sure there will be enough work to keep you busy until then.”

With breakfast over Scott left for town. Murdoch gathered the report and the supplies Johnny would need to make the copies. The Lancer patriarch carried it upstairs to Teresa’s desk in the sitting parlor so his son could get started.

“I’ll be downstairs if you need me. I doubt you do. You didn’t see much of me yesterday afternoon when you were wandering around the barn, corrals, and garden.”

Murdoch gave him a pat on the back before he left the room. Johnny looked down at the jumble of words and numbers in front of him. //Just my luck, I broke my left wrist instead of my right. If I had broken my right I wouldn’t be stuck with this paper work.// The youngest Lancer sighed as he got started, knowing the quicker he got started the quicker he would get done.

Making copies of the report wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. In fact it was downright interesting. His hand was getting tired from all the writing but Johnny found himself fascinated by the information in the report. He did not even realize it was lunchtime until he heard his father state from behind him, “I was afraid I would find you asleep up here. I see you’re hard at work though. Are you ready for some lunch?”

“Wow, is it lunch time already? Hey I’ve been working all morning. I haven’t been out of this chair and I got the numb butt to prove it.”

Murdoch smiled as he replied, “I know I’ve been up here several times checking on you. Because it was so quiet. Every time I peeked in you seemed to be totally absorbed in those reports.”

“Well these reports are really interesting. I’m afraid I got so caught up in reading them I haven’t finished the copies yet. I guess I know what I’m doing this afternoon.”

“Yes I guess you do. Scott is back now let’s go get some lunch then you can get back to work.”

Scott was amazed that Johnny had actually sat still for so long working on one thing. He couldn’t help teasing his little brother as they finished their lunch of last night’s chicken and dumplings leftovers, “Hey Murdoch if Johnny enjoys geology so much maybe you better send him off to college. Then he can sit in a school desk for six hours a day for the next four years.”

Johnny glared at his brother. Then smiled while saying, “That’s a real good idea Boston. Maybe I will learn where the biggest, highest rock is that I can throw you off of.”

When lunch was over Scott went to unload the supplies he brought from town. Johnny and Murdoch got back to their paper work.

Late afternoon, early evening found the three Lancers enjoying themselves on the patio. Everyone was in good spirits because Johnny had such a good day. He had not gotten panicky even once. They all felt they had turned a significant corner in resolving his problem.

Johnny was commenting, “Now if I can just make myself go to sleep at night. I think my problem at night is everything is so still and quiet. My mind gets to working overtime, but I ain’t beat. I’m going to whip this problem.”

They were all deep in their own thoughts when they heard the sounds of a wagon as it drove under the Lancer arch.

They all looked up surprised and pleased to see Jim and Maura Talbot.

Murdoch stood and stepped forward to help Maura down from the wagon, “To what do we owe this pleasure?” He asked.

“We had business in Spanish Wells today. Maura insisted since we had to pass by here on the way home that we stop so she could see the boys. I’m telling you Murdoch you need to keep an eye on this wife of mine. She’s going to steal these two boys away from you yet.”

Murdoch laughed as he replied, “I’m afraid it wouldn’t take her long to return them. She only sees them when they’re behaving. They both can still be quite the handful.”

“Murdoch Lancer don’t you dare talk about these angels like that. They’re suppose to get in some mischief. They are boys for heaven’s sake.”

Scott snickered as he elbowed his little brother and exclaimed, “Yes mam and Johnny here is all boy, all the time.”

Maura shook her head at the men and started to take Johnny’s left arm to go in the house. “Oh dear what has happened to your arm, this is a cast.”

Johnny decided now was the time to repay his father and brother for teasing him. He turned sad eyes to Maura and announced, “Murdoch took us swimming at Stone Step creek about two weeks ago. He had to come after me for rough housing and he broke my wrist. Murdoch and Scott pulled me over the rocks and some of them were sharp. The rocks cut into my chest. See my stitches, they come out tomorrow.”

Maura Talbot had a soft spot for Johnny Lancer. She was always sending sweets to him trying to fatten him up because of all the weight he lost after his surgery. She was also quite fond of Scott. She was from the old school on parenting. In her eyes Scott as oldest, not to mention being bigger physically, was to be protector for his little brother.

She rounded on Murdoch and Scott with fire in her eyes. Unconsciously the petite Irish woman stepped in front of Johnny as though to protect him. She declared, “What in the world is wrong with you two? How dare you be that rough on this boy. Scott Lancer you’re his big brother. You aren’t suppose to get so carried away that you hurt him. Murdoch you’re an adult, their father, what kind of path are you making for them to follow in. I have half a mind to load this boy in the wagon and take him home with me.”

Murdoch and Scott gasped their dismay and surprise at Johnny. “Son I think you better give Mrs. Talbot all of the facts about your accident and not just selected highlights.”

Johnny snickered in smug satisfaction at having gotten his father and brother chewed out before he related the details to Maura. “Actually I slipped on some rocks after I turned my ankle and got wedged under one of the steps. Murdoch and Scott had to pull me out. I was stuck in really tight. They had to pull really hard that’s how my wrist got broken and my chest cut.”

Maura was checking Johnny over head to toe making sure he was really alright. When she turned back to Murdoch she inquired, “And how did you get the bruise under your eye? Rough housing at the creek.”

“No, I startled Johnny from behind and he jerked and threw the book in his hand. The corner of it caught me under the eye. Now enough about the Lancer family injuries. Why don’t you and Jim join us for supper?”

“Why we would love to, we don’t get enough chances to join in with young people.”

The Lancers and Talbots enjoyed a meal of pork roast, mashed potatoes, steamed cabbage and cornbread. The conversation was lively with a good share of it being about the new Padre at the church. Johnny didn’t join in on much of the discussion because he found his eyes growing heavy. He had to keep covering his mouth to yawn.

Murdoch noticed Johnny yawning and asked, “Son are you tired?”

“Yes,” he replied, “And I don’t understand why. All I did was sit at a desk all day. I feel like I been out rounding up strays all day.”

Scott smiled, “More tiring than you thought huh? I’ll remind you of that next time you tease me about the cushy inside job after you’ve been out on the range.”

Murdoch cleared his throat, “Boys don’t start in front of guests. Shall we all move to the great room for coffee and pie?”

Once settled in the great room with pie and coffee the elders in the group began reminiscing about how much the area had changed since they started their ranches.

Scott and Johnny began a chess game. Johnny was having a hard time concentrating because he was so tired. He realized with a start that bedtime was thirty minutes away. The youngest Lancer began to get nervous that the Talbots wouldn’t leave in time for Murdoch to see him to bed. The stress of his long day and being so tired set him on edge. He didn’t want people outside of the family to know about his problems. He knew his father well enough to know when that clock struck nine and the half hour he would announce it was bedtime.

Johnny’s mind was whirling in a state of confusion and numbness from being tired. Normally he loved Maura Talbot to death. Right now he just wanted her to shut up and go home so he could go to bed. Now Scott was trying his patience by pondering his next move for an overly long time.

It was 9:20 and Scott still hadn’t moved. Mrs. Talbot was droning on about her dead sons now. //Oh please, shut up, shut up, shut up.// “Shut up,” the discussion was interrupted by Johnny’s last shut up that had actually been voiced out loud. He tried to cover his horrible mistake by looking at Scott and saying again, “Shut up and move already. You’re thinking so loud you’re giving me a headache.”

Scott glanced at Johnny in surprise.

Murdoch had a feeling he knew what the problem was. The Lancer patriarch immediately censured his youngest. “Johnny that was a very rude way to speak to your brother, especially in front of guests. I would like to speak with you in your room, right now. Please apologize to your brother and the Talbots for your rudeness.”

Scott, Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, please forgive my rudeness. Good night, I got a feeling I won’t be coming back downstairs.”

As Johnny and Murdoch headed up the stairs, Maura turned concerned eyes to Scott and said, “I do trust he won’t hit him. The boy is just terribly tired.”

Scott smiled. “No ma’am, he won’t hit him. I’m sure he’s going to get a lecture and made to turn in for the night.”

Upstairs Johnny turned to his father as he shut the door saying, “Honest, I’m sorry. I truly didn’t mean to say that out loud. I’m tired and I knew bedtime was coming. I didn’t want them to find out about my problem.”

“I figured that was what the problem was that’s why I asked to see you up stairs. Let’s get you changed so you can get to bed. I don’t know how long the Talbots are staying. If you keep getting up they may start asking questions. You may want to try a little blind faith like we were talking about last night. I promise you I’m going back downstairs. I will be there until our guests leave. You’ve done very well today son. You didn’t get panicky once and you didn’t see or hear me all morning or most of the afternoon. I guess if you start get panicky you could try thinking of how to explain your problem to our guest. That would occupy your mind.”

“I don’t think that would help. I would be thinking about my problem, if I’m trying to think of an explanation for why I suddenly turned into an over sized baby, ” frowned Johnny.

Suddenly Murdoch’s face brighten, “I’ll be right back. I think I have something that will help.”

When Murdoch returned he was carrying an old talcum powder can. He walked over to Johnny’s bed pulled the lid off and emptied the contents on his bed.

Johnny looked down at all the coins on his bed and then back at his father in confusion. “How is this going to help me get to sleep? Where did this old can of coins come from?”

Murdoch smiled,” I’m sure you don’t remember but this was your can of coins. We had to bend the lid so you couldn’t get it off and put the money in your mouth. You would carry this can all over the house. I was the only other person allowed to touch it. When your Mother took you away you must have dropped it . I found it on the road near the Lancer arch. I kept it all these years because I had faith that I would see you again one day. If you get panicky think about the faith I had in seeing you again. Try counting the coins or adding them up to occupy your mind. Now good night, I’ll leave the door open.”

The second Murdoch stepped from the staircase into the great room Maura wanted to know if Johnny was all right.

“Johnny’s fine Maura. He’s just tired. We had a little discussion and he has turned in for the night.”

Maura still looked concerned as she replied, “Well rest is the best way to help his injuries heal. He has always been a very well mannered young man around me. I hope you didn’t call him to task to hard over his little slip in manners.”

Upstairs, Johnny stared at the coins on his bed. He knew his father had to be telling the truth. He picked up some of the coins. The coins had dates from around the time he was two and some where even older. Tears welled in his eyes over the thought of his father waiting all these years to return the coins. If his father could go all those years on blind faith when he had no idea where his son was, then he was going to try his best to stay in this bed. He at least knew where his father was.

Then a very important fact came into clear view for him. His father had spent years searching for him and thousands of dollars trusting he was out there somewhere to be found. If he went through all that there was no way Murdoch Lancer would be lost from his son again, if he could help it. Then he felt it! That dark fear in his heart leaving because Johnny Lancer could feel the light of his father’s love. Love that had been proved through his father’s faith and actions. It lit his heart so completely there was not even one shadow left.

Johnny smiled through his tears. //I can do this. He loves me no matter where I am. He’s proved if I’m lost he’ll do anything to find me. That’s what I need to think about to keep those shadows of fear driven away. His love will always keep us connected.//

Johnny counted his coins and fell asleep in his bed.

At 10:00 Scott and Murdoch where bidding the Talbots good night. They both decided they would turn in as well.

“You go on upstairs Scott. I’ll turn down these lamps.”

When Murdoch climbed the stairs from the kitchen he was puzzled to see Scott standing in the doorway of Johnny’s room. “Is something wrong? Is he missing again?”

Scott just shook his head chuckling quietly. “No he is in bed sound asleep, but why is he sleeping with a powder can on the bed?”

Murdoch told Scott the story of the powder can and the coins.

During the night with all his tossing and turning, Johnny’s powder can fell off the bed with a thud. The sound of metal coins tinkling against each other woke him up. Johnny was startled at first by the noise but then he remembered the can. He reached over the side of the bed and picked the can up all the while thinking he loves me. He smiled as he got up and silently walked down the hall. His smile grew bigger when he saw his father had left his door open.

He stepped in the room and gazed at his father. The warm secure feeling grew in his heart. “I love you. I understand now. You helped me see a big part of love is faith and trust not just in yourself but in others too,” whispered Johnny.

Johnny made his way back across the room and out into the hall. When Murdoch heard his youngest walking back to his room, he opened his eyes and let the tears stream down his face. The Lancer patriarch whispered, “Thank you Father for giving me the strength, patience, and guidance to help one of the greatest gifts you ever gave me.”

Dawn broke in majestic hues across the Lancer ranch and Johnny was standing on his balcony enjoying all it’s glory. He had gotten the best night’s sleep he had in a while. When he woke up in his own bed his handsome face broke out in one of his heart stopping smiles. //I did it. I got up once but I came back to my own bed. All I needed was to have as much trust and faith in others as well as myself. I guess you’re never to old to learn father knows best.//

Johnny chuckled to himself as he stepped back in his room from the balcony. //Now if I can just get this cast off so I can dress my own self. I guess I’ll go wake the old man up to tell him my good news and ask for help dressing. It’s almost 5:30 anyway.//

Johnny slipped down the hall to his father’s room. The door was open from last night but his father was still snoring away. An evil little grin came and went on Johnny’s face. He took a running leap at his father’s over sized bed and landed with a bounce right by him. Murdoch jerked awake with a look of shock on his face. The Lancer patriarch was greeted by the site of his youngest still clad in a nightshirt with an impish grin on his face.

Johnny laughed as he shook his father’s bed with his bouncing. ” Papa, Papa I slept all night in my bed. I only got up once but I went right back. Get up and help me dress I’m ready for breakfast.” Then Johnny’s grin got bigger. He added in a little boy sounding voice, “Papa, I’ve been such a very good boy. Can I have a pony, can I, can I pretty please? I’ll never ever ask for another thing.”

Murdoch didn’t even have time to laugh at Johnny’s joke because his oldest who had been standing in the doorway listening decided to get in on the fun. Scott took off from the doorway and bounced onto the other side of the bed. “That’s not fair Papa. If Johnny gets a pony just for being good then I should get a thoroughbred for being perfect.”

“You ain’t perfect!” “Yes I am!” “Are not!” “Am too.”

The next thing Murdoch knew his pillows were snatched from under his head. The Lancer boys were at it again. //Murdoch you asked for this. You’re the one that brought them home.//

Murdoch went about the business of getting himself dressed while his sons tried their best to beat the feathers out of his pillows. When the Lancer patriarch was dressed he turned around and bellowed, “Boys if you’re going to eat breakfast lets call a halt to this war. Johnny lets go get you dressed.”

Back in Johnny’s room Murdoch helped Johnny dress. He noticed Johnny frowning as he pulled up his pants up. “What’s wrong son?”

“Nothing I’ll just be glad when this dumb cast comes off so I can get my bath on my own and dress by myself.”

Murdoch chuckled as he replied, “I do believe I hear someone longing for more independence. I guess you’re ready to test your wings again.”

Johnny stared intently at his father then answered, “Yes sir. It’s easy to soar when I know I’ll never be lost again. If I can’t find you, I know you’ll find me.” Father and Son shared an embrace before going to breakfast.

After breakfast Johnny found out his chore for the day was to choose some books on geology from the shelves. The youngest Lancer was to go sit on the patio and enjoy reading about the subject that had captivated him the day before, when he worked on making copies of the geologist reports.

Murdoch sat down at his desk to get to work. About an hour before lunch there was a knock at the door, when he answered it he found his good friend Doctor Sam Jenkins.

The first thing out of Sam’s mouth was, “Murdoch what in the world happened to your eye? Did you actually have to fight with Johnny?”

“No, I stopped a flying book with my eye. It wasn’t done on purpose I startled Johnny from behind and he threw a book he was holding, backwards. Come in let me tell you how well your suggestions worked.”

Johnny was so absorbed in what he was reading he didn’t even realized Doc Jenkins had driven by in his buggy. The former gunhawk had no idea Doc was in the house about to sit down and talk with Murdoch.

Sam and Murdoch sat down in the great room. Murdoch narrated a brief outline of what had transpired over the course of the week.

“The first thing I did the other day after I got home was confront Johnny. I told him I knew he had a problem. That I had talked to you and you had given us some suggestions to try before the problem got to bad. I let him and Scott see the list. We all decided on a list of rules from those suggestions and began using them that day.”

Sam inquired, “How did that first day go?”

“Well the first day we tried the hour of personal time, he panicked three times and searched me out. That night I almost had to physically take him to his room. He finally walked on his own. He got up three times before I went to bed. I sent him back to bed each time without sitting with him again.”

“Did he sleep in his bed all night?”

“No, when I woke up the next morning I thought he had, until I almost stepped on him going out into the hall. He was sprawled out in the hall sleeping because he could hear me snoring so he knew I was here. He didn’t get in my bed that night.”

“Murdoch that was an improvement if he didn’t actually come in your room.”

“That’s what I told him Sam. That his not following me all day and stopping himself in the hall had been some improvement over the day before. He was so upset that he wasn’t better in one day he had a fit of temper. He wouldn’t let anyone in his room to help him dress and he threw clothes out the window.”

Sam chuckled, “And how did day two go?”

“Day two went a whole lot better. I gave him a chore to do that occupied his time. I was working in the forge, as long as he could hear I was there he was fine. He worked until lunch without disturbing me. He did fall asleep though. I came in and startled him that’s when I caught the book. You were right about the physical need for sleep over riding the emotional distress.”

“How did he do that night?”

“That night he didn’t keep getting up but he didn’t sleep well either. After he saw me go by to bed he went to check that I was really there. Then he got the bright idea to sleep in the guest room so he could hear me snoring.”

Sam smiled, “That tells me he was already getting back to his own self. He found a way to bend the rules, that’s typical Johnny.”

Murdoch laughed, “I didn’t think about it that way. I just kept encouraging him with the some improvement everyday theory.”

“I suppose yesterday went even better,” questioned Sam?

“Yes, he had no problems doing his job for the day. In fact I went to get him when it was time for lunch. He had not bothered me a time. That night we almost had a problem. The Talbots stopped for a visit and stayed past his bedtime but we worked it out. Johnny and I had a little talk that seemed to really help. I won’t go into the details they are private. He slept in his bed all night. My youngest got up once but he went right back to bed.”

“Well Murdoch you were lucky you realized Johnny was headed towards trouble before he got to far gone. You could have been looking at weeks of retraining. The fact that you caught it so early and Johnny is old enough to reason with, easier than a toddler would be, helped you get this problem smoothed out quickly.”

“I can’t thank you enough Sam. Your suggestions worked. He tested me to see if I would stick to my guns. I’m proud to say I didn’t lose my temper once. Scott was amazed.”

“I believe I saw Johnny on the patio when I drove by. Let’s go check him over.”

After taking the stitches out of his chest Doc checked Johnny’s ankle. Since all the swelling was gone and almost all of the bruising, he told him he could leave the binding off and start wearing his boot again. Johnny was over joyed with that. He was given the okay to get back on his horse.”

Sam inspected the filthy cast. He shook his head muttering,” What in the world did you do to this cast? Not only is it filthy it smells like a horse and its soft in places. This will have to be replaced. I want you to be more careful. If you have to put a sock over it while you’re out working or riding.”

While Sam was replacing his cast Johnny thanked him for helping with his problem. Then impishly implied he might one day trust him again.

The Lancers and Sam Jenkins didn’t get to enjoy lunch together that day. Sam had just finished replacing the cast. The Doctor was telling Johnny he would need to wear it for three more weeks. One of the hands from the Anderson ranch rode in looking for the doctor. Lucy Anderson was in labor, so Sam hurried off with an invitation to stop for lunch anytime.


Murdoch Lancer was on the road to Green River. Two weeks had past since Sam had been to the hacienda to check on Johnny’s progress and replace his cast.

Murdoch sighed with contentment. They had apparently caught Johnny’s problem in time. There had been one more week of Johnny getting up at least once a night to check on his father but he always went right back to bed. This past week he had not gotten up once.

Murdoch chuckled to himself over Johnny’s insistence that they still have their five-minute talk time before he went to bed every night. The Lancer patriarch had to admit to himself he enjoyed it too. In fact he had begun doing it with Scott too. He was planning on beginning with Teresa tonight as he was on the way to pick her up from the stage in Green River.

Murdoch was looking forward to having all three of his children home in their own beds tonight. He felt like a very lucky man. He still had a few years left of their youth to enjoy before they would be starting their own little families. The Lancer patriarch laughed out loud at the thoughts of his youngest son ever out growing his childish antics.

Pulling up to the stage depot, Murdoch saw that his sons were already there waiting on him to bring the buckboard. They had come to town for Friday night socializing. It was hard to believe just two and half weeks ago he was worrying about keeping Johnny out of his bed. Now he was back to worrying about what he had been up to while spending the night in town. At least Scott had been with him and he could usually count on his oldest to keep his youngest in line.

The tired looks on the faces of his boys told the gray haired Lancer they had enjoyed themselves. They barely had time to tell each other good morning before the stage was pulling up.

Teresa emerged from the stage talking away about her adventures with Audra Barkley and her handsome blonde brother that looked so much like her, Heath.

She was pointing out all the packages that were hers so the Lancer men could get them loaded. She finally noticed Johnny’s arm was in a cast.

“Oh no Johnny you broke your arm. That’s going to spoil the surprise I brought back for you.”

Johnny whirled around with a huge grin. “You brought me a surprise?”

“Actually I brought a surprise for all of my Lancer men.”

“Well spit it out girl. What did you bring me?” Pleaded Johnny.

“You’ll see when we get home. I’ll let you have it then,” teased Teresa.

Johnny aggravated everyone the entire way home trying to get Teresa to tell him the surprise. She wouldn’t even tell him which box it was in so he could at least shake it. When he threaten to just start opening boxes she told him to go ahead. She would love to see the look on his face if he opened the box with her unmentionables in it.

They finally arrived home and unloaded Teresa’s boxes and took them to her room. She sent them all down stairs to the great room while she went through the packages to find the three that were for them.

Teresa walked down stairs and handed each of the Lancers a box. She asked them to open them at the same time since she had gotten them all the same thing.

Once the boxes were opened Teresa inquired, “Well do you like it?”

Murdoch, Scott and Johnny stared in disbelief at the woolen striped creations in their boxes. Finally Johnny exclaimed, “What the Sam Hill is it?”

Teresa smiled as she replied, “It’s the newest fashion from the east coast. It’s called a bathing suit. You wear it when you swim. I got one for myself too. Now we can go for picnics and swims together at Stone Step creek. It’ll be so much fun.

Johnny and Scott screamed and ran from the room through the french doors.

When Murdoch finally was able to catch his breath after laughing so hard he said, “Sit down Teresa. I have a very interesting story to tell you about your brothers.”


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