The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Gilda Felt

 

 

FRemembrances of Rain

A tag for The High Riders
First of the Remembrances Series. Followed by Burden of Shadows and Increments

 

The water cascaded around the rim of his umbrella, creating a small waterfall through which he passively watched the proceedings. The minister rambled on, but Scott Lancer was miles and years away.  

As far back as he could remember, Peter Sinclair had been there. They were both but four years old when they met, both garnered as escorts for some silly children's ball. Scott's memories of the occasion were dim, but he did remember the stiff and uncomfortable suits they had been forced to wear. Perhaps it was their shared misery that had first drawn them together. Whatever the reason, they had sought each other out and a friendship that nothing had been able to destroy had been born that day. Nothing, or no one, except Peter himself.  

Their friendship had ever been a mainstay in Scott Lancer's life, a life with very little else of closeness. He loved his grandfather, but Harlan Garrett was a difficult man to get close to, inured by time and circumstance. Peter had filled the hole left by Scott's absence of any other family. They had grown up together, and their lives had become inextricably bound as the years had brought shared experiences and mutual affection.  

The War had changed all that. In their naiveté, they had gone into it with the legends of Arthur and Beowulf resounding in their ears. At eighteen, they had both forced their charges' consent, afraid of missing out on the glory. It hadn't taken long for the false veneer of grandeur to be wiped away, and the true horror of war seen in all its gory detail.  

Scott had returned emaciated from a year in Libby prison, his sleep shattered by nightmares. But whatever he had seen had obviously not compared to what Peter kept hidden behind the shell-shocked husk of a man he had become.  And whatever it had been, he had taken it to his grave.  

A wave of sorrow washed over Scott and it took all his control to remain outwardly calm. For four years, Peter had cloaked himself in forced joviality, obscuring the demons that were fighting for possession of his soul. But Scott had known his friend too long and too well to be fooled by the mask Peter had taken to wearing. He had tried to break through, to force the truth from him, without success. He would never forgive himself for not being there three days before when, alone and in despair, his friend had finally lost his battle. Instead, it had been Peter's father who had found him, his brains splattered against the bedroom window that overlooked the Sinclair's garden.  

Scott shivered, trying to dispel the gruesome image. He wanted to remember Peter as he had been, when they had thought the world was theirs for the taking. He tried to remember the last time they had laughed together, one of those moments that had come further and further apart when contentment reigned. The in-between times, before the pall of depression would once again reclaim his friend. He wanted to hold onto a lifetime of joyous memories. For twenty years they had been a part of each others lives. Now he was alone.  

The creak of straining wood brought his attention back to the present. The casket was slowly being lowered, the gears of the mechanism straining to keep it even is it slipped into the mud and pooling water, settling in place. Scott flinched as the first handful of dirt hit, splattering against the white burial box. He looked up to see Peter's father, his face set in stony grief. Scott started toward him, but was stopped by the glare of hate the man sent his way. Richard Sinclair would never forget who his son had gone off to war with. Never forget, and never forgive.  The older man wiped his hands and turn away.  

Scott waited until the crowd had dispersed before approaching. He bent down and grabbed a handful of dirt, weighing it as if to measure its worth. He raised it over the casket and slowly let it filter through his fingers. He stepped back and with a last long look, left his friend to his final resting place.                         

*  

The carriage was waiting for him as he made his way along the rows of headstones, each a marker of someone's grief. The rain had slowed, but it was with heartfelt relief that Scott settled into the padded seat and closed the door on the outside world.  

Driven through the rain-cleaned streets of Boston, he mentally reviewed his life. A grim smile marred the handsome face. Truth be told, he had no life. Grandfather was pushing him to accept a position at his accounting firm, but the very idea was too depressing. Scott couldn't imagine spending the rest of his life locked in that musty office, growing old within its silent walls. But what else was there?  

Over the years, he and Peter had talked of doing a variety of things...most of them unrealistic dreams of travel and adventure. He rested his head against the back of the seat. What were the chances of that now?  

As for romance....  

He clamped down on the hurt that sprang forth every time he thought about his broken engagement. No man liked to be rejected, especially in the rather brutal way Julie had done it. In the heat of anger, all his failings, real and imagined, had been dissected, his life itemized and found wanting.  

He remembered Peter's surprising reaction to the news.  

"You're better off, you know," Peter had declared in that slightly sardonic tone he used to such effectiveness.  

"I still love her." Scott had sat dejectedly in the windowseat of Peter's room, his friend propped up on his bed as the two passed the rainy afternoon.  

"No, you don't. You never did. She's not for you, Scott, and if you'd quit trying to do what's 'right' all the time, you'd see it, too. She just isn't good enough for you."  

Scott smiled, affection coloring his words. "The woman doesn't exist that you think is good enough for me."  

"Yes, she does. You're just not going to find her in the rarified air of Boston high society."  

Peter had grabbed a pen and paper and proceeded to list the qualifications of the mystery woman that would complete Scott Lancer. Within minutes, he had had Scott almost in tears with laughter.  

The carriage pulled up to the house and Scott pushed aside his thoughts of his friend. The rain had finally stopped as he made his way up the brick walkway of his grandfather's house.  

"Scottie, is that you?"  

Scott heard his grandfather call him from the study as he let himself in, and was suddenly glad of the long ride from the cemetery. It had helped clear some of the melancholy that had descended. "Yes, Grandfather. It's me."  

He took off his coat, hanging it on the rack in the foyer, and went into the large room that his Grandfather used to do business while at home. Harlan Garrett sat behind the massive desk that dominated the study, buried in the books and ledgers of his trade. He looked up as his grandson entered. "How did it go? Did Peter's father make an appearance?"  

Scott loosened his cravat as he flopped into one of the over-stuffed chairs in front of the desk. "Yes, Mr. Sinclair was there. He wouldn't talk to me, though. I'm afraid I'm too much of a reminder for him."  

"You look tired. I'll have Martha bring you some tea." Garrett picked up the small brass bell that sat on the desk corner, ringing it furiously.  

Within seconds a small middle-aged woman appeared at the doorway. "You called, Mr. Garrett?"  

"Yes, bring a fresh pot of tea...and something for Scotty to eat." He looked at Scott. "You need to eat more. You're too thin."  

Scott pretended not to hear, turning instead to address the woman. "Just some toast, Martha. I'm not really hungry."  

"Yes, Master Scott." The woman almost smiled, but then looked at her employer and merely dropped a swift curtsy before leaving the room.  

"You shouldn't encourage the woman, Scottie. Never get too familiar with the help. It incites disobedience."

"Grandfather, she's our maid not our slave. Besides, you yourself said she was mother's friend."

"That was a long time ago...and we both know how naive your mother was when it came to judging character," Harlan intoned.  

The younger man sighed and closed his eyes, pretending, with silence, to agree. He let his thoughts drift back over the unnumbered times his grandfather had found a way to turn a conversation to somehow include Murdoch Lancer. Scott had never known his father. And that ignorance had begun to fester over the last few years. Ever since returning from the war, his body and spirit battered by the year spent in a Confederate prison, he had found himself wondering about the man who had given him away.  

The hate that had sustained him through childhood had lost its power when confronted with the true horrors of what men could, and did, do to one another. Now he had nothing to hold on to, nothing to stop the wonderings that kept him awake at night. Who was Murdoch Lancer, really? Why had the man abandoned him, not once coming to visit, or even write? Not once showing any concern for his own son?  

The soft clank of the serving tray on the credenza pulled him back, and he opened his eyes to watch the woman pour him a cup of tea. She walked over, the cup in one hand, a small plate of toast in the other.

"Thank you, Martha." Scott smiled and was rewarded with one in turn. To hell with his grandfather's notions of propriety.   "There was a letter for you, delivered this morning." Harlan shuffled through the mounds of paper, until finally finding a creme-colored envelope. He sniffed in distaste, and handed it over to Scott.  

Scott studied the script scrawled across the envelope. Barbara Grayson's handwriting was unmistakable. She had what was thought of as a flair for the dramatic. He opened it, the waft of perfume overpowering.  

"From the Grayson girl, I presume."  

"Yes, she's having some sort of fete." Scott continued to read, ignoring the look of interest on his grandfather's face. "Her timing couldn't be worse." He put the letter aside and picked up his tea. The warmth felt good on his hands.  

"You're not going?"  

"I just came back from my best friend's funeral, Grandfather. I don't think a celebration would be the most appropriate behavior on my part."  

"You want this girl, Scottie?"  

Scott looked at the older man in surprise.  

"Don't looked so shocked, my boy. You're a man of the world now. It's your due."  

He continued to stare at his grandfather. "Is it, Grandfather? I don't think Barbara's father would agree."  

"The man's a fool. He thinks he has a commodity to be sold...or traded. But that girl is a liability, one he needs to rid himself of as soon as possible."  

"Is that the way you see women? As something to use, instead of someone to love?"  

Harlan leaned forward, clasping his hands on the desk. "That's the only way to see them. When you marry, you'll see. It's not all candlelight and romance. Eventually, you have to come down out of the clouds. When you do, you'll need someone who can help you socially, someone you're not going to have to worry might embarrass you. Someone like Julie."  

Scott took of a sip of his tea, gathering his nerve. "And what of my mother?"  

His grandfather sighed and looked out the large picture window that fronted the room. "I loved Catherine beyond words, but I spoiled her too much. Perhaps if I had been stricter, she never would have had the ideas she did; never would have been taken in by your father."  

Scott doubted that. He knew from his own experience how the chafing of the reins his grandfather held on him had only caused him to rebel...more than once. And he had heard it all before, anyway. Murdoch Lancer, the ogre from Scotland who Catherine had had the audacity to love. He wasn't in the mood to hear it again.  

He finished off his tea and rose. "I need to freshen up, get out of these damp clothes. Maybe I'll go to this thing after all." He picked up the invitation, tapping it against his hand. "It might be interesting."  

His grandfather only nodded his head and went back to his work. Scott proceeded out and up the stairs to his room. He really didn't want to go tonight. He knew Julie would be there, and after this morning he felt vulnerable. His defenses were down, and there would be no one there to watch his back, lend support when his mood faltered. He felt a welling of grief as his loss came back to haunt him. He missed Peter.                         

*  

Things were in full swing when Scott arrived. He stepped out of the carriage, tipping the driver and adjusting his tie and cape. He could hear music filtering out from the house. He walked up to the entrance and the door swung open to him. The Grayson's butler took his cape and hat, and he proceeded into the crowd that milled around the large ballroom to the right of the entryway.  

"Lancer! Surprised to see you here." Leonard Grayson, Barbara's younger brother approached with his hand outstretched.  

Scott shook it and gave him a derisive smile. "Couldn't miss out on your sister's latest extravaganza, now could I?"  

Grayson laughed. "She never would have forgiven you." He turned around to scan the crowd. "She's around here somewhere; being the social butterfly as always, I'll warrant."  

Scott grabbed a drink from a passing tray. "I'll just mingle for now. I'm sure I'll run into her eventually."  

"All right. Well, glad you could make it. But I better make sure everything is going well. Certainly can't leave it up to Barbara."  

With a wink the younger man moved off, and Scott found himself slowly moving through the crowd, nursing his drink. He saw Julie at a distance. She was surrounded by a group of admirers, and looked like she was holding court. Don't go there. It's not her fault. He saw her notice him, but he turned away, going in the opposite direction. Julie would be solicitous, and the last thing he needed was to hear her commiserate over a man she had never cared for.  

He drifted from one person to another, and the whole night seemed to pass in a haze. He answered questions properly, making witty remarks and generally holding up his side of whatever conversation he found himself in. In between dances he drank, and eventually the gaity he forced himself to almost became real.  

At the end of the night, he wasn't surprised to find himself in Barbara's boudoir.

*  

She leaned over him, her studied attempt at seduction almost amusing. He was hard, but knew that any satisfaction he got tonight would be transitory. He didn't love her, perhaps, didn't even like her. But he needed someone, something to remove the emptiness that threatened to drown him. He set his drink aside and pulled her to him, the press of her breasts against his body deepening his arousal.  

"Barbara!"  

The pounding at the door brought the woman out of his arms. "My father!"  

"Barbara, open the door!"  

"My father. Please, my father." Her panic growing, the young woman tugged at him, her worldly demeanor fleeing in the face of her father's displeasure.  

Scott quickly rose, heading for the balcony and escape, but then turned and headed back into the room. "My cape."

"There's someone in there with you, Barbara, and I know who it is." The pounding continued.  

"Hurry, hurry!" Barbara was practically shoving him out of the room.  

"Much as I hate to eat and run..." He grabbed an apple from the bowl on a serving table and made for the balcony. He swiftly leveled himself over the railing and dropped to the ground. He donned his cape and hat and brushed himself off. Walking away from the house, he could hear her father's tirade as he was finally admitted into the room. It sounded like it was a well-traveled path for both of them.  

He took on a nonchalance he was far from feeling as he casually strolled onto the sidewalk, and began whistling softly. Seconds later, he was confronted by a small man in a bowler hat.  

"You're Scott Lancer?"  

"And if I am?"  

"The son of Murdoch Lancer?"  

"So I'm told. Never met the gentleman myself." He took the card the other man had pulled from his coat pocket, scanning it absently.  

"Walby's the name. Pinkerton office. We find people."  

"I haven't lost any. So as much as I've enjoyed our little conversation...." He started to walk away.  

"Your father wants to see you, and he's willing to pay for it. All expenses paid to California and one thousand dollars for one hour of your time," the man called out to him.  

He stopped dead with a rush of adrenaline. He didn't want this, didn't need it. But somehow he found himself turning back to the man, afraid, but desperate to hear more.

*  

The sun was starting to rise when he finally arrived home. Four hours of walking the streets of Boston had done little to sort out the conflicting feelings making a battlefield of his soul. Thankfully, his grandfather wasn't up yet, so Scott was able to slip into the house and up to his room without having to deal with the old man. Not yet, anyway. He had no illusions as to the fight he would have on his hands if he decided to go to California.  

The lamps remained off as he removed his tie, unbuttoning the ruffled shirt and pulling it loose from his waistband. Sitting on his bed, he pushed off his shoes and leaned back into the down comforter. He was so tired, mentally as well as physically.  

Why, of all times, did this new complication have to come into his life? A week ago, he would have had Peter to help him deal with this. His friend would have sat patiently listening to him as he argued the pros and cons. After Scott had exhausting every angle, Peter would have cut to the heart of the matter and then stood behind him no matter what his decision. In his heart, he knew exactly what his friend would have asked him now. Do you want to go?  

Did he? As much as it scared him, the answer was yes. All his life he had wondered how he had ended up where he had. His grandfather had given him his side of the story. But there were gaps, inconsistencies that he never dared question. Well, he was questioning them now.  

He rolled over, facing away from the light starting to filter in through the sheer curtains. His eyes began to close, heavy with sleep. He felt better now, the decision made. But he knew the real battle was waiting for him downstairs. Harlan Garrett would not sit quietly by as his only grandson took himself off to the wilds of California. His last thought before sleep took him was that he hoped it would be well worth it.

*  

Scott entered the dining room and headed toward the buffet. The smell of bacon, eggs and a variety of other fare would normally have had him grabbing a plate and digging in. But last night's champagne had not sat well, and he was still trying to deal with the headache that had taken up residence at the back of his head. He poured himself a cup of coffee and went to sit next to his grandfather.  

The old man was already finished, his own coffee getting cold as he perused the morning paper. He looked up, studying his grandson and the obviously disreputable figure he made. "I didn't hear you come in." He pushed his paper aside, giving Scott his attention.  

"It was late." Scott studied his cup, blowing on the steaming liquid and then taking a sip.  

"How was the party?" Garrett's words were laced with a slightly libidinous undertone.  

"I left early." Scott didn't look up. "I had other things on my mind."  

Garrett only stared at him. His grandfather knew him too well. He knew there was more to it.  

"I...I ran into someone. A Pinkerton man."  

"Pinkerton?"  

"Yes." He took a deep breath and looked up at the old man. "He said my father sent him."  

Scott had seen his grandfather mad, upset, enraged. But he had never seen the look that passed over Garrett's face now. Part fear, part obstinate determination, it boded ill for Scott's plans. But instead of starting the familiar rantings against Murdoch Lancer, he surprised the younger man by calmly leaning back, a thoughtful expression on his face.  

"What does he want?" Garrett's voice was studied, almost serene.  

"He wants to talk to me. He's willing to pay my way, plus a thousand dollars for my time."  

"Are you going to go?"  

"I think so." Scott's voice lowered. "I think I should."  

"I see. Tell me, Scottie," Garrett leaned forward, his arms folded on the table. "Is there something I've not given you, something missing from your life?"  

"I...I don't know what you mean, Sir."  

"I mean, is there something you're looking for? That you feel you need to go thousands of miles to find? I'm sorry, my boy. I thought I had done a better job of things. Apparently, I was wrong."  

"No...that's not it. Not at all. Grandfather, I..." He brought his hand up and rubbed his forehead. "I just need to meet him, find out..." He trailed off, realizing he was only getting in deeper.  

"Find out what? Why he didn't want you? Why he just washed his hands of you? Left you for me to raise? Do you honestly think he's going to tell you?" Garrett's voice had remained calm, either unaware or uncaring of what his words were doing to his grandson.  

Scott leaned back, closing his eyes. "I don't know. I just know I need to do this. Please, Grandfather, don't make it more difficult than it already is." He opened his eyes and slowly rose, any thought of a discussion over. "I'm going. Whether you understand it or not, I'm going."  

He pushed his chair in, the manners drilled into him second nature, and left his grandfather sitting there. He thought he heard the old man finally respond, but he wasn't sure. It didn't matter. He started up the stairs, suddenly eager to begin his preparations for the journey.

*  

A quiet descended on the house, and Scott wasn't sure if he was glad of it or not. This wasn't the reaction he had expected from his grandfather, this guarded hurt and martyred continence. Anger, surely, if not out and out rage. He didn't know how to deal with this, and so found solace in retreat. The next day he bought his ticket and was going through his things, deciding what would go and what would stay, when he was interrupted by the quick rap on his door.  

"Come in." He looked up. Martha stood at the entrance, a small note in her hand. "What is it?"  

The woman bit her lower lip before answering . "It's from your grandfather's office. He's fallen ill."  

Scott moved quickly over and grabbed the note. "What happened? Where is he?"  

The woman watched him with troubled eyes. "They're bringing him home right now. The doctor's with him. The boy who delivered the note said your grandfather was talking, wanted you to know he was all right." She looked like she was having trouble saying the words. "They say it might be his heart."  

Scott let the note fall and dropped to sit on the bed, his head in his hands. "This is my fault."  

The woman frowned, her hand almost reaching out to caress the bowed head. "I'm sure he'll be all right, Master Scott. He's a strong man."  

The maid's words made him look up sharply. Not so much at what she had said, but the manner in which she had said them. "Is he?"  

She twisted the kerchief clutched in her hand, as if undecided whether to answer him or not. When she finally did, it wasn't at all what Scott had expected to hear. "Your mother found him to be."  

He studied her for a moment and then sat up straight, pulling himself together. "Thank you, Martha. I'll be down shortly."  

She nodded and started out. At the door, she stopped and turned to him. "I'll make sure your grandfather's room is prepared."  

"Yes." He stood up, only then noticing that the woman had not left. "Is there something else?"

She seemed to contemplate her next words before answering. "Go to California, Master Scott. Don't let this stop you." She ducked her head, and quickly closed the door on any response he might have made.

*  

Scott waited outside his grandfather's bedroom, alternately pacing the hallway and sitting in the chair placed next to the door. The doctor was still in there, supposedly making sure that Harlan Garrett survived. Avery Lewis had been their family doctor for as long as Scott could remember; had, in fact, delivered Scott's mother. If anyone could see the old man through whatever this was, it was he.  

The bedroom door quietly opened and a stoop-shouldered gentleman walked out. If Harlan Garrett could be called austere, this man was the personification of dignity. He handed Scott a piece of paper while pulling his pocket watch out to check the time. "Make sure you get this filled. Give him a dose every four hours for the next twenty-four. After that...we'll see."  

"Is it his heart?" Scott read the prescription, and then looked back at the doctor.  

"No, I don't believe so. More like...stress. If he were a woman, I'd say hysteria."  

Scott blinked. Hysterical was the last thing he'd apply to his grandfather. "I don't understand."

Lewis sighed. "I can't explain it any better. There isn't anything physically wrong with him that I can tell. His pulse is good, so is his color. But something has him very upset. And whatever it is, it's causing a physical reaction."  

"Can I see him now?"

"I think so. Just don't stay too long. He needs his rest." The doctor started toward the stairs. "I'll see myself out."  

"Thank you, Dr. Lewis," Scott absently answered, his attention already on the room before him. He let himself in and sat next to the bed. He took his grandfather's hand, noticing the manifestations of age for the first time. Death came for all of us, but he couldn't imagine there not being a Harlan Garrett.  

"Scottie?" The voice was whisper thin.   "Don't talk, Grandfather. You need to rest." He resettled the older man's hand on the cover. "I should go, anyway. I need to send someone for your medicine."  

"I'm fine, Scottie. Really. Just a little over-worked, that's all. Stay awhile."  

"A few minutes, then." Scott leaned back in the chair. He had to admit, his grandfather didn't look sick. Martha's odd remark came back to haunt him. Had the old man used deceit to hold his daughter to him?  

"Did you get your plans made?" Harlan asked.  

"Plans?"  

"For California; to see your father. I wouldn't want to have upset anything."  

"Don't worry about it, Sir. I can always rebook." If this was a trick, it had worked. Scott couldn't see himself leaving until he was sure one way or the other.  

"Yes, well, I should be up in a day or two. I can't leave the office for too long."  

"All the more reason to rest then." Scott got up and moved to the door. "I'll come sit with you after a while. If you need anything, someone will be right outside the door, all right?"

"That's fine." The old man nodded and closed his eyes.   Scott closed the door behind him. He gave one of the servants the note for the medicine, and another orders to stay by his grandfather's room. That done, he returned to his own and began to unpack.

*  

A week later, Harlan Garrett sat outside on the east veranda, watching busy Bostonians as they hurried along their mundane chores. A book sat unread on the table, his only movement the picking up and lowering of his cup as he drank his tea. He glanced back as his grandson walked up to him and took the chair across the table.  

"How are you doing this morning, Grandfather?" Scott placed his hat and coat over one of the chairs and carefully studied the older man.  

"Much better, my boy. I feel almost good enough to make an appearance at the office today. Care to join me?"  

"No." Scott looked down at his hands, locked together as he rested his arms on the table. "You seem to be well enough. I thought I'd see about rescheduling my trip, go down to the train station to see when I can leave."  

"I see." The old man worried his lip, his fingers scratching at his chin in contemplation.   "I know you don't want me to go, but it's something I have to do. I won't be gone long, a few months at most."  

"What if he wants you to stay?"  

Scott shook his head. "Why would he want that? He's never shown any interest before. No, Grandfather. Whatever Murdoch Lancer wants, his son in his life is probably not it."

"Well, if you feel you must." Garrett slowly rose, heading back into the house. "I think I'll go back in. It's colder out here than I thought it would be."  

Scott watched as his grandfather shuffled in. As the days had gone by, he had become more and more sure that the illness had been a ruse. He wished he knew for sure though. If something were to happen while he was gone he'd never forgive himself. Scott grimaced. That was probably the response the old man had counted on.

They had talked a great deal over these last days. Harlan Garrett had tried just about everything he could think of to persuade him to stay. It had reminded Scott of the time when, angered by his grandfather's refusal to let him go through his mother's things, he had stormed out of the house and straight to their lawyer's office.  

He had browbeaten the old clerk to let him see his file, going through the papers to find some means of balancing their power; anything he could use as leverage to loosen the grip Harlan Garrett had over his life. To his surprise he had found a second birth certificate, predating the one his grandfather had filed by several weeks. The good people of Carterville had forwarded the one made out by the midwife who had seen to his mother. Blazoned across it was his true name. Scott had used it to force their lawyer to have his name changed to show Lancer on all legal documents. He had been fourteen at the time.  

For months after his grandfather had badgered at him, trying to force him to change it back. Threats, bribes, punishments; nothing had worked. For the first fourteen years of his life he had been known as Scott Garrett. From that day forward he refused to answer to anything but Scott Lancer. It would be the first of many battles of will fought between them. Scott prayed that this one would be the last.

He stood and threw on his coat, adjusting his hat to block the sun's rays. Taking the outside stairs rather than re-entering the house, he headed off to the train depot. The morning sun felt comforting and the walk would do him good. He had spent the last week cooped up in the house, most of it seated next to his grandfather's bed. His body was demanding the freedom of unrestrained motion.  

At first he hurried, in a rush to reach his destination. But eventually he slowed his stride, taking in the sights and sounds of his home for the last twenty-four years. He contemplated the dwellings as he walked past, wondering how different things would be at his father's house. California was almost like the other side of the moon, strange and unknown. He didn't even know what his father looked like, much less what kind of home the man had made for himself a continent away.  

A few blocks further into his walk, he faltered to a stop. On the left sat the Sinclair home. The windows were still draped in black, and the house was a brooding edifice, the door draped with wilted flowers. He thought about just continuing past. Peter's father had made it perfectly clear that he would not be welcomed. But if he was truly leaving, this was one place he needed to say his goodbye to.  

Crossing the street, he opened the front gate and walked up to the porch. He stopped at the bottom of the steps and vividly recalled one particular time they had played here along the vines and rosebushes that served to block the porch from the view of passersby. He and Peter had known each other a few years by then, and the bonds of friendship had grown strong. There had been a light drizzle, but for two small boys it had been of no consequence. He remembered getting in trouble for coming home caked in mud, the outcome of his and his friend's day of "sailing the Main." He smiled at the large oak that had stood as crow's nest for their very own pirate's ship. Sword fights with gladiolas pulled from the garden had deteriorated into a wrestling match in the fine topsoil lovingly tended by the Sinclair's gardener.  

He closed his eyes to stop the tears that threatened. So many memories, so much left unsaid, undone, in their rush to manhood. Why, Peter? Why?

A soft cough broke his reverie, and he turned to see Peter's mother standing at the open doorway.  

"Did you want to come in?" She pushed open the screen door, welcoming him.  

"I don't know if I should. Your husband-"  

"Is not home. Please, Scott, I'd like to talk to you."  

He nodded and made his way up the steps and into the house.  It was dark as he entered, but when she led him into the drawing room he realized that this part, at least, had been allowed to rejoin the living. The windows were uncovered and the doors thrown open to catch the morning breeze.

He took the chair she motioned him to, puzzled when she walked away to a round table set across the room. She opened the single drawer and removed a small box. She walked back and sat down, the box lovingly nestled in her lap. After a few seconds she handed it to him.  

"What it is?" He studied it, an intricately carved wooden box with a hinged top. It had scars on every side, the signs of rough or ill-use.  

"It was Peter's mystery box."  

Scott almost dropped it as the years pulled back and he was suddenly twelve years old. He and Peter had been out foraging, looking for who-knows-what in the deserted house that had stood at the end of the street. The owner had died a few years before and had left no will. Breaking one of the study windows, they had pried it open and scurried in.  

They felt like they were in an ancient temple. The man had been a collector of antiquities, and much was still left to be guarded by the stray cats and field mice that were making a home here. Clouds had gathered, darkening the interior even more, and the wind had continually blown through, making the house creak like a thing haunted. They hadn't been afraid, not exactly. But an excitement had thrilled through them at the idea of doing the forbidden. One of the things taken away with them was a box Peter had claimed for his own.  

"Open it," she gently prodded.  

With trembling hands Scott opened the box. Inside was an assortment of trinkets Peter had gathered over the years. Most of them Scott recognized. A railroad spike found as they played along the rails; the old medal Peter's grandfather had received during the war of 1812. He gently searched through the mementos until he touched a faded and torn blue ribbon.  

Scott had won it at a school meet. He didn't remember the particulars. What he did remember was that Peter had been unable to keep up. Scott had shot passed all the rest, easily winning. But crossing the finish line, he had turned to see his friend barely making the last turn, trying desperately to finish the race.  

They had laughed about it later. But something in Scott had known that, for his friend, it was a portent of things to come. He had insisted on Peter keeping the ribbon. What Scott had refused to see, had defiantly resisted on that day and through the passing years, was that he and his beloved friend were not equals. Not in intelligence, not in stamina, and most importantly, not in the willpower that would carry Scott through the triumphs and tragedies of his own life.

He covered his eyes with his hand, the full force of his sorrow inundating him as the truth of his friend's death finally hit home. The war and its horrors had only been the final blow. Unleashed from the tight rein Scott had kept on them, memories flooded back of all the times Peter had tried...and failed. There had been many schools, never "quite good enough"; rash pranks that had landed him in trouble with the law more than once; and most noticeably as they had grown to adulthood and tried to find their place, his inability to grasp the concepts Scott found so intriguing in the world that was being newly created around them. Each time an excuse had been found, a reason fabricated, so that neither would have to face the widening gulf that was already separating them.  

He felt a sob tear loose and he tried to stand, to run from this truth he didn't want. But Peter's mother had always known, and with all the love she had held for her son and for the young man who had stood at his side, she rose and pulled Scott into her arms, holding on as the last of his delusions were pulled away and his grief broke free.                    

*

It was almost sunset when Scott found himself, having made full circle, entering his home once again. It looked different somehow. He was different. The catharsis of bereavement had changed him in ways still unknown.  

He turned into the study, knowing his grandfather would be waiting. The lights were turned low as he took the seat across from the older man. Harlan Garrett's back was to him, as if lost in contemplation.  

"Grandfather?"  

"Yes, Scottie?"  

"I'll be leaving in two days."  

"There's nothing that will change your mind, is there?"  

"No, Grandfather. Nothing can change my mind." He rose and proceeded to the door, stopping when Garrett called his name.  

"Yes, Sir?"  

"He'll only break your heart. You know that don't you?"   Scott shrugged. "It's been broken before. Whatever Murdoch Lancer wants of me...I guess it's about time I found out."  

Taking the stairs two at a time, he hurried into his room. Suddenly, life seemed to hold infinite possibilities. The last hold had been cut, because there was one area where Peter Sinclair had been an absolute success. No man could have asked for a better friend. For left within the box, among the collection of childhood's reminders, had been a letter Scott had written to him years before.  

Fifteen years old, and banished to an elite boarding school in upstate New York, Scott had poured out his misery to the only one who cared to listen. He had vowed that someday the two of them would take off for places unknown, and brave the wilds of a new world. When Scott had finally returned home, Peter had made him promise that, one day, they would do exactly that.  

Now, it was time. He would make the trip alone, but he would make it for the both of them.                        

*  

The long days of his voyage gave Scott plenty of time to think. To go over his life as it had been, and what it might become. He realized that, of all the people and places of his home, the one thing he would miss most of all was the one thing he no longer had.  

Life was so short. But if one was very lucky, a few were found to make the journey with, those comrades of the soul who enhanced the trip. Peter had been such a one for Scott. For all his failings, he had filled an essential role. Scott only hoped that someday he would meet another.  

He was on the last leg of his trip, his heart pounding though he showed a mask of nonchalance to the world. The stagecoach was dusty and hot, and when it stopped to let aboard a passing wayfarer, Scott grimaced in annoyance. The young man falling on him as the coach lurched forward didn't help matters.  

"Didn't mean to mess up your outfit." The dark-haired passenger gave him a smile tinged with ridicule.  

"Can't be helped," Scott answered. He settled back, ignoring the look. Shortly after crossing the Mississippi he had grown used to it. The grey suit and bowler hat were out of place in this alien environment.  

They finally made the small town of Moro Coyo, though Scott felt that "town" was carrying things a bit far. The stagecoach unloaded and Scott stepped out behind the young cowboy.  

"Mr. Lancer?" A young girl approached, her manner hesitant.  

"That's me."  

"Yeah?"   Scott turned toward the man who had answered along with him.  

"I'm sorry, which one of you said-" The girl tried to get their attention.  

"I did," they said in unison. They had both turned to the girl but then looked back at each other in annoyed surprise.  

"You're Johnny?" Their interrogator asked.  

"That's right."  

"Then you're Scott Lancer." She pointed at Scott.  

"No Ma'am, he's no Lancer. My mother only had one kid," the other man interjected.  

"Likewise." Scott gave him a cold stare, his excitement dampened by irritation.  

"Oh, well, we didn't expect you both at the same time. But...but actually, you're right. It's Mr. Lancer who had two."  

"Two what?" Scott asked. The girl was talking in riddles.   "Wives...and sons. You two." She smiled to cover her embarrassment...or theirs.  

Scott turned to really look at the stranger behind him, the young man's face lit with an amused smile. Wariness fought with a dawning foretoken of promise. He had a brother.  

 

~end~  
(Feb 2002)  

 To Burden of Shadows

 

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