Synopsis: A companion story for Tears of Growing Up. Two years have passed since Ben and Joe stood outside the corrals watching Adam and their wranglers tame wild horses. Now, it’s finally Joe’s turn.
Written in response to a writing challenge to use, “Don’t squat with your spurs on.”
Genre: Western, prequel
Word Count: 2,305
“He’ll be okay, Pa,” Adam spoke as the overwhelming quiet settled heavily around him. Looking to his father, he sat forward in the blue chair to the right of the fireplace, elbows on knees, fingers interlaced.
“I’m not so sure,” Ben answered. Worriedly, he tapped the pipe in his left hand on the edge of the lamp table. With right ankle crossed over his left knee he sat in the leather chair opposite from Adam.
“Pa, he’s done listened and obeyed everythin’ Adam or Rudy told him. Ya know he’s a natural.”
Looking to his middle son, Hoss’ legs mirrored his father’s as he leaned back on the settee, left arm stretched across the back. Ben allowed himself a distraction as he thought about the furniture on which they sat.
The settee and the leather chair had been purchased at the same time. Marie commenting on several occasions how she could envision all three sons sitting on the settee. She’d told Ben of her dream, Adam’s and Hoss’ long legs stretched out on the low table, while Joe tried his best to imitate his brothers, practically laying on the settee he could only manage to stretch his feet barely to the edge. All the while, Ben maintained that furniture was not for feet.
Marie had set to giggles, fizzling her husband’s bluster the first time he absentmindedly set a booted foot to where he forbade his sons’.
The flames within the massive fireplace danced across the logs resting in the grate; illuminating the family members who had yet to retire for the night.
Earlier in the evening Ben’s sons had readily bantered while playing several games of checkers, talking of the events to come the following day at the horse corrals; the crux of the current discussion.
“I know he has. It’s one thing for him to ride a horse that’s already been broke.”
“But Pa, Rudy’s been workin’ with him on them green broke ones, and they’s still a long way from bein’ saddle broke. Ya always said once he was sixteen; he’s that an’ more. He’ll be seventeen in a little over five months.”
“You seem to forget I also indicated that his body had to be mature enough to handle the strain.” Ben pointed the mouthpiece of his pipe towards his middle son.
“So, is that the reason you’re going to use to tell him no?” Adam cocked his head while attempting to hide the mirth from his voice. “Pa, if you were going to say no, you shouldn’t have allowed him to work with us for the past month. It’s all he’s talked about for the last week; you saw him at supper and before he went to bed. He’s as eager as they come.”
“He’s too eager. He’s going to make a mistake and could…”
“Pa,” Adam interrupted, “Hoss and I’ll be close by. I’ll personally select the horses that I feel would give him the best chance for success and still give him a ride. You know I won’t put him on a rank horse.”
“It’s too dangerous.” Ben’s head slowly shook back and forth, an indication of his own internal battle – did he help fulfill his son’s dream or did he do his damnedest to protect his son from possible harm?
“So, we’re back to where we were almost two years ago.”
The comparison startled Hoss; surprised that Adam would go back to that point in their lives.
Looking between his two sons, Ben remembered back to that summer, and how he had wished for anything to be able to see his son sitting on his first wild horse. And now that time was at hand.
“Worse than a mama grizzly?” Ben settled his pipe in the tray on the table next to his chair.
“Not quite that bad, Pa.” A grin spread across Adam’s face.
“At least ya weren’t roarin’.” Hoss smiled broadly, his eyes sparkled.
Venturing to stand in front of the fire, Ben held his hands out for warmth. “It didn’t seem this difficult when you two first started to break the horses.”
“You didn’t exactly have a choice back then; it was something we had to do.” Adam stood and walked to stand beside his father, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “With Joe it’s different. We have other options.”
“Yeah,” Hoss walked around the low table to stand the other side of Ben. “But this is somethin’ he wants ta do, and he’s gonna be good at it.”
“Promise me you’ll watch out for him.”
“I always do.” Adam read more into his father’s statement, “You’re not coming?”
Ben shook his head no.
“He’ll be okay,” Adam stated one last time before bidding his father good night.
The clock struck midnight before Ben banked the fire and headed to his own bedroom.
Outside his window, Joe viewed the first hint of morning as he watched the black/grey of night give way to a pale pink sky. Startled from his reverie, Joe jumped at hearing the pounding on his bedroom door. Turning, he acknowledged Hoss standing in the middle of the doorway.
“Ya comin’ down? Hop Sing almost has breakfast ready.”
“Yeah, be down in a minute.” Joe’s voice broke in pitch.
“Hey, Shortshanks. You alright?” Hoss stepped farther into the room.
“I’m fine.” Joe walked to the chair by his desk and sat down to pull on his boots.
“Ya don’t seem as excited as ya did last night.” Hoss sat on his brother’s bed.
Moments passed before Joe spoke. “Hoss, what if I let them down?”
“Who? Pa and Adam?”
“Ya won’t let them down. Ya done everythin’ just the way ya shoulda this week. Why do ya think you’ll let ‘em down?”
“What if I get bucked off?”
“Then you show ‘em what yer made of. Ya get up, dust yer britches, and get right back in the saddle.”
“What if Pa changes his mind?”
“He won’t. Oh, he’ll want to. He always does.” Hoss continued, seeing his brother’s curious expression. “You ain’t watched him when Adam’s in the saddle. His expressions show how worried he gets. Don’t matter if it’s the first time or the hundredth.”
“Do you think I’m really ready for this?”
“The question is, do you think you’re ready for this?” Hoss asked in reply.
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
“Then come on. I’m hungry.”
“When aren’t you?”
Together the brothers made their way to the dining room, joining their father and brother just as Hop Sing set a platter stacked with hotcakes on the table.
After arriving at the corrals, Hoss proceeded to organize the men and the equipment, as well as checked to make sure the loading chutes were secure enough for the day’s work.
Adam and Joe walked to the corral that held the herd of wild horses. Together with Rudy, they evaluated each animal.
“Which horse would you like to be your first ride, Joe?” Adam asked.
“I’m not sure. Which horse do you think?”
“Nope, I want to see which horse you’d choose.”
Joe exhaled deeply. It surprised him when Adam made the offer, he’d figured Rudy and Adam had already decided the order of rotation. Looking the herd over one more time, Joe answered, “That little bay mare, with the large star sitting off center.”
“Why?” Rudy inquired. “What makes you choose her?”
“Her eye is softer, she’s a little timid looking. She doesn’t look as wild as the others. For my first ride, I think she might be the one.”
“Good job, buddy. That’s exactly who Rudy and I thought to offer up first.”
Between Adam and Rudy, three horses had been broken during the first hour. When not mounted, the two would stand beside Joe offering their observations and asking Joe questions on each ride he watched. Finally, Adam signaled for the bay mare to be brought over to the corral and saddled.
Ten minutes later, Joe climbed the railing to settle himself in the saddle. Rudy stood on a lower rail on the outside, giving Joe final advice. Adam and Hoss were in charge, but both knew that Rudy was top wrangler and allowed him to have the final words with their brother. Positioned on the inside of the corral and in control of the gate, they waited for their brother to give the signal.
Joe took a deep breath and looked around. Adam saw the change overcome his brother; relaxed and prepared to ride, Joe nodded. Hoss pulled open the gate. Adam jumped aside to avoid flailing heels as the mare launched herself high and kicked back.
With breaths held, the brothers watched and judged where to move to best assist Joe. All around them, ranch hands hooted and hollered, yelling encouragement to the newest bronc rider on the Ponderosa.
Ten seconds into the ride, the inevitable happened; Joe was launched from the saddle. As gravity took over, he tucked and curled, rolling and landing safe from any danger. Others were immediately inside the corral, keeping the animal away from the downed rider.
Hoss was first to his brother, with Adam only a step behind. “Joe?!”
A familiar cackle echoed as the lithe body unwound, stood up, and dusted off his britches. “Can I give her another go? Can I?” Eagerness gleamed in his eyes.
“Ya didn’t get hurt, did ya?”
“Just my pride.”
“You can’t expect to be perfect your first day.” Adam surveyed his brother with a critical eye.
“I know Adam, but I felt something and I want to see if it works.”
“What’s that?” Hoss asked.
“I can’t explain it, it was a few moments before she launched me. I just got distracted and lost my concentration. Please?”
“One or two more attempts, and that’s all. You’re going to be wanting a long, hot soaking bath as it is.”
With the mare loaded into the chute and Joe settled on her back, once more he nodded. Again, the mare launched herself out, this time the rider’s posture was different. Gone was most of the awkwardness and the tenacity to hold on for dear life. By the third jump, Joe was in sync with the mare, a number of strides he rode as if he anticipated her movements. A moment later, the mare changed tactics, leaving Joe hanging precariously from the saddle before he righted himself. Thirty seconds into the ride, a winded Joe lost hold and was tossed to the dirt.
Gulping for air, he climbed to his feet, not bothering to dust himself off. A smile beamed across his face at hearing his brothers’ encouraging words.
“One more go?” Joe pleaded.
“One more, and that’s it,” Adam answered, head inclined that meant only one more.
Joe petted the mare on the neck before he sat deep in the saddle, feet in the stirrups. With the opening of the gate, the little bay mare didn’t have nearly as much fight. Twenty seconds into the ride she began trotting around. Joe had picked the perfect horse for his introduction to being a bronc rider.
Hoss held the lead to the halter as Adam offered a steadying hand down.
Joe didn’t fight the supporting hand under his arm.
“Any loose teeth, little brother?” Hoss asked.
“Not this ride,” Joe giggled. “Wouldn’t put it past that black, though.”
Adam escorted Joe to the main gate of the corral. “Good job, Joe. Why don’t you head on over to the chuck wagon and get something to drink.” Seeing their middle brother hand off the mare, he called, “Hoss, go with him.”
“Thanks Adam.” With stiff legs, Joe walked away.
Ben spoke once Adam walked to where he hid behind a corner of the equipment building. “It’s a lot less painful than I thought.”
“Quoting Mohegan, Pa?”
“You need to take lessons on hiding, he saw you.” Merriment shown in Adam’s eyes.
“I didn’t want him to know. I didn’t want to make him nervous.”
“Between you and me, he was scared, until he knew you were here.”
“I can’t imagine Joe being scared. This is all he’s talked about this week, need I remind you.”
“When Hoss and I were saddling the horses back in the barn, he told me about their conversation this morning. He was worried about disappointing us. You saw him look around before he nodded to open the chute. When he refocused, he was different. I think your being here gave him the courage to believe.”
“That you trust all of us enough to let him grow up.”
Ben understood, and canted his head towards where his two youngest stood, “What do you think they’re talking about?”
The brothers leaned against the chuck wagon; Hoss handing his sibling a cup of coffee.
“Probably telling him, don’t squat with your spurs on.”
“Joe doesn’t wear spurs.”
“It’s just Hoss’ way of getting his point across. I’ve heard him say the same thing to a few other wranglers after their first ride on a bronc.”
Ben arched his eyebrows.
“They’re all a little weak in the knees after the first ride, and he uses squat instead of faint. Remember Harry Crum?”
Ben nodded at the old memory, following the man’s first ride he fainted; knees buckled and straight down he went. The points of his rowels impaled themselves into his posterior.
“Hoss is just wanting to make sure Joe sits down before he falls down.”
“You did a good job of teaching him. Thank you, Adam.”
“You want a cup of coffee?”
“Since he knows I’m here, I think my congratulations are in order.”
Tears of Growing Up Series: