Word Count: 1200
It was always the same.
Only now, he couldn’t remember whether the image in his mind was a memory…or simply the imaginings of his yearning heart.
Adam Cartwright sighed into the darkness. He turned over, trying to find a comfortable position on the lumpy hotel mattress. But after only a minute, he sighed again – more of a snort, really, this time – and sat up. The springs on the old bed squeaked in protest as Adam stood up. Might as well get this day started, he thought darkly, but then settled on a brighter thought: Might as well get a little bit closer.
Only four days away now; five at most … and his journey would be complete.
Adam Cartwright was going home.
He dressed quietly, not bothering to light a lantern, dressing in the misty grey light that filtered through the thin curtain that hung limply in the eastern window. He gathered his few belongings – his razor, a book – tucking them neatly into the worn saddlebag that he’d placed in the rickety chair beside the bed, and then opened the door, walked quietly down the hallway and down the stairs, then outside and behind the hotel to the makeshift stable in which his horse had spent the night.
The brown horse lifted its head, sleepy and surprised. Adam smiled and gave the horse an appreciative pat on the rump as he hoisted the saddle into place.
“We’ll rest soon enough,” he promised, but the hopeful words belied his worry.
It was the dream that did it, Adam chided himself. He always felt troubled after that dream.
And the dream was always the same.
Adam riding down the road toward the Ponderosa…every tree, seemingly every blade of grass just as he remembered it. Looking down at the ranch house from the bluff that cradled the home…and then coming around the corner of the barn into the front yard, seeing the sprawling porch, the sweeping roof, the home itself reaching out as though to embrace him…
The Ponderosa, just as it had always been.
Adam shook his head, and a wry smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
For in his dream, as he dismounted and walked toward the opening door, he, Adam Cartwright, appeared just as he had always been also.
Dressed all in black, walking with the quiet confidence that comes only from strength of body, mind and spirit…
Adam sighed again as the miles blurred past. Even if the Ponderosa hasn’t changed, he thought ruefully, I sure have.
That day, and the next, and the next, passed as had so many before … days spent riding, nights spent sleeping on the trail. But something was different now. That tree, he remembered it. That stream, yes; he recognized the music of its gurgling waters. And that old barn, still standing? Adam allowed himself the luxury of a smile.
He was almost home.
As he allowed that realization to dawn, Adam wrestled with a strange mixture of emotions – joy, anxiety, relief … and finally, now, so close to home, Adam also knew he could no longer avoid facing the reality of that dream, and the reason it haunted him so.
For in his dream, it was always the same.
Adam rode into the yard, and slipped off his horse. The house – his home – waiting, waiting for him. The front door opened…
And there his dream always ended, with Adam standing on the porch, looking at the open door, but no one ever came out, and he never went in.
What did it mean? Adam did not dare to explore the possibilities.
The sun was setting – in fact, it had set – but the journey was nearly ended now. Adam was almost home, just about home, and everywhere he looked now were reminders of his home, his family, the life he had left behind. Every detail of scenery seemed filled with memories, and these memories washed over Adam’s heart and soul with a fierce joy that brought tears to his eyes.
And then, finally, he rounded the curve that swept around the bluff overlooking the house.
The horse seemed glad for the rest when Adam pulled on the reins and brought him to a halt; he lowered his head and blew, and it was only then that Adam realized, guiltily, how hard he had pushed the horse over the past two days, not even stopping today to eat.
“We’ll rest soon enough,” he said again, and the horse shook its head as though in response, although Adam couldn’t tell whether the horse was nodding or shaking its head in disbelief.
Adam stood in the stirrups to get a better look. His first glimpse of home after all these years, and it was almost too dark to see.
But there was a light on the front porch … the lantern was lit, as it always had been. Pa always made sure to leave a light for his boys …
Adam felt a knot of disappointment in the pit of his stomach…and a fist of fear in his heart. That light meant someone wasn’t home. And now, seeing it for himself, Adam had to face the terrible possibility that after all these years, maybe…
But then he shook his head, demanding reason of himself. Of course, Hoss or Joe, maybe even Pa himself, might be away. They would have no idea, no reason, no way to know that tonight was the night…
…the night Adam had dreamed of for so long.
Nudging his horse into motion once again, Adam continued down the trail. A full moon had risen over the eastern pines, its glow now the only light. Around the curve, up the rise, then down…and now the final road…the barn… the corner…the yard…and home.
The horse stopped of its own accord, and Adam slipped off without taking his eyes from the door of his home.
He walked across the yard as if in a dream, closer, closer.
He reached the edge of the porch, then stopped. The door was opening. He held his breath; his heart hardly dared to beat.
The door opened, and Hop Sing stepped into the light of the porch. The two men stood for a moment, staring at one another, as though seeing ghosts.
Then Hop Sing spoke. “You home.”
A statement? A question? No matter.
Adam tried to answer, but the words caught in his throat. He took a tentative step forward, halted, and tried again to speak. He wasn’t even sure what he would say until he heard his own voice asking, “Pa? Hoss, Joe?”
Hop Sing nodded. “They here.” He caught Adam’s reflexive – but significant – glance at the lantern that burned overhead, and Hop Sing smiled. “Light for you,” he said softly.
Adam sighed in relief, and it seemed he had been holding his breath for a long, long time. Straightening to his full height, he took another step, then another, walking now with a confidence he had not known for years, and then, just before he crossed the threshold, he heard a cry from inside, and there were his father and his brothers, leaping to their feet, rushing out to meet him, embracing him, everyone crying and laughing and talking at once.
Hop Sing watched the family, tears glistening on his smiling cheeks, and then he slipped quietly outside and extinguished the lantern that had burned for so long.
Adam Cartwright was home…and the light of home would shine forever in his heart.