Summary: The days and weeks after one of the worst times on the Ponderosa culminates in a moment between father and son. A what should have happened.
Word Count: 625
“Before you accuse me!” Green eyes glared, teeth gritted, bandaged hands twisted the axe handle as a way to control the anger. ‘Take a look at yourself,’ went unvoiced.
Acknowledging the response, and knowing his boy left more unsaid. No, no longer a boy. If he accepted the truth, Joseph had become a man long ago; briefly, in his dalliance with Julia Bulette. After her murder, Joe returned home and to being the youngest. He should have stayed a man, but his father and brothers, and Hop Sing to some degree, watched over him to make sure he didn’t succumb to his grief, and thus he became Little Joe once more.
The fury of the eyes now standing opposite Ben were reminiscent of the worst storms he’d survived during his years at sea. Funny, he’d never realized the depth of anger they could harbor.
He thought their anger was bad when Adam had announced his intention to leave, to fulfill his own dreams, dreams that rivaled the Ponderosa in beauty and longing. The boy’s resentment was fleeting. But with the oldest son’s departure, Joe thrust himself into taking on the roles Adam had once managed. And in doing so, his youngest took that final, permanent step into manhood. A life-stage he came to realize had very little to do with age; more so the responsibilities one took on.
Life had ebbed and flowed like a river meandering across the land, always seeing out a better destination.
But the worst was yet to come — Joe returned home to learn his best friend, his brother had unexpectedly died. This time, anger did not flicker out like a candle in the wind, not even hurricane-force gales could extinguish the burning ire.
Ben’s well of self-pity and loathing after Marie’s death paled in comparison to Joe’s behavior once their guests and their friends had departed following Hoss’ funeral. The unpredictable irritation changed to a constant rage, and more often than not, there was no verbal warning; just being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a misspoken word resulted in a punch thrown. Offering a prayer that the recipient had the self-preservation to stay down after the first hit; it was a foolish man who stood and suffered a further barrage of left hooks and right jabs. Nothing he could say would change events while Ben watched the hands learn to give their employer a wide berth.
Yes, Joe was their employer. Looking back, Ben realized Marie’s son had managed the running of the Ponderosa for years; having assumed control in such a way that Ben failed to realize he had willingly relinquished his place.
Joe’s their Boss, I’m Mr. Cartwright.
His son standing before him, hands lightly wrapped; a silent testament of their loss to either the side of the barn or maybe a tree. He never said. The night before Ben had watched over Dr. Martin’s shoulder as he cleaned and bandaged Joe’s hands. Joe’s smile was a good-grace offering at accepting the physician’s chastisement that if his anger continued, he should put it to better use.
Guess Paul should have added, after his hands heal.
Overlooking the now dirty dressings, “I’m not accusing you of anything.” Ben approached, hands slipped into his pant pockets, “Just wanted to say your efforts will thrill Hop Sing when he sees all the split wood and kindling.”
Eyes softened, hands relaxed at hearing the heartfelt words; the first ray of hope that life could go on. Looking at the amount of scattered wood, “Guess you could add Jamie too. This was supposed to be his chore after school.”
“I’ll find him something else to do.” Taking the axe and setting it aside, “Talk with me.”
With a hitch in his voice, “I miss him Pa.”
Enveloping his son in a tearful hug, “Always.”
Author’s Note: And I’ve Got Mine…was the first story written, followed by Momma Liked the Roses, and What We Didn’t Choose, and lastly, Always in what has become known as my Remembering Hoss Series. The Series is listed in chronological order below. Please forgive me for not including this information in the summary, I didn’t want to give away the story.
Remembering Hoss Series:
A writing challenge from the song, Before you Accuse Me by Bo Diddley. The prompt: Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.