The Escape: Journey Back to Boston (by Jenn)

Summary: (Sequel to “The College Years”)
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  49,000


 

He lay semiconscious, same as he had for days, weeks, months. He wasn’t sure. Time had long ago escaped him, and now his mind was filled only with small windows of lucidity as he wavered between reality and nothingness. He felt himself lying over a horse, tied to a saddle, his arms dangling loosely towards the ground. His broken hand throbbed with each step of the horse, though his mind was unable to focus on this fact. For a moment he opened his eyes, recognizing his surroundings for only an instant. He heard laughter surround him, the same laughter that had tortured him since the day he was taken from the ranch. Lapsing back into unconsciousness, laughter was all he heard.

“Cartwright, don’t you want to be awake to see your family again?” James Cain laughed pushing Adam from the horse head first.

Adam slipped to the ground, landing directly on his head, then flipping over resting on his back. His eyes flickered for a moment as his body was racked with pain.

Laughter echoed again as he felt his body rock from the sharp kicks of his tormenters who had surrounded him.

“That’s enough, boys, for now. Let his family find him. If he isn’t dead, he’ll wish he were, and that’s good enough for me. Game’s over, Cartwright, for now.”

He listened as the sound of hooves passed close to his head, grazing his hair as they passed by. He felt the hot sun on his blistered face, and tried to roll himself over for some reprieve. His body, however, would not respond as his mind screamed out in agony. He prayed that he would soon escape once again into nothingness, hoping this time it would be for good. His body trembled with fever, causing his broken body to vibrate, sending pain shooting through every orifice. A single tear trekked down his cheek, as he waited for death to claim him.

*****

“Pa, we going to check the East Pasture today. Last time I was there, there weren’t much left to graze on. We really should move the herd further west.”

“Not today, Hoss; it’s been a long day already. Let’s get home and enjoy some of Hop Sings fine cooking.”

“Pa, I was planning on going in to town tonight. There’s a show I would like to see. Lady Chavez is the star. I got three tickets in case you and Hoss wanted to join me.” Joe looked at his father expectantly.

His father had spent most of his days at the ranch, hardly seeking entertainment, or the company of others. The family used to attend many shows together, before that fateful night had come and changed their lives forever. He watched his father struggle, his chin twitched slightly, and Joe immediately regretted his suggestion. Since Adam was taken, Ben had blamed himself for his son’s death. Anytime he was faced with a reminder of the past, he curled into himself, the grief for his oldest son being too much to take.

Never finding a trace of Adam, having no body to bury, had been the hardest blow for the family to take. They had searched for eight months now, hired private investigators from the city, and alerting every town and city within 5,000 miles to keep a look out. When dried bones had suddenly turned up in a desert 300 miles from the Ponderosa, a telegram was sent out that the bones more than likely belonged to Adam. The city of Freeport had disposed of the bones themselves, denying Ben the right to bury his own son.

“I’m sorry Pa, I know you’re tired. I shouldn’t have suggested it. We’ll spend the evening here,” Joe said after receiving no reply from his father for some time.

“No Joe, you and Hoss should go. It’ll be a nice change of pace for the two of you.”

The ranch house came in to view, and Joe sighed. He had a habit since he was a young child of looking for his brother’s horse. Sport had been a graduation gift for Adam, and he cared deeply for the horse. Joe caught Adam many times in the barn tending the horse, speaking softly to it. Sport stood in his stall. Hoss had tended the horse, exercising him regularly, but each time they rode up to the ranch, it was a reminder that his brother was no longer with them.

*****

“Hey Adam, don’t let Pa know I told you this, but he’s got a surprise for you waitin’ at home.”

“Joe! Pa said that was a secret; you ain’t supposed to say nothing!”

“That’s why I told Adam not to say anything to Pa. You ain’t gonna, are you, Adam?”

“No, Joe, I won’t say anything. What is it?”

“ADAM! Hoss yelled, receiving two glares along with a fanfare of shushes. “It’s a secret, and we ain’t gonna tell. No more talk about it till we get home!” Hoss said changing his voice to a whisper, and glancing at his father who was driving the wagon.

“Yeah, it’s a secret. Don’t ask no more questions!”

“Aw c’mon, it’s my first day back. I’ve been on the stage for as long as I can remember. My brothers here know a secret, and they won’t tell me. You know how I feel about surprises. How about just a hint?” Adam said with a gleam in his eye. His being home made him feel young again; he missed the comfortable banter he could share with his brother.

“Boys, I am not deaf. Just because I am driving the wagon does not mean I don’t know what you three are up too. Adam, you will have to wait until you get home for your surprise. Remember what I tell you boys each Christmas?”

“If we take a peek, or find out what they are before Christmas morning, you’ll give our gifts to children who aren’t so nosey.” Adam smiled, remembering his father’s lectures the many times he found the boys snooping around the ranch.

“That’s right, and same goes here. There’ll be no more talk about it, understand!” Ben said, trying to hold a stern tone as a smile spread across his face. He hurried the team on, as anxious to get home as his boys.

The three exchanged amused smiles, as they knew their father was not angry as he had made out to be. Feeling the wagon speed up, Adam lay his head against the sideboards. He listened to his brothers talk back and forth, exchanging ideas of what they had in store for their oldest brother when they got home.

The wagon pulled to a stop, causing Adam to open his eyes. The ranch house loomed in front of him. “Home,” he thought as his eye’s lit up at the thought. Jumping out of the wagon he headed towards the house. “Hop Sing!” he called as he made his way to the kitchen.

“Mr. Adam, you home!” Hop Sing said, wiping his hands on his apron as he went to greet him.

Adam pulled him into a brief hug.

“You too thin, Hop Sing job make sure you get ‘nough food. Make favorite meal for dinner. Pot Roast and potatoes.”

“Thank you, Hop Sing. Food just isn’t the same in the east.”

“Adam, c’mon on! Pa’s ready to give you your surprise!” Joe shouted as he streaked into the kitchen.

Adam caught the twelve-year-old as he slipped on the floor, falling towards the heavy wood counters. “Whoa, little buddy. I see some things haven’t changed.”

“C’mon, before he changes his mind and makes us wait till after dinner!”

“Alright, alright. I’m coming. Lead the way little brother.”

Joe grabbed Adam’s wrist and pulled him towards the front door. He quickened his pace as he made his way towards the barn. “We’re coming, Pa!” he shouted as they neared the barn doors.

“Bring him in, Joe!” Hoss shouted back.

“Close your eyes!”

“What?”

“Close your eyes, Adam; you can’t go in ‘til they’re shut.”

“Joe, I’m not closing my eyes.”

“Please! I don’t want you to see right away, I want to be in front of you so I can see your face.”

Adam raised his eyebrows. Seeing the shine in his baby brother’s eyes always caused his heart to swell with love. Giving in easily, he closed his eyes without a word.

“Okay, you can open ‘em now.”

Adam opened his eyes, and was face to face with a red beauty. The horse was nearly as tall as he was. He remembered right before he left for college, he and his father had made a trip to San Francisco. When there, Adam had admired a horse much like this one. His eyes welled with tears, realizing his father put so much thought into a gift for him. He knew money was tight, as his father had put so much into his college.

“Pa, this is too much. I don’t know what to say.”

“You earned him, son.”

“Thank you, Pa.”

Ben pulled his son into a tight embrace. Feeling Adam tremble in his hold, he knew his son was struggling with emotion. Knowing how Adam felt about sharing his feelings, he pulled away.

“What are you gonna name him, Adam?” Little Joe asked, patting the horse’s nose.

Adam cleared his throat and looked back at the horse. A name passed through his mind, bringing a smile to his face. His grandfather had often called him by a nickname whenever they we’re bantering with each other. “Sport,” he whispered.

“Sport?” Hoss said, thinking that a strange name for a horse.

“Sport,” he said again, his eye’s far away as memories of his years in Boston flooded his mind.

*****

“Pa, what do you reckon that is?” Hoss asked, pointing to a shadow in the distance.

“I can’t tell. Be careful, son, don’t ride up too quickly. If it’s an animal, we don’t want to startle it.”

Hoss walked his horse slowly towards the still figure that lay prone on the ground. Getting closer, he saw that it was the body of a man. His clothing was tattered, hanging in shreds, some of which blew in the wind. The man was rail thin, his ribs protruding from his sides. Lacerations were visible in the areas the shirt and pants no longer covered. The man laid face up, a long beard covering the bottom half of his face.

“Pa, it’s a man. I think he’s dead; he ain’t moving.” Hoss said, calling back to his father who followed behind him.

Dismounting from their horses, the three men walked carefully towards the prone figure. The man’s eyes were closed, the skin on his face blistered from long days in the sun. Long curly hair blew around the man’s face, and the stench was unbearable.

“Who you reckon it is, Pa?” Hoss asked, looking over at his father who had bent down next to the body.

“Hoss, help me get him inside!” Ben said with a tone full of urgency.

“Shouldn’t we go for the sheriff?” Joe asked, wondering why his father’s face had suddenly transformed into that of sheer anxiety.

“No! Go for the doctor. Hoss, help me get him inside.” Ben yelled, lifting the man’s head from the ground. “Get him some water.”

“Pa? I don’t…” Hoss started as he bent to pick up the body.

“It’ll be fine, Adam; just hang on, son. Pa’s got you now. Pa’s got you,” Ben whispered as his voice broke into a sob.

Both boys’ faces suddenly filled with recognition. Joe wasted no time mounting his horse and galloping to fetch the doctor. Hoss lifted his brother easily, feeling nothing but bones through the tattered clothing. Tears spilled down his cheek as his brother showed no response to his being lifted. Carefully he laid Adam in his bed, entering the bedroom that had lain untouched for eight months.

“We need to get these clothes off, Pa.” Hoss said running downstairs to fetch a knife. “Hop Sing, it’s Adam. We found Adam. He was here; I mean, he’s hurt.”

Hop Sing listened as Hoss stammered out an explanation. Upon hearing the word hurt, he instantly jumped into action retrieving supplies. Hop Sing followed Hoss back upstairs, and stopped instantly upon seeing the horrible suffering Adam must have undergone. He was unrecognizable. Ben set to cutting off his son’s clothing, gagging when he saw the extent of damage his body had endured. Lash marks covered his body, results of beating with sticks, belts, and what looked to be harness straps. Some wounds had healed over, causing scarring; others were scabbed over and infected. Some looked fresh. It looked as if all of his ribs were either cracked or broken; boot prints were noticeable all over his upper body, showing blue, or purple. His right hand was broken, swollen and a rainbow of colors. Both eyes were swollen shut, and his bottom lip was split. Ben could not control his sobs as he tried to wash away his son’s many wounds, to no avail. He knew his son would die; his breathing was slow and shallow. His body had taken too much punishment to pull through, and even if he was strong enough to fight, his body was racked with infection. His skin was burning with fever and sweat formed on his brow dripping down into his beard.

Hoss stepped beside his father, controlling his own rage upon seeing his brother’s battered body. He laid a hand on father’s shoulder and pulled him upwards. “The doctors coming, Pa. All we can do is try and keep his fever down,” Hoss said, stopping his father from rubbing the wet cloth over the many bruises. “Please Pa, you’re gonna hurt him; the doc needs to clean out those wounds.”

Ben felt his son stop his hand. He flashed him a look of anger before collapsing beside his eldest on the bed. The bed shook from his sudden movement, but Adam did not stir against the pain it must have caused.

“My son. My son,” Ben repeated, holding tight to Adam’s left hand.

*****

“DOC MARTIN!” Joe hollered as he rode towards the doctor’s office, praying that he was in.

“Joe?” The doc asked walking up behind Joe’s horse, his dinner in his hands. “What is it?”

“Adam!” Joe exclaimed, breathing hard with relief.

“Adam?”

“Yes, he’s home. He’s hurt. Please, you have to hurry!”

“But I thought…”

“PLEASE!”

“I’m right behind you, Joe.” Doc Martin said sprinting towards his horse.

Joe and Doc Martin raced towards the ranch, making it there in record time. Both horses were badly lathered, and Joe went right to work on them, allowing the doctor to enter the house.

“BEN!” Doc Martin yelled as he entered the great room.

“Doc! Up here, in Adam’s room,” Hoss answered back.

Doc Martin took the stairs two at a time, rushing into the room. His face registered shock for only a moment before he ordered everyone out of the room. Hoss led his father by the shoulder out of the room, not allowing him to resist the doctor’s orders.

Now alone with his patient, the doctor gave himself a moment to let the situation sink in. Pulling back the covers, he winced when he saw the body beneath them. Bile rose to his throat and he choked it back. He thought he would never understand how man could react so violently to one another. He felt the fever, worried that it was too high. Calling to Hop Sing for more cold water, he bathed the body furiously, hoping to lower his temperature. Hop Sing arrived with the water, and the doctor poured it over the body, wetting the sheets. This would be the quickest way to cool the body, giving him time to check the infections in the multiple wounds. “Keep the water coming, Hop Sing. We’ve got to get his temperature down.”

As he added more and more cold water to the sheets, Adam started to stir. “That’s it, boy, come around a bit.” The doctor soothed as Adam’s body jerked against the cold.

“HOSS!” Doc Martin called. “We need to change these sheets. Could you lift him please?”

Doing as was asked, the bed was remade, and Adam lain down among the fresh sheets. “Hop Sing, I want you to continue bathing his forehead and body, I am going to work on these wounds.”

“What ‘bout pain? Can give something for pain?” Hop Sing asked as Adam’s body tremored.

“Not in this state; it could cause him to slip into a permanent coma. You’ll have to help hold him down.”

Hours passed, and Ben paced the floor of the great room. His sadness and anxiety began to turn to anger as he received no word from upstairs. Hoss and Joe sat on the hearth, chins resting on their hands as they watched their father. Hearing footsteps echo on the stairs, the three men raced to the stairs.

“How is he? HOW IS MY SON?” Ben yelled, his patience worn too thin.

“Ben, he’s fighting. Right now, there is really no telling. He has been badly beaten, starved, and is suffering from severe dehydration. This situation is touch and go. He regained consciousness for a few seconds, but was not responsive. I wish I knew more, Ben, I really do.”

“Can I see him?” Ben asked, his face falling at the doctors news.

“Of course. We have cleaned him up, Ben; we shaved him to fix the lacerations on his face, and Hop Sing cut his hair. He said he would be more comfortable that way.”

Ben raced back up the stairs. The man on his bed now resembled his son, his face clean shaven, his hair cut and brushed back. He was thin — cheek bones protruded from his face — but it was now much more obvious that this was Adam. Ben laid a hand on the now soft cheek, tracing his finger over the stitching that closed a hidden wound.

“Stay with us, son. We need you,” Ben whispered into his son’s ear as he ran a hand through his hair. He felt a large bump on the top of his head and quickly pulled his hand away, fearing he would cause his son more pain. “I love you,” he cried as he sat in the chair next to the bed.

Joe stood looking at his brother for the first time since they had found him. His eyes swam with tears, and his hands shook with anger at the sight of his oldest brother. He had never seen Adam so frail. He had only been home from college for five years now; Joe was just becoming a man in his brother’s eyes, and Adam had begun to take him under his wing when he had been taken. Joe remembered that night vividly, and he hid his face in his hands as the memories overtook him.

*****

“Great job, Joe. I can’t believe you rode the black that long!” Adam said, patting his brother on the back.

“Thanks Adam. He should be saddle broke by the end of the week.”

“You are quite the horseman, little brother.”

Joe blushed as his brother complimented his abilities. Seventeen-year-old Joe looked up to his big brother, and any praise he received he relished. Adam had always been strict, but fair. For him to give a compliment as he had, Joe knew he was really pleased.

“Well, let’s get home before Hop Sing threatens to go back to China,” Adam laughed throwing an arm around his little brother.

“Yeah, ol’ Hoss would waste away if he had to survive on our Pa’s cooking,” Joe joked back.

The easy banter continued as the two made their way back to the ranch house. Entering the house, the laughter ended instantly. Ben lay unconscious on the floor next to Hoss. Both men were hog tied, with their arms and legs drawn up behind their backs, then tied together. Men surrounded the brothers before they had time to react, and Joe was tied in the same manner. He then was forced to watch as his oldest brother was beaten mercilessly in front of his eyes.

Laughter echoed in the distance as the men disappeared with his brother, dragging behind the horse. Joe struggled against his ropes, trying to break free and go after them. Getting loose was impossible; Joe’s wrists and ankles were bloody by the time Hop Sing arrived back from visiting his family. By that time, no trace of Adam could be found.

*****

Hoss stood by his brother’s bedside, watching his father stroke Adam’s left hand. Adam’s wrists were now bandaged, as the flesh had been rubbed away, more than likely by leather straps. He heard his father whispering to his brother, but he could not hear what was being said. He remembered the last time his brother had been laid up. It was a chest cold that threatened to turn to pneumonia. Adam had denied being sick for four days straight before he finally collapsed, his body exhausted. His father had sat by his bedside just as he did now, talking softly with his son who was fighting for air. A few days later, Adam had fought off the worst of the infection, and then his father delivered a stern lecture and the threat of a tanning if he ever scared him like that again. Well, they were certainly scared now. Each family member watched the rise and fall of his chest, praying that he would take another breath.

*****

“It’s been a week, Pa. He ain’t woke up but for a minute, and even then, I don’t think he was really awake. He’s got to eat more, Pa; he’s just wastin’ away,” Hoss said, worry etched throughout his features.

“Don’t you think I know that? I can’t get him to drink! I don’t know what else to do, Hoss!” Ben snapped back as he tried to spoon another drink of broth into his son. The broth simply ran out of the sides of Adam’s mouth.

“Sorry, Pa, I’m just worried. Joe should be back with the doctor by now.”

“He’ll be here shortly; maybe he can get Adam to drink.”

“I hope so. I can’t bear to see him like this.”

“PA!” Joe called from downstairs. “Doc’s here, he’ll be up in a minute!”

Doc Martin came in the house behind Joe. He walked slowly up the stairs, half afraid of what he may find. Carrying his black bag, he entered the room.

“Well Ben, what have we here?”

“He won’t eat. The broth just slips out of his mouth. I’ve tried everything I know. Even when he does eat, he only gets about a fourth of it down. I’m afraid he’s starving to death.” Frustration showed plain as Ben paced back and forth in front of the bed.

“Let me try. Why don’t you go downstairs and get a cup of coffee.”

“Thank you Paul.”

Doc Martin waited until the room was cleared. Sitting on the bed next to Adam, he opened each eye checking the pupils. His eyes responded appropriately — at least that was a good sign. Picking up the bowl of warm broth, he carefully spooned some into Adam’s mouth. He watched it slip back out, rolling down his chin and onto the sheets. Lifting Adam into a sitting position, being careful of his busted ribs, he positioned himself behind Adam. Cradling his head, tilting it backwards against his chest he tried again. This time the broth went in, but sat in his mouth. He was not swallowing. The doctor tilted his head back a little further and rubbed Adam’s throat. As he touched his Adam’s apple, he felt him swallow. He continued this process until the bowl was empty.

“Well boy, I think we figured out how to get broth into you. But it’s not enough. You’ve got to eat more, Adam. When are you gonna wake up for us?” the doctor soothed, checking over Adam’s wounds. There were still minor infections in one patch of lacerations, so he set about re-cleaning the wounds. He heard Adam hiss as the alcohol touched the wound. “Adam, you awake?”

Adam’s eyes flickered open, but did not seem to focus on the doctor.

“Adam, look at me now.”

His head lulled forward, and his eyes began to close.

“No, no. No you don’t. I want you to look at me.” The doctor reached forward to lift Adam’s head, just as his eyes reopened. Seeing the hands coming for his face, he flinched away, causing pain to ripple through his battered body. His eye’s met the doctor’s, fear showing clearly in his deep brown eyes.

“Good. Now, can you tell me what your name is?” the doctor said, ignoring his fearful gaze.

Adam’s eyes shone wet with tears; he had known nothing but torture for months, and he wondered what game was in store for him now.

“BEN!” the doctor called, seeing the panic in his patient’s face.

“What is it?!” Ben asked bursting into the room.

“He’s awake. I don’t think he recognizes me. I thought maybe it would help if he saw you.”

Ben sat next to his son on the bed, though his son was holding his gaze on the doctor. “Adam?”

Adam studied the man in front of him. He looked familiar, and he hadn’t made a move to hurt him yet. Of course, that meant nothing; he had played this game before. He felt weight beside him on the bed, and as the bed sunk down, his ribs cried out their pain. He continued searching the doctor’s, face, memories playing in the back of his mind, searching for his connection to this man.

*****

“So young man, you managed to get yourself thrown from a horse?” Doc Martin asked nine-year-old Adam who was lying with his ankle propped up in bed.

“Yes sir. I was riding Lighting, when he spooked. I think it was a snake, but I’m not sure. I came down on my ankle.”

“I see that. My name is Doctor Paul Martin, I’m just gonna take a look see, and decide if it is broken or not.” He carefully pressed his fingers along the bones of the swollen ankle, then moved the foot slightly to the left and right. He asked Adam to wiggle his toes, seeing that none of them were moving. “Well, it looks like your ankle is sprained, but you have broken a bone in your foot. I’m going to have to reset it. It’s gonna hurt a lot. Would you like me to get your father to come sit with you?”

“No sir. I’ll be alright. Pa should stay with Hoss; he was real scared when I fell.”

“If you’re sure?”

“I’m sure. Go ahead, doctor.”

The doctor pulled the foot hard to the left, then slightly back to the right, resetting the bone in the proper place. He felt Adam’s body go rigid with pain, but the boy did not cry out. Tears streaked down his cheeks, but he was silent.

“It’s over, son. I’m just gonna cast it, then leave some instructions with your father. You will need to stay in bed for a few weeks in order for the bones to properly heal. You were a very brave boy today, Adam Cartwright.”

Adam wiped the sleeve of his nightshirt across his eyes. Then he smiled up at the doctor, showing off his dimples. “Thank you. I’d like to see my Pa now, if you think it’s alright.”

“Yes, I’ll get him.”

“Well, son, how are you feeling?” Ben asked, stepping in the room behind the doctor who had come to retrieve his supplies.

“I’m okay Pa. The doctor had to reset the bone. See my cast?”

“He told me. Looks like you’ll be spending some time resting after all, young man. We only made it here about two months ago,” Ben said, looking to the doctor.

“Yes, Adam told me some about your travels.”

“Pa?”

“Yes son?”

“I didn’t cry out. Not even when he pulled real hard. I made sure to be real quiet so’s I wouldn’t upset Hoss.”

“That was nice of you to think of your brother. I bet it was awful hard to keep it all inside, though,” Ben said, sitting next to his son on the bed.

Adam didn’t respond; he just looked thoughtfully at his father, a slight smile played upon his lips.

*****

“That’s what I gotta do now. Have to protect my family,” Adam thought as he recognized the people around them. He tried to speak, but no sound would come. His mouth hurt to open much, and he found he could form no words. He looked from the doctor to his father, and then saw Joe and Hoss standing near the door. He wanted to speak with them so badly, tell them how much he loved them. His body wouldn’t respond to any movement, instead he lay paralyzed.

“You’re awake, older brother. We thought you were going to sleep through Christmas.” Joe said, a weak smile forming as he approached his brother’s bedside.

“Yeah, and that’s six months off. Are you in pain?” Hoss asked, his smile turning to a frown in seconds.

Adam again tried to respond but to no avail. Frustration got the better of him, and he felt a hot tear roll down his freshly shaven cheek.

“It’s okay, son; we’re gonna take good care of you. You’ll be feeling better in no time,” Ben said, tears of his own now falling as he brushed away Adam’s.

Adam closed his eyes against his father’s pain. That is exactly what he did not want to happen. He didn’t want his family to suffer. He felt himself drifting off, back to the nothingness that consumed most of his days. He fought against it, wanting to stay with his family a while longer. Bright colors flashed behind his eyelids, playing out different scenes in front of him. He watched the colors swirl and dance, losing the battle as he slipped back into unconsciousness.

“Dadburnit, Pa. We need to find whoever did this to Adam. I want to see that man die, and I want to be the one to kill ‘im.” Hoss fumed as they left the room, leaving Adam to his own reprieve.

“We don’t know who it was, Hoss. Besides, I don’t want you boys going off half-cocked and doing something we’ll all regret. I can’t lose another son, do you understand that?” Ben paced; he was just as angry as the rest of them. He had seen nothing but fear and anguish in those deep brown eyes full of pain. He wanted them to pay as well, but he wanted the law to handle it. He feared what would happen if another son was caught up in the mix of these ruthless men.

*****

“Well, it’s working. We’re getting more broth into him. His color seems to be improving, but he’s still not saying anything. I think he recognizes us, but he seems unaware of his own body. We are never successful with the chamber pot, and he doesn’t make a move to try and feed himself. What do you make of it, doctor? Is he paralyzed?”

A scream shook the rafters upstairs. It was a scream like they had never heard, almost animalistic. The group made their way towards the stairs, Ben leading the pack. He stopped in fear as he saw no sign of Adam. Looking around the room, his eyes rested on his son’s battered body in the corner of the room. Blankets entangled him, and he sat with his knees pulled to him, back against the wall. His hands were clasped in front of him, as if bound by some unseen force. His breathing was rapid, though he was quiet now. His body could be seen shaking from the doorway.

Walking slowly towards his son, Ben knelt down in front of him. Reaching out to touch him, he quickly pulled his hand back as Adam screamed again. “It’s me, Adam; it’s Pa. Please, son, look at me. I’m not going to hurt you,” Ben soothed, waiting for any sort of recognition from his son.

Adam began rocking back and forth; the doctor feared what this was doing to his broken ribs.

“We have to get him back into bed, Ben,” Doctor Martin said quietly, not wanting to upset Adam further.

“I know that, doctor. I just need a moment with my son. Now Adam, you need to get back in bed. Look, you’re bleeding again. Please son, let me help you up.” He reached forward slowly, stopping when Adam showed signs of panic. He waited for the fear to pass before he inched forward again. “Come, son, let me help you back to bed. I have to lift you up now. It’s okay; I won’t hurt you,” Ben once again soothed as he was able to slip his arm under Adam’s shoulder to lift him.

Ben felt Adam’s head come to rest on his shoulder as he put his other arm under his legs. He lifted Adam carefully, feeling the hot liquid of Adam’s tears soaking through his shirt. He laid him back on the bed, trying his best to keep any pressure off his ribs, then covered him again with the blanket.

“Everything’s alright now, son. You’re home and you’re safe. No one will hurt you again.

“Pa, his hands,” Hoss said quietly as Adam’s hands remained together, fighting against their invisible bonds.

Placing his hands carefully over Adam’s, Ben slowly began to move them apart. Adam watched him closely, fear registering in his eyes, then turning to shock as his hands were freed from their prison. He looked up at his father, trying to express his thanks. His fingers on his left hand twitched as he tried to order them to grasp his father’s hand. Seeing the slight twitch, Ben grabbed his son’s hand, squeezing it softly to relay his understanding.

Joe left the room, unable to watch the scene unfolding in front of him. This was his older brother, the man who was never afraid of anything, whose motto was the only way to hurt me is to kill me. Well, he wasn’t dead. But he was hurt. Joe tried to stop the tears from falling; he was ashamed that he felt angry with Adam for putting them through this. At least they knew he wasn’t paralyzed. He made it to his own room, then threw himself down, letting loose the torrent of tears that had threatened to overflow each time he thought of his brother.

*****

It had been weeks now. Adam still had a few visible bruises, but the swelling in his eyes was now completely gone. He was able to chew soft food, and though he didn’t eat much, his skin was taking on a more natural hue. He still couldn’t speak — though he wasn’t sure why — but he was able to use his left hand now to try and communicate. Joe had ordered a few sign language books, and each evening he and Adam would practice signing. It was often difficult since Adam only had use of one hand, but they managed enough for Adam to get his basic needs across. He had regained most of his muscle control, though during his night terrors, he found himself being changed along with the bed sheets. His family had begun taking turns keeping watch over him day and night, trying to quell the night terrors before they consumed him. The entire family was affected by the lack of sleep, as more often than not Adam was racked with images of his tortures experience.

“I’ll look in on him, Pa. He shouldn’t be asleep now; he just woke up not more then fifteen minutes ago. I came down to get him some tea,” Joe said as his father walked in to the kitchen, a stern look on his face.

“You could have called us to get it for you; Hop Sing could have brought it up to you. I don’t want your brother left alone; you know what happens when…”

“I know, Pa!” Joe snapped back interrupting his father. “I needed a break, I’m sorry. It’s hard to sit in that room all day and watch him stare at the ceiling for hours on end. I can’t stand it, Pa. When is he going to come back to us? When is Adam going to be Adam again!” His voice ended in a sob. The lack of sleep had made them all overly emotional.

“I know it’s hard, son, but we can’t rush him. He’s been through hell and back; it’s going to take time…”

“Forget it, Pa. Just forget it. If you need me, I’ll be in Adam’s room.” Joe said stomping off towards the stairs.

Hearing the door open and close, Adam turned his head toward the sound. Signing with his left hand, he motioned to Joe that he was thirsty. Joe handed him the cup, misery still present on his face. Adam took the cup, and swallowed the mixture quickly. He signed for water, which he always demanded be present in his room. Joe refilled the cup, and once again watched his brother drain it. Joe sat down in the chair near the window, and dropped his head into his hands.

Adam tried to speak; seeing his brother was fighting tears, he wanted to comfort him. No matter how hard he tried, he could not form any words. Instead, he slowly sat up, placing two feet on the floor. Taking it slow, and making sure he was balanced, he took a shaky step towards his brother. By the time he reached the window, his legs were shaking with strain.

Joe felt a hand on his back, and looked up quickly, seeing his brother standing in front of him. Joe stood, trying to get Adam back in the bed; he was too weak to be up yet. Instead he found himself pulled into a fierce hug, Adam’s cheek resting in his hair. Joe melted into his older brother’s embrace.

“Adam, I’m so sorry,” Joe cried as his brother squeezed him tighter. “We gotta get you back in bed, brother. If Pa finds us like this, he’ll have my hide.”

Adam allowed himself to be led back to bed. He signed to Joe he needed to use the chamber pot before he settled once again between the sheets. Joe turned his back as his brother took care of business, then helped him back into bed. Adam patted the spot beside him and Joe sat down. Using one hand to sign, Adam asked Joe for a book, then pointed down, which meant it was downstairs. Joe rose to get it, heading for the door.

Adam tried again to speak; this time he was able to croak out a word.

“Joe,” Adam whispered, causing Joe to stop in his tracks. “Thank you.”

Joe turned his tear-filled eyes to his brother, and walked slowly back to him, placing a kiss on his cheek. Adam flinched away, then realizing what he did, saw the hurt in Joe’s eyes.

“He doesn’t understand,” Adam thought to himself as Joe made his way out of the room.

*****

“What are we gonna do with him, boss?” Charlie Daniels asked as they bound Adam’s hands tightly behind his back. Adam had ceased struggling after they took a horse whip to him, and now he watched them with dark piercing eyes.

“We’re gonna make him suffer, the way he made my brother suffer. That’s right, Cartwright, Peter Cain was my brother. You killed him; now I’m gonna take up where he left off. I’m going to make you wish you had never been born.”

Adam shifted his position, the lashes from the whipping he received were bleeding, and his skin burned against his clothing. James came towards him, grabbing his hair and pulling his head back. “I think we should let Suzie have first go at him, boys. What do you think?” He laughed, motioning for the woman behind him to step forward. Adam looked her over keeping his expression blank.

“Oh Jimmy, I think that’s a grand idea. We’re gonna have a lot of fun, sweetie, just you wait and see,” she said, forcing her and Adam’s lips to meet as James held him by the hair. Adam refused to return the kiss, and he saw anger brush the features of the woman in front of him.

She was a large woman, scantily clad; it seemed she worked in a low class saloon. She was missing her front teeth, and her hair spiraled out, as if untouched for a long period of time.

Adam tried to squirm away as her hands made their way south; she made sure to cause him severe pain as she spoke.

“I expect you to act accordingly, Cartwright, or else you may not remain a man much longer,” she whispered, increasing her hold. Once again her lips met his, and through his pain, he reluctantly returned the gesture.

*****

The bed sheets were soaked in sweat and bodily fluid as Adam struggled to be let free. He was not aware that it was his father holding him down. He tried in vain to get away from his captors before they hurt him further.

“ADAM!” Ben yelled, gripping his son with all his might. Adam had already reopened his stitches several times, and Ben dreaded having to call upon Doc Martin again. “Wake up now, son; it’s only a dream. Pa’s right here. Open your eyes, Adam, look at me.”

“Hold still Cartwright, we’re not finished with you yet!”

“HOSS! I can’t hold him down much longer. I need your help!” Ben cried as Adam struggled.

“Isn’t this game fun? Okay boys, it’s rigged up. Hold him steady until I explain the rules. You see this string, Cartwright? It’s connected to the trigger on this here rifle. The rifle is aimed at the drifter’s hear; you struggle against it and pull too hard, what do you think’ll happen?”

“Never mind Hoss, he’s stopped struggling. Adam, wake up!”

It had been days since he had eaten. His stomach ached with the lack of nourishment, and now scrapes from the dinner the men had just consumed lay just out of reach. His mouth watered at the need for it, and he reached his hand out to the small pile. He could not reach the food without pulling the string, which in turn would kill the drifter the men had just picked up. Tears built up in his eyes, his conscious battling between what is right, and the need to survive.

“Adam, you’re home, son. Please, please look at me. What is he reaching for, Hoss?”

His hand lay suspended reaching towards the food. Laughter echoed around him as tears dripped from his chin. Suddenly James leapt forward grabbing the outstretched hand and yanking it forward. There was a loud blast; Adam folded into himself, trying to protect his battered body. More laughter was heard as the drifter slumped forward, landing directly in front of him. His eyes wide open, yet empty. He had landed on top of the food that Adam so desperately needed. Using what little strength he had, Adam rolled the dead man off the scraps. Closing his eyes he reached for the blood stained pile.

His eyes flickered open as bile rose into his throat. His ribs protested as he bent over to release the burning acid. He felt a hand on his shoulder and feared he was still in the wilderness. He retched several more times, fearing what was now in store for him. He had broken a rule, vomiting was not tolerated at the campsite. He tightened his body against the pain that he knew was to follow, and slowly opened his eyes to catch sight of his attacker.

“Adam?” Ben asked, helping his son lay back, wiping his mouth with a wet rag.

“Pa?” Adam blinked as he realized he was back in his own room.

“Yes son, it’s Pa. Would you like some water?”

“It wasn’t my fault, Pa. I didn’t move. He was dead, anyway; I needed it,” Adam whispered, crying as his father retrieved the pitcher. “It wasn’t my fault,” he repeated as he slowly rocked back and forth.

*****

“He’s out of it, Pa. I don’t know if he’ll ever be the same. And what was he talking about in there anyway? What did he mean he was dead anyway, and what did he need? How are we gonna help him, Pa? How!” Hoss finished his tirade in anger. He could hear his brother rocking upstairs, the bed squeaking with the movement. He paced the length of the floor, wringing his hands together as he thought of what he would do when he found the men that had done this to his brother.

“Hoss, we’re doing all we can do. If he’d just talk about it, maybe it would help. He won’t speak to anyone, not me, the doctor, the sheriff. I don’t know what to do for him; we just have to wait. The doctor said he can get up and around in a few days; maybe that will help some.”

“PA! COME QUICK, IT’S ADAM!” Joe yelled from his post upstairs. It was his turn to watch over his brother.

“What is it, Joseph?” Ben asked running for the stairs.

“I tried to stop him, I couldn’t. He knocked me out of the way. Hoss, we need you!”

The room was in shambles. Drawers were thrown out of the dresser, clothes littered the floor. Books were strung around the room, his oil lamps lay busted, glass everywhere. Adam had overturned the bed as his father ran into the room, and now he held his captains chair in front of him. As Hoss approached his brother quietly, the chair flew into the window, shattering the glass.

“LEAVE ME ALONE! DON’T TOUCH ME!” Adam yelled, backing himself into a corner, as Hoss approached him. “YOU’LL NEVER GET AWAY WITH THIS, CAIN! YOU’LL PAY FOR WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME!”

Hoss watched his brother fall into the corner and curl himself into a protective ball. He was silent now, and Hoss quickened his approach. He bent to pick up his brother, and felt his body go rigid. He cradled him carefully, and headed out of the room.

“Where are you going? He shouldn’t be out of bed yet!” Ben chided, following closely behind his two oldest sons.

“He was already out of bed, Pa. He don’t want to be in that room no more. I’m taking him downstairs.”

“Hoss, no. He needs to be in bed. Take him to my room.”

“No Pa, he needs to be out. No wonder he’s half out of his mind; he hasn’t been out of bed in a month.”

“Hoss!”

Ignoring his father’s demands, he took each step carefully. Adam remained silent, even as he was laid on the settee.

“He wasn’t sleeping, Pa. He was staring at the ceiling; the next thing I knew he was throwing things around,” Joe said as he watched Hoss stretch a blanket over his brother.

“Hoss?” Adam asked as his eyes focused on his brother.

“It’s me, Adam. You’re downstairs now. I’m gonna get you something to drink.”

“Don’t……….I can’t………Hoss?”

“Okay, it’s okay. I’ll stay right here. Hop Sing will get you some tea.” Hoss sat down seeing the panic in his brother’s eyes.

“I fought him, Hoss. I swear, I fought him. He was just too strong; there were too many of them. I couldn’t keep ’em off me.” Adam held his stare, the brother’s eyes connecting.

“What he do to you, brother? Who?”

“Cain. He…I can’t… Why would he do it?”

“Cain? Adam, Cain’s dead.”

“Cain,” was Adam’s last reply as his gaze once again directed towards the ceiling.

*****

“He’s getting worse, doctor. He’s becoming more and more violent; you should see what he did to his room. He ripped the pictures off the wall, tipped over his dresser — it was full of clothes. This is happening a few times a week now. I’m worried that we can’t control him much longer. If Hoss wasn’t here, I’d hate to think…” Ben couldn’t finish, his eyes filled with pain as he looked to his friend for help.

“Ben, there are places where Adam could be…well, it would be an asylum. I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy. There has got to be something we haven’t tried. Some way to help him.”

“No, I will not put my son in an asylum. But, what else is there to do? I’m worried he may seriously hurt someone, maybe even kill them. He’s not even dreaming when he goes into these rages; he just snaps without warning.”

“It’s only been three months now. Let’s give him a little more time. I brought some medicine. You can inject it into him during his rages; it will knock him out. Take him outside a few times a day, make sure he gets some exercise, but don’t overdue it.”

“Thank you, doctor. We’ll figure something out.”

*****

Adam watched his father speaking with the doctor from the window in his bedroom. He saw the doctor mount his horse, and turn it slowly towards the road. He headed towards the stairs, needing to speak to his father. He knew he was getting worse, but he couldn’t seem to stop it. He thought of his friend Ross and how his life ended, worried that that fate was now his own. He walked slowly up behind his father, and placed one hand on his back. He hadn’t initiated physical contact with anyone for months now, and this gesture now seemed alien to him.

Ben jumped, startled at being touched from behind. He knew Hoss and Joe were on the range, and Hop Sing was in town getting supplies. He turned quickly and met the dark eyes of his son. They had lost their golden hue when he was taken from the ranch; he realized how much he missed seeing the sparkle in those eyes.

“Adam, how’d you get out here? You should be resting.”

“I’m sorry, Pa.”

“Sorry for what, son?”

Adam kicked his foot into the ground causing a dust cloud to rise up around his boot. He dropped his eyes, and his chin began to quiver. He couldn’t face his father, not after what happened to him. “Maybe I should go away awhile.”

“Go away? Where would you go? You’re not nearly strong enough to be out on your own!”

“You don’t understand, Pa! It’s still a game; I’m losing. You weren’t there; you don’t know what they did to me.”

“You’re right, I wasn’t there. I think about that every time I look in your eyes. I would have traded places with you if the Lord had deemed it possible.”

“NO!” Adam yelled back, his face contorting with anger. ‘YOU WOULDN’T HAVE TRADED PLACES WITH ME! NO MAN WOULD CHOOSE TO GO THROUGH THAT…THAT… THEY HURT ME, PA! IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE, THEY HURT ME! THEY STOLE MY DIGNITY, MY MANHOOD, MY SANITY! DON’T YOU SEE? Don’t you see what they’ve done to me?” Adam finished in a whisper.

“I’m sorry, Adam, I’m so sorry,” Ben cried as he pulled his son to him. Adam stiffened instantly as he always did when touched.

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” Adam yelled, pulling back from his embrace as memories flooded into his mind. He felt their hands all over him, doing unspeakable things; his body shuddered as he felt rage begin to build inside him. “I’LL KILL YOU FOR THAT! DON’T YOU EVER TOUCH ME AGAIN!”

Ben released his hold instantly and stepped back. He saw a few of the ranch hands step out of the bunk house, and he prayed Adam would get control of himself.

“Everything alright, Boss?” Charlie asked. He had been a ranch hand for years; he had been there when Adam had left for college.

“I don’t know yet, Charlie. Just keep back,” Ben said quietly, never taking his eyes of his son who was visible shaking. “Adam, why don’t you go back in the house? I’ll come in soon; maybe we can play a game of checkers.”

*****

“Is everything alright, Boss? Want me to tie him back up?” Carter asked as Cain finished another torturous game, throwing the stick to the side.

“No, let him be. He thinks he can escape; give him the opportunity. You hear that, Cartwright? This is your chance. You’re free to make a run for it.”

“Water. Please, I need water,” Adam said, rolling onto his side.

“There’s a creek about a mile that way. Give it your best shot, Cartwright.”

“Please.”

He pulled himself along the ground, in the direction of the creek.

“On second thought, maybe it’s the other way. Well, good luck; you’re gonna need it.”

Laughter ensued as Adam struggled forward. His body screamed in protest, but he needed water.

“Hey Cartwright, you’re so thirsty, why don’t you drink this!” Carter laughed as the men stood in a circle, covering their capture in urine.

*****

Coming out of the memory, Adam dropped to his knees. He covered his face with his hands, praying to be released from the hell in his own mind. “Please, just leave me alone, Pa. I just want to be alone,” Adam said through muffled words.

“Okay, you just come in when you’re ready.” Ben motioned Charlie and the onlookers to get busy as he walked slowly in the house.

*****

“Morning, Adam,” Joe greeted as his brother made his way to the table. “Sleep well?”

“Alright I guess. Must have made it through the night without much fuss. I didn’t have any of you three in my room.”

“Nope, didn’t hear a sound, older brother. That’s the first good night’s sleep you’ve had in six months.”

“Sure is. I was actually thinking of going to town today, maybe getting the mail.”

“Are you sure you’re ready for that, Adam? I mean, why don’t you take Hoss with you. You two haven’t been able to spend much time together,” Ben said, hoping his son would heed his advice. Adam hadn’t expressed interest in going to town since he’d been back home. He had, however, shown much improvement on controlling his emotions as of late, and the nightmares were starting to fade.

“What do you say, Hoss?” Adam questioned, looking at his bigger little brother.

“That’d be just fine. Sides, I wanted to talk to Hank about that stallion he bought.”

“Good, we’ll leave after I finish some chores,” Adam said, taking a bite of his breakfast.

“Adam, your fork,” Ben said, seeing his son pick up the eggs with his fingers.

Adam looked down, seeing his fork lying untouched by his plate. He was still working on overcoming some of these quirks, and knew his family didn’t hold it against him. He sometimes needed to be reminded to eat with a fork, instead of his hands, as he had become so accustomed to. “Sorry, Pa.”

“Not a problem. When you pick up the mail, could you deliver this letter for me?”

“Sure. Hoss, you’ll help me remember?”

“Course I will, older brother. Hey, what chores were you planning on doing this morning?” Hoss asked, just now realizing his brother’s earlier statement.

“Thought I’d chop some wood, muck out the stalls. Unless you think I am incapable, brother.”

“I didn’t say that, it’s just that…well…I don’t want anything to happen.”

“Nothing will happen. I haven’t had an episode all week. I know I scared you last time, but I really want to try and get through this. I can’t just sit around here all the time while you three work yourselves to death.”

“I want you to stop immediately if you feel any anxiety, Adam. You could have really injured yourself last time,” Ben said, remembering how Adam had dropped the axe, just missing his foot.

“Sure, Pa. Is there anymore water?” he asked, staring hard at the empty pitcher.

“I’ll fetch us some, older brother.” Hoss said, seeing his brother struggle to maintain his composure.

Ben watched in silence as Adam’s features began to cloud over. The main thing that would set him off would be the lack of water. He always had a cup or canteen with him wherever he went. Ben knew it was because he was often denied the basic needs of food and water, and his instincts now told him it was a precious commodity, never to be without.

“Here you go. Fresh pitcher. So, you say you’re about ready to get started?” Hoss said pouring his brother a full cup.

Adam drained the glass, then filled it again. He carried it with him from the table, his food only half eaten. He had the habit of making Hop Sing keep the rest stored for him; he always felt if he didn’t save some now, there would be none later.

“Let’s go;” Adam said as he headed out the door, grabbing his hat from the desk.

*****

“See, I made it through the whole pile,” Adam said as his father came to stand beside him.

“You sure did; that’s a lot of wood, son.”

“Yeah. He smiled, pleased with himself for finally completing a task. “Where’s Joe?”

“He went to Placerville remember? He won’t be back until the day after tomorrow.”

“Right. You think he’ll get a good price for that stock?”

“I think he’ll do just fine.”

“Well, I’m gonna get washed up, head to town.”

“You sure you want to do this today?”

“I’m sure, Pa. Why don’t you come along? Maybe then you won’t worry so much.”

“I think I’ll do that. Things can take care of themselves here for a day. How about we stop and eat at the International House this evening?”

“Alright, I’ll tell Hop Sing.”

“How’s he doing, Pa?” Hoss asked seeing the wood in a freshly laid pile.

“Seems fine. I think he is doing better today, Hoss, I really do.”

“Think he’s up for a trip to town?”

“About that. I’m gonna join you; thought maybe we would stay in town for dinner. First sign of trouble, though, we head out.”

“Yes sir.”

*****

“Hello Mr. Kent, nice to see you again,” Joe said entering the saloon to clear his throat of the dust that had accumulated there.

“Hi there, Little Joe, what brings you to town?”

“Came to sell some stock. Thought I’d have a drink before I started back home.”

“I see. What’ll it be then?”

“Make it a beer.” Joe looked around; he hadn’t been to Placerville for over a year. His oldest brother usually made the trip. His eyes searched the room, stopping on a tall man with piercing blue eyes. He was standing with a group of people, three men and a rather large female. They were laughing amongst each other. Joe felt his heart rate increase, and his hands began to shake.

“Joe, here’s your beer. How‘s that brother of yours doing? I heard he was kidnapped.”

“That man, what’s his name?” Joe asked, his eyes never leaving the group.

“Cain, James I think. He came into town a little over six months ago. Those five come in here every night. Why, is there something wrong?”

“That’s the man that kidnapped my brother.” Joe whispered quietly, planning his next move.

The bartender looked over the crowd. The place was rather busy tonight, which would serve as good cover.

“Go fetch the sheriff, Joe. Use the back door.”

Joe moved quickly, without a word, disappearing through the backdoor. He rushed towards the sheriff’s office, hoping he was in.

“Sheriff!” Joe called as he hurried into the building.

“In here. What is it?” Sheriff Montgomery stood shuffling papers on his desk.

“I need you to come to the saloon. I’ve found the men that kidnapped my brother!”

*****

“Well Adam Cartwright, it’s good to see you again.” Carol said as she sauntered up to the table.

“You too, Carol.” Adam said, averting his eyes.

“I was wondering when you would come in to town. Hear tell it’s been six months since you’ve been home,” she said, running her hand up and down his arm. “My, are you tense; why don’t you come up to my room later for a massage?”

“Uh Carol, I think that man is calling for you,” Hoss interrupted as he saw his brother’s hands begin to shake.

“Well, duty calls. See me later, understand!” she whispered in his ear, lightly touching his earlobe with her tongue.

“Let’s just head to the International House; we can get a drink there,” Hoss said, grabbing his brother’s arm and lifting him carefully out of the chair. He led Adam out of the saloon and over to the restaurant, keeping a tight hold on his older brother. “See here, Pa’s already waiting on us. Must of finished those errands early.”

Adam remained stiff and silent as they approached the table. Ben recognized the look of rage and terror crossing his son’s features. “What happened, Hoss?”

“Nuthin’, Pa, just a little encounter with Carol. Let’s just sit down and order. Sir, can we get some water?” Hoss motioned to the waiter standing nearby.

“Adam, did you get the mail?” Ben asked hoping to bring his son back into this world.

“Mail?” Adam answered robotically. The waiter arrived with the pitcher and Adam pulled it over to him. He poured himself a glass, and took a sip. His body began to relax as the fear began to leave his body.

“Yeah Pa, we got it. It’s in his saddle bags,” Hoss said, watching his brother begin to relax.

“Good. Anything interesting?”

“I didn’t look. Just put it in the bag,” Adam said, finally meeting his father’s eyes.

Ben ordered their meals as Adam finished off the pitcher of water. The waiter brought another, giving Adam a weary glance.

“Joe should be on his way home now. I wonder how he made out with the stock,” Ben said trying to make conversation.

The food arrived, giving them something else to focus on.

“Well, Ben Cartwright, I haven’t seen you around in a while,” Sheriff Coffee said, approaching the table with a smile.

“Roy, it’s good to see you. How are things?” Ben asked, pausing from his meal.

“Fine, just fine. Little Joe stopped in just before he left; he said things were going well on the ranch.”

“Yes, we had a good run of luck lately. It seems we may…” Ben stopped, seeing his friends face fill with confusion. Looking towards where his eyes were directed, he noticed Adam eating his steak with his hands. He was eating quickly, then scooping potatoes into his full mouth, as if his plate could disappear.

“Adam,” Ben said quietly, seeing others beginning to stare. “Your fork, son.”

Adam stopped eating instantly as he felt Hoss touch his left arm. He felt eyes on him as he wiped his hands on his napkin. His face reddened, and he stared hard at the remaining food on his plate. “Sorry, Pa.”

“Well, it was nice to see you, Ben. I have to get going. I’m supposed to be receiving a telegram from Placerville; it sounded important. Excuse me.”

Pushing his plate away, Adam downed another glass of water, then refilled his cup.

*****

“How’s that brother of yours, Cartwright?” James Cain laughed as he sat in a jail cell.

“Don’t you say a word about my brother. I should kill you where you stand.”

The group now laughed as Joe was held back by the sheriff.

“Now Joe, I can’t have that kind of talk in here. If you can’t control yourself, then you need to wait outside. I’ll be through with the questioning soon enough.”

“You’ll hang for what you’ve done!” Joe yelled as he was escorted from the building.

*****

The three men arrived back to the ranch; it had been a quiet ride. Adam grabbed the mail and quickly headed into the house. He could feel himself start to slip away as he dismounted from his horse. His breathing became shallow, and he was sweating profusely.

“I’ll take care of your horse, Adam; go on inside. You don’t look so good.”

“Thank you,” he said as he stumbled towards the house. Making it inside, he laid the mail on his father’s desk and collapsed onto the settee. He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling as he fought against the painful hallucinations that were trying to consume him. Glancing towards the hearth, his eyes caught the shiny epee’s that hung there. Forcing his memories to the time the epee’s arrived, he fought of the impending panic attack.

*****

“Adam, could you help me hang these?” Marie asked, dragging his favorite blue chair towards the fire place.

“What are they?” he asked, taking one of the swords from her.

“It’s called an epee; they are commonly used in sword fighting, you know, duels and such.”

“Wow, can I try one?”

She paused, looking over the skinny boy with raven hair. He was fourteen now, all arms and legs. He gave her his dimpled smile, and she couldn’t resist. It wasn’t often he asked to try anything of hers, other than her guitar. “Just be careful. Make sure you keep it pointed away from you.”

“Look at this. Do I look like a real sword fighter?” Adam laughed as he pivoted forward on his right foot.

“You would make a wonderful swordsman, Adam. Now let’s get these hung and out of your brother’s reach.”

“Yes ma’am. Could we practice sometimes? I mean when Joe’s asleep?”

“We’ll see. I don’t know how your father will feel about your learning to fence.”

*****

“You have a letter here, Adam, from New York,” Ben said, breaking Adam’s trance.

“From New York?” he said, taking the letter from his father and giving one last glance to the epees. “What could this be about?”

“Well, open it and see,” Ben laughed as his son tore into the letter.

“It’s from Judy. She and Jimmy are having a baby; they want me to visit.”

“To visit them in New York!”

“I know it’s a long way, but it would be nice to see them again. It’s been six years now, Pa.”

“But you can’t seriously consider going all the way to New York. Not now, not yet.”

“I’m not planning to leave tomorrow or anything, but I won’t just disregard the idea,” Adam said gruffly. He hated that he knew he would never make it that far alone; he barely made it to Virginia City and back without having an attack.

“I’m not saying you should disregard the idea, I just don’t think now is the right time. They’ll understand; just write them and explain that you simply can’t make it any time soon.”

“I can’t believe they’re having a baby. I wonder how they’re getting along?” Adam thought dreamily, turning once again to stare at the epee’s above the fireplace.

*****

“C’mon Adam, they’ll never even know. I’ve always wanted to hold one,” Judy said, pushing the chair under the epees on the wall.

“It’s not your hide on the line. If Pa finds out, he’ll tan me good. Let’s just pretend; we can use sticks like always.”

“Look, they come off so easy. Here, take this one.”

“Judy, hang it back up. Pa won’t even let Marie give me lessons; he’s gonna kill me!” Adam said, holding the epee as Judy jumped from the chair with an epee of her own.

“Enguard, sir knight. Prepare for battle!” Judy lunged forward; Adam blocked, more from instinct than wanting to play.

“You handle a sword nicely; soon you may be king,” she laughed as the battle continued.

Soon Adam was laughing along with her as they battled around the great room. The battle finished; Adam played out the death scene, falling to the floor and pretending to writhe in pain. “Et tu, Judy, then fall Adam!” he said as he rolled his head to the side, tongue protruding from his mouth.

She took the sword from him, and hung them carefully in their rightful position. “See, didn’t I tell you no one would ever find out!” She smiled as she lay down beside him on the floor.

“You better hope not,” he said standing as he heard footsteps approaching the porch.

*****

“You know, Judy and I had several sword fights through the years,” Adam said, looking over to his father who was sitting in his red leather chair near the fire. “Hoss caught us once. I told him if you found out, I would tell you about the time he dressed Little Joe in ma’s undergarments.”

“What do you mean you had sword fights? And Hoss did what to Joe!” Ben bellowed, holding his pipe out in front of him.

Adam laughed hard, letting the laughter rise up from his belly. Tears came to his eyes as he gripped his sides.

“What’s so funny?” Hoss asked, entering the great room and staring at the angry eyes of his father and his brother who was doubled over in laughter.

“Your older and supposedly mature older brother just informed me that you walked in on he and Judy in the middle of a sword fight, and that you dressed your little brother up in his mother’s undergarments.”

“ADAM! YOU SAID WE’D NEVER TELL ABOUT THAT!” Hoss hollered, his face turning red from embarrassment.

Adam only laughed harder, wiping his eyes and stomping his foot on the floor.

Ben and Hoss exchanged smiles; this was the first time Adam had laughed since he had been home. They tried to hold their angry stare, but soon were consumed in laughter.

Hop Sing stood in the kitchen, watching the scene unfold in front of him. He himself knew of the many battles in the great room. Joe and Hoss had often fenced while Ben was out of the house. His eyes filled with tears as the laughter once again echoed throughout the house. He knew that now the real healing would begin.

*****

“Well, he’s denying any involvement in the kidnapping. Ain’t nothing to do but have it go to trial.”

“WHAT! YOU HEARD HIM! He was mocking me. ‘How’s your brother, Cartwright?’ You don’t call that a confession of sorts!”

“Now Joe, you know darn well everyone within 5000 miles heard of your brother’s kidnapping. Him asking about it is not substantial evidence.”

“It’s him, I know it’s him. He tied me up; my father and brother were unconscious on the floor. He was standing over them. IT WAS HIM!”

“Well, it’s his word against yours. You being the only witness, that is not enough for me to hang the man. I will keep him locked up, but it will have to go to trial.”

“What about Adam?”

“What do you mean what about Adam?”

“He’s a witness, he’s a victim.”

“He’ll be called to testify. I’m doing everything I can; I’ve sent a wire to Virginia City. I’m asking Adam come out here to testify. It’s too risky to try and shuttle the group back there.”

“Adam come here? I don’t know if that’s possible. He hasn’t even been to Virginia City!”

“Well, if he testifies, Cain and his crew are sure to hang. Otherwise, with one witness testimony, it could end up a hung jury.”

*****

“Pa, you remember that time Adam tried to make a cake for your birthday? He had Hop Sing’s kitchen such a mess, Hop Sing had his bags packed. We had to promise never to set foot in his kitchen again.” Hoss laughed as they sat reminiscing. It was so good to hear Adam laughing again; they had not wanted the night to end.

“I worked hard on that dang cake. How was I supposed to know not to cook over the fire? That’s how we cooked everything on the trail!”

“That’s right. You were so excited to show me my present. When I walked towards that fire, I could smell the eggs cooking. You must have used two dozen!”

Laughter continued as Ben got up to answer the door. He wondered who would be visiting at this hour.

“Hi Ben, sorry to come out here so late,” Roy Coffee said as he walked in out of the rain.

“What brings you out here? Didn’t we just see you in town?”

“Sure did. It’s about that wire I was supposed to receive.”

“Well, come in, take off your coat. When did it start raining?”

“Oh just about an hour ago; you know how them storm’s just come up.”

“Please sit down.”

Roy sat in Adam’s blue chair. The two brothers were laughing, Hoss on the floor in front of the settee, Adam stretched out above him.

“Looks like I walked in to a good time,” Roy said as he listened to the banter surrounding him.

“I was just reminding Hoss of the time he and Joe tried to dig their way to China. They said it would be easier for Hop Sing to travel back and forth since he always wanted to go there.”

“Yeah, well, you could of stopped us you know. We dug that hole for three days straight, ‘fore Pa caught us.”

“Caught you! I fell in that darn hole and twisted my ankle.”

“Those boys sure did get into a heap of trouble, didn’t they,” Roy laughed, trying to figure out how to pass his bad news lightly.

“I’m sorry, Roy, you had something you wanted to speak with us about?”

“Yes Ben, I don’t rightly know how to tell you. It’s good news and bad news in a way.”

“Well, out with it, Roy. You didn’t come all the way out here in the rain to stall, did you?”

Adam stared silently at him from the settee. His eyes full of laughter only minutes ago now showed dark as he waited for the news.

“It was a wire from Placerville. It seems Joe found Adam’s kidnappers. They’re being held there, ‘til the trial.”

The room went silent. Everyone looked to Adam, who had gone pale. Sweat had formed on his brow, and his hands shook.

“When is the trial?”

“As soon as Adam can get there.”

“ADAM! WHY DO THEY NEED ADAM, THEY HAVE JOSEPH TO TESTIFY!”

“It seems the group accused has an alibi. It’s Joe’s word against theirs. That’s not enough for a sure conviction, Ben. It would be helpful if you all would testify.”

“I don’t know if he can make it that far, Roy.” Ben whispered quietly seeing Adam’s gaze fixed once again on the ceiling.

“Well, let’s hope he can. I would hate to have those five on the loose.”

Thunder echoed throughout the house as the storm intensified. The room was illuminated by lighting, as Hop Sing came in with coffee.

“Hop Sing have room all ready. Sheriff stay here tonight. Storm too bad for travel.”

“I don’t want to impose.”

“Don’t be silly. You’re not imposing. Hop Sing’s right; you’ll stay in the guest room.”

“Thank you, Ben.” The sheriff said as he glanced at Adam who had not moved since Cain’s name was spoken.

*****

“NO! GET OFF ME! PLEASE!”

Roy woke up with a start as screams of terror filled the house. Running towards the sound, he found himself in Adam’s room. Ben was holding him down as Adam struggled hard against him.

“Ben?”

“Stay there! Hoss, get in here quick!” Ben shouted as Adam gained the upper hand, knocking him to the floor.

Hoss was on top of him in a minute. Holding him down by the shoulders, he waited for the new storm to pass.

“I WON’T DO IT! GO AHEAD AND KILL ME, YOU BASTARD!”

“Ben, how can I help?”

“You can’t help, Roy; just stay where you are. He’ll come out of it soon.”

“PLEASE DON’T HURT HER; SHE’S JUST A LITTLE GIRL.”

“Pa, he’s losing steam. I think you should talk to him now.

Ben knelt down in front of his son. Adam’s eyes were wide open and staring, though it was not his father he saw in front of him.

“Adam, it’s Pa. You’re home now, you’re safe.”

“SHE’S HURT! HELP HER, PLEASE HELP HER!”

“Adam, there is no girl here. You are in your room. I need you to focus, son, look at me.”

Adam continued to struggle, though his eyes started to focus on his surroundings. Tears spilled from his eyes as he caught sight of his mother’s music box.

“Pa?”

“Yes, Adam, I’m right here.”

“She’s dead?”

“Who Adam? Who’s dead?” Roy intervened, his instinct of being sheriff taking over.

“The little girl. He killed her. PA!”

“Shhh, it’s okay now, Adam. You’re home; you need to get back into bed.”

Hoss released his hold, helping his brother into a sitting position. “We need to get him cleaned up, Pa. Can you see the sheriff back to his room?”

“Come on, Roy, we’ll talk about it on the way,” Ben said, watching Hoss help Adam remove his nightshirt.

Roy stared at the puddle on the floor. He couldn’t believe this was the same Adam Cartwright he had known since he was a child. “Is it like this every night?” He asked trying to push the screams from his memory.

“It was getting better. But now with the trial…”

“I’m sorry, Ben; I had no idea it was this bad.”

“It’s bad. It’s been worse than that. No one knows what happened out there. Besides these outbursts, he hasn’t spoken about it at all.”

“Do you think he’ll make it to the trial?”

“I don’t know, Roy, I just don’t know.”

*****

“He can’t make it, Pa; you saw him last night. He hasn’t said a word all day. We have to tell the sheriff he can’t make it.”

“We can’t leave him alone while we go. What are we going to do with him?”

“Hop Sing’s here. Somebody has to testify with Joe.”

“Hop Sing can’t protect him when he goes into a rage.”

“I’m going,” Adam said stepping behind his father and brother, followed by Roy Coffee.

“Adam, I…

“I’m going.”

“But you…”

“That’s enough, Hoss. We have to leave now if we want to make it there by Friday.” Adam walked out the door carrying his bedroll with him.

“You put him up to this?” Ben asked, walking up to his old friend.

“No, he came into my room and told me to get ready. He wants me to go with you to Placerville.”

“Then who’ll take over your duty in the town?”

“Clem can handle it. I told him I may end up going with you.”

“So you knew this would happen all along!”

“After what I saw last night, Ben, I would say I know nothing.”

*****

The three galloped along the trail. Adam was in the lead, and he was making good time. His heart was racing as fast as his horse; he knew they could not keep up this pace much longer. Coming up to Palmer’s Creek, he pulled his horse into a canter, allowing the other’s to catch up. “We better let the horses rest here. There’s not another creek for ten miles. We’ll need to stock up on water,” he said as Hoss pulled his horse up beside him.

“You in a race, older brother? Seems to me you’re running these horses and yourself awful hard. Those men ain’t going no where. The sheriff said he would keep ‘em locked up ‘til the trial.”

“Just want to get there, that’s all. The sooner we get there, the sooner this will all be over.”

“Decided to camp here for the night?” Ben asked as he rode up with Sheriff Coffee.

“Thought it be nice to have water nearby,” Adam said, drinking the last of his canteen.

“You’ll need to go easy on that, son. There won’t be any more fresh water for ten miles.”

Adam walked towards the creek refilling his canteen, and ignoring his father’s comment. A shadow crossed his face as he stared off towards the plains to the east.

*****

“Thirsty yet, Cartwright! You sure look thirsty to me. How long it been Jake?”

“Oh, I’d guess it to be about five days now.”

“How long can a person go without water, you think?”

“I reckon about five days.” Jake laughed as Adam coughed, his throat raw from lack of water for too many days.

“Should we give ‘im a drink?”

“Seems fair. He’s been pretty quiet these past few days.”

“You hear that, Cartwright? Carter said he thinks you should have a drink.”

Adam’s eyes closed against his tormenters. This was a game they played often. They would offer him food or water just to take it away in the next instant. He prayed this time he would get enough water to quench his never-ending thirst.

“Here, take it slow. Don’t want you to go dying on me now. We ain’t through playin’ with you yet. Matter of fact, Cain said he thinks we could keep you alive this way for another year or so. What do you think?”

Adam followed instructions and drank slowly. He stored extra water in his mouth, but swallowed slowly. This was a trick he had learned. Eating or drinking too quickly could result in a beating; if they didn’t see his Adam’s apple rise and fall too quickly, he was able to retain a little more sustenance.

“Bring over some of that rabbit, Jake, Cartwright here must be pretty hungry too. You ought to be thankful; bet you could go another four days or so without food. I thought I’d cut you a break, seeing as how it’s Christmas and all.”

He slowly ate the meat he was given. He chewed each bite carefully, knowing he would need to make it last. Christmas, he thought. Was it December already? They had traveled into California, the weather had turned cool, but he was used to a white Christmas. His thoughts went to his family as he forced himself to stay conscious as he finished his small meal.

*****

“I said, you think we should set up camp here?” Hoss tapped his brother’s shoulder as he caught him slipping away.

“Huh? Oh right. No, I think up on that ridge there. If it rains again, it’s possible this clearing could flood.”

“Right, older brother. Help me unload the supplies then.”

“How is he really, Ben? He seems a little out there sometimes. Is he able to help around the ranch?” Roy Coffee asked as he and his friend went to gather firewood.

“He’s getting there. He has trouble staying focused; sometimes he looses track of what he’s doing. When that happens, we usually find him off in the woods, or down by the water.”

“What’s he doing then?”

“Just staring off. If you speak to him, he usually comes back around. It embarrasses him, though, so I try just to let him come back unnoticed.”

“I can’t imagine Adam having trouble focusing on anything. He was always a stickler for getting a job done, and doing it quickly.”

“Yes, I think that’s why he gets embarrassed. He tries to set an example and well, that’s hard when he can’t finish what he started.”

“You think this trial will help him find closure?”

“I pray it does, Roy. It keeps me awake at night.”

*****

“He ain’t gonna show, Cartwright. That brother of yours is crazy as they come. It’s doing no good keeping me here. No jury will convict me with just your word. Why don’t you just let us on out of here Sheriff!” Cain said as he stood in front of the cell bars. His posse sat behind him on the beds; they laughed with Cain as he mocked the youngest Cartwright.

“He’ll show, and you’ll hang for what you did. What’ll you do when he shows up? You’ll know your life is over. How does that feel?”

“I hope he does show up. I got a few things I need to tell him yet,” Cain smiled a sinister smile, causing Little Joe to rise from his seat.

“Sit down, Joe. Matter of fact, why don’t you go see where our dinner is? You need to cool off,” the sheriff instructed as he grabbed Joe’s shoulder, keeping him from approaching the bars.

“You’ll never get away with it, Cain. He’ll show, and you’ll pay!” Joe shouted as he was pushed out the door.

*****

“Time to bed down, boys,” Ben said as he positioned Adam between he and Hoss.

“I want to move out at dawn. Maybe we’ll get there by tomorrow night, if we ride through,” Adam said, laying on his bedroll, facing his father.

“That’s a long ride. I know you’re in a hurry, but there’s no call to risk the horses.”

“Well, let’s just see how far we get. That’s a fair deal, ain’t it?” Coffee intervened as he felt tension mount between father and son.

“That’s fair, let’s just see,” Ben said, smiling and rolling to face the opposite direction of his son. He knew Adam wanted to get there quickly, but he had to think of the others on the trip. They had at least another day and a half’s ride in front of them.

“Fine,” Adam said, characteristically getting the final word in.

Hoss smiled as he lay next to his brother. He could hear the pout in his voice; it reminded Hoss of when they we’re children and Adam didn’t get his way over something. Most of the pouting started when Marie had come into the picture.

*****

“Hey Adam, Ma say’s we’re gonna have a picnic Saturday. The town’s having a celebration she said. It’s gonna be Indy……..Ind…….Indespence Day!”

“Independence Day, Hoss. We’ll go into town and watch the fireworks. They’ll be games, and food. Don’t you remember last year?”

“No, I was just a baby then. I’m five now, I’ll be sure to remember next year.”

“I doubt it, little brother. You can’t even remember where you leave your boots half the time.”

“I do too, I lay ’em right in front of the door now.”

“HOSS, COME MOVE THESE BOOTS!” Ben shouted as he tripped entering the house once again.

“SORRY PA!” Hoss replied as he ran towards the door.

“Get up Adam, it’s Indepants Day!”

Adam groaned and rolled over, hiding his head below the sheets.

“C’mon. We got to load the wagon. Pa said I could help.”

“It’s barely light outside. It’s Saturday; we’re supposed to sleep in,” he grumbled, keeping his eyes closed.

“But it’s Indepants Day. There’s gonna be a party!”

“In-de-pen-dence Day, Hoss. Just cause there’s a party doesn’t mean we have to get up so early. Go back to bed; Pa’s not even up yet.”

“So, Ma is, and she’s making that gingerbread you like so much. Don’t know why; I like those cookies with the sugar on ’em the best.”

“Go away!”

“Adam!”

“Go away or climb in here with me and shut up!”

“Um, you ain’t supposed to say that, Adam. Pa’ll be mad if he hears.”

“Well, he’s sleeping so he ain’t gonna hear. Now what’s it gonna be? You getting in this bed and going back to sleep or am I gonna have to throw you out a my room!”

Hoss looked at the door, and back at his brother. Seeing Adam start to stand up, he jumped into the bed, snuggling under the covers. “I’ll sleep here brother. What you reckon they’re gonna have to eat at this picnic?”

“Oh brother!” Adam said, knowing he wasn’t going to get any more sleep in this morning.

“What? Uh Adam? You said, ’Oh brother.’ What is it?”

“Adam, don’t forget your coat; it looks like it might rain.” Marie said as the boys bounded out to the wagon.

“It’s not gonna rain. It’s warm enough not to need a coat anyway,” Adam said, arguing with his stepmother for the umpteenth time that morning.

“No arguing; now go. You are not getting in this wagon without a coat.”

“Fine!” he said jutting his lip out as he often did when he didn’t get his way.

Lookey there, Adam, they got six tables just full of food. I bet there’s all kinds of cakes and pies. Can we eat first, Pa? I’m starving!”

“You are not starving, Hoss; I wish you wouldn’t say that. Some people actually are starving you know.”

“Sorry Pa. Can we eat first?”

“I wanna go find Ross; we’re gonna play horseshoes.”

“Let’s eat first; then you can go find Ross.”

“But he might find another partner. Can’t I eat later?”

“I would like us to eat as a family, Adam. You’ll still have plenty of time to play with your friends,” Marie answered taking Hoss’ hand and heading towards the tables filled with food.

“I didn’t ask you!” Adam answered quietly, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“What was that, young man?”

“Nothing, Pa. Let’s eat,” Adam said, sticking his lip out once again.

“Adam, it’s time to come back to the wagon. The rain’s coming!” Ben shouted, seeing his son playing leap frog with his friends.

“Just a few more minutes, Pa?” Adam shouted as he leapt over his friend.

“No, now. We need to load the wagon and get started for home.”

“But Pa!”

“If you but Pa me one more time, yours is gonna be aching. Come over here now. You’ll see your friends tomorrow at church.”

“Fine!” He said, scowling as he left his group of friends.

“You need a nap, Adam?”

“No, I don’t take naps. I’m eleven, Hoss, not five!”

“Well, Ma’s gonna make you take a nap if you keep on pouting. She said when little boys can’t keep their lip up, it needs a rest.”

“Oh, just shut up, Hoss!” Adam whispered, poking his brother in the side.

*****

Hoss smiled as he remembered his brother being sent to bed early that night. He put up quite a fight, which resulted in the loss of privileges. For the next week, Adam was confined to the yard, not allowed to go past the barn. He remembered his mother whispering that a bird might just poop on that lip if it hung out any further.

Ben woke with a start. He felt a body pushed up against him, and his body shook with the amount of force the body was trembling. Rolling over, he faced his oldest son. Adam was curled into the fetal position, his hands covering his head. “Adam,” he whispered carefully, not wanting to startle his son.

“Pa?”

“Yes it’s me. Are you okay?”

“No.”

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I’m…I…What if…….?” Adam stumbled along, unable to say what he was really feeling.

Ben waited patiently, knowing Adam was scared, but would never admit to being so. He thought about Adam leaving for college. The night before the stage was to leave, Adam was nowhere to be found. Looking in the last place he thought he would find him in the middle of the day, he walked into his oldest son’s room. Adam was laying on his stomach, backwards on the bed, his chin resting in his hands.

*****

“What are you doing here?” Ben asked, smiling as his son looked up at him through his thick black lashes.

“Just thinking Pa.”

“Oh, about what?”

“Things. Leaving.”

“Aaahh, having second thoughts?”

“Maybe.”

“What are you worried about?”

“I don’t’ know. Everything I guess. What if something happens on the stage? What if I get there and Grandfather decides he doesn’t want me to stay with him? What if Judy forgets who I am? I’m not gonna know anybody.”

“That sounds like a lot to worry about. I understand your being scared, son. It’s a long way to travel alone. But, I’m sure everything will work out.”

“I’m not scared, Pa.”

“Okay, worried.”

“Worried, but not scared. I never said anything about being scared.”

“Alright Adam, I understand. You’re nervous about leaving…”

“Worried.”

“Worried, scared, nervous…”

“Pa!”

“What? I meant me!”

Adam laughed, his father pushing him over on the bed.

“When I left for the sea the first time, I worried the same as you. I remember crying when we pulled away from the bay, and blaming my tears on the salt water. After a few days, when I knew what to expect, I felt much better. I still missed home, my friends. But, I made new friends, and soon I thought of them as my family. It’ll be fine, Adam, you’ll see. Why don’t you come on downstairs? You’re little brother wanted you to show him how to lasso again.”

When he stood up to leave the room, Adam had risen also. He pulled his father into a tight hug, whispering a quiet thank you as they walked down the stairs.

*****

“Adam, we’ll be together through this whole thing. You don’t have to face this alone, ya know.”

“I know, Pa, it’s just that…well…I’m worried about how I’ll react when I see them again. I don’t know if I can face them. What if I freeze up, or slip away?”

“Then we’ll be there to hold you up. Have I ever let you down before?”

“No, never. It just doesn’t seem real, you know. It’s kind of like we’re camping, only I’m scared to death. It feels like it was only an hour ago that we were all together, fighting over the juiciest steak. It was all so different then. I get home, and it looks like it always did. Only I’m on the outside looking in. I’m afraid most mornings that it’s all a dream. I’m really still out there, fighting for my life. How do I know this is all real, that you’re real, or Hoss?”

“Because you can feel it, son. Deep down, you know what’s real, and what’s in the past. I’m praying this is a new beginning for you, Adam. A way to leave everything else behind.”

“I’m praying too, Pa. Only I’m praying that when it comes down to it, and I’m faced with the past, I’ll have enough control that I won’t kill these men with my bare hands.”

*****

“Today’s the day Cain, my family should be here by noon,” Joe said smiling as he stared at the group in the jail cell.

“He ain’t gonna show, I done told you that. Besides, I’m innocent.” Cain delivered his sinister smile as quiet chuckles echoed behind him.

Joe stood to check outside once again. He knew they would be arriving anytime. He hoped to intercept his brother before he confronted the men in the cell. Hearing hoof beats echoing in the distance, he brought his hand up to shield his eyes from the blazing sun.

*****

“That’s Joe, Pa. See, he’s waiting on us,” Hoss said as he checked behind him for his older brother and the sheriff.

“Sure is. Boy, am I glad to see him. I was hoping he didn’t take matters into his own hands before we got here.”

“Me too. Little brother sure has a temper on him; I wonder how he managed it.”

“Adam, are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you have a choice. Your father and brothers can testify as witnesses; there’s a good chance they’ll get convicted just by their testimonies.”

“There’s also a chance they would be let go. I can’t let that happen. No, I have to testify. I just don’t know how I’m gonna…I don’t want Pa to know…”

“Your Pa will be fine. You just focus on yourself, son. When we see these men, I just want you to be sure not to do anything rash. You’ll land yourself in trouble if you take the law into your own hands.”

Roy watched as a shadow crept across Adam’s face. He could tell he was slipping away into memories, and he reacted quickly to bring him out of it. “Adam, you remember that time I came to visit the Ponderosa, and found you and Hoss covered head to toe in hog manure?”

Adam shook his head, coming back to reality. “I do remember. Pa was out with the ranch hands, and Hoss and I were supposed to be cleaning out the pens.”

“Instead, you two urchins got into a wrestling match. When I rode up, you had Hoss pinned face down in the manure you were supposed to be cleaning up.”

“That’s right. I was sitting on his back to keep him pinned down.”

“What were you two fighting about? I don’t think I ever asked.”

“Hoss thought it would be funny to fling the mud at me. It hit me in the back of the head. He just laughed and laughed, at least until I shut his mouth with a fist full of manure.”

Roy laughed picturing the ten year old and the four year old caked with mud and yuck. The only thing clean on their bodies was their eyes, wide and pleading with the sheriff not to tell their father.

“It took probably twenty buckets of water each to get you boys clean enough to go in the house.”

“That water was freezing. But, it saved my hide from a tanning. Pa never did find out about that day.”

“Nope, that was our little secret, wasn’t it? You know, you boys don’t know how much pleasure you brought me, seeing you grow up. I always felt like a sort of uncle to you boys.”

“You are like an uncle, Roy. I appreciate everything you’ve done for us over the years.”

“Roy, Adam. Glad to see you!” Joe said as his oldest brother and the sheriff approached.

“Joe. Sorry it took so long. That’s not an easy ride.”

“No, it isn’t Adam. You made good time. You feeling okay?”

“Okay. Where are they?”

“Now, I don’t want you to get yourself all wound up. There in the cell, all four of them. I don’t think…”

“There were five.”

“Five?”

“Suzie.”

“Suzie?”

“The woman that was with them. She’s not here?”

“No Adam, there we’re only four of them in the saloon. All men. I didn’t know a woman was involved.”

Adam’s eyes turned nearly black as he realized one of his tormenters were still free. “I want to see them,” he said, walking quickly past his little brother.

“No Adam, let us go in first. You come in behind us,” Ben said gripping his son’s arm as he walked past.

“LET GO!” Adam yelled as he tried to free himself from his father’s strong grasp.

“You are not going in first, Adam. Roy, you go on ahead.”

Roy did as instructed. He walked towards the entrance of the jail watching the look of pure hatred enter Adam’s eyes.

“Now you listen to me. You have every right to want to kill these men, but that is not the way this is going to go down. You will remain here until you get control of yourself, then we’ll go in together,” Ben said as he whispered into his son’s ear.

“I’m not going to kill them Pa. They’re behind bars. I just want to be sure that we have the right men.”

“That’s fine. But the look in your eyes says something different. I want you to calm down before we go in.”

Adam struggled once more against his father’s grasp. His heart rate was increasing, and his hands were shaking. He knew he had to get himself under control. Pushing all thoughts from his mind, he focused on his breathing. His body began to relax, and with it so did Ben’s heavy grasp.

After a few long minutes he faced his father. His eyes shown brown once again and he nodded to indicate he was ready.

Walking slowly to the door, Adam held it open for his father. He saw the room nearly full — Little Joe, Hoss, Roy and his father standing protectively around him.

“You ready, Adam?” the sheriff in charge of the prisoner’s asked as he stepped toward the door leading to the cells.

“Ready,” Adam said, keeping himself in check, though he was struggling.

The group walked through the doors, Adam leading the way. His family remained close behind to intervene at the first sign of trouble.

“Who’s this?” Cain asked standing as the group approached.

“Don’t play dumb, Cain; you know who this is., Joe said being held back by sheriff Coffee.

“I’ve never seen this man before in my life. Told you, I had nothing to do with what I’m accused of.”

“She didn’t die, Cain.” Adam said as his arms burned wanting to reach for the throat of the man before him.

“What?” Cain asked, his voice cracking and his face turning red.

“The little girl. I thought she did, but now I remember. She ran off into the woods. You didn’t kill her. You never could do anything right.” His voice was low but unthreatening.

“I…I…I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do. She was what, maybe eleven years old? I saw her a minute ago, in town. I didn’t realize it until now. It was her all the same. You’re gonna hang, Cain. You and your posse.”

“Get this man out of my sight. He’s insane. I have no idea what he’s talking about!” Cain said, turning his back on the man in black. The posse watched him menacingly, wondering if what he said was true.

“I have to go, Pa. We have to go find her. She can be another witness,”

Adam said turning to leave the room. His mind was focused on the mission ahead of him. He had tried hard to save that girls life and keep her from harm. He had nearly been killed because of it. It had earned him a broken hand. That was his punishment for interfering in the abuse of the young child.

Adam pushed his way quickly out of the room. Running to his horse, he sped back to where he had seen the child. She was in front of the mercantile, her eyes hollow and staring as he slowly approached.

“Abigail?” Adam said as he dismounted and walked slowly towards the girl.

“Can I help you, mister?” A stranger asked as he put his arms around the girl.

“She made it. She made it out alive. I prayed she would, I…”

“Who are you? What do you want with my daughter?” the man asked again as he stepped between the two.

“Adam?” The girl whispered, stepping side ways to see around her father.

“Yes, Adam. I knew it was you. Are you alright?” he said reaching towards her hand.

“She’s fine. How do you know my daughter, mister?” the man said, watching the exchange.

“He’s the man that helped me in the woods, father. That man would of killed me if it wasn’t for Adam. He stopped the log before it hit me too hard. I fell, and then I heard Adam scream. After that I laid real still, hoping they’d leave me alone. Are you okay?” she asked, looking him over quickly.

“I’m okay now that I know you made it. Listen, sir. The men that kidnapped us are in that jail over there. There’s gonna be a trial tomorrow. It would be helpful if your daughter would give a statement to the judge.”

The man looked over to the jail. His eyes focused only on the sign above the door. Without speaking a word, he took his daughter by the shoulders and led her quickly away.

“Well, you tried Adam. With your testimony, we’re sure to get the results we’re seeking. We better head to the judges office to let him know you’re here,” Ben said placing a comforting hand on his son’s shoulder. He felt Adam shudder once again, and his eye’s never left the father and child who we’re now riding quickly out of town.

“We’ve got to find her, Pa. She’s got to be there.”

“Son, I don’t think her father wants her involved.”

“Not the girl Pa. Suzie. She deserves to hang for what she did to that child.”

“We’ll ask around. But, we can hold the trial without her for now. It’s better to get this over with as quickly as possible son.”

“I know. God, I know.” Adam said, walking away as the father and daughter disappeared from sight.

*****

“Judge, this is the man we’ve been waiting for. This is Adam Cartwright,” the sheriff said as the men entered the judge’s office.

“Adam Cartwright. Glad you could make it.”

“Thank you, Judge. This is my family: Ben Cartwright, Hoss, and Joe. This is Roy Coffee, sheriff of Virginia City.”

“Glad to meet you, gentlemen. I’m sorry to rush you, but we don’t have much time to talk. Adam, I want you to understand that you will be expected to tell the entire story from beginning to end. Then, you will be cross-examined by the defense attorney. Your brother tells me that you’ve had a hard time of it. I need to be sure you are going to be able to get through this trial. It could be long and drawn out, depending on what the defense has in store.

“I’ll be fine. It’s true I’ve had a hard time these past six months. But, I will get through the testimony. I have one request however…”

Adam was interrupted as a loud boom rang out. Screams were heard in the street as everyone rushed towards the door. Adam remained where he was, his mind reeling.

“I don’t want my family to be present when I testify…” Adam finished to the empty room.

“It’s the jail! Somebody’s done gone and blown it up!” A man screamed as the group rushed towards the commotion.

Ben searched for Adam, not seeing him with the group. “Hoss, your brother. Go check on Adam!” he called, praying his son was still in the judge’s office, and not in a fit of hysteria.

“Adam? You okay, big brother?” Hoss asked entering the judge’s office and seeing his brother standing in the middle of the room.

“What was it?” Adam asked, wringing his hands together.

“Someone blew up the jail. It don’t look good Adam. I can’t imagine anyone would have survived,” Hoss said walking a step closer to his brother.

“They’re dead?”

“I think so.”

“There won’t be a trial? I don’t have to testify?”

“No, those men are most likely dead, Adam. It’s all over,” Hoss said taking another step towards his brother.

Adam felt the tension leave his body as a feeling of relief overwhelmed him. He couldn’t stop the tears that slipped from his eyes. He felt himself pulled into his brother’s arms. His large body enveloped him, and Adam allowed himself to relax in his brother’s embrace.

“It’s okay now, Adam. Them men won’t be able to hurt anybody else.”

“Hoss! Is he here?” Ben called as he rushed back into the office.

“He’s here, Pa.” Hoss said, still holding his brother.

“They’re dead Adam, all of them. They’re laid out. Would you like to see them? Will it help?”

“I wanna see ‘em, Pa. Just give me a minute. Keep little Joe out of here,” Adam said pulling away from his brother and trying to collect himself.

“PA!”

“Just a minute, Joe. We’ll be right out,” Ben called, granting Adam’s wish. “You ready?” he asked seeing his son turn towards the door.

“I’m ready,” Adam said, his voice still shaking.

Adam led the way as the men walked slowly behind him. They knew he would want his privacy, if it got too much for him to handle. He walked up to the covered bodies, seeing four in a row. He knew by their size which one was Cain. He lifted the sheet, looking over the charred remains of the man that had scarred him for life. Even though the body was nearly unrecognizable, Adam knew that this was him. He covered him again with the sheet, then stood above the bodies. The sheriff came to stand beside him. “Guess you can go on home, son. Won’t be no trial now. Gotta find out who did this.”

Adam grunted a response as he surveyed the crowd that had gathered. His eyes met that of the man who had led away the young girl only a few minutes before. Their eye’s met for a brief moment, the man giving Adam a slight nod. Adam nodded in response, then turned towards his family. “Let’s go home,” he said as he walked towards his horse, leaving the bodies behind him.

*****

“Here Adam, you got some mail,” Hoss said, laying the mail on the dinner table as his brother washed up at the basin.

“Thanks, Hoss. Did you see Joe’s face today; I’ve never seen him so flustered.”

“Well, big brother, it’s not often that a person can jump over a rolling log.”

“Still don’t know how I managed that. I just reacted.”

“I’m just glad to see you got your reflexes back. You could have been killed today.”

“Yeah, Joe looked at me as if I were a ghost,” Adam laughed, remembering his brother backing away from him for a moment.

“Hey, that reminds me of that prank we played on little Joe when you got back from college.”

“I don’t know if I remember. What’d we do?”

*****

“We gotta get him back. No way is he gonna get off scott free. I still can’t get that smell out of my bed.”

“I know. Hop Sing has been raving mad; when you threw that sheet in with the other laundry, it made all of it smell like skunk. My favorite shirt was in that pile.”

“Well, we gotta get him back, that’s for sure. You got any plans?”

“You remember a while back when we were talking about old man Taylor’s haunted house?”

“Yeah. He was sure scared, though he wouldn’t let on.”

“Right, well I was thinking, what if we made that ghost come to life.”

“How we gonna do that, Adam?”

“Just stick with me, big little brother.”

“Adam? Hoss? You guys here?” Hop Sing!” Joe called, feeling like enough time had passed for him to return home without the fear of retaliation. “Pa?”

He walked towards the stairs, wondering if his brothers were in Adam’s room. Hoss sometimes went in there when they wanted to be alone. He walked in without knocking, just to get his brother’s goat. “Adam?” he asked into the empty room. Walking through the rest of the house, he realized it was empty. “Where’d everybody go?”

He walked back into the great room and sat in Adam’s blue chair by the fire. He knew everyone was angry with him for the incident with the skunk, but surely they wouldn’t just leave the ranch without him. He watched the fire as he tried to remember if anyone had said anything to him that morning about them not being home. Hearing a bang upstairs, he stood up from his chair. He heard it again, then heard the clunk of a chain being dragged across the floor. It seemed to be headed for the stairs.

“Adam? Is that you?” he said shakily, as the sound echoed again.

“Jooo—eeee—-ssss—eeeeppphhhh,” a voice whispered above him, the tone much like that of a woman.

“Wh…who is…….it?” Joe asked to the ceiling.

“You……….know….who….I……..am!” The voice called again, this time with an edge of anger.

“I……don’t. Who are you?”

“You stole my land, Joseph Cartwright, I lived here before you! Your house rests on my grave!” The voice changed, high pitched and shouting. A loud bang again sounded above; little Joe was sure she was coming through the floor.

“I….I…I’m sorry. My Pa and brother built this house, I’m sure they didn’t know.”

“GET OUT!” the voice shouted as the clinking sound moved quickly towards the stairs. Joe turned around and bolted out the door as the sound followed him, coming down the stairs. Tears stung his eyes as he ran towards the barn. Slamming the door behind him, he ran to the last stall to hide behind his brother’s horse Sport.

“Joseph!” a voice boomed, causing him to scream out. “What are you doing?” Ben asked, seeing his son cover his head.

“There’s a g….g….ghost Pa. In the house. She told me to get out. She’s after me, Pa!” Joe cried running towards his father who had just returned from hunting down strays with the ranch hands.

“A ghost. Joseph, there is no such thing as ghosts. Stop this nonsense and go in the house.”

“I can’t, Pa. Adam and Hoss told me that a ghost haunted old man Taylor’s house. Now she’s here, and she wants her land back!”

“I already told you…”

“But Pa, I heard her. I can’t go back in that house.”

“We’ll just see about this,” Ben said, leading Joseph back towards the house.

“P……P…….PA!”

“ADAM, HOSS! GET OUT HERE NOW!” Ben yelled as he entered the house. He knew his son’s were behind this little escapade.

“You go!”

“No, you go!”

“You’re older. He’ll take it easy on you.”

“No way, this was your idea!”

“MY IDEA!”

“NOW!” Ben yelled again. This time his hands were on his hips.

“Yeah Pa?” Hoss said as he was pushed in front of the top of the staircase.

“Come down here. Bring your older brother with you!”

Adam appeared behind Hoss as they made their way down the stairs.

“Would you like to explain why your little brother was in the barn hiding in Sports stall!”

“Um, well you see Pa, that’s a long sad story. The thing is that he’s okay now. No harm done.”

“NO HARM DONE! YOU KNOW HOW YOUR BROTHER HAS NIGHTMARES! I WANT AN EXPLANATION!” Ben yelled causing all three sons to step backwards.

“Tell ‘im, Hoss.” Adam said, pushing his brother back towards his father.

“Remember the other day when Joe put that skunk in my bed. Well, ya see, me and Adam, well…it was just a joke, Pa.”

Ben remained staring at his sons as Hoss’ explanation suddenly stopped.

“Adam, what was your part in this?”

“I just did the sound effects, Pa. Bessie Sue…” Adam stopped, realizing he had just dug himself deeper.

“Bessie Sue WHAT?”

“Hello, Mr. Cartwright,” Bessie Sue said, walking slowly down the stairs.

“You were the lady!” Joe looked astonished as she came to stand next to Hoss.

“Sorry, Joe. Um, I better be getting home. See you later, Hoss, and Adam, don’t forget your promise,” she said as she hurried out the door.

The door closed loudly, setting Adam and Hoss to jumping again. Their father’s face had turned rather red, and they knew that this meant trouble.

“MY TWO GROWN SONS! I THOUGHT YOU HAD MORE SENSE THAN THIS. YOU APOLOGIZE TO YOUR BROTHER THIS INSTANT!” Ben hollered again, walking towards his two sons. They backed towards the wall, Adam behind Hoss as they hit the wall.

“Ouch! Hoss, you’re squishing me,” Adam whispered as Hoss smashed him against the wall.

“Sorry, Joe!” Hoss said, still trying to move back against the wall. “Move, Adam!”

“I can’t breathe!”

“I want you boys to go finish your chores. When you come back, I will have a list for you. You have time to pull pranks on your little brother, you have time to whitewash the barn. NOW GET TO WORK!” Ben finished, heading towards his desk, mumbling under his breath. “Involving Bessie Sue….now the neighbors will think I raised my boys to…two grown men…children…a house full of children!”

Little Joe followed his brothers out of the house. Adam paused on the porch to catch his breath.

“Wow, Pa was really upset with you two. Sorry you got extra chores. I didn’t really think that was a ghost, anyway; you didn’t fool me,” Joe said as the brothers walked towards the barn. “What else you think Pa will give you to do? I hope you have to clean up the tack room. I hate that job.”

Adam stopped mid-stride, as his brother followed close behind. “Hey Hoss, what do you say we get started on that whitewash now. Isn’t there a bucket of it by the door?”

Hoss studied his brother. He knew Adam hated whitewashing. Why would he want to get an early start? He saw Adam motion slightly with his head towards little Joe.

“Sure brother. Here, I’ll grab the bucket,” Hoss said, grabbing the bucket full of water that sat next to the door, finally understanding his older brother.

Adam moved to the side, surprising his little brother just as the water covered him. Joe stood soaking wet, scowling at his two older brothers who were now rolling with laughter.

“How was your bath, Joe? We know how much you love to take ‘em!” Adam laughed as he watched the water drip off his brother’s nose.

“Yeah, you look a little wet behind the ears, Joe!”

“I’ll get you for that!” Joe whispered, reaching down to wring out his shirt.

“What was that, baby brother?” Adam asked, walking towards his dripping brother.

“What are you doing, Adam?” Joe said, walking backwards.

“Get him, Hoss!” Ada yelled as he lunged, tackling Joe to the ground.

Together the brothers picked Joe up — Adam holding his arms and Hoss his legs — as they walked into the barn.

“LET ME GO!” Joe squirmed, kicking his legs and wriggling trying to get free.

“Hold him. I don’t think he learned his lesson yet!” Adam said, laying him down on the hay bales.

“PA!” Joe yelled as Hoss lay his weight on top of his brother.

“Get his boots, Adam!”

“NO, NO! I learned. I learned!” Joe yelled as he fought to keep his boots on. “Don’t tickle ‘em, Adam! AAAADDDAAAMMMM!” He laughed as his feet were assaulted in a tickle attack. “Please, I learned. Don’t tickle ‘em no more!” he said out of breath, but still laughing. Hoss let him up, and sat next to him on the hay bale.

“You sure you learned your lesson, little Joe?” he said putting an arm around his little brother as Adam sat on the other side of him.

“I’m sure. Can I just give you one word of advice?”

“What’s that, Joe?” Adam asked feeling his brother tense up to get ready to run.

“Sleep with one eye open!” Joe said as he darted out the doors, laughing as his brothers gave chase.

*****

“What was the promise, Adam?’

“Don’t tell me you forgot that! I had to take Bessie Sue’s cousin Penny to the next dance. We thought Bessie Sue was big; Penny was as big as the ranch house. She stepped on my feet so many times, I couldn’t walk for a week.”

“That’s right. Pa made you do the books twice over that week, and clean all the rifles in the rack.”

“Yeah, he had me cleaning the china too. He sure was in a bad mood that week!”

“You’d be in bad mood too if you had to raise three heathens,” Ben said smiling and patting his son’s on the back. “I hope some day you have children and they turn out just like you!”

The three laughed together as Ben went into tales of his own childhood, and the mischief he and his brother caused his own father. The mail sat forgotten on the dining room table.

*****

“Where in Sam Hill have you BEEN?” Ben asked storming towards his oldest son who had just entered the house.

“Calm down, Pa,” Adam answered nonchalantly as he hung his hat on the hook next to the door.

“CALM DOWN! MY SON LEAVES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND DOESN’T’ COME BACK FOR TWELVE HOURS AND I’M SUPPOSED TO BE CALM!”

“I’m sorry if you worried; I was just taking a ride.”

“A ride, right. You know you are to tell someone where you are going! What is the meaning of your leaving like that?”

Adam walked away from his father towards the kitchen, ignoring him completely. He knew he would not get off so easily, but he needed some time to collect his thoughts.

“It was those dreams again, wasn’t it? Why don’t you come talk to me, instead of leaving in the middle of the night?”

“THEY’RE NOT DREAMS, PA!”

“Fine. Whatever you consider them then. You can’t keep doing this; it’s dangerous to ride out alone like that.”

“I told you I needed some time for myself. I’m not twelve years old anymore; I do not need permission to go out alone!”

“You do need to have consideration for your family, young man. That means you don’t keep us worried all night. You’re not the only one who went through a hard time those eight months, Adam!”

“Don’t you think I know that! I see it in your eyes every time you look at me. I’m sorry that you were worried, but I will not stand for being followed around like a child.”

“No one is following you around. We just want to know that you are safe.”

“I’m safe, Pa. Safe as I’ve always been, safe as I always will be. Please, I just need my space.”

“Adam…”

“I’m leaving, Pa.”

“What?”

“I’m going to New York to see Jimmy and Judy. They wrote me again; they had their child. His name is James Adam King. They want me to be the baby’s godfather. I’m going for his christening.”

“New York! You can’t possibly go all the way to New York. Not with the way…”

“I’m going to New York, Pa. I’m doing much better now, and even when I have trouble, I come through it quickly. I have to do this. Everyday I am on this ranch, I’m reminded of…well, I…this is just what I need to do.”

“But your brothers…you know how they worry. I don’t think now is a good time.”

“Now is as good a time as ever. I’m going to tell them tonight after dinner. I’ll be leaving on the morning stage.”

“Adam…”

“After dinner Pa.”

Adam walked towards the bath house. He had wanted to speak with his father sooner, and under better circumstances, but it just seemed to spill out of him. He undressed carefully, folding his shirt and pants neatly and laying them to the side. He caught sight of himself in the bath house mirror and closed his eyes quickly. Scarring nearly covered his body, various markings protruded from his skin. Wounds from being burned with sticks, lash marks from the horse whip, stab wounds from where they poked him just deep enough to cause minimal damage. He stepped into the tub and let himself become submerged in the water.

He thought of how he was going to tell his brothers he was leaving again. He remembered how devastated Joe had been when he left for college, how he had to win back his trust when he returned home again. He thought of Hoss and the many letters they exchanged while he had been away. Hoss had turned into a man while he was gone. Now, he knew he would miss more of their lives. This would not be a short trip; actually he had no idea when he would return. Sinking lower into the water, he cleared his mind and focused on his breathing. Sleep found him quickly as he soaked in the warm water in the large metal tub.

*****

“Oh Ben, this is for me!” Marie cried as she saw the large shiny tub sitting beneath the Christmas tree.

“Just for you, my love,” he said his eyes showing pleasure with her response.

“Who wants a dumb ole tub for Christmas?” Hoss whispered to his brother as he watched his mother run her hands over the smooth metal.

“Women!” Adam said in response as he reached for his next present.

“Hey Adam, can I sit with you a minute?” Hoss asked as his mother and father stood admiring the new tub.

“Sure Buddy, c’mon over.” Five year old Hoss climbed onto his brother’s lap. He sat facing his brother, arms wrapped around Adam’s middle and his head resting on his chest.

“Merry Christmas, older brother.”

“Merry Christmas to you,” Adam replied kissing his brother’s soft hair, then allowing his chin to rest lightly on his head.

“Did ya like your present from me, Adam?”

“Of course I did. That was the best picture anyone could have made me.”

“It was you going to the city. I know how you like to go places.”

“Yes, I do like to travel.”

Silence followed as Hoss snuggled with his brother, and Adam watched his mother and father turn towards the Christmas tree.

“Adam?”

“Huh?”

“When you gets to be older, you gonna go someplace I can’t come?”

“What do you mean, buddy?”

“I mean like to that old college you and Ma talks about? Or someplace across the sea like when you read me those stories?”

“I plan to go to college, Hoss, but that’s not for another seven years. As for someplace across the sea, I don’t know. Maybe.”

Hoss shuddered, causing his brother to lean him back to look into his eyes.

“Don’t cry, Hoss, I’m not going anywhere now. We’ve got lots of time to spend together.”

“But I don’t want ya to go no place. I want you to stay with me and Pa and Momma. Why’s you wanna leave?”

“I don’t want to leave, Hoss, not right now. So there’s no reason to worry like this.”

“But when you do leave, you gonna forget about us?”

“Never. I could never forget about you; you’re my family and I love you. I always will.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

“And you’ll come back?”

“I’ll come back.”

Hoss settled once again against his brother’s chest. He felt his brother rub his back the way his father did, and Hoss breathed in the memory, promising himself to keep it treasured for when he may need it. He would use this memory for strength the day his brother left them.

Adam felt bad after he talked with Hoss about his leaving. He had always loved to travel, he guessed because he spent so many years on the wagon with his father, crossing the country. Hoss was napping upstairs and his mother was busy in the kitchen with Hop Sing. His father sat in his red leather chair smoking his pipe and catching up on the newspapers that had lay unread. Adam stood next to him and watched, wondering why he felt he needed comforting.

“Pa?”

“Yes, son?”

Adam stayed silent as his father did not look up from the paper. Feeling bold, he carefully removed the paper from his father’s hands and set it on the table behind him. He then moved to sit on his father’s lap, an action he had not partaken for at least a year. His father’s face filled with wonder as his eleven-year-old snuggled in, the back of his head resting on his father’s chest.

Taking advantage of the moment, his father placed his arms around his child’s waist, wrapping him in a comforting embrace. “So is this a late Christmas present?” he laughed as his son placed his hands over his father’s.

“Pa? How come sometimes a person does something, even though they know it might hurt others around them?”

“What is it this person did?” Ben asked, raising an eyebrow, hoping he would not have to punish his son for a misdeed on Christmas.

“He left his family so he could see other places, even though it made ‘em sad.”

“Well, sometimes people have dreams, and those dreams should be followed. Your mind sometimes rules your body, and if you do not respond to what you feel you need to do, it can wreak havoc on your body. You think about it constantly, maybe become obstinate and hard to live with. Sometimes your following that dream is the best for everyone around you, though they may not know it at the time. Of course, the love is still there, so you never really leave the one’s you love behind.”

Ben looked down to see his son with his face turned up, staring up at him. His eyes were watery, and he could feel his son’s body struggling for control of his emotions. “What is it, sweetheart?” he asked looking into those deep brown eyes.

Adam shifted positions, turning his body into his father. His face was buried in his father’s vest, and his body shook against him. Ben rocked him gently and waited for the tears to pass. He rubbed circles into his son’s back and kissed his hair.

“I’m sorry, Pa. You probably think I’m a big baby.” The sentence came out muffled as he was still pressed against his father’s vest.

“I don’t think you’re a baby, son. I think you’re a young man with something weighing on his mind. Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“I want to leave, Pa.”

“Leave, to where?”

“To college. Hoss asked me today if I would leave him, and he was upset. I told him I wanted to go to college, but that I would come home. But Pa, I want to see the world too. How can I tell him that I want to sail the ocean like you did, Pa? He’ll be so sad. How can I still want to do that, knowing how upset he’ll be?”

“He will be upset for a while, we all will. We love you, and it’s hard to let anyone you love leave for a long trip. But, we also understand, and we’ll support your decisions no matter what because we love you.”

“You won’t hate me, or forget about me when I leave?”

“Never.”

“And we’ll write to each other, and send presents on Christmas?”

“Of course. Now how about you and I clean up this mess for Hop Sing.

There’s still paper everywhere.”

“Okay.”

Ben gave his son one final squeeze and started to get up.

“Wait, Pa!” Adam said as his father began to shift his position. “I want to be with you a minute,” he said, pushing his father back into the chair, and once again resting his head on his father’s chest.

Ben smiled, though his vision was now blurred. He didn’t mean to end the conversation early, but talking about Adam leaving on his own had caused him to become emotional. Not wanting to upset his son further, he thought it best to redirect the situation. Now, as he felt his son cuddle against him, he realized he must savor this moment. This could be the last time his son ever sat in his lap. He had often shied away from physical contact, and this was definitely odd behavior for him. Wrapping his son in his arms once again, Ben closed his eyes to mark this moment into memory.

*****

“No, I don’t understand. How can you want to leave again! What’s it gonna change, Adam!” Little Joe yelled as his brother informed them of his plan.

“I know it’s hard Joe, but I already explained. It’s what I feel I have to do.”

“Fine, you think that will make everything just disappear, go ahead and run. We can handle things around here without you. We have been for the last year!”

Adam closed his eyes against his brother’s words. He knew he had not been able to keep up as well as he used to. He still had trouble focusing on one task for long periods of time. But, he felt everyone knew he was doing the best he could.

“That ain’t right, Joe; you know Adam’s doing the best he can,” Hoss spoke up, defending his older brother.

“Sure Hoss, stick up for him like you always do. Just like when he left for college. You probably didn’t want to come back. You spent four years living your life without us and probably didn’t even think of us. Selfish, just plain selfish. How long you plan on being gone this time, older brother? Who knows if you’ll ever come back!”

Turning on his heels Joe headed for the door, grabbing his hat on the way out. Ben started towards his son, but Adam’s hand stopped him. Adam stood slowly and followed his brother towards the barn. He knew Joe would be in a hurry to escape so he hurried towards Joe’s horse.

“Joe.” Adam said, grabbing a hold of Cochise reins.

“Get outta my way!”

“Please Joe, talk to me. Please,” Adam said, allowing his unshed tears to fall.

“No. You don’t care about us, how we feel. All you ever think about is finding something better. Well, you let me know brother if the grass is really greener on the other side!”

“It’s not, Joe. That’s not what I’m doing.”

“Then what are you doing?”

“Haven’t you ever felt the need to just escape? I have to do this, Joe; if I don’t, I’m never going to get over what happened to me out there. I need to see some new places, meet new people, and know that every stranger I see isn’t out to get me. You don’t understand, Joe; you don’t understand what it’s like for me.”

“YOU WON’T TELL US ANYTHING. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO UNDERSTAND?!”

“You are supposed to understand because you are my brother. I thought you would at least try. I don’t want to hurt you and Hoss and Pa. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I’m sorry, Joe. I’m sorry.”

Joe watched as his brother fell apart in front of him. Adam sat on his knees with his head in his hands, his shoulder’s shaking with raw emotion. Coming off of Cochise, Joe knelt in front of his brother, pulling him to his chest without a word. Tears spilled onto his shirt as he rocked his brother, doing his best to comfort him.

*****

“Pa’s really mad this time. But, it wasn’t my fault, Adam. Those boy’s were making fun of Hoss, and I couldn’t help it. I know I’m not supposed to fight, but I had too. I just had too!”

Joe stood in front of his brother who had been chopping wood. His father had been forced to come to the school and get him, as his teacher had kept him after school for so long. Ben had stormed in the house in front of him, instructing Joe to wait in his room.

“You had a rough day, I take it. Who were you fighting with?”

“Mike and Davie. They said Hoss was as big as an ox, only an ox would have more sense. Then they started doing impressions of him. I just couldn’t stand there. Pa’s gonna give me a necessary talk, Adam. Why won’t he understand?”

“He understands, Joe. He just wants you to find other ways of solving your problems. I’m sorry, little buddy. I’ll talk to him and see what I can do. You better get on in the house before he comes looking for you.”

“You think you can get me outta the spankin’?”

“I’ll try. You know Pa; he usually sticks to his word.”

“Try real hard, Adam. Promise me.”

“I promise, I’ll try hard. But remember, Pa hardly ever changes his mind when it comes to a necessary talk.”

“Thanks, Adam, just as long as you try.”

Joe waited anxiously in his room. He paced the floor wondering how his oldest brother was faring with his father. Finally, he came to rest by the window, hoping his britches weren’t about to be warmed.

Adam spoke with his father about what Joe had said, but his words seemed to have little impact. This was the third fight Joe had been in in two weeks. His father started towards the stairs, his plans for his youngest unwavering. Adam sat in his favorite blue chair, fighting the frustration he felt towards his father. He knew his brother had earned this spanking, but it always bothered him for one of his brothers to be hurt. He listened to the yelps of his brother through the ceiling, hoping that each yelp was the last. Finally sounds ceased from above. He knew his father would soothe him afterwards, so he waited silently for his turn to check on his brother.

“What ya doin’, Adam?” Hoss asked walking in from watering the horses.

“Waitin to talk with Little Joe.”

“Why you have to wait? Ain’t he upstairs?”

“Pa just got through with him.”

“A necessary talk?”

“Yep, a necessary talk.”

“That ain’t good.”

“Nope. Glad I’m too old for those nowadays. Pa sure can deliver a hard lesson.”

“Yes he can. My tail still stings time to time just thinking of it.”

“Here he comes. I’m gonna sneak up and talk to Joe. Cover for me, Hoss.”

“Sure, older brother. Use the back stairs.”

Adam hurried up the backstairs as his father came down the main staircase. He slipped silently into his brother’s room, seeing him laying on his stomach with his head in the pillows. “You okay, little buddy?”

“He still did it, Adam. I thought you could talk him out of it.”

“I tried. His mind was set.”

Adam picked his brother up off the bed and sat him in his lap. Joe hid his face in the crook of his brother’s neck, hugging him tightly. “I love you, Joe. I’m sorry it happened. Did you two make up?”

“Yeah, he said I needed to find a new way to deal with my problems. He told me to tell Ms. Jones next time those boys are giving me trouble. I can’t do that! Then I’d be known as a tattletale.”

“That’s true. But, you gotta weigh your options. Either tell Ms. Jones about your trouble, or handle it with your fists. Then Pa will handle you when he gets home.”

“Ain’t much of a choice, older brother. Either way I’m gonna end up hurtin’.”

“You know what I did when people would say things to me?”

“What?”

“Well, one time when I was about twelve, I had just started school. A boy made some remarks about your Ma. I lost my temper and broke the kids jaw. Then, Pa about broke my tail. So, next time someone made a remark that I didn’t like, I refused to acknowledge it. I pretended they weren’t even there. If they came at me, I would dodge ‘em. Eventually they would get so worn out trying to hit me that they just wore out. It took a few times, but eventually they left me alone because they knew they would get nothing out of me. Every now and again, a kid would get in a lucky punch, but that was rare. You could try that, Joe. You’re fast; I bet you could dodge more punches than I could.”

“What about your friends? Didn’t they think you were yellow for not fighting back?”

“Not if they knew my Pa. Actually, they thought it looked like fun; the bully ended up looking like an idiot.”

“I bet. It would look pretty funny if they got wore out, and you didn’t have a mark on ya.”

“You got it.”

“I’ll give it a try, Adam. But what if I ain’t fast enough? What then?”

“You’ll have to cross that bridge when you come to it. You’ll either fight back or not. Just think ahead, Joe, think of the consequences.”

“Consequences meaning a sore rear end?”

“More than likely.”

“Guess I got a lot to think about.”

“Guess you do.”

Kissing his brother’s hair, Adam set him back on the bed.

“Hey Adam?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for coming up here. It means a lot to me. I just wanted you to know that.”

“I had to be sure you were alright. I remember how I felt after a session with Pa.”

“Well, if you ever get a whipping, I’ll come up and check on you.”

“Thank you, little brother. I’d appreciate that.”

“Oh and Adam. If you ever need to talk, you know about anything. I’ll be here for ya.”

“Good to know, Joe. Why don’t you get washed up for supper? Don’t want Hop Sing after us, do we?”

Adam winked at his brother as he walked out of the room, closing the door silently behind him. Joe smiled, feeling better about the situation, knowing that no matter what his family would always be behind him.

*****

“It’s okay, Adam. I understand now. I’m sorry I made you cry. Please, don’t cry anymore, brother.” Joe said, his tears falling into his brother’s black curls.

He felt his brother struggling to regain control over his emotions, and Joe rubbed circles on his back, rocking him slowly. He met the eyes of his father and Hoss as they entered the barn. Taking in the scene in front of them, the family formed a protective circle, surrounding the one they loved, but would have to let go.

*****

“I’ll write to you as soon as I arrive. Make sure you write back,” Adam said as he handed the last of his luggage to the stage driver.

“We’ll write, don’t you worry about that. You just get yourself there in one piece.”

“I will, Pa. It’s not the first time I’ve made this trip. Everything will be fine.”

“Stage is ready. Let’s move out,” the driver said, rushing his only passenger along.

“Mind if I ride with you up top? I could use the company.”

“Sure thing, son.”

“Well, bye Pa, Hoss, Joe. Tell Hop Sing thanks for the cookies.”

“We will, son.”

“Bye Adam, you take care now. Come back soon, brother.”

“Yeah, won’t be the same without my Yankee Granite Head brother looking over my shoulder all the time.”

Adam hugged each brother, then his father before jumping up to sit with the driver. “I love you,” he said as the stage pulled away.

“We love you, too,” Ben replied as his son rode out of sight.

“You think he’ll come back, Pa?”

“He’ll come back.”

“How can you be sure? What if he makes a new life out there?”

“I can’t say when, boys, but I know my son. He will be back.”

“He promised me, Joe. We may have been kids, but he promised me. Adam ain’t one to break a promise,” Hoss said, reliving that Christmas memory once again.

“I pray you’re right, Hoss,” Joe said reliving memories of his own.

*****

After a long journey, Adam stepped off the last stage and stretched his legs. He had memorized the address, but had no idea which way to head.

“Excuse me sir. Could you direct me to Park Avenue?”

“Down three streets and to your right,” the man said gruffly as he shrugged off the man dressed in cowboy attire, a gun hung at his hip.

“Thank you,” Adam said to the man’s back as he walked briskly away.

Following the man’s directions, he quickly arrived at his destination. The apartment building was four stories high, made completely of brick. Admiring the building, he stood in front of the door.

“ADAM!”

He heard a scream. The sound startled him, causing him to take a step back.

“IT’S YOU! IT’S YOU! I KNEW YOU’D COME. OH ADAM, I MISSED YOUSO MUCH!”

“Judy, it’s you?”

“Of course, who else would it be? When did you get here? You have to come in! Jimmy will be so pleased to see you!”

“I can see you haven’t changed much!” Adam laughed as Judy grabbed his hands and led him quickly inside.

“Which apartment is yours?” Adam asked as she dragged him down the hallway.

“Actually, Jimmy bought the building. We decided to live on the main floor. We are renovating the rest of the building. Jimmy wants to turn the upstairs into offices to support his business.”

“Oh, what business?”

“Contracting, of course. He and his company have built most of the building in this area. His dream is to build an area of buildings as a square. He thinks it would become a popular spot, a place where people will spend most of their time.”

“Time Square?” Adam laughed, waiting as she struggled with the door in her excitement.

“You know, that name may just catch on. It will be quite a while before he is able to finish that dream. It may be up to James Jr.”

“I’d imagine so. Maybe even up to the great grandkids, don’t ya think?”

“Adam, really! Me a great grandmother?” Judy laughed, picturing herself as an old lady with white hair.

“Looks to me like you’re already working on it. Are those gray hairs I see? Soon enough you’ll look like by father.”

Adam laughed and backed away as Judy came towards him, pinchers ready.

“Kidding, just kidding. Put those things away!” he yelled as he received one pinch after another.

“JUDY, IS THAT YOU? COULD YOU COME IN HERE PLEASE? YOUR SON NEEDS YOU!”

“Oh no, what has the little guy done now. He only becomes my son when there is trouble. “COMING, JIMMY!”

“Here, take him. He just threw up all over the front of me, and I have a meeting down town in thirty minutes,” Jimmy said, unbuttoning his shirt as he entered the hallway.

“Don’t you know it is impolite to walk around without being properly dressed in front of company?” Adam joked as his friend had not yet noticed him.

“ADAM! YOU CAME!” Jimmy shouted as he dropped his shirt to the floor walking towards his friend. “When did you get here?”

“Just now, I ran into Judy outside.”

“I’m so glad you came. You never wrote back, I thought maybe you had forgotten about us!”

“Now how could I forget you? It’s just been a rough year; I made it as soon as I could.”

“I’m sorry you’ve had a rough time. Has there been trouble back home?”

“You could say that. This is just the first I could get away.”

“Aaahhh, I have a stupid meeting. I have to go. Promise when I get back, we’ll go out on the town. I want to show you my work.”

“I would love that.”

“Good! JUDY, I HAVE TO GO! SHOW ADAM HIS ROOM PLEASE!” Jimmy said heading towards the door.

“Uh Jimmy?”

“Yes?”

“Your shirt,” Adam said laughing as his friend was about to exit the house bare-chested.

Jimmy laughed as Judy approached shirt and child in hand. “One of these days, I’m gonna make it out of here in the nude!” Jimmy laughed, quickly buttoning his shirt.

“Let’s just hope it’s not during my stay,” Adam laughed as his friend escaped out the door.

“Papa!” the one-year-old yelled as his father left the house.

“Papa has a meeting, James; he’ll be back soon,” Judy cooed, giving her child a kiss.

“So this is James? I guess I was expecting an infant. Time stands still for me sometimes. I knew it would have taken a few months to receive you letter, and a few months before I could make it out here. I guess I just didn’t imagine the little one aging as well.” Adam smiled as the child looked up at him.

“Yes, he is a year old now. We planned on doing his christening at the end of the month. How long can you stay?” she asked handing the child to Adam.

“As long as I should.”

“Well, if it were up to me, that would be forever. I’ve missed you so much. I can’t believe it’s been six years since I’ve seen you.”

“I know, we’ve changed a lot, haven’t we. Jimmy especially; he always had such a young look about him. I nearly didn’t recognize him.”

“He’s aged well, hasn’t he? So have you. What happened to those lanky arms and legs?”

“What happened to those tiny bosoms?”

“ADAM STODDARD CARTWRIGHT! YOU HAVEN’T CHANGED ONE BIT!”

“Down! Down!” James cried as he struggled from the stranger’ grasp.

Adam relented and put his protecting hand down. Standing up, he received a sharp smack to the back of the head. Rubbing the back of his head, he smiled slyly at his best friend who stood before him. Looking down at the child, he whispered. “Traitor.”

“So he’s walking already, I see,” Adam laughed as the little one took wobbly steps forward.

“He’s still a little off balance. But he’s stubborn as a mule. He must have gotten that trait from his father!”

“Sure, there’s not a stubborn streak in you! I remember fighting tooth and nail with you about jumping off your father’s roof with a sheet. You believed that sheet would blow open, and you would sail down onto that hay. I had to literally drag you off that roof. Then, the second my back was turned, you were at it again. That stubborn streak of yours got me into trouble more than once.”

“Well, it would have worked if there would have been more wind. Besides, I can’t help it if you’re a sucker for these blue eyes,” she said, batting her eyes playfully at him.

“You haven’t changed one bit. How does Jimmy put up with you?”

“I have my ways. Grab James and I’ll show you to your room.”

Walking down the long hallway, they stopped at the last door on the right. “This is an apartment all your own. Stay as long as you like. I need to give this little one a bath if we’re going out on the town, and I’m sure you could use a bit of a rest.”

“I could, thank you. Did you say James is coming with us this evening?”

“Of course. James loves to walk the city. You’ll be surprised at how well behaved he is. He hardly ever puts up a fuss.”

“Huh, I’m just picturing Little Joe at his age. Couldn’t even take him to Virginia City. I can’t imagine what he would have done in a city this size!”

“He would have painted the town red, that’s for sure. Nope, this little on is destined to be a scholar. Just like his father.”

“And his mother, remember. It’s not common for a woman to graduate from college at all, let alone to get a job straight off for such a well known company. Are you still working by the way?”

“Yes, James stays with a sitter during the day. You’ll meet her tomorrow. I wish I’d known you were coming; I would have asked for some time off.”

“No need for a sitter, Judy, I’ll watch the little fella. I’ll be here anyway. Why don’t you give her a week’s vacation?”

“Oh Adam, are you sure? I don’t want to impose. You’re a guest here.”

“I offered, Judy, besides, I could use the company.”

“Well, let’s get through the night, and see if you still feel the same in the morning.”

“Sounds fair.”

“You get settled in. I’m going to get this one in the tub.”

“Alright, I’ll see you in a while.”

“Thanks so much for coming Adam. I can hardly believe you’re here!”

Adam smiled his dimpled smile as Judy closed the door behind her. Looking around his rather lavish apartment, for the first time, Adam felt free.

*****

“Well, this is it. This is my first building. I went with the European theme. What do you think?”

“It’s beautiful Jimmy. I had no idea you had so much talent.”

“Well thanks for the boost of self-confidence, friend.”

“You know what I meant. How long did it take you to construct it?”

“Oh about seven months. There were so many details; I didn’t want to rush it.”

“Well you have certainly out-done any of my creations.” Adam stared at the intricate details on the building in front of him.

“I wanted to speak with you about that. I know you’re staying for a while, as long as we’ll have you, anyway.” Jimmy winked as Adam gave him a slight shove. “So, how about you and I work on a project together. You do have to earn your keep.”

“I don’t know if I could ever match your skill, Jimmy, I may just be in the way.”

“Ha! You were always modest. You know, in school you, topped every one of my projects. Given the opportunity and supplies, I think you will build something magnificent. If we do it together, I can put my name on it and take all the credit.”

“So, you’re basically using me to get ahead. Reminds me of our days in Harvard, sure enough!”

“You two! You know, you are setting a bad example for my son.”

“Well your son will just have to turn his ears off now, won’t he?” Jimmy laughed, playfully covering his son’s ears, causing him to burst into baby laughter.

Adam smiled at the sound. It had been years since he had heard such a sound.

*****

“Can I take him, Ma?” Thirteen year old Adam asked as he watched his brother try to squirm free from her arms.

“Please, I need a break. He’s got so much energy, I can hardly keep up with him anymore.”

Taking his baby brother from his stepmother’s arms, Adam lifted Joe high in the air. “Look, little Joe, you’re a bird!” he said as he spun his brother in a circle, getting a squeal of laughter.

“Hosie, HOSIE!” Joe cried with delight as his brother swooped him down.

“Horsey, huh. Okay ready?” Adam asked, carefully putting Joe on his shoulders, holding him tightly. He galloped around the house with the baby on his shoulders. Joe squealed with laughter as his little fingers grabbed his brother’s hair. Stopping, Adam took his hands out of his hair, and wrapped them gently in his own.

“Say giddy up, Joe, giddy up!” Adam laughed as he bounced around some more.

“Diddy dup, Babam! Diddy dup!” Joe cried with laughter, enjoying the time he had with his oldest brother.

*****

“Where were you, buddy? You were miles away!” Jimmy laughed as he saw Adam’s eyes come back in to focus.

“Guess I was wool gathering. I was remembering when Little Joe used to laugh like that.”

“You miss ‘em already, huh. I’m sure they miss you too,” Judy answered, sliding her arm through her friends, James balanced on her hip.

“We better head back; it’s going to be dark soon and we all have to get up early in the morning. Judy mentioned you taking James for the day.”

“If you don’t mind. I could defiantly use the company. I thought maybe he could show me around town,” Adam laughed as James pointed at the many objects around the street.

“That he could. I think if we let him, he would lead us back home. I swear that boy pays more attention to detail than I ever could,” Jimmy laughed as he heard his wife answer his son’s questions as he pointed at certain objects.

“Well, we’ll do that then.”

*****

“You’re already up? I thought I’d have to come in here and shake you awake. I forgot you ranchers are early risers.”

“Up with the chicken’s as Hop Sing always said.”

“Well, Judy is almost ready to go, James awaits your company. Loretta nearly died when I gave her a week’s paid vacation.”

“I bet she did. Judy is leaving the instruction’s then?”

“Sure is; she scrawled out a list. I’m sure you won’t have any trouble.”

“Alright. Lead the way.”

“Bye baby, I love you. You behave well for Uncle Adam,” Judy said, scurrying out the door after going over the instructions with Adam.

“B-B!” James laughed as he waved his mother out the door. He looked up at the man in black who now held him in his arms. He smiled brightly, and reached out a small hand to touch the man’s cheek.

“Adam.” He said hoping the child would say his name.

“B-Bam!” came the reply.

“Hey, that’s what Joe used to call me. What do you say we get you fed and go out on the town?” he asked as the child babbled in response.

*****

“You certainly are a good eater. You still hungry?” Adam asked as James inhaled his final bite of oatmeal.

“M-M!”

“Is that more? You saying more?”

The baby clapped his hands, and Adam rose to spoon some more oatmeal into the child’s bowl.

“B-Bam!” he cried as he shoved another messy spoonful into his mouth.

“Can I have a bite?” Adam asked leaning towards the messy smiling face.

Jimmy dipped his spoon again and turned it towards his caretaker. Bringing the spoon towards Adam’s open mouth, he squealed and quickly turned his spoon back towards his own mouth.

“You tricked me! Just like your parents, aren’t you? All finished now?” Adam asked as Jimmy laid his spoon on the tray. “Let’s get you cleaned up. Then you can show me around.”

Dressing James was easier than Adam imagined it to be. The child waited patiently as he fumbled with the outfit he had picked out. Lifting the baby onto his shoulders, Adam headed out the door. James squealed in delight as Adam ducked through the door frames. The street was busy, carriages passing by at a somewhat alarming rate. The sidewalks were packed also, everyone hustling for their destinations. James bounced up and down happily, while he watched the people rush by.

“How about the park? I’ve heard that it is quite the sight,” Adam said looking up at the bouncing baby.

Arriving to the park, he brought the child down beside him. “You wanna walk?” he asked as they strolled through the wide open grass.

James toddled about, falling occasionally but popping right back up. He checked often to make sure Adam was near him as they trekked through the plush green grass.

“Pity!” James said as he came to a flowering bush.

“Those are called lilacs little buddy. They smell nice don’t they?”

“Pity! M-Ma.”

You want one for your momma?”

James reached out and pulled hard on one of the flowers. The pedals came off in his hand. Frustrated he looked to Adam, then again reached for the bush.

“Gentle, like this,” Adam said, helping the little one pull off a fresh flower. He received a bright smile in return. James turned tired eyes towards Adam as they’re journey continued.

“Getting tired, little one? How about we rest under that tree over there?” he said picking up the baby and patting his back.

They sat under the tree, Jimmy in Adam’s lap with his head resting in the crook of his neck. Quiet breaths came shortly after as they both fell to sleep.

Adam jerked awake as he felt hands move around his neck. He began to jump up when he realized it was James, trying to get his attention.

“You awake now? Must have dozed of myself. Thanks for waking me up, buddy,” Adam said, looking towards the sun to figure the time. “We must have slept away the entire afternoon. We better be heading back. Your mom will kill me if we’re not back by the time she gets home. We’ll have to hurry!”

Adam and James arrived home before Judy, and began a game of blocks. Adam would stack them up tall, and James would knock them down. Each time, James would say “Boom a!” The game continued until Judy walked through the door.

“There’s my little man!” she cried rushing towards the two.

“Well now, I wouldn’t say I was little. But yes, I am a man.” Adam teased as she scooped James into her arms.

“Man huh? That’s a bit of a stretch!” she laughed, backing away from him.

“I’ll show you stretch!” Adam charged, reaching out for her. He chased her around the large room, James squealing in delight.

“What’s going on in here? Need a little help, my friend?” Jimmy laughed walking in to the chaos.

“She’s a lot faster than she used to be. Grab her!” Adam said, trying to corner her next to the couch.

James lunged over the couch, stepping on the couchins on his way. He got a hold of her shoulders and held her tight.

“Papa!” James laughed as he spun them towards him.

“She need a good wallopin’?” Jimmy laughed as he held his wife still.

“Don’t you dare, James Ryan King!”

“Don’t I dare what?” He laughed as he playfully swatted her bottom.

“I’ll get you for that! Get papa, James!” she said, pushing her son towards his father.

James put his hands on each side of his father’s face and pushed his cheeks together, causing him to make a fish face. Jimmy returned kissing sounds as his son smiled in delight.

Adam stood watching. He knew how much in love this family was, and he was proud to feel a part of it.

“So did you two have a good day?”

“Great. You’re right; he’s no trouble at all.”

“Yeah, he’s just like a little adult. Most of the time. But when you cross him, look out! He can sure throw a fit.”

“Got that from his mother, I suppose.” Adam laughed remembering the temper Judy had as a child.

“Must be! I could never get away with that as a child. My father instilled in me at a young age that my bottom would suffer from such behavior.”

“Mine too. Judy hardly ever caught trouble for it. Must be because she was a girl.”

“Well, I can’t bring myself to spank James. Usually I just put him in his crib and let him cry it out.”

“I understand. I remember when Joe was about four, Marie and Pa had gone overnight to Sacramento. I asked Joe to get ready for bed; he threw the biggest fit I had ever seen. When I tried to coax him down, he kicked my shin. I turned him over my knee. To this day, I still see those crocodile tears. I never laid a hand on him like that again. Sure, we had some fights as adults, may result in a black eye or two, but I could never spank him again. I felt terrible for days. I don’t know how my Pa did it.”

“Yeah, all he has to do is turn those pretty blue eyes on me and I’m putty in his hands. I hope he doesn’t figure that out too soon.”

“Good thing he’s such a sweet child. Maybe he won’t give you too much trouble growing up.”

“I hope so. You find anyone you want to spend your life with yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Guess not. If you had, you wouldn’t be here. Sorry, stupid question.”

“It’s alright. I’ve had a few relationships, but something always seems to happen. I don’t know, I’ve kinda given up looking.”

“Love does come when you least expect it they say. Look at me and Judy. I always pictured you and her together. I’ll never understand how I got so lucky.”

“It’s the money. She married you for the money,” Adam said as he watched Judy walk into the room.

“WHY YOU DIRTY ROTTEN……”

“Judy! The baby!” Jimmy interrupted laughing at Adam’s joke.

“OOOOHHHH, one of these days Adam Cartwright!” she replied, scowling at him.

“Well, what else would you see in him? It definitely isn’t his looks or charm,” Adam laughed again backing towards the door.

“Alright, he asked for it! Get him!” Jimmy said, charging towards his friend as the door slammed shut.

*****

Dear Pa,

I arrived safely about a week ago. I’m sure it’s taken at least a month for this letter to arrive, and I hope you haven’t worried too much. I’m staying with Jimmy and Judy in the building they own. Jimmy bought an apartment building to renovate into offices to support his business. He is an architect, designing buildings for different companies around the area. He even is designing a few buildings back in Boston. He said he has to go out there in about a month. He has made me a business partner, so I will be joining him for the trip. Going back to Boston with he and Judy will be a trip down memory lane. Though baby James might make the memories not so bold.

You would love James, Pa. He is quiet and well behaved. He studies everything around him, but babbles constantly. He can only say a few words, but he calls me B-Bam, just like Little Joe used to. I watch him during the days when Judy and Jimmy work. I really enjoy having him around. Though he did throw quite the tantrum yesterday when I was distracted from building blocks with him. Someone was at the door, and he must not have wanted me to get up and answer it. He screamed louder than anything I’ve ever heard. Didn’t last long though. Do you remember how Joe would go on and on?

I’m glad to let you know that I have not had an episode since I arrived here. Actually things are going quite well. I know it’s only been a week, but that’s the longest I’ve gone without remembering, if that’s what you call it. I hope all is well at the ranch. I still feel bad about leaving you with all the work.

I received some bad news recently; I am not sure if you have received the letter yet. Grandfather Stoddard passed away a few weeks before I arrived. He left me his business in his will. I’m thinking of selling, Pa. What do you think? I just don’t feel that is the right path for me. He gave his blessing for me to do with it as I please.

Jimmy is helping me to clear out his estate. Grandfather designated most of his belongings to some of his long-time friends. It will all be finalized when we go out there next month. I wish I could have seen him one last time. He was a remarkable person, Pa, and I know we will both miss him greatly.

I miss you Pa. Remember that, and think of me often as I do you.

Love,

Adam

 

 

Dear Hoss,

Hey big brother! Thought I’d write you separate from Pa. I remember you telling me that while I was away at college he would make you each read your letters aloud. Is he still doing that?

You would love New York Hoss. There is a zoo here. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hear there are all kinds of animals. It’s not peaceful here, however. People are constantly moving. It is a big change from the quite surroundings of the Ponderosa.

Judy told me to tell you hello. She said that you have competition here in New York. Little James can eat as much as you already, and he’s only a year old. You would be proud brother. Even I can’t believe how much he eats.

Keep watch over Joe for me. Don’t let him get in too much trouble. Also, give Sport a good rub down for me. I sent along a present for each of you. I hope they arrive together. Let me know what you think.

Love always,

Adam

 

 

Dear Joe,

Hey little buddy. How are you doing? I miss you more and more each day, but I want you to know I am happy here. It’s already been a week, and time is just seeming to fly by. I know your birthday’s coming up and I’m sorry I won’t be there for it. I sent an extra present along for you, it’s marked birthday. Don’t you dare open it beforehand!

I wish you and I could come out here together one day. There is so much I would like for you to see. There is a bar down here that is bigger than the ranch house. It is three levels high. Each floor has it’s own theme. There is even a western theme on the top level. You wouldn’t believe the outfits these people wear. Jimmy and Judy give me a hard time about it. They ask me why I don’t dress that way. There’s also a horse farm just outside of the city limit. I didn’t have time to ask questions, but this breed of horse is something I have never seen before. I thought of you the second those horses came into view! And even though I know you wouldn’t admit it, there is a library here that puts all other’s to shame. You could find books on any subject. One of these days, little brother, you and I will paint the town.

I hope you enjoy your gifts! Don’t give Pa too much trouble.

Thinking of you every day,

Love

Adam

 

*****

“Look Pa, these here letters came from New York. It’s about time older brother got word to us. It’s been a month since he’s been gone,” Hoss said laying the mail in front of his father. “Sent presents too. Joe got more ‘n one.”

“Let me see that!” Joe said, rushing to his brother’s side.

“Slow down now. Let’s read what your brother has to say first. Hoss, why don’t you start?”

“Aw Pa, do I have to read it out loud? What if there’s private stuff in there!”

“Then Adam will let us know. If you’d like to wait, Little Joe can go first.”

“No, I’ll go first Pa. But if it’s private like, I’ll stop,” Hoss said eagerly tearing open his letter.

The men listened as each read their letters aloud. Hoss laughed when Adam asked if their father still made them do so. Joe bounced with anticipation as each waited to open their gifts.

“What’s he mean I can’t open this one ‘til my birthday! I can’t wait that long,” Joe whined as his father took the birthday gift for safekeeping.

Hoss opened a whittling kit. There were instructions on how to use the new style equipment that was enclosed. Joe opened a left handed gun belt. It was embroidered leather, fitting him just right. Ben opened his gift, his eyes welling with tears as he picked up the odd baggie.

“What is it, Pa?” Hoss asked examining the gift closely.

“It looks like a bag of rocks.” Joe said, staring into the open bag.

Ben watched his son scurry down the lane in front of them.

*****

They had been traveling for two years now, his son’s life consisting of moving about.

“Not too far, Adam!” Ben chided as his four year old broke into a run.

“I see one, Pa! We ain’t got none like it,” Adam shouted back, stopping in the middle of the road.

“Well, pick it up then. We’ll add it to our collection. Now we have a rock from each town, right.”

“Yeah, and lookie, Pa. This one’s kinda greenish colored.”

“That’s moss, Adam. That rock must have been sitting here a long time.”

“Wow! Maybe it was here when there was cavemans, pa!”

Ben laughed; he had recently got into a discussion with Adam about who had originally lived on this land, even before the Indians. “Maybe. You have the bag with you, son?”

“No, it’s in the wagon. I’s afraid I’d lose it.”

“Good thinking. Why don’t you climb in and put it away. As a matter of fact, it’s probably about time you rest a bit.”

“Awe, I don’t need a nap, Pa. I’m not even tired.”

“Adam!”

“Yes sir. But make sure you pick up a rock if we gets to another town before you lets me wake up!”

“Of course, son. Sleep well.”

He watched as his son climbed into the wagon. Adam had begun fighting him over taking naps just recently, but today went well. Usually his boy could be much more stubborn.

“PA!” Adam yelled as he nestled under the covers.

“What is it?”

“When I grow up, I’m gonna collect so many rocks we could make a mountain.

Bet I’ll bring home rocks from Australia where those roo’s live. Then we’ll go to Egypt and get ‘em from those ‘gyptions.”

“That sounds nice, son. You’ll be traveling a long way to get those.”

“Not me, Pa! US!” Adam shouted, getting excited over the thought of the journeys they would take together.

“Time to sleep, son.”

“Alright, I’ll dream about us finding all them rocks. Love you, Pa.”

“Love you, sweetheart.”

*****

“Why would older brother send you a bag of rocks? He attached a note that said, ‘one from each town’,” Joe said as he held the small card in his hands.

“I’ll show you. Here, I have it in my desk,” Ben said, opening the drawer that contained the keepsakes of his sons. His sons watched in awe as memories from their childhood piled out of that drawer, then listened intently as their father told the story of he and Adam’s travels West.

*****

“All packed then? The buggy’s pulling out in five minutes,” Jimmy said standing in front of his wife and best friend.

“Well, driver, I think you may be pulling out alone unless you give me a hand with your son!” Judy said, handing James over to his father.

“I’ll take him. We won’t leave ‘til next fall by the time you two get your act together,” Adam said gruffly as he tapped his foot in front of the door.

“Patience, Adam. I hope your mood improves before I’m stuck with you for this journey.”

“James and I will wait outside,” Adam said, putting his hat on James’s head. It fell down over the child’s eyes, and he lifted it up with is tiny fingers.

“B-Bam! Hat!”

“Yes, B-Bam hat. You look quite handsome young fellow,” Adam said as they stepped onto the sidewalk.

They had been traveling for several hours when James decided he’d tired of the journey. He sat in his mother’s lap, across from Adam as he became frustrated.

“Down!”

“Not now honey. We are riding with Papa.”

“Down!”

“No baby, you can’t get down.”

“DOWN!” He screamed as he tried to crawl of his mother’s lap. “B-BAM!”

“James, that is enough. We will stop soon. Your screaming will get you nowhere.”

“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” he screamed as his mother held him firmly in place.

The two ignored him as he scowled out his displeasure. The fit didn’t last long as he was soon fast asleep.

“Poor guy, this takes a lot out of him,” Adam said as he rested his head against the wall of the wagon.

“Sure it does. Remember how we felt after we traveled all that way. I was so envious that you and your father and Hoss stopped when you did. I had to keep going with the train all the way to California. I think it took me two months to just relax.”

“Yeah. It took me two months to be able to sleep without the rocking motion of that wagon. I spent seven years in it.”

“That’s true. I didn’t think of that. I only spent a year and a half with the train. That was bad enough. Remember all the trouble we caused?”

“How can I forget. You got me a lot of necessary talks. Some friend you were.”

“I got my fair share of trouble also, if you remember. I think it was your idea to swing off that tree limb into the water. It was freezing! I know your Pa told you to stay out of that water. And there you go, coaxing me to swing off that limb. I could of drowned! I got a spankin’ to boot. Some friend you were!”

“Hey, I got my own bottom warmed for that one. You didn’t have to tattle on me!”

“Hah! Misery loves company.”

“Well, it was your fault we got in trouble for playing doctor. I told you it wasn’t right for a girl to see me in my underwear. You convinced me that that is how a real doctor would do it! I remember my father’s face when he caught us. Still can’t believe he spanked me right there in front of everybody, me in nothing but my underclothes!”

“Can’t blame a girl for being curious,” Judy laughed recalling how they had been caught more than once.

“Yeah well, curiosity killed the cat!”

“All right. Looks like we’ll camp here for the night. Who’s up for gathering the wood?” Jimmy asked, waking his sleeping passengers in the cabin.

“I’ll get it,” Adam said jumping down.

“B-Bam!” James cried, reaching out to him.

“No, little man. You’re gonna stay with me. I haven’t seen you all day,” James said picking his son up high over his head.

“Fwy!”

“You wanna fly?”

James clapped his hands together in response, grinning at Adam as he sailed through the air.

*****

“Get up, Cartwright! I didn’t give you permission to lie down!” Carter said as he placed a kick in Adam’s already broken ribs.

“Can’t,” Adam panted, praying that more kicks would not follow.

“You’ll do as I say! Get yourself up off that ground and start walking. We want to make it over that ridge by nightfall. If we don’t make it, there’ll be hell to pay.”

Adam’s body shuddered, causing his broken ribs and hands to scream out in pain. He fought the nausea that had risen within him, but had no strength left to fight. Having been unfed for nearly a week, he dry heaved repeatedly until his body succumbed once again to unconsciousness.

“I don’t think he’s gonna make it much longer, boss. We should probably think about sending him home,” Carter said, smiling as the man’s body was racked with torture.

“I think we can keep him around for a few more days. Just give him some water. He’ll make it alright.”

“I don’t think so, Cain. He’s got fever; his hand is becoming infected ’cause the bone ain’t been set. I think Carter’s right. It’s time to end this,” Roger said trying to get some water into their captive.”

“Yeah, he ain’t no good to me any more. He ain’t been able to perform in months,” Suzie said, running her hands up and down Cain’s chest.

“Can’t get this water into him, boss. If you want his folks to watch him die, now’s the time to get him home. We can tie him to the horse, make it there by morning.”

“Sure wish we had more time. I haven’t felt this good in I don’t know how long,” Cain said, delivering another sharp kick to the unconscious man. “Give me that water. I’ll get it in him if I have to cut his throat wide open!”

“Nah, it won’t work. Look at him; he’s barely breathing. It’s over, Cain,” Carter said watching Roger fight a losing battle with the water.

“Alright, but tie him up good and tight. Might as well make this ride as uncomfortable for him as possible.”

“Help me with him, Carter. Suzie, grab his hat, will ya?” Roger said lifting the dead weight of the man they despised.

“Pa?” Adam said, in a quiet whisper, lost in a dream of his life back home.

“Soon, boy, soon.” David said speaking up for the first time.

*****

Adam woke, his clothes drenched in sweat despite the chilly morning air. Rolling over, he stared at the back of his best friend since childhood. He found comfort there, yet a feeling of sadness that their relationship as a couple did not pan out. Breathing deeply to still his trembling body, he closed his eyes to clear his thoughts. Hearing movement near him, he saw Jimmy get up. Dawn was about to break, but he thought they would have slept a few hours yet. Stretching, Jimmy made his way towards the woods outlining their campsite. Adam awaited his return, not being able to relax until his friend arrived back to camp unscathed. The wait wasn’t long, and soon Jimmy stood next to him stirring the fire.

“You’re up, early,” Adam whispered startling his friend.

“Nature calls brother. What are you doing up already? This is even early for you.”

“Well, I have trouble sleeping sometimes. I may have drifted off again if you hadn’t been up bugging me.” Adam’s smile turned into a yawn.

“What kind of trouble? The ground ain’t soft enough for ya?”

“Just a few memories invading my sleep, that’s all.”

“Memories huh? What about?”

Adam remained silent as he studied his friend. He hadn’t talked about his kidnapping to anyone. Not really anyway. His night terrors had sometimes led to his time there being revealed, but he had never openly spoken of the torture he had gone through.

“Adam? What’s wrong? You’re scaring me, buddy, the look on your face…”

“It’s hard to talk about. I don’t know if I’m ready.”

“Sometimes it helps to talk. You’re shaking, Adam. Tell me what’s wrong; you could always tell me anything.”

“I was kidnapped about a year and a half ago. They had me for about eight months. I don’t know, I guess sometimes it just catches up with me.”

“Kidnapped. Why’d they do that? Who was it?”

“Just a man seeking revenge. He blamed his brother’s death on me. He made sure I paid for it. Hell, sometimes I still pay for it. I can’t seem to move forward some days. Other days, I feel fine. I don’t even think about it.”

“How do you get through it? Does your family help? If so, then why’d you leave?”

“They try to help, but really there’s nothing they can do. Really, I needed a change of surroundings. Being here with you, Judy and James has been great. Actually, this is the first time I have thought about those months in a long time.”

“Good. Maybe you’ll stay a bit longer than you planned. I know you wanted to sail like your father, but I think you would be put to better use working for me in the architecture business.”

“Right, you just want to use me for free labor. I don’t know, Jimmy. Once we get this job done in Boston, and I settle Grandfather’s estate, I may just head for the high sea.”

“Well I hope not, and Judy hopes not. It’s like old times with you here. We’re reliving our youth.”

“I didn’t know we were no longer youthful! Seems to me little James has us all beat when it comes to maturity.”

“Ha! You got me there. C’mon, we’re up; let’s catch some fish.”

*****

“Look there, that’s that old haunted building we had the séance in. Remember how you reacted, thinking the spirits were coming for us?” Jimmy laughed as he pulled Judy to him, kissing her on top of the head.

“I was so angry with you three. Adam didn’t even come to check on me!”

“No, I was keeping another damsel in distress company.”

“Oh, right. Elizabeth. What ever happened to her?”

“Don’t know. We sort of lost touch.”

“She was a nice girl. I always liked her. I thought maybe you and she would hit it off. I was jealous at first, but once I realized I was falling for Jimmy, I hoped you two would become a couple.”

“Well, it wouldn’t have worked anyway. She was staying in Boston; I was going back to the Ponderosa. I couldn’t ask her to leave.”

“You think she still lives here? After all these years?”

“Don’t know. The city’s so big, probably would never bump into her anyway,” Jimmy said, allowing his son to walk next to him, holding his hand.

“Here’s the hotel. You going on to your grandfather’s place?” Jimmy asked as they waited to check in.

“Yes, I think I’ll do that. I want to get it taken care of quickly, and I’d like to see what it is I’m dealing with.”

“Sounds good. We’ll see you back here tonight.”

“Adam! Do you need someone to go with you? Seeing that house is liable to be a bit hard on you.”

“Thanks, Judy, but I think I would rather go it alone.”

“Okay, but if you change your mind, you know where to find us.”

Adam made his way towards his grandfather’s apartment. The trek there brought about a lot of memories, him during his college years. He stopped occasionally to let the memories wash over him, and knew he would have to write his father about his trip down memory lane. Coming to the building, he made his way down the long hallway. He had kept his key after all these years, and let himself in. A few things were missing from the apartment, items his grandfather had designated for others. Walking to his old bedroom that used to belong to his mother, not a thing had been touched. Cobwebs covered the furniture, dust floated in the air as he removed the standing frame of the Durango type of his mother.

Making his way to his grandfather’s room, tears filled his eyes. Though he was only able to spend four years with his grandfather they had developed a tight bond. There were times they didn’t get along, both stubborn as mules. But, there was a time when Adam was sick that brought them closer together.

*****

“Feeling any better, Sport? Still fighting that fever, I see.”

“Can I have some water please?” Adam asked as he lay under layers upon layers of blankets. His body still shivering uncontrollably.

“Of course you can. Here, let me help you.”

Adam sipped the water that his grandfather held for him.

“You know, your father wrote and told me about your battles with sickness. He said it didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was serious. He was right about that, son. The doctor has me worried it may turn into pneumonia.”

“Hope not. Some of Hop Sing’s tea would be helpful right now.”

“Hop Sing. He’s your family’s cook, right?”

“He’s more than our cook. Hop Sing has been like a second father to me. He always made sure to stuff us full of tea when we were sick, or worn out.”

Abel waited while Adam succumbed to a coughing fit. After a minute or so, he settled back into the pillows.

“You know, your mother was the same way. She hardly ever caught sickness, but when she did, it took everything out of her.”

“Grandpa, could you tell me about my mother? Pa could never really tell me much. We tried to talk about her a few times, but it always upset him. Eventually I just quit asking.”

“Your mother. Yes, I can understand it would be hard for your father to speak of her. They were very much in love, and she was taken from us so soon. I can tell you that you look much like her. You have the same eyes, long lashes. Your smiles are the same; she loved your dimples. You had them right from birth. They say that newborns can’t smile, but you did. She held you in her arms when you were only minutes old, and she swears you flashed those dimples at her. She loved you, son.”

“I wish I could have met her, talked with her. What was she like before she met Pa?”

“Oh, she was a handful. She was so curious about everything. When she was about seven years old, she had a friend named Jeremiah. She and Jeremiah would practically run the streets, no matter how much her mother threatened her to stay near the house. Once I found her eight miles outside of town. She and Jeremiah had followed the shore line until it had become impossible for any human being to follow. She said she wanted to know if the world was really round, thought she could walk to the end of the earth and prove Columbus wrong.”

“Did she think she had made it? To the end of the Earth, I mean?”

“Oh yes, she said that the world was obviously flat, because she could look out into the sea and see where the sky and earth met together. She was convinced once you reached the horizon, you could walk into the sky if you so choose. If not, you could sit on the edge of the ocean with your feet dangling over the edge.”

Adam remembered speaking with his grandfather for hours about his mother’s life, all the way until she met his father. After that, the two never had another rift. They would just smile a knowing smile, and say, “just like your mother.”

Marking into memory what he needed to know, he made his way back outside. He headed towards the flower shop where Judy used to work, and saw it had been replaced with a book store. Going in, he was soon lost in the world of books that surrounded him. He was well into the chapters of a book when someone brushed up against him.

“Excuse me,” he called, watching a woman stumble from her impact.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there,” she said as she turned to face him.

Her face was beautiful, brown hair flowing down her shoulders and back. Her brown eyes sparkling and her full lips smiling at him. He stared in disbelief, it couldn’t be.

“Elizabeth?” He whispered, more of a statement than a question.

She looked him over, realizing instantly that this was the man she had loved. He had the same curly raven hair, cut short. Those golden eyes reflecting in the sun light. He had grown into a man, his broad chest hidden behind the black shirt.

“Adam!” she whispered back.

Both stood unmoving, unsure that the person before them was truly who they thought.

“What are you doing here?” she asked finally breaking the silence. “I thought you went back home. I saw you leave on the train.”

“I came back with Jimmy and Judy. We’re working on a project together. I never thought…”

“I’d see you again,” she finished, looking down shyly.

“Do you live here still, or are you just visiting?”

“I live here. I was actually thinking of moving to Utah. Robert thinks it would be a good idea. He says there are many opportunities out there, a place to start over fresh.”

“Robert? Judy’s Robert?”

“Well, I guess you could say that. We have been courting for quite sometime now. He hasn’t asked me to marry him yet, but I’m sure it will be happening soon.”

“You want to marry Robert?”

“Well, we’ve been together for nearly a year. I guess it would be the next step.”

“But do you love him?”

“Adam! That is not an appropriate question. I owe you no explanation.”

“Sorry if I seem forward. It’s just that…”

“I’ve never stopped thinking of you,” she finished.

“Right. I hoped that maybe…I’d find you out here. I wish…”

“That we had not been separated.” She smiled again, showing off dimples of her own.

“Come to dinner with me. It’ll give us a chance to catch up.”

“I can’t; if people see us together unchaparoned, it will surely get back to Robert.”

“Robert! What do you see in that stuffy…”

“Now that’s not fair. You two never really hit it off, but it’s not fair of you to judge him. Robert is a very intense person. You just have to get to know him.”

“Fine. Then invite him along.”

“But…”

“No buts. I want to see you. Invite him along, and meet me at the hotel in an hour. I expect to see you there.”

“But he would never…”

“Then persuade him. You were always quite persuasive,” he answered with a cheeky grin as he put his book down and headed for the door, giving her no chance to turn down his invitation.

She watched him walk away. She knew from the moment she had met him six years ago that he was meant to be her husband. But now, she was soon to be betrothed to Robert. Was it fair to just end that relationship because the man in black had sauntered back into her life? Feeling suddenly claustrophobic, she headed out of the bookstore. Her feet carried her along; she wasn’t sure how long she’d been walking. Stopping at the shore line, she slid her shoes off and stood in the sand. This was risky, as a woman in society life should never be seen partaking in such activities. She walked steadily along the beach, eyes on the ocean in front of her. The only thoughts entering her mind being about the man she knew she really loved.

*****

“What do you mean you ran into Elizabeth?!” Jimmy said, watching a dimpled smile spread across his best friends face.

“In the book store that used to be the flower shop. We’re meeting for dinner.”

“That’s great. You think you two will end up together?”

“She’s courting Robert, or I should say Robert is courting her.”

“ROBERT! The same Robert I punched in the nose?”

“That’s him. I don’t know how he does it. First he gets Judy, then Elizabeth. What do they see in him, that’s what I want to know!”
“Me too! He’s such a stuffy…”

“Jimmy! Who in the world are you going on about?” Judy said, entering the room quickly in hopes of stopping her husband from cursing in front of their son.

“Robert. Elizabeth and Robert are a couple. Adam ran into her at the bookstore.”

“WHAT! You found her here! After all these years! Adam, that’s wonderful!” She pranced excitedly, James bouncing up and down on her hip.

“Wonderful! She’s about to be engaged. I wouldn’t say that was wonderful. Maybe if it was to anyone but Robert.”

“He wasn’t so bad, once you got to know him. He was a very…”

“Intense man. I know,” Adam finished turning away. “I need to go get ready. I’m meeting them for dinner.”

“B-Bam!” James cried reaching out to him.

“Adam’s got to go, little buddy. I promise, we’ll spend time together tomorrow,” Adam said, kissing the baby’s hair and hurrying out the door.

*****

“Robert, we must meet him. I already accepted the invitation,” Elizabeth said brushing her hair in front of the mirror.

“Why would you? You know what happened last time we shared a meal — his friend broke my nose!”

“That was Jimmy, not Adam. It’ll be fine, honey, you’ll see.”

“I see, alright. One barbaric move from him, and we’re leaving. I don’t want this to be an ongoing thing, Elizabeth. One dinner and that is it!”

“Let’s just see how the evening goes before we decide what we want to do. I’m sure he has changed since college. We all have.”

“Hmm, he’s a rancher from the West, Elizabeth; he’s not like us.”

“You don’t even know him, Robert. I hope you will have better manners during dinner!”

“I assure you my dear. They could be no worse than the man you are forcing me to dine with!”

“That is quite enough. I do believe this conversation is over. I will be ready to go in half and hour.”

“Fine. But you owe me. I want you to accompany me to the Hull’s social next Sunday.”

“Agreed. Now could I get some privacy, please.”

*****

“Adam, nice to see you again. You remember Robert.”

“Yes, how’ve you been?”

“Well, thank you.”

“Did you order all ready Adam?”

“Just the wine. I thought I’d wait for my guests.”

“Good choice of wine, I see. I had no idea you would know of such things.”

“Robert, I explained to you before. Adam’s family owns a large ranch in Nevada Territory. He is well trained in the ways of society,” Elizabeth chided hoping Adam would not take offense.

Adam scowled at Robert but kept his comments to himself. Reaching for the menu, he scanned it, trying to calm his nerves.

“So, what brought you back East, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“I’m working with Jimmy on a building project. He is contracted to build the new bank that is going up near the edge of town.”

“So you two are business partners?”

“Not really. I am just sort of tagging along,” Adam smiled, watching Elizabeth sip her wine. She blushed and smiled back.

“Glad to see you’re putting your father’s money to use. I warned Elizabeth you would never make much of yourself. You lack the drive.”

“Now listen…”

“Adam, he didn’t mean that! You apologize this instant; you promised you wouldn’t do this!”

“You just don’t want to face the truth. What has he done with his life? Nothing. He doesn’t even own a business; he just leaches off of people.”

Adam watched as Elizabeth’s face turned from anger to absolute rage. He wanted to shut this man’s face with a fist to the mouth, but Elizabeth didn’t give him a chance.

“I can’t believe you. And you say Adam lacks manners. You, sir, are a snob, no, worse than that, you are a stuck- up, snobbish, son of a…”

“Elizabeth, let’s go.” Adam said, grabbing her arm to prevent the scene that was about to take place.

“Someone ought to put you in your place! If it weren’t for Adam, I would have taken over where Jimmy left off years ago!”

He pulled her gently towards the door as Robert stood watching, a look of surprise on his face. “I don’t know what you see in him. He’s nothing but a cowboy from the West!” Robert shouted as they left the restaurant.

“I apologize, Adam. I don’t know what got into him. He has never been so blatantly rude.”

“Really. I’ve known him no other way.”

“I’m sorry. I really should be going. I can’t believe this. How can I stay with him knowing that he can be so….so…”

“Why would you stay with him?”

“Well, because we’ve been…I thought…I don’t know.”

“Did you ever really love him?”

“I thought I did. But then I saw you and all those old feelings came back to the surface. Robert and I bonded soon after you left. It was only a year ago we became romantically involved. I think I did it just so I wouldn’t be alone.”

“I did that once. My engagement ended the same way, well almost. My fiancé found out she was truly in love with my cousin. I thought I loved her, but what I found out that I was in love with the idea of being in love. I never really had any true feelings for her, other than friendship.”

“Oh Adam, what am I going to do? My family is expecting an engagement. I wrote to them in Washington about my and Robert’s plans to move, after he married me of course.”

“Well, you’ll have to write them and tell them the truth.”

“But what is the truth? Should I tell them that you have returned? That now I am in love with a man whom I will never get the chance to marry?”

“Why wouldn’t you have the chance to marry?”

“You’re not staying here permanently, and my home is here. I can’t possibly open my heart to you knowing that you are just going to leave me again.”

“What if I stayed?”

“I could never ask that of you. I know how much your family means to you.”

“What if I said it didn’t matter if you asked or not. What if I said I would stay here regardless?”

“Then I would say what are we waiting for?”

Adam pulled her to him. She kissed him deeply, pressing her body against is, feeling his body respond in return. Hearing a cough nearby, she quickly pulled away.

“We’re in public. Adam, let’s get out of here.”

“Where should we go?”

“To the beach. I know a place. I used to go there to get away when I was in college. Let’s just hope no one has discovered it yet.”

She pulled Adam along quickly, dodging through the traffic on the street. Making it to the small cove, she removed her shoes, waiting for Adam to do the same. He took off his boots and walked beside her into the cove. Sitting with their backs against the wall they stared at each other in silence.

“What are you thinking, Adam? Are you thinking this is wrong?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“I’m thinking how stupid I was six years ago to have left you here. I’ve known since the moment I saw you that you’d be my wife.”

“I knew also. I tried to catch you at the station, but the train was already pulling away.”

“I saw you. But, I was young, and on my way home. I regretted that moment everyday of my life since. I love you, Elizabeth, I always have.”

“I love you too, Adam Cartwright.”

She leaned into him again, there kiss slow and passionate. She began to unbutton his shirt with one hand, the other trailing up and down his back. Adam returned the kiss, but felt his body begin to tense. He pulled away slightly as her hands made contact with his bare skin.

“What is it, Adam? What’s wrong?” Elizabeth asked seeing him break into a sweat, and his body began to tremble. “Are you sick? Tell me what’s wrong.”

He tried to fight but he knew he was being pulled into a vision.

“That’s it, stay right there,” Susie laughed as Cain held the knife to his gut.

“Please Adam, you’re scaring me.”

“You know what I want, finish it!” She laughed again digging her nails into his bare back.

“ADAM!” She cried as he fell to his back in the cove.

“We ain’t through with you yet Cartwright! It’s only just begun. Cain laughed removing the knife from his stomach, leaving a small scratch stretching along his abdomen.

“I can’t. I can’t.” Adam breathed, as his vision came back into focus.

“It’s okay, Adam. Tell me what’s wrong. Do you need a doctor?”

“No, I’m fine. Just need a minute.”

“But you’re shaking so badly. Are you cold?”

“Elizabeth, there are things you don’t know about me. I shouldn’t be doing this to you. I shouldn’t have gotten you involved.” He sat up slowly and pulled his knees to his chest.

“Involved with what? Please, Adam, tell me what is wrong.” Elizabeth said with tears streaming down her face.

“I can’t.”

“Why!”

“Please, I can’t.”

“I love you, Adam. You could say and do nothing to change that. Whatever it is, I can take it. If you love me, you would keep nothing from me. Is it a lie?”

“What?”

“Your love for me!”

“No. I love you, that’s why I can’t tell you.”

“You’re wrong, Adam; that’s what you hide behind. I’ve never known you to be a coward, Adam. Let’s face this, whatever it is, together.”

“Elizabeth,” he whispered, choking back the anguish he felt.

“There is nothing we can’t conquer, Adam; you just have to give us the chance.”

“There’s too much to tell. I don’t think you’ll want to hear it. Please don’t do this to me. Don’t make me re-live it.”

“You are already re-living it; look at you. We can face this Adam; I promise I will not turn away from you.”

“YOU CAN’T SAY THAT! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY DID TO ME!”

“They’ve done nothing worse than what you are doing to yourself. Your letting them win, Adam; you’re letting it control your life.”

She watched, her eyes filled with tears, reflecting her love for the broken man before her. She leaned in as she heard him whispering, he was talking about a kidnapping. She scooted beside him and drew his head to her chest, she listened with a heavy heart as he told the story he would never tell again.

“Did we sleep here?” Adam asked, rolling over and rubbing his puffy eyes.

“We did. I don’t know when it happened.”

“We better go.”

“Yes, people will begin to worry. You feeling okay?”

“No.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I know that was terrifying for you, but I hope it helped some. I don’t want that nightmare to overshadow the rest of our lives.”

“You mean you still love me, still want to be with me, after I told you what they did to me?”

“I want to be with you the rest of our lives. I want to become Mrs. Adam Cartwright. I want to raise a family. You were wrong, Adam, when you said they won. We won; our bond is only now stronger, our love runs deeper.”

Adam blinked back tears as he stared at the woman in front of him. The shame and guilt that he had been carrying for the past year and a half melted off his shoulders. He would fight alone no longer. His soul had been restored.

*****

“We were so worried, when you didn’t come home. Where have you been?” Judy asked pulling Adam into a hug. Pulling away and looking into his eyes, she could tell he had been crying. “Did something happen with Elizabeth?”

“Yes.”

“What? You’ve been crying. Wait ‘til I get my hands on her. She won’t have a hair left on that head.”

“She saved me.”

“I’ll poke her eye’s right out…wait, did you say she saved you?”

“Yes, she saved me from myself. We spent the night together. I told her things, and she didn’t push me away. She loves me, Judy.”

“That’s wonderful, Adam. Then why do you seem so upset?”

“I’m not upset, not anymore. We’re getting married. I’m staying here in Boston with her; we’ll move into Grandfather Stoddard’s apartment.”

“So soon? That’s awful quick to jump into marriage. You hardly know her Adam. Six years is a long time!” Judy said grabbing his shoulders, her eyes filled with worry.

“Six years that I’ve lost. I won’t lose anymore time. We’re getting married next Saturday, right after James’ Christening.”

“NEXT SATURDAY! THAT’S HARDLY TIME TO PLAN A WEDDING!”

“Who’s planning a wedding?” Jimmy asked walking into the room.

“Adam.”

“Adam! With who?”

“Elizabeth.”

“After one night. That must have been some night!”

“It sure was. A night I’ll never forget.”

*****

Dear Pa, Hoss, and Joe,

I’m sure you’ve received your letters and gifts by now. I hope you enjoyed them. I received your letters, and I thank you for the clothes you sent along. I decided I didn’t want to dress as society deems appropriate. My clothes are much more comfortable.

I have some news, and I wish I could be there to tell you in person. I have once again met Elizabeth. I believe I told you some about her in letters I had written while in college. I knew the moment I lain eyes on her that this would be my wife. I left her all those years ago, and have regretted it ever since. I know this may come as a shock to you since I have not spoken of her since, but I will have regrets no more. We are married. Pa. I married her after James’ Christening, we are living in Grandfather’s apartment.

You’ll never know how much I wish you could have been there, but I could not wait any longer. I understand now, Pa, what was between you and Marie. When something is so right, you just have to follow your heart. Please don’t be angry with me, know that I love you and I think of you every day. I don’t know when I will be coming home, Elizabeth is doing quite well in her business. She has her own fabric line, she designs dresses for balls and society meetings. You’d like her, Pa. She reminds me a lot of Marie, with her temper anyway. She doesn’t hesitate to put me in my place.

I’d hate to ask this of you, knowing that you are in the busiest season at the Ponderosa. But I wish you would come out for a visit. You could stay with us, we’ve plenty of room. Just think about it Pa, Joe, Hoss.

I know this letter is nothing like you were expecting. I hope you find it in your hearts to accept my decision. Please remember that I love you all very much.

Love,

Adam

 

*****

“CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT PA! HE GOES AND GETS MARRIED. HE’LL NEVER COME BACK NOW! NEVER! HE BROKE HIS PROMISE. HE MADE HIS BED, HE CAN LIE IN IT. HE DOESN’T THINK OF US, SO I WON’T THINK OF HIM. NO WAY AM I GOING TO BOSTON! NO WAY!”

“Now Joe, settle down. I know this was unexpected, but your brother is old enough to make decisions for himself,” Ben said, rushing to his distraught son. “He wants us to visit, Joe; how can you deny him that?”

“He’s living there now, Pa. He has his own life. Well, he can enjoy that life without me!”

“Joe, you know Adam’s hurtin’ over this. He wrote it in his letter. He expected us to be upset, but not about his happiness. About us not being able to share it with him,” Hoss said, going to his brother’s other side.

“Hoss is right. You heard him; he wants to see us. He’s not forgotten us.”

“I thought he’d come home, Pa. I’ve been waiting for him to come back.”

“He may still comeback someday, Joe, but we gotta be understanding. Old Adam just wasn’t the same after what those men did to him. Put yourself in his shoes, Joe. Wouldn’t you want to leave something like that behind you?”

“NOT IF IT MEANT LEAVING MY FAMILY IN its WAKE!”

“He’s not leaving us, Joe. He’s inviting us to be a part of it with him.”

*****

The day was warm when they awoke. The sound of the waves hitting the shore echoed around them as they took their morning walk. Her hair was down, and the slight breeze caused it to wave about beside him. He stopped walking, causing her to turn towards him.

“What is it, Adam?” she asked as he studied her.

He held both of her hands in front of him as he leaned in for a kiss. She met his request, and stood back smiling as the passerby’s moved around them. Some harrumphed and others smiled.

“I love you,” he said casually as they once again began their trek down the shore. “You know, Grandfather used to tell me that no matter where he was in the city he could always hear the sound of the waves crashing into the shore.”

“I bet he could. Your Grandfather lived for the sea. I remember attending several socials in which he was a party too, and his voice would fill the parlor with one story after another about the sea and the treasures it held.”

“You think he’d mind us taking over his apartment?” Adam asked suddenly, squeezing her hand tightly.

“I would think he’d be proud. Why, is it bothering you?”

“In a way I guess. I don’t know, I guess it’s more the memories than anything else. Every time we go to bed, I think of him sitting in that chair reading.”

“So what were you thinking? You want to look for another place?”

“Sort of.”

She laughed. She could always tell when he was pondering something. They had been married for over a month now and lately he had become withdrawn. He spent hours in the study, and seldom sought out her opinion on matters at hand.

“Well, I’ve been waiting for you to come to me for weeks now. What is ‘sort of’, Adam?”

“I’ve been working with Jimmy on this building project, as you know.” His voice was teasing.

“Yes, I know. You’ve been a recluse for weeks as well.” She smiled.

“And, I spoke with him about an idea I had for us. A house, but not one like the style here, a cross between Western style, and Eastern Style. I have it all drawn out, but I wanted your input before I finalized it. What do you think?”

“I think that would be fine. It would make our marriage seem a little more official, having a place all our own, don’t you think?”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking.” He flashed his dimpled smile, as he suddenly turned towards her and lifted her into his arms. She laughed and kicked her legs as he carried her down the boardwalk. Stepping towards the edge, his smile changed to that of trouble.

“Adam Stoddard Cartwright, if you’re thinking of putting me in that water, you’ve got another think coming!” she said, gripping tightly to his shoulders. Before she had a chance to argue further he jumped from the pier. Together they splashed into the water. Resurfacing, he swam quickly away from her laughing. She gave chase, quickly catching up, and dunked him under. The rest of the morning was spent playing in the chilly water of the Boston Harbor.

*****

“I can’t believe you! You could have warned me that you wanted to swim today. Do you have any idea how hard it is to walk home in a soaking wet ankle length dress?”

“No, I can’t say as I do.” Adam laughed as he watched her wrestle her way out of the sopping garment.

“It’s not easy, sir! No, it is not. Next time, you will be in BIG trouble.”

“Big trouble,” he whispered in her ear, wrapping his arms around her before she could redress. He slowly kissed her neck, making his way down until she turned to face him. Her mouth met his as she walked him steadily towards the bedroom.

*****

“Is this it, Pa? Looks like the right building. I’m surprised Adam wasn’t there to meet us. You think he didn’t get our letter?” Hoss asked, standing in front of the large brick building near the shore.

“I don’t know, Hoss. He never responded, or at least if he did, we didn’t receive it before we left. Let’s just go on in. If this isn’t it, maybe we can look up Judy and Jimmy somehow; they’ll know where to go.”

“Sure is a big city. Adam said there was plenty of exploring we could do. I hope he takes me to that saloon he mentioned — you know, the one with three levels,” Joe said, opening the door for his father and brother.

“Here it is, Pa, I told ya this was it,” Joe said, standing in front of the door. Raising his hand to knock, he stopped when he heard muffled sounds coming from the other side of the door.

“Adam!”

“Well, somebody’s calling for him. Go ahead, Joe; he must be home,” Ben said wondering why his son was stalling.

Joe knocked on the door repeatedly, but no answer came. After several attempts, they heard their brother yell “Go Away!” from somewhere afar. Ben called out to him, but no answer came. Realization hit that maybe now was not the time to come calling, his face reddened as he thought of the reason. Turning from the door, he started down the hall.

“Seems to me they are not prepared for visitors; we better come back later,” Ben said, hoping his son’s would take the hint.

“Yeah, wait up a minute, Pa!” Hoss called following quickly behind.

Ben turned to see Joe still standing at the door and hollered to him to come on. Joe laughed, and turned away from the door. He trotted down the hallway to catch up to his father and brother, his laughter echoing down the corridor.

They spent some time in the city, having dinner and checking out the sights. They avoided the conversation of what had taken place at the apartment, but Ben caught Joe grinning many times through the evening. Deciding they had allowed enough time to pass that the couple surely would answer the door, they headed back to the apartment.

“Hello, may I help you?” Elizabeth asked, trying to keep their cat inside the apartment.

“You must be Elizabeth,” Ben answered smiling at the beautiful woman standing before him. Her brown hair hung loose, she was in a nightgown, not having bothered to cover up with a house coat to answer the door.

“Yes, I am Elizabeth. May I help you with something?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am. We’re looking for our brother, Adam Cartwright. I’m Hoss, this is Joe.” Hoss chimed in, smiling also at the woman before him.

“You……You’re…….OH MY GOODNESS!” she yelled, grabbing Ben’s hand and pulling him into a hug, followed by Hoss and Joe. “He’s told me so much about you. I’m so glad you could come! Please come in, come in! He’s not home right now — he’s working with Jimmy — but he should be back in a few hours. It’s so good to meet you!” She bounced up and down as she led them to the sitting room.

“We sent a letter, but when he wasn’t there to meet us, we decided he mustn’t have gotten it,” Ben said sitting on the sofa, the small cat hopping on his lap.

“Get down, Buck,” she said pushing the cat off his lap.

“Buck?” Joe laughed, as the cat landed on the floor with a loud meow.

“Adam named him. We got him two days after we were married. I always thought the name was strange.”

“It’s Pa’s horse’s name.” Joe laughed again as he picked the cat up into his lap. “He must have been a little homesick.”

“We were quite surprised to hear he was married, it happened so quickly. I’m sorry we weren’t able to be present,” Ben said glancing around the apartment that held so many memories for him.

“It was quite sudden, but we knew it was right. After all he had been through with the kidnapping, he nearly didn’t go through with it. But, now we couldn’t be more happy. I think you’ll be pleased, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Please, call me Ben.”

They all turned as the door was heard opening in the other room. Elizabeth stood, starting towards the door when Ben stopped her. His eyes danced as he asked her permission to greet his son. She nodded silently, a bright smile filling her face, as Hoss and Joe stood to watch.

“Elizabeth, you’ll never believe what Jimmy did this time! As smart as he is, he can be such a…”

His sentence was left unfinished as he turned from the coat rack and met the embrace of his father.

“Pa?” Adam whispered as he hugged him fiercely.

“I’m so glad to see you, son. We came as soon as we heard you were married,” Ben said, a tear trekking down his cheek.

“I was hoping you would come, but it’s the busy season Pa. How……..what about Hoss and Joe? Are they gonna be able to handle all that work?” Adam asked keeping a tight hold on his father.

“No, they won’t.” Ben answered, cherishing this moment with his son. “We hired more men; I put Charlie and Jake in charge. They have strict orders to contact me the first sign of trouble.”

“Charlie and Jake, but Hoss and Joe…?” Adam stopped, pulling away from his father and searching his eyes. His golden eyes filled with tears as he looked towards the sitting room. “They’re here?” he whispered.

“Hey, brother,” Hoss said, finally entering the room for a hug of his own.

Adam embraced Hoss quickly, holding him tight until he heard his brother sniffle. Then he turned to Joe.

“Joe!” Adam said, unashamed of the tears that now streaked his face. “I’m sorry, Joe; I know how my letter must have upset you. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he whispered so only his brother could hear.

“I know, Adam, I understand. She seems like a wonderful woman.”

“She is.”

They made their way back into the sitting room, Adam sitting next to his wife and father. They shared their lives, catching up on the last year. Ben marveled at the difference in Adam. The shine was back in his eyes, even his mannerisms were different. He was happy.

“I’m being rude. Here you traveled all this way, and I haven’t even offered you a moment to rest. You must be beat,” Adam said rising after he noticed the three starting to sag. Pa, why don’t you take my old room, Hoss and Joe, I’ll show you yours.” Adam led Hoss and Joe down the far hallway, leaving Ben to find his own room — the room he remembered well. It was the room in which he and his wife had shared. As he walked through the door, Ben was flooded with memories. The room lay nearly untouched. Her hairbrush and mirror lay on the dressing table. Her books lay on the shelves against the wall. A few of Adam’s college items lay scattered on the tables, a baseball cap, and a few books left behind. He sat on the bed, head in hands as he thought of the moment his son was born and his wife was taken. He didn’t hear his son enter as he gave in to the despair his heart now felt.

“I’m sorry, Pa. I wasn’t thinking,” Adam said as he pulled his father close, closing his eyes tight against his fathers pain. He couldn’t stand to hear his father cry, his heart felt like it was being ripped from his chest. “You can take my and Elizabeth’s room; we’ll sleep in here.”

Ben worked on pulling himself together. He sat up wearily as his eyes once again surveyed the room. “No, that’s not necessary. I’m okay, just doing a little wool gathering,” Ben said wiping his eyes dry and facing his son. He saw Adam’s own tears — tears that always fell if Ben lost control of his emotions. He wiped them away with his thumbs as another memory came to surface.

*****

Those golden eyes followed him wherever he went. He was supposed to be sleeping — he hadn’t napped all morning — but the seven-month-old was determined to stay awake. Ben worked on dressing; he had a meeting with a service man today — he was hoping for a contract to outfit his fleet.

“Adam, you need to go to sleep,” Ben chided, shaking his finger at the infant who lay cooing in his crib, a serious expression etched into his features.

Leaving the room to get his paperwork, he heard the sound of cooing turn to babbles. The seven-month-old had recently taken to making new sounds, oddly resembling words. He was now speaking loudly, an urgent tone to his small voice. Ben grabbed the papers, and went back in the room to straighten his tie.

“Mrs. Callahan, I have to go. Adam is still awake’ he’ll need fed soon,” Ben called as he flattened out that stray hair on his forehead once again.

“Yes sir. I don’t understand why he is trying to do away with his morning nap; he is much too young.”

“I agree. But, I suppose he isn’t fussing much,” Ben said rushing towards the door. Turning back, he kissed Adam’s forehead before running towards the door.

The meeting went terribly. Every offer he made was turned down, and the man was just plan rude. Ben stormed into the house, startling Adam who was sitting in his high chair beginning his evening meal. One look at his father, and he lifted his cup towards him.

“D-Dw.” Adam said, cup in hand, extended towards his father.

“No thank you. You drink it,” Ben said gruffly as he sat heavily in his chair.

“D-Dw.” he repeated, this time shaking the cup towards his father. The milk sloshed out, landing on the floor with a splash. Ben glared at his son as he went for the rag by the sink.

“Adam! Drink your milk or put it down!” he said sharply as he bent to clean up the spill.

He heard the sound of soft sniffles as he picked up the wet rag and carried it towards the laundry. His heart softened as he met the wet eyes of his young son who was now staring hard at the spot where the milk had spilled. Ben lifted him out of the chair, and set the child in his lap.

“Papa had a bad day, Adam. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t take it out on you. I know you were only trying to help,” he said, his son now staring into his eyes. Adam sniffled again, those eyes studying his father closely, as if deep in thought. His small hands found his father’s cheek as he patted them lovingly. He bent forward, giving his father a wet kiss on the lips. Ben smiled, his bad mood now lifted. Adam had a way of knowing exactly what to do.

“I love you,” Ben whispered as his son rested his head against his chest.

“Dub,” was the response, as Ben kissed the soft curly hair of the child that meant more to him than life itself.

*****

“I remember how I felt the first time I came in this room Pa. I cried myself to sleep that night. I was so homesick; I had never felt more further away from you than I did that night. Well, not until… I’m glad you’re here, Pa,” Adam said bringing his father out of his silent memory.

“I’m glad to be here, son. I’ve missed you. Things just aren’t the same around the Ponderosa. Hoss took it okay, but then again, he handles everything pretty well. Joe, on the other hand, he struggles with it. But, I think we’re all just glad you’re happy.”

“I am happy. I love her, Pa. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. She makes me feel alive again; I look forward to waking up every day, simply because I know I’ll get to see her one more time. I know you haven’t had much time with her, but once you get to know her, I think…”

“She’s wonderful Adam. I can already tell what it is you see in her. She’s a lot like your mother actually. You know she answered the door without covering up! I was shocked, a lady of society behaving in such a manner.” Ben laughed. “Your mother was the same way. She didn’t do things to please others in that way. She was simply herself; she knew no other way to be.”

“That’s what I love most about her. She’s real; she doesn’t feel the need to put on a show. She’s beautiful on the inside, where it counts. How long are you staying?” he asked suddenly, a longing in his voice.

“Only two weeks. That’s all we could manage. I wish it could be longer, but it is the busy season.”

“No, I understand. Two weeks, well, that’ll give us a little time anyway. I’m going to build a house for us, Pa. Wait ‘til you see it. I’ll show it to you in the morning. Right now, you need to sleep; you look like you’re about to drop.” Adam laughed as his father yawned once again.

“I’d like to see that house. I’ll look forward to it in the morning. Good night Adam.”

“Night, Pa,” Adam said turning towards the door. Ben stood and began to undress; he was interrupted as his son once again stood in front of him. He felt himself wrapped in another hug, as his son placed a kiss on his cheek. “I love you,” Adam said, slipping out of the room.

Adam peeked in on Hoss before he went to check on Joe. Hoss was already snoring soundly, so he closed the door quietly and moved on. He quietly opened Joe’s door and saw him sitting up and reading in bed.

“Adam?” Joe asked seeing his door crack open.

“You need anything, buddy?”

“Come in, Adam,” Joe said, setting his book on the table next to the bed.

“What ya reading?” Adam asked entering the room.

“Gulliver’s Travel’s. It’s pretty good. I borrowed it from your room, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t mind. I’m just glad you’re reading something other than those dime novels,” Adam laughed sitting on the edge of the bed. “So did the trip go okay? You got in pretty late.”

“The trip went fine. We didn’t get in as late as you think we did, brother,” Joe finished with a teasing giggle. He had been dying to embarrass his brother all day.

“What do you mean? Elizabeth said you didn’t get here until after eight.”

“No, we were here around four actually.”

“I didn’t leave until six; we didn’t hear you stop by. Did you do some sightseeing first?” Adam questioned, wondering why they would lug their belongings around the city.

“We weren’t planning to, but it sort of turned out that way.” Joe giggled again, Adam wasn’t catching on. “We stopped by the house, but you were busy.”

“I was busy. Joe, you’re not making any sense.”

“I’m making plenty of sense.”

“Quit smiling at me like that. What in the world is wrong with you?” Adam asked, completely bewildered.

“We stopped by and knocked, but you must have been busy. You screamed at us to ‘Go Away!’,” Joe said, laughing as his brother turned red. Joe burst into laughter, grabbing his sides as Adam shoved him hard in the shoulder. “You should’ve seen Pa’s face when you yelled!” Joe coughed out between laughs. “He made us eat for two hours, then walk around the city while he reminisced.”

“Shut up, Joe!” Adam said, hiding his face in his hands as the thoughts of his father hearing he and his wife’s indiscretions entered his mind. “Oh lord,” he said shaking his head. “You better not say a word to Elizabeth. I mean it, Joe; I’ll kill you. I really will.”

“I wouldn’t do that, brother. I just had to give you a hard time. It reminded me of the time you were with Jenny Lee. I wonder if Pa ever found out about that!” Joe laughed again as Adam tried to smother him with a pillow.

Finally releasing his grip on the pillow, Joe sat up red-faced. Both were laughing now, as Adam leaned back against the headboard.

“Do you like girls now, Little Joe?” Adam joked, causing Joe to punch him in the arm.

“You know, Pa can still find out about Jenny Lee.”

“Uh huh. And Pa can still find out about Mona and Rose. I saw you in the barn. And I never took a girl to my room, Joe, not like you and Rose.”

“YOU KNEW ABOUT THAT!”

“I know everything, so you better keep that mouth of yours sealed tight,” Adam said facing his brother as he stood. “Night Joe.”

“Night Adam.” Joe said, rolling over, still smiling.

“Hey Joe, I’m really glad you’re here. I love you,” Adam said as he closed the door.

Joe turned towards the door. Adam was definitely different. The old Adam would never have joked around about something as serious as what they had just discussed. He used to be so sad and aloof. Now he had a dance in his step and a sparkle in his eye. He spoke of how he felt, and showed his love openly. All the anger that Joe felt dissipated as he realized that this really was the best thing for his brother. He said a silent prayer, thanking the lord for releasing his brother from the hell he was in and bringing him back to them.

*****

Ben woke early as usual. He sat up slowly and surveyed the room. So many memories. He could spend the entire day in this room and never run out of memories. He could smell breakfast cooking, and decided it would be better if he dressed. He wanted to spend as much time with Adam and his new wife as he could. After shaving, he walked quietly into the parlor so as not to upset Joe and Hoss, whose doors remained closed. It had been a long trip, and if they wanted to sleep in, he didn’t blame them. He saw Adam on the settee, the orange tabby cat on his lap. He was holding it up by the front shoulders and speaking to it.

“What is it, little kitty? Did you want some cream? I bet papa could get you some cream if you ask him nicely,” Adam cooed at the cat.

Ben smiled; this was so unlike the son who had left the Ponderosa over a year ago. That Adam had no life left in him. He merely made it through day by day. This Adam was full of life, laughing, joking, smiling, and now playing with a cat. Ben had always thought he hated cats. “C’mon Buck, let’s go ask momma for some cream,” Adam said standing and heading towards the kitchen.

Ben followed quietly; he knew he was eavesdropping, but he wanted to see this side of Adam — the one he had kept hidden away, or maybe the one that hadn’t existed. He stood in the entryway and watched as Adam approached his wife, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her neck slightly.

“Morning, Ella Bell. Smells good in here.” He kissed her again, running his hands over her apron.

“We’re having eggs, bacon, and apple turnovers. I hope your family likes to eat,” she said turning to meet his mouth.

Adam laughed out loud, then went to stir the eggs. “Buck wants some cream. Do we have any left?”

“Yep, check the ice box.”

“Ha ha. See there, kitty, I told you momma would help us out,” Adam said grabbing a bowl and retrieving the cream. The cat meowed its delight as the cream was added to the bowl, and Adam noticed his father. “Morning Pa, sleep well?”

“Sure did. I was woken by the smell of fine cooking. I almost thought I was back on the Ponderosa.”

Adam laughed. “Don’t let Hop Sing hear you say that, he’s liable to get the first boat back to China. Too bad he couldn’t come for a visit also; I would have like to a seen him again. Maybe next year, right.”

“Maybe next year. Anyway, Hop Sing isn’t much for traveling. He said after coming here to America, he would never travel a long distance again.”

They all turned as Hoss entered the room signing praise.

“Mmm, something sure smells good in here. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!” Hoss exclaimed as he came into the kitchen.

“Well that’s good, ‘cause that’s just what we’re having, big little brother. I don’t know if you knew, but horse is a delicacy here in Boston. It’s a special event to have horse meat with your eggs in the morning.” Adam dimpled as he watched his brother frown and gulp.

“You all eat horses out here?”

“Sure. Tastes a lot like chicken actually, once you get past the tough skin.”

Hoss looked slightly green as Adam burst out laughing. Elizabeth smacked his back side with the spatula, causing him to jump in the air.

“You leave your brother alone, Adam. Don ‘t worry, Hoss; on the menu is eggs, bacon and apple turnovers,” Elizabeth answered, returning Adam’s playful scowl.

Ben watched in awe. He loved this side of his son. He wished he could bring him home with him to the Ponderosa. Maybe by the end of the trip, he could convince him that that would be best. He had plans to build a house, he owned his own company, Elizabeth ran her own business. But, a father could always hope.

“That sounds awful good, ma’am. Should I go wake Joe?” Hoss asked smiling at his older brother, glad to see this playful side of him.

“It’s not ma’am, it’s Elizabeth, or Ella. And yes, breakfast will be ready shortly. I would appreciate it if you would wake him,” Elizabeth smiled.

“Yes ma’am, uh, Elizabeth,” Hoss said wringing his hands and walking towards Joe’s room.

A disheveled Joe made his way to the breakfast table and plopped into his seat. Adam laughed, and Ben scowled. Joe was a guest in his brother’s house, and here he came, looking like he hadn’t even combed his hair or shaven before he came to the table.

“Joseph, just what do you think you are doing!” Ben thundered.

Elizabeth’s eyes opened wide at Ben’s tone, and she looked to Adam for understanding. He took her hand under the table and squeezed, giving her a reassuring smile.

“Coming to breakfast, Pa,” Joe answered, reaching for a glass of milk.

“Oh no you don’t, young man. You march yourself back to that room and do not even think of coming back out here until you are properly attired.”

“Pa, I’m dressed!” Joe answered wide-eyed, looking himself over.

“Go to the mirror and look again! Now get!” Ben boomed, sending Joe’s chair sliding from the table. Elizabeth, startled, squeezed Adam’s hand tighter. He had a small smile playing on his lips, which he quickly hid when his father looked towards him.

Hoss waited rather impatiently for his brother to return so the meal could be served.

Joe came back to the table this time, much better kempt. The group bowed their heads as Adam led the prayer. The food was passed around the table, and soon the apartment was filled with sounds of chatter. Adam remained silent as he watched his family interact amongst each other and his wife. He had a longing in his heart for all of them to be together, but knew that he and Elizabeth now had a life here in Boston. He couldn’t ask her to leave the only home she had ever known to travel halfway across the country to the West. It was still far too dangerous for her there; he would hate to put her in that situation. But his heart ached to be near his family. Elizabeth had none left; she was the last surviving relative of a rather small family.

“Adam, you remember that time you fell of the roof when we were playing parachute?” Hoss asked laughing, bringing his brother out of his reprieve.

“I don’t believe I fell; I think I jumped. The sheet was supposed to open, and I was supposed to float down,” Adam answered, taking a bite of his cold eggs.

“Boy did you get into trouble,” Hoss laughed pounding the table.

“What happened, honey?” Elizabeth hollered to be heard over the loud laughter.

“Well, it was right after Pa had married Marie and brought her to the Ponderosa. She had this fancy sheet set for their bed. Hoss and I had snuck into a circus, and one of the acts involved a parachute that looked a lot like this sheet Marie had. So Hoss and I decided…”

“It was your idea, brother. I didn’t have no part in it,” Hoss interjected, looking at his father.

“Okay. So I decided to climb up on the roof, and try and jump off using that sheet as a parachute. Well, the sheet slammed shut, and I fell to the ground, just as Pa and Marie walked out the front door. The sheet ended up ripped, I broke my ankle, and after my ankle was set, Pa broke my tail,” Adam said, staring hard at his father.

Hoss laughed harder, seeing his older brother stare down his father, and his father stare back.

“You disobeyed me. You were not allowed on the roof for one, you took Marie’s sheet without permission for two — that was deceit — and then you blamed her for the sheet not opening, saying if it had been better quality it would have worked, which was disrespect! You’re lucky you still have a tail to sit on!” Ben said, pointing a stern finger at his oldest.

“Adam, you broke all three of Pa’s three D’s!” Joe said, shock registering in his face.

“Three D’s?” Elizabeth asked, eyebrows furrowed.

“Disrespect, Dishonesty, and Disobey,” Adam answered, looking back to his plate and scooting his eggs around. “Well, I figure a broken ankle was punishment enough. I was laid up for weeks.”

“Well, when you have kids of your own, and they turn out just like you, you can tell me just what type of discipline you think is enough,” Ben chided returning to his meal.

Elizabeth smiled at the exchange between this family. She could tell they were so full of love. At the mention of children, her heart jumped. She wanted them so badly, but had not yet gotten pregnant. She wondered the reason, but knew in God’s time they would be blessed.

The Cartwright’s spent the day walking the city. Ben told them stories of his days in Boston, then of he and Adam before they left for the West. Stopping in front of a large building made of brick and stone, Adam leaned against the wall waiting for his father to finish his story. Elizabeth had stayed behind as she had work to do, designing a line of dresses for a company — the deadline was the end of the week.

“Alright brother, we stopping for a rest or what?” Joe asked when he noticed they were no longer moving.

“I wanted to show you something.” Adam smiled, his foot resting against the side of the building.

“Okay, well let’s get moving then.” Joe was always antsy, especially when there was so much to see.

“We’re already there. I wanted to show you this,” Adam said stepping away from the building and motioning to the bank.

“What? The bank?” Hoss asked, giving his brother the raised eyebrow look that was so much like his father.

“Take a look at that plaque there.” Adam gestured pointing at the plaque that he had been covering while leaning against the building.

“Cartwright Enterprise, 1864.” Joe read, staring at the plaque, shock registering on his face as he stood back to study the large building. “You mean this is one of yours?”

“This is my first design. The very first building I built in this city.”

“Adam, this is amazing.” Ben said noticing the details along the top of the building and along the corners. Tears filled his eyes as he realized his son had reached his dream. As a child, he had spent hours designing houses and buildings just like this. “How many have you built now, Adam?”

“With Jimmy, I’ve designed fifteen, but those he took credit for, of course. Those are known as Kings Designs. We worked together on those. By myself, I only have five so far. They’re spread out across the city. My dream is to build for the college; I’d love to design a dorm for the students.”

“That’s a fine idea, son,” Ben said, running his fingers along the Cartwright plaque. “I’m very proud of you, Adam.”

“Thanks, Pa,” Adam said putting his arm around his father’s shoulder.

“Well I don’t know about you boys but I’m beat,” Ben said as they saw Adam’s last building. They had taken a stage to the last few buildings, but they had walked quite a ways that day. It wasn’t only the walking that had done Ben in; it was the excitement, the memories, and the feelings of overwhelming pride for his son. He was in bad need of rest as they once again filed into the stage. The sun was setting, as Adam suggested they head back home for the evening.

“Aw Adam, I wanted to see that saloon,” Joe said, pushing his brother’s shoulder, knocking him into Hoss.

“Joe, it’s been a long day, we still have two weeks almost; you’ll see it.”

“Yeah, but I wanted to see it tonight. C’mon, it’s still early. What, you getting old, older brother?” Joe challenged.

“I am old, Joe, and you’re getting there. But, I guess I could manage a trip to the saloon. Why don’t we drop Pa off, and we’ll head out there. Do you mind, Pa?” Adam asked, looking at his father under his lashes.

“I don’t mind. I’m gonna turn in anyway.”

“What about you, Hoss? You up for the trip?”

“I could use a beer or two.”

Joe whooped, causing Ben to pinch the bridge of his nose. Adam wondered if that’s where he got that habit from.

“You boys be careful; don’t get in any trouble!” Ben chided as he headed for the bedroom.

“Elizabeth, we’re going to The Peerson’s. You coming along?” Adam asked, kissing his wife who was in her sewing room.

“I think I will. I haven’t seen you all day!” she said, dropping the dress she had been sewing. “Just give me a minute to change.”

“ADAM!” Joe practically shouted.

“What?”

“She can’t come to the saloon! She’s a woman!”

“Yes. She likes it there. It’s not a problem, Joe.”

“But…”

“Okay, I’m ready. Let’s go boys.” Elizabeth said, wearing a short knee length dress with her hair tied half up, half down.

“You look great,” Adam said, wrapping her up in a hug.

Hoss and Joe shook their heads as the two headed out the door. Ben thankfully was already in his room. They couldn’t imagine how their father would react seeing her dressed that way, and going to a saloon!

They walked down a few blocks to a large brick building called The Peerson’s. After paying a fee to get in (which Hoss and Joe scoffed at), they looked around the first floor. The music was slow, and there was a large dance floor. Many couples were slow dancing, some kissing on the dance floor as they went along. Adam asked if they wanted to spend some time there, but both men shook their heads quickly. They took the stairs to the second floor. There was a live band, playing popular Bostonian music. The style of dress was different than Hoss and Joe had seen, and they felt very under dressed. They made their way quickly to the stairs, but noticed Adam and Elizabeth lagging behind. They were mingling with some of the patrons, so Hoss and Joe went up the stairs alone. Getting to the top level, the floor had a western theme. The style of dress was over the top, but the music was better. Hoss went to the bar and ordered four beers as they waited for Adam and Elizabeth to arrive.

“Hey boys, so what do ya think?” Adam asked as he picked up his beer, handing Elizabeth hers.

“Kind of over the top, don’t ya think?” Joe laughed watching the ‘saloon girl’ saunter past.

“I warned you. Their idea of western society is a little exaggerated. Adam said, laughing as Hoss was kissed on the cheek by another saloon girl wearing a large red feather in her hair.

“Why don’t you boys look around a bit?” Adam suggested as he turned back to Elizabeth.

Joe and Hoss made their way around the large room. There was a large piano in the corner of the room; a tune they didn’t recognize rang out on the keys. Tables lined the back walls; it looked like several different types of card games were being played. The men at the tables wore cowboy boots, vests and several different styles of cowboy hats, all varieties a little exaggerated. One man referred to himself as Billy the Kid as they walked by, Hoss guffawed as Joe pushed him past the table. They made their way back to the bar, but Adam and Elizabeth were nowhere in sight. Scanning the room, they caught sight of Adam’s black hat. He was at a table in the back. Two beers sat in front of him; Elizabeth across from him, and both of them held a handful of cards. Joe and Hoss looked at each other, both wide- eyed — a woman playing cards! They had seen this only a few times, but never someone as respectable as Elizabeth! And she being Adam’s wife at that! They approached the table as Elizabeth raised the pot one dollar.

“I see your dollar and raise you two more, pretty lady.” the man to Elizabeth’s left said, throwing his money into the middle.

“Call,” Adam chimed in, eyeing his wife carefully.

“Just what are you doing, older brother?” Joe asked tapping his brother on the shoulder.

“Playing five card stud, Joe.”

“I see that. I didn’t know you were a gambling man, especially with your wife present,” Joe said as the cards were shown, the game going to Elizabeth.

“Your deal,” Adam said, passing the deck to his wife. “What do you say we up the bet –, five dollars a game?”

“You’re on.” Elizabeth smiled as she passed around the cards.

“Adam!”

“You in Joe, Hoss?” Adam asked, motioning to the seats that just emptied.

“I’m in, big brother,” Hoss said, sitting down next to Elizabeth. Joe took the seat next to Adam, picking up the hand he was dealt.

“Get ready to lose your money, boys.” Elizabeth teased, scanning her cards and smiling.

Joe raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes to Hoss who simply shrugged.

*****

“That’s it, I’m busted,” Hoss said scooting his chair back from the table. Adam simply smiled at him as he studied the cards in his hands.

Joe scowled at his cards, then looked to Elizabeth who had most of his money in front of her. Between she and Adam, he only had a few dollars left. His hand only held a pair of ten’s, and he knew he was beat.

“Call,” Adam said as he lay his cards face up on the table. “Pair of aces, pair of kings.”

“Shoot!” Elizabeth hollered as she threw down her pair of queens and jacks.

Joe slammed his cards on the table as the last of his money went to Adam.

“Another beer, Joe?” Adam smiled as his brother pushed off from the table just as Hoss had, only he wasn’t as good-natured as Hoss had been.

“You two can’t be that lucky. Hoss and I never even won a hand!” Joe said angrily, grabbing his beer and taking a gulp. “You never even played poker at home; now you’re some kind of pro!”

“What are you trying to say, little brother?” Adam asked, a small smile playing on his lips.

“I’m not trying to say anything. I just think something isn’t right that’s all.”

“Hmm. Well, you win some, you lose some. How about that beer?”

“Fine.”

Adam motioned for another round of beer as they stood from the table. They walked towards the bar, Joe lagging far behind, a definite pout on his face.

“Well, sweetheart, what do you say we call it a night?” Adam asked, putting an arm around his wife.

“How about a dance first?” she asked, leaning towards him.

“Joe, Hoss, you know how to get back?” Adam asked, pulling her close to him.

“I think we can manage, older brother,” Hoss laughed, happy his brother was enjoying himself so much. Joe simply shrugged as he downed his final beer.

“We’ll see you in the morning then.” Adam smiled, pulling his wife into a soft kiss.

They made their way to the bottom floor. It was getting late, so the crowd had dwindled to half the size. Elizabeth lay her head on his shoulder as they danced slowly to the soft music that surrounded them. The effects of the beer made her head swim, giving her the feeling of floating as his strong arms encircled her. She pressed herself to him, not being able to feel close enough. He kissed her hair as they kept in time to the music.

Joe and Hoss made their way back to the apartment. Joe was fuming. He had lost nearly one hundred dollars to his brother and Elizabeth. That was nearly all the money he had brought with him. He was thinking of how he was going to hide this fact from his father when the apartment loomed in front of them. Hoss opened the door and entered first.

“Aren’t you upset, Hoss? They played us for fools!”

“It was just a game, little brother. I only played twenty dollars. I could tell they were good. I don’t know how to play five card stud very well. Besides, I’m not much for gambling anyway.”

“What do you mean you only played twenty dollars! I lost nearly one hundred! Pa’s gonna kill me when he finds out!”

“You should of quit before you lost so much, Joe; it ain’t Adam’s fault. Go to bed, Joe; we’ll figure something out in the morning.”

“It is Adam’s fault; he should a quit letting me play!” Joe said, sounding much like a petulant child. Hoss snorted at him and walked into his room, shutting his door quietly. Joe stomped to his room, nearly slamming the door.

*****

“Thanks for a wonderful evening, beautiful,” Adam said holding hands with his wife as they walked back to the apartment.

“I don’t think Joe was too happy about it.”

“You don’t. How could you tell?” Adam laughed, remembering Joe’s attitude as he left the saloon.

“You know he was awfully upset about losing all that money. You could have told him before hand that we don’t play for keeps.”

“Nah. That would take the fun out of it. When he was young, he would badger me for hours to take him to town so he could gamble. Pa would a killed me if he knew I took him there for that. A little payback between brothers never hurt.”

“Oh Adam, you three! Watching you with your family makes me wish I had some brothers or sisters growing up. I love the way you tease and carry on. I can see your love for each other in your eyes.”

“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have them. My family is what pulled me through after so much tragedy. I love them.”

“And they love you.”

Elizabeth went to the bedroom when they arrived home. Adam snuck first to Hoss’ room, sliding his twenty back into his wallet. Then he made his way to Joe’s room — seeing him asleep, he sighed. He found Joe’s wallet and slipped in one hundred dollars along with a note that said ‘we don’t play for keeps, little brother. Love you too much. Adam and Elizabeth’. He knew Joe wouldn’t find it until he needed some money, and he smiled at the scowl that would be on Joe’s face all morning. Finally, he made it to his own bed, collapsing next to his wife.

*****

Ben woke up alone, sitting in the parlor he drank his cup of coffee. The house was silent, and he cherished the moment he had alone. He stared at the fireplace, then around the room.

*****

“Pa!” the toddler yelled as he crawled towards his father, who sat reading the newspaper in his favorite chair. The ten-month-old loved to read with his father, anything he could get his hands on.

“What is it, Adam? You want to read with your Papa?” Ben smiled, scooping his son onto his lap.

“Ead.” Adam smiled, patting the paper with his small hands.

“Where would you like to begin?”

“Dis.”

He began reading the article that his son had chosen, then went on to read several more. The child sat silently, his head cocked to the side as he occasionally watched his father’s mouth sound out the words.

“Done,” Adam said as his father closed the paper, and set it on the table beside him.

“Yes, all done. Down ya go.” He set Adam on the floor and watched him crawl away.

“Benjamin!” Captain Stoddard called as he entered the house, hanging his hat and coat on the hook.

“Gwandfafa!” Adam squealed, tearing towards him as fast as his knees would carry him.

“Hello laddie, how was your day?” Abel asked, bending towards the little boy. Using his grandfather’s pant legs, Adam pulled himself to stand, babbling away at his grandfather. Laughing at the conversation his grandson was having with him, he scooped him high into the air tickling his tummy.

“Captain. Looks like he’s got a lot to say.” Ben laughed, as his son continued his tirade.

“As he does. Benjamin, a man came in the store today; he made an amazing offer to outfit his ships. We must celebrate!”

“That’s wonderful. Did you hear that, Adam? We had a good day at the shop!” Ben smiled, clapping his hands towards his young son.

Adam clapped back, laughing as drool made its way down his chin and on to his grandfather’s hands.

“Is he teething again, Benjamin? Seems like that’s all he’s been doing lately.”

“Well, he has been drooling a lot. But he hasn’t been fussy, and no fever. Let me take him; I’ll take a feel.”

Abel gave Adam to his father who stuck his finger in the child’s mouth to feel for new teeth. Adam frowned and furrowed his brows.

“Ben, I don’t think he likes that,” Abel warned, seeing the look that crossed Adams face.

“Ah, I think I found it,” Ben said, pressing on the small edge of a tooth that seemed to be popping through. Instantly the small mouth clamped down. The few teeth Adam had sunk into his finger. “Ouch! Adam, open your mouth. No bite!” Ben stormed, yelling out.

Adam bit down harder, his eyes filling with tears as his father shouted at him.

“ADAM!” Ben yelled, trying to pull open his son’s mouth. Adam would not budge. Thinking of nothing else he could do and his finger now throbbing, Ben smacked the back of his son’s leg near his bottom. Adam let out a howl, thus releasing his finger.

“That was naughty, Adam. You do not bite Papa!” Ben lectured as he sat in the chair, the child on his knee as he rubbed his back.

Adam continued to yell, large tears dripping from his eyes.

“He doesn’t understand, Benjamin; you hurt him with your finger in his mouth. He reacted the only way he knew how,” Abel lectured, walking towards the devastated child. He removed him from Ben’s lap and walked him around the room, bouncing him up and down and patting his back. “It’s okay, laddie, you’re alright now, grandfather’s got you. You should be ashamed of yourself, Benjamin Cartwright, spanking the child like that,” Abel chastised.

Ben held his finger; small teeth marks shown deep in the skin. One of them bleeding. “He wouldn’t let go of my finger! What was I to do? Let him bite it off!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, he wouldn’t have bitten it off. You should have told him what you were doing. I believe you owe this child an apology.”

Adam had calmed down in his grandfather’s comforting hold, and rested his head on his shoulder. His hiccupping breaths were coming further in between now as Ben walked towards him. Ben held out his arms and Adam went to him.

“I’m sorry, Adam; I shouldn’t have smacked you, and I should have told you what I was going to do. Are you okay, baby?” Ben said now rocking his son in his arms.

“Pa turt,” Adam answered, grabbing his father’s lip.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sowwy.” Adam smiled. “Dub.”

“I love you too.”

“Down.”

He set his son on the floor and watched him crawl away and nodded at the captain. Adam made his way to the chair and pulled himself to stand. They both watched as he studied the pipe that lay on the table a few steps away. Adam reached a hand toward it, but it was too far out of reach. He held onto the chair and took a step toward it, then reached again. It was still too far away. Letting go of the chair, he stood on his own. He took one wobbly step forward, and reached out again. Ben and the Abel held their breath as the child took his first steps. He took another two steps, and reached his prize. Ben was on him in a minute, removing the pipe from his hands, and cheering his accomplishment. Abel stood on his other side, clapping him on the back.

“You walked, Adam!” Ben smiled, laughing as Adam clapped and cheered with his family.

“Walk!” Adam exclaimed, his dimples shining bright.

“Boy, are we in trouble now Benjamin. This one’s definitely gonna keep us on our toes!” Abel said, a serious expression now on his face.

*****

“Hey Pa, you looked miles away,” Adam said as he sat next to his father, a cup of coffee in his hands.

“I was just woolgathering. You know, you learned to walk right here in this very spot.” Ben smiled, patting his son’s knee.

“Did I?”

“Yes, you were trying to get a hold of my pipe. Took three steps to get to it.”

“You let me get your pipe?”

“Only for a moment. You were so proud of yourself, and you didn’t even know why. You had actually just gotten in trouble for biting me. I was checking for a tooth, and you were upset so you bit me. You wouldn’t let go, so I popped your bottom, then Abel yelled at me! I got in trouble for you biting me. Your grandfather always did take your side.” Ben laughed, putting an arm around his sons shoulder.

“Not always. There was a time I made him so angry he took his belt to me,” Adam said looking over his coffee cup at his father.

“What!?”

“Yep, came home drunk. He was so disappointed and angry with me. I thought you swung a mean strap. I never crossed grandfather that way again.”

“I’m sure you didn’t,” Ben said, remembering himself in that same predicament more than once.

“Did you boys have a good time last night?”

“Elizabeth, Hoss and I did. Joe seemed to leave in a bit of a temper, though. But, I’m sure he’ll get over it.” Adam grinned, hearing the house starting to wake.

“What was he upset about?”

“Oh, you know Joe. I’m going to start breakfast. Any requests?” Adam said quickly redirecting the situation.

“No, anything would be fine. Thank you.”

*****

The table conversation was rather light as all were pretty tired from the evening spent the night before. Joe, of course, was not in the best of moods. Hoss was the only one who had seconds of the flapjacks prepared by his brother.

“Who taught you to cook there, brother? When you left, you couldn’t make a flapjack to save your life,” Hoss said, reaching for the last flapjack on the plate.

“Ella taught me the tricks, of course. I can make a lot of things now. You’d be surprised, big little brother.” Adam laughed, drinking the last of his milk.

“I wouldn’t trust ya; I remember when you tried to make that bread for Pa’s party. I think someone broke a tooth on it,” Joe said with slight agitation in his voice.

Adam smiled. He knew Joe would be upset this morning; it was all part of the game.

“Yeah, like I said last night, you win some ya lost some,” Adam snickered. He was met with a piercing glare as Joe shoved another bite into his mouth to stifle any further comment in front of his father.

“I thought we’d spend the day at the harbor, if you’re up to it. I need to see Jimmy this afternoon, and Judy is dying to see you all again. They said they would meet us there.”

“Sounds fine, son.” Ben smiled as Adam began clearing the dishes.

*****

Joe stood at the shore throwing small stones into the water. He spent some time with Judy and Jimmy, but he was too young to remember much about her. He was only five when Judy had gone on to college. He remembered Adam getting in some trouble right before she left. The day seemed to pass slowly for him, and soon he began to wander near the stores along the road near the shore. Going into a store with models of ships in the windows, he saw a particular ship that brought up some memories for him. He remembered Adam reading him a story about a pirate that sailed a ship, and the ship he imagined looked just like this one in the window. He checked the price tag, but saw that it was more money than he had left. Well, maybe he had some stashed in the side pocket; he sometimes kept money hidden there. He quickly pulled out his wallet to check when he saw it was full. The money he had lost the night before was all there. Attached was a note, hand written by his brother. He read it slowly, his eyes tearing up as he read the last part. ‘We love you too much.’ Adam these days was always quick to say those words. How many years Joe had longed to hear those words. He bought the boat, then a card, and walked out to find his family. They were standing on the beach, preparing to head home.

“Hey Joe, find something you like there?” Adam asked, seeing the bag in his brother’s hands.

“Sure did, older brother,” Joe said, with a smile and nod, his eyes giving his thanks to his older brother. Adam returned the smile and nod, walking home with his arm around his little brother’s shoulder.

The weeks passed by quickly, too quickly for all of them. They visited museums, art shows, the zoo. Hoss loved the zoo, but he was upset that the animals were stuck in the cages as they were. Today they were set to go home. The breakfast table was silent as they all fought the emotions swirling within them. Finishing breakfast, Elizabeth set to clearing the table, Adam and Ben stood doing the dishes together. That chore done, they went to gather the bags.

“I wish you didn’t have to go so soon,” Elizabeth said to Ben as she took his arm, heading to the station.

“Those weeks just flew by, didn’t they,” Ben said watching his sons walk side by side in front of him, Adam in the middle.

“He is happy here, Ben. You see that, don’t you?” Elizabeth whispered, guilt washing over her.

“I see that plain as the sunrise, dear. I know this is his home now. All I want is for him to be happy.”

“That’s all I want for him too. I know he’s going to miss you terribly. I just feel so guilty.”

“Why would you feel guilty? His company is here as well. He wants to stay here, Elizabeth.”

“But he wants to be with you as well. I just wish he could have both.”

“We both do, but, we will just have to settle for visits once in a while. We will continue to write as we always do. I’m so glad we were able to meet you. Adam is a very lucky man.”

“Thank you, Ben. That means so much to me. I feel like I’m the lucky one.” Elizabeth smiled, watching her husband push his little brother off the side walk. The banter continued all the way to the station.

“Well, this is it, I guess,” Adam said, trying to keep up his emotional front.

“Yep, we got a long road ahead of us, older brother. We’ll write as soon as we get home,” Hoss said, pulling his brother into a tight hug.

“Good, I’ll be expecting it. Maybe we can work out a visit sometime soon,” Adam said, returning the hug forcefully and blinking away the tears.

“We’re gonna miss ya, Adam. It ain’t the same only having Hoss to beat in checkers. I liked having the two of you to beat,” Joe said, taking his turn with the hugs.

Adam smiled, hugging his brother tighter, feeling his composure slip as a tear trekked down his cheek.

Joe pulled back and whispered into Adam’s ear. “I left you a present at the house; it’s in the kitchen. Don’t open it until you’re alone, understand,” Joe said looking into his brother’s eyes. Seeing his tears, Joe startled a bit; he didn’t know Adam had been crying. His own eyes now welled, as he pulled him towards him once again. “I love ya, Adam.”

“Love you too,” Adam choked out. He coughed to clear his throat as he turned towards his father. “Pa,” he said, stepping close for a hug.

“I’ll miss you, son. I’m so proud of you and all your accomplishments. You continue your work here. I expect a letter at least once a month,” Ben said before pulling his son to him.

Adam couldn’t speak so instead he nodded his head. He sank into his father, Elizabeth standing behind him rubbing his back. He cried quietly into his father’s shoulder as the stage man called out boarding. Hoss and Joe handed up the baggage, allowing the two men time alone.

“I don’t want you to go, Pa,” Adam said against his father’s shoulder.

“I don’t want to go.”

Adam laughed, pulling away and wiping his eyes. “Give Sport a treat for me alright. And tell Hop Sing I miss him.”

“I will, son.”

“I love you, Pa,” Adam said, his voice cracking again.

“I love you, Adam. You take care of that wife of yours; she is a special one.”

“She sure is.” Adam dimpled, glancing at his wife who was standing at the window of the stage speaking with Hoss and Joe.

“You better board, Pa; they’re gonna pull out soon. I’ll write you real soon.”

“Alright. I expect a letter to be waiting for me when I get home.” Ben smiled patting his son’s neck one last time. He turned towards the stage and boarded. Seeing the stage finally full, the driver pulled out in a hurry.

Adam stood with his wife and waved until the stage was out of sight.

“You okay?” she asked, seeing him wipe away another tear.

“I will be.” he answered, flicking away another annoying tear.

“Let’s go home, sweetie.”

“Joe left me a gift.”

“He did?”

“Uh huh, in the kitchen. I wonder what they’ll do when they find theirs?”

“What you give them?”

“I gave Pa that old pocket watch I found that was engraved to grandfather, I gave Hoss that old whittling set that belonged to Pa when he lived here before, and I gave Joe my old gun belt, the one that he loved so much before I came to college. I had it altered so it would work for a lefty.”

“Oh Adam, that was sweet. And you snuck it in their bags?”

“Sure did. They won’t find it until their next stop.” He laughed, linking arms with his wife as they made their way home.

Adam made his way to the kitchen when he saw the bag on the table. He opened it quickly to find a pirate ship from the shop at the harbor. A card sat on the sail, and he opened the envelope.

 

Dear Adam,

I saw this ship in the window of the store. Instantly I had memories of you and me. I was snuggled in your bed for a story after a session with Pa, and you were reading me a book about pirates. You were always able to make any story come alive, and this story stuck out in my mind. I could see the ship, the sails, the deck, the crew. The moment I saw this ship in the window, I knew it was the one from that book.

Thank you, Adam, for all those years you took care of me. Thank you for encouraging my imagination and dreams, and making me the man I am today. I don’t think I tell you enough how much you mean to me Adam. Every time you look at this ship, I pray it reminds you of us and the bond that we have that will never be broken. I love you, brother.

Little Joe

 

Elizabeth walked in to the kitchen and saw the ship on the table. Adam sat staring into the parlor, a card held in his hands. A smile played on his lips, a far away look in his eyes.

“Is this the gift from Joe?” she asked, running her fingers through his hair.

“It’s more than a gift. Did I ever tell you how lucky I am to have a family like I do?” he said, turning his head up towards her.

“You didn’t have to tell me; I could see it,” she said, bending down for a kiss.

“I love you, Ella Bell. Sit down here with me a minute, would you? We have a few letters to write,” he said pulling her onto his lap.

“But Adam, they only just left,” she laughed.

“Yes, but there’s already so much to say.” He smiled as he dipped her backwards, kissing her neckline.

“I’ll get the paper,” she said, returning the gesture. “In a few minutes.” She smiled, hinting at another idea.

“Only a few?” he asked, his eyebrows raised.

Her laugh echoed around him as he lifted her from the chair, walking her towards the bedroom.

*****

She woke up feeling nauseous, the thought of cooking breakfast made her wince. She sat up slowly, putting her fist to her mouth to stop the inevitable. She made it to the water closet just in time. Wiping her mouth, she looked at herself in the mirror. The thought came into her mind — morning sickness. With a slight grin, she wiped her mouth once again and reached for her toothbrush. Excitement swept through her system as she decided to visit the doctor.

*****

“Hello Dr. Monroe, how are you today?” She smiled, making her way into the office. She had wanted to tell Adam about her visit, but he had already left for work that day. She hadn’t felt well for quiet sometime now; she was often tired, wasn’t eating well. She had lost some weight, but a pregnancy could account for all of that. She had put off going to the doctor until now, thinking maybe she was battling some type of virus, but her morning sickness made her realize a visit to the doctor was in order.

“I’m well, Mrs. Cartwright. What brings you here today?” He asked, noticing she looked a little gray.

“I’ve been experiencing a bit of nausea, I’ve been tired, and lost my appetite,” she said, cutting right to the chase, unable to contain her smile.

“Well, lets take a look,” the doctor said, motioning for her to sit on the metal table.

“I think I’m pregnant. I had morning sickness, and then the realization hit that I’m probably with child. That’s why I’ve been feeling so bad as of late.” She sat on the table and swung her legs back and forth.

The doctor completed his examination. Elizabeth, lost in her own thoughts, missed the anxious look that crossed the doctor’s face. “Mrs. Cartwright, I feel it is necessary to do a few tests. Do I have your permission?” he asked, writing down some notes in his book.

“Of course,” she answered, covering back up. “So am I pregnant?”

“The tests will tell us for sure. I’d like to see you again in a few days. Come by next Monday; I’ll have the results of the tests.”

“Next Monday? You can’t tell me now?” she asked, her face falling. She had wanted to tell Adam; she hated having to wait.

“Yes, Monday I will know more. I would like you to rest in the meantime. Don’t do anything too strenuous. Bring your husband with you when you come; it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken with Mr. Cartwright.”

The doctor left the room, allowing no more room for questions. Her emotions whirling inside her, she left the building. She walked slowly, picturing how she would put together the baby’s room, and what items she would soon need. They would need a crib, a rocking chair…she clicked off the items in her head. Making it back to the apartment, she felt a little ill again. Losing what little food she had eaten, she headed into the bedroom to lay down. She felt hot and dizzy; she tried hard to fall asleep.

Adam arrived to the apartment a little late. He could smell dinner cooking, and hurried in the house. He was starving. He and Jimmy had worked through lunch. They were to complete the plans for a new dorm at Harvard College; excitement about the project had made them lose track of time.

“Elizabeth!” Adam called, hanging his hat on the hook and heading for the kitchen. He saw her standing over the sink; it was obvious she was ill. Walking up behind her, he pulled her hair back as she convulsed. He waited for her to finish, helped her to the chair. “What’s wrong? Have you gone to the doctor? Has this been going on all day?” He bombarded her with questions as she held her head in her hands.

“I’m okay, Adam, really. Yes, I’ve been to the doctor. He told me that he wants the two of us back in his office on Monday,” she answered, her voice muffled as her hand covered her mouth.

“What else did he say? Is it the flu?” He got her a glass of water, then stood rubbing circles on her back.

“He said he needed to run more tests. I thought maybe I was pregnant, but I guess he couldn’t tell for sure.” She drank the glass of water, then stood shakily, Adam supporting her arm. “I have to get out of this kitchen, the smell of the food…” She wasn’t able to finish her sentence as she ran to the sink once again.

*****

“Ella, how you feeling?” Adam asked the next morning. She had been up and down all night; he had helped as best he could, holding her hair and getting her water. They had tried ginger to settle her stomach, but then the pain started. She doubled over, holding her stomach most of the night. Her fear was she was losing the baby.

“I’m still hurting, Adam, but there’s no blood, I guess that’s a good sign,” she said. Her eye’s shone pain; her hand rested on her stomach.

“We’re going back to the doctor. This isn’t right; something is wrong, and we need to find out what it is,” he said softly, she smiled up at him.

“What about work? The dorm, Adam; I know how important that is to you. Jimmy is depending on you to come in today.”

“Forget about the dorms. I can’t just leave you here like this. C’mon, Ella, we’re going now.” He picked her up in his arms, carrying her towards the door.

“Adam, you can’t carry me to the doctor’s office; I can walk,” she said gently. He put her down on the floor, but supported her weight, she leaning against him.

*****

“Doctor Monroe! It’s Adam Cartwright, I need your help, please!” Adam hollered as he slung the door to the office wide open. Ella was white as a sheet, her skin cold as they arrived to the office.

The doctor hurried to them, helping Adam guide his wife into the office.

“She’s been sick since yesterday; she can’t keep anything down. She keeps complaining about stomach pain; we think she may be losing the baby,” Adam said, lifting her carefully on to the table.

“Mr. Cartwright, I’m afraid we need to talk about that,” the doctor said, his eyes growing dark.

“We have to do something; she’s getting worse.” Adam wrung his hands in front of him as his wife paled further. She moaned softly, clutching her stomach.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do,” the doctor said, wiping her brow with a wet rag. “I sent her tests in right away; the results came back this morning. I’m afraid it’s as I expected,” he answered, his eye’s meeting Adam’s.

“I don’t understand; I thought she was pregnant. What exactly are you saying, doctor?” Adam’s voice sounded harsh, though his eye’s searched the doctor’s with a look of fear.

“She is not pregnant, Mr. Cartwright. She is…” Dr. Monroe was interrupted as Adam stepped towards him; they were nearly bumping noses. The doctor swallowed hard and tried to step back but was stopped by a strong hold on his shoulders.

“What is it then? What is wrong with my wife?!” Adam nearly yelled, holding the doctor tightly as panic swept through him.

“It doesn’t have a name yet, Mr. Cartwright; it is something that just happens. It starts in one area of the body, then spreads. So far there is no treatment. I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright.” Dr. Monroe saw the man in front of him lose color. His eyes shone wet with tears, and the grip that held him tight lessened.

“You mean she…” His voice broke as he sank next to the bed. He grabbed his wife’s hand and buried his face in her side.

“There is no cure, Mr. Cartwright; she’s in the later stages. It’s only a matter of time now. I’m so sorry.” The doctor knew his words had been heard, but the man did not speak again.

Adam’s face remained hidden, his hand stroking his wife’s. The silence in the room was nearly deafening.

“I didn’t expect it to happen so fast. I thought…” The doctor faltered in his words. He had seen this happen so many times now, so much was yet unknown about this disease. “I can give her something to make her more comfortable,” he finished.

“Please,” Adam said. He couldn’t lose her; she was his life. He had never loved another the way he loved her; she couldn’t die.

The doctor took his please as a confirmation to give her something for the pain. She had become more pale, her skin now gray. Her breathing was already labored, and the doctor knew it would be anytime now. Giving her a shot of morphine, he left the room, giving the couple privacy.

“Ella!” Adam cried, hearing her breathing become raspy. “No, no you can’t do this!” he yelled, shaking her roughly. She hadn’t spoken since she had collapsed in the street on the way to the office. He had carried her then, her breath hot against his neck.

Breath rattled in her throat as he shook her. He had heard that sound before — the sound of death.

“Elizabeth!” he screamed. She had stopped breathing now; he lay his head on her chest searching for a heartbeat. The doctor rushed in, hearing him scream. The scream was that of pure agony, a sound unlike any other. He knew his patient had died. Adam knelt next to the bed; he hadn’t moved since they had come in. His face was like stone, no expression could be seen.

The doctor checked for the sound of a heartbeat, hearing none he spoke softly. “I’m sorry Mr. Cartwright? Is there anyone I can get for you?” The doctor looked for any sign of recognition on the man’s face.

“No,” Adam said, his voice devoid of emotion.

“You may stay as long as you like,” Doctor Monroe said turning to leave the office. With one final glance, the man unmoving, he closed the door behind him.

*****

The next few days were like a dream. Someone had gotten word to Jimmy and Judy; they had come quickly. Jimmy took care of the arrangements; Elizabeth was buried near the shore, the spot she and Adam often went to get away. Adam hadn’t spoken much to anyone; he stood silently at the funeral. Judy had tried to get him to open up, but he refused to talk about it. No tears had been shed, and Judy feared he would turn in to himself, shutting down completely. She had written his family, and bought tickets for the four to travel to the Ponderosa. She thought the baby would be a good distraction for him; Adam had smiled when James had approached the day after the funeral.

They packed up his belongings, Adam hadn’t protested, simply watched as his possessions were packed away. He hadn’t spoken on the way to the station, nor on the journey to the first stop. Jimmy had made sure he’d eaten, and took James for a walk as Judy approached Adam as they waited for the next stage.

“Adam,” she said, touching his arm lightly. He didn’t move, nor did he look at her as she tried to meet his eyes. “I wish you’d just say something,” she whispered, her heartbreaking for her best friend.

“What would you like me to say?” His voice was barely audible; his eyes had turned to a dull brown.

“I don’t know. I’d like you to be angry, sad, anything. I’m worried about you.” she cried, tears dripping down her cheek.

“She’s dead. My being angry or upset will not bring her back. She’s gone; life goes on.” His voice was flat and emotionless; he stood, her arm dropping off his shoulder. She watched him walk away.

Jimmy nodded; bringing James to his mother, he followed his friend. Adam stopped at the edge of the creek and stood staring off into the distance. Jimmy stood beside him, taking a minute to collect his thoughts before he spoke.

“Adam, I don’t know what I can do to help you through this,” he said finally. He thought since there was nothing he could think to say that would be profound, he would just be honest.

“Nothing. There’s nothing anyone can do. Leave it alone, Jimmy, I don’t need your help! I don’t need anything from anybody.” Adam stood staring into the distance, the harshness in his voice causing Jimmy to take a step back. Adam’s hands were in fists, and Jimmy feared what may happen. He had seen Adam take his anger out on a sorry few before; his wrath was one to be reckoned with.

“All right, Adam. I understand; you don’t want to talk about it. Just remember, if you need us, we’re here,” Jimmy said, backing down. He left Adam at the shore, heading back to his wife and son, shaking his head.

*****

The journey seemed to take forever. Adam’s mood hadn’t wavered; the only response they got from him was when James sought out his attention. That didn’t happen often as the tension filled the stage. Finally arriving to Virginia City, James rented a buggy to get them to the Ponderosa. The air thickened further as Adam hesitated to join them in the wagon. James took his hand and led him to the driver’s seat. He spoke not a word, but pushed Adam towards the wagon, then watched as he climbed on. They rode silently towards the ranch; Adam seemed to move about more frequently. His anxiety shone plainly on his face.

*****

The wagon pulled up in front of the house, his family coming out to greet them. Adam stayed in the wagon as Jimmy and Judy climbed down. Hoss grabbed James, watching Joe as he stepped up to his oldest brother.

“Hey Adam,” Joe said quietly, unsure of how to approach him. Adam didn’t answer; his eyes avoided his brother all together. Joe shrugged, his shoulders sagged and he looked towards his father.

Hoss approached the other side of the wagon, placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder. Adam stiffened instantly, his eye’s went dark, his hands to fists. Hoss slowly removed his hand, seeing his brother’s reaction. “I’m sorry. Adam,” was all he said as he stepped back towards the house, James following behind.

The group went into the house, leaving Ben alone with his son. He watched Adam carefully, memories of his own loses running through him. He climbed into the wagon and sat next to his son, their arms touching. Adam didn’t pull away, but his eye’s reflected his emotions. Without a word, Adam sank into him. Turning his body towards his father, he wrapped his arms around his neck. Ben held him tightly, slightly swaying as a torrent of tears ran down his neck, soaking the collar of his shirt. They rocked together, Adam fighting for air as he finally released all he held within him. Ben’s tears mixed with his son’s, his heart fluttering at the helplessness he felt.

“Pa,” Adam would whisper on occasion, but no other words would follow. His sobs filled the air; he wrung his father’s shirt in his hands.

Ben winced as Adam’s fingers dug into his skin, but did not shy away. Instead, he hugged him tighter, the two clinging together as day turned to night. Time seemed to stand still; Ben wondered how long they had been out.

Adam’s tears had subsided, but his body continued to shudder. He kept a hold of his father’s shirt, his hand in a tight fist.

The group sat inside, each lost in their own thoughts. How would they help Adam? What could they do? James played near the fireplace, lining Joe’s soldiers up near the hearth. Hoss joined him on the floor, and Joe soon followed. They frowned at each other as Adam’s voice could be heard crying out his pain. Tears filled their eyes, but still no one spoke.

The door to the house opened, and the two men stepped inside. Ben and Adam’s eyes were puffy and swollen; Adam sagged next to his father, his knee’s seemingly weak. Ben helped him upstairs; everyone watched as they took the stairs slowly. They were upstairs for only minutes when the anguished cries could be heard again. Their father did not come down that night. Everyone retired to bed early, fearing what they would face the next day.

*****

Adam sat at the breakfast table, sipping his coffee. Hop Sing sat at his side, sipping tea. They had sat in silence, able to express their feelings with only a look and a nod of the head. Adam’s eyes welled up; Hop Sing quickly getting him a handkerchief. Joe approached slowly, sitting across from his brother.

“Adam,” Joe said, not sure of his brother’s reaction.

“Morning, Joe,” Adam answered, his hand shaking as he sipped from his cup.

“I’m glad you’re home.” Joe touched his brother softly, needing to feel closer to him, hoping to take some of his pain into himself.

“Home,” Adam said, putting his cup on the table. “I’m not sure where that is anymore Joe. I thought…”

“Here, Adam,” Joe interrupted. “We’re here. As long as it takes you to figure out the answer to that question, we’ll be here.”

“Thank you,” Adam said, standing from the table and heading towards his brother. Joe tried not to shrink away as Adam came up behind him. He felt a weak fist grasp his shirt, pulling him from the chair. The two embraced, Adam, holding weakly to his brother, Joe holding him up.

“I love you, Adam. We love you. We’ll get through this. No matter how long it takes, or how much we hate it, we will get through this.” Joe said, his voice left no room for doubt as Adam squeezed tighter.

Hop Sing headed towards the kitchen; the brood would be headed in soon. He knew the road ahead would be hard; no one knew how long the healing process would take. But one thing he did know — they would face this road together. One way or another, love tearing down the walls of grief and building new. Life would go on, maybe a little differently, but on all the same.

***The End***

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