Synopsis: Ben asks Hoss to ‘bring Joe inside’, which leads to a brotherly conversation about the one who’s missing.
Genre: Western, Prequl
Word Count: 945
Ben set aside the Territorial Enterprise as he heard the long clock next to the door strike seven. From where he sat lounging in his leather chair, near the fireplace, he looked around. His middle son working on his homework at the low table in the middle of the room brought a smile to his face. Scanning the rest of the great room, he failed to see his youngest, nor did he remember the boy already bidding him good night, even though it was way too early for that to have happened.
“Has anyone seen Little Joe?” Ben called out as he stood up.
Stepping into the dining area to place a platter of cookies on the table Hop Sing answered, “Lit’le Joe go outside earlier.”
“Hoss, would you go ask your brother to come in. It’s time for him to get ready to go to bed,” Ben stated. Standing up, he reached for the poker to push one of the logs in the fireplace into a safer position before adding another to keep the room warm.
Hoss, his head bent over his studies, tongue stuck between his teeth in concentration continued to work.
“Hoss,” Ben called louder to gain his son’s attention.
“Uh, Pa? Ya want sompthin’?” Hoss asked as he looked up, having satisfactorily answered the multiplication problem.
“Hop Sing said Joe was outside, would you please go bring him in?”
“Uh, Sure Pa.”
Rising to his feet, Hoss made his way first to the dining room table, grabbing a cookie and stuffing it in his mouth, before walking to the front door and outside.
“Hey Shortshanks! Pa wants ya to come in!” Hoss hollered without leaving the wooden porch.
Waiting and hearing no response, Hoss ambled across the yard. Standing in front of the open barn doors, he peered into the darkened interior, “Hey Shortshanks?!”
“Out here Hoss,” Joe finally called in answer; it sounded as if it came from the other side of the barn.
Hoss followed what he thought was the direction of his brother’s voice. Reaching the corral, he spied several horses quietly nibbling on the hay strewn across the ground. Hoss’ eyes continued to search, finally finding the boy laying on his back, stretched out on top of the huge mound of hay piled in the corner of the corral.
“Pa sent me ta find ya and ta get ya inside.”
“I’ll be in, in a minute,” Joe answered; fingers interlaced, hands behind his head.
“Whatcha doing?” Hoss asked as he climbed up and over the fence railing. For a boy of his size he landed lightly on his feet.
Joe didn’t answer.
“Hoss, what do you do when you miss Adam?” the six year old inquired, chewing on a piece of hay.
“I go for a ride…”
“Does Pa know?”
“Sure he does, he’s the one who suggested it.”
“Oh.” Joe continued to stare up into the nighttime sky.
Hoss stood with his hands shoved into his pockets, he hated to admit it, but it had been a while since he’d ridden out to think about his missing brother. Of late, he’d almost forgotten their older brother, he’d been so busy helping the hands whenever and however he could as the ranch prepared for the onset of another winter. It felt different when out working with the men. They didn’t treat him like a little kid brother, they treated him… it was hard to explain.
“You missin’ Adam?” Hoss walked closer to the hay pile.
After a long pause, the youth heaved a sigh before quietly answering, “Yeah,”
“Usually when you’re missin’ Adam you’re in his room.”
“Hop Sing chased me outa there this afternoon.”
Wanting to help ease his brother’s melancholy, but not knowing what to do, “So… how come yer out here?”
“Something I remembered Adam said I should do…”
“Adam said you should come out here and lay in the hay?” Hoss curiously asked.
“Nah, but it was the best place I could find to do it. Pa don’t like me like me leaving the yard on my own.”
“Counting stars… Adam told me if I got to missing him, I should count the stars in the sky.” A few tears glistened down the side of his face.
“That don’t make no sense. Why’d he say sompthin’ like that?”
“He said he’d be counting ‘em, too.” Joe wiped away the evidence of his crying.
“Are ya done countin’?”
“Yeah, for tonight I am.”
“Then come on, before Pa comes out here to find ya himself. You know what that means.” Hoss’ words were a warning, but his tone of voice was light and happy.
Joe sat up and without warning, a part of the pile of hay began to shift, creating an impromptu avalanche that swept him down to the ground.
“Joe!” Hoss yelled. “Joe? You okay?” Hoss ignored the startled the horses, as the settled back to eating. Furiously he began to dig for his brother. “Joe!”
“Yeah!” Joe answered giggling.
“What’s so funny? I was worried about ya.” Hoss plopped to the ground in relief.
Tossing the last of the hay off, Joe answered, “Can ya see Adam?”
“What’cha mean by that?”
“Adam told me to count start because he’d be counting them too. Can you see him falling off and being covered over by falling hay?” The image set Joe to laughing again. Gaining is feet and not bothering to clean off his clothes, Little Joe hollered, “Last one inside’s a rotten egg!”
Amusedly, Hoss thought of his older brother…keeping his memories to himself, he followed his younger brother inside.