He was Laughing (by Calim11)

Summary: What Happened Next for the episode “Triangle”
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  7100


 

 HOSS

He was laughin’.

I ain’t heard it in so long I was surprised when those deep tones sorta carried over everyone else’s. It made me smile. My brother Adam was laughin’.

Ya see, it was a mite shockin’ in that . . . well my brother ain’t had it so good lately. A woman he was gonna marry run off with our cousin without even lookin’ back, and afore that, he done hurt hisself real bad fallin’ offa ladder and couldn’t walk for a spell. Then ta top it all off, once he got back onta his feet, he lost two valuable timber contracts which hurt him somethin’ fierce.

Now Pa . . . Pa don’t exactly keep his thoughts ta hisself mosta the time and this weren’t no different. When Adam come home without them contracts, he started blamin’ that woman and then Adam for not payin’ attention. They got inta an awful fight and I thought Adam was gonna leave for good this time and I couldn’t say as I blamed ‘im.

That boy puts in an awful lot o’ work ‘round the ranch and sometimes I think Pa forgets that. They’s been together so long, seem ta know what the other’s thinkin’ way afore I do, that I think Pa takes ‘im for granted, doesn’t tell ‘im often enough how glad he is that he’s here and how much he loves ‘im. And now that he was feelin’ especially low, what with losin’ out on a family and then not bein’ able ta help us with the round-up on account o’ his back, Pa jest started yellin’. I could tell by the look on older brother’s face it weren’t goin’ down well, and if it hadn’t a been Pa standin’ there, he woulda decked ‘im. Instead, he jest up and walked right outta the house, got back on his horse and lit out.

Well, I couldn’t jest let ‘im go, not like that anyway, so’s I gave Pa a hard look and took after my brother. Ya see, I’ve always known Adam would up and leave one day. It’s not that he don’t love the Ponderosa like Joe or me or Pa; he does. It’s jest that he’s got a yearnin’ in his belly ta see other things. I’m thinkin’ that’s ‘cause he was always movin’ as a young’n. Never stayed in one place long enough ta feel settled ‘til he come here. And that’s fine if’n he wants ta see the world, but he should leave when he wants, not ‘cause he’s mad or don’t think Pa respects ‘im no more. That ain’t a good reason ta walk away from nothin’.

A course, he walked away from Laura but — and I haveta say it — that was a wise choice. That woman was jest a whiner, and then ta two-time ‘im like that . . . well, that wasn’t right. Now I ain’t got nothin’ against Will feelin’ what he did. Sometimes ya cain’t help where yer heart takes ya, but that woman . . .  The only good thing about her was Peggy, and Adam loved ol’ Peggy a lot more than Laura, so’s it’s a good thing Will took her offa his hands. But it still rips at yer heart, ya know, thinkin’ ya ain’t never gonna find a woman ta share yer life with.

Well, I finally caught up ta Adam and we had us a long talk. He and I’ve always been able ta talk about everythin’ and he jest poured out his heart ta me. The last time I heard ‘im talk like that was when he hadta shoot Ross Marquette. That nearly done ‘im in but I managed ta git ‘im talkin’ then and it seemed ta settle ‘im some. It was the same here. Older brother jest needed someone ta talk to without bein’ judged and we both knew Pa and Joe woulda worried ‘im ta death about Laura lyin’ ta ‘im. I ain’t like that. I’ve had my share o’ problems with women and my luck’s run about the same as Adam’s, but I know that callin’ ‘em names and tossin’ in yer face that ya picked another loser ain’t gonna do ya no good when yer in pain, when yer thinkin’ this is it.

When I was sure he weren’t gonna leave on the mornin’ stage, I left ‘im out there in the dark ta gather hisself while I went on home and gave a piece o’ my mind ta Pa. Now, I don’t normally do such things but I was riled and Pa knew it jest from the look on my face. Joe always said I look like a mama bear tryin’ ta protect her cubs when I get like that and I’m thinkin’ he might be onta somethin’ ‘cause Pa took a step back from me when I came ramblin’ inta the house and slammed the door behind me. I waved my finger and poked ‘im – yeah, I poked ‘im – and wanted ta know where he got off accusin’ Adam o’ doin’ anythin’ but his best for the ranch and the family. Didn’t he remember that jest a bit ago it didn’t look like Adam was gonna walk again and that has ta prey on a man, that if’n he’s stuck in a chair for the rest o’ his life how’s he gonna prove hisself? How’s he gonna be a man that a woman wants around?

I also wanted ta know why he hadta keep throwin’ Laura up in his face when we all know he felt somethin’ for her, even if’n it weren’t true love, and how could he chastise ‘im for losin’ them contracts after all he’s been through and the fact that he feels as low as a snake’s belly already without ‘im harpin’ on ‘im.

I stopped then, waitin’ for an answer as I stared at Pa noticin’ for the first time I was towerin’ over ‘im. I ain’t never thought o’ that afore. Pa’s Pa, a towerin’ man by hisself, but this time I felt like a giant protectin’ my brother. I backed away then, ‘cause it weren’t my place ta scare the man. I was jest so God-awful mad at it all! I jest wanted ta take the world and shake it, hopin’ some happiness would fall Adam’s way.

Pa had that look, a stunned look I’d guess ya’d call it, and jest stared at me, and I turned away, stuffin’ hands in my pockets. I apologized for speakin’ ta ‘im that way but then I turned and told ‘im that I love Adam for all he’s ever done for me. He held me close when Mama was killed; he looked after me and taught me when we was on the wagon train and then helped me with my learnin’ when everyone else was makin’ fun. He and I share a link that’s different than the one I share with Joe and even with Pa. It runs much deeper. We don’t havta worry about how we’re gonna react or what we’re gonna say and we always know that the other will be there when needed. And even though we’ve come ta blows a time or two, we always made up, always understood that the love we share runs deep and even death wouldn’t split us apart. Pa had ta know that if’n he didn’t already.

He looked unsteady and sat down in his big chair. Carefully, I rested a hand on his shoulder, tellin’ ‘im that we all look out for each other and we all look up ta Adam for pavin’ the way for us. But that don’t mean ol’ Adam don’t need help once in awhile hisself and surely don’t need his Pa mouthin’ off at ‘im like that, especially after what he’d been through.

I left it at that and went ta bed.  I don’t think Pa ever said nothin’ about what happened but I could tell Adam knew jest by the way he smiled at me the next day and laid a hand across my back. We jest stood there and looked at the lake and I was happy I could be there for ‘im like he’d been there for me so many times afore.

He’s my brother and I love ‘im and I don’t take kindly ta folks — Pa or not — treatin’ ‘im like dirt.

So, after all this time, it was nice ta hear ‘im laughin’.

*****

JOE

That was Adam . . . I’m sure of it.

That deep laugh he gives out when he finds something truly funny. I’m just surprised is all. I haven’t heard him laugh like that since, well, since that woman started messing with him . . . that Laura.

I never liked her. She was just way too much work and bellyached over everything! The only good thing about her was her daughter, Peggy, whom I know Adam adored. In fact, I believe he was just marrying Laura to have Peggy as a daughter. Not a very good reason to get married but, for Adam, it was an interesting reason because I never thought he’d do something like that. I always thought he’d marry for love, just like the rest of us.

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe he thought he loved her. I thought I was in love with my fair share of women. I just never thought it would happen to him.

Of course, he was spending a bit too much time on their new house and leaving her to fend for herself. That’s when Will stepped in. I wanted to just punch him down to the ground when I found out what happened, but Adam told me it was all right. I didn’t believe him, of course, but I still left it alone ‘cause he was hurting so from his back and I didn’t want to add to it with all my questions. I’m always full of them, always have been, and I annoy the hell out of everyone until I get answers. But this time, this time I backed away. Adam would talk when he wanted, although I was pretty sure he’d only talk to Pa or Hoss. He and I don’t have that type of relationship, never have. Oh, when I was younger maybe, but when he came back from college, it all changed. I wanted to be a man and he wanted to be my Pa, always telling me what to do . . . well, that’s not true. He just wanted what was best for me. He always has. I just took it wrong most of the time.

But whether or not he truly loved Laura, its still gotta hurt, being rejected, I mean. You wouldn’t think that would happen to him. He’s good looking, tall, strong and smart. He knows poetry and Shakespeare and how to build almost anything, and yet all those accomplishments haven’t gotten a wedding ring on his finger. I wonder if it ever will.

I got a true feeling of what my brother was feeling when I tagged along with him to Stockton to finalize those damnable contracts, the cause of all our current turmoil. Pa couldn’t go ‘cause he’d tripped over one of Hop Sing’s chickens and wrenched his knee and the only person who knew the contracts beside him was Adam. Now older brother had just gotten to the point where he didn’t collapse at the end of each day in terrible pain from his back but accepted that he was the only one to go. I went along as kind of a nursemaid, even though I didn’t tell him that, but he’s smart enough to figure it out ’cause there wouldn’t be any other reason for me to go with him – I don’t know anything about the contracts and don’t want too.

Well, we took the stage, which was a huge mistake since it irritated Adam’s back to the point that we had to get off about twenty miles from Stockton and buy some horses or else he wouldn’t have made it in one piece. Then we got there and the meetings and bidding times had changed to where they overlapped each other by an hour. We couldn’t miss these or we’d miss out on the contracts so I had to head to the second one to represent us until Adam could show up.

When he did, I knew the first meeting hadn’t gone well by the dark look on his face. But, once again, I kept my questions to myself and let him take over, slipping out the back to make sure we gotta room for the evening, which wasn’t gonna happen. I hated to tell Adam that we were destined to sleep on the hard ground again, but figured once he’d won this contract he wouldn’t care.

I met him outside the meeting hall with a smile only to have it wiped clean by the searing look in his eyes.

“Let’s go,” was all he said as he limped past me toward the hotel.

“Adam!” I called running after him. “I couldn’t get a room. They were all booked up. All the hotels. Something about a rodeo in town and people comin’ from all over.”

I hated to tell him that, watching him stop in the middle of the street, letting his shoulders slump as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. Giving a heavy sigh, he turned toward the livery. I trailed after and we got our horses and, without a word, rode out of town heading for home.

It wasn’t until much later, after I’d given up tryin’ to get him to talk as we sat across from each other ‘round the campfire, that he finally spoke up.

“I lost both contracts,” he said in a dejected voice as he stared into the flames, pulling the collar up on his jacket.

He’d said “I” not “we”. I couldn’t think on how to answer that so just went with the old standby. “I’m sorry, Adam.”

“Me, too.” He sighed then, a heavy desperate sigh. It was like all the problems he’d been facing of late had finally piled up to the top and were about to collapse in on themselves.

“We’ll get ‘em next time,” I tried with a grin, hoping to give him some sort of support. He just harrumphed and painfully eased himself onto his back.

“I’m going to sleep. I think I can still do that right.”

My heart cringed at those words as I watched him try to find a comfortable position then finally settle. I laid back myself and lost myself in the stars.

I can’t say as I’ve ever felt sorry for my brother. He always seems to have it all. But then I started thinking on his early life on the wagon train with Pa then Hoss, never having many friends as a child, losing his Ma and Inger and then Marie. Then having to shoot his best friend and facing that devil in the desert. For someone who seemed to have everything, he’d lost a lot and never was able to hold onto love for very long.

Well, the next day we rode on, mostly in silence, and made it home late. I offered to put up Sport for him since I could see he was having trouble with his back. He quietly thanked me then headed on in. It took me a minute to figure out where all the noise was coming from, and I stuck my head outta the barn when I heard the front door slam and saw Adam barrel his way toward me.

Ripping Sport’s reins from my hand, he mounted and headed out at a fast clip. I called after him but I got no response, so headed toward the house only to see Hoss come out next and I could tell he was fuming mad. I called after him too and got nothing back, so instead went into the house to find Pa pacing back and forth, stopping every once in awhile to hold his knee. When I mentioned that he should sit down before he fell down, I got such a tongue lashing it nearly took my head off about the reason he’d sent me with Adam in the first place was to keep him focused, take his mind off that woman and his back and what did I do? Well, according to Pa, nothin’ much since we lost both contracts. When I tried to fight back, he just glared at me, told me to get outta his sight and stalked into the kitchen.

Now I was mad, so I headed back to the barn to talk with Hoss. It seemed the safest place at the moment. But then Hoss came rocketing outta the barn on Chubb and disappeared into the night, leaving me to call after him as well.

Now I was left, hands on hips, with my brother’s ridin’ off into the night and me left behind without so much as a how do you do. So I decided the best thing for me right then was to go to bed, and stomped my way across the yard, through the front door and up the stairs, mumbling to myself about fathers and brothers and contracts.

It wasn’t until later, much later, I was awakened by Hoss’ deep voice talking real loud downstairs, talking to Pa like I’d never heard him and wondered how long he’d still be living with us. It was only then I figured out what was going on and got mad all over again but this time I was mad at Pa. And that was a new feeling.

I know Pa loves us, not one more than the other, but he often excludes Adam. While he heaps praise on me, he won’t on Adam; he always assumes Adam will be the responsible one. He expects him to do things right and never make mistakes and that’s just impossible, even for big brother. I know losing those contracts was a big blow to Adam; I saw it in his eyes when he walked into the room and his comment of maybe sleep was something he could still do just plagued me. Adam’s not your vulnerable type, never doubts himself — or if he does nobody sees it — so it’s hard to think that he feels that way sometimes. He’s doing the best he can and Pa should know that. He always does the best he can and just because it usually turns out right doesn’t mean he can’t fail.

But he’s my brother and I love him and would do anything for him. And if it meant standing up to Pa to make him see what he was throwing away, then I would.

Oh, there it is again, that laugh. It reminds me of the good times.

*****

BEN

It made me turn, that sound. It’s music to my ears – my eldest son’s laughter. I’ve missed it so. He’s had such a trying time of late what with that woman falling for his cousin, his accident and then . . . me.

I preach to my boys about not jumping to conclusions, about hearing all the facts, and what do I do? I jump to conclusions and when I do hear them, I dismiss them. Whatever has happened to my patience? I fear it’s gone the way of my dark hair.

Oh, I’ve tried to apologize and he tells me it’s fine but I know it isn’t. I think he believes I’ve lost my trust in him, which is far from the truth. He may not be able to make up his mind when it comes to women but business . . . in business, he’s rock solid, which is why I was floored we lost both contracts.

There was no reason, at least as far as I could tell, to come home empty-handed. That was right after he’d gotten back on his feet and wasn’t able to do ranch work so took on both contracts like he always does. I blamed him for not paying attention, for letting this thing with Laura and Will distract him. How could I do that? My Lord, my son was going to be married; was building a house to start a new life then it all came crashing down upon him as he fell from that ladder. And what did I do? I accused him of not paying attention. Well, of course, he wasn’t paying attention! I wouldn’t’ve paid much attention either, given the circumstances.

I remember it as if it was yesterday, hearing those words come out my mouth and not being able to stop them, seeing the crushed look on his face at their meaning, watching him storm out into the night with Hoss trailing after him. How could I?! He was obviously in pain; wanted to complete those contracts to prove to me that he was still worth something to all of us and I accused him of not caring.

“What do you mean you lost the contracts?” I asked stunned at the loss.

“Just that, Pa,” he answered in a tired voice that I chose to ignore.

“Well, what happened?” I cringe now at the memory of those words.

“We were outbid on the first contract. There was no way we could go lower, Pa, without losing money.”

“And the second?”

He looked at me then lowered his eyes and I had to strain to hear. “I made a mistake in the figuring. I’m sorry, Pa.”

Fury filled me. I’d been depending on those contracts to support the purchase of four new bulls to further improve our breed and now that was gone.

“You’re sorry?” I asked as I pushed myself to my feet, wincing at the twinge in my knee. He just nodded. “That’s all you have to say?” He looked at me then.

“What do you want me to say, Pa? I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”

“You’re not sorry,” I said. “You were never in favor of buying those bulls.”

I watched his dark eyes narrow and his jaw set. “Are you suggesting that I intentionally lost those contracts?”

“If that woman . . .”

“That woman has a name, Pa. Laura. And she has nothing to do with this. Why don’t you just come out and say what you mean?”

“All right,” I said placing hands on my hips. “I don’t think you care about the ranch anymore, Adam, not since that wo . . . not since Laura. You’ve been depressed and a bear to live with and if you don’t like it here, maybe you should leave and go live in that house you were building for her!”

I saw it then but didn’t recognize it – the shock that crossed his face soon to be replaced with a crushed look as he stepped back. Fury came next as he spun, grabbed his hat and stormed out, slamming the door behind him. It was then I saw Hoss standing near the kitchen glaring at me with such anger that I could reach out and touch it. He dropped his sandwich onto the table and took off out the door. I heard a horse leave the yard just as Joe rocketed through the front door.

“What’s going on?” he asked, seeing me pacing back and forth and stopping every so many paces to hold my knee. “Maybe you should sit down, Pa?” he said to me and I nearly took his head off.

“Why’d I send you with Adam, Joe? To keep him focused. What were you doing? Sitting in a saloon charming all the ladies?”

“Now just a minute, Pa, we . . .”

“I don’t want to hear your excuses! Get out of my sight!” I yelled, stomping off into the kitchen. I vaguely heard the door slamming shut as I forced myself to sit at the kitchen table. It was then I heard another horse leave the yard and dropped my head into my hands.

Maybe it was the fact that I was brooding in the dark kitchen by myself when I heard Joe stomp up the stairs, or possibly that as I paced in front of the fire until the early hours of the morning that I began to understand exactly what I’d done. Oh, I wanted to blame it on the pain in my knee or my sons deserting me when I needed them, but eventually came to understand that I was being a pig-headed numbskull who was putting the benefits of the ranch before the welfare of my sons . . . one son in particular.

Adam is my rock and always has been. He knows the workings of this ranch better than I do and to accuse him like that of not caring . . . well, I would’ve decked the man that said that to me. And now I might never see him again all because I’m an idiot. I doubt that he would forgive me this time.

My attention moved quickly to the door when I heard a horse enter the yard, hoping it was Adam but knowing it wasn’t, and as Hoss barreled into the room, I tensed at the determination written across his face. He came at me and I stepped back, then he poked me and reminded me that maybe Adam wasn’t in love with Laura so much as the idea of marriage but it hurt still the same when he realized his own cousin was moving in on his territory.

“How dare ya accuse ‘im o’ not carin’,” Hoss said to me, his blue eyes flashing their anger. “He’d lay his life down for any of us; he’d sell everythin’ he had ta save the ranch and ya accuse ‘im? I cain’t believe that ya don’t know yer own son. I cain’t believe that yer so selfish ta think that he’d do anythin’ on purpose jest ta make ya mad. What’s the matter with ya, Pa? That boy lives and dies for us and ya jest tore his heart outta his chest and stomped on it.”

I couldn’t find the words and just swallowed waiting for him to continue.

“I believe I stopped ‘im from leavin’ but I wouldn’t blame ‘im for cuttin’ out, goin’ someplace where he won’t be judged so harshly without benefit of an explanation. I bet ya ain’t even asked Joe what happened. I bet ya accused ‘im o’ not doin’ his job of babysittin’.

Yes I had. I never let him explain.

“What’s happened ta ya, Pa? Ya used ta care about people’s feelin’s. Is that only when it benefits you? We don’t need them bulls now; they can wait ‘til the next contract or the next one after that. Why don’t ya put what ya want aside and ask yerself what Adam needs right now – he needs understandin’ and love. Think ya can give a little o’ yerself ta ‘im right now, ‘cause if’n ya cain’t, well, I can. And if talkin’ ta ya like this gets me thrown out, well, maybe I’ll jest move in with Adam at the house he was buildin’ for that woman!”

He headed straight for the stairs and slammed shut his bedroom door and I stood there stunned. What had I done? My God, I’d dismissed Adam as if he didn’t matter, not taking into consideration that he was still hurting over the loss of Laura and Peggy to another man, that his inability to work properly at his job was making him uneasy and vulnerable, making him question himself and then the contracts . . .

All because I wanted some new bulls.

I waited up for him to come home, waited to apologize and make Adam understand that I valued him just as much now as I ever did and that I was proud of him in so many ways. But he didn’t come home that night and I was left with a guilty conscious that was well deserved.

I didn’t know where he was for a week, couldn’t find him or anyone who’d seen him and I was sure that Hoss had been wrong – that Adam had left without a word. It wasn’t until Brent Hopkins showed up with two bulls in tow that it occurred to me where Adam had gone.

“They’re already paid for, Ben,” Brent informed me handing over the bill of sale with Adam’s name scrawled across the bottom. “Told me that he’d come up with the money for the other two by the end of the month. You can pick them up then.” He handed me their tethers, tipped his hat and headed out and I could’ve just cried. This was not the action of a son who didn’t care and I know he probably had to cash in some of his own stock to pay for these.

I had to find him. I had to apologize. I had to ask forgiveness.

Tossing the bull’s tethers off to a hand, I grabbed Buck and headed out, my intuition taking me to the one place I hadn’t looked – the house he’d been building for Laura, the house that had caused so many problems. And that’s where I found him.

I looked down on him, seeing him sitting quietly against a rock, just staring at the half finished house. I eased Buck down the trail to leave him next to Sport and slowly walked toward Adam. He never moved, never looked at me.

“Adam,” I said as I neared getting no response. I eyed him then sat down next to him watching him fold arms across his chest. “Are you sure sitting against that rock is good for your back?” I asked hoping to get some response.

“It tells me when it isn’t,” came the short answer.

I followed his gaze to the struts and braces before us and my heart crushed a bit more at the loss of so many things.

“Adam, I . . .”

“What do you want, Pa?”

I shouldn’t have been taken aback by the tone, the non-emotional tone that cut so severely through me but I deserved it and he had to know that.

“I’ve come to apologize for what I said the other night. It was mean and nasty and completely undeserved. I put my wants above everything else and that was wrong.” He didn’t say anything but just kept staring straight ahead. “Brent Hopkins delivered two bulls to me today and told me that the other two could be picked up at the end of the month. Interesting, since I haven’t actually paid for them.”

“Don’t worry about it, Pa. Your uncaring son bought them for you,” came the tart response, those dark eyes finally meeting mine. “Now, if you don’t mind, you’re trespassing.” He pushed himself up then and swayed a little. I reached out but he moved out of my grasp and walked stiffly away.

“Adam!” I called scrambling to my feet, feeling that each step he took from me was one that I wouldn’t get back. “Please. What can I do to make this up to you? I’ll do anything.”

He stopped then. “Anything?” he asked without turning and I nodded like a child wanting another piece of candy. “Just leave me be,” came his quiet answer.

He started off again to disappear around the back of the house and I could’ve died right then.

I had no choice but to leave. He’d thrown me off his land and I hadn’t come out here to make him uncomfortable, so I mounted Buck and headed out soon to meet Hoss coming toward me in a buckboard. He said nothing to me as he passed and I pulled up to watch him as he came to a stop, Adam coming forward to greet him. They traded smiles then went to work. And what were they doing? They were dismantling the house and stacking the wood into neat stacks, soon to transfer them to the buckboard. He was taking down his dream, his own Ponderosa, removing from his sight everything that reminded him of his loss. And that’s all I’d been doing – reminding him of it.

That had been four weeks ago and now I was hearing him laugh. I smiled at the sound, remembering all the other times I’d heard it over the years. Then I turned and headed toward the door. No reason he should see me. If he was laughing, I didn’t want to ruin his evening. Besides, it was getting hot in here and a breath of fresh air would do me good.

*****

ADAM

I saw him walk out the door and excused myself from the conversation I’d been having with Harvey Phelps and the antics of his one-year-old to weave my way through the crowd. The night was chilly and the stars shone brightly and it was nice to take notice of them again after these long couple of months of depression I’d been living since. . . well, since Laura left me.

I can’t say as I wasn’t surprised, not much really. I knew it wasn’t going to work but I’d asked her and she’d agreed and it just didn’t seem right to back out. That’s not what I do. I make a promise and I have to stick to it, no matter what. Well, I finally realized that I should thank cousin Will from the bottom of my heart for taking her off my hands because it would’ve been torturous.

Ever since she left, I’ve often thought on what it is that keeps a woman from loving me enough to marry me. Everyone tells me I would be a good catch for any woman. So where is this ‘any woman’? I’ve tried tough girls, small girls, large girls, frilly girls . . . blonds, brunettes, redheads . . . blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes . . . and nothing! Of course, my brothers aren’t doing much better, so I guess it’s just a curse. The Cartwright Curse, as we call it, in full bloom. Just my luck, I’ll find someone on my death bed and then she won’t marry me because I’m gonna die.

I shouldn’t worry so except I’d really like to have children, to give Pa a grandchild, give my brothers nieces and nephews, and I can’t do that unless some poor unsuspecting woman decides to take a chance. But getting married just to get married . . . well, that’s just plain stupid, as Hoss would say.

Hoss. I love that big galoot. I wish I could be as open as he is when it comes to expressing my emotions; it would probably keep me out of a lot of trouble if I could just say I love you or I hate you or I know I made a promise and now I’ll have to break it. But I don’t see that coming anytime soon.

Ah, the night’s chillier than I thought and I’m putting off the idea that my father is standing about ten paces to my left and I should just go over and stop all this thinking. Thinking always seems to get me into trouble. Well, that and my good old Cartwright stubbornness that I get from both my mother and father. Well, here goes.

“Getting colder,” I began. “Bet the first snow is early this year.”

He stiffened and slowly turned, those dark eyes filled with trepidation as they swung my way. I looked away before he could catch me and watched the stars. He cleared his throat.

“Ol’ Paddy Oxford says it’ll be two weeks from now to be exact.”

“Well, I’ve never known him to be wrong,” I answered forcing myself to look at him. I opened my mouth but . . .

“We got the other two bulls,” he quickly said. “They’re perfect. Should improve our stock for next year.”

I nodded. “Good.”

“I’ve got the money ready to deposit back into your account,” he gave me and I narrowed my eyes.

“They were a gift, Pa,” I answered, feeling the hackles rising on my neck. Calm yourself. “I had to do something to make up for . . .”

“To make up for nothing,” he interrupted holding my gaze. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I don’t want the money, Pa.”

I glared at him until he nodded then turned and stared out into the night again and I followed suit, wondering if this awkwardness between us would ever end.

He cleared his throat. “It has come to my attention that I’ve been . . . that I’ve been a bastard to you of late and I want to apologize.”

“Pa . . .”

“It’s true. Please don’t deny it,” he said with a slight frown. “I didn’t handle things very well with you after Laura left and I’m sorry. I was worried about you and I let that feed into my anger toward Laura and Will. Let me finish,” he said as I started to object. He sat down on the bench.

“I’ve always wondered why my boys can’t seem to find a woman to settle down with and then you found Laura. I must say I was surprised. She just didn’t seem like the right girl for you – she had no passion, no fire in her eyes when she looked at you – and I was worried that you were making a mistake. But how do I gently tell my son that the woman he thinks he loves doesn’t love him?”

“You tried, Pa,” I answered sitting down next to him.

“I did. But it wasn’t my place. I was just afraid that you were walking into a mess, and knowing you, you’d just plow right on ahead because you’d given your word . . . a worthy virtue by the way.” I gave him a slight smile. “But one that can dig you in deep. Despite you telling everyone that you were fine, I knew you weren’t because this time you really came close and that’s just gotta pull at a man. Of course, I didn’t help by constantly bringing her up every time you held your back or winced or couldn’t get out of a chair without help. That was mean and nasty and something a father shouldn’t do to his son.

“And then to accuse you of not caring . . .” He broke off then and shook his head, rubbing a hand across his face. “Hoss blasted me on that and I deserved it.” He looked at me then and laid a hand on my leg. “You are my most trusted companion, Adam. With you, I feel that I don’t need to say the same things I need to say to Joe. With us, it is understood that we love each other and trust each other. But in all that, I lost sight of the fact that you are my boy, my son, and I should be open enough to tell you that I value your opinion; I know that I don’t have to look over your shoulder and that you’ll take care of your brothers and me even at the cost of your life. And you do it out of love, not just responsibility. I know all of that and yet I committed a most serious crime – I forgot for a time. In my haste to pull you from your depression, I trampled on your feelings over and over again and for that I am ashamed. Can you ever forgive me, Adam?”

I looked at him, really looked at him and could see the guilt pouring out of him. I admit my feelings had been hurt . . . and yes, I do have feelings. I just don’t spread them out for the world to see like Joe. And he had hurt me, made me question my worth to the family. Did they only look upon me as a worker and not a brother or son? Was I only as good as my brain? Should I move on and try to see if my name was all I was or was there truly more to Adam Cartwright then being Ben Cartwright’s son?

But now with my father giving me that look . . . you know, the one where all he’d really like to do is turn back time and start over. How could I not forgive him and move on? Nursing bad feelings only lets them grow into seething anger that has a tendency to take over a person leaving them with nothing but an empty life.

I gave him a half smile and covered his hand with mine. “I can’t say as I appreciate how you did it, Pa,” I began. “But I do appreciate that you cared enough to say it in the first place. Laura wasn’t the one and I would’ve ruined three lives instead of just mine. Peggy would’ve been pulled in two trying to figure out which one of us to side with and that’s a decision I would never want her to have to think on at such a young age. I truly loved her and never wanted to hurt her.”

He gave me a little smile in return and a nod then pulled his hand from mine and embraced me. I returned it, feeling whole again for the first time since Laura left.

“What say we go back inside,” I said, “and dance a few dances, drink a few cups of punch, then head on home.”

“I’d like that,” he answered and started forward only to stop as I waggled a finger at him.

“Just don’t try to set me up or I’ll turn tail and run,” I said with a grin.

“You’ve gotta deal. Let’s go.”

He patted me on the back and the two of us stepped back inside, our laughs mingling with the fiddle music going on inside, both about to be accosted by Clovis Strikhem and Bertha Mae Trindel, the town spinsters.

It took both Pa and me half a second to turn tail and run, both of us laughing as we reached the safety of our horses and ran all the way home.

It was nice to hear him laughing.

It was nice to laugh again.

***The End***

Author’s Note:  This is my 20th posted story for which I am shocked and pleased that I’ve managed this great feat (at least, great to me). So I want to take this time to apologize to Mr. Adam Cartwright for putting him through the ringer in all my stories. I’ve buried him in a cave-in, shot him, beat him, and distressed him in more ways than one, all for the sake of fulfilling my SAS desires. Well, I’m sorry, Mr. C, but I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon and you’ll just have to keep your fingers crossed that at some point I will make your life happy. Feedback is appreciated

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